Our list of the unsung heroes that add a unique luster to the city's local culture.

hong kong escalator
Credit: Hong Kong Tourism Board

No matter how many guidebooks you read on Hong Kong, there are still many sights awaiting your discovery in this vast city. Here, we narrow in on a few of the lesser-known spots that makes it such a memorable and lively place. You may want to skip the Giant Buddha for these underrated, one-of-a-kind experiences instead.

1. Cha Chan Tengs

They may not have earned any Michelin stars (yet), but cha chan tengs are the heart and soul of Hong Kong cuisine. These casual dining establishments are the trusty greasy spoons you can always count on for a cheap and tasty fix. Without classic scrambled eggs at Australian Dairy Company or the Schweppes-bottled milk tea at Shui Kee, how else would Hong Kongers get their industrious drive in the morning?

2. The Central-to-Mid-Levels Escalator

Only in Hong Kong would you find an escalator so famous that it warrants screen time in numerous movies. The longest outdoor escalator in the world, this winding device—which connects the city's nerve center to residences halfway up Victoria Peak—has been the backdrop in The Dark Knight and Wong Kar Wai's Chungking Express. Really puts the glamour in going downhill, doesn't it? Insider tip: It moves downwards from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m., and goes uphill from 10:15 a.m. to 12 a.m.

3. Island Life

Even when you've grown tired of Hong Kong Island proper, you still get a handful of isles to explore. These are the only places in the area where time has stood still and heritage sites have remained mostly untouched from the tentacles of urbanization. The street snacks of Cheung Chau, sandy beaches of Lantau Island, and fishing villages of Lamma Island are just a few of the reasons why you should make an island day trip during your next visit.

4. Dai Pai Dongs

Some metropolises are heralded as cities that never sleep, but even they would pale in comparison to Hong Kong when it comes to grabbing a bite in the wee hours of the morning. These late night food stalls (called dai pai dongs in Cantonese) don't open for business until after dark, but their stir-fried meats and noodles will keep you stuffed way past their midnight closing hours. Look for them along the Temple Street Night Market.

5. Unique Cultural Festivals

Many of Hong Kong's festivals are considered an intangible marker of cultural heritage that you can't find anywhere else in China (and no, we're not talking about the Cockenflap music festival). These celebrations are often centuries-old, and feature unique traditions like street parades of children on stilts, and a climbing contests on a tower made of buns. Read more about the Bun Festival, Hungry Ghost Festival, and the Mid Autumn Fire Dragon Dance if you're intrigued.

6. The Great Outdoors

When you think of Hong Kong, nature isn't the first thing that comes to mind. Tucked away from the skyscrapers and busy highways, however, are natural wonders formed millions of years ago. If you can spare the time, the Sai Kung Volcanic Rock Region and the Northeast New Territories Sedimentary Rock Region are just some of the wonders you must see.

7. The Star Ferry

Congested traffic is a given in any city, so thank heavens for a trusty alternative when you need to be on the other side of the harbor fast. The ferry operates seven days of the week at eight- to 20-minute intervals, and costs less than $0.50 per trip. Convenience isn't even the best part: A gorgeous vista of skyscrapers on both sides of the Victoria Harbor will take your breath away, no matter how many rides you've taken.

Venus Wong lives in Hong Kong and covers the city for Travel + Leisure.