Country parks and protected reserves make up more than 40 percent of the land in Hong Kong. The result is a surprisingly accessible relationship with nature and its wildlife. On land, the Rhesus Macaque monkey rules the trails of Kam Shan, Lion Rock, and Shing Mun Country Parks in Kowloon. By sea, the western shores of Lantau Island may offer a rare glimpse of the famed, but endangered, Chinese White "Pink" Dolphin.
Some waterfalls are worth chasing. Hong Kong's highest peak, Tai Mo Shan, boasts the breathtaking, 35-meter Long Falls on its northwestern face, and shouldn't take you more than an hour to reach from the base. Take the MTR to Tsuen Wan in the New Territories and the 51 bus from the Tsuen Wan Bus Terminus.
Thousands of birds seek migratory refuge inside the Hong Kong Wetland Park, a 60-hectare conservation center and nature reserve set amongst the Mai Po marshes of the New Territories. An interactive visitor's center supplements the park's winding boardwalks, which allow you to explore the biodiverse habitats of mudflats and mangroves—just miles from the skyscrapers of Central Hong Kong.
Historical records date the settlement of Tung Chung, on the northern coast of Lantau Island, to the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). Tung Chung Fort, built in 1882 under Emperor Dao Guang of the Qing Dynasty, served as a command post for Chinese troops defending against British and pirate invasion. The fort was evacuated in 1898, when the New Territories were leased to Britain, though six canons still guard its sea-facing façade.
UNESCO-listed in 2011, the Hong Kong Global Geopark features volcanic and sedimentary rock formations dating back more than 140 million years, formed following eruptions in the Cretaceous era. The staggering symmetry of the hexagonal rock columns along High Island's coast, tinted yellow by their acidic silica composition, is endlessly Instagrammable.
The Yau Ma Tei Theatre is the only remaining pre-war cinema in Kowloon. Built in 1930 with a capacity of 500 seats, it originally performed Cantonese operas before ushering in the eras of silent and sound films. Falling on hard times in the '90s as home video rose in popularity, the cinema closed only briefly, in 1998, before gaining national monument status. Today, after extensive renovation, the Yau Ma Tei is again a home for Cantonese opera.
Off the Beaten Path
Just 40 minutes by ferry from Central is Lamma Island, Hong Kong's "hippie village." Hong Kongers retreat here to enjoy fresh seafood, good wine, and a totally car-free environment. Four-legged friends are welcome at Power Station Beach, about a 10-minute walk from Yung Shue Wan village. Avoid the weekend crush if you can.
Most Iconic Place
Rising above Hong Kong's financial centre at 552 meters, Victoria Peak is without a doubt the city's most popular tourist attraction, offering superlative views of Hong Kong Island and the archipelago beyond. Just eight minutes from Central, "The Peak" is yours with a ride on the 125-year-old Peak Tram, which manages an impressive near-vertical ascent. Hiking trails and the architectural marvels along Lugard Road await you at the top.
Neighborhood to Explore
Home to the city's party district, Wan Chai, one of Hong Kong's oldest neighborhoods, also delivers a heady dose of culture. See what's on at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre—the city's architectural answer to Sydney's Opera House, and home to the annual Book Fair—and take in waterfront views from Tamar Park before strolling down the Wan Chai Heritage Trail to Comix Homebase, the cradle of Hong Kong's comics industry, and on to Pak Tai Temple, honoring the Taoist god of the sea. Dine in chic Star Street Precinct, a fashionable nexus straight from the pages of Vogue.
The best spot for people-watching is actually a moving one: the Central-Mid-Levels walkway connects Hong Kong's main business district with the hilly Mid-Levels neighborhood. At over half a mile, it's the world's longest covered (read: air-conditioned) escalator, built to ease congestion up one of the city's steepest inclines. Immortalized in Wong Kar-wai's film "Chungking Express," the reversible escalator is a smart way to see the city, not to mention a lifeline to the legendary eateries you'll find in its path. Standing still, a one-way ride takes about 20 minutes.