Visually stunning Hong Kong represents a collision between almost-unfettered capitalism and fascinating Chinese tradition. Together with the city’s popularity amongst Asian tourists, its major stopover status and its financial importance, Hong Kong is an all-round contender for one of the most interesting destinations in the world.
Hong Kong is also much more diverse than many people imagine before they arrive. There are, of course, skyscrapers, colonial remnants, frenetic urban living and that world-famous waterfront, which looks particularly good when lit up at night. But Hong Kong Island also has the leafy Victoria Peak at its heart, atmospheric little temples, as well as laid-back settlements and beaches on its southern side.
Across the harbour is Kowloon, with its own bustling waterfront and – further back from the water – plenty of interesting markets and intriguing back streets to explore. The Mong Kok district is, supposedly, the most densely populated place in the world. This is where things get a little less flashily cosmopolitan and a little more Chinese.
It’s further inland, towards the Chinese border, that Hong Kong really surprises, however. In the New Territories – so called because they were leased by the British from China around 40 years after Hong Kong Island and Kowloon were taken by force – there are some large settlements, but also vast tracts of glorious unspoilt scenery. The Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (SAR) as a whole is pretty hilly, and there’s some great hiking to be done in the New Territories, as well as wildlife-watching opportunities in the country parks.
Then there are the 260 outlying islands, several of which are inhabited and provide a tranquil alternative to the hectic city life. Some of them are completely car-free, and a slower pace of life is symbolised by the use of bicycles to get around. Visitors to Lantau Island will find a giant Buddha reached by a cable car, while Lamma and Cheung Chau Islands are popular places to kick back on sunny weekend days. Macau, a former Portuguese colony, is not part of Hong Kong’s SAR, but is popular for day trips and weekends away.
Islands such as Lamma also have some fantastic seafood restaurants. In fact, travellers are rarely far from great food in Hong Kong. This does not just include Chinese regional dishes – although you’ll find plenty, from Cantonese dim sum to spicy Szechuan specialities – but also other Asian cuisines and some very high-quality Western cooking.
It’s also a place that does festivals well, with Chinese New Year the highlight of the calendar but others – such as the Dragon Boat Races – offering the chance to see the Chinese community taking a break from the fast pace of city life. All this means Hong Kong isn’t just a destination for lovers of cityscapes and shopping. Whether it's spending the day betting and bantering at the horses, chasing the kids around Hong Kong's very own Disneyland, or getting back to nature at a stunning country park, there is something to suit all in this cosmopolitan city.