Hong Kong – ‘Fragrant Harbour’ – was Britain’s first toehold on the Chinese coast and, as one of the world’s leading financial centres, remains firmly at the interface of East and West: an economic powerhouse, a cultural melting pot and an enthralling city to explore. Gazing across Victoria Harbour at the famous cityscape today, with its ranks of skyscrapers receding into the misty hills behind, and junks bobbing around the choppy grey-green bay in the foreground, it’s hard to comprehend that a little over a century and a half ago, this most recognizable of waterfronts was merely a ‘barren rock’ off China’s south coast. Boats are still very much part of the local scene, but there’s plenty to explore on dry land.
Follow the aroma of incense to discover a Taoist temple; duck out of the rain into a steaming noodle canteen or dim sum restaurant for an unforgettably delicious meal. Or jump on a ferry to the settlement of Aberdeen, where sampans dodge among the trawlers in the harbour, and fishermen in conical hats preside over piles of exotic seafood, from jellyfish tentacles to crabs the size of tennis rackets.
The rattly old Victorian funicular railway ascending HK’s famous Peak started life in 1888, as a means of transporting colonial settlers desperate for a break from the heat. It now shuttles 7 million passengers every year – at a hair-raising gradient – to the complex at the famous hilltop, featuring Madame Tussaud’s and the distinctive Peak Tower. The finest views are to be had from the Sky Terrace 428, the highest viewing deck in the city, which overlooks the whole harbour and distant skyscrapers of Kowloon.