Hong Kong has long had a reputation as a stopover destination where visitors can tick off the main sights and activities in a long weekend. Now, the city's burgeoning precincts and neighbourhoods, evolutionary food and drinks scene and untapped great outdoors mean a week is barely enough.
Monday – The Peak and Central
Café Gray Deluxe, at the top of boutique Upper House hotel, serves breakfast with heart-stopper views to the Peak and Victoria Harbour. Take a peek at the terrapins and giant goldfish in nearby Hong Kong Park (lcsd.gov.hk) before boarding the colonial Peak Tram, which leaves every 15 minutes on a vertiginous seven-minute ascent through urban jungle. At the top, Peak Circuit is a cool little paved loop that follows the curve of the hill through rainforest, revealing glimpses of the Pearl River Delta below. Catch an iconic red Toyota taxi to lunch at Tsim Chai Kee (98 Wellington St, Central) where noodle soup with beef balls and prawn wontons costs under $5. Take Midlevels Escalator up to Hollywood Road, then meander down through the wet markets spread along Graham, Gage and Peel streets. When you reach flat ground, Shanghai Tang Mansion , Sir David Tang's HK-born, luxury store is the place to splurge on a little cheong sam dress. Pair it with made-to-order heels from Vickie shoes (6 Li Yuen St East). Get caffeinated at Kiwi-owned Fuel Espresso then head to Gao's Foot Massage for a reflexology session. For dinner, choose between Manchurian Candidate (5/F, Winner Building, 37 D'Aguilar St, LKF), a homely Sichuan private kitchen, or Ho Lee Fook, a hip basement eatery serving Chinese street food. See live jazz at Foxglove, a cocktail bar disguised as an umbrella shop.
Tuesday - TST and Kowloon
The antique Star Ferries that plough the waters of Victoria Harbour are one of the city's endearingly cheap thrills. Jump on at Central Pier for the short ride across to Tsim Sha Tsui and a taste of the commuter rush hour. TST's streets teem with bag-toting shoppers and cheap watch sellers. Note the contrast on a walk through the foyer of the illustrious Peninsula Hotel and the grounds of neighbouring 1881 Heritage and Hullett House. Nathan Road is TST's main thoroughfare and home to hundreds of mid-range global retailers. For something local, department store Yue Hwa sells chintzy fans, antique snuff bottles and mah jong sets. Next, Jordan's dazzling Jade Market has dozens of jewellery stalls touting pearls, beads and bangles. Similarly charismatic are Yuen Po Street Bird Market and Fa Yuen Street clothes market. Put your toes up at Broadway Cinematheque and adjoining Kubrik's Café, a cultural hub with a film-focussed bookshop. Dinner is casual at Temple Street Night Market, a dai pai dong-style outdoor eating strip that sells oyster pancakes! On the way home, Ozone, the world's highest bar is at the top of the ICC.
Wednesday – Wan Chai, Happy Valley and Causeway Bay
Tsui Wah, a chain café respected for its nostalgic east-meets-west dishes, serves cups of Ceylon milk tea and freshly baked crispy buns drizzled with sweetened condensed milk. Have breakfast at the Central branch, then take Midlevels Escalator through SoHo to Caine Road and walk to Hong Kong Zoological and Botanical Gardens. This free inner city oasis, one of the oldest of its kind in the world, is home to sloths, monkeys, meerkats and an old growth heritage tree trail. Navigate from here to the paved and tree-canopied four-kilometre Bowen Road Trail, which wends its way past shrines and viewpoints to Happy Valley. Have lunch at Dim Sum (63 Sing Woo Rd, Happy Valley), an old-school restaurant with booth seating, ceiling fans and cracking coriander-mottled beef balls. Hong Kong's two-storey antique trams are another blast from the past. From the nearby tram stop, ride one to Wan Chai where teetering residential towers hide a rabbit warren of intriguing streets, including Star Street, a lovely canopied pocket championing designer shops and European cafes. Back in Happy Valley, Wednesday night (from September until June) is race night at this spectacularly urbanised track. But first, have authentic local Cantonese at Sheung Kee (2 Yuk Sau St, corner Sing Woo Rd) in Wong Nai Chung Market.
Thursday — Macau
Portuguese egg tarts.
Hour-long ferry rides leave regularly from HK Macau Ferry Terminal in Central or the China Ferry Terminal in Tsim Sha Tsui, Kowloon. In Macau, catch a cab to Largo do Senado, a colonial charmer, lined with black and white stone tiles and surrounded by UNESCO World Heritage architecture. Sit down at Wong Chi Kei (51 Senado Square) for duck congee and stroll along Avenida de Almeida Ribeiro with its old Chinese shophouses and eateries selling local jerky and almond biscuits. Historical Rua de Felicidade is known for its enchanting red-shuttered tong lau shophouses. North of here, the hilltop Ruins of St Paul's Cathedral is all that remains of the razed 17th century Jesuit Church. For more history, Macau Museum is in the nearby Mont Fortress, and don't miss delightful St Lazarus neighbourhood, which retains its 16th century cobbled streets and shuttered low-rise houses. Albergue da Santa Casa da Misericordia is its enchanting camphor tree-shaded square where visitors can shop for quality souvenirs at Mercearia Portuguesa then eat Portuguese-skewed Mediterranean food at Albergue 1601. Spend the afternoon in pretty unadulterated Coloane a 30-minute cab ride away. It has quaint houses, a church, promenade and Lord Stowe's (lordstow.com), a bakery responsible for the iconic local Portuguese egg tarts. On Hac Sa Beach, Fernando's is a charismatic Portuguese eatery with a beer garden vibe – the perfect end to the day.
Friday – Macau, Sheung Wan and Sai Ying Pun
Sai Ying Pun.
On route to the ferry terminal detour to Cunha Bazaar a showy two-storey landmark in Old Taipa. It stocks quirky culinary treats including spicy dried fish and shrimp flavoured peanuts. Along Cunha Street the food theme continues with ginger candy and almond cookies with pork filling. When you get off the ferry in Hong Kong, head directly across the road to Sheung Wan for a wander around the Chinese Medicine and Dried Seafood streets then aim for the sloping residential neighbourhood around Tai Ping Shan with galleries, one-off boutiques, cafes and bars that open around 3pm. Head to nearby Sai Ying Pun, Hong Kong's hip-right-now precinct that beats even Sheung Wan for cool. Browse eco-chic homewares at Get-Give and eclectic global home décor at Thorn & Burrow. Settle in for some Hong Kong style cha chaan teng comfort food at new Mr. S.Y. PUNTI in a renovated tong lau. Industrially chic Ping Pong Gintoneria, secreted away in an old ping-pong hall, has craft spirits and live music to keep you out.
Saturday – Stanley and Shek O
Spend an easygoing morning on the south of Hong Kong Island at Stanley, a popular weekend destination with a fishing village atmosphere (albeit with a modern-day makeover). The promenade has a string of restaurants but save breakfast for the adjoining piazza where Classified (classifiedfood.com) has alfresco seats overlooking a pirate ship playground. Murray House, the 160-year-old, three-storey waterfront building that was famously moved here from Central, and historic Blake Pier are worth strolling through. So too Stanley Market, a rambling undercover strip of stalls selling tacky souvenirs, faux designer handbags and cheap children's clothes. One of Hong Kong's favourite walks, Dragon's Back, begins near Stanley (about ten minutes by taxi). The eight-kilometre trail covers typical undulating Hong Kong terrain and has scenic water views. Whether you walk Dragon's Back or not, spend the afternoon where the walk ends — in laidback Shek O, Hong Kong's answer to a seaside village. It has a long flat beach shaded by trees, a maze of little two-storey village houses and streets selling cheap Thai and Chinese food. Choose one for lunch before whiling away the afternoon on the beach. Back in town, Luke Nguyen's new Vietnamese restaurant, Moi Moi and high-style dim sum gurus Mott 32 are equally tempting.
Sunday – Lantau Island
Indulge in one more dim sum feast. Maxim's Palace City Hall's 100 or so dim sum varieties are delivered via trolleys in a chintzy wedding banquet hall. It's an experience. From here the MTR is a short walk away at Hong Kong Station in IFC. Take a train to Diamond Hill station and follow the signs to Kowloon's Nan Lian Garden a 35,000-square-metres landscaped garden with rockeries and Chinese timber architecture built in the style of the Tang Dynasty. Adjoining Chi Lin Nunnery is a Buddhist Temple complex with similarly ornate pagodas and tranquil lily ponds. Another of Kowloon's religious and cultural icons is Wong Tai Sin Temple, 10 minutes away by train. Its pavilions, shrines and halls have a feng shui aesthetic and attract followers of Taoism, Buddhism and Confucianism. Take the train back to Hong Kong or Kowloon stations where you can check-in before boarding the Airport Express for a speedy 24-minute ride to the airport.
For more ideas on how to best explore Hong Kong visit www.discoverhongkong.com/au.
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This article brought to you by the Hong Kong Tourism Board and Macao Government Tourism Office.