West Kowloon Culture District – Play of Heritage and Modern Traditions


West Kowloon Cultural District is a large cultural space designed to be an art and cultural hub of Hong Kong. Built on a wedge-shaped reclaimed piece of land, it offers opportunities to intimately interact with the art and artisans. In a densely populated city like Hong Kong, such an open space right next to the harbor is a welcome space. This HK neighborhood is a melange of history, heritage, and modern traditions with some well-curated itineraries.

Yau Ma Tei Fruit Market Artist Impression - West Kowloon Culture District Hong Kong
Yau Ma Tei Fruit Market

Historically, Yua Mai Tei used to be a seashore where the Tanka fishermen used to dock their fishing boats. We are talking about the late 19th CE. As the city grew, more and more land was required for the growing population and their growing needs. The land was reclaimed from the sea and as a result, the shoreline kept shifting and new areas kept emerging. Today this land has taken a new avatar and that of art and cultural limb of the city.

Of the 40 hectares of land that it covers, there is an open space of good 23 hectares. A wide 20-meter promenade allows you to walk on the harbor front for two kilometers. It seems just perfect for someone like me who loved to walk around and explore neighborhoods. I remember exploring Kowloon Heritage City and Wan Chai areas by walking around when I visited Hong Kong a few years ago. Add to it the fact that this space also hosts exhibitions, performances, and all kinds of cultural events. There are ample facilities to enjoy good food, making it a great place to visit with family and kids.

Five Walking Itineraries in West Kowloon Culture District

When I visited Hong Kong, I could walk around many neighborhoods with the help of itineraries on the Hong Kong Tourism website. So, I expected that when they launch the new cultural district, they would tell us about new walking trails. They lived up to the expectation. I can see five very interesting itineraries, that you can just follow at leisure as you explore this vibrant space.

These itineraries take you through heritage buildings, modern landmarks, markets, people stories, and open-air art that is out there for you to admire. Food and shopping are always there as core ingredients in any living space, so are they here.

You may check out these itineraries on the Hong Kong Tourism Website.

Some of the biggest heritage attractions in the West Kowloon Culture district include:

Yua Ma Tei Theatre

Yua Ma Tei Theatre
Yua Ma Tei Theatre

This is a heritage theatre that dates back to 1930 and is one of the few buildings in the area that pre-date the second world war. It is famous for its two pillars at the entrance. It was closed in 1998 and re-opened in 2012. It is now focused on promoting Cantonese opera, well equipped to facilitate rehearsals and other facilities for the performing groups.

How many theatres are marked for promoting an art form? I do not know of many, so that is what makes this theatre very special.

Red Brick Building

Red Brick Building - West Kowloon Hong Kong
Red Brick Building

This is another heritage building dating back to 1895 CE which was originally a water pumping station of Hong Kong on Shanghai street. However, due to the red bricks, it is made of and its striking red façade it is popularly known as Red Brick Building. In fact, it is this red color helped it get classified as a heritage building and it escaped demolition unlike the rest of the surrounding buildings.

Besides its red brick façade, visitors can see its cast-iron rainwater pipes, arched verandahs, knee stones, and pad stones.

Tung Nam Lau Hotel

Tung Nam Lau Hotel
Tung Nam Lau Hotel

This is a unique hotel that uses art as a medium to connect people. Art is not just an integral part of the hotel space design but it regularly curates events and activities that allow the visitors to interact in an enriching way, engaging all their senses, and creating a wholesome experience. Primarily it follows the philosophy of ‘Art for All’.

Rooms are designed on themes like Tea Art Room, Book Art Room, Music room that fuses Chinese and western music, and Comfort rooms that fuse western and Chinese sensibilities.

Yau Ma Tei Fruit Market

Yau Ma Tei Fruit Market can be found right across the road from the Yau Ma Tei Theatre. Hongkongers call it Guo Lan which literally means fruit wholesale market. This market has been a source of fresh fruits since 1913, making it more than 100-year-old. Initially, it used to supply all kinds of daily needs but now Guo Lan primarily sells fruits, in a much smaller version of itself.

Guo Lan Fruit Market Hong Kong
Guo Lan Fruit Market

The market as we see it today dates to the 1950s and 1960s, and reflects the trendy Art Deco style of those times. It has lovely rows of low-rise shops mostly single or double-story. Some businesses here are as old as the market itself and proudly display that in their shops. In fact, these shops have become a destination in themselves. Walk around these lanes, picking up your fruits for the day and admiring the piece of heritage in the newly designed vibrant neighborhood of West Kowloon Culture District. The hustle and bustle that you feel at this market is a microcosm of Hong Kong. Do not miss the graffiti on the shutters of the shops here and the murals on the tiles on the walls. They provide a great photo opportunity.

Read More – Top 10 Street Markets of Hong Kong

Tin Hau Temple

Tin Hua Temple
Tin Hua Temple of Fishermen community

Tin Hau Temple is a rather large temple dedicated to The Chinese Sea Goddess Tin Hau, dating back to 1865. Originally located in Kwun Chung Market, it was later moved here by the local fishermen community who follow the temple. It is the community that dominated this land surrounded by sea. They used to pray at this temple for the safe voyages on the sea, during their fishing expeditions.

What is fascinating about this temple is its architectural style which comes from the Qing dynasty. It also houses a school much like the temples did back home in India once upon a time. An annual festival of the temple takes place in May every year.

Read More – A festival guide for Hong Kong

Xiqu Centre at West Kowloon Culture District

If Yua Ma Tei belongs to history, the newly built Xiqu Centre is a space dedicated to promoting the art of Chinese opera.

Xiqu Center in Hong Kong
Xiqu Center

The highlight of Xiqu center is its acclaimed Tea House Theatre Experience. In a storytelling mode, selected pieces of Opera are sung with the meaning explained in English for non-native speakers. A Guided Tour explains various architectural and design features while regaling you in the fascinating stories of the traditional opera.

Hong Kong West Kowloon Station

8000 tonnes of steel and more than 4000 glazing panels that naturally lit up the station is something worth admiring. Designed in harmony with the ocean waves that can be seen at the harbor the rooftop Sky Corridor and Sightseeing Deck are a must-see for visitors.

Interiors of West Kowloon Station
Interiors of West Kowloon Station

The station is also home to giant artworks showcasing talented artists and designers. The station it seems is completely in sync with the cultural district that it brings the people to.

You can also see the former Yua Ma Tei police station and Kowloon Union church on this trail.

Hong Kong Museum of History

Hong Kong Museum of History
Hong Kong Museum of History

While you are on this trail, you can also visit the Hong Kong Museum of History which I had featured in my list of 10 Must Do Things in Hong Kong.

This post has been written in association with Discover Hong Kong. All images in this post have been provided by the Hong Kong Tourism Board. 

West Kowloon Cultural District is a large cultural space designed to be an art and cultural hub of Hong Kong. Built on a wedge-shaped reclaimed piece of land, it offers opportunities to intimately interact with the art and artisans. In a densely populated city like Hong Kong, such an open space right next to the…