Modern day Hong Kong is best known for its sprawl of skyscrapers, a bustling financial hub off the southern coast of mainland China and a regional conduit for trade. But the territory was once a quiet backwater of rural hamlets and fishing communities, where mountainous terrain dominated sparse human settlement.

Ancient history

Remnants of burial grounds and early rock carvings show human life in Hong Kong as far back as the Stone Age. The territory is thought to have come into the fold of the Chinese empire under the Han dynasty between 206 BC and 220 AD. Increasing numbers of Han Chinese from the mainland began to settle in Hong Kong, alongside boat dwelling communities also thought to have originated from southern China.

Trade boom

Hong Kong’s sheltered main harbour became a place to replenish supplies for trading ships plying the maritime silk road between Asia, Africa, and the Middle East, which flourished from around the 7th century. As well as silk, China exported porcelain and tea and received everything from spices to plants and textiles. Hong Kong’s outlying islands were also a haven for Chinese pirates. Its current territory includes 260 islands, many of them uninhabited.

European arrival

Portuguese, Dutch and French traders arrived on the south coast of China in the 1500s and Portugal set up a base in Macau, neighbouring Hong Kong. But in the 18th century China imposed restrictions on the Europeans in a bid to contain their influence.

Britain was angered after an imperial decree banned its trade in opium from India to China, which had led to the spread of addiction. After Chinese authorities seized a vast haul of the drug, Britain attacked in 1840 and reached northern China, threatening Beijing, in the First Opium War. To make peace, China agreed to cede Hong Kong Island to Britain in 1841. The Kowloon peninsula followed in 1860 after a second Opium War and Britain extended north into the rural New Territories in 1898, leasing the area for 99 years.

British rule

Hong Kong was part of the British empire until 1997, when the lease on the New Territories expired and the entire city was handed back to China. Under British rule, Hong Kong transformed into a commercial and financial hub boasting one of the world’s busiest harbours. Anti colonial sentiment fuelled riots in 1967 which led to some social and political reforms. By the time it was handed back to China, the city had a partially elected legislature and retained an independent judiciary. Hong Kong boomed as China opened up its economy from the late 1970s, becoming a gateway between the ascendant power and the rest of the world.

Return to China

After lengthy negotiations, including between Deng Xiaoping and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, the future handover of Hong Kong was signed off by the two sides in 1984. The Sino-British declaration said Hong Kong would be a “Special Administrative Region” of China, and would retain its freedoms and way of life for 50 years after the handover date on July 1, 1997.

While initial fears of a crackdown did not materialise, concerns have grown in recent years that China is tightening its grip. Democratic reforms promised in the handover deal have not materialised and young activists calling for self-determination or independence have emerged.

1. Victoria Peak

The stunning views from its summit make it one of the most popular tourist attractions in the city. To reach the top, one can take one of the world’s steepest funiculars, the Peak Tram. First opened in 1888, the Peak Tram is enjoyed by both locals and tourists alike, who use the funicular to travel to the upper parts of Hong Kong Island. Riding the funicular is a popular attraction in itself. 

On a clear day the panoramas are incredible; you can see Hong Kong and the glittering Victoria Harbor below you. The views are just as spectacular at night as the city lights up before your eyes. The park on top hosts numerous events over the year, of which the Lunar New Year Fair is undoubtedly the most popular as fireworks pop off around the city, making for an unforgettable spectacle.

2. Victoria Harbor & Symphony of Lights

Head to the Kowloon side of Victoria Harbour around 8pm every evening to catch A Symphony of Lights, a dazzling show. Recognised by Guinness World Records as the largest permanent light and sound show, it is one of the most popular attractions in Hong Kong. Grab a drink at Eyebar in Tsim Sha Tsui for an unparalleled vantage point and cocktail, or book a cruise for front row views from the water of Victoria Harbour.

3. Man Mo Temple

The oldest temple in Hong Kong, Man Mo dates back to 1847. Worshipers still come here to pay their respects to the literature god Man and the martial god Mo. While there are several such temples in Hong Kong, the most popular and most frequented one is at Sheung Wan. An atmospheric place, the temple is a peaceful and quiet spot, perfect for contemplation. It is well worth stopping by if you are in the area.

4. Star Ferry

First opened in 1888, riding the Star Ferry is an absolute must when visiting Hong Kong. It is one of the most scenic ferry rides in the world. Part of the city’s public transportation network, the ferries transport locals and tourists between Kowloon and Hong Kong Island. The skylines at either end are stunning. Crossing Victoria Harbor on the ferry is a memorable affair and you may have to jostle your way to one of the highly valued window seats to catch a glimpse of the amazing panoramas. The views are just as special at night when the skyscrapers light up before you.

5. Temple Street Night Market

Most markets in Hong Kong close when the sun goes down, but that is when Temple Street comes alive. The wares here are standard, but the Temple Street Night Market is about more than haggling. Grab a plastic stool at one of the dai pai dong restaurants and tuck into the freshest seafood available. The chilli crab is a must-try. Later, stop by the fortune tellers on your way out for a glimpse into your future.

6. Ten Thousand Buddhas Monastery

The Ten Thousand Buddhas Monastery is one of Hong Kong’s must-visit attractions, but the name is a little misleading. It is not technically a monastery, because no monks live here, but it is home to more than 10,000 Buddhas. Sitting high in the Sha Tin countryside, this is one of the quirkiest religious sites around. The 430 step stairway to the top is flanked by countless golden Buddha statues, each with a unique pose and expression.

7. Sky100 Observation Deck

If The Peak offers the best panoramic views of Hong Kong, then sky100 at the International Commerce Centre comes a close second. An indoor observation deck sits on the hundredth floor of the ICC skyscraper. From there, 360-degree views of the entire Hong Kong territory abound. Day or night, clear skies or glittering lights, you will be met with jaw-dropping vistas. If all of that sightseeing works up a thirst, then head up to floor 118, where you will discover the spectacularly chic and totally illuminated Ozone. Owned by the Ritz Carlton, it is a magical rooftop bar where innovative cocktails are joined by delectable Asian tapas. Try their HK Skyline – it is Ozone's signature cocktail, after all.

8. Lan Kwai Fong

No trip to Hong Kong would be complete without a night in Lan Kwai Fong. This small loop of streets in the Central district contains almost 100 bars, trendy restaurants and clubs. SoHo, Wan Chai and Knutsford Terrace are other top spots for a night out.

9. Stanley Market & Murray House

There are countless bargains, plus some pretty outlandish souvenirs to be found at this lovely seaside market. If you are hungry afterwards, head to one of the numerous waterfront restaurants to be found here, like Boathouse or the high end cuisine on offer at Stanley Plaza. Make a detour to colonial Murray House while you are there, a popular photo op for Hongkongers.

10. Wong Tai Sin Temple

Located in the north of Kowloon, Wong Tai Sin Temple is a lovely Taoist temple that is dedicated to the Great Immortal Wong: a supreme being who was famed for their healing powers. Featuring traditional Chinese architecture, the temple’s red pillars, golden roof, and beautiful halls are now a popular tourist destination and there is a great portrait of Confucius on display. The kau cim practice of fortune telling is very popular here and many worshipers come to request answers from the sacred oracle.

11. Golden Bauhinia Square

Over on the Kowloon side of the harbour, this golden sculpture is one of Hong Kong’s most recognisable landmarks. Sitting outside the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre on the Wan Chai waterfront, the perpetually blooming flower marks the site where this territory was handed over to the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region in 1997.

12. Repulse Bay

Located in the southern part of Hong Kong Island, is the most spectacular bay in the region. Its name comes from a 19th century battle in which the British army repulsed attacking pirates. Today, the place is a luxurious residential area for dining, relaxation, and aquatic activities. The beach stretches long with clear azure blue water gently lapping the seashore. Its sand is golden and soft. With water temperatures ranging from 16°C (60.8°F) to 26°C (80.6°F) year round, it is a mecca for locals and visitors alike to escape the heat.

13. Tsim Sha Tsui Promenade

Walking along the Tsim Sha Tsui East Promenade is an unforgettable experience and the view of Hong Kong’s skyline is awe-inspiring to behold. While ambling along, you will pass the historical Clock Tower, the Hong Kong Cultural Centre and the Hong Kong Space Museum. There are various cafes and restaurants for you to stop off at. The promenade is even more special at night when the Hong Kong skyline stands out dramatically against the sky.

14. Hong Kong Disney Land

Located on Lantau Island and its wealth of fun rides and attractions make it a perfect place for the whole family to enjoy. Opened in 2005, there are seven themed areas for visitors to explore. Chinese culture and Feng Shui principles that channel good energy have harmoniously been incorporated alongside sections such as Main Street, USA, Fantasyland, and Toy Story Land. Loads of fun to wander around, Disneyland has a plethora of rides and attractions; highlights include the majestic Sleeping Beauty Castle, the exhilarating Space Mountain rollercoaster which will certainly set your heart racing and, of course, the spectacular daytime parades where all of your favourite Disney friends such as Mickey Mouse and Pluto make an appearance.

15. Ocean Park

A perfect day out for all the family, exploring Ocean Park’s wealth of attractions is loads of fun. It is an oceanarium, animal theme park and amusement park rolled into one. Opened in 1977, it is as entertaining as it is educational. Giant pandas, dolphins and more can be found within the park. The Rapids ride in the rainforest part of the park is great fun to go on, and the Dragon rollercoaster will certainly set your heart racing as you shoot around the tracks. With so many rides to enjoy and an abundance of animals and fish to see, this Park certainly will not disappoint with all that it has to offer.

16. Chi Lin Nunnery & Nan Lian Garden

Displaying some wonderful Tang Dynasty architecture, the Chi Lin Nunnery is a treat to visit. The wonderful Nan Lian Gardens in front are a peaceful haven, tucked away from Hong Kong’s bustling streets. The Buddhist temple complex is marvelous to wander around. Its sixteen fine halls are home to some stunning statues and carvings, such as the exquisite golden Sakyamuni Buddha and the delightfully carved Guanyin who is the goddess of mercy. The beautifully landscaped gardens are a lovely spot to spend some time, and perfectly complement the traditional architecture of the pagoda, bell tower, and library of the nunnery, which was founded in 1934.

17. Tian Tan Buddha Statue

Located on Lantau Island to the west of Hong Kong, the Tian Tan Buddha is spectacular to gaze upon and is often known as the ‘Big Buddha’ due to its colossal size. Completed in 1993, the bronze statue impressively sits atop a hill with trees surrounding it. Its peaceful location is very appropriate as it symbolizes mankind’s harmonious relationship with the natural world. Weighing in at over 250 metric tons, the weighty statue is a very popular tourist attraction. The delightful views from the upper platform only add to the perfect scene.

To get there, take the 360 Ngong Ping Cable Car that runs between the town on Tung Chung and the themed village of Ngong Ping halfway up a Lantau mountain. The cable car offers impressive views over the South China Sea and onto the lush greenery of Lantau Island.

18. Afternoon Tea at The Peninsula

If you splurge on one thing while you are in town, make it an afternoon tea at The Peninsula. This colonial era hotel in Tsim Sha Tsui is one of the city’s most famous, and its Classic Afternoon Tea is the stuff of legend. Served daily in The Lobby alongside a live string band, it is a favourite of Hong Kong’s elite. You can rub elbows with the crème de la crème of the city over clotted cream and scones – no Rolls-Royce or black card required.

19. Noah’s Ark Hong Kong

If you find yourself walking underneath Tsing Ma Bridge, you might be surprised to discover what is, by all accounts, the world’s first full size replica of Noah’s Ark. It is a Christian theme park and first opened in 2009. It boasts 67 pairs of life sized animal sculptures, a 4D cinema, an eight-metre giant swing and, if you want to hang around longer than a day, hotel accommodation on the top most floor of the ark itself. The park is a fun family activity and an educational experience to boot.

20. Tai Mo Shan

Literally meaning Big Hat Mountain, Tai Mo Shan stands 957m tall, the highest peak in Hong Kong. While the city has no shortage of great hiking trails, varying in difficulties and length, Tai Mo Shan is definitely one of the tougher hikes to tackle but it is worth all the trouble.

Make your way up the grassy slopes to reach the summit where the lookout provides stunning panoramic views of the northern and western New Territories, and sometimes even neighbouring Shenzhen on a really clear day. The view up there during sunrise is also incomparable. You are bound to pass a waterfall on your way up, including the famous 35m tall Ng Tung Chai Waterfalls. It can get pretty cold up the mountain, so come prepared if you decide to tackle Tai Mo Shan.

View from Victoria Peak
Disney Land Hong Kong
Man Mo Temple
Star Ferry
A Symphony of Lights, Victoria harbour
Tsim Sha Tsui Promenade
Ocean Park Hong Kong
Chi Lin Nunnery and Nan Lian Gardens
The Peninsula Hong Kong
Noah's Ark Hong Kong
Temple Street Market
Ten Thousand Buddhas Monastery
Lan Kwai Fong
Stanley Market
Golden Bauhinia Square
Views from Victoria Peak
Views from Victoria Peak
Views from Victoria Peak
Views from Victoria Peak
Tai Mo Shan (Hong Kong's tallest peak)
Views from Victoria Peak
Views from Victoria Peak
View from Tian Tan Buddha
Statue at Tian Tan Buddha
Tian Tan Buddha Statue
360 Ngong Ping Cable Car
Statue at Tian tan Buddha
Tian Tan Buddha Statue
Tian Tan Buddha Statue
View from Victoria Peak at night
Victoria Harbour
Repulse Bay
Wong Tai Sin Temple

Best Hong Kong dishes:

1. Dim Sum

No Hong Kong experience is complete without dim sum. Traditionally served in bamboo steamers, these small plates are designed to be shared, allowing you to taste a bit of everything. Try steamd siu mai (pork dumplings), har gow (prawn dumplings) and the fluffy barbecued pork-filled buns known as char siu bao. Many dim sum restaurants do solid renditions of these classic items but if you want to try one of the best places in town, nab a table at Tim Ho Wan, the Michelin-starred eatery known for its expertly crafted and freshly prepared, not to mention tremendously affordable, dim sum.

2. Barbecued meats

From melt in your mouth honey glazed char siu pork and crispy suckling pig to fatty pork belly and succulent goose or duck, nothing beats some good Canto-style barbecued meats, also called ‘siu mei’.

Joy Hing in Wan Chai offers a solid selection of roasted meats with its pork being particularly popular thanks to its perfect ratio of meat to fat. Alternatively, head to West Villa Restaurant for their famous char siu rice dish.

3. Curry fishballs

Curry fishballs are probably Hong Kong’s most iconic street snack. Though they are mostly made from flour these days and contain almost no fish meat, this has had little effect on the snack’s popularity. Springy in texture, the bite sized spheres bob about in a strong curry sauce before they are skewered on a bamboo stick or ladled into a takeaway bowl.

4. Egg tarts

Egg tarts are a Hong Kong sweet staple. Creamy custard nestles in a golden crust that is either butter cookie in style or made from crumbly, flaky pastry. There is fierce debate over which style of crust is better but either way, these tarts are best eaten fresh and warm straight out of the oven. Visit local bakeries such as Hoover Cake Shop or Door Door Bakery for some top notch egg tarts. 

5. Wonton noodles

Served in a light and delicate soup, this dish features thin and springy egg noodles that are topped with delicious prawn filled wonton dumplings in smooth wrappers. Some restaurants may add a bit of pork to their wontons.

Topped with garlic chives for a fresh and aromatic punch, these noodles are the ultimate feel good food for Hongkongers. Try a bowl for yourself at Mak Man Kee.

6. Hong Kong style steaks

Nicknamed ‘Soy Sauce Western Restaurants’ due to Hong Kongs own adaptation to Western cuisine, Hong Kong steakhouses are best known for their sizzling hot plates and unbeatable prices. While the quality of meats at Chinese steakhouses is most likely going to be on the more cheap and cheerful side of things, the affordable set meals and the bustling environments make it a one of a kind experience.

7. Seafood

Hong Kong was formerly a small fishing village, so it is not surprising that it knows a thing or two when it comes to seafood. Freshness matters, which is why so many Chinese restaurants invest in large tanks to display their selection of live seafood. Hongkongers enjoy their catch prepared various different ways, from stir-frying with pungent and flavourful black bean sauce, especially recommended for clams, to the more delicate approach of steaming with garlic and vermicelli, great for scallops. If you really want to put a restaurant to the test though, order a whole steamed fish, a dish that may seem simple but is incredible difficult to master. There are plenty of great seafood restaurants in Sai Kung, but make a beeline for the Michelin-starred Loaf On.

8. Pork chop rice

Just like the other Hong Kong classics, char siu rice, pork chop rice is one of our city’s fundamental dishes. There are many variations across town and the quality is equally varied. Try For Kee, one of Sheung Wan's most popular lunch spots. This is a decades old family diner. Reportedly opened by a health-conscious Chinese medicine practitioner, this hole in the wall is best known for its no frills ‘gold medal pork chop rice’, which consists of two basic components: white rice, and impossibly tender pork marinated in sweet soy sauce.

9. Beef brisket

Beef brisket is one of the most satisfying things you can sink your teeth into. Just as delicious as the meat though is the beefy broth that is made from cooking it, which doubles as an excellent base for noodles. Try the much-lauded, MSG-free version at Sister Wah.

Dim Sum
Barbecued Meats
Hong Kong style steaks
Egg tarts

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