Text by Maggie Hiufu Wong, video by Tom Booth and Alex Dicker, CNN • Updated 13th September 2017
Hong Kong (CNN) — Exploring Hong Kong’s bustling Central business district on foot can be quite the challenge.
The area’s hilly landscape, combined with subtropical heat and smothering humidity would test the stamina of a mountaineer.
Luckily, there’s the Central-Mid-Levels Escalator — an 800-meter-long chain of moving stairs and walkways that’s been dubbed the world’s longest outdoor escalator system.
Opened to the public in 1993 at a cost of $30 million, it’s a series of 18 reversible escalators and three travelators, all covered to protect against sudden downpours, that takes the effort out of the ascent.
It’s a congestion-free way to commute between Central and Conduit Road in Mid-Levels, serving 78,000 pedestrian trips daily. And there’s no charge.
Snaking through narrow streets in the busiest neighborhood in town, it’s actually a great way to tour Hong Kong’s dramatic cityscape — from dai pai dong food stalls in small alleys to the trendiest bars in Mid-Levels, from colorful old walk-ups to sleek modern skyscrapers.
Here are some highlights that can be found by hopping on and off the escalator system.
World’s longest outdoor escalator system: Opened in 1993, this network of escalators was built to ease traffic in Hong Kong’s hilly Mid-Levels neighborhood and Central, the main business district.
Famous movie scenes: ‘Chungking Express’ and ‘Dark Knight’
The section of the travelator closest to Hollywood Road was featured significantly — and thus, immortalized — in famed director Wong Kar-wai’s 1994 romantic classic, “Chungking Express.”
Riding up the escalator, Faye — the female protagonist played by Faye Wong — would crouch and peek into the apartment of Cop 663, played by Tony Leung, which stands right next to the escalator.
Not far from where Wong spied on Leung, Christopher Nolan also filmed a few scenes for Batman movie “The Dark Knight” in 2008.
Top traditional Canto eateries
Tai Cheong bakery skyrocketed to fame after former British governor Chris Patten confessed he’s a fan.
Many of the city’s most legendary old-school eateries can be found along the Central-Mid-Levels Escalator System.
Lan Fong Yuen (2 Gage St., Central) still makes a queue-worthy Cantonese milk tea. Snagging a wooden stool here is a bonus — only three are available in an incredibly tiny space. A bigger indoor space is available behind the stall.
‘New’ Hong Kong tastes
Savoring Cantonese milk tea and cooling off at the same time.
The restaurant’s a retro-futuristic version of a cha chaan teng (cheap Cantonese diner), serving creative takes on classic dishes.
Hong Kong’s finest cheongsams
Linva’s cheongsams were worn by Maggie Cheung in “In The Mood For Love.”
Easy access to Hong Kong’s best bars
The escalator system can be a lifesaver for wobbly heel-wearing party-goers hitting bars and clubs near SoHo — up the hill from Central.
Fu Lu Shou (7F, 31 Hollywood Road, Central) and Sense 99 (2-3F, 99F Wellington St., Central) are both located inside traditional walk-up buildings with terraces.
Club 71 (67 Hollywood Road, Central) gathers the city’s social activists and artistic types. Quinary (56-58 Hollywood Road, Central) still makes some of the best cocktails in town.
Quench your thirst the traditional way
Good Spring Company offers three types of herbal teas — hot or iced.
Instead of lemonade, locals prefer to rehydrate with a detoxifying and immune-boosting herbal tea-to-go.
Good Spring Company (8 Cochrane St., Central), a traditional Chinese medicine clinic with a street-side herbal tea counter, is a favorite among office workers nearby. It sells drinks like Sweet Flower Tea and 24 Flavors Tea for about $1 a glass.
Kung Lee (60 Hollywood Road, Central) is famous for its thirst-quenching sugar cane juice.
Take a closer look at Hong Kong’s heritage buildings
PMQ is a revitalized historical site dedicated to design in Hong Kong’s bustling financial district.
The escalator system offers elevated views of heritage buildings such as Central Market and Central Police Station — both still under renovation.
PMQ (the former Police Married Quarters) is a historic site that’s been transformed into a creative center filled with local arts and designs.
Other practical information
The escalators go downhill in the morning and uphill after 10 a.m.
The Central-Mid-Levels Escalator officially begins at Des Voeux Road Central but the easiest way to begin your journey is through the footbridges linking the IFC — the financial and shopping complex above Hong Kong Station.
On average, it takes about 20 minutes to ride from one end to the other. The escalators run downhill from 6-10 a.m. and uphill from 10 a.m. to midnight.