Urban history: Admiralty

Admiralty, in the very heart of Hong Kong Island, was initially built up as a military base to house the city’s large military garrison in the 19th century. For more than a century, the area was known as the Victoria Cantonment, and its modern name is derived from the former Admiralty Dock, a naval dockyard which was demolished during land reclamation. The Cantonese name, pronounced kam chung, means ‘golden bell’ and refers to a gold-coloured bell for timekeeping at Wellington Barracks.

Outdoor attractions

A lovely swatch of green among concrete and metal surroundings, Hong Kong Park sits on the old site of Victoria Barracks, and is easily accessible from Pacific Place or along Cotton Tree Drive. Places of interest include Hong Kong’s largest aviary, the Edward Youde Aviary, the Forsgate Conservatory and the Flagstaff House Museum of Tea Ware. Some Grade II Historic Buildings have also been conserved in the park, namely Cassels Block, a former barracks for married British officers now housing the Hong Kong Visual Arts Centre; Wavell House, a former officers’ quarters now the aviary support centre; and Rawlinson House, the former house of the British Deputy General, converted into the Cotton Tree Drive Marriage Registry since the 1980s.

Tamar Park is further north, situated by the waterfront and designed with the concept of ‘perpetual green’. The park was opened in 2011, featuring an amphitheatre, a water feature and plenty of green space. The East and West wings of the Central Government Offices flank the entrance, while the Legislative Council Complex is located to the northeast and the Office of the Chief Executive to the northwest. Visitors will find lovely views of Victoria Harbour and the Tsim Sha Tsui skyline, as well as a dog-friendly area.

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Indoor attractions

Pacific Place, the largest upscale mall in the area, is emblematic of Admiralty. Its site housed the Victoria Barracks between the 1840s and 1870s. None of its military history remains, though when Swire Properties purchased the land in 1985, the government required them to preserve a centuries-old banyan tree. This was later insured for HK$20 million with an enormous planter built around its roots, so some have dubbed it ‘the most expensive tree in the world’ according to SCMP.

After its HK$1.5 billion renovation in 2011, Pacific Place boasts a beautiful naturalistic design and houses three office towers with an exclusive 270-suite apartment residence. A quartet of five-star hotels—The Upper House, Conrad, Island Shangri La, and JW Marriott—are also connected to the mall.

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The Asia Society Hong Kong Centre, across the road from the Conrad, is the site of the former explosives magazine compound. Renovation work in the 2000s saw the finding of historical artefacts such as four centuries-old guns, one of which had been taken from pirates by the British Navy. The Centre now hosts cultural events like art exhibitions and educational programmes.

Another major attraction in Admiralty is the Peak Tram Station. Visitors can board this funicular railway system on Garden Road for the most direct route up to Victoria Peak. First opened for public service in 1888, The Peak Tram was rebuilt in 1989 with a new track, a computerised control system and two-car trams. Although only a 1956 fourth generation car currently survives, a replica of the first car can be seen in the Peak Tram Historical Gallery. Be warned that there are usually long queues!

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Food & Beverage

Dim Sum Library in Pacific Place offers a Western spin on local cuisine. We hear the dan dan xiaolongbao, truffle har gao, and ginger lobster baos with spring onion are well worth a try. For something sweet, head to PP’s basement, where Tai Tai Pie Pies is innocuously hidden among the food stations in the GREAT Food Hall. Founded by a New York native, this little joint peddles proper American-style pies. Their All American Apple Pie contains ten whole cups of apples with a crumbly buttery crust, and their Wholly Heavens Pecan Pie also looks promising.

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Pop over to Admiralty Centre for a posh take on the Golden Arches at McDonald’s Next. The very first in the world, this “progressive” version includes a salad bar with 19 ingredients to choose from. Diners can also create customised burgers at touch screen stations. Now you can feel slightly less guilty eating fast food.

Both major parks in Admiralty also contain food options. L16 in Hong Kong Park offers Thai and Japanese cuisine on top of operating little snack shacks dotted around the park. Tamar Park has a cool social enterprise called iBakery Gallery Café, along with an iBakery Express for takeaways. A rather hidden find is Ammo at the Asia Society Hong Kong Centre, who are currently doing a B.Duck-themed afternoon tea menu until the end of August.

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