Your essential guide to Hong Kong

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By Cathy Adams

Hong-Kong-based travel journalist Cathy Adams is the deputy editor of Discovery magazine for Cathay Pacific, and contributes to titles including Escapism, The Independent, Sunday Times Travel and The Guardian.

Find your bearings

Things in Hong Kong move so fast you’ll need to run to keep up – literally. The location of Mandarin Oriental, Hong Kong – flanking Victoria Harbour – makes it the perfect starting point for getting acquainted with Asia’s most photographed cityscape. Lace up your trainers and jog the path beneath the city’s skyscrapers.

Feed your mind

Hong Kong’s city centre is brimming with first-class art galleries. You’ll find them principally housed in the white-fronted Pedder Building – check out outposts of Gagosian, Pearl Lam and Lehmann Maupin. Nearby is the imposing Agricultural Bank of China, the ground floor of which is dedicated to the contemporary gallery, White Cube. Those interested in Hong Kong’s nautical heritage should make time for the Hong Kong Maritime Museum, while another nearby gem is the oldest colonial building in Hong Kong, Flagstaff House Museum of Tea Ware. It was once the office and residence of the commander of the British Forces in Hong Kong, and alongside its exhibitions, the museum holds demonstrations, tea-appreciation classes and lectures to promote China’s tea-drinking culture.

White Cube

Work by artist Wang Gongxin at White Cube. Photo: White Cube and Kit Min Lee

Shop like a local

Hong Kong’s shopping is world famous – and you’ll find the best of it concentrated in the city’s core. Just across the road from Mandarin Oriental, Hong Kong is Prince’s Building, with a collection of boutiques and lifestyle shops. Highlights include the smart book and stationery emporium, Bookazine; Blanc de Chine, a purveyor of premium, contemporary clothing with a Chinese aesthetic; jeweller Wai Kee, one of Hong Kong’s oldest; and Ascot Chang, a Shanghainese bespoke men’s tailor. On Lan Street, just behind Queen’s Road Central, is carving out a reputation as a high-end shopping street. Visit the Christian Louboutin flagship (or just stare at the playful window displays), Italian shoemaker Gianvito Rossi or the Central branch of D-Mop, a store stocking contemporary streetwear and cutting-edge fashion. Gents will find much to love in the J Crew Men’s shop here, too.

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Only in Hong Kong...

“If you’re in urgent need of a suit, head to Sam’s Tailor in Burlington Arcade. For more than 40 years, Manu (and more recently, his son Roshan) have been making ’24-hour suits’ in Hong Kong. Famous past clients include George Bush, Bill Clinton, Prince Charles, Margaret Thatcher, Pavarotti  and Michael Jackson.”

Pierre Barthes, General Manager of Mandarin Oriental, Hong Kong

See some sights

Mandarin Oriental, Hong Kong counts some extraordinary buildings as its neighbours. Sir Norman Foster’s steel jenga-like HSBC building stares down IM Pei’s Bank of China – which was designed to reflect bad feng shui onto its banking rival). They flank the neoclassical former Legislative Council Building in nearby Statue Square, home to Hong Kong’s Supreme Court until 1985 – now a precious few square metres of tranquillity.

Get an up-close view of Hong Kong’s skyline either from Victoria Peak, one of the city’s highest mountains and easily reachable by taxi, or via a cross-harbour excursion to Kowloon by catching the iconic green-and-white Star Ferry, which has been carrying passengers since 1888.

Toast your arrival

You won’t be thirsty at Mandarin Oriental, Hong Kong. The Captain's Bar is (almost) as famous as the Mandarin itself – slide into a red banquette and sup the eponymous beer from a silver tankard. Come back often enough and you’ll get your own engraved version. The sensational M Bar on the 25th floor is very Hong Kong: all glittering views, dark wood accents and cocktails that fuse East and West ingredients, echoing the spirit of the city.

Conceptual Iron Fairies has a 10,000-string swarm of real butterflies hanging from the ceiling in its striking yet cosy space off cobbled Pottinger Street – plus a cocktail list designed by New York ‘mixsultant’ Joseph Boroski.

Make time to unwind

Make time to unwind

Spa & Wellness

Multi-award-winning and elegantly reminiscent of 1930s Shanghai, the Spa at Mandarin Oriental is the city’s premier escape route to bliss. Unwind with the four-handed signature Oriental Harmony massage – ideal if you’ve touched down in this buzzy megalopolis after a long flight. Hong Kong’s urban parks epitomise the easy city/country split for which the territory is famous. Sprawling Hong Kong Park counts 600 species of birds (including some indigenous to Southeast Asia) within its limits, while waterfront Tamar Park has eye-popping views over the harbour and the city’s skyscrapers.

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Dine in style 

There’s a whole spectrum of fine dining options within Mandarin Oriental, Hong Kong. The one-Michelin-starred Mandarin Grill + Bar is a chic spot frequented by local financiers and visitors. Twenty-five floors above the Grill is Pierre Gagnaire’s eponymous French restaurant. With expansive views of Hong Kong, the setting of the Michelin-lauded restaurant is as stunning as its delicate dishes. 

Hong Kong’s Michelin-starred meals don’t always come wrapped in a white table-clothed dining room, though. Locals know that some of the city’s best dim sum, including siu mai and har gow dumplings, served fresh from steaming basket trolleys, can be found at City Hall – a mere five-minute walk away from the hotel, while on nearby Wellington Street, hungry diners can find several inexpensive, Michelin-starred or Michelin-recommended noodle and dumpling restaurants. Favourites include Mak’s Noodles and Wang Fu, dumplings for juicy Beijing-style dumplings.

Mandarin Grill + Bar

Classics are given a modern twist at Mandarin Grill + Bar.

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Mandarin Grill + Bar

Fresh seafood at Mandarin Grill + Bar.

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Pierre

Pierre, at Mandarin Oriental, Hong Kong, is the two-Michelin starred restaurant of chef Pierre Gagnaire.

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Pierre

Dessert at Pierre.

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Time travel

At 91m high, Mandarin Oriental, Hong Kong was once the tallest building on Hong Kong Island when it opened in 1963. It has since been dwarfed by the 415m IFC, further west, which has the rather ungainly nickname of ‘the Hong Kong finger’.

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And finally

As dynamic as Central Hong Kong is, it’s just one part of the territory’s makeup. Hop on a ferry from the Central Piers to the territory’s outlying islands – to hippy Lamma, mountainous Lantau or the classic journey on the glamorous, red-sailed wooden junk Aqua Luna.

Hong Kong’s best food and drink

Amber

Line caught red Amadai served with Savoy cabbage seaweed purée, at Amber at The Landmark Mandarin Oriental.

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Man Wah

Man Wah restaurant at Mandarin Oriental, Hong Kong.

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Mott 32

The signature Smoked Black Cod at Mott 32 in central Hong Kong.

M Bar

Try the Union cocktail at M Bar, on the 25th floor of Mandarin Oriental, Hong Kong.

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Sevva

The Terrace at Sevva restaurant is a wrap-around balcony with panoramic views of the Victoria Harbour and the city.