Hong Kong, at the mouth of the Pearl River facing the South China Sea and with busy Victoria Harbour at its center, comprises Hong Kong Island, Kowloon Peninsula, the New Territories, and as many as 260 outlying islands. Most visitors, however, spend the majority of their time in Kowloon and on Hong Kong Island, simply because this is where most of the hotels, restaurants, museums, shops, markets, and bars are located in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (SAR). If your time is limited, this is also where I recommend you spend your first 2 days.

Hong Kong Island, the territory's second-largest island, is where the British first landed and established its colony (Hong Kong's biggest island, Lantau, is the destination of my third itinerary). Covering some 80 sq. km (31 sq. miles), Hong Kong Island is home to some one million residents, most of whom live on its northern edge. The most famous district in Hong Kong is the Central District, home to the SAR's banking and commercial sectors, with the Western District, Wan Chai, and Causeway Bay spreading on both sides and served by a tram line and underground railway network. At Hong Kong Island's southern end, facing the South China Sea, is Stanley, famous for its market and laid-back waterfront; Aberdeen, home to a boat population; and Ocean Park, with its aquariums and thrill rides.

North across Victoria Harbour, linked by ferry, MTR, and cross-harbor tunnels, is Kowloon Peninsula. Kowloon gets its name from gau lung, which means "nine dragons." Legend has it that about 800 years ago, a boy emperor named Ping counted eight hills here and remarked that there must be eight resident dragons, since dragons were known to inhabit hills. (The ninth "dragon" was the emperor himself.)

Today the hills of Kowloon provide a dramatic backdrop for one of the world's most stunning cityscapes. Kowloon Peninsula is generally considered the area south of these hills, which means it also encompasses a very small part of the New Territories. However, "Kowloon" is most often used to describe its southernmost tip, the 12 sq. km (4 2/3 sq. miles) that were ceded to Britain "in perpetuity" in 1860. Its northern border is Boundary Street, which separates it from the New Territories; included in this area are the districts Tsim Sha Tsui, Tsim Sha Tsui East, Yau Ma Tei, and Mong Kok. Once open countryside, Kowloon has practically disappeared under the dense spread of hotels, shops, restaurants, housing and industrial projects, and land reclamation.

Main Arteries & Streets

Hong Kong Island's Central District is larger now than it was originally, thanks to massive land reclamation. Queen's Road, now several blocks inland, used to mark the waterfront, as did Des Voeux Road and Connaught Road in subsequent years. Today they serve as busy thoroughfares through Central, since the steep incline up Victoria Peak follows close on their heels. From the Central District, Hennessy, Lockhart, Jaffe, and Gloucester roads lead east through Wan Chai to Causeway Bay.

It wasn't until 1972 that the first cross-harbor tunnel was built, connecting Causeway Bay on Hong Kong Island with Tsim Sha Tsui East in Kowloon. In 1989 a second tunnel was completed under Victoria Harbour; a third tunnel was completed in conjunction with the Hong Kong International Airport.

On the Kowloon side, the most important artery is Nathan Road, which runs from the harbor north up the spine of Kowloon Peninsula and is lined with hotels, restaurants, and shops. Salisbury Road runs east and west at the tip of Tsim Sha Tsui from the Star Ferry through Tsim Sha Tsui East along the waterfront. Also on the waterfront is the Tsim Sha Tsui Promenade, affording great views of Hong Kong Island and home to Hong Kong's own Avenue of the Stars.

Finding an Address

With a good map, you should have no problem finding an address. Streets are labeled in English (though signs are sometimes lacking in more congested areas like the Western District and Yau Ma Tei) and building numbers progress consecutively. For the most part, streets that run east to west (such as Des Voeux Rd. Central, Hennessy Rd., Lockhart Rd., and Salisbury Rd.) all have the even-numbered buildings on the north side of the street and the odd-numbered ones on the south. From Central, roads running through Wan Chai all the way west to Causeway Bay start with the lowest numbers near Central, with the highest-numbered buildings ending at Causeway Bay. On Nathan Road, Kowloon's most important thoroughfare, the lowest-numbered buildings are at the southern tip near the harbor; the numbers increase consecutively, with the evens on the east and the odds to the west.

Remember that the floors inside buildings follow the British system of numbering. What Americans call the first floor, therefore, is called the ground floor in Hong Kong; the American second floor is numbered the first floor. In addition, if you're trying to find a specific office or factory outlet in a big building, it's useful to know that number 714 means it's on the seventh floor in Room 14, while 2312 means Room 12 on the 23rd floor.

Street Maps

You can get a free map of the SAR from the Hong Kong Tourism Board (HKTB). The map should be adequate for locating most hotels, restaurants, sights, shops, and bars mentioned in this guide. Free giveaway maps are also available at most hotels. If you want to explore Hong Kong in more detail, you can purchase an entire book with maps of the city region and areas in the New Territories called Hong Kong Guidebook (Universal Publications, Ltd; www.up.com.hk), available at bookstores, but you probably won't need this unless you're writing a guide book. Online, electronic maps are available at www.ypmap.com and www.centamap.com.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.