Time Traveller

By Time Out Hong Kong

Exploring Old Town Central is like taking a trip back in time. The neighbourhood, which encompasses Central and Sheung Wan, was where some of the earliest chapters of modern Hong Kong history unfolded. Today, more than 170 years since the British first settled at Possession Point, this district is still home to cobblestone streets, heritage buildings, traditional temples and other fascinating landmarks that illustrate its storied past and its early role in shaping the cosmopolitan city of Hong Kong as we know it today.


The beginnings of modern-day Hong Kong

Possession Street
Possession Street

Ordinary as it may seem, Possession Street has a significant place in the history of Hong Kong. On 25 January 1841, the British navy arrived at nearby Possession Point (now Hollywood Road Park) and began 150 years of colonial rule, marked by a flag-raising ceremony the day after the initial landing. Originally perched on the waterfront, Possession Street was given a new lease of life through reclamation. The area is now dotted with hip restaurants and boutiques, alongside historic stores where you can still sample a taste of an older Hong Kong.

Pottinger Street
Pottinger Street

Pottinger Street and its surrounding area give a good sense of what the lives of Central’s early dwellers would have been like. The stone slabs spanning the entire street were laid in an irregular manner for a reason: some sections of this street between Hollywood Road and Connaught Road Central were particularly steep, and the uneven pavement made it easier for commuters and merchant-bearers to walk on while also allowing rainwater to flow down. Because of the unique design, locals still refer to it today as ‘Stone Slab Street’.

There were stalls on either side of the street when it was constructed in the 19th century. Originally, they sold household goods, or offered services such as shoe and pot repairing, as well as clothing alteration. Today, as consumer habits have changed, most of them sell festive costumes or handicrafts.


Landmarks influenced by East and West culture

Hong Kong Museum of Medical Sciences
Hong Kong Museum of Medical Sciences

This Edwardian brick building is a symbol of the development of medical sciences in Hong Kong. After the bubonic plague hit the city in the late 19th century, the colonial government stepped up efforts in medical development, which eventually led to the establishment of the first bacteriology institute. The laboratory came into service in 1906 as the city’s first purpose-built clinical laboratory for public health, and the cornerstone of the development of medical sciences in Hong Kong. The museum now contains important exhibits on the city’s medical history and is the first institution of its kind to compare Chinese and Western pathologies.

Address: 2 Caine Lane, Mid-Levels, Sheung Wan
Tel: +852 2549 5123
Website: www.hkmms.org.hk
Chinese YMCA of Hong Kong, Bridges Street Centre
Chinese YMCA of Hong Kong, Bridges Street Centre

Hong Kong’s architecture was greatly enriched when Western and Chinese influences came together during the colonial era. The Bridges Street Centre of the Chinese YMCA of Hong Kong, which is just steps away from the Hong Kong Museum of Medical Sciences, is a perfect case in point. Completed in 1918, the centre is a six-storey blend of Chicago School architecture and Chinese roofing techniques. In the early 20th century, it was a major social centre for the Chinese youth community and boasted enviable facilities, such as a fitness centre, restaurants and a hostel, as well as Hong Kong’s very first indoor swimming pool.

Address: 51 Bridges Street, Sheung Wan
Tel: +852 2540 0526
Website: bsc.ymca.org.hk
Dr Sun Yat-sen Museum
Dr Sun Yat-sen Museum

Despite its Edwardian-style façade – complete with Greek columns and stained glass windows – this four-storey museum is dedicated to the life and achievements of Dr Sun Yat-sen, who was an instrumental figure in the establishment of the Republic of China. The museum includes two permanent exhibitions that showcase artefacts from Dr Sun’s eventful life and career, and also highlights the statesman’s close ties to Hong Kong, where he received his secondary and university education and began to nurture some of his progressive ideas.

Address: 7 Castle Road, Mid-Levels, Sheung Wan
Tel: +852 2367 6373
Website: hk.drsunyatsen.museum


Places of worship

Tai Ping Shan Street
Tai Ping Shan Street

Walk up from Possession Street and you will find yourself at Tai Ping Shan Street. A number of distinctive ancient temples line the two sides of this 300-metre-long path. The most eye-catching of them all is probably the smoky, red temple called Kwong Fook I Tsz. Built in 1856, it is a classic example of a temple that fulfilled diverse roles. It was an ancestral temple for migrant families, a shelter for the ill and also housed memorial tablets for immigrant workers who passed away while in Hong Kong. Also be sure to visit Tai Sui Temple near the staircase, Kwun Yum Temple, and the unassuming Fook Tak Palace – all of which are still frequented by worshippers.

Address: Tai Ping Shan Street, Sheung Wan
Man Mo Temple
Man Mo Temple

A five-minute walk from Tai Ping Shan Street, Man Mo Temple is a stunning complex estimated to have been built more than 150 years ago. It comprises three blocks, each serving different purposes. The namesake structure, Man Mo Temple, pays tribute to the God of Literature and the God of War, while Lit Shing Kung was created for all heavenly gods. Finally, Kung Sor was an assembly hall for resolving community disputes.

A great place to visit for history lovers, the well-preserved historic building houses a bronze bell dating back to 1847 and a sedan chair from 1862. The structure itself is just as fascinating, and comprises granite pillars, granite door frames, engraved wood plaques and ancient mural paintings.

Address: 124-126 Hollywood Road, Sheung Wan
Tel: +852 2540 0350
Jamia Mosque
Jamia Mosque

You can easily recognise Hong Kong’s oldest mosque by its mint-green facade and gorgeous Islamic-influenced architecture. With its Arabic-style windows and gates, the Grade I historic building stands out among its Mid-Levels surroundings. Aside from being a place of worship for Muslims in Hong Kong, Jamia Mosque is also an important historic landmark that dates all the way back to the 1840s.

Address: 30 Shelley Street, Central
Tel: +852 2523 7743
Catholic Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception
Catholic Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception

The Catholic Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception was moved to this quiet Mid-Levels location after its previous incarnation was destroyed in a fire. Built in the late 1880s, the church is a stunning example of gothic architecture and was constructed in a cruciform shape with a central spire. The structure has been designated a Grade I historical building and was also also given an Honorable Mention by the UNESCO Asia Pacific Heritage Conservation Award in 2003 following its extensive renovation. Equally stunning inside, the cathedral is open for mass every Sunday and for public visitations from Monday to Saturday. Advance bookings are highly recommended.

Address: 16 Caine Road, Mid-Level, Sheung Wan
Tel: +852 2522 8212
Website: cathedral.catholic.org.hk


Innovative tributes to Hong Kong history

Tai Kwun
Tai Kwun

Tai Kwun, meaning ‘big station’ in Cantonese, was a nickname for the former Central Police Station Compound, which boasts a history of more than 170 years. The site comprises 16 heritage buildings – all magnificent works of architecture. The former Police Headquarters, for example, is a resplendent example of Neoclassicism while the barracks, built between 1862 and 1864, is known for its distinctive Roman-style arch.

Wonderfully preserved, the historical site has since been transformed into an arts and culture hub – and one of the largest conservation projects to date in Hong Kong. Along with two newly built structures, the original buildings now house art galleries, retail shops and various bars and restaurants. Tai Kwun also hosts curated art exhibitions, performances, workshops, film screenings and guided tours, so be sure to check ahead for schedules and details.

Address: 10 Hollywood Road, Central
Tel: +852 3559 2600
Website: www.taikwun.hk
Pak Tsz Lane Park
Pak Tsz Lane Park

From Tai Kwun, walk down Hollywood Road and you’ll soon reach Pak Tsz Lane Park, one of the 16 stops along the Dr Sun Yat-sen Historic Trail. This tranquil patch of green was built to commemorate the achievements of the Furen Literary Society, which was founded by revolutionary leaders Yeung Ku-wan and Tse Tsan-tai on 13 March 1892. The group eventually merged with Dr Sun’s Revive China Society and was heavily involved in the 1911 Chinese Revolution. Revitalised with an urban architectural design, this memorial park features exhibition panels, interactive facilities and an educational playground that traces the society’s history and revolutionary activities.

Address: Pak Tsz Lane, Central
Hong Kong News-Expo
Hong Kong News-Expo

The former Bridges Street Market has undergone a massive transformation to become the Hong Kong News-Expo, Asia’s first exhibition and education facility to showcase and celebrate the role of media and journalism in Hong Kong. The Grade III historic building houses interactive exhibitions demonstrating the development of local media, spanning from its infancy in the form of newspaper and radio to television and digital media. Join the free seminars, workshops and guided tours for a deeper understanding and appreciation of Hong Kong press.

Address: 2 Bridges Street, Central
Tel: +852 2055 2233
Website: hkne.org.hk


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This is one of five self-guided walks in Old Town Central, Hong Kong’s most quintessential neighbourhood. Be sure to check out the others here.

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Discover more Central stories with these guided tours!

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