Culture Capital

Discover the vibrant arts scene and cultural treasures that have seen Hong Kong touted as the new creative hub of Asia.

Article by Jessica Matthews

Hong Kong Art_1The Canadian artist Fluke paints a mural for the HKwalls street art festival, held in March. Photograph by Keith Tsuji/getty Images.

In recent years, it’s been hard to keep track of the cultural landmarks emerging along Hong Kong’s soaring skyline. So many notable galleries, museums and theatres have popped up that the so-called “vertical city” has laid claim to a new title: Asia’s arts capital. From the new West Kowloon Cultural District, set along a two-kilometre waterfront promenade, to an ambitious blend of creativity and commerce at the sprawling K11 Musea, these institutions bring a bold contemporary presence to Hong Kong’s cultural landscape.

Of course, the city is also home to Art Basel Hong Kong, which, together with parallel event Art Central, underpins the annual Arts in Hong Kong celebrations in March. The event returns to full pre-pandemic scale this year, with 243 leading international galleries and an impressive program of events and activations taking place across the city. But no matter what time of year you visit, Hong Kong’s arts districts and creative ventures, many of which have taken shape in historical or disused spaces, always hum with activity. Whether your interests lean towards fine art, architecture, performance or — as this city so often masters — a fusion of genres, there’s so much to discover in this must-see destination for culture lovers. Add these essential arts experiences to your travel itinerary.

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The West Kowloon Cultural District features the M+ contemporary art museum and numerous other venues. Photograph courtesy of Discover Hong Kong.
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A light installation at the Tai Kwun development. Photograph by Theodore Kaye, Courtesy of Discover Hong Hong.

Explore a 40-Hectare Cultural Wonderland 

Stretching 40 hectares along Victoria Harbour and providing space for up to 17 arts venues — along with restaurants, cafes and green spaces — the recently launched West Kowloon Cultural District has been touted as the largest project of its kind in the world. Highlights include: the Xiqu Centre for traditional Chinese opera and theatre; the $650 million Hong Kong Palace Museum, home to priceless Chinese artefacts and international exhibitions (“Botticelli to Van Gogh: Masterpieces from The National Gallery, London” is on until April); and contemporary performance venue Freespace. 

But a trip to the precinct wouldn’t be complete without a stop at M+, the city’s new contemporary art museum. Designed by the Swiss architecture studio behind England’s Tate Modern, Herzog & de Meuron, this 18-storey, 65,000-square-metre structure is every bit as spectacular. Featuring 33 galleries, it houses one of the world’s most significant collections of contemporary Chinese art (donated by the Swiss collector Uli Sigg) along with key acquisitions including digital art by the Seoul-based internet art group Young-Hae Chang Heavy Industries, and the Japanese designer Kuramata Shiro’s much-photographed Kiyotomo sushi bar, reportedly purchased for a cool $2.8 million.

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Lee Bul’s installation “Willing To Be Vulnerable — Metalized Balloon” (2019) at Art Basel Hong Kong, a festival set to return to pre-pandemic proportions in 2024. Photograph by Theodore Kaye, Courtesy of Discover Hong Hong.

Browse the Art Fairs

Every March, the international art world descends on the city as two key events — Art Basel Hong Kong and Art Central — form part of its broader Arts in Hong Kong celebrations. This year, Art Basel offers an impressive line-up of esteemed international exhibitors (France’s Galerie Lelong & Co. and India’s Experimenter are among those returning after a pandemic-induced hiatus) to deliver what organisers say will be “an unparalleled and dynamic overview of artistic production across the Asia-Pacific region, from historical rediscoveries to work by contemporary practitioners”. 

Meanwhile, Art Central — with a focus on young and upcoming talent — will be staged nearby in an architect-designed, purpose-built space with views across Victoria Harbour. Elsewhere, you can see local and international artists transform urban spaces as part of the HKwalls street art festival, while Hong Kong Arts Festival’s 2024 program will feature five-time Grammy Award winner Angélique Kidjo, the revered Bavarian State Orchestra and Italy’s famed La Scala Ballet.

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Artist Jen Lewin’s interactive LED installation “Aqueous” at Art Central. Photograph courtesy of Discover Hong Kong.

Go Gallery Hopping 

West Kowloon may be the city’s crowning cultural jewel, but Hong Kong is awash with other thriving creative destinations. Former industrial zone Wong Chuk Hang, located in the Southern District, is brimming with art spaces including De Sarthe gallery, known for its cutting-edge program, and the photography-focused Blindspot Gallery. 

In the quaint neighbourhood of Tai Hang, the Shophouse is a five-storey gallery-cum-lifestyle concept showcasing buzzy exhibitions alongside a store and cafe. Meanwhile, the H Queen’s complex, located in Central, is home to leading international dealers such as David Zwirner and Pace Gallery. Also check out the colourful Artlane murals in Sai Ying Pun, a 20-minute walk away. 

Another unmissable stop is K11 Musea, billed as the “Silicon Valley of culture”— it blends high-end retail and dining (the Michelin-starred Indian restaurant Chaat is here) with a rotating exhibition of works by artists including John Baldessari, Samson Young and Zhang Enli. 

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Cantonese opera blends song, dialogue and martial arts. Photograph by Anthony Kwan/Getty Images.

See a Centuries-Old Fusion of Martial Arts and Opera

Hong Kong has an eclectic performing arts scene — including an acclaimed orchestra and ballet company — but one of its most distinctive art forms is Cantonese opera. Combining music, singing, spoken dialogue and martial arts, the centuries-old genre was recognised by UNESCO as Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. Its purpose-built home in West Kowloon, the $507 million Xiqu Centre, offers a year-round program including shows in the Tea House Theatre, where audiences can enjoy tea and dim sum (another local specialty) during productions. 

For those who prefer contemporary performance, another incubator for local talent, the not-for-profit centre Tai Kwun, will hold its annual event “Spotlight: A Season of Performing Arts” in April, including the latest genre-defying work by Hong Kong artists Anna Lo and Rick Lau. The venue’s dreamy cocktail lounge, Dragonfly, takes its design cues from the Art Nouveau movement and is worth visiting for its atmospheric live music shows alone.

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The Hong Kong-based artist Zue Chan’s mural “Little Girl Watering Plants” on Artlane in Sai Ying Pun. Photograph by Keith Tsuji/Getty Images.

Study the Skyline

With more than 550 high-rise buildings forming one of the world’s densest skylines, Hong Kong is a towering testament to the built form and a thrilling destination for architecture enthusiasts. One of the city’s best-known skyscrapers, the Bank of China Tower, by the Chinese American architect I M Pei, polarised critics when it was unveiled in 1990 but is now a beloved city landmark. (Pei, whose designs also include the glass pyramid at the Louvre, will be the subject of a major retrospective opening at Hong Kong’s M+ in June.) 

Find out why the British architect Zaha Hadid was known as the “Queen of the Curve” with a visit to Jockey Club Innovation Tower. Lui Seng Chun, a declared monument (a protected heritage structure) in the bustling retail district of Mong Kok, is also worth seeking out: it’s one of the finest surviving examples of Hong Kong’s traditional tong lau (“shophouse”) tenement buildings of the prewar era. Another historical highlight is Tai Kwun, a sprawling arts development on the site of Hong Kong’s former Central Police Station compound. Architects Herzog & de Meuron (who also designed M+ museum) created the modern additions, which include a photogenic spiral staircase. Together with restored colonial structures, the old and new parts of Tai Kwun reflect the city’s rich heritage. In 2019, the site won a UNESCO Asia-Pacific Award for Cultural Heritage Conservation.

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Community green space near the Hong Kong Palace Museum. Photograph courtesy of Discover Hong Kong.

Discover Heritage Films and Cup Noodles

Hong Kong is a city for enthusiasts, with museums dedicated to a range of niche topics. Cinephiles will enjoy the Hong Kong Film Archive — a four-storey tribute to the city’s prolific screen industry, which is credited, among other things, with popularising martial arts movies and stars such as Jackie Chan and Bruce Lee. Catch exhibitions and classic Hong Kong film screenings and stop in at the comprehensive resource centre. 

For tea connoisseurs, a visit to the Flagstaff House Museum of Tea Ware, located in Hong Kong Park, is essential. Along with exhibitions, the museum organises regular tea gatherings, demonstrations and lectures on Chinese tea culture and ceramics. Prefer noodles? The quirky CupNoodles Museum unpacks the history of instant ramen — and its Japanese inventor, Momofuku Ando — in a fun and interactive format (the noodle-making workshops are a highlight). Elsewhere, the city’s oldest public art museum, the Hong Kong Museum of Art, has more than 18,000 pieces in its collection and is a great way to discover the region’s history through a distinctly local lens. Visit discoverhongkong.com/anz.