What is Hong Kong’s cultural scene like?

Natalie Wearstler
©iStock/fotoVoyage

Compared with other major cities, it’s easy to imagine Hong Kong as something of a cultural desert, with its creative soul smothered in dunes of cold, hard cash. But look closer and you’ll see that the theory doesn’t hold up. Recent times have seen a surge in the city’s cultural ambitions, as evidenced by a proliferation of new galleries; the arrival in 2008 of a high-profile international art fair, ART HK; the opening of Hong Kong’s first local auction house, Atting House, which focuses on Asian contemporary art; and the arrival of Art Basel Hong Kong in 2013, the first Asian iteration of the international art fair. Today, the city ranks as the world’s third-largest art market after New York and London, thanks to headline-grabbing auction sales fueled by the Chinese contemporary art boom just to the north.

There’s still work to be done. The city suffers from a chronic dearth of venues, particularly for music and theater. Nonetheless, the government is slowly making headway in its plans to build a vast, multi-disciplinary cultural complex in West Kowloon, while a growing number of independent arts outfits are finding innovative ways to make their mark on the local scene. Case in point: The organizers behind October Contemporary, an annual month-long citywide event promoting Hong Kong contemporary art, started in 2007. There are other events that have evolved into revered annual traditions, such as the ArtWalk (a citywide gallery showcase that drew 70 participating galleries in 2013) and the Hong Kong International Film Festival, which started in 1977. All this means that while Hong Kong culture isn’t exactly in-your-face, there’s a growing scene that’s just waiting to be discovered. Go and see it for yourself.

  • On July 30, 2013
    Madeline Gressel answered the question: Madeline Gressel

    What should I pack for a trip to Hong Kong?

    The most important thing to bring on any trip to Hong Kong is an umbrella. Rain is unpredictable, unseasonal and sudden. 

    Beyond that, Hong Kong is a pretty easy place to pack for. During the day, dress is casual, and most restaurants will take patrons in flip-flops and the like. At night, things get a bit fancier, and men should be sure to wear long pants and closed shoes for nights out. Women get off a bit easier at the door, but Hong Kong's ladies take fashion pretty seriously regardless, and you'll probably want at least one sleek outfit. High heels are standard, but precarious--it's nearly impossible to walk in heels on some of Hong Kong's cobbled hillside streets. 

    In late October or early November, the temperature drops and can get surprisingly low--just above freezing at times in January. The prevalent damp gets in your bones and makes it feel even colder, so bring a cozy jacket and sweaters. 

    In the summer, shorts and tees are standard, and bring a bathing suit or five. But don't foret a scarf or sweater-- the airconditioned restaurants, malls, buses, metros, taxis, bars (...the list goes on) are absolutely frigid. 

    Finally, leave some extra space in your suitcase. Hong Kong is a shopper's paradise, and there are souvenirs to be had. 


  • On July 30, 2013
    Madeline Gressel answered the question: Madeline Gressel

    What is the best Hong Kong nightlife?

    Hong Kong's nightlife is essentially centered around a few islands of intense activity. These neighborhoods come alive at night with people spilling out of bars, pubs, and superclubs--happy to take advantage of Hong Kong's legal street drinking. Drinking is a huge part of Hong Kong culture, especially for expats, many of whom are drawn to the city for its glitz and lighthearted atmosphere.

    The most famous--perhaps infamous--of these 'islands' is Lan Kwai Fong, or LKF, a little pedestrian cul-de-sac in Central lined with bars and restaurants open 'til wee hours. Due to its notoriety as the place to party, a large percentage of the crowd on any given night will be tourists--but that makes for a friendly, chatty atmosphere. LKF is at its best during holidays and sporting events (like Halloween and 7s), when it explodes with inebraited, costumed revelers. 

    Above LKF is Wydham Street, home to Hong Kong's most exclusive clubs. If red ropes and bottle service is what you want, try Boujis, Tasmanian Ballroom, Dragon-i, Prive, Azure or and Bisous (the latter featuring pretty impressive burlesque show). Unless you’re “on the list”, prepare to wait on line. For something a bit more hip and relaxed, try Kee Club, Socialito, Midnight & Co, or Fly. 

    A bit further up the hill is SoHo, a charming matrix of lanes filled with trendy restaurants, bars and clubs. The perfect place to meet a friend for a drink, or hop from bar to bar. For a grittier, more counterculture experience, try Senses 99 on Wellington Street, where you can buy a beer in an apartment and listen to locals jam on the bar's instruments, or The Globe, a real gastropub, where you can sample a beer from Hong Kong’s only local craft brewery, Typhoon. 

    Hong Kong's other nightlife 'island' is Wan Chai, long known as the sleazy haunt of older expat men. The main drag, Lockhart Road, is lined with pubs and clubs, ranging from the very convivial Mes Amis to the less-reputable Amazonia. But there's more to Wan Chai these days than bartop dancing and Filipino coverbands. Trendy hangouts have been popping up and redefining the area, slowly but surely. Stone Nullah Tavern, TED's Lookout, and the atmospheric Tai Long Fun are all exceptional places to exlore the scene. 

    Hong Kong has seen a recent, celebrated influx of speakeasy-style cocktail bars, the coolest of which is probably 001, distinguished only by unmarked black door tucked in a wet market. Lily & Bloom, Quinary, Boudoir, Wyndham the 4th, and The Pawn are also highly regarded. The new kid on the block is Honi Honi, an outdoor tiki bar where drinks are served in coconuts and melons.

    And finally, perhaps the sleekest place to sip your cocktail is atop one of Hong Kong's many soaring luxury hotel bars, like M Bar at the Mandarin Oriental and Café Grey at the Upper House. Prices usually run upwards of 120 HKD a drink (about $15), but along with your drink, you get the opportunity to ogle Hong Kong’s spectacular skyline. 

  • On July 30, 2013
    Madeline Gressel answered the question: Madeline Gressel

    What is the best Hong Kong nightlife?

    Hong Kong's nightlife is essentially centered around a few islands of intense activity. These neighborhoods come alive at night with people spilling out of bars, pubs, and superclubs--happy to take advantage of Hong Kong's legal street drinking. Drinking is a huge part of Hong Kong culture, especially for expats, many of whom are drawn to the city for its glitz and lighthearted atmosphere.

    The most famous--perhaps infamous--of these 'islands' is Lan Kwai Fong, or LKF, a little pedestrian cul-de-sac in Central lined with bars and restaurants open 'til wee hours. Due to its notoriety as the place to party, a large percentage of the crowd on any given night will be tourists--but that makes for a friendly, chatty atmosphere. LKF is at its best during holidays and sporting events (like Halloween and 7s), when it explodes with inebraited, costumed revelers. 

    Above LKF is Wydham Street, home to Hong Kong's most exclusive clubs. If red ropes and bottle service is what you want, try Boujis, Tasmanian Ballroom, Dragon-i, Prive, Azure or and Bisous (the latter featuring pretty impressive burlesque show). Unless you’re “on the list”, prepare to wait on line. For something a bit more hip and relaxed, try Kee Club, Socialito, Midnight & Co, or Fly. 

    A bit further up the hill is SoHo, a charming matrix of lanes filled with trendy restaurants, bars and clubs. The perfect place to meet a friend for a drink, or hop from bar to bar. For a grittier, more counterculture experience, try Senses 99 on Wellington Street, where you can buy a beer in an apartment and listen to locals jam on the bar's instruments, or The Globe, a real gastropub, where you can sample a beer from Hong Kong’s only local craft brewery, Typhoon. 

    Hong Kong's other nightlife 'island' is Wan Chai, long known as the sleazy haunt of older expat men. The main drag, Lockhart Road, is lined with pubs and clubs, ranging from the very convivial Mes Amis to the less-reputable Amazonia. But there's more to Wan Chai these days than bartop dancing and Filipino coverbands. Trendy hangouts have been popping up and redefining the area, slowly but surely. Stone Nullah Tavern, TED's Lookout, and the atmospheric Tai Long Fun are all exceptional places to exlore the scene. 

    Hong Kong has seen a recent, celebrated influx of speakeasy-style cocktail bars, the coolest of which is probably 001, distinguished only by unmarked black door tucked in a wet market. Lily & Bloom, Quinary, Boudoir, Wyndham the 4th, and The Pawn are also highly regarded. The new kid on the block is Honi Honi, an outdoor tiki bar where drinks are served in coconuts and melons.

    And finally, perhaps the sleekest place to sip your cocktail is atop one of Hong Kong's many soaring luxury hotel bars, like M Bar at the Mandarin Oriental and Café Grey at the Upper House. Prices usually run upwards of 120 HKD a drink (about $15), but along with your drink, you get the opportunity to ogle Hong Kong’s spectacular skyline. Same goes for Wooloomooloo Steakhouse in Wan Chai.

  • On July 30, 2013
    Barbra Austin answered the question: Barbra Austin

    What is the best Hong Kong nightlife?

    Hong Kong's main nightlife hub is Lan Kwai Fong, a drinking, dining and dancing district in Central known where bankers blow off steam. Trendy restaurants and crowded clubs please an international crowd that gets more rambunctious as the week wears on. Lan Kwai Fong and Wyndham streets are the main strips, which will be obvious enough when you hear the music blaring and see crowds pouring out into the street.

    Nearby Soho is slightly more subdued, but plenty lively. A short escalator ride from the Mid-Levels, the bars and restaurants cater to those more keen to try a new restaurant than dance the night away. Staunton, Elgin, and Shelley (along the escalator) are the main drags.

    Wan Chai used to be a port where the US Navy docked, and there is evidence of that legacy in the many bars along Jaffe road. It's rougher around the edges than LKF or Soho, but (mostly) good clean fun.



  • On July 30, 2013
    Barbra Austin answered the question: Barbra Austin

    Where is the best Hong Kong shopping?

    Last year, Hong Kong's Causeway Bay stole the trophy for world's most expensive real estate from NYC's Fifth avenue. Why? Retail, retail, retail.

    The Lee Gardens, Times Square, and Hysan Place malls are the place for luxury labels and familiar mid-range brands, while bargains abound at Island Beverly Centre, which houses colorful mix of Korean and Japanese brands to feed the trend-hungry hordes. But it's not just malls and megabrands; street level shops are big business, too, and their are still plenty of smaller, quirkier shops if you're up for an adventure. As for department stores, HK's own Lane Crawford has a location here (in Times Square), as does Japanese juggernaut Sogo.

    Almost as frenetic as CWB is Tsim Sha Tsui, on the Kowloon side. An entire day could be spent in Harbour City mall. Canton road is the place for luxury flagships. And Nathan road is lined with jewelers.

    For a slightly more subdued shopping experience, try the IFC mall, Pacific Place, or the Landmark, all great for serious designer duds.
  • On July 29, 2013
    Barbra Austin answered the question: Barbra Austin

    What are the best places to hear live music in Hong Kong?

    For classical performances, the headline venue is the Hong Kong Cultural Center, on the waterfront in Tsim Sha Tsui. Home to the HK Philharmonic, it also plays host to major international talent. Directly across the harbor, City Hall is another preferred site for classical music.

    Major pop acts (your Gagas and Biebers) sometimes stop at the AsiaWorld exposition center, near the airport.

    Indie and alternative rock fans should check out Hidden Agenda, a bare bones space in east Kowloon -- the "Hidden" part is no joke -- where local and touring acts play to a (mostly) young crowd of scenesters.

    Hong Kong does have one major alternative music festival: the third edition of Clockenflap, a two-day, outdoor event with several stages, happens toward the end of the year. Primal Scream and De La Soul were some of the headliners last year.

    Local institution The Wanch, in Wan Chai, has live music every night, with an eclectic program of local acts, and no cover charge.
  • On July 29, 2013
    Natalie Wearstler answered the question: Natalie Wearstler

    Where is the best Hong Kong shopping?

    ©iStock/ytwong Even if you hate shopping, you’ll find at least one gem to buy in Hong Kong. Since spending money is so deeply embedded in the Hong Kong culture (and consumerism runs deep in this manufacturing hub’s roots), this island has definitely earned its status as a shopping mecca.

    You’ll see gaggles of Hong Kong hipsters in Causeway Bay, which resembles Tokyo’s famously youthful Harajuku station. The reason for this lies in the number of bargain street chic and upscale boutiques among the area's many malls. There’s Lee Gardens and Lee Gardens Too, which are both packed in along the narrow streets and almost look like office buildings. Inside, you’ll find high-end labels like Valentino and Yohji Yamamoto. Shaghai Tang, Gucci, Marc by Marc Jacobs, Kookai and Zara can be found in the Pacific Place mall. But a stop by The Landmark is a must, especially if you're itching to engage in luxury shopping; even British department store Harvey Nichols has an outpost here. The 1881 Heritage center is a collection of luxury boutiques housed in the renovated historic Marine Police headquarters. Here you’ll find the flagship store for Shanghai Tang as well as Rolex, Cartier, Dunhill and Tiffany & Co. Nearby Park Lane, located on Nathan Road, offers fuss-free shopping with G2000 and Moiselle.

    Being sharp will come in handy in terms of avoiding tourist traps, and as any savvy Chinese shopper will tell you, compare prices at three different places before you hand over any cash. Hong Kong markets, though spectacular and culturally rich, require some patience. Venture deeper into Kowloon, stopping at Mong Kok for legendary Ladies’ Market, originally named because its goods were hawked to women only. Today, vendors sell goods to both men and women, running the gamut from socks to stuffed animals and luggage and handbags. Continue exercising your bargaining skills at the Jade Market in Yau Ma Tei, where rows of stalls sell jade in all shades and shapes. You’ll find high quality pieces here, but the impure variety lurk in the shadows, so don’t fork over your cash unless you’ve done your homework. Finally, head to the Temple Street Night Market in Jordan, which is perfect for after-dusk shopping and a taste of night market life.

    Many of Hong Kong’s top designers are both Hong Kong- and foreign-educated, and they use their varied backgrounds to create a unique mix of items from that you won’t find stateside so be sure to check out some of their original threads. A few standout options include the stunning evening and bridal gowns designed and sold by Cecilia Yau at her namesake shop, Cecilia Yau Couture in Central; edgy t-shirts by Henry Lau from his Spy Henry Lau shop in Causeway Bay; glamorous frocks by Ruby Li, which can be picked up from her Causeway Bay shop; flowing dresses and Kentucky Derby-style hats by Ranee Kok, sold at her Ranee K. boutique in Central; and quirky home décor, bags, accessories and t-shirts by Carrie Chau, which can be procured at the popular Homeless shop in Central.
  • On July 29, 2013
    Natalie Wearstler answered the question: Natalie Wearstler

    Where is the best Hong Kong shopping?

    ©iStock/ytwong Even if you hate shopping, you’ll find at least one gem to buy in Hong Kong. Since spending money is so deeply embedded in the Hong Kong culture (and consumerism runs deep in this manufacturing hub’s roots), this island has definitely earned its status as a shopping mecca.

    You’ll see gaggles of Hong Kong hipsters in Causeway Bay, which resembles Tokyo’s famously youthful Harajuku station. The reason for this lies in the number of bargain street chic and upscale boutiques among the area's many malls. There’s Lee Gardens and Lee Gardens Too, which are both packed in along the narrow streets and almost look like office buildings. Inside, you’ll find high-end labels like Valentino and Yohji Yamamoto. Shaghai Tang, Gucci, Marc by Marc Jacobs, Kookai and Zara can be found in the Pacific Place mall. But a stop by The Landmark is a must, especially if you're itching to engage in luxury shopping; even British department store Harvey Nichols has an outpost here. The 1881 Heritage center is a collection of luxury boutiques housed in the renovated historic Marine Police headquarters. Here you’ll find the flagship store for Shanghai Tang as well as Rolex, Cartier, Dunhill and Tiffany & Co. Nearby Park Lane, located on Nathan Road, offers fuss-free shopping with G2000 and Moiselle.

    Being sharp will come in handy in terms of avoiding tourist traps, and as any savvy Chinese shopper will tell you, compare prices at three different places before you hand over any cash. Hong Kong markets, though spectacular and culturally rich, require some patience. Venture deeper into Kowloon, stopping at Mong Kok for legendary Ladies’ Market, originally named because its goods were hawked to women only. Today, vendors sell goods to both men and women, running the gamut from socks to stuffed animals and luggage and handbags. Continue exercising your bargaining skills at the Jade Market in Yau Ma Tei, where rows of stalls sell jade in all shades and shapes. You’ll find high quality pieces here, but the impure variety lurk in the shadows, so don’t fork over your cash unless you’ve done your homework. Finally, head to the Temple Street Night Market in Jordan, which is perfect for after-dusk shopping and a taste of night market life.

    Many of Hong Kong’s top designers are both Hong Kong- and foreign-educated, and they use their varied backgrounds to create a unique mix of items from that you won’t find stateside so be sure to check out some of their original threads. A few standout options include the stunning evening and bridal gowns designed and sold by Cecilia Yau at her namesake shop, Cecilia Yau Couture in Central; edgy t-shirts by Henry Lau from his Spy Henry Lau shop in Causeway Bay; glamorous frocks by Ruby Li, which can be picked up from her Causeway Bay shop; flowing dresses and Kentucky Derby-style hats by Ranee Kok, sold at her Ranee K. boutique in Central; and quirky home décor, bags, accessories and t-shirts by Carrie Chau, which can be procured at the popular Homeless shop in Central.
  • On July 29, 2013
    Barbra Austin answered the question: Barbra Austin

    What are the best bars in Central in Hong Kong?

    I almost always bring visitors to Sevva, the sleek rooftop bar in the Prince’s building, for well-crafted cocktails amidst some of HK’s most iconic landmarks.

    It will take some effort to find 001, a sort of speakeasy, but you’re rewarded with a cool crowd, serious drinks, in a room designed for actual conversation more than rowdy revelry. The entrance is on Graham Street; call +852 2810 6969 for reservations and directions.

    In true tiki bar tradition, rum is the spirit of choice at kitschy-chic Honi Honi, but there’s more to the menu here than Mai Tais. Consider booking ahead, and bring close friends to share one of the gargantuan fruity concoctions.

    Beer lovers should make a beeline to The Globe for an unmatched selection of craft brews from around the world. A good choice for something casual and convivial (though it can be loud, especially if there’s a big match on the screen).

    Above the fray of Lan Kwai Fong, Wyndham the 4th features drinks formulated by award-winning mixologist Tom Wood, in an elegant, intimate setting.
  • On July 28, 2013
    Barbra Austin answered the question: Barbra Austin

    What are the best coffee shops in Sheung Wan in Hong Kong?

    Coffee lovers in Sheung Wan are spoiled for choice.

    Visit Barista Jam for a perfect espresso drink, or any other coffee-related needs: They sell whole beans and a full range of brewing equipment, too. Hungry? Order the soft scrambled eggs or a bowl of carbonara.

    On a leafy terrace by the steps of Pound Lane, Café Loisl offers a little slice of old Europe, with an exquisite marble topped counter, art deco light fixtures, a newspaper rack, and some of the best sachertorte and strüdel (house made, natürlich!) this side of Vienna, a fine accompaniment to the carefully made coffee drinks and teas.

    The Cupping Room has just opened in Sheung Wan, which means you no longer have to trek to Stanley for their assiduously sourced beans and expert brewing (this is the only place in Asia to serve Counter Culture Coffee). Two big communal tables offer lots of seating.

    More of a tea person? Visit the (almost painfully) charming Teakha for interesting brews and excellent cakes, including the best scones I've had in Hong Kong.
  • On July 26, 2013
    Natalie Wearstler answered the question: Natalie Wearstler

    What are the best places to hear live music in Hong Kong?

    With a host of musical genres, City Hall is always a good bet for live entertainment. Back in 1933, Hong Kong demolished its original City Hall — an elegant two-story colonial structure built in 1869 — to make room for two bank buildings. The stark, blocky waterfront complex that replaced it in 1962 may not match the original’s architectural charm, but it still stands as a vital cultural outpost in a city where money often comes before art, let alone music. Good thing there’s plenty of space here; in addition to a library, a marriage registry, a theater and two exhibition galleries, City Hall also houses a concert hall and recital hall, both preferred venues for the compact but lively Hong Kong Sinfonietta, which stages year-round concerts of orchestra favorites, as well as newly commissioned works.

    Love it or loathe it, the Hong Kong Cultural Centre’s controversial pink-tile-clad structure (comparisons have included “a giant ski jump”) reigns over Victoria Harbour and serves as Hong Kong’s top performing arts venue. A must-visit for classical music aficionados, the venue opened in 1989 and provides up to 1.4 million seats annually for cultural events, including Western operas, ballet, theater and modern dance. Not only is it a hub for touring troupes, but it’s also home to the city’s two foremost classical-music ensembles: the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra and the Hong Kong Chinese Orchestra, both of which regularly perform in the 2,019-seat Concert Hall and the 1,734-seat Grand Theatre. Past highlights include concerts with world-class soloists such as Chinese-American cellist Yo-Yo Ma, as well as performances by the Sydney Symphony.

    In a city that often favors new over old, many times at the expense of its own heritage, it’s refreshing to find Loke Yew Hall, a beautiful, historic 1912 structure tucked within Hong Kong University’s main campus. It served as a hospital during World War II, though now, in its role as theater, concert and lecture hall, it has hosted both the Hong Kong Philharmonic and the venerable Chinese political leader Dr. Sun Yat-sen, a crucial figure in the creation of modern, post-dynastic China. Head here for lunchtime and early evening concerts by young and emerging musicians, and look out for the free HKU Concert Series (held each September).

    Big-name acts, from indie rockers The XX to electronica acts like Owl City, often come to the Kowloonbay International Trade & Exhibition Centre (or, as it's commonly called, KITEC) to play for packed crowds of music fans. This massive space boasts 1.76 million square feet, making it one of Hong Kong's most versatile venues; music premieres, conferences and festivals also commonly fill the event calendar here.
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