Nothing quite matches Hong Kong from above but, then, it’s difficult to get things wrong with mountains on one side, water on the other and skyscrapers in the middle to provide the platform. And it’s not just for thrill-seekers; fantastic views of the harbour form the backdrop of some excellent restaurants and a fair number of bars and clubs as well.
Remember, too, that it’s not just about Hong Kong from the top down. Some of the most dramatic sights in the territory are those of Hong Kong from the ground up. Just stand at the water’s edge on the promenade in Tsim Sha Tsui and you’ll understand. Views on the move are another good way to soak up Hong Kong’s uniquely energetic vistas, whether it means boarding a Star Ferry or watching an urban panorama scroll by aboard a clanking, ancient tram.
The rush of energy you get from taking in this futuristic megacity’s outline and the amazing natural topography on which it’s built is immense. You need distance and perspective to do this properly and getting as high as you can (we mean physically) is one good way to enjoy this simple thrill. Head for the Bank of China Tower designed by China-born American architect IM Pei in 1990. Take the express lift to the 43rd floor from where you’ll be rewarded with a panoramic view over Hong Kong.
From here you are about the same height as the Hongkong & Shanghai Bank to the northwest. It’s a pity that you aren’t allowed to go any higher, as it’s exciting swaying with the wind at the top. Even higher (though arguably not as dramatic) is the view from the windows of the Hong Kong Monetary Authority Information Centre on the 55th floor of the Two International Finance Centre.
The highest point of The Peak has been the place to live ever since the British came here in the 19th century. The taipans built summer houses here to escape the heat and humidity (it’s usually about 5°C cooler than down below). The Peak remains the most fashionable – and expensive – area to live in Hong Kong and is the territory’s foremost tourist destination. Not only is the view from the summit one of the most spectacular cityscapes in the world, it’s a good way to get Hong Kong into perspective. And the only way up, as far as we are concerned, is via the Peak Tram.
Rising above the Peak Tram terminus is the seven-storey Peak Tower, an anvil-shaped building containing shops, restaurants, tourist tat and a viewing terrace. Opposite is the Peak Galleria, a three-storey mall of shops and restaurants. Like the tower, it’s designed to withstand winds of up to 270km/h, theoretically more than the maximum velocity of a No 10 typhoon.
The view is equally enthralling from the bottom up. For the ultimate show-stopping view, stand at the harbour edge in Tsim Sha Tsui and take in Hong Kong Island’s skyscrapers’ gradient-defying march up steep jungle slopes.
Alternatively, and for a mere $2, you can board the upper deck of the Star Ferry and take in this breathtaking city while it's bathed in a neon glow. The ferry is part of a small fleet of diesel-electric boats first launched in 1888. With names like Morning Star, Celestial Star and Twinkling Star, the ferries are most romantic at night, festively strung with lights , as the city buildings beam onto the rippling water.
If possible, try to take the trip on a clear night from Kowloon side to Central; it’s not half as dramatic in the other direction. The trip takes about nine minutes (as long as it used to take to read the now defunct Hong Kong Star, a lowbrow tabloid newspaper, it was said), and departures are very frequent. Indeed, morning and evening, the Star Ferry is a genuinely useful and commonly used way for local people to hop from island to mainland and back again.