Ask anyone living in Hong Kong Island about Kowloon and they’ll disparagingly call it the ‘dark side’. However, there’s a lot to love in this densely populated pocket of Hong Kong, which is actually illuminated by neon lights. Lots of them. Located across Victoria Harbour, Kowloon may be grittier and more crowded than its neighbour but it also oozes plenty of local charm, has some brilliant nightlife, and boasts a bustling waterfront. While much of Kowloon is an urban sprawl, recent developments here have added new to the old, and brought upscale to the downmarket.
Kowloon means ‘nine dragons’, referring to the eight hills marking its northern border. Traditionally, Kowloon had a much lower skyline than Hong Kong Island, largely because much of it was on the landing path for the old Kai Tak International Airport until 1998. Today, towering buildings and high-rise apartment blocks are changing the landscape considerably. One of its fastest developing districts is West Kowloon, where the rise of new apartment complexes, skyscrapers and luxury malls have caught the attention of locals and expats alike. West Kowloon is also home to Hong Kong’s tallest building, the International Commerce Centre; the new West Kowloon Cultural District, a hub of arts and cultural venues, is currently under development. In the north, Kowloon Tong is a popular expat enclave owing to its moderate rents, family houses, excellent transport links and modern shopping facilities.
Within Kowloon’s 47 square kilometres, there are luxury and middle-class houses, leafy neighbourhoods, museums, parks, sports facilities, modern shopping malls, and restaurants, and markets and bars on every street corner. While it may be lacking in natural attractions, there is plenty to see and do in Kowloon. Head to Tsim Sha Tsui waterfront for the Hong Kong Museum of History, the Hong Kong Museum of Art, the Hong Kong Science Museum and the Hong Kong Space Museum – and don’t miss the views from the top of the sky100 Hong Kong Observation Deck.
There are glitzy shopping centres such as Festival Walk, small eateries in Chungking Mansions, fancy restaurants on the waterfront, and bustling street stalls in the neon-lit Nathan Road, Temple Street night market and the Ladies Market. A huge bonus for staying in Kowloon, though, is the spectacular view you get when looking back towards the Hong Kong Island skyline.
As you’d expect from such a populated area, there is a wide choice of international schools. Larger all-through schools such as the American International School and Yew Chung International School settle here because there’s more space for sprawling campuses. English Schools Foundation (ESF) schools include Kowloon Junior and Beacon Hill primary schools, as well as King George V School, which dates back to 1894. You can also look forward to as many as seven new international schools opening their doors between now and autumn 2018.
Transport links are excellent, and it’s easy to travel by public transport from Kowloon to anywhere in Hong Kong; the much-loved Star Ferry takes you across to Hong Kong Island, East Rail heads up to the New Territories, and there are five MTR lines to take you all around Kowloon. If driving, Kowloon has a network of highways, although these can get blocked at rush hour.