Star Ferry and the Island skyline
Hong Kong Island is the heart of the city. Most of the action is on the north coast of the island, a thin strip of land between sea and mountain, albeit one that has grown considerably through land reclamation. Especially when seen at night from the Kowloon side, the tightly packed skyscrapers offer a heart-stopping panorama.
The great majority of Hong Kong Island's development is packed on the northern shore. In order from west to east, the major centers of what has fused into a solid mass of buildings are Kennedy Town, Sheung Wan, Central, Admiralty, Wan Chai, Causeway Bay and North Point. As you might guess from the name, Central is the focal point with the highest skyscrapers and tallest buildings, while the scenery becomes more low-rise and residential the further away you travel.
Leading up from Central is the Escalator and the Peak Tram (see Get around), which pass through the hip district of Soho and the residential Mid-Levels. Up top is the The Peak, the tallest point on the island and traditional residence of the governors, and thus still the most expensive place on the island to live (monthly rents can easily top $100,000).
Developments on the south of the island, exposed to typhoons and historically on the wrong side of the hills, are more limited but growing thanks to better connections including a cross-island tunnel, although the MTR is still notably lacking. Larger centers include Aberdeen and Stanley.
There are numerous ways to get to Hong Kong Island.
Star Ferry is the classic way to get to Hong Kong Island from Kowloon. There are 4 routes operated by Star Ferry.
- Tsim Sha Tsui, Kowloon - Central, Hong Kong Island — the busiest route by far, and only HK$2.2/1.7 on the upper/lower deck. Upper deck gets you aircon, but the views are actually better from the windowless lower deck.
- Tsim Sha Tsui, Kowloon - Wan Chai, Hong Kong Island
- Hung Hom, Kowloon - Central, Hong Kong Island
- Hung Hom, Kowloon - Wan Chai, Hong Kong Island
New World First Ferry operates some other routes between Hong Kong Island and Kowloon.
- Hung Hom, Kowloon - North Point, Hong Kong Island
- Kowloon City, Kowloon - North Point, Hong Kong Island
Fortune Ferry operates one route.
- Kwun Tong, Kowloon - North Point, Hong Kong Island
Coral Sea Ferry operates two routes between Hong Kong Island and Kowloon.
- Kwun Tong, Kowloon - Sai Wan Ho, Hong Kong Island
- Sam Ka Tsuen, Kowloon - Sai Wan Ho, Hong Kong Island
The Transport Department also provides an online directory on Hong Kong's ferry service.
Note that, due to an ongoing reclamation and redevelopment project in Central/Admiralty that includes a new ferry terminal, much of the shoreline is presently a mess and access to the ferries can be a little confusing — take heed of signs warning about the ever-shifting arrangements.
Known as Cross Tunnel Bus, buses link up Hong Kong Island and Kowloon. The prefix of the bus number indicates the tunnel the bus uses to cross the harbour.
- Prefix 1 (e.g. route 101, 102, 103...) uses Cross Harbour Tunnel
- Prefix 6 (e.g. route 601, 603, 606...) uses Eastern Harbour Tunnel
- Prefix 9 (e.g. route 904, 905, 914...) uses Western Harbour Tunnel
Bus fare is ranging from $8.9 to $9.4 for routes linking the urban areas in Kowloon and Hong Kong Island. Some routes heading for more remote places are charged at a higher fare.
Visit the web sites of Kowloon Motor Bus (KMB), Citybus and New World First Bus to obtain bus route information, fare and schedule.
From more distant points the three lines of the MTR crossing the harbour may offer a faster alternative. In particular, if coming from the airport, the Airport Express's Hong Kong station is the heart of Central.
The world's longest outdoor escalator travels from Central through Soho to the residential developments of the Mid-levels. The escalator moves down in the morning rush hour but up the rest of the time, and using it is free — in fact, you can even get Octopus credits from machines along the way for being willing to use your feet!
Hong Kong from the top of the Peak Tram
Operated by Hong Kong Tramways, the narrow double-decker city trams trundling on the north coast of Hong Kong Island are a Hong Kong icon. Trams are slow and the route — which follows along the coastline a century ago, long since pushed inland by reclamation — is tortuous, but with a flat fare of only $2 even if you travel the full 1.5 hours from end to end, they're the cheapest sightseeing tour around.
In a league of its own is the Peak Tram, Hong Kong's first mechanised mode of transport, opened back in 1888. The remarkably steep 1.7-km track up from Central to Victoria Peak is worth at least one trip despite the comparatively steep price ($20 one-way, $30 return; return tickets must be purchased in advance).
Your own feet remain one of the best ways to get around the crowded northern shore of the Island. Note that there are often no level crossings of major roads, so keep an eye out for walkways and underpasses.
- The Peak, . Overlooking the Victoria Harbour from the island side, offers spectacular views of the Hong Kong and Kowloon skylines, as well as many other touristy but fun attractions. To get there, take the scenic 10-minute Peak Tram from Central (HK$20), and then enjoy a high-speed rollercoaster ride down with green minibus #1 from below the Peak Galleria ($7).
- Hong Kong Planning and Infrastructure Exhibition Gallery, 1F City Hall, Central, . Mostly of interest to infrastructure buffs, but to its credit this small propaganda exercise manages to make even, say, sewage treatment reasonably interesting with well-presented exhibits, some interactive. The highlight, however, is the Infrastructure Walk, with a giant scale model of a wide swath of Hong Kong showcasing projects completed and planned. Free admission, open daily except Tuesday from 10 AM to 6 PM.
- Man Mo Temple Hollywood Road, Hong Kong Island's oldest temple. It was built in the 1840s
- Ocean Park, . A huge Disney-like (in good and bad) oceanarium on the southern side of Hong Kong island. It has beautiful views from the cable car over the ocean and hills. Take a bus from the bus terminus in Central.
- The many beaches of the southern coast are a nice escape on a sunny day, especially outside the weekends when they're often packed. Repulse Bay is largest and the most popular of the bunch. To get there from Central, take bus 6 or 61 for a scenic, slow and cheaper trip over the Island's hills, or expresses buses 6A/6X for a faster trip through the Aberdeen tunnel.
- Take a tram from one stop to the very end
- Walk around the grocery market in Wan Chai
Central's shopping malls are packed with expensive branded goods. For department stores, head to Causeway Bay.
Causeway Bay is probably the best place for shopping in Hong Kong in terms of variety and price. There are several large department stores like Sogo which are popular meeting places for locals. The area around World Trade Centre is also full of shops.
- IFC Mall. Upscale shopping mall located in Hong Kong's newest and tallest development, the International Financial Centre complex right above MTR Hong Kong/Central stations.
- Times Square. A shopping centre near Causeway Bay with an excellent concentration of mid-price range shops and restaurants.
- Pacific Place. A well organized shopping mall in Central. Pleasant for shopping on mid price range to expensive branded goods.
- The Landmark. Right in the centre of expensive real estate in Central, the focus of all the most expensive designer fashion in Hong Kong.
- Stanley market. On the southern side of the Island is this reasonably pleasant outdoor market filled with stalls selling all kinds of things. Take one of the versions of bus 6 to get there (see Repulse Bay under "Do").
- Chun Yeung Street. A local market near the North Point Tram Terminus. You can find traditional Chinese food, especially Hokkien style food there. There is a variety of household items, clothes and fresh food there. It is a typical bazaar in the Hong Kong Island.
- Lanes buy chinese dresses, watches, leather bags and many other things here.Li Yuen Street West and Li Yuen Street East, between Queens Road and Des Voeux Road Central
- Cat Street probably the best place to buy souvenirs, lots of Mao memorabilia, porcelain, buddha statues and "antiques". Lok Ku Rd, walk down Hollywood Road towards the west, when you see the Man Mo temple walk down the stairs on the right hand side.
Prices on the Island tend to be higher than elsewhere in Hong Kong, but the selection of food (especially non-Chinese fare) is also larger. Soho, halfway up the Central Escalator, has a wide array of trendy and/or atmospheric restaurants serving international food.
- Chiu Yuen (潮苑), Spring Garden Lane 37, Wan Chai (MTR Wan Chai exit B3), tel. 28922322. Small and usually packed eatery serving up a wide range of simple fare, but the crowd-pullers are the beef brisket noodles (a scarcely believable $13) and the homemade giant fishball soup ($16). Open 10 AM to 9 PM every day, other branches in Aberdeen and Causeway Bay.
- Cooked Food Centre, Wong Nai Chung Bldg, 2 Yuk San Street, Happy Valley. Near the shopping hub in Causeway Bay.
- Dumpling House, great beijing-style dumplings, avoid going there during lunch hour, because it's packed.prices range from 8HK$ up to 30HK$, 26 Cochrane Street,Central just below the escalator.
- Good Luck Thai seating is outdoor in a alley just off Lan Kwai Fong, very popular on weekends, nice atmosphere, dishes starting from about 40$ , 13 Wing Wah Lane
- Zhong Guo Song Wo On Lane, Central. Good chinese food, without MSG and less oil. Set dinners for two about 180$
- Fung Shing Restaurant (鳳城酒家), 7 On Tai Street, Sheung Wan (in Western Market), tel. 28158689. Very local eatery known for its dim sum, which is cheap and good at $10 and up per serve. Open daily from 7:30 AM for the dim sum breakfast crowd, but no English menu!
- Lin Heung Tea House (蓮香樓), 160-164 Wellington Street, Central, tel. 25444556. Famous for traditional Cantonese cuisine and dim sum. It is more than 70 years old, and always packed with diners. Do not expect luxury decorations and service in this restaurant, it is a restaurant serving with genuine and traditional Cantonese food but not the decoration and service. The most famous dish here is the whole roast duck ($120), but there's a wide range of other dishes for around $40 or so; try their other speciality, the succulent pork ribs. English menu available.
- Maxim's Palace. 3F City Hall (just east from Star Ferry terminal). One of Hong Kong's most popular dim sum spots, featuring harbor views if you're lucky enough to score a windowside table. The atmosphere and food are very much in the classical dim sum tradition, a large, noisy hall with waitresses pushing around carts laden with goodies; try the siu mai, har gao and mango pudding. Dim sum served from 11 to 3 PM daily, expect to queue on Sundays (when the restaurant opens at 9 AM). Gather up at least 4 people so you can try many kinds, and expect to pay $100-200 a head depending on how hungry you are. Note: Don't confuse this with Maxim's Restaurant on the 2nd floor!
- Luk Yu Tea House (陸羽茶室), 26 Stanley Street, Central. Famous for the excellent tea and traditional dim sum. It is a popular meeting place for businessmen. Service, once famously surly, has improved in recent years and they now even provide an English menu on request.
Lan Kwai Fong, a few blocks uphill from Central, is Hong Kong's traditional expat hangout. Drinks are fairly pricy with even your basic beer costing HK$50 and up.
Wan Chai still has a few of the sleazy strip clubs that made it famous, but now offers plenty of other nightlife options as well.
To really feel the charm of Hong Kong, Causeway Bay is another good option. At the back of its famous shopping mall, TimeSquare of Hong Kong, there are a lot of lounges which are usually full of young yuppies during weekends. The drinks are a bit expensive though, usually about US$10. On the other hand at the drinking places people may quietly sneak in nuts and chips and charge you HK$30-60 – make sure you make it clear that you want no nuts!
One special feature of Hong Kong is the drinking places high-up on commercial buildings. For example there are some funky drinking places in Hennessy Building on Yan Pan Road, which is at the juncture between Happy Valley and Causeway Bay, and it is always nice to sip your drinks while having an overview of Hong Kong Island – especially the drinks are relatively cheaper than those at Lan Kwai Fong (about HK$50-80 per drink).
Often ignored by tourists, Eastern Soho is another interesting place to go for wine and dine. It is right next to the Quarrybay harbor park and you can go their by MTR (Sai Wan Ho) station or by buses (2A, 2, 8, 720, 722, 116). The tricky thing is that you have to keep walking towards the coastline once you’re at Sai Wan Ho. A tip to ask the local how to get to there is to ask them ‘Where is “Lai King Wan”’, most probably they will point you the direction and it takes less then 10 minutes from the Sai Wan Ho MTR station to Eastern Soho (local understood that as ‘Lai King Wan’). When you are there most probably you’ll think that it’s all worth it – there were a lot of restaurants (Portuguese, Italian, Fusion, Japanese) and pubs so that you can sit at the sidewalk while enjoying your dinner. The prices vary – from US$10 - $60, depending on how much you want to spend.
There is a plethora of high-end accommodation available on the Island, but less at the cheaper ends of the scale.
- Novotel Century Harbourview. 508 Queen's Road West, tel. +852-2974-1234, . A fine if unremarkable business hotel, just don't expect harbor views unless you get a room high up on the top floors. The reason this is a little cheaper than the competition is the somewhat poor location near Pok Fu Lam, a 15-minute tram ride to Central and the nearest MTR stop. Internet rates can go for under $600.
- Conrad Hong Kong. Pacific Place, 88 Queensway, . Probably the Peninsula's top competitor for the title of Hong Kong's best hotel. Rooms $1500 and up.