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Hong Kong's Best Museums: Fun for Culture Vultures and Everybody Else



Hong Kong does museums surprisingly well. All the main subjects are covered, such as a history and art, and there are some quirky extras like medical sciences. Conveniently, many of the main museums are only a short ferry or train ride apart. 

Generally, Hong Kong museums are well laid-out, bilingual, and run with both passion and commitment. Perhaps the best one to start with is the Hong Kong Museum of History – don't imagine a range of objects in fusty cases: this is a vibrant and exciting space, with lots to see and do.

And whether it's pouring with rain or the mercury seems to be busting out of the thermometer, the museums offer an air-conditioned respite that does not involve spending money on shopping or eating. Indeed, one of the best things about Hong Kong museums is that by international standards, admission is phenomenally cheap – a few dollars at most. What's more, one day a week (usually Wednesday) is free. For the budget conscious, this is great, but for serious visitors, it can be trying as so many freeloaders barrel through the doors. Depending how long you are staying, it may be worth investing in a museum pass, which grants free entry to seven major museums for up to six months.


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Hong Kong Museum of History
Photo courtesy of Museum of History


Chinese history has taken dramatic twists and turns over the past three millennia, and this museum offers detailed exhibits that take you through every aspect of the country's development. Beginning in Neolithic times and running right up to today, some of the top attractions include a recreation of a Hong Kong street of a century ago and photo exhibits showing how certain areas have changed. Many clans and ethnic groups are represented. Most importantly, the museum shows Hong Kong did not suddenly spring into life when the British landed in the mid 19th century, but has been a thriving part of South China for centuries.


Museum of Coastal Defence
Photo courtesy of Museum of Coastal Defence


This site dates back over a century, to when Lei Yue Mun Fort was a strategic part of Hong Kong's defenses. It was the scene of fierce fighting during the Japanese invasion on 1941, and later became a regular barracks. So its current role as a military museum couldn't be more apt. This is a magnificent setting, and the exhibits are both indoors and out, above ground and below. The best way to take it all in is to follow the historical trail which leads visitors around the entire museum. This is probably Hong Kong's largest museum, so allow sufficient time for your visit.


Flagstaff House Museum of Tea Ware
Photo courtesy of Flagstaff House Museum of Teaware


This museum, housed in the oldest remaining colonial building in Hong Kong, is nestled inside the quiet and scenic Hong Kong Park. Built in 1846, the building now contains an intriguing blend of colonial heritage and Chinese tradition. More than 500 tea-related pieces are housed here, some of them dating back more than 1,300 years, and you can follow the tea-making habits of various dynasties over the centuries. All exhibits carry explanations in English and Chinese. From time to time, lessons on Chinese tea drinking are available.Tea occupies such an important place in Chinese culture, and more recently became Britain's drink of choice, so this really is a fusion museum.


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Lei Cheng Uk Han Tomb Museum
Photo courtesy of Lei Cheng Uk Han Tomb Museum


This museum is home to the city's oldest historic monument, a tomb from the Han Dynasty that dates back 2,000 years. The tomb was discovered by chance in the 1950s by workers building new housing and has been carefully preserved at the site. An arm of the Museum of History in Tsim Sha Tsui, the museum itself is small, but the history of the tomb and the diagrams related to it offer an intriguing glimpse into the past. Perhaps one of the most surprising things about this museum is that it is in one of the densest parts of Kowloon.


University Museum & Art Gallery


This small and slightly out of the way museum is not one of the most visited attractions, but that makes this excellent collection of art and objects even more appealing, since you don't have to elbow through throngs to see the treasures. The big draw includes the 467 Nestorian bronze crosses; the museum actually has almost a thousand, but they aren't all shown at once. In addition, the pottery collection includes painted pieces from the third millennium BC. In addition to its permanent collection, the museum hosts a program of exhibitions devoted to art in general which are always thought-provoking and interesting.


Sam Tung Uk Museum


The name means "three-beamed dwelling," and this museum offers an educational look at a recreated rural walled village circa 1800. Once a Hakka dwelling, it features an elaborately decorated ancestral hall, period furniture, and halls showcasing farming equipment, kitchen utensils, and other features crucial to everyday life in that period. Visitors can experience what life was like via the permanent exhibition "The Way We Were". Most importantly, villages like this were designed to blend in with the environment, and sited to take advantage of cooling breezes while being sheltered from typhoons. The architects of yesteryear certainly knew what they were doing!


Hong Kong Maritime Museum
Photo courtesy of Hong Kong Maritime Museum


Learn all about Hong Kong's fascinating maritime history at this museum located right on the harbor in Central next to the Star Ferry. The museum is divided into galleries covering the ages of sail and steam, with exhibits that feature beautifully detailed models of ancient and modern ships made from wood, pottery and ivory; paintings, textiles, ceramics. Maps, ships' manifests, and other artifacts fill in the details. Of particular interest are the sections devoted to Hong Kong's shipbuilding industry (almost totally vanished nowadays), the pirates who used to roam the South China Sea, and how Victoria Harbour was created.


Hong Kong Science Museum


This informative, interactive museum offers a broad range of exhibits that are certain to grab your attention. Four floors with hundreds of exhibits explore topics such as geography, robotics, transportation, magnetism, and quantum physics. Everyone can get involved by walking through a rotating room, speaking into a parabolic disk to your friend across the room, or testing your lung capacity. Everything is "hands-on," and there are special sections designed for younger children (who can be very noisy). Even if science is not your thing, you'll find something to interest you here, even if it's simply watching the Energy Machine sculpture in action.


Hong Kong Space Museum


This waterside museum delves into the fascinating topics related to the last frontier. The Space Theater in the Hall of Astronomy features mind-boggling Omnimax shows on an immense screen that wraps you in 360 degrees of celestial panorama. You'll also find a massive planetarium with a 75-foot domed roof as well as hands-on exhibits that let you ride a virtual para-glider or feel what it's like to walk on the moon while learning about the history of astronomy. The museum is as fun as it is entertaining as it is educational, and great for children (and adults) of any age.


Hong Kong Museum of Medical Sciences


This intriguing museum traces the relatively recent history of medical science in Hong Kong. In 1906, in response to Hong Kong's ongoing epidemic of bubonic plague, the Bacteriological Institute opened in this building as the city's first medical laboratory. Over the decades the focus changed (as did the name, to the Pathological Institute), and the building eventually was turned into a museum. Today it houses several galleries with exhibits devoted to Chinese herbal medicine, dentistry, and a unique comparison of Chinese and Western medicine. The building itself is quite interesting as well; among its charms are several fireplaces, a beautiful entry hall, and carefully tiled floors.


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Meet Ed Peters

Ed Peters has been based in Asia for much of his life.

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