Guided, English-language itineraries provide a window into the subtleties of a city that is sometimes dismissed as tacky and over-the-top.

In February 2012, Hong Kong natives Stephen Chung and Josie Cheng were working in advertising when they decided to organise tours of local neighbourhoods in their spare time.

They put together free, guided itineraries in English that avoided the usual touristy sights and instead focused on lesser-known streets and villages in and around the city. They called their fledgling, informal venture Secret Tour Hong Kong and their only attempt at publicity was a Facebook page.

Eighteen months later, Chung and Cheng have quit their jobs and are running Secret Tour full-time. They're launching new tours, recruiting additional guides and – gasp -- even charging for their services The one thing that hasn't changed though, is the duo's commitment to providing a window into the subtleties of a city sometimes dismissed as tacky and over-the-top.

"Everything in Hong Kong is so stereotyped: the Peak, Central, Lan Kwai Fong, the Big Buddha and stuff like that," said Chung. "But on this point, we never change. We want to introduce another side of Hong Kong to more people."

Secret Tour's new offerings this month include an architectural walk that highlights the city's Victorian history and a trek through five cemeteries with different religious roots -- from Jewish to Zoroastrian -- in the Happy Valley district. The half-day tours (which usually include a meal) rotate each week, and cost from 500 to 900 Hong Kong dollars per person, depending on the tour. Planned itineraries for August go even further off the beaten path, to the walled villages of the New Territories, the remaining outposts of rural life in this modern city, and to the no man's land at the border between Hong Kong and mainland China.

Hana R Alberts is the Hong Kong Localite for BBC Travel