There's enough to keep you occupied in Hong Kong for 365 days, but if you've got just one day follow these tips for the best mainstream and offbeat experiences the city has to offer.
Tung Choi Street - also known as Goldfish Street - in the Mong Kok area is where the locals go to buy their goldfish. Both sides of the street are lined with scores of pet shops selling fish, terrapins, rabbits, cats and dogs. There must be millions of goldfish for sale in overcrowded tanks, but they don’t stick around for too long with so many buyers ready to snap them up – Hong Kongers believe the more fish they own, the luckier they will be. A stroll here beats a trip to any zoo.
To get here, take the red line on Hong Kong's underground (Mass Transit Railway or MTR for short) to Prince Edward – single trips cost $5 and station pay machines are in English and simple to use.
Hong Kong is big on wow factor and today you're going to experience the two things that get the biggest wows. First up is the Star Ferry, which crosses Victoria Harbour from Tsim Tsa Shui in Kowloon to Central on Hong Kong Island ($2.50 one way on the top deck/$2 on bottom deck).
The trip lasts seven wobbly minutes as the green and white tubs shuttle you towards the skyscrapers of Hong Kong's financial heart. You will be able to see Hong Kong's highest point, Victoria Peak (known simply as the Peak) which gets the second biggest wow – you'll be seeing more of this later.
The journey is surely the world's best commute and gives you the opportunity to take some great pics of the approaching skyline and other Star Ferries.
Now, are you ready for some adventure?
Hong Kong is made up of hundreds of outlying islands, and Lamma Island is the pick of these for a great half-day trip away from the madness of the city. There are no cars and few people on Lamma, and its hills and tropical vegetation are ideal for a spot of hiking. Ferries leave from Central Pier 4 – the 30-minute trip costs $14.50 each way.
See www.hkkf.com.hk/index.php?op=timetable&page=yungshuewan&view=screen&style=en for timetables.
Lamma is a Y-shaped island - the ferry will drop you at the village of Yung Shue Wan, on the western arm of the Y. A gentle two-hour trek along a clearly sign-posted trail takes you from Yung Shue Wan past beaches, up and down hills and across rickety wooden bridges to the fishing village of Sok Kwu Wan. Hung Shing Ye beach is considered by some to be the best beach in Hong Kong, and 30 minutes into your trek you'll be able to relax here on the white sands – come on a weekday, and you'll have it all to yourself, although the view is somewhat marred by a huge power station around the corner!
After an hour of R&R on the beach, it's time for some more action as you rejoin the path through Lamma's rugged interior. At the highest point there’s a viewing pagoda which makes an excellent stop for some rest, photographs and shelter. Then it’s downhill all the way to Sok Kwu Wan, the harbour at the eastern end of Lamma Island.
As you approach, you'll come across the brilliantly named Kamikaze Grottoes - a series of man-made caves. The Japanese occupied Hong Kong during WWII, and hid speedboats in them ready to ram Allied boats. You'll also be able to hear the barking of tree frogs but I challenge you to spot them. These elusive creatures found here are unique to Hong Kong.
Sok Kwu Wan has a reputation for great seafood restaurants, but I've got something better in store for you, so get yourself on the 5.35pm ferry from here (no need to backtrack to Yung Shue Wan) to Hong Kong Island for a night to remember.
You saw it briefly from afar earlier, but now it’s time to visit the Peak in person. At 552m, it is literally the coolest place in Hong Kong and it’s easy to see why the British settled here when they colonised Hong Kong in 1841.
To get up here, take the Peak Tram (www.thepeak.com.hk) from Garden Road ($28 single/$40 return). There are breathtaking views whatever time of day you come, and whichever way you look, but at night there is surely no better view in the world with the neon-lit skyscrapers of Central below you, the buildings of Kowloon across the harbour and the outlying islands in the distance.
The Peak Lookout (121 Peak Rd; www.thepeaklookout.com.hk; 2849 1000) was once a sedan chair station – sedan chairs were the best way to reach the Peak before the tram was constructed in 1888 – but is now a fantastic pan-Asian restaurant with an envious location.
Book ahead to ensure you get a table in the romantic courtyard with Lamma Island and it’s illuminated power station in the distance, and don’t you dare miss out on the New York cheesecake.
Felix (Salisbury Road; www.peninsula.com/Hong_Kong/en/Dining/Felix/default.aspx) on the 28th floor of Hong Kong's grandest hotel, The Peninsular, is surely the best spot for a night-cap in the world. It faces Victoria Harbour and the neon-lit skyscrapers of Hong Kong Island – grab a window seat, order a glass of champagne ($13) and relax watching the Star Ferry shuttle back and forth below you. There's a distinct whiff of money in Felix, and you'll find the clientele tends to be wealthy western tourists and businessmen - you don't have to be a millionaire to drink here but it helps. You don't have to be a hotel guest to drink here either, although there's a strict dress code – no shorts or sandals.
To get here from Hong Kong Island, take the red MTR line from Central to Tsim Tsa Shui and follow the direction signs.
Where to stay
One hotel I go back to again and again is the Stanford Hillview Hotel – a ten-minute walk to Tsim Tsa Shui MTR station. As with many Hong Kong hotels, it's a high rise so space is limited, but here you get luxury at a realistic price.
Premium rooms on the top floor ($1450 for a double room including buffet breakfast) have huge beds and plasma screens, with bathrooms separated from the rest of the room by an electric blind. There's a rooftop bar and driving range, while the street below the hotel, Knutsford Terrace, is lined with up-market bars and restaurants.