Header images courtesy of AFCD and @kla6.traveller (via Instagram)
For a city which only rose to international prominence over the past few decades, Hong Kong has an incredibly rich cultural landscape filled with historical relics and monuments. While it may come as a surprise to many, there are military forts in Hong Kong with immense historical significance dating back to hundreds of years ago. For lovers of history, hiking, and having a blast outdoors, here’s a brief list of eight historic forts in Hong Kong.
Classified as a Grade II conservation area in 2009, the Pinewood Battery (龍虎山松林炮台) is now a popular picnic destination with an excellent view of the city. Constructed from 1901 to 1905, the fort was built to protect the vessels passing through the western part of Victoria Harbour, but it was repurposed for defence against air attacks in the 1920s. During the Second World War, the Pinewood Battery, which stands at over 300 metres above sea level, suffered from heavy damages after the Japanese launched an attack on it.
Starting at Victoria Peak is the best way to get there, and plus, you get to enjoy the Peak Galleria and scenic restaurants at the peak beforehand, making it the perfect place to start off your day trip. Transportation methods from Central include bus 15 (from Central Ferry Piers), minibus 1 (from IFC), the Peak Tram, and of course, the taxi.
The hike is short and easy after arriving at the Peak, only taking around 30 minutes to complete. From the Peak Galleria, begin by walking on Peak Road towards Findlay Road, then turn left onto Harlech Road for 1 km until you reach the Lung Fu Shan Fitness Trail. Keep following the signs along the way until you reach the picnic area, and when you do, congratulations, you have found it!
Gough Battery (魔鬼山歌賦炮台) was one of the two military stations built in the late nineteenth century by the British—the other one, Pottinger, is now largely covered by vegetation. It is located near Devil’s Peak, beside the Lei Yue Mun channel in Yau Tong. Named after British Army officer Field Marshal Hugh Gough, 1st Viscount Gough, it was once home to two 9.2-inch guns, but they have since been moved to Stanley Fort, which is now inaccessible to the public.
From Yau Tong Station:
On Wilson’s Trail, be sure to follow the signs to Devil’s Peak Fortifications, or you might end up taking a slight detour! The hike takes only an hour, so it’s certainly suitable for beginners or anyone looking for a short hike before having some fresh seafood for dinner at Lei Yue Mun.
While the current structure seen at Tung Chung Fort (東涌炮台) dates back to the Qing dynasty in the early 1830s, the original was actually built hundreds of years prior to that, in the Shun Hei era of the Southern Song dynasty, between 1174 and 1189. After being rebuilt in the nineteenth century by the Qing government, it became a command post defending against pirates and the British. However, it was abandoned after Hong Kong was leased to Britain. During the Second World War, it was also occupied by the Japanese before being abandoned again shortly after.
From Tung Chung Station, head to the Tung Chung Town Centre and take bus 3M heading in the direction of the Mui Wo Ferry Pier and get off at Sheung Lang Pei station. After walking for two minutes, you’ll find yourself at Tung Chung Fort next to Tung Chung Public School, which closed down in 2003.
Heading to this fort doesn’t require much effort or navigation, but surprisingly, you get to see six intact canons at the site. If you are looking to briefly travel back in time for a history lesson on a hot summer’s day, consider going down this short trek to the Tung Chung Fort.
Built around three hundred years ago, from 1719 to 1724, in the Kangxi era, Tung Lung Fort (西貢東龍洲炮台) was originally built to guard against pirates. Its special area includes a campsite and is three hectares in size—its prime location by the sea guarantees an excellent view of the sky, the ocean, the fort, and the rest of the island.
You can get to Tung Lung Island from two piers, either from Shau Kei Wan Typhoon Shelter in Sai Wan Ho or from Sam Ka Tsuen Ferry Pier in Yau Tong. When you get to the island, don’t be overwhelmed by the number of routes you can take. If you’re just there to see the Fort or if you prefer an easier hike, follow the signs near Nam Tong that point to Tung Lung Fort, and you’ll find yourself there in around twenty minutes.
Until we’re able to travel out of the city and back safely again, Tung Lung Island might just be the next best thing. The island is relatively hard to access, in that ferry services are only available on Saturdays, Sundays and public holidays only, so make sure you keep this in mind when scheduling your weekend nature getaway!
Fan Lau Fort was first known as Tai Yu Shan Fort (大嶼山炮台; “Lantau Island Gun Terrace”) when it was first built in 1729, during the early days of the Qing dynasty. In a whimsical move, it was later renamed as Kai Yik Fort (雞翼炮台; “Chicken Wing Gun Terrace”), after the headland at Fan Lau named Kai Yik Kok (雞翼角; “Chicken Wing Point”), before eventually receiving its current name. However, some argue that the Fan Lau Fort was from the Ming dynasty—built in around 1573—and abandoned until 1730, so its history is a little murky at best.
There are many ways to get to Fan Lau Fort, including the highly recommended scenic route that takes around five to six hours total. This route combines Lantau Trail Sections 8 and 7, which starts at Shek Pik and ends at Tai O. As Section 8 is a concrete-paved walking trail and Section 7 has more variation and better scenery along the way, we recommend saving the best for last and starting from Section 8.
To get to the start of Section 8, head to Tung Chung Station, then take bus 11 or 23 for around 30 minutes until you reach Shek Pik (Sha Tsui Correctional Institution). Finally, walk along the Shek Pik Reservoir Road until you see the start of Section 8. While this 17-kilometre route might take a full day, there is a stunning waterfall and a secluded beach along the way, so be sure to visit this underrated gem over the weekend and enjoy the view along with the Fort!
This site has worn many hats throughout the centuries—it was first occupied by imperial officials in the sixteenth century, but only in 1668 was it fortified as a signal station. It was combined with a small fort built nearby in around 1810, when China’s maritime defence was upgraded in response to the British occupation of Hong Kong Island in 1841.
Since being abandoned in 1899, it became a densely populated district with haphazard structures, known as the Kowloon Walled City. Notoriously, the Walled City became a crime hub rampant with illegal activities until it was demolished in 1987. Fortunately, several historical remnants were extracted from the demolition site during the process, such as old cannons, foundations of the original South and East Gates of the Walled City, and more.
While the fort itself is not as intact as some others on the list, there are still many ways for you to appreciate the site’s historical significance. As the Kowloon Walled City Park itself was designed to model after Jiangnan gardens of the early Qing dynasty, certain areas are designated exhibition spots. Its eight scenic zones take root across 31,000 square metres, with structures reminiscent of the Qing dynasty and historical relics left and right. Step inside and you’ll find yourself completely immersed in ancient history!
We recommend heading to the Park via MTR, starting from the Lok Fu Station. Leave through exit B, down Wang Tau Hom East Road towards Junction Road, then turn left onto Junction Road and continue along the road for around 10 minutes until you see one of the many entrances of the Park.
Alternatively, many buses and green minibuses also have stations near the park.
Visiting Lei Yue Mun Fort has become a comfortable and completely indoor visit, making it perfect for those who prefer appreciating our city’s rich history without breaking a sweat. The museum was converted from the Lei Yue Mun Fort, which was built in 1844 by the British, and it used to be a prominent battery protecting the eastern area of the Victoria Harbour. Lei Yue Mun Fort was expanded in 1885 with 18 casemates spanning 7,000 square metres, but fortunately, it faced no threat for the decades to come up until the Second World War.
In December 1941, the Lei Yue Mun Fort was revamped to defend against the Japanese, though it eventually succumbed to enemy attack. Decades after the war ended, in the 1990s, the site began its transformation into a museum to highlight its history. Currently, the museum is undergoing a large-scale revamp, so it is not open to visitors. Keep your eyes peeled for when it eventually reopens and be sure to spare a day to walk around their brand-new site.
If you’re travelling via MTR, use the D1 exit of the Shau Kei Wan Station, and it will be an eight-minute walk along Tung Hei Road before you reach the museum. Cross the wide triangular intersection by briefly walking onto Oi Lai Road and then back onto Tung Hei Road, and as you see the sidewalk down Tung Hei Road come to an end, cross over to Tam Kung Temple Road temporarily, before heading back down Tung Hei Road until you reach your destination.
If you prefer avoiding the walk, after arriving at Shau Kei Wan, take the bus 85 or 82X from Tai On Building on Shau Kei Wan Road and alight at the Hong Kong Museum of Coastal Defence station.
Stanley Fort was first built in 1841, complete with barracks and office quarters, whose primary purpose was to protect the Victoria Harbour. It was also used as an internment camp for the last few years of the Second World War. While Stanley Fort is not accessible to the public, you are still able to observe the site from afar; it currently houses the Hong Kong garrison of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Ground Force.
Stanley Fort is at the start of the Rhino Rock Trail, so if you wish to get any closer for a better vantage point of the site where the fort once was, you will have to embark on the rather demanding Rhino Rock hike, which takes around an hour to complete. The hike is certainly not for beginners—so be cautious when planning your hike. It’s also worth noting that this hike is mostly exposed, so avoid taking up this challenge under the sweltering summer sun.
Either way, whether or not you wish to journey along to Rhino Rock for a glimpse of where the Stanley Fort used to be, you will have to head to the Stanley Fort bus station, which is right outside the gate of the military base.
To get to the Stanley Fort bus station, you can either take bus 6A, which comes from the Exchange Square Bus Terminus in Central, or bus 14, which hails from Sai Wan Ho, until the very last stop. Of course, it is possible to walk from Stanley Market to the station, but the journey takes half an hour on foot, without any sidewalks along the way, so we would recommend sticking to public transport (or a taxi) for this leg of the trip.