Hong Kong is one of the most vibrant and exciting cities in Asia. It is home a number of the world’s most luxurious hotels, exceptional Chinese and international restaurants, a vibrant nightlife and a fascinating mix of Eastern and Western cultures. It is a city of contrasts – ultra-luxury designer shopping malls located next to local markets and shops selling traditional Chinese herbal medicines; colonial-era buildings sandwiched between modern office towers; and Michelin 3-star restaurants located around the corner from alleyways filled with tiny stands preparing delicious local dishes. Hong Kong is a great city for a luxury weekend getaway or a stop-over on a trip to Asia.
While many luxury hotels have opened in the last decade, the iconic Peninsula Hong Kong continues to be our favorite hotel in Hong Kong. The hotel first opened in 1928 and was known as the “Grande dame of the Far East”. Located on the southern tip of the Kowloon peninsula overlooking Victoria Harbor, the Peninsula Hong Kong has kept its original 6-floor building and, in 1994, added a 30-floor high-rise tower. The Peninsula underwent a complete refurbishment in 2013 that thoroughly modernized the hotel while preserving its classic grandeur and heritage that still evoke the Golden Age of Travel.
For this luxury weekend getaway, we recommend the Deluxe Harbor View Suites, which are located on the corners of the Peninsula Tower, with commanding views of Victoria Harbor and the cityscape of Hong Kong island. The apartment-like suite includes a comfortable sitting room with sofa, writing desk and fireplace and the bedroom features oversized corner windows with panoramic views. The hotel even includes a brass telescope to better enjoy the spectacular vista. The rooms are classically elegant, blending eastern and western design, with rich linens in warm creams and polished dark woods. The Peninsula chain has developed proprietary intuitive desktop and bedside tablets, as well as touch-screen panels located on the walls, that provide full digital control of all the room functions, access to the hotel’s services and electronic newspapers. The large walk-in closet leads to an enormous marble bathroom that includes deep oversized tub overlooking Kowloon.
The Peninsula Hong Kong is world-renowned for its exceptional service. In particular, the hotel’s concierge desk is excellent. Skillfully led by the delightful and well-connected Ms. Echo Zhu, the concierge desk can arrange unique and unprecedented access to historical, cultural and local lifestyle experiences, like Chinese calligraphy classes or meeting local artists with the hotel’s resident art expert.
The Peninsula Hong Kong // Salisbury Road, Kowloon // website
The best way to get an overview of Hong Kong is to see it from the air. Heliservices Hong Kong operates “flightseeing” tours from the roof of the Peninsula Hong Kong. Your tour will begin in The China Clipper, an exclusive Art Deco lounge located on the 30th floor of the hotel with spectacular views of the harbor. The helicopter trip will lift off from the Peninsula’s rooftop heliport and take you across Victoria Harbor, past the skyscrapers of Hong Kong island and then circle the entire Hong Kong island. You will get a bird’s eye view of the yacht-filled Aberdeen Harbor, the southern beaches of Repulse Bay and Shek O, the scenic hiking trail of Dragon’s Back, the Happy Valley race track and built-up districts of Causeway Bay and Wan Chai, before returning to the roof of The Peninsula Hong Kong.
Heliservices Hong Kong // website
After your helicopter sightseeing tour, we suggest you start your weekend Hong Kong culinary journey with a traditional dim sum lunch. Dim sum, which means ‘touching the heart’ in Cantonese, involves a series of bite-sized portions served in small steamer baskets or on small plates, typically served with a Chinese brunch tea. One of Hong Kong’s best Chinese restaurants is Tin Lung Heen, a 2-Michelin stared restaurant located on the 102nd floor of the ICC tower, the highest building in Hong Kong. Tin Lung Heen offers sophisticated Cantonese cuisine and an exceptional dim sum menu. Go for their dim sum but be sure to order their signature barbecued Iberian pork, known as char siu, which is considered to be among the best in Hong Kong. The elegant restaurant has soaring ceilings with double height windows with spectacular views of Victoria Harbor so be sure to request a window table when booking.
Tin Lung Heen // Ritz Carlton Hotel, International Commerce Center, Kowloon // website
After lunch, spend the afternoon exploring Kowloon, including the Chi Lin Nunnery and Kowloon’s famous local markets -- the Flower Market, Yuen Po Street Bird Garden, the Goldfish Market, and the Jade Market. To make the most of your visit, have your hotel arrange for a driver and English-speaking guide to take you around Kowloon.
Start your tour with a visit to the Chi Lin Nunnery, a stunning Tang-Dynasty-style Buddhist nunnery established in 1934 and built without any nails. The Chi Lin Nunnery is a tranquil oasis in the middle of a fast-paced and crowded city. The public buildings consist of two connected garden courtyards filled with lotus ponds and surrounded by beautiful temple halls filled with Buddhist relics. Adjacent to the Chi Lin Nunnery is the Nan Lian Garden, a scenic garden built is meticulously landscaped in which every hill, rock, body of water, plant and timber structure has been placed according to traditional garden design principles.
From there, head to the Flower Market, where an entire street is filled with flower and plant shops. Here you will find shops selling spectacular orchids and luscious birds of paradise. The street is crowded with buckets of roses and other flowers spilling out onto the sidewalk and residents bargaining with the shopkeepers.
Not far from the Flower Market is Yuen Po Street Bird Garden, which is a small urban park where bird owners (almost exclusively older men) “walk” their tiny prized songbirds in tiny bamboo cages to show off the beautiful sounds from their birds. The Bird Garden includes over seventy stalls selling exotic birds and bird paraphernalia, including intricate bamboo and teak cages.
Goldfish are considered to be good luck and, not far from the Bird Garden, there is an entire street devoted to goldfish and tropical fish. The stalls in the Goldfish Market sell goldfish, aquariums and exotic fish and the fronts of many shop in the market are covered with plastic bags filled with bulging-eyed colorful fish.
On the way back to the hotel, it is worth a quick visit to the Jade Market, which features 450 stalls selling jade of all types, sizes and prices, but it is probably best to look (but not buy) since much of the jade is reported to be fake.
After an afternoon of sightseeing in the crowded streets of Kowloon, we suggest a little decompression with a relaxing massage at the Peninsula’s Spa. The Peninsula’s Spa, which is beautiful and serene, is one of the best in Hong Kong. Following your massage, you may never want to leave the lavish relaxation rooms with hammam-style steam rooms, saunas and aromatherapy experience showers.
If you are feeling more active, visit the Peninsula’s Roman-style swimming pool located on the 8th floor overlooking the harbor.
The Peninsula Hong Kong // Salisbury Road, Kowloon // website
Before dinner, visit the Mandarin Oriental Hotel for a drink at the famous Captain's Bar. This bar has been around for decades and, with its red leather banquettes and wood-paneling, is a throwback to another era. Still very popular with locals, it is worth a visit to get a taste of Hong Kong’s past.
Captain’s Bar // Mandarin Oriental Hotel, 5 Connaught Road, Central // website
For the first night in Hong Kong, we highly recommend the extraordinary multi-course tasting menu at Bo Innovation, a Michelin 3-star restaurant located in the Wan Chai district. Chef Alvin Leung deconstructs the elements of traditional Chinese dishes and recreates them with a “modernist” spin. For example, Chef Leung offers “xiao long bao”, a classic Shanghainese steamed soup dumpling, that he prepares in molecular form with wonton soup served as a sphere in a traditional Chinese soup spoon that bursts in your mouth when you bite down. Some of Chef Leung’s standout dishes include “fishing village” (spot prawn with soy salt, umami noodles and pickled fussy melon), “baby food” (hairy crab with black truffle whimsically served in a baby food jar), and Wagyu A5 beef served with cheung fan (wide noodles). Bo Innovation is a truly unique experience (though very expensive)!
Bo Innovation // 60 Johnston Road, Wan Chai // website
For over a century, the iconic Star Ferry has been taking passengers across harbor on creaky old green and white ferries. Today, the Star Ferry is still a fun and scenic way to get to Hong Kong island (the MTR is more efficient but way less fun!). Take the Star Ferry to the Central district, boarding the ferry from the 50-year old Star Ferry Terminal in Tsim Sha Tsui. As you cross to Hong Kong island, you can get a close-up view of sampans and high-speed ferries crisscrossing the harbor.
Hong Kong was a British territory until 1997, when it was handed over to the Chinese, who agreed to special relationship for 50 years. Although its population is predominately Chinese, the impact of its colonial heritage and sizable expat community is clearly evident. The Central district was historically the center of trade and commerce and today continues as the main center of finance and commerce, including the world’s biggest banks and dozens of luxury designer shopping malls and emporiums.
On the surface, it appears that most of the colonial historical buildings in Central have been replaced by skyscrapers and luxury shopping malls. However, to dig below the surface and see what the remains of Hong Kong’s historical past, we recommend arranging a private historical walking tour with Jason Wordie, a well-known local historian. Jason, who has written several books on the history of Hong Kong and writes weekly column for South China Morning Post, is quite affable and has an exceptional ability to make the history of Hong Kong come alive and illuminate the fragments of historical elements that survived the development of today’s Hong Kong. Jason will take you to Statute Square, the old Supreme Court (now the Court of Final Appeal), the Government House, the old French Mission Building, St. John’s Cathedral, the Zoological and Botanical Gardens, Central Police Station on Hollywood Road, the Jamia Mosque, and the trendy restaurant and bar dominated hillside side neighborhood of “SoHo”.
Jason Wordie // website
One of our favorite restaurants in Hong Kong is Duddell’s, a 2-Michelin star Chinese restaurant/bar/gallery space located in the heart of the Central district. The beautiful Art Deco inspired restaurant, designed by Illse Crawford, covers two floors and features museum quality Chinese art work adorning the walls. The restaurant, filled with local executives, offers exceptional dim sum and classic Chinese cuisine surrounded by exceptional Chinese art. This trendy restaurant serves among the best dim sum in Hong Kong.
Duddell’s // 1 Duddell Street, Level 3, Central // website
Hong Kong is a shopper’s paradise. Begin at Queen’s Road Central, which is teeming with luxury designer shopping malls and stores, including the ultra-luxurious Landmark Mall filled with luxury international designer brands and the nearby International Financial Center (IFC) Mall, where you will find Lane Crawford, Hong Kong’s iconic department store. With so many shops and designer boutiques, Hong Kong gives new meaning to the phrase “Shop ‘til you drop”!
In addition to its luxury shopping malls and designer boutiques, Hong Kong is known for its custom tailors and shirt makers. A-Man Hing Cheong (in the Mandarin Oriental) and Sam’s Tailors are among the best tailors in Hong Kong (though don’t expect a 24-hour suit) and Ascot Chang (numerous branches) is one of the best shirt makers in Hong Kong.
Sam’s Tailors // Burlington Arcade, 90-94C Nathan Rd, Tsim Sha Tsui // website
Ascot Chang // website
While in Hong Kong, you should not miss the traditional afternoon tea at The Peninsula Hotel. For decades, The Peninsula’s elegant lobby, with its with classic pillars soaring to a double-height gilded ceiling, potted palm trees and string quartet, has been the place to go for its famous afternoon tea service. Here you will find a selection of finger sandwiches and pastries, freshly baked raisin scones, Devonshire clotted cream, and organic strawberry preserve, severed with a choice of teas from the hotel’s extensive tea collection. If you are a guest of the hotel, you can bypass the rather long wait for a table.
The Peninsula Hong Kong // Salisbury Road, Kowloon // website
Before dinner, head to the Mandarin Oriental Landmark hotel (located in the Central district) for a pre-dinner cocktail at the Mo Bar. The chic bar is a perfect spot of a pre-dinner drink, with cozy tables, good music and a very creative drink menu.
Mo Bar // Mandarin Oriental Landmark, 15 Queen’s Road Central // website
In additional to its exceptional Chinese cuisine, Hong Kong has excellent international restaurants, including restaurants specializing in French, Italian, Nordic and Japanese cuisines. For dinner, we love Ronin, a 14-seat Japanese izakaya-style restaurant in the Sheung Wan district where you will find some of Hong Kong’s freshest seafood. Opened by Matt Abergel and Lindsay Jang, Ronin is the follow-on act to Yardbird, a very popular yakitori (grilled chicken) restaurant a few blocks away. Ronin is hidden behind an unmarked grey sliding door and has a speakeasy feel. The restaurant is very narrow, with diners sitting on stools along a single long polished wood bar counter (there is no table seating). The bar makes very creative cocktails but is especially known for an exceptional collection of rare sake and obscure Japanese whiskeys. Ronin uses Japanese cooking techniques to offer among the most creative seafood dishes in Hong Kong. On a recent visit, some of the standout dishes included a scallop spring roll, unagi (eel) with rice and bite-sized deep fried soft-shelled crabs.
Ronin // G/F, 8 On Wo Lane, Sheung Wan // website
For breakfast, it’s hard to beat The Verandah at The Peninsula Hong Kong, which offers a luxurious breakfast buffet filled with an enormous selection of western pastries and breakfast foods, as well as traditional Chinese and select Japanese breakfast foods.
No trip to Hong Kong would be complete without a visit to The Peak, the highest point in Hong Kong. From the observation area, you will get an amazing panoramic view of Hong Kong and the entire Kowloon peninsula. The most scenic way to visit the Peak is to take the 125-year-old Peak Tram, which is the world's steepest funicular railway.
After exploring the Peak, spend the morning exploring the Sheung Wan district (just west of Central). Here you will find traditional Chinese herbal medicine markets selling ginseng and dried delicacies including shark’s fin, abalone, mushrooms, bird’s nests, sea cucumbers, as well as antique dealers and even coffin makers.
The herbal medicine and dried seafood markets are clustered around a section of Des Voeux Road West, commonly known as the Dried Seafood Street.
After exploring these traditional shops, head to Hollywood Road, a street filled with exceptional Chinese antiques and classical-art galleries, as well as stores selling paper lanterns. Just off Hollywood Road is Cat Street, which is known for kitschy knickknacks.
While on Hollywood Road, don’t miss Man Mo Temple, a small temple built in the mid-nineteenth century and dedicated to Taoist gods of literature (Man) and war (Mo). Built in 1847, Man Mo Temple, one of the oldest and largest temples in Hong Kong, is filled with giant hanging incense coils and offers a pleasant respite from the hectic pace of the nearby financial district.
For art lovers, now is a great time to visit Hong Kong. In the last few years, Hong Kong has seen the emergence of a burgeoning art scene -- Hong Kong first hosted Art Basel in 2013 and since then numerous major international art galleries have arrived, including Gagosian, Lehmann-Maupin and Ben Brown Fine Arts, all of which can be found in the neoclassical Pedder Building. In the next few years, Hong Kong will become a major Asian art hub with the development of two major new art centers and museums -- the Central Police Station, which is being transformed into a nonprofit arts hub designed by Herzog & de Meuron (opening in 2017), and the $2.8 billion West Kowloon Cultural District, which will open in 2019 and include a Chinese opera house, theaters and M+, a museum focusing on 20th and 21st century art, design and architecture and moving image.
For lunch, one of our favorite Cantonese restaurants is Lung King Heen, located on 4th floor of the Four Seasons hotel overlooking Victoria harbor and the eight-peak “dragon” of Kowloon (make sure to request a window table). Lung King Heen, led by Chef Chan Yan-tak, was the first Cantonese restaurant to earn 3-stars from the Michelin Guide. The elegant restaurant, with rich polished woods, marble floors and fine linens, offers exceptional Cantonese cuisine and, at lunch, excellent dim sum.
Lung King Heen // Four Seasons Hotel, 8 Finance Street Central // website
For a truly special experience, considering chartering the Michelangelo, a beautifully restored 80-foot classic motor yacht crafted of polished mahogany, teak, brass and copper, for a private cruise around Hong Kong island. You will board the magnificent yacht in Aberdeen Harbor, a protected harbor on Hong Kong’s south side and once the home of hundreds of fishing boats and floating villages. Today, the fishing boats and floating villages have largely been replaced by beautiful yachts and sailboats. The elegant yacht has three decks with over 4,000 square feet of living space that includes teak sun decks, a mahogany paneled living room and dining room and, for overnight trips, a beautiful master suite and four additional guest cabins (plus a full kitchen, office and staff quarters).
After getting settled on the steamer chairs overlooking the bow, the yacht will head to Repulse Bay, one of the nicest beaches along the south side of Hong Kong island, where you will anchor for a swim in the tranquil waters and sunbath on the massive 400 square foot teak sundeck. As the sun sets, you can enjoy cocktails on the stern or in the club-like living room with mahogany wood paneling and furniture while circling Hong Kong island to Victoria Harbor.
The Michelangelo will arrive back in Victoria Harbor in time for the Symphony of Lights, a light show of laser beams projected from the skyscrapers of Hong Kong synchronized to music. The best place to enjoy the pulsating laser light show is from the deck of the Michelangelo with a flute of champagne in hand! After the light show, the Michelangelo will drop you off by the Star Ferry piers in the Central district, not far from tonight’s dinner.
Michelangelo // website
For dinner, we suggest Mott 32 (named after a convenience store in NYC’s Chinatown), which is in basement level of Standard Chartered Bank building not far from the Star Ferry pier. Upon arrival, you descend a spiral staircase to a spectacular restaurant that blends Imperial Chinese furnishings within a faux-gritty industrial space. The restaurant is dark and sexy with candle-lit tables and chic lighting. Before dinner, have a drink at the bar, which is modeled after an old apothecary shop. We suggest one of mixologist Gurung’s innovative cocktails, like the signature “On Leong Tea”, a blend of oolong tea, passion fruit, guava and white rum. The food, prepared by Chef Lee Man-sing, is a mix of classic Beijing, Cantonese and Sichuan dishes, all with a modern twist. Some standout dishes include the signature smoked black cod served under glass with a cloud of smoke and excellent barbecue Iberico pork cha sui. Mott 32 also is known for their applewood-roasted Peking duck made in the restaurant's custom-designed industrial duck oven.
Mott 32 // Standard Chartered Bank Building, 4-4a Des Voeux Road, Central // website
Before you leave, we suggest booking a Meet & Greet service through your hotel -- after the long flight to Hong Kong, nothing beats being met at the jetway by the hotel representative and speedily whisked through the airport to your awaiting car. For the ultimate in luxury, book the Peninsula’s helicopter transfer which will take you directly from the airport to the heliport on the roof of the Peninsula Hotel. Alternatively, book one of the Peninsula’s 14 bespoke green Rolls Royce Phantoms to take you on the 45-minute ride to the hotel, where you will be greeted by Peninsula Pages and whisked to your room to complete en suite check-in.
Taxi cabs are plentiful and relatively cheap in Hong Kong but make sure you have your hotel concierge write down your destination address in Chinese; most taxi drivers don’t speak English. However, we prefer hailing an Uber car, which is not much more expensive but much more comfortable and the app makes language issues disappear.
When crossing between Kowloon and Hong Kong, we find the MTR to be much more efficient but, if we’re not in a hurry, we’ll always take the iconic Star Ferry, which is more scenic and certainly more nostalgic.
Hong Kong Island Hotels
If you want to stay on Hong Kong island, we recommend the Mandarin Oriental, which was one of the original luxury hotels in Hong Kong. For decades, the Mandarin Oriental was the local hub for all of Hong Kong society. The hotel was once the tallest building on Hong Kong island when it opened in 1963 and is now dwarfed by the surrounding skyscrapers. The hotel was updated in 2005 to include many modern touches and amenities but preserved much of the original styling and glamour (think Connery-era James Bond). The hotel has ten restaurants, including the Michelin-starred Mandarin Grill (grilled classics and seafood), Pierre (French chef Pierre Gagnaire’s creative French restaurant) and Man Wah (classic Cantonese and excellent dim sum), and an excellent spa. Although the rooms are somewhat on the small side, the furnishings and décor are luxurious. We recommend the Harbor View Suites, which have nice views of Victoria Harbor and are furnished with opulent Jim Thompson ruby red silk wall coverings and rich Chinese Elm paneling.
Mandarin Oriental Hotel, 5 Connaught Road, Central // website
Coffee and Tea
To start the day with an exceptional cup of coffee or if you need an afternoon caffeine jolt, we recommend Omotesando Koffee, a Japanese cult coffee shop located in the new Lee Tung Avenue shopping street in Wan Chai. This blonde wood coffee shop offers bare-bones menu of drip coffee and espresso-based drinks with a handful of Japanese pastries. The coffee, prepared by lab-coat wearing coffee baristas with laboratory like precision, is exceptionally pure and delicious and among the best in Hong Kong.
Omotesando Koffee // Lee Tung Ave, No.200 Queen's Road East, Wan Chai // website
There are a number excellent tea shops in Hong Kong but one of the best is LockCha Tea House on Queen’s Road in Sheung Wan. If you have the time, consider a tea tasting that allows you to sample several different teas.
LockCha Tea Shop // 290A, Queen's Road Central // website