Wan Chai (or Wanchai) is one of the most vibrant neighbourhoods in Hong Kong, and I’m not just saying that because I’ve lived here for the past decade. Oftentimes you will hear that Hong Kong is a city of contrasts: old and new, East and West, high-rises and nature, all co-existing in harmony. Wan Chai is a perfect example of the confluence of all of those opposing elements. Where is Wan Chai in Hong Kong, you ask? Loosely, it is sandwiched between Admiralty and Causeway Bay right in the city centre, and extends all the way from Bowen Road down to Victoria Harbour.
Throughout Wan Chai you’ll find skyscrapers, an international conference and exhibition centre and towering office buildings and hotels. But scattered between these monuments of modern architecture are heritage buildings, traditional mom and pop shops, a bustling wet market, and plenty of hidden gems. Wan Chai was featured in the 1960’s movie, “The World of Suzie Wong”, and sometimes gets a bad rap for being a “seedy” party area – but the truth is that the (fairly tame) “red light district” runs along 3 blocks of 1 street in Wan Chai. Don’t listen to anyone who tells you to skip Wan Chai, because they don’t know what they’re on about.
Wan Chai is one of the best places in Hong Kong to explore traditional culture and heritage. Read on for everything you need to know about visiting the Wan Chai district – where to eat, where to stay, things to see and do and where to grab a drink (or two).
Essential tips for visiting Hong Kong
The local currency is the Hong Kong dollar and the exchange rate is US$1 to HK$7.6 or €1 to HK$8.7. Most places accept Visa, Mastercard or American Express. There are tons of ATM machines around Hong Kong, just make sure you’ve enabled international withdrawal or your card has the “Plus” or “Cirrus” logo on the back. If you’re looking to exchange money in Wan Chai, there are several currency exchange shops along Johnston Road.
Hong Kong gets 4 seasons so don’t make the mistake of forgetting a coat during the winter months from December to February. It is not a year-round tropical country as many people seem to believe. The “best time to visit” Hong Kong is from March to early June when the weather is milder, and September to November or early December (but avoid the 1st week of October as it is a public holiday in China) – autumn is beautiful in Hong Kong! Visiting Hong Kong during the summer months? Make sure you bring an umbrella as it rains frequently.
The main language spoken in Hong Kong is Cantonese, a local dialect. Many people speak English (or at least basic English), and almost all signs are bilingual.
Public transportation is efficient, cheap and clean, and the network is very extensive – Wan Chai has its own MTR subway station with plenty of different exits that will get you to where you need to go. Taxis are cheap as well if you are in a hurry. One of the first things you have to do when you arrive in Hong Kong is get an Octopus card. It is a stored value card (similar to the Oyster in London) that works on all public transportation. You can purchase your tourist Octopus card in advance here – pick it up from the airport when you arrive, and it comes with HK$50 already pre-loaded! If you’re planning on traveling to Hong Kong again at some point, just hang onto the card for your next trip or return it to get your deposit back.
The best way to get to and from the airport is via the Airport Express train. Tickets can be purchased at the station and the train stops in Tsing Yi, Kowloon and Hong Kong Island – it takes just 24 minutes from end to end! If you’re staying in Wan Chai, take the Airport Express train to Hong Kong station and switch to the Island line (blue) or hop in a taxi – the ride should cost you no more than HK$30-40. Want 30% off your Airport Express ticket? Buy your ticket ahead of time online here!
Most visitors opt to book hotels on Hong Kong Island or on Kowloon side. Wan Chai is one of the most convenient neighbourhoods to stay in on Hong Kong Island as there is easy access to the MTR subway, buses, trams and ferry over to Kowloon side. Click here to book accommodation in Hong Kong!
Wan Chai is full of boutique hotels and is one of the best neighbourhoods to stay in on Hong Kong Island. It offers easy access to the Wan Chai MTR subway station, buses, trams and is also walking distance to Admiralty. Seeing as I live in Wan Chai, I haven’t stayed in a hotel here. However, I have had friends and family who have stayed at a few hotels in Wan Chai – I’ve heard good things about Hotel Indigo, OZO Wesley, Empire Hotel, The Grand Hyatt and The Fleming. You can read more reviews here and check out Wan Chai hotel availability and current rates on Booking.com.
What to do in Wan Chai
Wan Chai is a treasure trove of sights, sounds and smells. Spend a few days discovering its gems and wandering down narrow laneways and sidestreets on foot. Here are some of the best things to do in Wan Chai, one of the most underrated neighbourhoods on Hong Kong Island!
1. See the Blue House cluster and visit the House of Stories
The cluster is one of the few remaining examples of old-school tenement buildings in Hong Kong and made up of 3 brightly coloured buildings (blue, yellow and orange). The Blue House Cluster is one of the most colourful places in Hong Kong and was built between the 1920s and 50s. The bold Blue House is listed as a Grade I historic building, which means that it is a building “…of outstanding merit, which every effort should be made to preserve if possible.”
Make sure you stop by the Hong Kong House of Stories, which hosts exhibitions that introduce visitors to the community and showcase the history and architectural features of the Blue House Cluster. The mini museum aims to raise public awareness of the regional and cultural conservation by providing information of past Hong Kong society and culture. Getting to the Blue House Cluster is easy – it is located along Stone Nullah Lane just off Queen’s Road East, one of the main streets running through Wan Chai.
2. Experience sensory overload in Wan Chai Market
Wan Chai Market is made up of a few different sections – the wet market where fish mongers, butchers and vegetable and fruit stalls sell fresh produce day in and day out, and the dry market area where you’ll find old school toy shops, florists, clothing and accessories for sale. The area is a hub of hustle and bustle non-stop activity that offers a glimpse into everyday life in Hong Kong.
3. Visit Pak Tai Temple complex
Located in Lung On Street behind the Blue House Cluster, the Pak Tai Temple was built by local residents in 1863. The temple is listed as a Grade I historical building and is one of the biggest temples on Hong Kong island.
4. Stroll down the mini flower market
You may have heard of the flower market on Kowloon side, but Wan Chai is also home to a smaller market on Gresson Street. There are only 3-4 shops selling potted orchids, succulents and other flowers, but what I love about this little nook is the multi-coloured stalls. The street is especially active during Chinese New Year, typically in January or February of each year.
5. Discover the street art in Wan Chai
The odd piece of street art has always been around in Wan Chai, but in 2019 a large-scale street art event descended upon Wan Chai and graced us with dozens of new pieces to breathe even more life into an already vibrant neighbourhood.
The Hong Kong Arts Centre is a non-profit arts organization established in 1977. It promotes contemporary performing arts, visual arts, film and video arts, and hosts regular exhibits, performances and screenings throughout the year. Its focus is on Asian contemporary art and visiting the centre is a great way to learn about the local arts scene in the region. The Hong Kong Arts Centre is a great rainy day hangout if you want to find some shelter.
7. Check out the view from the observation elevator
Hopewell Centre is an iconic cylindrical building bam-smack in the middle of Wan Chai. It is also home to a pair of observation lifts overlooking Victoria Harbour and whole Wanchai area. The “ride” itself takes no longer than a few seconds, but there are no entry fees and offers a panoramic view of Wan Chai from above. Head to the 17th floor for the observation lifts.
8. Walk through Wan Chai Park
Wan Chai Park is a small park in the heart of the island. Though it is much smaller than Hong Kong Park in Admiralty, Wan Chai Park offers a breath of fresh air and splash of greenery in a fairly built-up park of the island.
9. Stock up on gadgets at Wan Chai Computer Centre
Wanchai Computer Centre is a multi-level mall with dozens upon dozens of shops filled with every electronic gadget you could ever need. Looking for a new charging cable? Wanchai Computer Centre will have it. Need some GoPro accessories? Yup. How about some new travel speakers? Look no further.
Crossing Victoria Harbour and seeing the skyline from the water offers up one of the best views of Hong Kong. For just .50 cents or HK$2.7 on the weekdays and HK$3.7 on the weekends, riding the Star Ferry is one of the most budget-friendly things to do in Hong Kong.
11. Indulge in a foot massage
We Hong Kongers love a good foot massage, and it is also one of the best things to do in Hong Kong on a rainy day. Lay back and let the reflexologist work their magic on your tired feet. I like heading to Happy Foot or FootSpa Garden – their masseuses are experienced and the hygiene is fairly impeccable.
I am extremely lucky that Wan Chai is home to some of the best restaurants in Hong Kong and that I can get my fill of street food, tapas, ramen, pizza and pad thai without having to go far. Here are some of my favourite places to eat in Wan Chai!
Traditional Hong Kong street food – Wan Chai is home to a handful of traditional Hong Kong street food stalls. You’ll find them next to Wan Chai Computer Centre and around the Morrison Hill swimming pool area along Wood Road. Make sure you try the garlic noodles, cheong fun steamed rice rolls and curry fish balls!
Five Guys – Uup, Wan Chai is home to Hong Kong’s very own Five Guys franchise location. If you’re craving a good ol’ burger with all the fixings then head to Five Guys – just beware that the lines to get in can be long on the weekends!
Shake Shack – More of a Shake Shack fan? There’s a massive Shake Shack store down the road in Pacific Place in Admiralty. Try the special milk tea milkshake exclusive to Shake Shack in Hong Kong.
Motorino – If you’re craving an authentic Neapolitan pizza, look no further than Motorino on Ship Street. Remember to save some space for their incredible homemade tiramisu.
22 Ships – On the slightly pricier side but a lovely little Spanish restaurant serving up modern tapas in the heart of Wan Chai. The food is stunning and tastes outrageously good – come here early as they don’t take reservations.
Ham & Sherry – Traveling with a group or can’t get a table at 22 Ships? Head to Ham & Sherry, its sister restaurant literally down the road. The menu is similar but the venue is larger and accepts bookings.
Chao Chao – This Japanese chain specializing in gyoza (pan fried dumplings) serves up the most delicious pockets of joy, traditional Japanese curry as well as perfectly chewy udon.
Spice House – Craving some no-frills Thai food? Spice House has you covered. There are 2 branches in Wan Chai: 1 on Stone Nullah Lane and the other on Amoy Street. Both offer delicious and authentic Thai dishes. The one on Stone Nullah Lane is better for groups of 3 or more people.
Samsen – Don’t mind waiting in line for some mouthwatering Thai food? Head to Samsen for their boat noodles, pad see yew and coconut ice cream. They have an amazing lunch set menu as well, just get there before the lunch crowd gets there! They don’t take bookings and the restaurant is small, so don’t come with a big group.
Fini’s – Fini’s serves up Italian American fare – head here for pizza, wings, mac n’ cheese and their classic southside cocktail.
Dim Dim Sum – Who doesn’t love yum cha? It is a traditional Cantonese mid-morning meal consisting of dim sum dishes like turnip cake, shrimp dumplings and barbecue pork buns. Get your dim sum at Dim Dim Sum on Tin Lok Lane or head to Kam Fai Dim Sum Restaurant on Spring Garden for a more local and traditional experience.
Liu Yuan Pavilion – Celebrating a special occasion and want to eat incredible Shanghainese food? Head to Liu Yuan on Lockhart Road. Reservations are essential.
Kabata – Kabata is my go-to Japanese eatery in Wan Chai. It’s located on a small side street off Johnston Road and offers consistently delicious Japanese fare.
Pici – Craving some fresh pasta? Head to Pici at St Francis Yard – their pasta is made from scratch every day and is cooked to perfection. They don’t take bookings and the restaurant is small, so don’t come with a big group.
Deng G – Want some authentic spicy Sichuanese food? Head to Deng G. They also offer hot pot which is perfect during the winter months!
Local diners – There are tons of local Hong Kong diners, or “cha chaan tengs” in Wan Chai. You can’t go wrong with wonton noodles (“wun tun meen”) or beef stir fry noodles (“gon chau au hor”). This is the one I always go to for a quick meal.
Where to drink in Wan Chai
Not only is Wan Chai full of amazing eateries and restaurants, it is also a great neighbourhood to head to for a few glasses of vino or a cocktail. Here are some of my favourite bars in Wan Chai.
Ted’s Lookout – Ted’s Lookout off Star Street is a small bar serving up the classics. It’s one of my favourite low-key hangout joints to grab a drink and catch up with friends. Plus, they have pretty delicious fish tacos and truffle fries!
Wooloomooloo – Wooloomooloo is one of my favourite rooftop bars in Hong Kong. This is the place to go for chilled out afternoon drinks in Hong Kong, especially when the weather is nice out.
The Pawn – The Pawn is a classy bar-slash-restaurant located within a preserved heritage building. It used to be, you guessed it, a pawn shop and is one of my favourite places for a laid back drink while watching the trams saunter up and down the street. The Pawn also happens to be one of the best places for weekend brunch in Wan Chai.
Back Bar – The hidden Back Bar is located within Ham & Sherry, the tapas bar I mention above. The “secret” entrance is down a dingy alleyway but is a very cool spot for drinks or happy hour.
Tai Lung Fung – I love Tai Lung Fung. It is just across the street from my apartment and has an insane happy hour deal. The decor is inspired by old Hong Kong and is a very popular place for locals and expats alike.
Oola Petite – Oola Petite on Star Street is a modern eatery with fantastic drinks deals throughout the week.
Lockhart Road – Though it is sometimes referred to as Hong Kong’s Red Light District, there are a number of laid-back sports bars down Lockhart Road. If you’re looking to grab a drink and watch a sports match or take part in a pub quiz, head to Devil’s Advocate, Joe Bananas, Typhoon or Carnegies. They also tend to get fairly packed on Friday and Saturday nights.
Where to get coffee in Wan Chai
Over the past few years, the quest for a cup of excellent coffee has become increasingly easy in Hong Kong. Wan Chai is home to several coffee joints where you can get your caffeine fix. These are some of my favourite cafes in Wan Chai.
Elephant Grounds – Elephant Grounds on Star Street is a large coffee shop that not only serves up a delicious brew, but also some great food if you’re hungry.
Coffee Academics – Probably the OG coffee shop in Hong Kong, Coffee Academics has been around a long time and offers a fantastic flat white. They have 2 branches in Wan Chai – one close to Pacific Place, and the other one closer to Causeway Bay.
NOC – The stylish hole-in-the-wall coffee shop only has a handful of seats on offer, but the coffee is well worth the trip. It’s my go-to spot for a cup of joe in Wan Chai.
Coco Espresso – Coco Espresso is a fan favourite in Hong Kong. They do a delicious oat milk flat white if you’re lactose intolerant.
Omotesando – Not exactly the cheapest cup of coffee in Hong Kong, but Omotesando hails from Japan and has been serving up concoctions for a few years. Their staff wear lab coats and they treat coffee making like a true science.
Cupping Room – The Cupping Room is a small coffee shop that has a loyal customer base on Swatow Street. Their coffee has been consistently good throughout the years, but seating is limited.
NINETYs – NINETYs is the new kid on the block and is a popular brunch spot for Hong Kongers. Their coffee is fantastic and they also have an extensive food menu.
Have you been to Wan Chai in Hong Kong before? What are some other things to do that you would add to this list? Share them in the comments section below!
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