Hong Kong may not be home to world-class institutions such as the Louvre or London's Victoria and Albert, but the exhibitions housed in some of the city's best museums provide a colourful, engaging and often moving look at the city's unique history. While many of Hong Kong's museums have been relegated to the territory of school field trips, there are plenty of treasures for adults, too. For example, a Qing dynasty (1644-1911) scroll on show at the Maritime Museum in Stanley illustrates the fight against pirates who infested the waters around Guangdong in the late 18th century, while anti-aircraft guns and underground tunnels bring Hong Kong's role in the second world war back to life at the sprawling Museum of Coastal Defence in Shau Kei Wan. G.O.D. lifestyle boutique owner Douglas Young Chi-chiu, who has drawn on Hong Kong's rich heritage in the home accessories, clothing and furniture sold in his stores, notes a lack of interest in Hong Kong's museums, which he puts down to their lack of obvious entertainment value. 'There has never really been a culture of visiting such institutions on a regular basis,' he says. 'It is sad because the cultural awareness of the average person in Hong Kong is far lower than someone from another city of similar standing.' But he points out that it's important for Hongkongers to connect with their past. 'Visiting museums gives us a chance to link what we see with aspects of our everyday lives,' he says. 'People should be inspired to create new things for the future of our city.' Along with pirate scrolls and anti-aircraft guns, museum visitors can also contemplate the brutality of traditional foot-binding at the Museum of Medical Sciences and trace four million years of change in Hong Kong at the Museum of History. These establishments lay out the rich cultural, scientific and political historical tapestry of Hong Kong, and you won't find that in Paris or London. Here's a sampling of some of the best: Museum of Coastal Defence 175 Tung Hei Road, Shau Kei Wan, tel: 2569 1500 In the redoubt of the former Lei Yue Mun fort, built by the British army in 1887, are the 11 galleries of this impressive museum. They examine Hong Kong's history of coastal defence from 1368 to 1995, with a focus on the British colonial period and the second world war. Tunnels leading from the belly of the fort are preserved in their original state and lead out to caponiers and a wide ditch surrounding the military stronghold. Anti-aircraft guns, ammunition stores and ruined batteries are features of the museum's outdoor exhibition, spread over its hilltop grounds. Lookout points provide eastern sea views over Devil's Peak. A must-see exhibition, 'Escape from Hong Kong: The Road to Waichow', brings together letters, diaries, photographs and other material to tell the story of a band of British and Chinese officers who escaped from Hong Kong on Christmas Day, 1941 - hours after the territory capitulated to Japan. Museum of History 100 Chatham Road South, Tsim Sha Tsui, tel: 2724 9042 This museum's permanent exhibition, 'The Hong Kong Story', begins four million years ago. The 7,000-square-metre, eight-gallery show takes visitors from the Devonian period - when Hong Kong was an uninhabited flood plain - through Neolithic times, across centuries of dynastic rule, over the opium wars and the cession of the island to the British, up to Hong Kong's return to China in 1997. Among the 3,700 multimedia exhibits are a series of rare photographs - some blown up to form huge graphic panels - that provide a human glimpse of the city's development over time. Other highlights include a model forest and preserved specimens of Hong Kong's once-vibrant wildlife in the Natural Environment gallery, a dynamic reconstruction of Cheung Chau's Tai Ping Qing Jiao festivities in the Folk Culture gallery, and a happily kitsch tourist postcard collection from the 1960s in the Modern Metropolis gallery. Museum of Medical Sciences 2 Caine Lane, Mid-Levels, tel: 2549 5123 If you've ever wondered how surgery was performed before anaesthesia, what an X-ray of a bound foot looks like, or how the British infantry disposed of corpses during the 1894 outbreak of the bubonic plague in Hong Kong, you'll find answers in the cosy galleries of this red-brick Edwardian house. Built in 1906 as an institute of pathology, to answer questions about the bacterial origin of the plague, the museum was the first of its kind to showcase the parallel histories of Chinese and Western medicine. Other exhibition highlights include a preserved autopsy room in the basement gallery - complete with rusty bone saw and porcelain dissection table - a model of a dissected plague-carrying rat and a medicinal herb garden behind the old stables. Maritime Museum G/F, Murray House, Stanley Plaza, Stanley, tel: 2813 2322 Funded by Hong Kong's shipping community, this museum traces the evolution of the region's seafaring industries - trade, travel, and war - from 111BC to today. The permanent exhibition is divided into ancient and modern galleries. The aforementioned Qing dynasty scroll boasts a tableau of the famed 'siege of Lantau' against pirate queen Zheng Yi Sao and her right-hand man, Zheng Bao. Other highlights include a large, detailed model of the Chinese junk Keying, which made the first recorded voyage under sail from Hong Kong to England in 1846-1848, and the original logbook of the British East India Company ship Belvedere, which traded with China between 1795 and 1807. In the modern gallery, simulation games abound, and black-and-white photographs show the early days of the Victoria Harbour docks. University Museum and Art Gallery 94 Bonham Road, Pok Fu Lam, tel: 2241 5500 Established in 1932 as a library for Chinese-language books, the Fung Ping Shan wing of the University Museum and Art Gallery is the city's oldest museum. Walking into the museum feels like walking into an old house, and the gilt wood carvings, embroidery panels and lattice windows that make up the interior are just as captivating as the permanent collection of artworks, photographs and ceramics that are on display daily and free of charge. Among the more impressive exhibits is a Majiayao-culture painted pottery bowl, dated 3000BC. Another gallery hosts a retrospective of early Hong Kong transport, a collection of priceless photographs that show how people travelled in the early decades of the colony. The backdrop of each shot is an unrecognisable city, closer in design to historic Vienna than to modern Hong Kong. Three scale models near the museum entrance show the staggering evolution of Central and Western District from 1930 through 1970 to the present day.