Hong Kong is famous for its food—Michelin or otherwise—as well as its textiles, tailors, and a glittering harbourfront skyline. The city moves at a frenetic clip, familiar to residents of London or New York. And, for first-time visitors to Asia, Hong Kong is an accommodating gateway to the eastern world, largely because of its century-and-a-half history as a British colony. You’ll navigate the city with English just fine—not that doing so is an attraction itself, but it should be mentioned.
I first went to Hong Kong aware of—but unable to explain—its complex relationship with China. Or rather, how it relates to the rest of China. I learned it as I went along, but here’s a shortcut for you: Hong Kong is a Chinese territory, though an autonomous and capitalist one at that (as is Macau, to the west). It maintains a “One Country, Two Systems” dynamic with China, allowing Hong Kong to thrive as a trading post and manufacturing hub for textiles, publishing, electronics, and more. This has all been in place since 1997, when Britain’s lease on the colony lapsed, at which point Hong Kong’s residents (now 7.5 million strong) became citizens of China. When you see flags of both Hong Kong and China waving side by side, the Chinese flag must be larger, by law, and must always precede the HK flag in any precession.
Unlike the rest of China, U.S. citizens don’t need a visa to enter Hong Kong for stays under 90 days. So, use it as your well-networked hub on any trips to Asia, or make it a standalone destination on its own. Either way, you need to give Hong Kong a long weekend just to make a small dent in its offerings. Here’s how to do that properly.
How to Get to Hong Kong
Whether you’re on the Atlantic coast, Pacific shore, or down the middle, Cathay Pacific is your key to Hong Kong, and the rest of Asia. The airline operates daily direct flights from New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Vancouver, Chicago, Toronto, and Seattle. (With as many as five non-stop flights daily in the first four on that list.) Their four business lounges at Hong Kong International Airport are famous amongst travelers, thanks to amenities like a Pure Yoga studio and meditation space, world-class cuisine, and shower suites to stay fresh and fueled before or after your long-haul flight. If you’re trying to travel in comfort—while still on a budget—then book a premium economy seat. You’ll get more spacious seats, a welcome drink, snacks galore, and fresh, healthy meals. It’s a significant upgrade that turns the 11- to 16-hour flight all the easier. And, regardless of your booking, all passengers are served food from Cathay Pacific’s “Hong Kong Flavours” menu, featuring (you guessed it) fresh cuisine like that across the city.
Where to Stay in Hong Kong
The Murray, a Niccolo Hotel: In a towering city, the Murray is a real reprieve. Opened in 2018 after renovations on a central, long-standing government building, this architectural marvel restricts the amount of heat absorbed by the 25-story hotel (without hindering its generous daylight). Its 336 rooms and suites have sumptuous details (think: leather, rare stones, and plush bedding), and many overlook the Hong Kong Botanic Gardens and Zoo. The Murray attracts a multifaceted clientele—artists, business folks, families, couples, and singles—and has quickly become the see-and-be-seen hotel in Hong Kong. The posh lobby bar Murray Lane and vibrant rooftop spot Poppinjays are lively and decidedly cosmopolitan without ever feeling pretentious.
OVOLO Central: I’m a huge fan of well-designed, no-BS hotels. And OVOLO is that: It’s a vertical treat, with just one or two rooms per floor, each decked to the nines with modern amenities (like an Amazon Alexa) and colorful art. I enjoyed one of my favorite meals in town at the onsite vegetarian restaurant Veda (stacked against the local competition, that’s saying something). Its central location is steps away from the best commercial dining and nightlife that Hong Kong offers to boot. There’s not a lot to add to this straightforward offering: OVOLO Central is great real estate, tastefully curated, and caters to your comforts.
Eaton Hong Kong: Hong Kong Island isn’t the only “center” of the action. Much of your time will be spent in Kowloon (the peninsula connecting to mainland China), and Eaton Hong Kong is Kowloon’s meeting place for all creatives, food lovers, social progressives, small business owners, and more. Like their sibling house in Washington DC, Eaton is a multi-faceted property. On one hand, it’s an incubator of creative and social businesses, offering co-working spaces and private offices for these upstarts (as well as a recording radio studio). This explains the hotel’s vibe as a meeting hub of Hong Kong’s tastemakers. It’s also a meeting spot for foodies, thanks to Michelin-starred Yat Tung Heen (serving Cantonese cuisine; get their sweet-and-sour pork), and all-you-can-eat The Astor, which serves congee, noodles, and craft cocktails, plus a killer Eastern assortment for your onsite breakfast. We can’t forget the hip-and-happening Terrible Baby bar and lounge, either, with DJed nights and a balcony overlooking Kowloon’s bustle. As a hotel guest, you’ve also got access to the rooftop pool and fitness center, and 467 (!) colorful and well-outfitted rooms and suites, all of them inspiring the same creative, rejuvenating energy the entire house emits.
What to Do in Hong Kong
Walking Tours: The best way to experience Hong Kong is at a slow stride, with a walking tour through its many corners. From Old Town’s graffiti-covered alleys and vintage shops to Tai O’s and Saikung’s fishmongers and Sham Shui Po’s endless food markets, there are tons of agencies and resources to help you see the highlights—in small groups or privately. The tourism board has outlined many self-guided tours, while Walk Hong Kong and Walkin HK are your best choices for guided ventures.
Ascent to Victoria Peak + Sky Terrace 428: Hong Kong’s top tourist attraction is this 428-meter-high view from Victoria Peak. While the preferred means of transportation (the tram) is being renovated on and off beginning in 2019, you can still book other routes up to the terrace for a panoramic perspective.
Geopark hike and Boat Tours: Some 40 percent of Hong Kong’s land is part of the UNESCO-protected Geopark, including many of its islands. While the sun can be unforgiving on some of these routes, it’s still worth hiring a car (for a hike) or arranging a boat tour to explore the flora and fauna that counter the city’s cement and steel. There are meandering cows, hexagonal columns, sedimentary rocks, and expansive blue skies.
Aqua Luna Boat + Symphony of Lights Show: After cruising down Hong Kong’s waterfront Avenue of Stars, redeem your tickets for the after-dark Symphony of Lights, wherein the buildings across the harbor glow and dance in fantastic harmony while you float by, drink in hand. You can book any of their junk boat tours, but this evening one, in conjunction with the Symphony of Lights, is the most special.
H Queen’s Galleries: Hong Kong is host to its own Art Basel and is fast becoming one of the world’s biggest hubs for galleries and exhibitions. H Queen’s is a central hub for many galleries (as well as restaurants, like Arbor, mentioned below). Don’t miss the two-floor David Zwirrer gallery, in particular (given HK’s limited real estate, two floors is a big deal for any shop, much less an art gallery).
Tai Kwun heritage center: Once the main police station in Hong Kong, Tai Kwun has been converted into a cultural center, with local vendors, art exhibitions, outdoor public spaces, and a tour that showcases the former detention cells.
Xiqu Centre arts hall: A gem in the fast-sprouting West Kowloon Cultural District, Xiqu is an 8-story performance and cultural center—and a photogenic one at that. Check their calendar to see what’s showing while you’re in town, and book early. You can also book guided tours of the new facility, if you can’t otherwise catch a show.
M+ Pavilion and Noguchi for Danh Vo:__ As the West Kowloon Cultural District continues its buildout (with a target completion of 2020) these two arts centers are holding down the fort. Come for art exhibitions and events in the Art Park, which will only blossom further once the entire M+ complex opens.
360 Lantau Sunset Tour: Kowloon and Hong Kong Island get most of the buzz, but Lantau Island offers another perspective on the city and territory. This sunset tour showcases Tai O fisherman’s village (with a local dinner), a beachfront stroll at sundown, plus visits to Big Buddha and the Po Lin Monastery.
Quick Sartorial Guide to Hong Kong
If you want the best suits, shoes, and shirts in the world—no embellishment—then stock up while you’re in Hong Kong. The craftsman is king here, and they’ll make you feel like one, too. Here are the places to know and go.
Ascot Chang: You might recognize shirt- and suit-maker Ascot Chang if you live in New York or LA, since the heritage clothiers have a big overseas demand. They’ve got four shops in Hong Kong, and they’ll make anything you need to order on top-tier threads, with 21 stitches per inch, sewn by hand. Just consider the customization they can give you on a shirt alone: “over 5,000 fabrics, 20 collar and cuff styles, 10 collar lining options, 24 monogram styles, and 30 monogram thread colors.” They measured and noted my slightly shorter left arm (news to me!), and spoke with me about the occasions for which I’d where the shirt, to determine the best fabric, collar style, and fit. They’ll ship you the custom goods anywhere in the world, too, assuming you won’t be in town long enough to pick them up. But come in right away, and plan to return a few days later for any last alterations. If it isn’t ready then, they’ll ship it to you when it is. (Also, it’s no footnote, but this is the best shirt I’ve owned to date.)
WW Chan & Sons: Like Ascot Chang, you can work with WW Chan & Sons to get the bespoke suit of your dreams—and a hand-stitched one no less. Try to buffer a long enough stay, however, to come more than once. Call WW Chan & Sons to discuss a proper fitting schedule, as you’ll want to stop through first for the measurements, and again for the rough fitting before they tailor it in all the way. (At this point it can be shipped out to you.)
Kow Hoo Shoe Ltd.: You know this place is the real deal since they make custom wooden foot casts for their clients, as “molds” that allow each customer to order new shoes from afar without remeasuring. Even if you aren’t in the market for top-dollar cobbling, it’s worth stopping into this small shop to watch the pros fit, buff, and stitch all kinds of fabric together to make some damn dapper shoes. (It’s also the oldest shoe-making company in Hong Kong.)
Tassels: Browse the city’s best shoe selection, or bring your own by for a shining. You can also drop them off for a fine hand polishing, then retrieve them the following day.
Where to Eat and Drink in Hong Kong
Sevva: From elegant platings to sprawling 360-degree downtown views, nothing at Sevva cuts corners. It’s also one of the locals’ favorite spots for after-work drinks, thanks to its penthouse prowess and top-shelf cocktail selection. Find it atop the Princes’ Building shopping center.
Duddell’s: Michelin-star Cantonese fare in a relaxed setting that invites buttoned-down creatives and buttoned-up business doers alike. After dinner, relax upstairs with a craft nightcap.
Arbor: A Michelin-starred French restaurant using Japanese ingredients, located in the H Queen’s building. There’s showmanship to each plate, making Arbor one of the most buzzed-about new restaurants in Hong Kong.
John Anthony: With an ambiance as colorful as its menu is flavorful, this dim sum joint wins extra points for its eco-friendly efforts and sustainable practices. (It’s also the first place I’ll go back to on future visits.)
Tung Po: This high-energy cafeteria-style restaurant specializes in seafood dinners and deep-fried meats. You’ll remember it as much for its buzz as you do the delicious dinner.
Ozone: The highest bar in the world, Ozone sits atop the Ritz Carlton in Kowloon, 118 stories in the sky. As you sip your cocktail amongst the bustling crowd, you’re either rewarded with a view of everything or the privacy of the clouds.
Yat Tung Heen: Michelin-starred Cantonese in a traditional setting, onsite at Eaton Hong Kong in Kowloon. Order the sweet and sour pork, and a dozen other plates.
Veda: Innovative and fresh vegetarian dining in the center of downtown, onsite at Ovolo Central.
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