Venture to the south of Hong Kong Island and discover the charming area known as Stanley, named after the British colonial secretary, Lord Stanley, in 1841. Although it’s changed quite a bit since its inception, there is still a lot of colonial history in this former fishing village. 

Photo: Wikicommons.

Thanks to its vibrant market, seaside restaurants and beachfront promenades, it remains a happening destination for both locals and visitors, but you may need a few visits to appreciate the full experience. We’ve outlined the many ways to tour one of Hong Kong’s favourite settlements.

How to hike to Stanley

If you don’t want to brave the weekend traffic but fancy a hike that ends with a cold drink and lunch with a view, then pick one of a couple of hikes that will take you down to Stanley.

Stanley. Photo: GovHK.

Violet Hills and The Twin Peaks: A 2-to-3-hour, 4.8-km challenging trek with large sections of no shade and more than 1,100 steps – made for the experienced hiker.

The best place to start is by taking a taxi up Tai Tam Reservoir Road towards Parkview. Most taxi drivers know this area, but you’ll have to look for the signs near the top for the Wilson Trail. The entrance to the start of Violet Hill is just a set of steps on the right-hand side by the sign. Follow those up and continue along the trail. It’s clearly marked, and although there are a couple of turns and quite a few stairs along the way, the well-trodden path is mostly a straight shot. Enjoy the breeze and stunning views of Tai Tam Reservoir and Hong Kong Island as you eventually make your way down what seems like a million stairs to the bottom.

Stanley. Photo: piqsels.com.

Here, you’ll be at a catchwater and see a “bridge” (we use the term loosely) called the Tze Kong Bridge, but it’s simply a narrow walkway across. Follow the sign to Stanley Gap Road, at the base of more steps, and this is where you will begin the brutal upward climb towards the Twin Peaks. Take the steps up and down and up again (apologies to your glutes and quads) until you see Stanley in the distance. Keep going down the winding path to the end of the trail on Stanley Gap Road. There, you can either hail a taxi or stand at the bus stop just a few meters ahead on the road and take a bus number 6, 6A, 73, or 260 to Stanley Village.

Parkview to Stanley via Tsz Lo Shan Path: An easy but long (6.7 km, about 3 hours) hike through somewhat shaded and rocky terrain and on a long stretch of catchwater, ending at the same point where Violet Hill and The Twin Peaks ends.

This trail is the way to go if you are fine with a long, mostly flat walk but aren’t keen to brave more than a thousand steps. Take the same route as you would if going to Violet Hill – up Tai Tam Reservoir Road towards Parkview. But rather than start where Violet Hill starts, look for the small path to the right of it near the Wong Nai Chung Reservoir. You can either go up to walk around the small reservoir and then back down the steps to the path (turn left on the path if you do this), or just go a bit further down and look for the flat path leading you to the trail’s start. You’ll know you’re on the right track because further along the way there should be a signpost that says Tsz Lo Shan Path – the beginning of the trail is flat and paved.

Stanley. Photo: metrotrekker.com, via CC2.0.

Follow that path until the concrete becomes a rambling trail of rocks, roots and other obstacles along the way. This will take you around Violet Hill and will eventually lead you a set of stairs intersecting with Violet Hill’s path. Turn right and take those stairs down to the bottom, where you must either walk across a catchwater or turn right. Turn right again (because if you cross over the walkway, you will be at the Twin Peaks entrance, so don’t go there) and keep walking along the catchwater. Eventually you will be perched above Stanley, and you’ll be treated to some stunning views of the town. Go all the way down to Stanley Gap Road, where you can catch the 6, 6A, 73, or 260 bus to Stanley Village.

Things to do and see in Stanley

Stanley Main Beach

With its water sports and outdoor activities, protective shark netting and decent beachfront, Stanley Main Beach is a family favourite. It gets quite crowded on the weekends – and locals say finding a parking spot is as easy as taking a nap in the middle of Times Square – so the best way to get there is by taxi or bus. There are several bus and minibus options, but keep in mind most buses will make at least 30 stops along the way, depending on whether they go over the hill or go through the Aberdeen Tunnel. Be sure you alight at Stanley Village.

Photo: Roxanne Dowell/HKFP.

A much-preferred taxi ride will be about 25 minutes from Central, although it’s much more expensive than the bus or minibus. Almost every taxi driver is familiar with Stanley and will know where to take you even if you say it in English. There are clear signs pointing you to the entrance of Stanley Main Beach once you alight. Nearby you’ll find watersports shops (see Paddleboarding on Tai Tam Bay further down this article), public toilets, showers and even pizza with a view at Beach Club Swim & Dine.

St. Stephen’s Beach

This tiny cove is a short walk to the east of Stanley Main Beach – you can see it from the main beach – and is usually less crowded than the main beach. To get there, walk along Wong Ma Kok Road to the tree-lined Wong Ma Kok Path, turn onto that street and walk down to the beach, or by walking eastward along the beachfront from Stanley Main Beach. The nearest bus stop is number 14 and it will take you to St. Stephen’s College on the corner of Wong Ma Kok Road and Wong Ma Kok Path.

Stanley. Photo: Roxanne Dowell/HKFP.

Stanley Back Beach

Stanley is a dog-friendly area with pooches allowed along the promenade and on many beaches. Dog lovers who want to treat their furry friends to a dip should head to Stanley Back Beach, which is east at the end of the promenade.

Pat Kan Uk Historical Homes

Stanley has a few unique treasures and I highly recommend visiting the historical homes called “Pat Kan Uk” (meaning “eight houses”), a row of red brick and Chinese tiled residences that were given to locals by the British during colonial times.

Pat Kan Uk Houses, Stanley. Photo: Roxanne Dowell/HKFP.

People still live in these houses today. Located south of Stanley Market – keep following the path along the water – right on Stanley Back Beach.

Ma Hang Park and Murray House

The little gem of a park called Ma Hang was created in 2011 and is tucked away behind the Victorian-era historical landmark, Murray House, which is also a must-see if you’re in the area. Murray House was originally built in Central in 1846 as officers’ quarters, but the colonial building was taken apart, rebuilt stone-by-stone and opened in Stanley in 2002.

Photo: Wikicommons.

Rumour has it that Murray House is haunted – it has had two exorcisms – because it was used by the Japanese as a command centre where many Chinese were executed during World War II. In typical Hong Kong fashion, it now houses shops and restaurants.

To get to Ma Hang Park and Murray House, go to Stanley Plaza and take the escalators down until you get to the bottom. You’ll see Murray House just before the pier. Turn right after Murray House and Ma Hang Park is a few steps ahead. There will be signs pointing you to Pak Tai Temple, which is a quiet and petite temple overlooking the ocean.

Pak Tai Temple, Stanley. Photo: Roxanne Dowell/HKFP.

You can spend some time rambling through the paths – it isn’t a big park but its greenery, flora and fauna make for a peaceful excursion – and enjoying some quality Zen time, although it gets crowded at times. When you’re ready to return to reality or want a snack, there are loads of restaurants of various cuisines in and around Stanley Plaza.

Stanley. File photo: GovHK.

Paddleboarding on Tai Tam Bay

The calm waters of Tai Tam Bay are ideal for hopping on a paddleboard and heading out to sea. Most mornings you can rent a board for as little as HK$80 per hour and ride the (barely there) waves. Prices and opening hours vary, so we recommend calling ahead and reserving, and lessons are offered individually or in groups. To get there, head to Stanley Main Beach and look for the HK Sea School. Most shops are on the beachfront waiting to serve you.

Paddleboard Rentals

  • Hong Kong Aqua Bound Centre, Hoi Fung Path, Stanley Main Beach, 8211 3876
  • Dragon Coast HK, Hoi Fung Path, Stanley Main Beach, 9018 3732
  • Hiwindlover Water Sports Center, Stanley Main Beach, 6226 5390

Where to eat and drink in Stanley

Stanley Market Area

Known for decades as Lucy’s, Henry and Ines Kwan took over the beloved back alley upscale restaurant four years ago and renamed it Henry’s (G/F, 64 Stanley Main St, 2813 9055). Henry was one of the original chefs at Lucy’s, so the restaurant still serves tasty European fare and has an extensive wine list.

Stanley. Photo Edwin Lee, via Flickr CC2.0.

If you’re walking through Stanley Market and think it may be time for an afternoon tipple, Bubbles & Wine (26 Stanley Mainstreet, Shop B1, G/F) features cheese, charcuterie, tapas and champagnes and wines, offering patrons a nice quiet break from the market buzz.

Ricky’s (Shop 1, Stanley Waterfront Mart, 20 Stanley Market Rd, 9093 7137) has a wide array of Thai dishes, serving up everything from pad thai to green curry to soups, salads and more.

Its original location was in Sai Kung but the famed Raymond Deli Club (11A, G/F, 13 Stanley Main St, 6391 6689) has opened another store in the heart of Stanley Market. Treat yourself to French delicacies including cheeses, pastries, bread, meats and charcuterie, or order its half-baked goods to enjoy at home.

Stanley PP Chinese & Thai (Yau Shing Lau, 52-56 Stanley Main St, 2813 7998) is a popular local joint where you can tuck in to authentic Chinese and Thai food.

For delicious French crepes head to Mamie Yvonne creperie (G/F, Princeton Court, 118 Stanley Main St, 9430 3008), where you can sit outside on a quiet street just off the main road.

Stanley Promenade

Dotted along the Stanley Promenade you’ll find outdoor seating at many restaurants, such as Pizza Express, Cali-Mex and other chains, but none of these places is remarkable enough to stand out, and menus offer typical Western grub. Most are ready to hand you a cold beer upon request, which you’ll probably crave if you took one of the long hikes, but one expat favourite is the Smuggler’s Inn (90A Stanley Main Street, 2813 8852).

Photo: Roxanne Dowell/HKFP.

Stanley Plaza

You’ll find more chain restaurants here such as Beef & Liberty and Classified, but Stanley Plaza also has many local eateries, and you can tuck into sushi, light dishes and Japanese-style pizzas at Kome Kushi (No G05-G06, G/F, Stanley Plaza, 3165 1887).

Where to shop in Stanley

Stanley Market

There’s a reason both locals and tourists flock to Stanley Market. It has everything from clothing and linens to pottery, costumes, electronics, Chinese calligraphy, antiques, and more. And even if you just feel like strolling through this historical maze, it’s worth exploring the alleyways and side streets to discover some off-the-beaten-track shops and restaurants. A few of our favourite vendors include Sun and Moon (Stanley Main Street, Stanley 18), which offers designer clothing at deeply discounted prices (tags carefully cut out, of course), and Bed & Beyond – not to be confused with the American company with a similar name (Number 17 Ground Floor, Stanley Main St, 2539 0309). It has a large selection of linens, pyjamas and bedsheets, as does the Hong Kong favourite Tong’s Sheets & Linen Co. (Horizon Court, Stanley Main St, 2813 0337).

Stanley Plaza

Stanley Plaza (23 Carmel Road, 2813 4623) is home to pet shops, clothing stores, and speciality stores selling fine coffees, teas, and wine, but if you’re lucky enough to visit during the holiday season, the famed Christmas Market becomes a destination for all. There are also quite a few restaurants where you can grab a quick bite to keep you going while you burn through all your cash. Some days you can rock out to the free concerts held in its outdoor amphitheatre or visit a thematic fair, so check the website for information.

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Roxanne Dowell

Roxanne Dowell earned a master’s degree in print journalism from Boston University and has been a writer, editor and content creator for more than 20 years. She moved to Hong Kong in 2016 and has been published in various local and international publications and websites.