Hong Kong is a city like no other: seven million people crammed into soaring skyscrapers, forests of apartment blocks and neon-lit laneways, right on the edge of the South China Sea. With its dazzling skyline framed by stunning harbour and lush green jungle all round, it’s also rich in natural charm. Add to that a vibrant food culture, buzzing nightlife and streets that beat with an intoxicating energy and it’s impossible not to fall in love with the place.
07:00 Early morning is the best time to visit Victoria Peak, the highest point on Hong Kong Island, with its dazzling panoramas of the city, Victoria Harbour and the sprawl of China beyond. Catch the first Peak Tram, which leaves at 7am from Garden Road. The 130-year-old funicular climbs almost vertically on its eight-minute journey, slicing through the skyscrapers and allowing voyeuristic glimpses into apartments along the way. At the top head for Lugard Road and walk the 3.5-kilometre Peak Circle Walk for mind-blowing 360 degrees views.
09:00 Jump in a taxi (red Toyota taxis are cheap and plentiful) and ask for the IFC , one of the city’s glitziest malls. Grab coffee from Fuel, Hong Kong’s best caffeine hit, before heading to the basement bus station: we’re taking the deliciously scenic 260 route to Stanley. The road winds along the south of the island with sandy beaches on one side and emerald subtropical forest on the other (more than 40 per cent of Hong Kong is National Park). Stroll around charming Stanley village, famous for its market, or relax on St. Stephen’s beach.
11:00 Head back to IFC in a taxi: it’s time to experience the joys of the world’s longest covered escalator. The 800-meter Mid-Levels Escalator climbs right through the city’s heart. You’ll coast by a riot of neon-brightened streets, past tiny shops and cafes so close you can almost touch them. Regular exit and entry points provide plenty of opportunity to hop off and explore.
11:30 Hop off the escalator at Hollywood Road to see modern design fuse spectacularly with old temples. Visit the Tai Kwun Centre for Heritage and Arts, a brilliant renovation of the colonial Central Police Station and prison that hosts performances and artworks inside 16 heritage buildings and two striking aluminium-clad boxes. A little further along Hollywood Road, find one of the city’s oldest temples, Man Mo, built in 1847 and a tribute to the gods of literature (Man) and war (Mo). As red and gold swirl before your eyes, huge coils of incense smoulder from the ceiling and a fortune-teller will divine your fate in English.
13:00 Walk your way past antique dealers back down to Central (an easy 20 minutes) for the city’s best dim sum at the divine China Club. Formed by the late businessman and socialite Sir David Tang, this restaurant in the ex-Bank of China building is all old-Shanghai glamour with an opulent sweeping staircase, Chinese art and lacquered rosewood dining chairs. Technically, this is a members’ club but the concierge at a good hotel will usually be able to sweet-talk you into a reservation. Order the xiao long bao (broth-filled steamed pork dumplings), Peking duck and char siu bao (barbecue pork buns).
14:30 After lunch, take a 15-minute walk to the harbour and pier number 7 to ride the historic Star Ferry. The iconic green and white ferries have been shuttling across Victoria Harbour for more than 130 years and the $2.70 fare is an absolute bargain for the stunning trip to Tsim Sha Tsui on Kowloon. The take on Hong Kong Island from the middle of the harbour is simply breath-stopping.
15:00 When you disembark in Kowloon, it’s just a quick taxi ride to the Jade Market on Battery Street in the bustling Jordan neighbourhood. At this undercover mecca for souvenir-hunters, stalls hawk jewellery, Buddha statues, amulets and any sort of trinket you could imagine would be made from the emerald stone believed to promote wisdom and peace. Bring your polite haggling skills – it’s all part of the fun.
16:00 A quick taxi ride will bring you to historic Peninsula Hotel and a world of oriental elegance. The acclaimed afternoon tea is served in the gracious colonial Lobby (all potted palms, gilded columns and swathes of marble) and guests feast on dainty finger sandwiches and pastries to the sound of a string quartet. Make the occasion extra special by taking the 15-minute Fly and Tea helicopter flight from the hotel’s rooftop helipad before teatime.
18:00 First nip back to your hotel for a quick brush up. Then head to the seriously upscale Terrace bar at Sevva on the top floor of the Princes Building. In a city with a rich pedigree in swanky rooftop bars, this is the best in town. A magical wraparound balcony with comfy sofas and candlelit tables provides dazzling views over the city, harbour and the Norman Foster-designed HSBC building. Order the guava martini and marvel at the shining city as the night lights twinkle to life.
20:00 Take the Mid-Levels Escalator up to hip Gough Street in SoHo to discover one of the most happening restaurants in the city. Gough’s on Gough is owned by furniture designer Timothy Oulton and serves up stylish interiors with a menu that fuses elemental Asian purism and international influences with modern British cooking. Classic seafood and meat dishes get a sexy spin.
22:00 End the day of exploration with one of Hong Kong’s most civilised experiences, a blissful foot reflexology massage. Ten Feet Tall in Central has comfortable armchairs, soft mood lighting and a relaxed vibe – and it’s open until 1pm.