Hong Kong’s Victoria Peak: Know before you go

CNN  — 

If there’s one destination on every Hong Kong itinerary, it’s likely Victoria Peak.

The highest point on Hong Kong Island at 1,811 feet tall, this historic mountain provides 360-degree views of the city’s impenetrable skyline. But “The Peak” has much more to offer than just Instagrammable scenes.

From gorgeous hiking trails to heritage restaurants, here’s how to make the most of this famous summit on your next trip to Hong Kong:

A little history

The Hong Kong skyline from the Peak.

During Hong Kong’s stint as a British colony, from 1841 to 1997, The Peak was the city’s most exclusive neighborhood. Quite literally. Until 1947, the neighborhood was reserved for European expatriates – meaning Hong Kong Chinese citizens could not live in the area.

There were no roads during the 19th century, so the well-heeled residents would be carried up the mountain in sedan chairs.

Today, The Peak still has a reputation as the city’s most elite neighborhood. This is where the city’s tycoons rest their heads in glamorous mansions, which fetch millions of US dollars on the real estate market.

Riding the tram

Hong Kong's famous Peak Tram.

Opened in 1888, the bright red Peak Tram is among the world’s oldest funiculars – and easily the best known in Asia.On a clear day, the steep route to the top can be pleasant, however it’s best to plan ahead.

The line at the entrance (the Garden Road Peak Tram Lower Terminus) is known to wrap around the corner, offering no shade on hot days. If you’re set on taking the ride, we recommend getting there early – before 10 a.m.

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Line too long? A taxi ride rewards with excellent views as it winds around the mountainside.

For history lovers, there’s an appropriately named Peak Tram Historical Gallery near the lower terminus. The free exhibitions chronicle the funicular’s journey from the 19th century onward.

Peak Tram Historical Gallery, Peak Tram Lower Terminus, 33 Garden Rd, Central, Hong Kong; +852 2849 7654

Lookout points

The Peak is home to several different lookout points – some paid and some free. There’s the Sky Terrace 428, atop The Peak Tower, which claims to be the highest viewing platform in Hong Kong. Entry here costs roughly $6.50.

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But you can experience similar views from the top of the Peak Galleria (yes, there is a giant mall atop the mountain) without paying a cent. By following the escalators up to the rooftop, visitors can admire both the city and the southern side of Hong Kong Island.

MORE: Hong Kong’s most scenic drives

Beautiful hikes

Instead of taking the tram up the mountain, walk up the scenic Morning Trail, which starts at Hatton Road. Stumped by the mega mall on top, most travelers tend to think The Peak is nothing but a tacky commercial zone. But if they keep strolling, visitors will find the natural scenery they came for.

The Circle Walk is the easiest path to access as it loops around the Peak’s commercial area.

The pathway weaves under the thick vines of banyan trees and passes by a few waterfalls for good measure, but the view is the best part – Hong Kong’s harbor and skyscrapers take center stage.

A few hundred feet uphill, Victoria Peak Garden is hidden away from the crowds on the site of a former governor’s summer home. It can be reached via a stone stairwell off Mount Austin Road (right across from the Mount Austin Playground). At the top of the stairs and through the trees, a lush green space opens into a secret garden.

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A little dining

The Peak isn’t known as an epicenter of culinary creativity, but there are a few spots worth a stop if all the walking has worked up an appetite.

The Peak Lookout Restaurant has the most history. This eatery was first built in 1901, when it began life as a stable for the sedan chairs. It opened in 1947 as the Peak Cafe, which later evolved into the Peak Lookout.

Today, the restaurant is home to a spacious outdoor terrace with views of Hong Kong’s south side, inviting wood interiors, historic photos and an international menu that skips from oysters to quesadillas.

The Peak Lookout built inside a renovated Grade II historic building.

For something quick, Wildfire Pizzabar & Grill serves up excellent city views and decent pizza, as well as seafood risotto and grilled meats.

Traditional Hong Kong cuisine can be found at Hong Kong Day (+852 2849 7855).

Modeled after a retro “cha chaan teng” diner – which became popular in the 1950s – this restaurant serves quintessential treats, such as Hong Kong milk tea, salted lemon Sprite and Hong Kong French toast (two fried slices of buttery bread, a layer of peanut butter in the middle and golden syrup on top).

With faux heritage interiors, Lú Fēng also channels old-world Hong Kong. The all-day dim sum restaurant is among the better choices in the area.

MORE: 40 of the best dishes from Hong Kong

Wax on

Madame Tussauds is, of course, not for every traveler. But if you get caught in the rain (which is known to happen in this subtropical city), you’re traveling with children, or happen to be a sucker for celebrity encounters – the option is there.

Inside, visitors will find more than 100 eerily realistic waxen personalities, from Brad Pitt to Barack Obama, alongside dozens of Cantonese stars, such as Jackie Chan and Bruce Lee.

Madam Tussauds, Shop P101, The Peak Tower, 128 Peak Road, The Peak, Hong Kong Island; +852 2849 6966