In the outer reaches of Hong Kong, pockets of old industrial buildings are a reminder of the city's manufacturing heyday, before the region’s factory work relocated to mainland China in the 1980s.

But the run-down, grey blocks did not remain vacant for long. In an effort to find affordable space, cash-poor creative types flocked to former industrial centres like Kwun Tong, Wong Chuk Hang and Fo Tan, turning former meatpacking warehouses and textile storage facilities into low-cost studios, showrooms and boutiques.

Every year since 2003, artists in the Fo Tan neighbourhood have opened their usually private workspaces to the public in a weekend-long festival, called Fotanian Open Studios. The event now spans two weekends (7 January to 8 January and 14 January to 15 January) and counts 80 studios and more than 300 artists as participants. Last year, 15,000 visitors packed into freight elevators and wandered the gritty hallways of the Wah Luen Industrial Centre (15-21 Wong Chuk Yeung Street), the epicentre of the festival's activities.

Visitors can browse freely and can expect to see a wide range of local work, most of which is available for purchase, from sustainable style at fashion workshop Alternatif, to playful animal sculptures made out of discarded wood at Mountain Loft, to the work of female artists at Qiáng.

This year is the last chance to see the contemporary Blue Lotus Gallery in this unique setting, as the gallery is set to relocate from Fo Tan at the end of January. In addition, there are guided tours, workshops, seminars, video screenings and even a modern dance performance. Admission is free.

Hana R Alberts is the Hong Kong Localite for BBC Travel.