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The Las Vegas of the East? Not anymore. These days, it’s more accurate to call Las Vegas America’s Macau than it is to do the other way around. After all, it’s been some time since the former sleepy fishing port and Portuguese colony of Macau surpassed Las Vegas as the world leader in gambling revenue and anybody with an interest in gambling will no longer ask, Where is Macau? This tiny city-state and Special Administrative region of China (SAR) is much more than just flashy casinos, there are a lot of things to do and places to visit in Macau and its heritage rich past is a melting pot between East and West. It is also a great extension to a day or weekend getaway from Hong Kong. If you are planning to get away to Macau for a day only, I have written a complete one day itinerary to Macau here.
A guide to Macau for non-gamblers will no doubt place emphasis on the Chinese and Portuguese culture, intertwined to create one of the most fascinating places in Asia. Let me burst the myths about the country being only about poker and baccarat by sharing a complete Macau travel guide including the best activities and hidden parts and without including any of the casinos, for I have been to Macau twice and have never spent a dollar in the tables or the slot machines. Lastly, a city guide to Macau must also touch on the food, for the Portuguese influence imprinted some great flavours on Chinese dishes. Here is my complete guide on where to eat in Macau and where to find it. There are so many things to do in Macau that you could easily spend a week there and never be bored. Let me show you what to do and where to go in Macau.
- Where is Macau
- The fascinating history of Macau
- Guide to Macau Travel – Tips for planning and organising your Macau sightseeing
- Things to do and see in peninsular Macau
- 1. Casa Garden
- 2. Church of St Dominic (also St Domingo’s Church)
- 3. Street of happiness
- 4. Lou Kau Mansion
- 5. Guia Fortress, Guia Chapel and Guia Lighthouse
- 6. Macau design center
- 7. St Lazarus Church district
- 8. Mercearia Portuguesa
- 9. Mandarin’s House
- 10. Tai Fung Tong Art House
- 11. Macau Tower
- 12. Tap Seac Square and Gallery
- 13. Na Tcha Temple
- 14. St Joseph’s Seminary and church
- 15. The Ruins of St. Paul
- 16. Fortaleza do Monte
- 17. Leal Senado Square and building
- 18. The Holy House of Mercy
- 19. A Ma Temple
- 20. Kun Iam Temple
- 21. Kun Iam Statue
- 22. St. Lawrence Church
- 23. Macau Fisherman’s Wharf
- 24. Macau Wine Museum
- 25. Grand Prix Museum
- Things to do and see in Taipa, Cotai and Coloane
- Where to eat in Macau, Cotai and Taipa
- Where to drink and party in Macau
- Best Luxury hotels in Macau
- Best Luxury hotels in Cotai
- Guide to Macau Travel – How to get to Macau and move around
- Macau Travel Guide – Other things to know
Where is Macau
As a Special Administrative Region of China, Macau is strategically located on the southeast coast of China, across the channel from Hong Kong. The country is made of two main islands plus several other smaller ones, connected to Hong Kong via junkets and ferries, linked between them by bridges and accessible from China via border controls. Macau also has an international airport that opened in 1995 from which you can fly to several international destinations. For more insightful facts about Macau, check this article out.
The fascinating history of Macau
More than four times the size of Las Vegas in terms of gambling revenue, this “special administrative region” of China has boomed in size and popularity since the first American casino operator landed in 2004, after the monopoly in gambling ended in 2002.
Today, over 30 million visitors come to Macau every year, 70% of which do so from mainland China and head for the gambling tables, the slot machines and to play baccarat, the most popular game, in the more than 25 gambling facilities.
The first inhabitants of Macau were some 50,000 Chinese seeking refuge from the Mongol invaders in the 13th Century. During those times, the oldest temple in Macau, and the region, was erected to the Goddess of Mercy and later came the A-Ma Temple, one of the most relevant sights today. But the area did not properly develop until the Portuguese arrived in the 16th century. After several decades of disagreements and settlements with the Chinese Ming Dynasty, the Portuguese were finally allowed to settle in Macau and pay rent to use the area as a trading post, which they did until 1863, but Macau remained under Chinese government administered by Portugal. The city flourished even further when the Spanish and Portuguese crowns merged at the end of the 16th century and until 1640. King Philip II allowed for trade between Portuguese Macau, Malacca and Goa to continue to expand via Manila, then a Spanish colony. Macau was also at the center of the monopoly of trade between China and Japan, carrying silver and silks between the two and protecting the vessels from piracy.
The Portuguese also brought Christianity with them as Macau was seen as a great entry port into the vast population of Japan and China. The Cathedral of St. Paul, still an emblematic site in Macau, was one of the first to be built by the Jesuit priests at the end of the 16th century.
In 1887, Portugal finally achieved full control of Macau and declared its independence from the Chinese, after two decades of fighting and treaty signing. By that time, Macau had also become a major trading port for slaves from China sent off to South America.
When WWII arrived in Asia, Macau first became a neutral port, then a de facto protectorate of Japan which occupied the country for two years until 1943. The US attacked Macau via aerial bombings in 1945 when they suspected the sale of fuel to Japan. After the Portuguese complaints, the US paid a fine to the government.
With the arrival of communism in China in 1949, Macau remained independent as Beijing looked for a better time to resolve the situation there and in Hong Kong. For the 50s and 60s decades, Macau was also referred to as the Far East Checkpoint Charlie, named after the Berlin Wall checkpoint between east and west Berlin. The famous Macau Grand Prix started in 1959 first as a scavenger hunt through the city.
Gambling arrived only three years later when the Sociedade de Turismo e Diversões de Macau (STDM), still in existence today, a business association between Hong Kong and Macau businessmen, got the monopoly rights to gambling in the city. Gambling was first legal in Macau in 1847, when the country had to seek other sources of revenue with the arrival of the British to Hong Kong and the development of their deeper port as a more advantageous trading route. But was later made illegal only to be legalised again a century later.
Macau was recognised as a Chinese territory under Portuguese administration in 1980 after the Portuguese proposal to return the territory to China, but that did not happen officially until 1999, two years after Hong Kong was handed over as the Chinese did not deem the timing right.
Today, Macau is a Special Administrative Region of China, that is, an independent territory with full autonomy except for on matters of foreign policy and defense, for which it relies on China.
Guide to Macau Travel – Tips for planning and organising your Macau sightseeing
If you ever wondered what to do in Macau, this is the right place to come. With such a rich heritage and past, this SAR of China offers a lot of things to do. You can make it the perfect day trip from Hong Kong if you are visiting the larger neighbour for work, but I believe there are so many things to do in Macau that it deserves its own trip of at least three days.
The most important thing to know when organising your sightseeing days in Macau is that the country is divided into two main parts, the Peninsula of Macau, in the mainland, and the island of Taipa and Coloane, which are now joint by the Cotai strip, made of landfill. Although most of the historical parts of Macau are in peninsular Macau, Taipa and Coloane are home to lots of other interesting places to see so you should also include them in your itinerary.
I have split the list of things to do in Macau between Macau, Taipa, Cotai and Coloane to aid in the planning. You could be jumping up and down between the two by crossing the bridge, but you would be wasting a lot of time so it is best to organise the days per area.
Things to do and see in peninsular Macau
Exploring Macau means following in the footsteps of the first Portuguese and Chinese inhabitants which came to the area in the 17th and 18th century through the many buildings and structures in the Historic Centre of Macau, a UNESCO-listed area with 22 buildings and spaces under the 2005 nomination. I will highlight the best ones in that list and also include a few others that are worth stopping by.
1. Casa Garden
UNESCO-listed Casa Garden is one of the oldest buildings in Macau and was built in 1770. It was first the residence of a wealthy Portuguese merchant who then rented it to the British East India Company when it was based in Macau in the early 19th century and today houses the Oriental Foundation which organises regular exhibitions. Check out their beautiful gardens. The building is closed on weekends.
2. Church of St Dominic (also St Domingo’s Church)
Right in the middle of Macau’s historic centre, this yellow baroque church with white ornaments and mouldings was founded by three Spanish Dominican priests from Acapulco, Mexico, in the 16th century, and was one of the first two to be built, together with the famous St. Paul’s Cathedral. The current structure dates from the 17th century. This is where, in 1822, the first Portuguese newspaper (The China Bee) was published on Chinese soil. The former bell tower now houses a small Museum of Sacred Art with 300 artefacts on exhibition. The church can also be thanked for the expansion of the worshipping of Our Lady of Fatima to Malacca and East Timor. The building is also part of the UNESCO list for Macau.
3. Street of happiness
Not far west of Largo do Senado is Rua da Felicidade (Street of Happiness). This area with shuttered terraces was once Macau’s main red-light district. Several scenes from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom were shot here. The government has plans to repaint the famous red shutters in the original colour – green. But whether it’s wise to change the distinguishing feature of such an iconic landmark remains to be seen.
4. Lou Kau Mansion
Built around 1889, this UNESCO-listed Xiguan-Chinese mansion belonged to a successful merchant of the time, Lou Wa Sio known as Lou Kau, who also owned other buildings in the city and was the wealthiest person in Macau at one point thanks to being the first one to be awarded a gambling franchise. Lou Kau died at the age of 59 when he killed himself because of financial difficulties and the building is soaked in the stories of a saga of rises and falls and a fascinating past. The mansion and Lou’s story is said to be a fine example of a Chinese saying, “fu wu san dai”, “wealth does not last longer than three generations” as his son inherited the company and tried to continue in his father’s footsteps by expanding in gambling and the opium trade, two popular vices of China in the 20th century. But his son, Lou’s grandson, in turn, lost it all.
The building design itself is unique and one of the most interesting in Macau. Built in grey brick and wooden carvings and details, Lou Kau Mansion is made of three halls and two courtyards that were typical of that architectural style. The rooms further inside more protected from the outside view, were reserved for the elderly. Although the house is mostly Chinese in its design, it also incorporates elements of Western and Latin American influence. Opened every day but Monday from 10am to 6pm. Cultural performances and events are regularly scheduled at the mansion.
5. Guia Fortress, Guia Chapel and Guia Lighthouse
UNESCO-listed Guia Fortress was key in fending off invading Dutch armies at the beginning of the 17th century and was in use until 1976 when the Portuguese retreated from Macau and the fortress was left as is. Today, the point is the highest on the island and so it is a great viewpoint from where to have panoramic views of everything below. The complex is made of the fortress, the chapel and the lighthouse, not open to the public and built much later, in 1865, and is the oldest modern lighthouse in China. The chapel was founded by Claris nuns, dates from 1622 and is almost intact. The frescoes inside the chapel were discovered in 1998 and are a perfect example of Macau’s rich and intertwined past, with blended motifs of Western and Chinese origin shown together. Opened everyday from 9am to 6pm. The chapel opens from 10am to 5pm. There is a Tourism information center within the complex.
6. Macau design center
Source: Macau Design Centre
This former factory is the city’s first and most innovative “multi-functional design center”. The Macau Design Center opened in 2014 in a very large space that houses retail points for local designers, a cafe, a bookstore, a reading area and a performance area. For freelancers and digital nomads in Macau, there is also space available for rent and several venues for events. It is hip and modern, something of a breath of fresh air to the tandem of casinos and heritage buildings. There are ongoing exhibitions, musical events and all sorts of things going on to promote local artists, giving them a space to showcase their work, interact and grow. The rooftop garden is particularly interesting and channels the idea of a thriving collaborative space.
7. St Lazarus Church district
The area around St. lazarus Church is as pretty as it is authentic. The first building in its location was created to serve lepers. Today the area is filled with colourful colonial buildings and quaint cobbled streets with plenty of hip artsy shops and events happening. The district is very near the main sights in Macau yet usually less crowded.
8. Mercearia Portuguesa
The charming Portuguese corner shop opened by filmmaker Ivo Ferreira and actress Margarida Vila-Nova has a small but quaint selection of quality products and specialty foods including honey, chinaware, wooden toys and jewellery from Portugal with vintage packaging and pretty designs. The shop is a good example of what the St. Lazarus District has to offer.
9. Mandarin’s House
Built around 1869, Mandarin’s House, with over 60 rooms, was the family home of Zheng Guanying, an influential literary figure who influenced emperors like Dr Sun Yat Sen and Chairman Mao who cited his works as an inspiration. The compound is the largest in the UNESCO-listed Historical Center of Macau, and also the largest private residence in the country, and it measures 4,000 square meters of courtyards, master and servant rooms, a garden and several halls. The house has a variety of “moon gates”, one of which was re-erected in recent times to mimic the one that is believed to have been there before and removed in 1950. The building is located next to one of the first Portuguese piazzas in Macau, for an extra dose of multiculturality. Open daily 10 to 6pm and closed on Wednesdays. Tours are conducted in Cantonese in the weekends. As the government set to renovate and restore the building, the house’s website is a good resource and also produced this useful leaflet.
10. Tai Fung Tong Art House
This is an exhibition center that was built by a philanthropist almost a century ago. The building is unique in its design and incorporates elements of European architecture. Open daily from 2pm to 6pm.
11. Macau Tower
At 338m, Macau Tower is the highest point in Macau. Located at the southern point of Peninsular Macau, it offers sweeping views across the sea. There is an observation deck on the 58th and 61st floors and other options for the real thrill seeker, like bungy jumping off the highest jump in the world or sky walking on the outer facade. For the real adrenaline junkies there is also a tower climb which climbs right up to the highest point of the tower through the vertical ladders. The tower also has a host of dining venues including a 360 restaurant.
12. Tap Seac Square and Gallery
This beautiful square is surrounded by some of the most important buildings of the 1920s including Macau’s Cultural Affairs Bureau, Tap Seac Health Centre, Central Library, Library for Macau’s Historical Archives and Tap Seac Gallery, which opened as a private residence in the typical neo-classic European style.
13. Na Tcha Temple
UNESCO-listed Na Cha Temple is usually mentioned as the best symbol of the Sino-Portuguese past of Macau. The small temple measuring only eight by four meters, sits right next to the famous and econic Ruins of the Church of St Paul. The temple was built around 1888 to the child god of war to call for the end of the plague that threatened Macau at the time. The temple is open from 8am to 6pm.
14. St Joseph’s Seminary and church
Another UNESCO-listed site, St Joseph’s is further from the other historical buildings in the center of Macau and so it is usually less popular. The church was consecrated in 1758 as part of the Jesuit seminary and was designed in the typical white-and-yellow facade style. Together with the Ruins of St. Paul, this is the only other European baroque building in China.
15. The Ruins of St. Paul
The Ruins of St. Paul is the most emblematic site of Macau and one that anyone will recognise. The ruins are all that remains of the former Church of Mater Dei and St. Paul’s College built between 1602 and 1640 and destroyed by fire in 1835. The facade is located on a small hill up 68 steps. UNESCO declared it a World Heritage Site in 2005 and it is the most important building in the 22 included in UNESCO’s nomination.
The facade is beautiful even in ruin, and is made of five levels topped with a triangular pediment which symbolises divine ascension. On it, there are motifs and representations from the bible, from mythological scenes as well as Chinese characters and lions, Japanese chrysanthemums, and Portuguese nautical motifs. The College of St. Paul was the first western university in the Far East and had a complete curriculum ready to prepare the missionaries to do work in Japan and the rest of China. You can visit the Sacred Art Museum and Crypt as well as admire the facade from the steps below. Open from 9am to 6pm.
16. Fortaleza do Monte
Also known as Mount Fortress, this was another crucial structure to hold off an invasion from the Dutch in 1622 and is also included in UNESCO’s list. The fortress was equipped with enough canons, ammunition, and arsenal sufficient to hold a siege on the city lasting up to two years. The fortress inspired the Chinese to build similar structures to defend their long coast. The area was demilitarised in 1965 and the government built the Macau Museum on site in 1998. The museum is an interesting stop in your visit. The Fortress is right above the Ruins of St. Paul so a nice way to arrive at the ruins is to do so while wandering down from the fortress. The fortress is open 7am to 7pm and the Museum from 10am to 6pm.
17. Leal Senado Square and building
This is the most important centre of Historical Macau and of course part of Macau’s UNESCO listing. The square receives its name from the Leal Senado building presiding over it. The Leal Senado was the municipal chamber and was named as such due to the City’s Portuguese nickname bestowed by King John IV in 1654 for its loyalty to the crown during Spanish occupation. The square was remodelled in 1990s and paved with a wave-patterned mosaic of colored stones that is so typical of Macau. The area is filled with shops, restaurants and people at all times of the day and night. During Christmas, the area is decorated like any other European city. Climb up to the second floor of the Senado building for great views of the square below. The building is open from 9am to 9pm.
18. The Holy House of Mercy
A well established institution located on Senado Square and founded by the first Bishop of Macau in 1559 to tend to the orphans and widows of the sailors who died at sea. The facade is grand and beautiful and painted in white instead of the common pale yellow of other buildings.
19. A Ma Temple
This Taoist temple was built in 1488, well before Macau was created, by seafarers who dedicated it to Matsu, their goddess. The name Macau is said to originate from this temple when the Portuguese arrived, all the locals could repeat was “A-Ma-Gau” (bay of goddess A-Ma).
The temple has expanded throughout the centuries and is today a varied and rich mixture of Chinese architectural styles and religious motifs. As the temple grew, more deities were added from the various Chinese beliefs, from Confucianism, Taoism, Buddhism and other traditions. The temple is always crowded with people, worshippers and tourists alike, who can be seen lighting incense. As the temple is located on Barra Hill, it perfectly integrates with the lush and green surroundings. The temple is open from 7am to 6pm, go early to avoid the crowds.
20. Kun Iam Temple
Macau’s oldest temple was founded in the 13th century, but the present structures date back to 1627. The Buddhist temple hosts the likeness of Kun Iam, the Goddess of Mercy and it is emblematic because it was the place where the first Sino-American treaty was signed, in its terraced gardens, in 1844. The temple is not to be confused with the statue of the same goddess, located elsewhere. As this is further away from the main tourist centers, the temple is much less crowded than A-Ma.
21. Kun Iam Statue
The Virgin Mary–like 20 meter statue emerges in bronze casting from a 7 meter lotus located on a man-made island in the outer harbour. The structure sits atop an ecumenical center and it was designed as a symbol of friendship and respect among all peoples.
22. St. Lawrence Church
Built by the Jesuits in the mid-16th century, this is one of the three oldest churches in Macau. The church used to be called Feng Shun Tang, the Hall of the Soothing Winds, for the families of Portuguese seafarers who used to come here to pray and wait for their loved ones to return from the sea.
23. Macau Fisherman’s Wharf
This wharf is the largest entertainment complex right off the ferry terminal in Macau Peninsula. It has over 150 stores and restaurants in several buildings styled like Cape Town’s waterfront. If you need a bit of an escape from the rest of the historical buildings but do not fancy the casinos, this might be a good place to meet halfway.
24. Macau Wine Museum
Divided into a Historical information centre, a Wine Cellar, a Museum and an Exhibition centre, the Macau Wine Museum Includes displays of Portuguese wines and a wine tasting stations. Over 1,100 types of wine are on display at the only museum in Macau where beverages are allowed. About 90% of these are of Portuguese origin, including the oldest bottle – the Porto 1815. For MOP$15, you can have a tasting of selected bottles. There is also a rundown of Portugal’s various wine regions, and a (rather bland) display of wine racks, barrels, presses and tools. Closed from 1st July 17 for renovation until further notice so do check that it is still open before going.
25. Grand Prix Museum
The Macau Grand Prix Museum is right next to the wine Museum and is a great motor racing museum. It opened in 1993 to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Macau Grand Prix, which takes place every year in November, and showcases a number of items from the many races. Closed from 1st July 17 for renovation until further notice so do check that it is still open before going.
Things to do and see in Taipa, Cotai and Coloane
This side of Macau is where many of the large and flash hotels and casino complexes are. Taipa and Coloane used to be two separate islands with rich heritage, which were united through landfill in the middle, what is today called Cotai strip. It mimics the Las Vegas Strip, complete with similar hotels and architecture, such as large fountains, the Venetian, an Eiffel Tower and other adult-entertainment options.
Although I am not much of a gambler and this is a non-gambling tourist visitor to Macau, there are parts of the casino complexes that are worth a visit, because they are a fascinating insight into the world of Chinese gambling and because some of them are fun.
1. The Venetian
The first casino to open on the Cotai Strip in Macau was the Venetian. If you have been to Las Vegas, you will recognise the same architecture and design. The complex is filled with restaurants and shops, beyond the large casino gambling area. At The Venetian you can marvel at the large fountains and take a gondola along the canals, complete with a gondolier. Fun if you are in the right frame of mind.
2. The Wynn’s Tree of Prosperity
Another one of the first casinos to open in Macau is the Wynn. It is as flash as all the rest but it has an interesting Tree of Prosperity sculpture that is gold plated.
3. Hác Sá Beach
Hác Sá (Black Sand) is Macau’s most popular beach. The sand is blackish in colour which makes it less appealing, but it is actually quite clean. Summer months see lifeguards on duty and you can rent parasols for MOP$60 a day with a deposit. Here is my guide to the best beaches in Macau, if that’s how you’d like to spend a day of travel.
4. The House of Dancing Water Show
This incredible show in The City of Dreams was created by Cirque du Soleil extraordinaire Franco Dragone and takes place on a stage that goes from dry to completely underwater, with high dives, acrobats, swimming, gymnastics and theater. It’s stunning and a must-see when you are in Macau. Tickets for the show can also be bought in conjunction with many offers and promotions, including stays at luxury hotels in The City of Dreams like The Hyatt for a marginal amount (sometimes the price of the tickets is more than the price of the hotel night alone) so do check their website out.
5. Taipa Village
If you are in Macau, take half a day to visit this picturesque part of the city. Taipa Village is not a man-made entertainment hub but rather a tourism concept aimed at promoting visitors to this heritage part of the island that is otherwise only associated with Cotai’s gambling reputation. Taipa used to be a fishing hamlet made of narrow alleyways in cobblestone, pale coloured buildings and pretty temples. There are lots of dining options as well as shops and historical buildings. Do not miss Pak Tai Temple and the Taipa Houses Museum (see next point). Taipa Village is a place to simply come and have a stroll in a quaint area. Look out for street art, inviting cafes and galleries. Check out Cunha Street for Macanese favourites like egg tarts or pork chop buns. You can also rent a bike to explore the area. Weekends will see a flea market.
6. Taipa Houses-Museum
The green pastel-coloured villas from the 1920s were the summer residences of wealthy locals and are considered living museums showcasing the famous trades of the time. The area used to be surrounded by a swamp.
7. Cheoc Van Swimming Pool
One of Macau’s best-kept secrets. With an entrance fee of only 20MOP, Cheoc Van swimming pool is a large public pool near the sea. If you are in Macau, take half a day to visit this picturesque part of the city. Taipa Village is not a man-made entertainment hub but rather a tourism concept aimed at promoting visitors to this heritage part of the island that is otherwise only associated with Cotai’s gambling reputation. Taipa used to be a fishing hamlet made of narrow alleyways in cobblestone, pale coloured buildings and pretty temples. There are lots of dining options as well as shops and historical buildings. Do not miss Pak Tai Temple and the Taipa Houses Museum (see next point). Taipa Village is a place to simply come and have a stroll in a quaint area. Look out for street art, inviting cafes and galleries. Check out Cunha Street for Macanese favourites like egg tarts or pork chop buns. You can also rent a bike to explore the area. Weekends will see a flea market.
Where to eat in Macau, Cotai and Taipa
1. The Eight
Source: The Eight
2. Robuchon au Dome
Source: Robuchon au Dome
Robuchon au dome is another 3 Michelin starred restaurant (the second one in the Lisboa Hotel) of famous celebrity chef Joel Robuchon who has the most Michelin stars in the world and outposts in other Asian cities like Singapore or Hong Kong. Expect the same caliber as in his other venues, and French cuisine with refined elements in an utterly flash environment so characteristic of the Lisboa Hotel. Read my full review here.
3. Lung Wah Tea House
This is an interesting vintage Cantonese teahouse which dates from 1963. You can sit by the window and watch people walk by or observe the tea market where the teahouse buys its tea every day. Menu is not in English.
4. A Lorcha
‘The Sailboat’, A Lorcha is one of the most popular places to stop at if you go to A-Ma Temple as it is nearby. Expect usual Portuguese and Macanese fare in generous portions and in a quaint family-style room with arched columns. I very much enjoyed eating here and sampling the local dishes, it all felt very authentic and genuine, rustic even.
5. Tai Lei Loi Kei
Source: Tai Lei Loi Kei
South China’s most famous pork-chop bun is made here, at Tai Lei Loi, in Taipa Village, at a shop founded in 1960 as a street stall by the mother of the current owner. Slices of pork with crunchy buns are served daily from 2pm.
6. Guincho a galera
The international branch of Portugal’s famous Fortaleza do Guincho, Guincho a Galera is a fine dining Portuguese restaurant inside the Lisboa Hotel that looks and feels like being in a wooden boat of yesteryear. Expect fine china, golden laced plates, thick armchairs and old world classic elegance. You might want to try it for lunch when the set menus come at a more affordable price.
Cozy and blue and yellow-tiled, this restaurant in Taipa Village embodies Portugal in Macau. The chef is entertaining too and the menu is more sophisticated than other venues. The building is tall and narrow and the tables are spread across the various levels. Antonio is a great place for Portuguese food in Macau so if you only try one, let it be this one and call ahead to order the advance booking special menu that is full of signature dishes and indulge in the crepe suzette, which he will flambe tableside. I very much recommend this restaurant.
8. La Paloma
Source: La Paloma
9. Albergue 1601
10. Cheong Kei Noodle House
Even before the Michelin Guide got wave of this local hawker institution, Cheong Kei was already luring queues at peak times. Specialties include noodles with shrimp roe which are made in the store’s little factory nearby.
Fernando is simple and the best option if you venture out to Hac Sa Beach and want a free-flowing, al fresco option. Everything is very warm and cozy, as if you were visiting a friend. This is a walk in restaurant only and credit cards are not accepted. As getting back to the city at night is hard, go during the day.
12. Lord Stow’s Bakery
The first egg tart was invented at Lord Stow’s Bakery in Coloane and that continues to be the original outlet. However, the brand has opened several other outposts, including some outside of Macau. Though the English baker Andrew Stow passed away, his cafe across from the original Bakery, continues to serve the famous pastéis de nata that are so famous of Portugal.
13. Margaret’s Café e Nata
Opened by Stow’s ex-wife, Margaret’s Cafe e Nata offers more sophisticated options as well as the regular ones. The custard filling here is said to be creamier, runnier and sweeter and its location behind the Grand Lisboa casino is a convenient stop in the crazy neon-filled area. Take one of the outdoor tables if available but expect queues.
14. Koi Kei Bakery
The third contender to the egg tart battle is Koi Kei Bakery, a humble nut stall turned largest confectionary chain in Macau. The variety here is the name of the game with over 300 types of products on sale, but you can also try the regular cookies or egg tarts if you want something more popular. If you want to try something more exotic, this is the place, sweet or sour or both. And you can also taste before purchasing.
Where to drink and party in Macau
1. The Macallan Whisky Bar & Lounge
This is Macallan’s signature bar and lounge and has the largest Macallan collection in Asia. You can expect the usual: big leather sofas, big chunks of ice, big choice and even a fireplace. This is a sort of gentlemen’s club in countryside England, only that you are still in Macau. Have a look at the first whisky in the world which is on display.
2. China Rouge
Located at the Galaxy, China Rouge is a red Shanghai lounge that takes you back to the time of the opium trade. It combines glamorous velvety interiors inspired by Art Deco and cutting-edge art pieces with live performances.
3. Macau Soul
An elegant and relaxing wine lounge featuring fine art and great music in the heart of historic Macau Senado Square where you can sample tasty street food.
Best Luxury hotels in Macau
Macau has more luxury hotels that any other place. The choice is staggering and pretty much every international chain plus all the big names in the gambling industry have a luxury outpost in Macau. I have separated the options by area so if you are mostly after the culture, history, food and heritage of Macau, you are better off staying on the Macau side. These are the best luxury hotels in Macau.
For a more in-depth look at where to stay in Macau read this article.
Here is a list of my recommendations for the best luxury hotels in Old Macau to start you off:
|Hotel||Luxury level||Price||Service||Location||TripAdvisor rating||See rates/ availability|
|Sofitel Macau||Medium||Affordable||High||High||4.5||HotelsCombined | Agoda | TripAdvisor|
|Mandarin Oriental||High||High||High||Medium||4.5||HotelsCombined | Agoda | TripAdvisor|
|Wynn Macau||High||High||High||Medium||4.5||HotelsCombined | Agoda | TripAdvisor|
|The Grand Lisboa||Medium||High||Medium||High||4||HotelsCombined | Agoda | TripAdvisor|
|Pousada de Sao Tiago||Medium||Affordable||High||Medium||4||HotelsCombined | Agoda | TripAdvisor|
1. Grand Lisboa Hotel
This is a very peculiar hotel with a long standing history, the most incredible range of dining options, with no less than two three-Michelin starred restaurants, and a terribly ugly exterior. This is the only hotel located bang in the middle of everything in the historical center of Macau. The golden building is shaped like a bunch of flowers and the rooms all have Turkish baths and hot tubs. The design is rather full on tacky as is the casino area, always packed with Chinese gamblers preoccupied with Baccarat. An experience for sure.
2. Pousada de Sao Tiago
With only 12 rooms, this is the only boutique and heritage hotel in Macau, unless you consider the first casino complexes as part of the country’s history. Pousada Sao Tiago was built in a former fort and the original chapel is still there. The rooms have lovely views and B&O TV sets. They are modern with touches of beautiful Portuguese colonial design.
3. Sofitel Macau
4. Wynn Macau
This was one of the first casino properties to open in Macau and it is as ostentatious as it gets. Some of its sculptures and art installations like the Tree of Prosperity, the Dragon of Fortune and the Moon Jellyfish are worth a visit, as is the Performance Lake in front of the hotel which regularly showcases a water and lights performance until the late night, a show which can be seen from some of the rooms. The over 1,000 rooms are modern and resemble other hotels on the strip but the Wynn also has a host of art pieces from crystal chandeliers to cloisonne camels. For food, try the Golden Flower with two Michelin Stars.
5. Mandarin Oriental Macau
One of the few luxury hotels not attached to a casino, the Mandarin Oriental Macau stays true to the brand’s classic elegance and superior professional service. There is only one restaurant here too, so simplicity has a name, especially in comparison with the over the top benchmark set at other hotels. Guests here are usually coming to relax, enjoy the spa and have a quieter time.
Best Luxury hotels in Cotai
If you are coming for the entertainment, fun, gambling and shopping, Cotai is your address. The majority of the hotels in Cotai are along the strip which was once a wasteland converted into the world’s most expensive casino complex. A few of the hotels congregate around large complexes like Galaxy or City of Dreams while others are on their own.
Here is a list of my recommendations for the best luxury hotels in Cotai:
|Hotel||Luxury level||Price||Service||Location||TripAdvisor rating||See rates/ availability|
|St Regis Macau||High||High||High||High||4.5||HotelsCombined | Agoda | TripAdvisor|
|The Parisian||Medium||Medium||Medium||Medium||4||HotelsCombined | Agoda | TripAdvisor|
|The Venetian||Medium||Medium||Medium||High||4.5||HotelsCombined | Agoda | TripAdvisor|
|Altira Macau||High||High||High||Low||4.5||HotelsCombined | Agoda | TripAdvisor|
|Wynn Palace Cotai||High||High||High||Medium||4.5||HotelsCombined | Agoda | TripAdvisor|
|Banyan Tree Macau||High||High||High||Medium||4.5||HotelsCombined | Agoda | TripAdvisor|
1. The Altira
The hotel’s name in Chinese means cutting-edge and so this is a good example of the phrase. The Altira is attached to the casino which attracts high rollers. The rooms are modern and sleek and the hotel’s infinity pool, glassed against the city’s skyline, is its signature splurge. All rooms have stone baths and Japanese showers which require a guide (much like the toilets). Check out the rooftop bar which has an outdoor area too.
2. The Ritz Carlton Macau
As with other Ritz properties across the world, the Ritz Carlton in Macau opted for timeless European class. White and grey marble, beautiful flower arrangements, an outdoor pool with cabanas and pale beige with splashes of bright colors. The Ritz is located in the Galaxy complex so it has access to the large scale entertainment options like the white sand beach or the wave pool.
3. The Venetian Macao
The first hotel to open on Cotai was The Venetian, a perfect replica of the Las Vegas hotel and the real Venice complete with singing gondoliers and the whole shabang. This is an adult’s playground in all its glory, and a fun one at that. The 3,000 rooms are modern and ethereal, they could be anywhere, just like it could be anytime while you trod the busy corridors of the malls and entertainment areas. You completely lose track of time here. A real disconnecting vacation, gambling or not.
4. Studio City
This is one of the latest resorts to open attached to a casino and a series of restaurants. Studio City is as flash as it gets and has the largest figure eight ferris wheel (attached to the main facade) which is said to bring fortune as the number is lucky in Chinese. There are illusionists, a Warner Bros themed children’s area, 4D flights, a beach and Pacha’s only Asian spot, something I always find amusing since the original one is from Sitges, where I grew up, and has been around since the 60s. Even my parents used to go there when they were young. The hotel complex also has more than 30 dining outlets.
5. Banyan Tree Macau
The Banyan Tree is part of the Galaxy Macau complex and a great place to stay if you are more into wellness and pampering as the Brand is well known for its spa retreats and the hotel offers spa deals with unlimited treatment suites. I know it better after having stayed at the Banyan Tree Bintan and Lang Co. Almost all suites and villas at the Banyan Tree Macau have plunge pools. For those looking for something intimate and romantic, the Banyan Tree offers couples private dining on a pool grove with live music and a personal butler.
6. Grand Hyatt Macau
Modern, large and constantly busy, but you can always retire in the continuously-heated pool at the Grand Hyatt to escape it all. The hotel is located in The City of Dreams where entertainment abounds and the hotel regularly offers package prices with tickets to the House of Dancing Water. Rooms are standard international luxury, with nothing specific, but perfectly comfortable. Some of the suites have free-standing bathtubs window-side.
Guide to Macau Travel – How to get to Macau and move around
1. Arriving by air to Macau
Macau’s airport opened in 1995 and is located on Taipa. The runway is on its own strip surrounded by water, talk about a scenic landing. However, the majority of visitors come from Hong Kong, either on a day trip by ferry or for a slightly longer stay extending a Hong Kong or China trip.
2. How to travel to Macau from Hong Kong
The one hour ferry across the Pearl River from Hong Kong to Macau is a rough ride, not so recommended if you are prone to seasickness. It is also chaotic and filled with Mainland Chinese gamblers so not a smooth ride, as anyone who has traveled in crowded Chinese cities will know. There are two ferry terminals, one in old Macau called the Outer Ferry Terminal and one at the northern tip of Cotai. Subsequently, there are two ferry companies pledging the waters each to one destination but they both depart from Sheung Wan in Hong Kong.
TurboJet will take you to Macau Outer Ferry Terminal and charges different prices depending on time and day of the week. Weekdays are half the price of weekends at roughly $20 each way. There are ferries every 15 minutes from 7am to midnight and then every half an hour to an hour through the night.
Cotai Water Jet will take you to Cotai every half an hour from 7am to well into the early hours of the morning. Prices are similar to those of TurboJet.
There are taxis at both terminals and most hotels run free shuttles from the pier.
If you want to arrive in a slightly more glamorous way, you could hire a helicopter which will take you across in around half an hour for a handsome price of around $750 each way, definitively not for the budget conscious.
3. Local transport in Macau
To move around Macau the best choice is hailing a cab or taking one of the many buses that criss-cross the islands. The major resorts also offer free shuttle services to and from the rest so inquire at the hotel’s reception where you are staying or where you want to visit, as it is possible to resort-hop using the free shuttles. If you are going to one of the farther away restaurants, the staff can order a cab back for you. Or use Uber, a life saver when I travel these days.
Google Maps is available in Macau (as opposed to China) so it is helpful when walking around. Get the link to my map for this post and you will have all the marked spots, restaurants and hotels in one map which you can use to guide your way.
Macau Travel Guide – Other things to know
Macau is a Special Administrative Region of China so nationalities needing visas to visit China may not necessarily need it for Macau. In fact, most people can get one on arrival.
2. What to pack
You should definitely bring sunscreen as you will be walking a lot. A hat might be helpful in the summer months when it gets piping hot. In winter, Macau gets cold, don’t make the mistake of thinking it’s Asia, it must be hot. This is one of the nicest places to celebrate Christmas in Asia in fact. Macau is also a very rainy place in Autumn and Spring so an umbrella or waterproof jacket is almost essential.
3. When to visit
Macau is best visited in the winter months when it is also driest. From May to September it rains quite a lot with typhoon season peaking from August to October when the area becomes engulfed in clouds of rain.
Temperatures in the summer can soar to 30 degrees Celsius and in winter drop to half but it is never very cold and a jacket should do for a pleasant stay with lots of time outdoors.
This would be a great addition to your travel Pinterest boards