Explore and be rewarded
The Big Question
Where to run in Hong Kong? It’s a question that plagued my first few months in the city. When all around it seems that traffic, crowds and concrete have conspired to thwart your desire to run far and run free, Hong Kong can appear as far from a runner’s paradise as you can get. In fact, it can seem the very opposite – a toxic wasteland of car exhaust and potential accidents, in which the only alternative to flab and misery is to submit yourself to the living death of life on a treadmill.
But after spending a bit of time in the city, getting used to its ways and its whyfors, you realise this fear of a life without running needn’t be so. Indeed, with a bit of exploring, Hong Kong can almost be the running city you’ve always dreamed of. The streets may be seething and the summer heat certainly keeps things interesting, but with so many potential escapes just a short run away, the city becomes the backdrop to a voyage of discovery that the adventurous runner can’t help but embrace.
The five routes that follow are just a start. These are the places where if you are in or around the main urban areas of Hong Kong Island and the Kowloon waterfront, you can expect to find other runners, space to run, and a view of the Hong Kong skyline that makes you realise what a fantastic city you live in. Of course, if you are out in the New Territories, finding space to run becomes a little less problematic. But if you are a Hong Kong running newbie and feel close to defeat in the quest to find somewhere to stretch your legs, you could do worse than to start with one of these.
1. Bowen Road
Do running routes get any better than this? Up in the hills above Wan Chai, Bowen Road sums up everything that makes Hong Kong such a unique place to run. In the middle of the city yet at the same time seemingly as far away from the maddening crowd as you could be, Bowen Road is four kilometers of shady running and amazing views that will have you cursing yourself for not having been there before.
Beginning on Stubbs Road at the twin residential high-rises The Summit and Highcliff, Bowen Road runs west towards Mid-Levels, taking in views of Wan Chai, Happy Valley, and the Central Plaza and Hopewell Centre skyscrapers in the process. Comprised for the most part of The Bowen Road Fitness Trail, the route has exercise bars and other equipment located at various points along the path. There are also two sets of toilets, the first where Wan Chai Gap Road intersects the path and another at Bowen Road Park, with a drinking water fountain included at the former.
As well as access from both the Stubbs Road and Magazine Gap ends, you can reach Bowen Road from Wan Chai via the improbably steep Wan Chai Gap Road. There are also steps that run from Shiu Fai Terrace if you are coming from Happy Valley, while Green Minibus 26 runs from Causeway Bay to the Stubbs Road starting point. It may be a steep old climb to get there, but for the peaceful running and cool views, the burning thighs are worth it.
2. Lugard Road
Circling Victoria Peak, high above Hong Kong, Lugard Road is another running-route-with-a-view that has more than earned its exalted reputation. Constructed in 1913 as a promenade from which wealthy Peak dwellers could gaze out over their city, the road is a cool retreat of Indian rubber trees and lush vegetation which boasts some of the best views anywhere in Hong Kong.
Beginning at the Peak Tower, Lugard Road winds halfway around the Peak before joining the Harlech Road Fitness Trail and looping back round to where it started for a little over a two mile (3.3 km) lap. There are great views of Central and all the major Hong Kong skyscrapers. On a clear day the mountains of Kowloon can be seen along with the Tsing Yi bridge. Towards sunset, and especially at weekends, the early sections of the path are likely to be pretty busy with photographers and tourists. But if you can negotiate the traffic around the viewing spots, the path will soon open up and offer plenty of scope for some excellent running.
Lugard Road is more the focus of a longer run, than a full run in itself. Particularly in the evening, the roads around Severn Road to the east of the Peak Tower are largely traffic free and offer some fun exploring around some of the most expensive residential streets in the world. It is also possible to incorporate a run on Lugard Road with a longer run from Bowen Road if you are that way inclined. But perhaps the best way is just to get out there and explore for yourself. If you are lucky, you may even see a porcupine or two.
3. Happy Valley Racecourse
There may be no spectacular views at Happy Valley Racecourse. But serious runners don’t need a great view for motivation. This is the place for the running clubs and the race vest wearers. The place where hard training is pretty much de rigueur and lap times are everything. Other routes may offer their own visual distractions, there may be hill training galore to be had nearby, but for a running geek like me, there’s nothing like a 1.38 km track on which you can go round and round at a pace you can judge by the second, and yes, I did measure it and calculate my time and distance four times a week for four years.
Any time the horses aren’t charging up and down on a Wednesday night, Happy Valley becomes Hong Kong Island’s de facto sports centre. The service road around the racetrack acts as the running track, there are pull-up bars and exercise equipment in the infield, while the dozen football pitches are always booked up and full of screaming hooligans.
Happy Valley was my local. It was probably the sole reason I remained in Causeway Bay for the duration of my four year stay in Hong Kong. I may not have been able to sleep at night because of the traffic; I may have been choking because of the fumes; but I could step out of my door and be on the track within five minutes. And nothing beats convenience like that.
The infield is open from 5am – 12pm every day except race days (usually Wednesdays) and a few days around Chinese New Year. Entrances can be found on the flyover side of the racecourse just before the main grandstand, as well as on the Wong Nai Chung Gap Road side.
4. West Kowloon Waterfront Promenade
There may, as yet, still be no other reason to visit the cultural wilderness that is the West Kowloon Cultural District, but at least there’s some good running to be had. Fifteen years and counting since it was first proposed, the cultural district is still largely a wasteland, but the waterfront promenade offers great views of the Hong Kong skyline and is one of the quietest runs around.
It may be a bit out of the way for most, but for those in or around Jordan or the ICC/Elements area, it makes for a pleasant open-air run and the best choice of a limited bunch. There are toilets, but no water fountain. And there’s an exercise area of sorts. If you go there around sundown there will also be some good photo opportunities as the sun sets to the west if you have your phone handy.
Hopefully the promenade will remain once the construction commences, if it ever does. Because as one of the few options for runners on the other side of the water, it offers a much needed escape from the urban hell of the Kowloon peninsula. You can reach the West Kowloon Waterfront Promenade via Austin Road West beside the ICC.
5. TST Waterfront Promenade/Hung Hom Promenade
Why anyone would choose to run on the TST promenade I don’t know. But plenty of people do, preferring to play dodge the tourist rather than admit defeat in the ongoing battle of Hong Kong vs the runner.
It’s not ideal, but then again, the Kowloon urban areas aren’t exactly overflowing with places to run. If you stick to the eastern end of the promenade beyond the Avenue of Stars, the tourists thin out and there’s generally a fairly clear stretch on which to run. But get there any time after first thing in the morning, and the number of tourists along the main stretch tend to make the experience too annoying for any serious running to be done.
If you run up the slope towards the Hung Hom Coliseum next to the Hung Hom Bypass, however, and find your way round to the other side, you can get yourself onto the Hung Hom Promenade and enjoy a good few kilometres of tourist-free running all the way to Laguna Verde. Maybe the views aren’t as great this side of things. But at the end of the day, it’s the getting out there and getting running that counts. Everything else comes a distant second.
Other Notable Mentions
Victoria Park, Causeway Bay: It’s a narrow track but there are plenty of water fountains and lots of exercise equipment. There’s also a track on the sports ground opposite, next to Hong Kong library.
Victoria Road, Pokfulam: Run along Victoria Road from Sai Wan to Pok Fu Lam around Mount Davis. The road tends to be fairly quiet with views of Lamma Island and the passing container ships to keep you entertained.
Ma On-Sha Tin-Tai Po Promenade: Watch out for the bikes! There’s a great path linking Ma On Shan to Sha Tin, and Sha Tin to Tai Po, on opposite sides of the Shing Mun River. Probably the longest designated running route in Hong Kong.
Above Bowen Road: Following Wan Chai Gap Road up from Bowen Road opens up a whole new world of quiet roads and cracking views for you to explore. Head there after dark and venture on to the slightly sinister Blacks Link. Or head the other way towards the Peak to explore Barker Road, Severn Road, and all sorts of strange steep paths that link some of the most outrageously expensive residences in the world. Check out the map for some of my favourite HK Island routes.
Get Involved: If you have any routes of your own that you think warrant a mention, please let us know in the comments below.