Delve into Hong Kong's hot spots
For me, if a city offers good shopping, food and nightlife, it makes it to my shortlist of great urban getaways. Hong Kong offers all this - and a lot more. Aside from the glittering skyline of high-rises and neon-lit streets that make up the global image of Hong Kong, the city also throws up some surprises - think spectacular hiking trails (over 40 per cent of the total land mass is made up of parkland), amazing beaches, and a charming blend of Chinese culture with colonial influences.
Hong Kong is divided into three main zones - Kowloon, Hong Kong Island, and the New Territories - and a few smaller outlying islands make up the rest of the populated space. A special administrative zone of China, this Asian hub is home to a mix of expats and locals, everyone sharing the inescapably pulsating energy that the city exudes.
Whether you have two days to spend here, or two weeks, this busy, bustling metropolis promises a holiday that is as unique as it is unforgettable. Here is my pick of the top three places for dining, shopping and fun in Hong Kong:
From award-winning epicurean experiences to street food, you will be spoilt for choice.
The Peninsula Hotel is a Hong Kong institution, and is home to some of the city's finest restaurants. One of the best ways to experience them is to opt for a Culinary Journey in the hotel that takes you across four gourmet restaurants and cuisines. The evening starts with a cocktail and an appetiser at the elegant Lobby Lounge. Then you proceed to Spring Moon, a retro-fitted Chinese restaurant serving creative concoctions such as chrysanthemum chicken consommé and braised cloud fungus (a type of mushroom) with seasonal vegetables; it's Chinese food like you've never tasted before.
Next comes Gaddis, an elegant French restaurant, which takes you back in time to 1950s Europe when "you went for dinner and a dance", with its strictly formal dress code, live music, imposing silverware and candelabras. Here you can feast on delicacies like Atlantic black cod with black truffle crust, and roasted prime beef fillet with oxtail jus. End the evening with dessert and coffee at the Philippe Starck-designed Felix bar on the 28th floor of the hotel, where the incomparable views of Victoria Harbour and funky interiors compete for your attention.
Another culinary must-do at The Peninsula is its legendary Afternoon Tea - a faithful representation of the full-service English tradition complete with scones and clotted cream - which sees dozens of people queuing up every day. The Culinary Journey costs HK$1,928 (around Dh900) per person, and Afternoon Tea is HK$498 for two, visit .
Maxims Palace, a chain of restaurants specialising in Cantonese cuisine, is where the locals go when eating out. Casual and unpretentious, here you can tuck into a variety of food, from delicious dim sums to roast goose and everything in between. Fresh ingredients and authentic flavours will make this a memorable meal. The menu also offers some outrageous choices, and since everything is served local-style, be prepared for some startling presentations, such as a whole, cooked chicken head being served along with a roast chicken - and it's meant to be eaten! If in a group, eat family-style and order different platters from the menu to share.
Maxims is also a popular venue for yum cha - the Cantonese version of tapas, where women in push carts serve a variety of light bites including dumplings, steamed buns, noodle rolls, congee and egg tarts, along with Chinese tea. Prices vary according to what you order but expect this to be a medium budget meal - not expensive, but not street-food cheap either.
Lamma island, a ferry ride away from Kowloon, is popular among the expat community as the place to go for the freshest, tastiest seafood. A laid-back, small-town vibe - you can only travel by foot or bicycle here - and a strong arty community makes this a welcome contrast to the hectic buzz of the rest of Hong Kong.
Small open-air seafood restaurants line the coastline in Sok Kyu Wan village, displaying their fresh catch of the day in water tanks - think lobster, calamari, crayfish, scallops and clams. Stop at any one that catches your fancy, pick what you want from the tank and ask for it to be cooked (steaming is the most popular option) and tuck in, while taking in the views. Be careful to check prices before ordering, however, as English menus aren't that common.
Whether it's flea markets, quirky boutiques or high-end designer brands, there's something for everyone in this shopping haven.
Causeway Bay is a busy street that is quintessentially Hong Kong, with its brightly lit crowded streets and neon signs. A massive department store, Sogo, plays the role of anchor in this popular shopping area. Small stand-alone stores rub shoulders with busy malls, crammed with little boutiques selling local and Asian labels - perfect for trendy fashion buys that don't cost the earth. Nearby Lee Garden Road is the place to head to for some good outlet shopping, while the gigantic Times Square Mall houses international brands.
Market shopping is of course, a must-do in an Asian city, and there are plenty of options to choose from. Mong Kok is a key market area, with a warren of narrow pedestrian streets with names like Ladies Market, which are crammed with colourful stalls selling cheap souvenirs, Bruce Lee T-shirts, tacky plastic watches... you get the picture. Shopping here is more for the experience rather than what you buy, and remember, bargaining is a must.
Other markets to visit include the historic Stanley Market, for a slightly better standard of souvenirs and Chinese artifacts, and the Temple Street Night Market - also known as Men's Street - where hawkers peddle cheap flea market goods, with street entertainment provided in the form of buskers and Chinese fortune tellers.
Antiques and art
Head to Hollywood Road to discover a historic street full of art galleries and tiny stores crammed with vintage furniture, Maoist memorabilia, porcelain artefacts, and other such eclectic collectibles - mostly being sold by equally historic men with their wizened, lined faces providing a far more reliable guarantee of authenticity than the certificates most of the antiques come with. After a short pit-stop at the nearby Man Mo temple to light an incense stick and make a wish, take the steps of the aptly named Ladder Street down to Cat Street. Here you will find open-air stalls offering cheaper - and obviously fake - antiques and souvenirs.
Aside from the obvious attractions such as theme parks, there are numerous fun activities on offer, to suit every taste.
Make your way up to Victoria Peak, the highest point in the city, to get a birds-eye view of Hong Kong's iconic skyline, and the surrounding scenery. The Peak tram, a historic winch dating back to 1888, goes up a steep incline to take you to the top in minutes - the ride is as much fun as the destination. At the top, there are a few lookout options, as well as restaurants and shops.
If you've got the cash to splash, then make like the A-list guests at The Peninsula and take off on a helicopter ride. The "celebrity" experience starts even before you take off, from the exclusive China Clipper lounge on the hotel's top floor. The 15-minute ride lets you take in aerial views of the city and neighbouring islands with beaches that wouldn't look out of place in a Mauritius brochure, and is simply one of the coolest things you will ever have done on holiday. The helicopter seats five, and costs HK$5,000.
If you want to uncover the local culture, there are a few interesting activities on offer, aside from the usual museum circuit. You could opt for a Cantonese opera appreciation class, which gives you an insight into this Unesco-listed art form that combines legend, music and drama into performances; learn about feng shui, or the secrets of Chinese medicine; hear the experts hold forth on tea in a Chinese Tea Appreciation class, held in a traditional tea house; or try your hand at Tai Chi in public, open-air classes held by expert instructors. You can attend all these sessions since they are free, call the Hong Kong Tourism Board on +852-2508-1234.
If it is museums you are after, then there are plenty to choose from, from the Flagstaff House Museum of Tea Ware to the Hong Kong Space Museum. The museum pass (Dh15) gives you unlimited access to listed museums.
For a relaxed, casual night out, head to Soho (distinguished as having the Mid-levels escalators, the world's longest escalator system) and nearby Lan Kwai Fong. Narrow streets crammed with tiny, atmospheric bars spilling out on the roadside typify both districts, ideal for a night of pub-crawling. Another area that is popular with the locals after hours is Causeway Bay, also filled with chic little bars and lounges.
For a more stylish evening, Salon de Ning at The Peninsula Hotel - a chic lounge themed around the glamorous lifestyle of 1930s Shanghai - is perfect.
The luxe list
Want to do Hong Kong in style? This is the way to do it.
Fly: Cathay Pacific offers direct daily flights to Hong Kong from Dubai and Abu Dhabi. The Hong Kong-based airline offers a taste of the city from the minute you take off, with great food, comfortable seating, on-demand entertainment and friendly service. If you fly business class, you'll probably want the flight to last longer than it does, as you lie back on the flat-bed massage seats, watch the latest movies on your large-screen TV, and tuck into Hong Kong specialty cuisine. You also get access to its exclusive lounge at the Hong Kong International Airport - with its funky, modern design, extensive food offerings including a juice bar and a deli counter, it makes hanging out at an airport something to look forward to! Ticket prices start at Dh3,725 (Dh9,845 for business), visit .
Stay: The Peninsula has been playing host to the most distinguished guests since 1928 - with the level of service that typified that time, unchanged since then. Luxury doesn't scream out at this hotel, but whispers in discreet touches. The magic shoe shine box (you place your shoes in a little enclosure in your suite, they are removed, polished and put back without any staff ever having to enter your room) and echo-proof bathroom phones (a dedicated facility in a secret location develops exclusive technology for hotel facilities) are just examples.
In a crowded city like Hong Kong, space is the ultimate luxury - and with the average apartment size starting at 400 square feet, its 4,000 square feet suites are luxurious indeed. An elegant cream and ivory colour scheme, unbeatable harbour views from floor-to-ceiling windows (black-out blinds at the touch of a button, natch!) make a stay here not too shabby at all. They don't come cheap, however, with room rates starting at HK$5,000. But a convenient Kowloon location with easy access to the best shopping and nightlife in the city - as well as plenty of options within the hotel too - and a luxe Espa spa a lift ride away, it will be money well spent. Visit .
If you are visiting Hong Kong, take a couple of days out to visit neighbouring Macau, just a one-hour ferry ride away. Once again, scratch the surface and you will find the city has a lot more to offer than the Asian Las Vegas it's meant to be.
Eat: Macau is known as a foodie destination for its unique cuisine combining Portuguese and Chinese influences. The Military Club is a restored former military officers' club that now makes for a charming restaurant with its traditional formal vibe still intact. Sitting in the high-ceilinged, white-washed dining hall with whirring ceiling fans, you can feast on some of the best authentic Portuguese food you will find in this town.
Shop: The narrow, cobblestone streets of Macau's old town around the central Senado Square are a well-kept shopping secret - you'll find everything from affordable fashion boutiques tucked away in the back alleys, and local art and design galleries, to foodie treats such as Portuguese cakes and cookies.
Play: The Macau Tower is the city's pride and joy, making for not only a great viewpoint at a height of 338m - mainland China almost seems within arm's reach - but also a popular spot for adventure activities such as bungee jumping. For after-hours fun, there's always a glitzy, Vegas-style entertainment show on.
Stay: The Venetian is a staggeringly large 3,000-room casino hotel, which similar to its Las Vegas counterpart, is themed around Venice - complete with fake canals and gondolas, a massive shopping arcade and a multitude of restaurants. There's no better place to experience typically kitsch Macau than here! Room rates start from HK$2,000, visit .
Make it a point to visit Macau at the end of your trip, as you can take a direct ferry back to Hong Kong International Airport with your luggage checked in, and you get a refund on the airport tax portion of your ticket fare.