Reaching an altitude of 554 meters above sea level, and commonly known simply as The Peak, Victoria Peak is the highest physical feature on Hong Kong Island, the island directly south of "mainland" Hong Kong (i.e., Kowloon Peninsula). Hong Kong Island is separated from the Kowloon Peninsula by Victoria Channel. Like the channel and the harbor by the same name, Victoria Peak is named in honor of Queen Victoria, the serving British monarch at the time when the first piece of territory belonging to Hong Kong, Hong Kong Island, was ceded to Great Britain, in perpetuity, in 1842, as part of the official ending of the First Opium War (the Kowloon Peninsula would be ceded to Great Britain as well - likewise in perpetuity - in 1860, while the New Territories were leased to Great Britain for 99 years in 1898, though all of Hong Kong, which had been allowed to develop as one single, the unified territory under British rule, was returned to the Republic of China in 1977). Though not Hong Kong's highest peak - that distinction belongs to Tai Mo Shan (Mount Tai Mo), Victoria Peak has become Hong Kong's landmark, if not its trademark attraction.
The Peak offers a bird's eye view of all of the surrounding terrain, including in particular Victoria Channel and Victoria Harbor immediately below the peak, which is located on the western side of Hong Kong Island. Not surprisingly, the view from The Peak changes dramatically by night, where the lighting along the harbor and the channel, as well as that of the skyscrapers across the channel, focuses one's attention more narrowly, and on the majestic beauty of Hong Kong By Night.
By day, one can take in all of the areas, including Lantau Island to the west and the New Territories to the east, not to mention the Kowloon Peninsula, directly across the channel - or at least that part of the view not blocked by Kowloon's skyscrapers. The best vantage point to view as much as possible (for example, by day) is either Peak Tower or Lion Pavilion, not far from the tower itself. The trip up the mountain, which involves an angle of 27 degrees, will bring to mind a roller coaster ride - it is an experience in itself! A visit to Hong Kong is not complete without a view of the surroundings from one of these vantage points.
Victoria Peak Tram
Victoria Peak Tram is the city's oldest and most reliable mode of public transport. It first began operating in 1888, and is a typical electric tramway (think of California's San Francisco Cable Cars) that runs up and down a narrow swath of the otherwise lush mountainside, and accomplishes this much faster than you would expect: from the island's city center to the tramway terminal at Peak Tower takes only about 8 minutes.
The tram is understandably very busy during public holidays, and even queuing for a tramway ticket can be a daunting experience at such times, as it can take upwards of a half-hour. Still, if you happen to be passing through the city only on the weekend, it will still be worth the sacrifice (there is also a shuttle bus, and if you have strong legs, it is not forbidden to walk!).
Peak Tower is a hyper-modern, seven-story building designed by the British architect, Terry Farrell, and completed in 1995. In shape - viewed from the side - Peak Tower is reminiscent of a slice of watermelon, leveled off at the top, and standing on massive-looking (they must surely contain elevators) legs, or columns. Yet this shape, in spite of the massive character of the building, captures the essence of the quintessentially "flying eaves" (upturned eaves) of classic Chinese architecture, as seen on the roofs of almost every ancient Chinese building and on the layers of eaves of a typical multi-storeyed Chinese pagoda, or tower. Which was surely the architect's intention!
The lower floor of the tower consists of the peak tram's terminal station as well as various boutiques (souvenir shops, cosmetics shops, crafts shops, bookstores, etc.), cafés and coffee shops, and a viewing deck. The tower's other storeys comprise a number of unique specialty shops, including luxury shops, as well as a Ripley's Believe It or Not! museum - or odditorium, as it is also called - a Madame Tussaud's Wax Museum, an exploratorium devoted to motion (the Explorer Motion Simulator, which also comprises a space odyssey simulator), and a historical exploratorium (Hong Kong's Historical Adventure). On the third floor is a large viewing deck that offers an excellent view of the surroundings. Some of these attractions were added subsequent to the tower's opening in 1995.
Nearby the tower is another shopping complex, The Peak Galleria, and not far from the latter stands Lion's Pavilion, which also has an excellent viewing platform (the pavilion itself is a rather small affair, but the adjacent viewing platform is about the same size of the viewing platforms at Peak Tower). Each viewing platform offers its own distinct vantage point: though you may see the same things in the distance from either of them, they each offer different views of things closer to the mountain and its immediate environs, so you might want to try them all, especially if you have brought along a camera. The night views from Lion's Pavilion are said to be the best.
How to Get There?
The most enjoyable and spectacular way to reach The Peak is to take Victoria Peak Tram. The tram runs daily - literally, i.e., 365 days a year - and operates between the hours of 7 AM (07:00) to midnight (24:00).
Alternatively, you can choose a shuttle bus, which runs between the Central Star Ferry pier and the Victoria Peak Tram terminus at Garden Road. Or, if you are the hardy type, you can foot it via the MTR Central Station's J2 exit.
The area never closes, though many shops close at various hours, while some bars, cafés, and restaurants are open all night, and most public transportation ceases by midnight, though there are taxis.
During public holidays, taking the tram can be trying, given the long wait for tickets, so you might want to consider the shuttle bus instead, though the tram trip is truly a tonic experience.
Besides the Ripleys Believe It or Not! Odditorium, there is something called the Dynamic Cinema, where you can try the thrill of screaming at the top of your lungs - it is almost as stress-relieving as a good massage!
To descend from the peak, you can take the free, double-decker sightseeing bus which, once at the base of the mountain, will continue on in a tour around the urban area of Hong Kong Island. The best views are from the upper deck, of course. Be prepared for glass, steel, and concrete view in the built-up area, as there are many tall buildings here. The Legislative Council, on the other hand, harks back to the past, as it stems from the island's colonial era, with faint, yellow lights that contrast softly with white pillars, producing a romantic effect. Many films and TV shows have made use of this period piece of colonial architecture.