One of the challenges of living on Hong Kong Island has always been the very steep landscape and this has lead to some innovative solutions. Everything from the Peak Tram of 100 years ago to the more recent “Central to Mid-Levels Escalator Link“, more commonly referred to as “Mid level escalator”.
An escalator might seem like an unlikely thing to have on a list of sightseeing attractions, but this isn’t any escalator but rather a system of escalators and travelators that, when taken together, are often said to be a world record-breaking system.
The system is a set or system of escalators, each one not particularly large, and moving walkways which takes you from the Central business district of Hong Kong all the way up to the “Mid-Levels”, that affluent residential district below situated just below The Peak. Along the way, it passes some interesting areas such as the Hollywood Road antique shop area and the SoHo food and drinking area.
Built in the years before the handover to China it was completed in 1993 at a cost of HK$240 million. Which of course is just the start as the annual running cost just for electricity is over 50 million! Does it really help? Probably not in the expected way, as people walked up anyway and congestion on the roads has not been reduced. But it does make life easier and is certainly an unusual thing to see. The easier transport through the area has probably helped with the revitalization of what were previously rather moribund streets and there is now a busy trendy buzz to many of the areas it connects.
As it is built through an already busy area with narrow streets most of the system has had to be elevated in the air, so this also gives you a chance to have an unusual perspective on some of the buildings and streets. Sometimes you end up looking into a lot of 1st-floor windows! The owners of those windows know this of course and so you’ll see plenty of posters, banners and advertising material in those windows as you go along.
It is often said to have a place in the Guinness Book of World Records as the longest outdoor covered escalator system, which is strange as Ocean Park also claims to hold the same record. Clearly, HK people love long escalators.
As the system consists of only a single line of escalators it provides a one-way only service. The direction changes during the day to cater to commuters going down in the morning, then returning up later in the day. The middle of the day is also “up” so as a tourist you’ll probably be taking it up which is just as well as that is where you get the most benefit. Pavements, bridges and other stationary walkways provide a return path allowing you to move along the same route while going against the flow of the escalator system.
Either traverse the whole system in one go just to watch what it does, or stop along the way to see some interesting sights such as the old Central Police Station and Victoria Prison complex, or take side-trips to see the Medical Museum or browse the antique shops of Hollywood Road.
Watch out for street art as you go along, there are some very interesting works on buildings as you go along.
In this article you will find information that will help :
- Visitors to Hong Kong who might want to plan their visit
- Residents and locals who are curious what more they might find here
In the sections below you will find:
Information on how to get to the system, advice on when it operates and what to visit, guides to attractions and dining along the way, and information on closures and maintenance that may make parts of it unavailable.
- Central to Mid-Levels Escalator Link
- What’s Special
- Getting There
- Times of Operation
- How It Works
- Things To Do
- Guinness World Record
- 2018/2019 Upgrades
Central to Mid-Levels Escalator Link
Operated by the Electrical and Mechanical Services Department (EMSD) of the Hong Kong government, in coordination with the Highways Department and the Transport Department, the Escalator Link and associated walkways is a major mode of transport for people living and working along the route from Central to the Mid-levels.
Located to the western side of the Central business district on Hong Kong Island the link consists of a sequence of escalators, walkways and travelators.
The system starts just outside the old Central Market building which is itself an interesting sight, and continuing up all the way to Conduit Road in the Mid-levels. As the starting point is connected to the walkways which run along the Sheung Wan and Central waterfront the whole system allows you to walk from Admiralty in the east to the Mid-levels with only a few rare points where you need to decent to street level to cross a road, as in this example below where it crosses Elgin Street.
The system joins 9 separate roads, starting from the bottom those are:
- Queen’s Road Central
- Wellington Street
- Lyndhurst Terrace
- Hollywood Road
- Staunton Street
- Elgin Street
- Caine Road
- Mosque Street
- Robinson Road
The first three sections are travelators which takes you to Hollywood Road and a longer piece of walkway which goes along Hollywood Road with some great views and then heads upwards again. It is four escalators up to Staunton Street, and two more to Elgin Street. From Elgin take two more to Cain Road. Then it is three to Mosque Street which is a good place for tourists to end their trip.
If you want continue on to the top then the three escalators that take you to Robinson Road are not available until their upgrade is completed in early 2019. The final part of the link is two escalators which go up to Conduit Road.
The picture below shows the first travelator from Queen’s Road Central.
No one escalator or travelator is particularly long or impressive in itself, but the combined system creates an easy way to navigate through this densely packed and interesting part of Hong Kong. Unless you are a fan of the mechanics of escalators you won’t find the machinery particularly interesting, it is standard stuff you will find in shopping arcades and airports around the world. But the combination of the routes allowing you to walk through these interesting parts of the city, without getting tired from all the uphill sections and steep gradients, makes it a good sightseeing experience.
If you ride the system all the way to the top, simply for the sake of being complete, then don’t be disappointed by the destination. Conduit Road is an expensive residential area, which in Hong Kong means luxury tower blocks, and there is nothing at all to see here at the street level. No shops, no views, not even any decent playgrounds for the kids! And then you’ll just have to walk down again.
So unless completion is paramount stop when you get to Mosque Street where there are cafes and restaurants, and of course the Jamia Mosque itself, a decorative old building painted green with arabesque windows..
During the trip itself, there are plenty of chances to take a break and leave the walkway to pop into shops, visit bars and restaurants, or simply walk a block or so to see the older and historic buildings that line this part of Hong Kong.
Even more than most travel experiences with the Escalator, it is the travelling, and what you see and do along the way, that is much more important than the destination.
By Hwoofuangmei [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0 )], from Wikimedia Commons
When you choose to go sightseeing using the escalator system is best the best approach is going upwards, so that means the “beginning” will be the lowest point, outside the old Central Market building. This is widely signposted and can be reached either from street level or via the waterfront walkway system.
The old Central Market building is mostly disused but is being renovated into a public space, meanwhile the first floor passageway remains open and serves as a convenient connecting point.
When walking from anywhere on the waterfront, such as from the Star Ferry pier, the nearby Hong Kong Observation Wheel or from the IFC Mall, Hong Kong MTR station, Airport Express or anywhere nearby it is easy to simply walk to the escalator.
Get up onto the walkway and walk west until you are beside Exchange Square on your right, and the Hang Seng Bank headquarters building on your left. There are two identical bridges across the road at this point, both leading into the Hang Seng bank, you can take either one but the second or west-most is the more direct route. After walking through the bank building take another bridge across to the rather dilapidated Central market building and walk straight through the small passage there. As you cross the bridge look down to see a good perspective on Hong Kong’s iconic Trams!
Inside the market building passageway sometimes there are art displays here on your right, which are worth a few moments perusal as well as a few old and quirky shops on your left.
The actual escalator system starts when you leave the building and are confronted by a bridge across the road, typically crowded with tourists taking pictures, and the first moving walkway or travelator. The slope here is mild so this first section is a travelator, not an escalator as such.
If you have avoided the walkways and want to start your escalator system journey from street level then head for the outside of the Central market building. Head to the corner of Queen’s Road Central and Queen Victoria Street where there are steps up to the starting point. It is two flights of steps as you are basically going from ground level up to the height of a tall first floor. If the stairs look too challenging then go downhill on Queen Victoria Street to the lower corner of the market where there is an escalator taking you up to the market passageway.
There are points on the system where the escalators exit onto road level and you can mount the system without any steps, but those are much higher up the hill such as at Elgin Street which rather defeats the object of the whole system taking you uphill!
Whichever way you get to the starting point it looks like this!
Times of Operation
The system runs from 6 am until midnight every day, and the escalators and travelators move continuously during that time. An upgraded set of mechanics being installed from 2018 through 2022 will switch to mechanisms that only operate when people are detected on the system, but realistically that will still mean most of the time as the area continues to be busy all those hours.
As the link consists of only a single set of escalators at each point it can’t be both up and down at the same time. Therefore operation is divided into different times of the day for riding upwards or riding downwards.
Here is a a picture on Elgin Street showing the escalator going upwards in the evening.
Whether you are a tourist, a local resident returning home with shopping in the daytime, or a commuter going home after work in the evening, it is the upward part of the system which is most attractive.
Although the total rise of the system is not great at just over 130 meters (it is 443ft from bottom to top) that is still a tiring amount to walk uphill, particularly when you are carrying a load of groceries or tired from a day in the office, or just left the gym!
That makes the help from the escalators attractive later in the day and therefore the system runs uphill from 10:00 am in the morning until midnight. Don’t plan to arrive exactly at 10 on the dot though as some parts may not have completed the switch-over yet, so to be sure of a smooth run 10:20 am is a good time to start.
For the people who live in mid-levels and work in Central the escalator system is a great way to get to work. Fast and convenient it is a free non-polluting way for commuters to get to the office. To provide for people in this situation the system runs downhill in the mornings.
From 6:00 am in the morning until 10:00 am the escalators all go downhill.
That allows people who need to get into a Central office, or perhaps who are connecting with the MTR or other transport within Central, to get there in plenty of time.
For visitors and tourists the downhill ride is probably a bit early, and rather less interesting anyway so the later upward ride makes more sense.
How It Works
The whole system operates using electrically powered escalators, the same types you would find in any shopping mall. But because the escalators have to meet the natural geography of the location the standard off-the-shelf escalators could not be used in every part. Normal indoor escalators have a slope of 30 or 35 degrees, much like a staircase, but the slope of the hillside in Hong Kong meant that a variety of gradients was required. Several of the escalators have a 17-degree incline and these had to be custom manufactured just for this system.
Each escalator has electrically powered drive systems underneath the steps, and these have the extra problem of not being fully enclosed. Although there is a cover along the whole of the walkway this is mostly a sun shelter and to keep off light rain, it is not a full enclosure and so doesn’t stop the heavy rains in Hong Kong, particularly during the Typhoon Season, from getting everything wet.
This exposure to the outside elements as well as the unusually heavy load the system is under meant that the mechanics were not expected to last more than 20 years. That explains why the system is long overdue for a replacement to the mechanical parts, and hence the project to upgrade and replace them between 2018 and 2020.
A good technical backgrounder can be found in this conference paper (PDF) by the EMSD .
The new replacement escalators including additional lighting at the step level as pictured here.
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The newly renovated escalator | The Central–Mid-Levels escalator and walkway system in Hong Kong is the longest outdoor covered escalator system in the world. The system covers half a mile in distance with an elevation of over 440 feet from bottom to top. In the morning, it runs down from 6a-10a, then it switches to go up until midnight. It took 2.5 yrs to build and opened in Oct 1993. After 24 years, it is getting a face-lift. They just finished renovating the two escalators at the very top and have moved down to the three that lead up to our street, the longest and steepest of them all. Once they finish with those, they will continue on with the next phase until all 23 escalators are complete ~2022. #hongkong #travel #centralmidlevelsescalator #centralhk #sohohk #midlevelsescalator #midlevels
The system was initially proposed as a pilot project to see if the success of the elevated walkway system in Hong Kong could be improved by mechanising it. From the 1970s Hong Kong has extended the system of privately owned bridges between neighbouring skyscrapers into a comprehensive set of elevated walkways. This network of walkways allows a pedestrian to walk from Admiralty to Sheung Wan with few needs to touch the street level.
While immensely popular that east-west ground was mostly flat and the idea of extending it uphill seemed limited by people’s willingness to climb steps or gradients. The escalator system was intended to see if this objection could be circumvented by having powered walkways and stairs.
Although the system has been highly successful the expense was large and ongoing maintenance has been substantial. Therefore the idea was not extended to other parts of Hong Kong, but the system that was working has been maintained as it is now a vital part of the daily commute for tens of thousands of people.
Things To Do
The famous writer Ralph Waldo Emerson said that “It’s not the Destination, It’s the journey.”, and while he may have intended the meaning to be taken metaphorically it is very literally true when you think about the Central to Mid-levels Escalator system, for the destination of this system, when travelling upwards as we recommend, is the decidedly boring residential district of the mid-levels.
But the journey, the actual passage through the streets of western Hong Kong, is what makes taking the trip worthwhile. So while the trip is less than a kilometre in length and can be done in 20 minutes if you don’t stop, it is precisely the stopping that makes it worthwhile.
A trip to the escalator system can be the backbone of several hours of sightseeing, dining, shopping and generally absorbing the essence of what makes Hong Kong different from other cities. The blend of Chinese and British cultural influences, with a heavy sprinkling of the global metropolitan, can give you a fantastic Thai restaurant opposite a Seattle style coffee house, across the road from a Taoist temple just steps from Chinese antique shops.
While the phrase “something for everyone” is heavily overused it is true that the route along the escalator system has a great variety of things to do and see. From children’s playgrounds to exotic restaurants, from Chinese temples to British Colonial architecture, from trendy modern food outlets to museums.
- Restaurants and Cafes
- Museums and Attractions
- Shopping and Souvenirs
- People Watching And Photography
Restaurants and Cafes
Leading from Central through the “SOHO” (South of Hollywood Road) area the route is full of places to eat. From the walkway itself you can see a lot of choices and when you step off there are even more within a few moments walk.
Some of the most interesting places to eat are not restaurants as such, but some of the last remaining “Dai Pai Dong” or street food vendors. While the majority of street vendors have been cleared away from Hong Kong’s streets a few of the most popular ones have been given permanent spaces just at the end of Stanley Street. You can see them on your right as you take the first travelator.
Each stall is a permanently stationed stainless steel box, with just enough room for a cooker and some basic bowls and glasses. Beside each one are round wooden tables and plastic stools for the customers. Although the stalls appear very basic they can prepare a wide range of different rice, noodle and bread-based dishes. Yue Hing (裕興咖啡) is one of the most popular for light dishes but Sing Kee (盛記) does full meals and is known for their seafood as well as warming winter dishes served in clay pots.
Chung Kee (忠記) has an English menu on each table which makes things much easier for tourists. Order everything from Chicken wings to Stewed Brisket, a perennial favourite. Prices are low for the area because of course, you are eating in the middle of the street sitting on a stool! But that is all part of the experience and goes with the Hong Kong belief that only the food quality matters, not the location in which you eat it.
The stalls mostly open in mid-morning, operating by 11 am so that they are available for early lunches, and some of them continue to run into the evening and provide dinner for the late working business people of Central.
Moving along up the walkway you will pass many trendy and interesting cafes, they turn over at quite a rapid rate so ones you see on this trip are likely to be replaced with something different, and even more trendy and interesting, by the time you return to Hong Kong for your next visit.
Some of the great choices at the moment include:
- The Cupping Room Central, serving coffee and snacks at 18 Cochrane Street
- Emack & Bolio’s, a branch of the Boston specialist ice-cream maker offering rock’n’roll inspired flavours
- Tai Cheong Bakery (泰昌餅家) just off the side at Lyndhurst Terrace is famed for their egg tarts
- Paisano’s Pizzaria on the corner of Hollywood Road does great takeout pizza, but you’ll pass it on the walkway!
The walkway touches street level for the first time at the corner of Shelly Street and Staunton Street. You’ll find a diverse range of eateries here with many ethnicities represented. Try some including:
- Al Dente for authentic Italian pasta such as their renowned linguine vongole, an economical choice if you take the 3-course set.
- Nepal Restaurant unsurprisingly serves Nepalese cuisine letting you try a range of spiced lamb dishes, flatbread and dishes made with Yak’s butter! This is also a good choice for very late night dining as they open until midnight.
- On the other side of the walkway is Le Souk, managed by the same group as Al Dente it takes you to North Africa this time with a Morocco themed restaurant. Enjoy couscous dishes with eggplants and lamb featuring prominently. A range of Moroccan wines rounds off a meal here.
- American burgers are represented here on the corner by Burger King, one of the few outlets of this chain in Hong Kong.
Moving higher up the walkway there are only a few choices around Cain Road, but that includes the delightfully named Chicken on the Run, an Australian outlet that focuses on delivery and catering out of No 1 Princes Terrace.
Towards the top of the escalator, on Mosque Street another range of choices can be found. Here within a few paces, you can find Koh Thai Restaurant, Mountain Paradise Gourmet Kitchen as well as Pacific Coffee, Indian Village and Jennifer’s Kitchen, a tiny outlet serving sophisticated twists on typical Hong Kong versions of international dishes such as salmon fish with curry sauce.
Museums and Attractions
The path along the escalator is a mix of many different types of architecture and types of building. From colonial British through to modern design with a substantial mix of commercial Chinese styles and a few outliers, mostly for religious buildings.
Just walking and observing will show you a range of things but here are a few specific items to look out for.
Museums and Historic places
- Hong Kong Museum of Medical Sciences – This one is a little further off the track but is well worth the detour, housed in a building which is as much worth seeing as the exhibits it contains you will get a sense of what life was like at the turn of the century in Hong Kong for wealthy Chinese families who lived in such mansions.
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- Tai Kwun / Site of Victoria Prison / Former Central Magistracy – This huge complex is now an art and cultural centre but still maintains the impressive buildings and some of the creepier remnants of the days when it was a prison.
- Dr. Jose P. Rizal / Rednaxela Terrace – Those familiar with the history of the Philipines will recognise the name of Dr. Rizal, a hero of the republic, and will find retracing his steps here interesting. Although only a plaque commemorates his residence now it has the added appeal of being on the uniquely named Rednaxela Terrace. The name makes no sense until you read the letters backwards and realize someone at some point must have made a big mistake, but for the sake of posterity, it has been maintained!
Places of worship
- Man Mo Temple – Situated on Hollywood Road this Taoist temple boats traditional design of both the interior and exterior. Local residents come here to pray regularly, particularly for success in examination results! With great photographic opportunities this is an easy place to visit and see some Chinese flavour, but do look out for the clouds of incense smoke that may make you feel smoked yourself!
- The Hong Kong Swatow Christian Church – Right on the corner of Elgin Street where the escalator system stops and crosses the road at ground level, this Christian church may look more like an office building outside but inside reflects the devotion of the local congregation.
- Ohel Leah Synagogue – The Ohel Leah Synagogue and its next-door neighbors, the Jewish Recreation Club and the Jewish Community Center, have formed the center of Jewish social and religious life in Hong Kong for over a century.
- Jamia Mosque – Jamia Mosque is a mosque at Mid-levels, Hong Kong, China. The mosque is the oldest mosque in Hong Kong. The neighbouring streets Mosque Street and Mosque Junction are named after this mosque.
Shopping and Souvenirs
There is a huge range of shopping experiences available along the route of the escalator.
The whole of Hollywood Road is known for its antique stores and is a great place to window shop, browse or look for a unique souvenir.
Check out #17 Staunton Street which is a real old hole-in-the-wall shop selling traditional ceramics. You won’t find real antiques here, but there are great deals on some fine decorative ceramic jugs, cups, plates and jars.
People Watching and Photography
Though it is hard to call people watching an official attraction, it has to be said that this is a great place to just see people walk about. Tourists are common here, of course, but it is also a where local people commute and do their shopping so all different types can be found here.
The unusual viewpoint both of the escalator itself and of the neighbouring roads make it a great photography location. Take the chance to look down on city streets without having to use a drone!
Visit this Instagram location page to see some of the amazing views that others have already seen.
Guinness World Record
Although previously listed on the Guinness World Record website as the “Longest Outdoor Escalator System”, the Central Mid-Levels link is no longer included as of 2018.
Like much of Hong Kong the escalator system is not at all accessible to those with limited mobility.
Although the idea of a powered walkway, travelator or escalator might seem attractive to those who have difficulty walking in practice it isn’t much use.
For those who rely upon wheels to get around then the whole system is a no-go as many areas demand you to take a few steps from section to section.
People on foot but who might not be able to walk long distances might make use of the system, but only if they have no difficulty getting on and off the moving parts, while possibly being jostled by commuters and other tourists. The few sections which are closed for replacement also mean the assistance of mechanisation can’t be relied upon for the whole journey.
The system is over 20 years old now and the mechanical parts of the 16 escalators and 3 travelators are ageing. Starting in 2018 and moving slowly in phases until 2022 the mechanics will be replaced with new equipment. This project means that at any one time over the next 4 years one or more sections will be closed, but during those times pedestrian traffic will be re-routed along the existing pavements or walkways.
Adequate signage will prevent anybody from losing their way, and typically only 3 powered sections at a time will be inoperable, there is always a pedestrian alternative path to skip the closed escalators.
The new escalators have two new features that the old ones did not, the most obvious is that they include low level lights which make the steps easier to see clearly at night. They also make a very nice image that has attracted the attention of lots of instagramers!
Less obvious is the fact that the escalators now only move when people are using them, during quiet times where then are no pedestrians they will shut down to conserve energy. That of course means that you may approach an escalator and find it stopped, but it will start moving as you get on to it.
Closures and Maintenance
The replacement activity has started at the top of the system and is gradually continuing. Upgrades of the top two escalators, which go from Robinson Road to Conduit Road is complete. For the latter half of 2018 it will be from Robinson Road through to Mosque Street.
Closures for replacement are scheduled as follows:
- Early 2018 through middle 2018 : Robinson Road to Conduit Road, two escalators, Completed.
- Middle 2018 through end 2018 : Mosque Street to Robinson Road, three escalators, In progress at the time of writing (Aug 2018)
- Late 2018 through early 2019 : Elgin Street to Cain Road, two escalators
- Early 2019 through mid 2019 : Wellington Street to Lyndhurst Terrace travelators
- Mid 2019 through early 2020 : Queen’s Road to Wellington Street, and Lyndhurst Terrace to Hollywood Road, two travelators
- Early 2020 through mid 2020: : Hollywood Road to Staunton Street first escalator only
- Mid 2020 to Late 2020 : Hollywood Road to Staunton Street, second escalator only
- Late 2020 to early 2021 : Hollywood Road to Staunton Street, the final top two escalators on this section
- Early 2021 to mid 20201 : Staunton Street to Elgin Street, two escalators
- Mid 2021 to Late 2021 : Cain Road to Mosque Street, top one of three escalators only
- Late 2021 to Early 2022 : Cain Road to Mosque Street, remaining two escalators (the lower and the middle) of this link.
Of course this is just the initial plan and like all engineering or public works the actual schedule may vary depending on how many unexpected things happen along the way. Digging up the road to look for things from more than 20 years ago always has surprises!
To get the most up to date information about the scheduled closures and maintenance you can go to the website of the management company who is organising it.
Do you have any tips or advice about visiting the escalator? Leave a comment below or post on social media with the hashtags #hkfastfacts #centralmidlevelsescalator to get reposted and/or included in this guide!