If you’re used to a traditional cityscape of museums, where cavernous halls hold endless galleries and dusty exhibits, then the landscape of Hong Kong museums and cultural hubs might come as a pleasant surprise.
That’s thanks to a mix of contemporary and classic venues where the collections and installations are often eclectic and insightful, reflecting the best of the city, Asia and beyond. Some boast settings and views that are worth the visit in themselves, while others let you escape the urban rush for quieter moments of reflection.
Consider that you might spend an afternoon gaining insights into the surprising history of tea or the rise of kung fu movies as a genre. You could learn how textiles spurred Hong Kong’s growth – while exploring a heritage former factory site – or catch an open-air music performance. What these nine Hong Kong museums and cultural hubs share is the ability to leave both visitors and locals enriched and better informed.
Since it was founded in 1962, the Hong Kong Museum of Art has been a popular stop for those keen to immerse themselves in one of the world’s best collections of Chinese art. Those collections will be bolstered by the extensive expansion and renovation of the Hong Kong museum’s facilities on the Tsim Sha Tsui waterfront, open as of November 2019, along with new dining destinations: modern Australian restaurant Hue and ground-floor seafood specialist Ink. The expansion increases the number of galleries from seven to 14, including two on the roof, adding a new wing and increasing exhibition space by 40 per cent: plenty of room to showcase a collection of more than 16,000 artefacts, covering Chinese calligraphy, antiquities and paintings. Antiquities such as ceramics, embroidery, bronzes, jade, wood and bamboo carvings show the mind-blowing skills of the country’s craftsmen and artisans. Contemporary art is also well represented in the collection, while thematic exhibitions showcase works from international museums.
10 Salisbury Road, Tsim Sha Tsui; +852 2721 0116
The West Kowloon Cultural District is breathtaking in scale and vision. It’s one of the world’s largest cultural projects, spanning some 40 hectares, more than half of which are given over to public spaces for open-air performances, exhibitions and stunning views of Victoria Harbour and beyond. The Xiqu Centre celebrates traditional Chinese theatre and opera; its Tea House Theatre programme offers narrated performances accompanied by tea and dim sum, and the Grand Theatre hosts performances and films. The newly minted Freespace has performance spaces for live music and contemporary theatre, while the M+ museum is the city’s new home of 20th- and 21st-century visual art, design and architecture.
18 Museum Drive, West Kowloon
Design fans will love one of Hong Kong’s latest cultural hubs. The Mills is a vast former cotton mill in the New Territories town of Tsuen Wan transformed to celebrate and house the city’s creative community. It mixes business spaces, shopping and leisure, all underpinned by sustainability, in venues such as The Centre for Heritage, Arts and Textile that showcase the legacy and innovation of Hong Kong’s former textile industry. The Mills’ Shopfloor allows visitors to understand local designers before potentially buying their creations, while Fabrica is a window on how The Mills support and catalyse ideas in what they call the techstyle. The formerly empty rooftop space has also become the neighbourhood’s newest funky hangout, while a bevy of hip cafes like Koko Coffee Roastery , eateries like burger champs Honbo and an outpost of The Ale Project ensure visitors can refuel and relax.
45 Pak Tin Par Street, Tsuen Wan
Credit: Mike Pickles
Another huge project that highlights the city’s ongoing pivot towards the arts is Tai Kwun , in the heart of Central. Sixteen buildings in the former colonial-era Central Police Station Compound have been transformed into a range of venues celebrating heritage and the arts. In addition to visiting the former police station, courthouse and prison, visitors can enjoy contemporary art exhibitions and programmes, film screenings, pop-ups and open-air performances. The venue itself and the local community provide a rich thread of content, as its interactive tours and ‘storytelling spaces’ demonstrate, while a great range of bars (try Dragonfly for Tiffany lamp-inspired interiors and fab cocktails) and restaurants (contemporary Cantonese dishes at Madame Fu ) provide their own inspiration.
10 Hollywood Road, Central; +852 3559 2600
The option for visitors to boldly go – or maybe take one giant leap – into the void is available at another Tsim Sha Tsui harbourfront spot, the Hong Kong Space Museum . Opened in 1980, the unmissable outline of the dome-shaped planetarium has made the museum something of a local landmark. Attractions within include the Hall of Space Science and the Stanley Ho Space Theatre, where the dome’s curved ceiling is the perfect backdrop for the Omnimax sky show and 3D Dome films . The Hall of the Cosmos and Hall of Space Exploration house cool interactive exhibits on astronomy and space science. Our favourite is the upside-down ‘virtual space station’ that lets you feel the disorientation of weightlessness in space.
10 Salisbury Road, Tsim Sha Tsui; +852 2721 0226
Hong Kong museums span a wide array of subjects, and it’s fitting that an institution dedicated to telling the story of Hong Kong’ maritime history sits smartly on Victoria Harbour, adjacent to the iconic Star Ferry. Taking up residence on Central Pier No 8, the Hong Kong Maritime Museum draws in more than 100,000 visitors annually to its 15 galleries spread over three levels, which you leave with a new appreciation for the 2,000 years of seafaring and shipping history and heritage, and their massive importance to the city and Pearl River Delta. Pirates feature extensively, as do navigational and nautical instruments, ancient ceramics, treasures from shipwrecks and a replica of the first junk to make it to New York, in 1847. There’s even a cool Ship Bridge Simulator to let you channel your inner captain and steer a ship of your choice.
11 Man Kwong Street, Central; +852 3713 2500
Credit: Leisure and Cultural Services Department
It’s all about interactive experiences at the Science Museum in TST as visitors are encouraged to explore more than 500 exhibits across worlds including robotics, simulation, light, sound, motion and electronics. The museum itself puts it nicely when it says: ‘The boring old laws of physics, chemistry and biology are entertainingly presented via robots, VR, video games and more.’ The 22-meter-high twin tower Energy Machine converts mechanical into kinetic energy to spectacular interactive effect, while aviation fans will love meeting Betsy, a DC3 liner suspended from the ceiling that was a gift from Cathay Pacific and the airline’s first ever plane.
2 Science Museum Rd, Tsim Sha Tsui East; +852 2732 3232
Credit: Hong Kong Tourism Board/HK Teaware Museum
Elegant Flagstaff House was built back in 1846 and remains Hong Kong’s oldest colonial building still in its original location, on the edge of Hong Kong Park. Today it’s home to one of the more niche Hong Kong museums: the charming Museum of Tea Ware , which tells the story of tea-drinking culture in China through exhibits such as tea vessels that span 2,500 years. Across two floors of galleries you’ll also learn to tell your oolong from your pu’er, understand the ritual of tea ceremonies and enjoy opportunities for tea tasting, maybe accompanied by traditional live Chinese music or plates of dim sum.
10 Cotton Tree Drive, Central; +852 2869 0690
Credit: Hong Kong Tourism Board/HK Museum of History
Our list of Hong Kong museums would not be complete without the traditional kind. The fascinating collections at the Hong Kong Museum of History provide indispensable context on the forces that shaped the fortunes of Hong Kong and South China, making it a definitive destination to understand the SAR. It covers 400 million years of history, from prehistory right up to the present day. Eight galleries cover critical periods including dynasties from the 2,000-year-old Han to the Qing, folk culture and the Japanese wartime occupation. A recreation of a 19th-century street, a fascinating look at the opium wars and the story of the rise of Cantonese music and films are a few standouts, but there are also dozens of multimedia displays and interactive exbibits that deserve your time.
100 Chatham Road South, Tsim Sha Tsui; +852 2724 9042