Hong Kong’s Hollywood Road has nothing to do with showbiz (for that, head on over to the Avenue of Stars in Kowloon). But what it does have plenty of is history.
As one of the first paved roads in Hong Kong, Hollywood Road was completed in 1844 during the start of British colonial rule. The waterfront was then much closer to the area than it is today, making Hollywood Road a prime trading area for sailors and smugglers.
Successive reclamation projects have pushed the sea back some 1,600 feet north. Hollywood Road’s smugglers have long since left, replaced by antique sellers and art galleries. In spite of these changes, this historic avenue in Central remains a must-see: Hollywood Road’s shops, temples, and buildings reveal how Hong Kong’s history struggles with the present, and sometimes wins.
Climb Up the "Stone Slabs" Pottinger Street
You’ll start your tour of Hollywood Road when you exit Central Station, the nearest MTR Station to Hollywood Road. Once you disembark from the train, look for Exit D1 or D2, then walk north up Queen’s Road Central to Pottinger Street.
The part of Pottinger Street that intersects with Hollywood Road is the starting point of the famous “stone slab street,” a pedestrian avenue paved with roughly-hewn granite blocks. The road’s design allows pedestrians to use the road without slipping, while effectively sluicing rainwater to the sides.
At the point where Pottinger Street hits Hollywood Road, you'll find the entryway into the former Central Police Station Compound, now known as the Tai Kwun Centre for Heritage and Arts.
The sixteen buildings in the compound date back as far as 1864, and served for decades as a bastion for law and order in Central. The area’s police station, magistracy (courthouse) and the grim Victoria Gaol (Prison) were all located here, until the prison's decommissioning in 2006.
An HK$3.8 billion ($486 million) renovation effort by the Hong Kong Jockey Club has reoriented the former government space into one meant for artistic expression. A new Tai Kwun Contemporary opens up more than 15,000 square feet of exhibition space for art lovers, who can expect up to eight new exhibitions to open here annually.
Swiss architectural firm Herzog de Meuron incorporated new walkways and two hyper-modern buildings into the existing infrastructure. Museums have replaced jail cells and courtroom hallways; the prison yard has been converted into a sunny plaza fringed by coffee shops and restaurants.
After exiting Tai Kwun the way you came, walk west toward Old Bailey Road, where the Hollywood Road stretch of the Mid-Levels Escalator looms overhead.
The Escalator runs some 2,625 feet from the affluent Mid-Levels residential district down to Des Voeux Road Central near Victoria Harbour. From end to end, pedestrians on the escalator travel an elevation of some 443 feet.
Given the length and incline, the commute would kill most pedestrians’ calves; the escalator was built to ease the way for Mid-Levels residents, covering the entire length in about 20 minutes. The escalator runs downhill in the mornings from 6am to 10am, to accommodate commuter rush hour from the higher levels. It then reverses direction at 10am, running uphill until service ends at midnight.
Ride the Escalator uphill till you reach Staunton Street, your entryway into “SoHo” (South of Hollywood Road) – a warren of upscale dining and drinking spots that serves all the cuisine of the world – both the authentic and fusion kind.
The iconic Hong Kong fashion shop Goods of Desire (G.O.D.) can be found just a minute’s walk west from the Mid-Levels Escalator. Local designer Douglas Young founded G.O.D. in 1996, feeling “that Hong Kong needed a brand that would help foster its cultural identity.”
His shop on the corner of Hollywood and Graham was just the first of seven, each hawking goods whose designs draw inspiration from Hong Kong’s daily life – from street signs to food to Hong Kong movie culture. The goods in question range from the traditional to the utterly modern, from cheongsams to laptop bags to mini-umbrellas.
Young commissioned muralist Alex Croft to create a mural on its wall facing Graham Street – unwittingly creating one of Hong Kong’s most popular photo stop, a backdrop for millions upon millions of selfies. Croft based his mural on an existing G.O.D. print representing the densely-packed apartments of Yau Ma Tei in Kowloon.
Admire Hollywood Road’s Murals
Alex Croft’s Graham Street muralwork is only the most popular street art on an avenue famous for its creatively-painted walls. If the Graham Street mural is too crowded for your taste, get a selfie instead at one of the following art walls down the entire stretch of Hollywood Road.
A mural of a female face on Hollywood Road and Tank Lane was a quickly-executed project by French artist Hopare. An even more eye-catching mural can be found further up the same stairs, a depiction of Hong Kong martial artist Bruce Lee by South Korean graffiti artist Xeva.
Many murals on Hollywood Road are privately commissioned, intended as free publicity for nearby businesses. Madera Hollywood Hotel leans heavily into the street’s U.S. namesake with Pop Art-style depictions of American showbiz royalty, including Audrey Hepburn, Frank Sinatra and Audrey Hepburn. And Muralist Elsa Jeandedieu worked with Brazilian restaurant Uma Nota to pay tribute to Brazil’s brassy culture, with a depiction of a samba singer in mid-note.
From the very beginning, Hollywood Road has been a focal point for antique trading in Hong Kong. Antique dealers took advantage of Hollywood Road’s relative (pre-reclamation) proximity to the docks to buy and sell antiques from China – both legitimately-bought and others less so.
Today’s astronomical rents have decimated Hollywood Road’s antique trade; the remaining antique stores either own their buildings outright, or are simply the best at what they do.
Wattis Fine Art caters to the antique print enthusiast, with hundreds of maps, photographs and lithographs covering locations in Southeast Asia and China. Other great options: Oi Ling, which trades on its founder Oi Ling Chiang’s expertise in terracotta and antique Chinese furniture. Each piece undergoes a rigorous authentication process – twice – ensuring that no fakes ever bear the Oi Ling seal of approval.
Meanwhile, Friendship Trading Co. appeals to middlebrow collectors, with modern reproductions of Chinese ceramics, and KY Fine Art specializes in antique Chinese pottery and ink paintings. Proprietor Kai-yuen “K.Y.” Ng is a renowned expert in the field, constantly called on by museums in China and the U.S. to vet their pieces.
A safe space for Hong Kong’s up-and-coming creative entrepreneurs stands a little off of Hollywood Road. Walk a short distance uphill on Aberdeen Street to find PMQ, a former police dormitory converted into a series of workshops, ateliers and dining spaces.
From 1951 to 2001, the “Police Married Quarters” housed police officers from the nearby Central Police Station (at the site of the present Tai Kwun). From 2010, the government decided to repurpose the seven-storey complex into an incubator, where creative entrepreneurs can design, exhibit and sell their work.
You’ll spend the better part of an hour winding your way through the halls, discovering tomorrow’s big brands taking their first baby steps: among them artisanal bakery Levain; otsumami bar Sake Central; tea culture propagator Gong Fu Teahouse; and bookstore and craft beer hangout Garden Meow.
Art galleries have largely supplanted the declining antique-shop presence in Hollywood Road, capitalizing on a growing demand for contemporary Chinese art. Beyond the ongoing exhibits at Tai Kwun, you’ll find a clutch of privately-owned art galleries bringing creative work from Greater China to a wider audience.
Karin Weber Gallery stands across the street from PMQ and is a boutique gallery dedicated to showcasing Asian contemporary artists, supplementing curated exhibits with artist talks and collector events. La Galerie Paris 1839 curates high-quality art photography and prints from emerging photographers. Contemporary By Angela Li casts its net wide to showcase Chinese art in less conventional forms – from photography to ceramics to other mixed media.
Finally, Liang Yi Museum combines Hong Kong tycoon Peter Fung’s private art collection with loaned artworks and artifacts; regular guided tours put the priceless exhibits into their proper context.
Discover Man Mo Temple
The earliest record for this ancient temple dates back to 1847, but it’s conceivable that Man Mo Temple may have stood here for longer.
Man Mo was not just a religious structure, but served as an instrument for governance among Hong Kong’s Chinese citizens. Civil disputes were settled in Man Mo’s western assembly hall; illiterate workers would ask Man Mo’s letter-writers to write messages to home (or read any replies).
Today’s regular Man Mo visitors tend to be much better off (and better-read), while following the same Taoist traditions as their ancestors. Burning incense and offering intentions to the God of Literature (Man) and the God of War (Mo), Taoist Hong Kongers come to pray for success or solutions to problems – or have their fortunes told using sacred oracle sticks. The interior is a haze of smoke, through which you can make out statues of Taoist deities, donation boxes, and spiral incense sticks.
Your last stop is a flea market just off Hollywood Road, where the shops are a little more ad hoc than the proper storefronts along the main street. The market on Upper Lascar Row, also called Cat Street Market, sells antiques of a more recent vintage, namely kitschy curios from the 1950s, outdated Chinese Communist souvenirs, and movie posters from Hong Kong’s golden age.
The Cat Street Market has been going on almost as long as Hollywood Road’s antique stores, except that the original Cat Street vendors often sold stolen goods. An unverifiable story explains that the street got its name from the “rats” hawking the goods and the “cats” lining up to buy them.
You'll find no stolen goods in today's Cat Street Market, though you'll find a fair number of fakes. Visit to pick up a Hong Kong souvenir, or just browse the kitschy wares on the street.
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