Easily one of Hong Kong’s must-sees, Victoria Peak is the highest point on Hong Kong Island. It offers two large shopping malls – the Peak Tower and the Peak Galleria – which house viewing decks and a host of restaurants. If you can brave ultra-touristy establishments like Bubba Gump Shrimp (巴佈甘蝦业公司) and Madame Tussaud’s (杜莎伕人蠟像館), you’ll be treated to sweeping, 360 degree panoramas of the city from their excellent viewing decks. Victoria Peak also includes a garden and some easy but beautiful hiking trails, and is part of the Pok Fu Lam Country Park (薄扶林郊野公園).Known locally as The Peak, the commercial and residential districts here are the “peak” of the Hong Kong real estate market. Prized as prime real-estate by Hong Kong’s most affluent residents since the 1800s, the area is loaded with expensive homes.
Before You Go
When arriving at the top of the Peak, whether by tram, bus, or taxi, it is easy to get lost if you don’t know where you’re going. The majority of visitors arrive via the Peak Tram – an excellent and convenient mode of transport – and if you go this route keep in mind that the tram stations and the main bus stops are located at each of the malls, letting visitors off into a sea of people, souvenir hawkers and a maze of shops. Make sure you have an idea of where you are going before you arrive.
Info & Cautions
The view from the Peak is especially breathtaking at night when the skyline is lit up, but be aware that the Peak Tram gets particularly crowded during this time. Things begin to mellow out again after 21:00, and there is almost no wait time at 22:00 and 23:00.
From 1806 to 1810, Victoria Peak was used as a lookout by the local pirate Chang Pao. In 1810, he was captured and forced to work for the Canton government, but his legacy still whispers rumors of vast fortunes hidden on various islands.
Victoria Peak was undeveloped until the 1860s, when Hong Kong Governor Sir Hercules Robinson began a development push and soon commissioned a path to facilitate sedan chair passage up the slopes. The path allowed wealthy residents the option of building a home at the top – so long as they could afford to be carted around in a sedan chair – and by 1863 between 20 and 30 families (including then-governor Sir Richard MacDonnell) called Victoria Peak home.
As the 1880s rolled in, word of Victoria Peak’s cool air was enticing more visitors to escape the sweltering Hong Kong summers, and soon businessman Alexander Findlay Smith – certainly hearing the distant jingle of the tourist dollar – made a successful petition to the governor to open a tram to the top of Victoria Peak, where he owned land and planned to build a hotel. When the Victoria Peak Tram opened in 1888, its terminal station was built right outside his Peak Hotel. The savvy business move by Smith was a boon for the area as well; the tram became the first funicular cable car in Asia (an impressive feat considering it climbed up slopes as steep as 27 degrees) and brought unprecedented access to the mountain. By 1926 the original steam-powered tram was upgraded to an electric version. Smith’s hotel, however, did not fare as well – after years of decline it finally burned to the ground in a fire in 1936, and today its former site is occupied by the Peak Tower.
From 1904 to 1947, residence on the Peak was restricted only to expatriates (although the Governor made exemptions for prominent Chinese, such as Madame Chiang Kai-shek, First Lady of the Republic of China), but these days the only barrier is the size of your bank account. In 2010 and 2011, Financial News’s real estate survey found the Peak’s Severn Road to be the most expensive street in the world, with one square meter of property costing over US$78,000.
At an altitude of 552 m (1,811 ft), Victoria Peak is visible from anywhere on Hong Kong Island. The summit of the peak has a radio telecommunications facility up top but it’s off limits to the public. The main tourist attractions on the Peak – the tower and the mall – sit at around 396 m (1,299 ft), and the tippy-top of the tower hits an elevation of 428 m (1404 ft). Follow the hiking trails to get up to the top.
To find the majority of the shopping and eating here, look no further than the Peak Tower and the Peak Galleria, both sitting at the end of Peak Road outside the tram terminus. If you’re interested in seeing the fancy-pants Severn Road, just head east down Finlay Road.
Victoria Peak Garden is located to the east of the Peak Tower, down Mt Austin Road. Stage 1 of the Hong Kong Trail, called the Pok Fu Lam Native Tree Walk, starts just to the north of the tram station, initially following Lugard Road. For an easy hike, follow the 3.5 km (2 mi) circle from here around the peak by linking up with the Harlech Road fitness trail back to the tram station. You could also start from the Harlech Road side and come out on Lugard. The brave and very fit can continue down the entirety of the Hong Kong Trail Stage 1 and end up at the Pok Fu Lam Reservoir 7 km (4 mi) on the other side of Victoria Peak.
One of the best ways to escape the crowds is to head up the 500 m (1,640 mi) of Mt Austin Road to the site of the old governor’s mansion. It was burnt to cinders by the Japanese during WWII, but the beautiful gardens are still a fine sight.
Aside from the two malls, other popular viewing points include the Lugard Road Lookout, the Lions View Point Pavilion, and many others along the Hong Kong Trail.
The Peak Tower
Love it or hate it, the Peak Tower – which has been described as looking like an anvil – has a very distinct design. It has a big, moonlike half oval on top of a glass-encased building support. The design has gone through a number of changes, but it has always kept the concept of having a large structure resting on top of a tower-esque lower structure. Originally a much smaller building, it was redesigned in the 1990s to create the wide crescent moon you see today.
The Sky Terrace 428 viewing platform at the Peak Tower is the highest viewing platform in Hong Kong and is where you will want to go for stupendous views of the city and the coastline below. It can be accessed with an independent ticket or a ticket purchased with your tram ticket.
The Peak Galleria
The one thing that sets the Peak Galleria apart is that it is the highest mall in Hong
Kong. Its viewing platform is lower than that of the Peak Tower, but it is free. You’ll find plenty of shopping and restaurants, but if you’re itching for something local, try the Tsui Wah Restaurant. This Hong Kong chain restaurant is set up in the “tea and food hall” (chaa can teng; 茶餐廳) tradition that takes Western dining-style food and adds a Chinese twist.
Hong Kong Trail
The Hong Kong Trail is a 50 km (31 mi) loop all around Hong Kong Island that starts at Victoria Peak. Above the towering skyscrapers of the city, it provides an excellent escape from the bustle and dust of downtown Hong Kong, and the average hiker can burn a good hour hiking the path around the peak. A good approach is to start at Lugard Road and then take the cutoff at the Harlech Road fitness trail. If you’d like a longer hike you also have the option of continuing all the way to the Pok Fu Lam Reservoir (about a two-hour hike). The Native Tree Walk at the beginning of the hike is well designed and shows off a great variety of local plant life. This part of the hike – along the beginning of Victoria Peak – is fairly easy, but prepare for some moderately difficult terrain once you move beyond Harlech Road (you can choose to go back to the tram here instead) with some steeper paths as you head down towards the western side of Hong Kong Island. After descending through a shady forest, you’ll arrive at the reservoir, which includes plenty of surrounding areas to explore. From there, transportation can be taken back to anywhere on the island.
Victoria Peak Garden
A ten to 20-minute walk along Mt Austin Road from the Peak Tower, Victoria Peak Garden offers up a serene area of blooming flowers and open space, and doubles as a small zoo. There are hundreds of different kinds of birds and dozens of mammals and reptiles on display in about 40 pens throughout the garden, as well as countless more plant species. If you come on a day when the crowds are mellow, it can be a wonderfully relaxing experience. Meander through the walkways and pavilions sprinkled around the grounds and keep an eye out for a hidden greenhouse and various relaxing places to sit.