Editor's Note: Hong Kong has many facets in the eyes of its large and diverse population. To mark the 25th anniversary of the city's return to the motherland, China Daily presents the series with 25 selected architectural and cultural icons that represent the city's prowess.
1. Victoria Harbour
Victoria Harbour is a natural landform harbor separating Hong Kong Island in the south from the Kowloon Peninsula to the north. The bay front is lined with skyscrapers, many of which have shopping malls featuring top-notch brands.
When taking a ride on the Star Ferry across Victoria Harbour, visitors are presented with a spectacular view of the city's skyline. At night, the millions of neon lights in the skyscrapers illuminate the sky, creating a dazzling display.
Visitors can also enjoy an audiovisual feast at Victoria Harbour at 8 pm each night with a light display synchronized to the tune of Symphony of Lights.
2. Bank of China Tower
The Bank of China Tower, a glass skyscraper with triangular frameworks, was designed by Pritzker Prize-winning Chinese-American architect I. M. Pei and completed in 1989. The Hong Kong headquarters of the Bank of China is notable for its impressive height and distinctive design. The building is 367.4 meters high, towering 70 floors above ground level, and is the fourth tallest skyscraper in Hong Kong and the first building outside the United States to have broken the 305-meter mark. The architect drew inspiration for the design from bamboo shoots, which symbolize prosperity and strength in Chinese culture.
The building's distinctive look has earned it appearances in many blockbusters such as Transformers and Star Trek, making it one of Hong Kong's most iconic landmarks today.
3. Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao Bridge
As one of the "seven wonders of the modern world", the 55-kilometer-long Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao Bridge is the world's longest sea-crossing bridge and tunnel system.
It took nine years to construct, and consists of three cable-stayed bridges linking Hong Kong, Macao, and Zhuhai. Since its opening, the bridge has significantly reduced the travel time between Hong Kong and Zhuhai/Macao from 3 hours to 45 minutes, making a one-hour living circle a reality for residents travelling between cities in the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area.
4. Hong Kong West Kowloon Station
Hong Kong West Kowloon Station is the terminus of the Hong Kong section of the Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link. The link connects Hong Kong with the Chinese mainland's high-speed railway network, which is the world's largest.
Covering about 11 hectares of land, the station is the largest underground railway station in Hong Kong, and its unique architecture makes it a hotspot for visits.
The giant curtain wall comprises over 4,000 irregular glass panels to maximize daylight and conserve energy, and the curved ceiling is made of over 8,000 tons of steel, which is almost the weight of the Eiffel Tower. Nine sets of massive columns support the spectacular structure of the station, and the tallest one rises 45 meters, up to the curved ceiling. Visitors can enjoy the stunning views of Victoria Harbour by taking a walk along the Sky Corridor to the station's rooftop, making the station an urban oasis.
5. Hong Kong Palace Museum
Located on the harbor front of the West Kowloon Cultural District, the Hong Kong Palace Museum occupies 13,000 square meters and has an exhibition space of 7,800 square meters.
The museum – the first collaborative project of Beijing's Palace Museum outside the Chinese mainland – is wide at the top and narrow at the bottom, resembling many Chinese classic utensils, and the interior is designed in a symmetrical central axis vertically, a tribute to the horizontal central axis of the Palace Museum in Beijing.
The museum will open on July 2 to mark the 25th anniversary of Hong Kong's return to the motherland. It will then exhibit about 900 items from the Palace Museum in Beijing.
6. The Peninsula Hong Kong
With a history of more than 90 years, The Peninsula Hong Kong, opened in 1928, is the city's oldest hotel, and was the tallest building in Hong Kong when it was completed.
This 7-story building is a notable example of Western architecture and the Baroque revival style, reflected in the lobby with a detailed plaster staircase, decorative stained glass, and wool carpets.
It has welcomed countless celebrities and high-profile guests, including Richard Milhous Nixon (who became US president in 1969), NBA star Michael Jordan, and Queen Elizabeth. It is notable for its large fleet of Rolls-Royces painted in the distinctive "Peninsula green".
It is one of the buildings that participates in the world's largest permanent light and sound show – A Symphony of Lights – displayed each night at 8 pm on both sides of Victoria Harbour, and featuring many of the buildings along the harbor front.
M+, situated in the West Kowloon Cultural District, is Asia's first global contemporary visual culture museum.
The building features a podium and a slender tower, which are combined to form the shape of an upside-down "T". The podium includes 17,000 square meters of exhibition space across 33 galleries, three cinema houses, a learning hub, and other facilities. The tower houses the museum's research center, offices, restaurants, and lounge.
Opened in November 2021, M+ features a vast collection of over 6,000 pieces from Hong Kong, the Chinese mainland, and other parts of Asia, and highlights three fields – visual art, design and architecture – as well as moving images.
While traditional museums focus on exhibiting, researching and analyzing, M+ houses the Artist Square for creative interaction and social connection, where visitors can interact directly with the contemporary artworks.
8. Hong Kong International Airport & AsiaWorld-Expo
Hong Kong International Airport, completed in 1998, is on the reclaimed island of Chek Lap Kok.
It is the world's busiest airport for cargo and one of the world's busiest for passenger throughput, with around 120 airlines serving over 220 destinations worldwide, and located less than five flying hours away from half the world's population. It has earned recognition as the world's best airport over 80 times. Since its opening, the airport has consistently been regarded as one of the best and most modern aviation facilities in the world.
As one of the world's premier exhibition and entertainment venues, AsiaWorld-Expo has over 70,000 square meters of space with 10 ground-level and column-free halls, and has won over 50 major awards since its opening.
Its large versatile spaces, high ceilings, state-of-the-art facilities, and flexible configurations are ideal for every event, from exhibitions, conventions, sports competitions, concerts, and large-scale banquets, to a vote-counting center during elections. It has been in use as an isolation facility during the pandemic, accommodating thousands of Hong Kong residents.
9. Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre
The Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre, located on the waterfront at Victoria Harbour, is an iconic landmark, with its distinctive glass structure of beautiful flowing lines designed to resemble a bird in flight.
Built on reclaimed land in 1988, it has hosted many of the world's largest and most prestigious events. It was the site of the 1997 Hong Kong handover ceremony, witnessing the end of British rule. It has also been the venue for several chief executive elections, including Hong Kong's sixth-term CE poll. The highly popular annual Hong Kong Book Fair is also held at the venue.
10. Tai Kwun
Situated in Central, Tai Kwun, the former Central Police Station compound, opened to the public as a cultural and shopping destination in 2018. With a history going back 170 years, the new art and culture center comprises 16 historic buildings and two new modern blocks.
Crowned Hong Kong's largest ever historic building revitalization project, Tai Kwun gives visitors a glimpse of the city's streets and life in the late 19th century, including the cramped cells of the police station at that time.
It is dubbed the courtyard at the heart of one of the densest cities in the world.
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11. HK Clock Tower in Tsim Sha Tsui
Standing at 44 meters tall, the Hong Kong Clock Tower was erected in Tsim Sha Tsui in 1915 and is the only remnant of the former Kowloon station, terminus of the Kowloon-Canton Railway, which carried millions of Chinese into the city, many destined for other parts of the world to begin new lives.
The once-bustling station is long gone, but this red brick and granite tower, now preserved as a declared monument, survives as an elegant reminder of the Age of Steam and serves as a continuous witness to the city's continuous flow of people.
12. Chungking Mansions
Chungking Mansions, which opened on Nathan Road in 1961, is a 17-story, five-block building featuring guesthouses, curry restaurants, African bistros, clothing shops, sari stores, and foreign exchange offices.
The building made a splash when it appeared in the movie Chungking Express, directed by renowned filmmaker Wong Kar-wai, drawing in fans, foodies and backpackers to witness first-hand its exotic ambiance.
It serves as a gathering place for ethnic minorities in Hong Kong, particularly Indians, Nepalese, Pakistanis, Bangladeshis, Middle Eastern people, Nigerians, and Europeans.
It is estimated that people from at least 120 different nationalities pass through Chungking Mansions each year, making the building one of the most culturally diverse locations in Hong Kong and earning it the title "Best Example of Globalization in Action" from Time magazine.
13. Yick Cheong Building
Hong Kong has a reputation for being a concrete jungle. No building has played a bigger part in earning it this description than the "Monster Building" in Quarry Bay, an E-shaped public estate complex comprising five public rental blocks built during the population boom of the 1960s. The name was given to the estate by locals due to its densely-populated living conditions – a factor which has caught the attention of today's social media-savvy millennials. It has been featured in a number of films, including Ghost in the Shell and Transformers.
14. Court of Final Appeal Building
The two-story granite building in Central, which now houses the Court of Final Appeal, was constructed in the early 1900s. Designed in neoclassical style, the Court of Final Appeal Building is surmounted by a statue of the blindfolded Lady Justice, symbolizing the rule of law and judicial independence in the city.
The building opened in 1912 to house the Supreme Court and has served different functions over the course of time, including housing the Legislative Council from 1985 until its move to the Legislative Council Complex in 2011. The building was declared a monument in 1989 and reverted to its former judicial function in 2015.
15. Choi Hung Estate
Built in the early 1960s, Choi Hung Estate was the largest public housing estate in Hong Kong at that time, providing accommodation for those who had migrated from the Chinese mainland after World War II.
Choi Hung means rainbow in Chinese, and the walls of Choi Hung Estate are painted in rainbow colors, attracting the attention of several prominent visitors, including Richard Nixon in 1964 (before he became US president in 1969) and Britain's Princess Margaret. The colorful facade of the building, combined with the palm trees and color-dotted open basketball court, has wooed many social media lovers to take photos there.
16. Old Town Central
Old Town Central is the city's answer to preserving the old in modern times. On the approach to the streets with cobbled stone steps is the ragged skyline, filled with skyscrapers of all shapes and sizes, in the heart of the city's business district.
A quick tour of Old Town Central includes taking a stroll down Pottinger Street, one of the city's oldest streets dating back to the 1850s, and not far from Lan Kwai Fong, a must-visit nightlife hotspot.
READ MORE: Art exhibition opens to mark the 25th anniversary
17. Avenue of Stars
Situated on the promenade in Tsim Sha Tsui, Hong Kong's answer to the Hollywood Walk of Fame is another popular site in the city. The star-studded 100-meter-long waterside Avenue of Stars features handprints and statues of local superstars, including martial arts master Bruce Lee, as well as Anita Mui, Jackie Chan, Chow Yun-fat and Stephen Chow. Visitors can stroll down the lane while enjoying the cool sea breeze blowing in from Victoria Habour.
18. Tian Tan Buddha, Ngong Ping 360
Known as "the Big Buddha", Tian Tan is the second-largest outdoor sitting Buddha globally, situated on Lantau Island.
Thirty-four meters in height and weighing more than 250 tons, it is one of the city's top tourist attractions. It is also an important center of Buddhism in Hong Kong, symbolizing the harmonious relationship between man and nature, people and faith.
Many visitors climb the 268 steps to reach the Buddha after taking the Ngong Ping 360 cable car to get there. During the 25-minute ride, you can enjoy stunning aerial views of Lantau Island – one of Hong Kong's over 200 outlying islands – through the cable cars' glass bottom.
19. Hong Kong UNESCO Global Geopark
Hong Kong UNESCO Global Geopark spans a land area of over 150 square kilometers.
It consists of two geological regions: the Sai Kung Volcanic Rock Region, with its widely distributed volcanic rocks displaying the unusual features of both tuff and lava, and the Northeast New Territories Sedimentary Rock Region, which represents the most comprehensive stratigraphy of sedimentary rocks in Hong Kong, showcasing the complete geological history of the city.
In September 2011, the park achieved global status when it was accepted as a member of the Global Geoparks Network by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), making it one of 177 UNESCO Global Geoparks across the globe. Every year, hundreds of thousands of travelers from around the world are attracted to the city's challenging hiking trails within the Geopark.
20. HSBC Main Building
The largest bank in Hong Kong – the Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation Limited, commonly known as HSBC – is called "Wayfoong" in Cantonese, which means "focus of wealth" or "abundance of remittances".
HSBC Main Building, the bank's Hong Kong headquarters, is an all-steel structure that stands 180 meters high and has 52 floors, four of which are subterranean. The building set numerous construction records and features many design innovations, such as lifts which use technology developed by NASA.
A fusion of Western and Eastern cultures, the building was designed by a British architect who incorporated elements of feng shui. As water is strongly associated with wealth in feng shui, the building is situated close to Victoria Harbour in Central, with no other buildings or facilities obstructing its outlook to the sea.
21. Walled villages in the New Territories
Wandering around the New Territories, visitors may stumble upon large traditional villages built for multi-family communal living, surrounded by thick grey defensive walls with sloped roofs. These are called walled villages, and were built in the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) Dynasties. Hong Kong was particularly vulnerable to pirate attacks during those periods, so inhabitants erected stone walls around their villages for security.
While pirates have disappeared, some of these villages are still intact today, particularly in Yuen Long, Sheung Shui, Sha Tin, and Fanling, which are wonderful places for visitors to go to appreciate living history.
Also, visitors can enjoy poon choi in walled villages. Poon choi, a traditional Chinese casserole in a basin, is an essential part of walled village culture, with villagers eating it whenever there are events like rituals, weddings, or acts of worship.
22. Tsing Ma Bridge
The 2,160-meter-long Tsing Ma Bridge is named after the two islands it connects, Tsing Yi and Ma Wan. As a prestigious landmark of Hong Kong, it is one of the most technically complex bridges ever built and was the world's second-longest suspension bridge at the time of completion. The bridge has two decks and carries both road and rail traffic. Wire totaling 160,000 kilometers in length was used in the construction of the bridge, enough to stretch four times round the world.
The bridge opened to traffic in 1997, providing a key link between Hong Kong International Airport, Kowloon and Hong Kong Island.
23. Wong Tai Sin Temple
The Taoist temple, Wong Tai Sin in Kowloon, is Hong Kong's busiest and probably best-known temple.
The temple god, Wong Tai Sin, heals the wounded, saves the dying, punishes evil, and is worshipped by the sick, the elderly, and people with business or different types of problems. It is said that the temple survived destruction during the Japanese invasion in World War II due to Wong Tai Sin's powers.
Wong Tai Sin Temple welcomes over 10,000 worshippers each day, who stand in the open space in front of the Main Altar, hold bundles of burning incense, and bow to Wong Tai Sin to pray for themselves and show their respect.
24. International Commerce Center
With 118 storeys and standing 484 meters high, the International Commerce Center (ICC) is Hong Kong's tallest building and was the world's fifth-tallest skyscraper when completed.
It houses Class-A office spaces, shops, quality restaurants, various entertainment areas, and the highest observation deck in Hong Kong, known as Sky100, on the 100th floor. It also accommodates one of the world's highest hotels, Ritz-Carlton Hong Kong, on the top 16 floors, which has the world's highest swimming pool on the top floor.
ICC faces the second-tallest skyscraper in Hong Kong, Two International Finance Centre, on the opposite side of Victoria Harbour, and provides amazing views.
25. Woo Cheong Pawn Shop
This four-story tenement house, fondly known as the Woo Cheong Pawn Shop, sits in the heart of Wan Chai and was completed in 1888. It was initially owned by the Lo family, famous local pawnshop traders, for over half a century.
In 2007, after four years of reconstruction, the Grade II historic building was revitalized, combining Chinese and Western architectural features like high ceilings, light wells, and large French windows opening out onto balconies. It welcomed the arrival of various high-end tenants, the most famous being The Pawn, a modern British restaurant and bar with a name echoing that of the Woo Cheong Pawn Shop. The Pawn had been transformed into a contemporary Cantonese restaurant by the end of 2021, offering dim sum and teas.