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Looking around at the Happy Valley Racecourse, surrounded by high-end residential towers and verdant green hills, it’s hard to imagine that this was once a dank, mosquito-infested wetland where malaria flourished and claimed the lives of many who attempted to turn the area into something more. (That explains the high concentration of cemeteries in the area, in case you were wondering.)
But, persistence pays off, and Happy Valley was, slowly, transformed into what it is today. Since flat land was (and still is) a scarcity on Hong Kong Island, Happy Valley was chosen as the best place to build the now-legendary racetrack, way back in the 1840s. The swamp was drained, the racetrack was built, and a town grew up all around it.
A trip to Happy Valley and its racecourse are one of those quintessential experiences while in Hong Kong, and you can use our guide to find the best places to eat, drink, and stay.
Whether or not you are into horse racing, you’re sure to have a blast at the ‘Happy Wednesdays’ at the Happy Valley Racecourse. General admission is just HK$10.00, and at the Beer Garden you can stand so close to the track that you can feel the earth move as the horses thunder on past. The gates open at 5:15 pm, with the first race at 7:15 pm, so best to go around race time when the excitement fills the air.
Nobody on the grounds takes the races too seriously—it’s primarily a social thing, with a few fun bets placed amongst friends. But the people sitting up in the stands are not there to drink beer and bet their $2 coins. Racing is serious business in Hong Kong; according to the Hong Kong Jockey Club’s annual report for 2017–2018, customers bet an incredible HK $122 billion at the race track. Yes, that’s billion, with a ‘b’.
The best way to get to the racecourse is by enjoying another quintessential Hong Kong experience: riding the tram. One designated tram heads to Happy Valley, and you’ll see the tram’s destination on the sign at the front to know which one. The tram goes all the way around the race track, and you can get off at the terminal to find the Public Entrance gates.
If you’re really interested in learning more about races, pop into the Hong Kong Racing Museum, which is inside the racecourse. Entrance is free, and the museum is open daily from 12 noon to 7 pm, so you could easily have dinner in Happy Valley, and visit the museum before going to the races.
The racecourse itself has a number of restaurants and bars, some of which are open to non members. Adrenaline is a lounge with a fabulous open-air terrace overlooking the racetrack, and The Gallery also has excellent vantage point, but dining with a view of the racetrack doesn’t come cheap, with a price of roughly HK$390.00 and up.
Outside the racecourse you’ll find a lot more restaurants. Located a stone’s throw from the track, Amigo is a long-time fixture in Happy Valley, with some of the best French cuisine in town.
People love the old-school decor and the food at Shanghai Lane, where you can get proper Shanghainese cuisine, with a vegetarian menu available too.
If you’re craving Hong Kong-style dumplings, head to Dim Sum The Art of Chinese Tit Bits (and no, that’s not a typo), which claims to have the best dim sum in Happy Valley. They open for dinner at 6 pm, which makes it a good option for a pre-race meal.
For the hardcore cheapos, grab a cheap and cheerful meal at the Cooked Food Market of the Wong Nai Chung Municipal Services Building. Located a five-minute walk from the Tram Terminus, the food is hot and the beers are cold—what more could you need? Be sure to check out our article ‘Why You Should Try a Cooked Food Centre’ for more information.
Though Happy Valley isn’t the ‘easiest’ place to stay in terms of public transportation, since it doesn’t have an MTR station, it is still a good option as it’s so close to both Wan Chai and Causeway Bay. You could either walk, or take a bus or taxi to these two hot spots to get to the MTR. Staying in the area also gives you an excuse to take the tram more often—ding ding!
Right across from the racetrack is the Dorsett Wanchai, with fabulous views of the horse races, plus a fitness centre.
The Vela Boutique Hotel also has good views of the racecourse, and for a little extra you can book the Racecourse Room with a Balcony.
Getting a bit closer to Causeway Bay is the Best Western Hotel, which might have slightly small rooms, but makes up for it with a wicked rooftop hot tub.
Airbnb is a good option in Happy Valley too, especially at one of the many towers which are directly facing the racetrack.