Hong Kong may be a city that appeals to shoppers, thanks to its malls and street markets, but it also has several buildings of historic significance across its 18 districts.

Many of these structures, which were built during the territory’s colonial era, combine Chinese and Western characteristics to create unique architectural styles. While some of them have been continuously in use since they were first constructed, others have been renovated and reimagined as cultural hubs.

Here are some of the most fascinating heritage buildings in the 852 — from old police stations and disused courts, to former schools and current Chinese medicine stores.

Tai Kwun — Central

The exterior of Tai Kwun, which is distinctive for its long corridors and verandas. The courtyard in front of the facade has chairs that passers-by can sit on. People are walking through the courtyard, and some stand and take pictures.
Tai Kwun has 16 buildings and two courtyards that now serve as a cultural hub in the heart of Hong Kong (© Wpcpey via WikiCommons)

This complex that dates back to 1864 was the site of three Declared Monuments, but it is most well known for being the former police headquarters in Central, which is why it came to be colloquially known as Tai Kwun or “big station”. It comprises 16 buildings and two courtyards that now house hip restaurants, boutiques, and art and performance spaces.

Address: 10 Hollywood Road, Central
Call: +852 3559 2600

Blue House — Wan Chai

The Blue House on Stone Nullah Lane flanked by the Orange House on its left and the Yellow House on the right. The street in front of the houses has parked scooters and cars, and pedestrians walk on the pavements.
The Blue House in Wan Chai got its name because the developers who painted it in 1990 did not have any other colour (© 方畢可 via WikiCommons)

This one is a standout on our list — quite literally — for its striking blue colour that makes it distinctive from most of the other neutral-hued buildings in the area. The current building, which came up in 1922, was originally the site of a two-storey Wah To Hospital built in 1870. It is now a residential complex with 20 apartments connected to two other heritage buildings on Stone Nullah Lane: Yellow House and Orange House.

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Address: 72A Stone Nullah Lane, Wan Chai
Call: +852 2833 4608

Murray House — Stanley

An elevated view of Murray House, which overlooks Stanley Bay. There are boats moored in the water in front of the building.
Murray House overlooks Stanley Bay off the southern coast of Hong Kong Island (© Hankt via WikiCommons)

Murray House, which was first built in Central in 1846 to serve as officers’ quarters, is one of the oldest surviving public buildings in Hong Kong and was used by the Japanese military police as their headquarters during World War II. 

In 1982, it was dismantled to make way for the Bank of China Tower, and was reconstructed at its current location in Stanley in the early 2000s using 3,000 pieces from the original structure. It is now one of the most easily recognisable buildings on the south side of Hong Kong Island, and houses shops and restaurants.

Address: 96 Stanley Main Street, Stanley

Hong Kong Observatory — Tsim Sha Tsui

The original Hong Kong Observatory building is a two-storeyed brick plaster building with arched windows and long verandas. It has a lawn in front of the entrance.
The original Hong Kong Observatory building is a Victorian-style two-storied plaster brick structure (© GovHK)

The Hong Kong Observatory was built in 1883 on a small hill on Nathan Road facing Kowloon Park. The two-storey Victorian-style building’s most defining features are its arched windows and long verandas.

The observatory has since expanded, so the original building currently serves as the administration centre and office of the directorate, while the operational and technical units have been relocated to nearby premises.

Address: 134A Nathan Road, Tsim Sha Tsui
Call: +852 2926 8200

Former North Kowloon Magistracy Building — Pak Tin

The facade of the Former North Kowloon Magistracy Building has tall narrow windows that face the main road. There are two staircases that lead up to the main entrance.
The facade of the Former North Kowloon Magistracy Building has tall narrow windows that face the main road (© Chong Fat via WikiCommons)

This building was constructed in 1960 to serve as a courthouse, which it did until it closed in 2005. In 2009, the seven-storey structure — considered unique for its symmetrically designed series of tall narrow windows and grand entrance double staircase — was handed over to the Savannah College of Art and Design Hong Kong, which revitalised the building. The college’s tenancy expired in 2020 and the building has since been handed back to the government. 

Address: 292 Tai Po Road, Pak Tin

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Western Market — Sheung Wan

Western Market is distinctive because of its red-bricked bandage-style facade.
The entrance of Western Market on Des Voeux Central is the original North Block Building, which was built in 1906 (© Western Market via Facebook)

If you stroll through the neighbourhood of Sheung Wan, chances are you’ll notice this building, thanks to its red-bricked bandage-style facade. Since Western Market, which was built in 1906, is the oldest market building in the 852, it was decided that it would remain a retail space after it was renovated in 1991. It is now filled with stores that sell fabrics and art pieces and is quite a distinctive landmark on Des Voeux Road Central. 

Address: 323 Des Voeux Road Central, Sheung Wan
Call: +852 6029 2675

Lui Seng Chun — Mong Kok

The exterior of Lui Seng Chun is easily recognisable because of the glassed-in verandas on the top three floors.
Lui Seng Chun, which is at the intersection of Lai Chi Kok Road and Tong Mi Road, is a four-storey building with glassed-in verandas (© N509FZ via WikiCommons)

This neoclassical building is one of the city’s best representations of the combination of Chinese and Western architectural styles. It was built by one of the founders of Kowloon Motor Bus Company in 1931, whose family occupied the top three floors of the building, while the ground floor housed a Chinese medicine shop. 

The family donated the tong lau building to the government in 2000 and it is currently used as a Chinese medicine and healthcare centre operated by Hong Kong Baptist University. It is one of three buildings in Hong Kong that were most recently accorded Grade 1 status in March 2022, along with Jamia Mosque and City Hall. 

Fun fact: Lui Seng Chun was the inspiration for the Hong Kong Sanctum in the 2017 movie Doctor Strange.

Address: 119 Lai Chi Kok Road, Mong Kok, Kowloon
Call:+852 3411 0628

Tai O Heritage Hotel — Tai O

The Tai O Heritage Building, which overlooks the South China Sea, is kjnown for its casement windows and arched verandas.
The Tai O Heritage Hotel overlooks the South China Sea (© Tai O Heritage Hotel via Facebook)

This UNESCO-recognised building is another former police headquarters that has been conserved and revitalised to promote Hong Kong’s cultural heritage. It was first built in 1902 to monitor pirate activity in the South China Sea and is now home to a nine-room hotel. Thanks to the Hong Kong Heritage Conservation Foundation, details such as the French wooden casement windows and fireplaces inside the building, as well as the canons and searchlights, have been preserved. 

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The hotel overlooks the village of Tai O, known as the Venice of Hong Kong, because of its waterways, and is a tourist hotspot because of its stilt houses, seafood, and fishing community.

Address: Shek Tsai Po street, Tai O, Lantau Island
Call: +852 2985 8383

Yau Ma Tei Fruit Market — Yau Ma Tei

The Yau Ma Tei Fruit Market on the corner of Reclamation Street and Waterloo Road is a low structure with World War II era signboards in Chinese.
The Yau Ma Tei Fruit Market comprises several blocks of single-storey and two-storey buildings (© Chong Fat via WikiCommons)

The unassuming one- and two-storey building blocks that make up the Yau Ma Tei Fruit Market are more than a century old. Founded in 1913, the market first provided a space for fruit, vegetable, and fish vendors to sell their wares, before it become a fruit-only market in the mid-1960s.

The market is still open and is noteworthy for the pre-World War II signboards on its exterior walls. It is also across the street from the Yau Ma Tei Theatre, another building of historical significance in Hong Kong.

Address: Waterloo Road, Yau Ma Tei, Kowloon

PMQ — Central

The compound of PMQ has shops, offices, and studios.
The former Police Married Quarters compound now houses shops, offices, and studios (© DraconianRain via Flickr)

This iconic Hong Kong landmark has quite a storied past. It started out as the territory’s first government primary and secondary school in 1862 and was originally on Gough Street. The school then moved to Hollywood Road as it expanded to admit more students and was renamed Queen’s College in 1894.

However, it was destroyed when the Japanese occupied Hong Kong during World War II, and then rebuilt in 1951 as the Police Married Quarters to provide accommodation for married police staff from the nearby Central Police Station. It closed in 2000 and reopened in 2014 to serve as a cultural hub with studios, shops, and offices.

Address: 35 Aberdeen Street, Central
Call: +852 2780 2335

Header image credits: The HK HUB

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From the Middle East to the Far East and a couple of places in between, Anjali has lived in no fewer than seven cities in Asia, and has travelled extensively in the region. She worked as a lifestyle journalist in India before coming to Hong Kong, where her favourite thing to do is island-hopping with her daughter. You can check out her musings on motherhood, courtesy her Instagram profile.

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