7 coolest things to see and do in Hong Kong
Shopping, dining, culture, architecture... tick off your Hong Kong bucket list in style.
Grab your high-tops: it's time to get retro! Hong Kong offers a myriad of modern experiences, but these seven classic activities guarantee insight into local heritage, which is why they're seven of the best experiences on offer in the city.
1. See this classic Hong Kong attraction (before it's gone)
For decades, Hong Kong’s neon lights were made by hand, with artisans heating and shaping glass into intricately shaped tubes in a painstaking manual processes. Since the introduction of more efficient LED lights however, the sight of these hand-made treasures is fast disappearing. You can still get up close to some at experimental, neo-Chinese restaurant Happy Paradise, though: sit under a ceiling decorated by the neon icons, and enjoy food by chef May Chow, named "Best Female Chef" in Asia by the organisers of the Asia's 50 Best Restaurant list. Afterwards, head to Tung Choi Street in bustling Mong Kok, or the red-light district on Lockhart Road in Wan Chai, where you can find a few more last glimpses of this fading tradition, decorating the streets.
2. Shop for hand-embroidered slippers
Chinese silk embroidery, painstakingly done by hand, has a history stretching back thousands of years. At 60-year-old shoe label Sindart however, the tradition has been given an update. The family-owned business, best known for its hand-embroidered slippers, has made the traditional embroidery highly wearable, thanks to the handiwork of current owner, Miru Wong. Shop ballet flats, wedges and other modern footwear styles; incredibly, Wong still makes use of traditional techniques, ensuring that every shoe is a fusion of contemporary fashion and cultural heritage.
3. Eat from a traditional street stall
Eating in a dai pai dong, or open-air street food stall, is a quintessential Hong Kong food experience. Sadly, their numbers have dwindled with the introduction of new laws, which not only prevent the opening of new stalls but block stallholders from passing the business on to anyone except their spouse or children. Luckily, you can still get a taste of the past at beloved local institution Shui Kee, where bowls of slow-cooked beef brisket – a recipe that’s been in the owner’s family for decades – are served to hungry hoardes on appropriately rickety, plastic folding tables. Licenses for these humble stalls cannot be renewed, so once closed they’re gone forever – don’t miss your chance.
4. Eat at a classic dim sum teahouse
Wondering where to eat in Hong Kong? For an authentic taste of the city, head to one of its original teahouses. Responsible for introducing the practice of yum cha (which literally means to ‘drink tea’), as well as now-iconic dim sum dishes such as har gow, char siu bao, and siu mai, these teahouses made their way south from the city of Guangzhou last century, famously changing Hong Kong’s dining scene forever. For a rowdy, old-school dim sum trolley experience, you can’t beat the classic Lin Heung Tea House, which has been in operation here for more than a century. Be prepared to share a table with strangers, and watch out for the giant kettles of boiling water.
5. Dine at an old-school Hong Kong cafe
Hong Kong’s cha chaan tengs are a genre of cafe that emerged in the city after World War II. Head to Hoi On Café – one of the city’s oldest cha chaan tengs, which has been around since 1952 – to discover the unusual, East-meets-West culinary hybrids still beloved by locals today. The unique result of Hong Kong’s trading port history, expect Hong Kong-style milk tea (made with super-strength black tea and canned evaporated milk) and such as white-bread sandwiches filled with canned meat and scrambled eggs.
6. Shop a modern edit on a classic style
The form-fitting, high-collared Cheongsam dress used to be everyday clothing for Chinese women in the early 20th century, but sadly, the style is rarely worn today. That is, aside from at Classics Anew: the label of young local designer Janko Lam, Classics Anew use fabrics such as denim and organic cotton to thrust the old-world design into today’s fashion landscape. Head here to find your own unique piece, and get a glimpse of the old-meets-new fashion fusion Lam has become known for.
7. Spot seriously pretty colonial architecture
The loss of Hong Kong’s pre-war Colonial architecture is a subject of mourning among architecture buffs, but the city’s heritage has not been entirely erased. Once the site of a police station, prison and magistracy, Tai Kwun is slice of colonial history that has been immaculately restored and revived as a hub of culture and heritage, paired with hip bars and restaurants. Head in for interactive tours and exhibitions about the city, and law and order in the Colonial era, then kick back with a drink at one of the many bars and restaurants. There are few better ways to round off an old-school journey around Hong Kong.
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