We know that a 48-hour layover in Hong Kong isn’t much, but it’s certainly enough time to at least experience the city’s special mix of local culture and cosmopolitan luxury — especially with the help of this guide.
Working on such a tight schedule, it’s best to hit the ground running in Hong Kong. Start the day by visiting Victoria Peak, one of the region’s biggest attractions. The views are spectacular (barring any haze or clouds) and offer a lay of the land. The classic way up is the Peak Tram, a steep funicular railway in operation for more than 120 years, but if the lines are too long, hop in a cab. At the top you’ll find restaurants, an observation deck and a shopping mall, but for a quieter experience, take a stroll along densely wooded Lugard Road.
If you don’t see anything appetizing on the Peak, venture back down to Central District. Go for a casual and cheerful meal at one of the noodle shops on Wellington Street (we recommend Mak’s Noodle or Tsim Chai Kee) or try dim sum at the classic City Hall Maxim’s Palace, housed in a massive banquet hall overlooking Victoria Harbour.
Only seven miles from the harbor sits Mandarin Oriental, Hong Kong, your ideal choice for overnight accommodations during your short visit. This Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star hotel offers high-level luxury and a sense of retro chinoiserie glamour that harks back to the mid-1960s, a time when MOHK was the tallest building in the city.
Next, make your way to Hollywood Road. Running from Central into the Sheung Wan neighborhood, this street is home to countless galleries and antique dealers, as well as Man Mo Temple, an elaborate 1847 structure still standing in the midst of the many high-rises. Nearby Cat Street is great for picking up souvenirs such as vintage postcards, trinkets and kitsch. On Tai Ping Shan Street (one block uphill from Hollywood), you’ll find some of HK’s hippest galleries, indie boutiques and cafés. Check out Chum5 for shoes and Konzepp for a curated selection of home accessories and clothing for men and women. From there, go farther uphill (technically in the Mid-Levels) to the Dr. Sun Yat-sen Museum (a building honoring the Republic of China’s first president) or down to Des Voeux Road West, a.k.a. “dried seafood street,” where you’ll see wholesalers dealing in dried fish and medicinal herbs.
For dinner, make a reservation at Lung King Heen, a Five-Star restaurant housed in Four Seasons Hotel Hong Kong. Here you’ll find what many consider the finest Cantonese cooking in the city — the signature Lung King Heen roasted chicken and barbecued pork with honey are a delight —with exquisite service to match.
If you’re looking for a party on your first evening, follow the throbbing bass lines to the clubs of Lan Kwai Fong. For a quiet nightcap, consider Sevva, a luxe lounge on the roof of Prince’s Building, or the convenient M Bar back at the Mandarin, both of which offer glittering city views.
Tsim Sha Tsui (TST), on the tip of the Kowloon peninsula, is known for upscale shopping and endless jewelry stores, but the area also holds a cluster of cultural institutions. At the Hong Kong Museum of Art, for instance, take in a majestic collection of Chinese antiquities along with a diverse lineup of temporary shows (“Ju Ming: Sculpting the Living World” runs through early June). When you’ve had your fill, stroll along the waterfront promenade, where you’ll find the Avenue of Stars, Hong Kong cinema’s own walk of fame.
This will leave you near InterContinental Hotel Hong Kong, where you can lunch at Yan Toh Heen, savoring artful dim sum items such as steamed dumplings with prawns and bamboo shoots, or crispy spring rolls with crabmeat and prawns. The delicious harbor views aren’t bad, either.
If you’re keen for another museum after eating, head to The Hong Kong Museum of History, which tells the story of the territory through its geology, ecology, culture and politics. It often has notable temporary exhibits, such as “Images Through Time: Photos of Old Hong Kong,” which shows through April 21.
To explore moving art, take the MTR a few stops further to Yau Ma Tei to visit the Jade Market and Temple Street Night Market, or to Prince Edward to see the astounding Goldfish Market, a street overflowing with the popular pet deemed lucky in Chinese culture. If you’d like even more evidence that shopping is Hong Kong’s favorite pastime, head to Harbour City mall (where you can peruse Dior and Givenchy), K11 (Longchamp, Furla) or the upscale 1881 Heritage complex (Shanghai Tang, Cartier).
Every evening at 8, the Hong Kong Island skyline puts on a flashy laser show called Symphony of Lights. You’ll have to fight the crowds back at the TST waterfront promenade to hear the accompanying music. For a more comfortable vantage point, book dinner at either Four-Star modern Italian Tosca or Cantonese fine-dining spot Tin Lung Heen, both housed on the 102nd floor of ICC tower, in Five-Star The Ritz-Carlton, Hong Kong. To up the vertigo factor, ascend to the 118th floor for a drink at Ozone, the world’s highest bar.
Libations, light shows and luxury dining aside, the very best way to see the Fragrant Harbor might also be the cheapest: Whichever side you end up on, be sure to take at least one commute across the channel on the lumbering, iconic Star Ferry.
Photos Courtesy of iStock, Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group LLC, Four Seasons and InterContinental Hong Kong