Hong Kong is known as the financial gateway to the East—a skyscraper-dense trade district rising from the South China Sea. But hiding among all that commerce is a creative community so vibrant it’s beginning to break through. In 2013 organizers of Art Basel, the premier international art show, debuted a new festival in Hong Kong. The event returned this March, with work ranging from LED installations to a sonic composition based on Hong Kong’s involvement in World War II. The film component in particular, curated by Chinese artist Li Zhenhua, is expanding to include feature-length and documentary films, a nod to Hong Kong’s rich cinematic history. Here’s what to do in the city when Art Basel isn’t in town.

hong_kong_seeSee | Behold the city’s magnificent skyline from the main island’s highest point, Victoria Peak. Make your way to the Apliu Street market in the Sham Shui Po area for a signature Hong Kong scene: insane crowds, bright colors, and vendors hawking their wares. Every night, A Symphony of Lights—one of the world’s biggest laser shows—plays over the harbor; watch it from behind the two-story-high glass walls of the Inter­Continental Hotel’s Lobby Lounge. On Lantau Island, seek out Big Buddha, a bronze statue perched atop a lotus flower.

hong_kong_seeDo | Stride along the Avenue of Stars, Hong Kong’s version of the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Check out exhibits and shows at PMQ, an art hub established at a former dormitory for police officers. Discover why it’s called Dragon’s Back trail as you hike its winding ridges. To escape the crowds, charter a junk boat from one of several locations—Causeway Bay, Aberdeen, or Sai Kung—and spend an afternoon lounging on the water. At the International Hobby and Toy Museum, don’t miss the robot section, featuring a huge variety of Japanese Gundam bots.

hong_kong_seeEat | Try Hong Kong–style breakfast—scrambled egg sandwiches and milk tea—at the Australia Dairy Company. At the famous Mak’s Noodle, slurp down bowl after bowl of wonton soup. Seafood is king in the city by the harbor, so head over to Sai Kung Seafood Street, where fishers haul in live catches daily. For greasier fare, gorge on street food in Mong Kok, including pig intestines, fish balls, liver, and snake soup.

John Woo

hong kong skyline

Illustrations by Kristian Hammerstad

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Come to Hong Kong for the Culture, Stay for the Enormous Laser Show