One of the first areas developed in Hong Kong, Happy Valley once housed the British Army camp during the earliest days of colonisation. However, British soldiers died of the plague in large numbers over the following years, which gave the area a cemetery and its rather sarcastic English name. In 1846, Happy Valley became home to the city’s first racecourse and gained its Chinese name, literally meaning horse-racing ground. Today, Happy Valley has transformed into an upscale neighbourhood known for its laid-back atmosphere, rich heritage and buzzy eateries.
- Go to the races
With a history spanning over 170 years, the Hong Kong Jockey Club Happy Valley Racecourse is one of the city’s most beloved landmarks and leisure venues. Hong Kong’s first-ever horserace took place here in December 1846, and despite being an amateur event, it drew large crowds and was met with lots of enthusiasm. The racecourse has since gone through numerous expansions and stands today as the biggest racecourse in Asia, hosting many international races every year.
Apart from regular races, the Happy Valley Racecourse also provides space for other types of sports and activities. It has football grounds, a rugby pitch, field hockey pitches and a jogging track, as well as facilities for banquets and events. The 6,000-square-foot Hong Kong Racing Museum, featuring racehorse taxidermies and historic documents, takes visitors through the history of Hong Kong’s most popular spectator sport.
- Visit a historic Buddhist site
Tung Lin Kok Yuen is the first Buddhist monastery on Hong Kong Island, founded by Lady Clara Ho Tung and her husband Sir Robert Ho Tung in 1935. Lady Clara was a passionate advocate of the teaching and practice of Buddhism as well as women’s education. After the construction of Tung Lin Kok Yuen, she moved the Po Kok Free School and the Po Kok Buddhist Institute—both founded by her—into the monastery, which has since borne witness to the development of Buddhism and its education in Hong Kong.
Tung Lin Kok Yuen’s exterior resembles a giant ship, a symbol of Mahayana Buddhism’s metaphor of ferrying all living beings to the other shore, reaching enlightenment. The building boasts a mixture of Western structural forms and traditional Chinese designs, complete with flying eaves, brackets and glazed tile roofs. Following the traditional Chinese layout for a Buddhist monastery, it has a Skanda Hall, the Grand Buddha Hall and a Tripitaka Library. Many of the artifacts were donated by close friends of Sir and Lady Ho Tung.
- Steep in arts and culture
Happy Valley has a treasure trove of historic buildings, many of which have found new purposes in the modern era. F11 Foto Museum is housed in a beautifully restored pre-WWII art deco building that used to be a restaurant and a garage; it is now Hong Kong’s first private photography museum with an eye-catching pink façade. The ground and first floors host photograpy exhibitions while the second floor is where you’ll find the largest Leica camera collection in the world. Local charity Po Leung Kuk has converted a Grade 3 historic building into V54, an artist residence providing short-term stays to local and overseas young artists, offering spaces for creative exchange while promoting youth arts and cultural development. They also organise regular workshops and exhibitions for the public.
- Take a hike
Happy Valley was formerly named Wong Nai Chung Valley, with two hills to the north: Morrison Hill and Leighton Hill. Apart from a bevy of luxury housing, the hills also have scenic hiking trails, making them a popular spot for catching a bird’s-eye view of the beautiful Victoria Harbour. Hike up the Wong Nai Chung Gap Trail and enjoy breathtaking views and historic relics along the way, such as old ammunition depots, pillboxes and bunkers used during WWII. The trail is also connected to other hiking paths such as the Tai Tam Country Trail and the Wilson Trail.
- Sample top-notch international cuisine
Happy Valley boasts a slew of renowned eateries, serving up Western and Chinese cuisines of every style. Cheung Hing Coffee Shop, with 40-odd years of history, is one of Hong Kong’s oldest traditional cha chaan tengs. Its signature toast, pineapple bun, milk tea and coffee have attracted a loyal fanbase, with many local celebrities among its patrons. Pang’s Kitchen is a Michelin-starred high-end Cantonese restaurant—make sure to book early as it’s often fully reserved. Amigo is your best bet for European fare. This bona fide Hong Kong institution is one of the city’s longest-standing French fine dining restaurants, and its lamb chops and foie gras are as impressive as its exquisite décor. Locanda Dell’Angelo—helmed by Angelo Agliano, a protégé of culinary legend Joël Robuchon—will appeal to younger diners with its modern vibe and outstanding Italian dishes.