24 hours in Hong Kong: local creatives show us where to sleep, eat and enjoy art

If you love world travel, there’s a good chance that Hong Kong is a city on your bucket list. And there are lots of good reasons for that.

For lovers of Asian cuisine, it’s food and drinks heaven, with an endless variety of high-quality restaurants, bars and cafes to choose from. Its shopping is to die for, and its beautiful, sky-high buildings will have your neck aching with wonder. You’ll also find vibrant art, theatre and music scene and all the neon-soaked hustle, bustle, energy and glamour you’d expect from this densely-packed crossroads between global cultures.

Whether you’re in Hong Kong for a couple of weeks or just a few hours on a layover, you’ll want to make the most of your stay. But because there are so many places to discover, there’s a danger of being blinded by choice, feeling that you’ve missed the ‘real Hong Kong’, and spending too much time in soulless tourist traps designed for nothing but taking your money.

What better way, then, to find Hong Kong’s hidden treasures than to chat with its residents? With that in mind, we chatted to five leading creatives, who’ve all made a life in the city, to get their insider advice on where to sleep, eat and enrich yourself culturally.

Our experts

We’ll start by introducing our five experts. Derry Ainsworth is a photographer, digital artist and architecture graduate from Bournemouth, who’s lived in Hong Kong since 2014. In 2020 he founded his own creative content agency, Blank Media. In 2021, he took on the role of creative director of Digital Art Fair Asia, where he oversaw, designed and curated the pioneer digital art NFT event.

Next up are Jason Dembski and Maria Wong, co-founder and managing director of HK Walls, a non-profit arts organisation that creates opportunities for artists to showcase their talent in Hong Kong and worldwide through the medium of street art and street culture. Jason is an American designer, maker and curator with a background in architecture, while Maria is a local curator and executive producer who was previously head of performing arts for the Hong Kong Youth Arts Foundation.



Portrait of Derry Ainsworth, West Kowloon

Jason Dembski and Maria Wong of HK Walls



Jason Dembski and Maria Wong of HK Walls

Jonathan Jay Lee



Jonathan Jay Lee

Thierry Chow



Thierry Chow

Taiwanese-American Jonathan Jay Lee is an award-winning illustrator whose clients have included Marvel Comics, Mercedes, San Miguel, Japan Tourism Board and Disney Plus. A former professor, Jonathan has designed and taught more than 20 courses in Illustration and Sequential Art.

Finally, Thierry Chow is a Feng Shui master on a mission to demystify and modernise the discipline. Since 2011, she’s apprenticed under her father, Mr Chow Hon Ming, and is a graduate in illustration from Sheridan College in Toronto; Thierry is also the founder of Go Lucky, a modern feng shui concept that combines traditional approach in the context of a fast-paced modern life.

Where to sleep

Rosewood Hotel

The 413-room Rosewood Hotel offers ten restaurants and lounges complemented by recreational facilities, including a wellness centre, fitness centre, swimming pool, and meetings and event spaces. Located in Tsim Sha Tsui, it’s five minutes from the China Ferry Terminal, 10 minutes from Airport Express Kowloon Station, and 10 minutes from Hong Kong West Kowloon High-Speed Rail Station by car.

“The Rosewood has the most spectacular view over the harbour towards the spectacular glowing skyline of Hong Kong Island,” says Derry. “Plus, when I stayed there, my experience was very personalised, with a birthday card waiting for me in my room, with pictures of me and my own photography of the building: a very thoughtful touch.

“The rooms themselves are very well designed,” he adds. “They’re decorated with beautiful works of art and come with a home cocktail-making kit. The bathroom design is lavish and kind of famous here, with an amazing bathtub that can be seen all over in selfies on Instagram. I’m also fond of the modern architecture of the building and the way it cleverly merges with the design of the K11 Musea mall below it.”

Thierry is also a fan. “Rosewood is one of my favourite go-to’s for a staycation,” she says. “The view from the Kowloon side of Victoria Harbour is one of the most beautiful in all of Hong Kong, and the spa, Asaya, is a great escape if I feel exhausted.”

© Derry Ainsworth



© Derry Ainsworth

© Derry Ainsworth



© Derry Ainsworth

© Derry Ainsworth



© Derry Ainsworth

Ovolo Southside

Ovolo Southside is a warehouse-converted hotel brimming with sleek, meticulous design and awe-inspiring art. Set in the up-and-coming Wong Chuk Hang district, Ovolo Southside is a five-minute walk to Ocean Park and Wong Chuk Hang MTR Station, a 10-minute drive from the main shopping thoroughfares of Causeway Bay and 20 minutes from Central District and SOHO.

“Ovolo hotels are known for their cosy welcoming, arty and trendy vibes, with great locations on Hong Kong Island,” says Jason. “The staff are incredible, and the restaurants are very good and vegan and vegetarian friendly.” Thierry agrees. “Ovolo is fun,” she enthuses. “I love the young and modern design of the space, and the big windows with a view of the ocean and mountains make you think you’re not in the busy city.”

Eaton Hotel, Tsim Sha Tsui

Located in the vibrant neighbourhood of Jordan and inspired by Wong Kar Wai’s 1990s Hong Kong films, Eaton Hong Kong isn’t just a hotel but a cultural hub for locals interested in art, culture, music and community. Its rooms provide a conscious retreat for purpose-driven travellers with sustainability-focused service, artwork by local creatives, mindful and artisan amenities, and hi-tech essentials. Just 200 yards from the popular Temple Street, it’s a five-minute walk from Jordan MTR Station and a 45-minute drive from Hong Kong International Airport.

“Eaton is a place we often visit even when we are not staying in the hotel due to their forward-thinking curation of art and music programs,” says Maria. “Staying in a hotel can be more than just a comfy bed. Eaton runs art exhibitions throughout the year and has an amazing line-up in their music room next to Terrible Baby, the cocktail bar and the terrace. They also have a great food court.”

Jonathan is also a fan. “Their venues and events really align with art and culture in a way that I respect its curation,” he explains. “It’s also located in the heart of Kowloon, or the ‘dark side’ as those call it on Hong Kong Island. Jordan is one of those last local neighbourhoods that go relatively untouched near the city centre, given the frequent changes to our city’s skyline. Eaton seems to embrace that tastefully while staying modern. The restaurant in the basement has great dim sum, too.”

© Derry Ainsworth



© Derry Ainsworth

Wontonmeen

Wontonmeen may be a cheap youth hostel, but it’s anything but ordinary. First, because of its quirky design, with elements of Hong Kong’s 1970s and 1980s, from neon signs to old cinema seats. And second because during the pandemic, parts of the building were turned into a studio, allowing musicians to record videos and activate online gigs. Its downstairs cafe, Runners Foods, also cooks for homeless people living in the local park. Based in Sham Shui Po, it’s a six-minute walk from MTR Prince Edward Station, while Metro Harbour Plaza is a 10-minute walk away.

“Wontonmeen is the best choice if you’re on a shoestring budget,” says Jason. “The ‘Bookation’ mixed dorm room caters to book lovers while taking design inspiration from the neighbourhood. A great supporter of the arts, they regularly hold local indie music nights, art events and film screenings. You won’t be bored, even if you never leave the dorm.”

Chi Residences

Chi Residences is a highly regarded boutique serviced apartment brand. Fashioned by top international designers, each apartment is fully furnished and aims to provide the luxury and service of a five-star hotel with inspired design and personal touches.

“They have various options around the city, and I really enjoy visiting them on longer stays,” says Jonathan. “They’re always located in very accessible areas, and my experience with them is always stellar. If you’re a private person, a service apartment like Chi is a good mid-tier option while being in the heart of the city.”

Where to eat

Samsen

Samsen is a casual restaurant serving classic Thai food and drinks in retro, warehouse-chic surroundings. Hong Kong’s first authentic Thai noodle house, it’s the brainchild of celebrated chef Adam Cliff and his partner Bella Kong. Located at 68 Stone Nullah Lane, Wan Chai, it’s open 12-3 and 6-10 daily.

“I love Thai food, so whenever I can, I try to get a table at Samsen,” says Derry. “I love the interior design vibe of an ‘old Thai noodle house’. The food is consistently excellent across all their menu and has that real authentic Bangkok flavour. I can tell their ingredients are fresh and delivered straight from Thailand. My favourite dishes are the ‘Khao Soi of chicken or beef’, which evoke the crisscrossing culinary heritage of the region. Sometimes if I’m brave, I’ll order a spicy dish and spend some time sweating after.”

Shady Acres

Shady Acres is a friendly neighbourhood wine restaurant and cocktail bar that doesn’t take bookings: it’s strictly walk-ins only. Self-promo isn’t high on their list: visit their URL, and you get this message: “This website is shitty and will likely remain shitty because we’re kinda busy slamming out drinks and food. Just come visit us.” Located on 46 Peel Street, Central and Western District, they’re open 4-midnight weekdays and 3 to midnight at weekends.

“Shady Acres is somewhere we go to hang out with good mates,” says Maria. “The crowd is young, trendy and arty. Apart from their well-curated wine, beer and delicious cocktail options, they also have a small but carefully thought-out food menu that is fun, scrumptious and always evolving.”

© Derry Ainsworth



© Derry Ainsworth

© Derry Ainsworth



© Derry Ainsworth

Little Bao, Soho

Little Bao is a burger restaurant that’s all about fun, experimental, yet approachable cooking. Run by the super talented Chef May Chow, whether you want sides of truffle fries or Brussels sprouts, you’re sure to find something here to tickle your palate. Located on 1-3 Shin Hing Street, Central, it’s open Sunday to 12-4 Thursday, 6-10 Friday and 12-4 then 6-11 Saturday. There’s also a second outlet in Causeway Bay.

“Little Bao is casual and fun,” says Jason. “Set in the heart of Central on a quiet walking street, you can sit outside on the stone steps if it’s not too hot. Our go-to combo is an Impossible Bao, truffle fries, and a Neonotic Lemon Tea Cider. If you happen to visit the Causeway Bay location instead, you must have the Szechaun peppercorn oil fried mushrooms. Little Bao also offers innovative seasonal specials highlighting local produce with classic Hong Kong flavours, a true amalgamation of East and West.”

Hatch

HATCH is an innovative hospitality space that hosts the coolest pop-up restaurants and operates as a diner and bodega. Led by chef Jamie Young, its tagline is “Hatching local talent”, and if you’re seeking the buzziest Hong Kong food, this is the place to be. Located at 60 Staunton St, Central, it’s open from 3-10, Wednesday to Sunday.

“Hatch is hands-down one of our latest favourites,” says Maria. “They serve up American elevated comfort food with an edge: rock ‘n’ roll on a plate. We also love their regular pop-up collabs with chefs from around the world; there’s always a cool roster of chefs, so you can never get bored.”

© Derry Ainsworth



© Derry Ainsworth

Yardbird

Yardbird is a stylish and popular eatery in the style of a Japanese izakaya, offering grilled, skewered chicken dishes and unique cocktails. Located at Winsome House, 154-158 Wing Lok Street G/F, Shops A and B, Sheung Wan, it’s open 6-midnight Tuesday to Saturday.

“Yardbird, who got their first Michelin star a couple of years ago, is a favourite of mine,” says Jonathan. “Its vibe is very down to earth and a modern take on yakitori. In fact, Japanese visitors will come to Hong Kong just to try Yardbird and its sister restaurant Ronin as well. The team make you feel at home, and it’s got great vibes on par with New York and LA.”

Sing Kee

The traditional Hong Kong dai pai dong (outdoor restaurant) is largely a thing of the past, but a few survive. And Sing Kee is a greasy-spoon favourite, perfect for a snack early in the morning or late at night. You’ll find it at 82 Stanley Street, Central.

“These Dai Pai Dongs are a key Hong Kong experience, sitting on plastic stools in the heat with beers and the smell of the Wok Chefs cooking outdoors,” says Jonathan. “And with DPD licenses no longer being issued, they’ll soon become obsolete after the current generation of owners discontinues this practice.”

Han Sik Goo

Led by chef Mingoo, Han Sik Goo aspires to deliver a bold interpretation of Korea’s diverse culinary culture. From home-cooked fare to royal-inspired cuisine to innovative creations, its menu offers authentic flavours with a creative flair. Located on 1/F, The Wellington, 198 Wellington Street, Central, it’s open 12-3 Friday and Saturday, and 6-11 Monday to Saturday. The restaurant is closed on Sundays and alternate Mondays.

“The experience at Han Sik Goo is always very warm and comfortable,” says Thierry. “And the design of the space is simple and zen. It is modern Korean cuisine, and the food is super-creative and delicious always!”

Sushi Hana

Sushi Hana is one of the best sushi restaurants in Hong Kong. The excellent food is prepared by professional sushi chefs, yet it’s still quite affordable. Located at 142 Tung Lo Wan Road, Tai Hang, Sushi Hana is open 12-2.30 and 6-10 daily.

“I’m a big omakase lover [a form of Japanese dining where you leave the menu up to the chef],” says Thierry. “And this place has the best omakase lunch and dinner. The environment is always friendly and warm.”

© Derry Ainsworth



© Derry Ainsworth

© Derry Ainsworth



© Derry Ainsworth

Where to enjoy art and culture

Palace Museum

The Hong Kong Palace Museum exhibits artefacts from Beijing’s Palace Museum, some of which have never been on display before. It officially opened in July this year to mark the 25th anniversary of the handover of Hong Kong and comprises two exhibition halls, activity rooms, a 400-seat theatre, a gift shop and a restaurant. Located at 8 Museum Drive West Kowloon, it opens 10-6 Wednesday and Thursday, 10-8 Friday to Monday.

“The new Palace Museum houses fantastic artwork, and you can learn some really interesting things about Chinese art, history and culture,” says Derry. “I appreciate the design of the building itself, too: it has some stunning atrium spaces and framed views of the skyline on offer. Rocco Design Architects did a great job creating a striking building inspired by the Forbidden City in Beijing.”

M+ museum

Opened in November 2021, M+ is a museum of 20th and 21st-century visual culture encompassing visual art, design and architecture, and moving image. Designed by Herzog & de Meuron, the building comprises a podium and a slender tower that fuse into the shape of an upside-down ‘T’. The expansive podium cantilevers above ground include 17,000 sq m of exhibition space across 33 galleries, three cinema houses, a learning hub, and a roof garden facing Victoria Harbour. Located at 38 Museum Drive West Kowloon, it’s closed on Monday, opens 10-10 on Friday and 10-6 on all other days.

“The M+ museum is just a short walk from the Palace Museum and is touted as Asia’s first global museum of contemporary visual culture,” says Derry. “On every visit, I’ve been inspired by the curation and quality of the artwork inside. I love to walk around the giant structure and chill out around the building itself too. The architectural design really considers the public space around it, and I find it a great place to stop and take in the panoramic views of the Hong Kong skyline.”

Thierry loves the M+ too. “This is one of my favourite new spots for a day full of culture and art,” she says. “It has some of the best art pieces in Hong Kong.”

© Derry Ainsworth



© Derry Ainsworth

Xiqu Centre

The Xiqu Centre is on a mission to preserve, promote and develop the art of Chinese traditional theatre and Cantonese opera through performances, creation, education, research and exchange. The eight-storey building has a total area of 28,164 sq m and houses a Grand Theatre, accommodating 1,073 seats, a Tea House Theatre with a capacity of up to 200 seats, eight professional studios and a seminar hall. It’s located at 88 Austin Rd W, Tsim Sha Tsui; opening times vary depending on events.

“The Xiqu Centre is a favourite spot of mine to take photos in,” says Derry. “It’s dedicated to promoting the heritage of Xiqu-Chinese opera, the primary genre of indigenous Chinese theatre. I just love the design of it. The waves of aluminium cladding on the outside make for a great backdrop for portrait shoots, and the design inside has sleek modern curves mixed with a clean white/red Chinese colourway.”

Sham Shui Po

Situated in the northwestern part of the Kowloon Peninsula, Sham Shui Po is one of the densest and most vibrant neighbourhoods in Hong Kong. Housing a diverse mix of working-class families, seniors and migrants from rural China, it’s known for its lively street markets, electronics outlets, fabric stores, restaurants and food vendors.

“Have a walk around Sham Shui Po,” recommends Jason. “It’s an eclectic mix of old and new; from electronics, DIY arts and crafts materials, and fabrics, to new boutiques, galleries, restaurants and bars. Spending a day just exploring all the tiny shops and cafes will give you an insight into what young Hong Kongers are into and up to.”

Thierry recommends Tai Nam Street in particular. “This is one of the areas that’s been developing into a nice destination in recent years,” she notes. “It has a lot of new modern shops such as cafes and crafts, and has a very artsy vibe.”

© Derry Ainsworth



© Derry Ainsworth

Tai Long Wan

An isolated, 3km-wide bay off the beaten track, Tai Long Wan is located on the east coast of the Sai Kung Peninsula in Sai Kung District, Hong Kong. One of Hong Kong’s most beautiful places, its beaches are popular with surfers, sunbathers and hikers.

“One cannot forget that 40 per cent of Hong Kong is still nature,” points out Maria. “We have a lot of beautiful islands, beaches, country parks, hiking trails, and waterfalls that meander through the densely populated city. Our favourite spot is Tai Long Wan in Sai Kung. While it’s not a secret, Tai Long Wan still has some of the best beaches and is great for overnight camping, with beautiful sunrises and sunsets. Remember to clean up after yourselves when you leave.”

K11 Musea

K11 MUSEA is a new cultural-retail destination on Victoria Dockside, which opened its doors in 2019 after ten years of planning and building. Inspired by ‘A Muse by the Sea’, K11 Musea is designed to enrich the consumer’s daily life through the power of creativity, culture and innovation. Located on Victoria Dockside, 18 Salisbury Road, Tsim Sha Tsui, it’s open 10-10 daily.

“The K11 Musea development located on HK’s harbour gives you a great view of the city while enjoying high-end shopping in a beautiful interior if that’s your vice,” says Jonathan. “It also houses the Rosewood Hotel [the first entry on our list] and its own K11 Artus Hotel while being a short walk away from the Star Ferry.”


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