There's far more to this former British colony than soaring skyscrapers. Lucy Gillmore goes exploring




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WHY GO NOW?

Because it's summer in the city. True it's hot and humid, but this island-rich, mountainous metropolis has a wild, green side as well as huddles of high-rises. And with islands come beaches, boat trips and plucked-from-the-water-fresh seafood; with mountains, hiking trails and fresh air to flush out smog-clogged lungs. And there's still all of the less weather-dependent attractions: flash shopping malls (with freezer-strength air-con) and neon-lit night markets (without). Just remember to pack an umbrella as well as a swimsuit.

BEAM DOWN

Cathay Pacific (020-8834 8888; www.cathaypacific.com), British Airways (0870 850 9850; www.ba.com), Qantas (0845 7747 767; www.qantas.com.au) and Virgin Atlantic (0870 380 2007; www.virgin-atlantic.com) fly non-stop from Heathrow to Hong Kong. Emirates (0870 243 2222; www.emirates.com) flies from Heathrow, Gatwick, Birmingham, Manchester and Glasgow via Dubai.

From Chek Lap Kok, the Airport Express rail link (00 852 2881 8888; www.hongkongairport.com) whisks you to the centre in around 25 minutes. A single ticket costs HK$90 (£6) to Kowloon and HK$100 (£7) to the terminus (1) on Hong Kong island. A taxi to Kowloon costs around HK$270 (£19); to Hong Kong Island the fare is HK$340 (£23.50).

GET YOUR BEARINGS

Part concrete jungle, part verdant wilderness; part mainland peninsula, part 260-island archipelago, Hong Kong is nothing if not contradictory and constantly surprising. Kowloon on the mainland faces Hong Kong Island across Victoria Harbour - and never the twain shall meet. Visitors make use of the efficient public transport system (MTR railway, double-decker trams and the legendary Star Ferry) which links the disparate parts of this scattered whole, but those on the island rarely venture across the water and the same is true of those on the other side. Residents of Hong Kong Island, the administrative centre of the former British colony, think they have the best of everything (from hotels to shopping malls to restaurants) on their doorstep. What they don't have is the best view. Kowloon has that (the soaring steel towers of Hong Kong Island silhouetted against the wooded slopes of Victoria Peak) along with its own swish hotels, shopping malls and most of the museums.

The Hong Kong Tourism Board (00 852 2508 1234; www.discoverhongkong.com) has an office in the Star Ferry Terminal (2) in Tsim Sha Tsui, on the tip of Kowloon; open daily 8am-8pm.

CHECK IN

Accommodation in Hong Kong is notoriously expensive and generally clustered around Central and Causeway Bay on Hong Kong Island and Tsim Sha Tsui in Kowloon; the latter is also where most of the cheaper options can be found. Luxury hotels include the Landmark Mandarin Oriental (3), 15 Queen's Road, Central (00 852 2132 0188; www.mandarinoriental.com), stylishly sandwiched between Harvey Nichols and awnings announcing a new Gucci store to open winter 2006, with doubles from HK$3,277 (£229) excluding breakfast and, over the water in Kowloon, the grand dame, the Peninsula (4), Salisbury Road (bookable through 0870 128 60000; www.peninsula.com ) which has doubles from HK3,277 (£229) including breakfast. Chungking Mansions (5), Block A, 4F and 5F, 40 Nathan Road, Tsim Sha Tsui, Kowloon (00 852 2366 5362) has doubles from HK$318 (£22), room only.

TAKE A HIKE

Head to the hills. The Dragon's Back, a ridge along the south-eastern side of Hong Kong Island is one of the easiest and most popular of Hong Kong's hiking trails. The trek ends in the little fishing village of Shek O with its sandy beach and alfresco restaurants. Take the MTR to Shau Kei Wan station and then the bus towards Shek O; there are details of the hike on the tourist board's website or ask for directions to the start of the trail at the tourist office.

LUNCH ON THE RUN

Dim sum is a Chinese institution. In one of the oldest establishments, the three-storey Luk Yu Tea house (6) at 24-26 Stanley Street, Central (00 852 2523 5464) gruff, old waiters shuffle around serving the mostly Chinese clientele, while in a side room old women sit under a spotlight playing Mah Jong.

WINDOW SHOPPING

State-of-the-art shopping malls have spread like a rash across the city - but do provide an icy refuge from the oppressive humidity during the summer. For a more authentic experience in Central head to Hollywood Road (7) for antiques (but if you're tempted check they have a QTS sticker - approved by the tourist board) and Ko Shing Street (8) for herbal remedies. But for bargains and a grittier atmosphere hit the night markets in Kowloon; Temple Street (9) and Ladies Market in Mong Kok (10); Mio Mio handbags anyone?

CULTURAL AFTERNOON

Along the revamped, pedestrianised waterfront of Tsim Sha Tui you'll find a cluster of futuristic, boxy museums including the Hong Kong Museum of Art (11) (00 852 2721 0116; www.lcsd.gov.hk; open daily except Thursday 10am-6pm, admission HK$10 (65p).

TAKE A VIEW

The Peak Tram (00 852 2522 0922; www.thepeak.com.hk; HK$20/£1.40) cranks its near-vertical way to the top of Victoria Peak, from its base at 33 Garden Road (12) in just eight minutes. But if the clouds roll in it can be a disappointing - and blustery - experience. The view from the Star Ferry at night is never disappointing as it plies the route between Kowloon and Central, the Sound and Light show (daily 8pm) illuminating the skyscrapers.

AN APERITIF

The spectacle can also be observed, cocktail in hand, from two of the most stylish bars in the city; Aqua (13), 29th floor, One Peking, 1 Peking Road, Tsim Sha Tsui (00 852 3427 2288; www.aqua.com.hk) or Felix, the Philippe Starck-designed bar on the 28th floor of the Peninsula (4).

DINNER WITH THE LOCALS

Stylish locals and expatriates jump on the Mid-Levels escalator and head for the buzzing restaurants and bars spilling out on to the tangled streets of SoHo (14); in Kowloon they opt for Knutsford Terrace (15) with its smattering of Italian, Chinese and Turkish eateries. One of the hottest places at the moment is Opia (16) in the Jia Hotel, 1-5 Irving Street, Causeway Bay (00 852 3196 9000; www.jiahongkong.com).

SUNDAY MORNING: GO TO THE TEMPLE

The air is eye-wateringly thick with incense smoke in Man Mo Temple on Hollywood Road (00 852 2540 0350); open daily 8am-6pm.

A WALK IN THE PARK

Sunday is a popular day to get married - and many of the happy couples have their wedding pictures taken in Hong Kong Park (17). This tiny patch of greenery is hemmed in by an architectural extravaganza including I M Pei's controversial (in feng shui-obsessed Hong Kong) Bank of China building. Pick your way through the frilly frocks to the - slightly dry - Museum of Tea Ware, 10 Cotton Tree Drive (00 852 2869 0690; open Wed-Mon 10am-5pm; admission free). Then stop off for a bit of light refreshment in the elegant colonial teahouse next door.

OUT TO BRUNCH

Big leaves, tiny teapots, tinier cups. The first pouring is elegantly discarded, the second drunk. Or opt for a flower tea; a glorious bloom blossoms in a glass after hot water is poured on top, and flavoured with jasmine. And to eat? Dim Sum as delicate as the tea; steamed fresh beancurd skin with soya sauce; HK$18/£1.25; fried turnip with chilli sauce HK$12/80p.

THE ICING ON THE CAKE

If the soaring skyscrapers start to hem you in, jump on a ferry to one of the islands scattered across this patch of the South China Sea. One of the most popular is Lamma. Ferries depart from Central and the half-hour journey costs HK$18 (£1.25). Lamma has beaches, leafy walking trails and a string of rustic seafood restaurants on the waterfront at Sok Kwu Wan including the Lamma Hilton (00 852 2982 8241).

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