Hong Kong has been through it. The most visited city in the world, the metropolis was rocked towards the end of 2019 by sweeping protests. Then Covid-19 happened and the resulting years-long and aggressive restrictions obliterated inbound tourism. But now that those restraints have been removed and a sense of calm has been restored, Hong Kong’s hospitality industry is going all out to get the word out: Everyone is welcome.
And there are very good reasons to consider a return visit: The city has long been home to some of the world’s best urban hotels. They’re as good as ever, with standards of service that are still sky-high. Plus the locals are avid foodies, so the city delivers a culinary odyssey that runs from the most unexpectedly delicious mom-and-pop dim-sum stops to glitzy addresses garlanded with Michelin stars.
And then there’s the setting beyond that spectacular skyline. Hiking trails cleave the densely forested hillsides that so beautifully frame the city; beyond them, wildly picturesque beaches could be mistaken for those in Bali or Hawaii. Though circumstances temporarily eradicated Hong Kong’s viability as a vacation destination, within a day or two of returning, visitors will understand just why this city’s offering is world-beating.
For all its attributes, the caliber of Hong Kong’s cultural attractions never quite matched other major global cities — at least for non-Cantonese speakers. The pandemicera opening of two phenomenal museums in the nascent West Kowloon Cultural District is changing that.
The Hong Kong Palace Museum displays hundreds of treasures from the Palace Museum at Beijing’s Forbidden City, all of them exceptional articulations of ancient Chinese craftsmanship — the fact that artisans created such incredible and beautiful goods by hand really is awe-inspiring.
Moments away, M+ is one of the world’s largest centers for modern visual culture; its vast exhibition halls display striking art that focus particularly on 20th- and 21st-century Hong Kong, while a rolling catalog of temporary shows celebrate big-name artists such as Yayoi Kusama. Admiring the interiors — austere and immense in places — and enjoying the grounds, with transfixing views of countless cargo ships chugging across the South China Sea, are just as much parts of the experience as taking in the art is.
Hong Kong by Helicopter
Hong Kong’s crush of urbanity and surrounding natural beauty are brought into focus during fast-paced helicopter tours over the city. Departing from the two helipads that cap the Peninsula, tailored private trips might dart over tower blocks and landmarks before gliding over emerald forests and humble fishing villages, and then onwards, perhaps, to the wilds of Hong Kong Geopark and the border with mainland China at Shenzhen. The diversity revealed is truly remarkable.
Tour prices vary; from $2,000 for a private 18-minute flight over central Hong Kong, heliservices.com.hk
Enigmatic links to a lost Hong Kong, the two traditionally crafted Aqua Luna vessels that sail along Victoria Harbour are modeled on old junk boats. Much-loved emblems of the city, they can be chartered privately for anything from a private dinner for two at sea to an unforgettable birthday party. Full-day hires provide ample opportunity to explore the likes of Lamma Island or Disneyland, but it’s just as special to simply spend an evening sailing around Victoria Harbour, enjoying cocktails with friends before the nightly Symphony of Lights show begins. That ambitious show uses Hong Kong’s famous skyline as a canvas and sees rainbows of color dance across shoreside skyscrapers in time to music. With gentle waves reflecting ripples of neon, it looks especially magical from the water.
From $2,000 for a one-hour charter, aqualuna.com.hk
You’ll find up-to-date information about visiting the city at discoverhongkong.com. The Hong Kong-based airline Cathay Pacific has also ramped up its network considerably since the pandemic, and recently reopened The Pier — it’s widely recognized as one of the world’s best first-class lounges.
Where to Stay
The Peninsula Hong Kong
The city’s grandest of grande dames, The Pen is a true Hong Kong icon that has welcomed dignitaries for just shy of a century. And it’s been revered by locals for generations too: You’ll see families mark special occasions over traditional afternoon tea in the ornate lobby and couples getting cozy at French fine-dining favorite Gaddi’s; the neon-flecked skyline views from the rooftop European restaurant Felix are some of the best in the city.
A fleet of 14 glossy-green Rolls-Royce extended wheelbase Phantoms are on standby to shepherd guests to the sights in style; immaculately attired in pristine whites, attentive pages sincerely welcome every arrival. Thoughtfully laid out and peaceful, accommodation is elegant and cosseting. Of course, if you do stay here then booking a Victoria Harbourfacing room is obligatory. Occupying a sizable chunk of the 26th floor, the Peninsula Suite offers a truly breathtaking panorama from its sweeping balcony. Inside, there’s a private gym, screening room and a knockout dining space for showstopper soirées.
The Peninsula Suite from $30,500 + 10% per night, inclusive of $1,300 dining credit per day. Contact Larry Chan, director of sales, email@example.com, +852 2926 2888, peninsula.com
Rosewood Hong Kong
When it comes to unabashed but tasteful extravagance, Rosewood Hong Kong could well be the most lavish city hotel in the world: Walls are coated with Loro Piana wool; and an expansive Henry Moore bronze is sprawled on the lawn just outside the lobby. Every visible inch of this Tony Chi-designed property is beautifully styled. Aesthetes will be awed by the no-expense-spared attention to detail, not to mention some seriously swish facilities. The inventory even includes discreet resort-style wellness lodges, where guests can reside in total serenity as they complete tailored treatment programs.
Perhaps that decadence is because Rosewood’s CEO Sonia Cheng is from Hong Kong, and this property also serves as a testament to her family’s story (you can sample their favorite dishes and explore their history in the hotel’s waterside Cantonese restaurant The Legacy House). Intensely flavorful and colorful, particularly delicious dishes are also served in Indian restaurant Chaat. A complimentary amenity for guests in higher room categories, the handsome 40th-floor Manor Club makes a gorgeous spot for a clear-some-emails Negroni. The view is better still, however, for occupants of the 57th-floor Harbour House suite, with its outdoor pool and manicured wraparound gardens providing the most striking outdoor aerie.
The Harbour House from $102,000 + 10% per night. Contact Angus Pitkethley, director of sales and marketing, firstname.lastname@example.org, +852 3891 8371, rosewoodhotels.com
Mandarin Oriental Hong Kong
The group’s global flagship property, this hallowed Mandarin Oriental takes its responsibilities as the buck-stops-here brand ambassador very seriously: Standards of service from every team member really are next-level. Having just celebrated its 60th anniversary, the property in Central has played a starring role in many key moments of Hong Kong’s history, and there are some ways in which the hotel still revels in increasingly hard-to-find old-school sensibilities — and the guest experience is all the better for it. Serving beer in silver tankards, the Captain’s Bar has been welcoming drinkers for over half a century; eschewing newfangled trends, the spa specializes in traditional Chinese medicine, facials and massages — the highly experienced, intuitive therapists are superb.
Of the many dining options available, the most discreet dinners are held in the oneof-a-kind Krug Room, where executive chef Robin Zavou’s tailored menus are paired with rare Krug champagnes. The vibe’s more buzzy at The Aubrey, a colorful drinks and dining space that delivers an upmarket take on a Japanese izakaya experience — kick-start your evening with a shochu-based cocktail and the wagyu gyoza. As for the rooms, the wraparound Mandarin Suite is a stunner, with its own private spa, 12-person dining room and a spread of antiquities, including two enigmatic carved figures that bookend a deep-soaking bathtub, offering pretty views of the city.
Mandarin Suite from $12,500 + 10% per night. Contact Judith Wong, director of revenue, email@example.com, +852 2825 4806, mandarinoriental.com
Four Seasons Hong Kong
As tough as the pandemic era was, this long-standing Four Seasons used that quiet time productively by developing a clutch of new venues and undertaking a complete renovation of its inventory. Returning guests will discover updated suites that are fresh and homey, with improved tech but the same harbor views still unfurling from those floor-to-ceiling windows. The top-floor Presidential Suite caters to all tastes, with its own grand piano should you want to host a singalong dinner party and a private wellness space for in-room pampering.
But the Four Seasons’ most exciting offerings are found elsewhere in the property. The smart new cocktail bar Argo is already regarded as one of the most innovative drinking dens in the city. Inspired by char siu (barbecued pork), one (meat-free) libation is made with pineapple and soy sauce. For more conventional, but exceptional, Cantonese dishes, visit Lung King Heen. It was the first Chinese restaurant to be awarded three Michelin stars, and it remains one of the most illustrious restaurants in the city. And when the weather’s sunny, it feels truly indulgent to laze in the lounge chairs that flank the colossal outdoor infinity pool — the best of its kind to be found at any Hong Kong hotel.
Presidential Suite from $13,846 per night. Contact Jenny Man, director of sales, firstname.lastname@example.org, +852 3196 8308, fourseasons.com
In modern Hong Kong you don’t often come across truly historic buildings, which is partly why locals consider the Magistracy Dining Room one of the city’s most beautiful restaurants. Housed in the renovated 19th-century Supreme Court, it leans into its colonial past with great British dishes — think Scottish razor clams and chicken- and mushroom-stuffed pies followed by a dreamy sticky toffee pudding. This is the place for a glorious evening of unrepentant comfort eating, with the occasional flash of theatrics and stellar service from a switched-on team.
It’s not just its name that tells you Ho Lee Fook doesn’t take things seriously. Walk down a stairwell framed by an army of waving golden cats and you’ll enter a flamboyantly decorated dining room that’s perennially busy, soundtracked by upbeat tunes that might include some classic Whitney Houston. Supplemented by playful cocktails, the menu’s ideal for anyone who’s unfamiliar with Cantonese cuisine: Dishes like roast goose with plum sauce, and salt-and-pepper squid with curry aioli, effortlessly show newbies how delicious this fare can be.
Clarence’s take on fusion cooking is subtle, but significant: Its fabulous French dishes are often prepared using Asian cooking techniques (think charcoal grilling and steaming), so they’re still deliciously full-bodied without being heavy. It means guests can feast freely on zucchini-flower sea bream and caviar-crowned gamberoni tartare, but avoid the lethargy that often kicks in post-digestif. And it’s indicative of a broader dedication to perfection: Service is poised and perceptive; the wine list is wonderful; and there’s a pervasive sense of elegance that adds a little extra to the evening (if you’re here for a romantic evening, request a booth for extra privacy).
It’s not all about the views at Cardinal Point bar and terrace, but they are spectacular. In Central, the harbor-facing rooftop venue is wedged between some of the city’s most beloved landmarks and skyscrapers. There are also punchy, playful cocktails inspired by diverse global flavors (the potent Pandan Highball comes ‘aggressively carbonated’), and DJ sets move from ambient to upbeat as the night goes on.
[See also: Elite Traveler To Suites in the World 2023]
This article appears in the 30 Nov 2023 issue of the New Statesman, Winter 2023/24