As the oldest colonized part of Hong Kong, its administrative and business centre, and site of some of the most expensive real estate in the world, Hong Kong Island is naturally the heart of the whole territory. Despite this, it measures just 15km across, with development concentrated along its north shore – a frenetically crowded and entertaining area of shops, restaurants, bars and financial institutions – and the far greener, mellower south coast, which actually sports a few beaches. Hills between the two rise to The Peak, which offers some of the island’s best scenery and its freshest air. Transport around the island is easy, with the MTR and trams covering the north shore, and plentiful buses throughout.
The island’s north shore, overlooking Victoria Harbour to Kowloon, focuses on a narrow 6km-long financial, commercial and entertainment district. At its core, Central sprouts an astounding array of hi-tech towers, edged to the west by Sheung Wan’s smaller-scale and traditional Chinese businesses. Behind this the land climbs steeply, past parks and knots of restaurants and bars, to The Peak, a superb escape from street-level claustrophobia with unequalled views over the city. Back along the harbour and moving east through Wan Chai towards Causeway Bay, the emphasis shifts from finance to wining, dining and shopping – not to mention gambling, with Hong Kong’s main horse racetrack located nearby at Happy Valley. Further east again, it’s worth heading out to Shau Kei Wan to visit the Museum of Coastal Defence, built inside an old fortification.
On its south side, Hong Kong Island straggles into the sea in a series of dangling peninsulas and inlets. The atmosphere is far quieter here than on the north shore, and the climate warmer and sunnier. You’ll find not only separate towns such as Aberdeen and Stanley, with a flavour of their own, but also beaches, including those at popular Repulse Bay and, farther east, at the remoter outpost of Shek O. Especially if you’re travelling with children, you should consider a visit to Ocean Park, a huge adventure theme park with a wonderful aquarium, just beyond Aberdeen.
Victoria Peak – usually known as just The Peak – rises 552m over Central and Victoria Harbour. Since the 1870s, The Peak has been the premier address for Hong Kong’s elite – which these days usually means Chinese tycoons – and reasons to come up here include not just the superb vistas and forest walks, but also the ascent in the Peak Tram. This is, in fact, a funicular railway, which runs from the Peak Tram terminal in Garden Road in Central. The track is incredibly steep, climbing the 386 vertical metres to its upper terminus in about eight minutes.