Under-the-radar MacDonnell Road makes up for in serene heritage what it lacks in glittery buzz
For decades, Mid-Levels has been the premier residential choice for both native and expatriate Hongkongers and their families seeking a combination of quiet, convenience, and luxury. Standing out among the elite addresses in the area are Old Peak Road, Tregunter Path, Borrett Road — and tranquil MacDonnell Road.
Nestled between the verdant hills and twisting trails of Victoria Peak and the commercial hustle and bustle of Central, and running westward from Garden Road to Kennedy Road, MacDonnell Road is surrounded by a great deal of Hong Kong’s history. Named after Richard Graves MacDonnell, the sixth governor of Hong Kong, the road has always been predominantly residential, and a handful of the city’s few remaining colonial-style homes can still be found here.
One of the most well sought-after addresses in town
MacDonnell Road’s history dates back to the British colony’s earliest days, when the wider area was developed (at MacDonnell’s behest) and included legalised gambling on The Peak. The lots now occupied by elite addresses like Hillview and Belgravia (now simply ) were once owned by opium traders, who built expansive homes to rival nearby Government House. Those were the days when lush foliage surrounded the administrative building, foliage that bled into the nearby Botanical Gardens (at the time simply called the Public Gardens). Just down the hill, Flagstaff House went up in 1846 to serve as the home for the Commander of British Forces in Hong Kong (which it did until 1978), and is the oldest remaining Western colonial building in the territory. It’s now the Museum of Tea Ware inside Hong Kong Park.
The 19th century was industrious, welcoming the city’s first mechanical transportation — the Peak Tram started trundling up the hill in 1888 — and eventually land sales in 1896. Opium traders of the past built expansive, elite homes that dominated the skyline. Those lots are now occupied by addresses honouring that elite tradition, such as Hillview and Belgravia — now simply , a boutique tower of just 20 duplexes offering a new smart-living concept anchored in privacy and luxury, and that brings a true 21st century lifestyle to old Mid-Levels.
The district grew rapidly in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, with Chinese and European traders, churches, and residents pouring in, though The Peak itself was still off limits to Chinese dwellers. The Gothic Revival St John’s Cathedral on Garden Road was first, laying its groundwork in 1847, followed St Joseph’s church, whose (now) teal exterior has been a landmark since 1968, the iconic Helena May women’s club is steps away, and is now one of the area’s preferred private clubs — for all — as well as a stop on the Hong Kong Heritage Trail, alongside, St Paul’s Co-educational College on MacDonnell, the city’s first co-ed school.
The nearby Bontanical Garden
The distinctive colonial architecture of the time started making way for modern buildings in the post-war years, and now MacDonnell Road is dotted with Mid-Levels’ most exclusive residential towers, looming over the city and looking down on its past. And though time, typhoons, wars, and development have altered the landscape, MacDonnell Road remains the peaceful beating heart of Mid-Levels. Nearby clubs, Hong Kong Park, the Zoological and Botanical Gardens, some of the world’s best urban hiking, and Central beckoning just minutes away combine to make MacDonnell Road an ideal crossroads between past and present.