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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?” instead asking, “What are the things to do in Macau?”
Introduction to Macau
This tiny city-state and Special Administrative region of China (SAR) is much more than just flashy casinos, there are a lot of attractions in Macau that would keep you busy for days (I spent 15 days) and its heritage rich past is a melting pot between East and West.
Macau is also a great extension to a trip to Hong Kong as it is only 1h away by ferry. If you are planning to visit Macau for a day only, I have written a complete one day itinerary to Macau from Hong Kong here.
If you travel to Macau as a non-gambler like me, the emphasis will no doubt be on learning more about its Chinese and Portuguese heritage which has been intertwined for centuries 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 three times and have never spent a dollar (or a minute) in the tables or the slot machines.
And before we jump in, remember that, beyond gambling, shopping and heritage, some of the best things to do in Macau relate to food, touted the first fusion cuisine in the world, the Portuguese influence imprinted some great flavours on Chinese dishes to create fantastic combinations, I even wrote an article about where and what to eat in Macau.
There are just so many things to do in Macau, let’s get started!
- Introduction to Macau
- Where is Macau
- The fascinating history of Macau for travelers
- Tips for organising a trip to Macau
Things to do in Macau peninsula
- Casa Garden
- Church of St Dominic (also St Domingo’s Church)
- Street of happiness
- Lou Kau Mansion
- Guia Fortress, Guia Chapel and Guia Lighthouse
- Macau Design Center
- St Lazarus Church district
- Mercearia Portuguesa
- Travessa da Paixão (Love Lane)
- Macau Gaming History Gallery
- Admire the largest cushion cut diamond in the world
- Sam Kai Vui Kun
- Pawn shop Museum
- Mandarin’s House
- Tai Fung Tong Art House
- Macau Tower
- Biblioteca Sir Robert Ho Tung
- Tap Seac Square and Gallery
- Na Tcha Temple
- St Joseph’s Seminary and church
- The Ruins of St. Paul
- Fortaleza do Monte
- Leal Senado Square and building
- The Holy House of Mercy
- A Ma Temple
- Kun Iam Temple
- Kun Iam Statue
- St. Lawrence Church
- Macau Fisherman’s Wharf
- Macau Wine Museum
- Grand Prix Museum
- Have tea at a traditional tea house
- Have a Michelin starred meal
- Enjoy Macanese food
- Indulge in Portuguese favorites
Things to do and see in Taipa, Cotai and Coloane
- Decide who does egg tarts best
- Go on an eight-shaped ferris ride
- Have a pork chop bun
- Get lost at The Venetian
- Marvel at the two Wynn Hotel properties
- Hác Sá Beach
- The House of Dancing Water Show
- Go up the Eiffel Tower
- Taipa Village
- Taipa Houses-Museum
- Cheoc Van Swimming Pool
- Drink and party in Macau
- Best Luxury hotels in Macau
- Best Luxury hotels in Cotai
- How to get to Macau and move around
- Other things to know before traveling to Macau
Where is Macau
Macau is a Special Administrative Region of China, strategically located on the southeast coast of China, across the channel from Hong Kong. The region is made of two main islands linked between them by bridges, plus several other smaller ones.
You can get to Macau via its international airport that opened in 1995 from which you can fly to several international destinations, or you can also arrive by road from mainland China. For more insightful facts about Macau and to understand what a Special Administrative region is, check this article out.
The fascinating history of Macau for travelers
More than four times the size of Las Vegas in terms of gambling revenue, Macau has boomed in size and popularity since the first American casino operator landed in 2004, two years after the monopoly in gambling ended.
Today, over 30 million visitors come to Macau every year, 70% of which do so from mainland China, and mostly with the intention of gambling in one of the 25+ gambling facilities. But Macau’s gambling focus is a recent development. This Special Adminstrative region of China has reinvented itself several times through the centuries.
Macau’s first settlers
The first inhabitants of Macau were around 50,000 Chinese seeking refuge from the Mongol invaders in the 13th Century. During those times, Macau erected its oldest temple, also the oldest in the region, to the Goddess of Mercy which later became the A-Ma Temple, one of the most relevant Macau attractions today. The region was then a trading post but the majority of the population still lived from fishing and agriculture. Macau did not properly develop until the Portuguese arrived in the 16th century.
Portuguese arrival in Macau
After several decades of disagreements and pacts 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.
During all that time, Macau remained under Chinese government administered by Portugal. The city flourished, especially when the Spanish and Portuguese crowns merged at the end of the 16th century and until 1640.
The Spanish King Philip II allowed for trade between Portuguese Macau, Malacca and Goa to continue to expand via Manila, then a Spanish colony, and Macau was at the center of the trade monopoly 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, the ruins of which are an emblematic attraction in Macau, was one of the first to be built by the Jesuit priests at the end of the 16th century and remains the most important place to see in Macau.
After two decades of fighting, in 1887, Portugal finally achieved full control of Macau and declared its independence from China. By that time, Macau had also become a major trading port for slaves from China sent off to South America.
When WWII expanded to 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 complained, the US paid a fine to the government.
With the arrival of communism in China in 1949, Macau and Hong Kong remained independent territories as Beijing looked for a better time to resolve the situation in both regions with the British and Portuguese colonial powers.
During that time, Macau was also referred to as the Far East Checkpoint Charlie, after the Berlin Wall checkpoint between east and west Berlin, and it enjoyed a unique degree of openness to the outside world not fund elsewhere in the country. The famous Macau Grand Prix kicked off in 1959 first as a scavenger hunt through the city.
Gambling arrived again in Macau only three years later when the Sociedade de Turismo e Diversões de Macau (STDM), a business association between Hong Kong and Macau businessmen still in existence today, got the monopoly rights to gambling in the city. But this was not the first time.
Gambling was first legalised in Macau in 1847, as an alternative to declining port revenues when the British development in Hong Kong provided a deeper port with a more advantageous trading route, but was later made illegal.
In 1980, the Portuguese proposed returning the territory of Macau to China, but the government postponed the decision and the region remained a Chinese territory under Portuguese administration until the final handover in 1999, two years after Hong Kong.
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. This means that it has its own borders, its own passport, its own visa system and its own currency.
Tips for organising a trip to Macau
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 activities. You can make it the perfect day trip from Hong Kong if you are visiting the larger neighbour, 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 in Macau is that the country is divided into two main parts. Peninsular 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 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 your days per area.
There are also several sightseeing tour options that you can book ahead online if you prefer to be safe before going. Book the day tour
Things to do in Macau peninsula
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. The best thing to do in Macau is exploring the UNESCO listed heritage buildings. I will highlight the best ones in this list and also include a few others that are worth stopping by.
UNESCO-listed Casa Garden is one of the oldest buildings in Macau and was built in 1770 so it is a great place to start your journey through the best things to do in Macau.
The building 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. Today, Casa Garden houses the Oriental Foundation which organises regular exhibitions so you can go inside and visit it. Check out their beautiful gardens with pretty flowers and plants and a pond.
Outside the house is a large park which is often full of locals who have brought their birds in cages. Sit down and take it all in. Casa Garden is closed on weekends.
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 and is the same location where, in 1822, the first Portuguese newspaper (The China Bee) was published on Chinese soil. The former bell tower of St. Dominic’s Church now houses a small Museum of Sacred Art with 300 artefacts on exhibition which you can explore for free by going up the stairs. Each floor has displays.
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 part of the UNESCO list for Macau and it is one of the most popular landmarks in Macau, permanently surrounded by people. However, go inside and upstairs and you will not hear the crowds outside.
Street of happiness
Not far west of Largo do Senado is Rua da Felicidade (Street of Happiness). This area with shuttered terraces which reminded me of Singapore’s shophouses, was once Macau’s main red-light district and was filled with brothels, opium dens and other illegal activity. The area was renovated and cleaned out in the 90s to today’s quaint and nostalgic look with the white walls, the red shutters and the dark/black wood.
The street was made famous by Hollywood and several scenes from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom that are meant to take place in Shanghai but were shot here as at the time, access to Chian was not possible. 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.
Aside from the few restaurants in the street, look our for some old stores selling second hand items such as old landline phones and clocks. You can’t figure out if they cater to those stuck in the past or are selling them as collectible memorabilia.
Lou Kau Mansion
Continuing with the stunning buildings, one of the most interesting things to do in Macau is exploring the few of the heritage mansions that are open to the public. Lou Kau Mansion is one of them.
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 from 30 years from 1882 to 1912. The Lou family also controlled the Macao welfare Lottery and the Wei Seng Lottery businesses for a similar period of time.
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 the rises and fall of his fortune and its 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 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 beautiful in Macau. Built in grey brick and wooden carvings with details, Lou Kau Mansion is made of three halls and two courtyards that were typical of the architectural style of the time. 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.
Guia Fortress, Guia Chapel and Guia Lighthouse
For a generous dose of views and a completely different experience in Macau, climb up to Guia Fortress and learn about defending the city and about the Portuguese history in Macau. If you have been to Lisbon, the fortress will remind you of the city too.
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 fortress is the highest point on the island and so it is a great place from where to have panoramic views of everything below.
The Guia complex is made of a fortress, a chapel and a lighthouse that is not open to the public but was built much later, in 1865. The lighthouse is the oldest modern lighthouse in China.
The most interesting part of the complex is the Chapel of our Lady of Guia which was founded by Claris nuns in the 1622 and is almost intact. The name of the chapel, and of the fortress, means guidance in Portuguese and eludes to the position of the entire complex on top of the mountain, used as guiding point for ships and pilgrims.
The frescoes inside the chapel were discovered in 1998 and are a perfect example of Macau’s rich and intertwined past, with a blend of motifs of Western and Chinese origin depicted together in orange paint. Entrance to the chapel is free and you can just go in and to the small room on the left side where the frescoes are.
Opened everyday from 9am to 6pm. The chapel opens from 10am to 5pm. There is a Tourism information center within the complex.
Macau Design Center
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 spread over several floors that house 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.
Located in the middle of a regular residential street, the center looks like any other building from the outside but when you walk in you feel the artistic air through the paintings and works hanging from the common staircase. The polished concrete of the building contrasts with the colorful works displayed, and lured me upstairs.
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. You can check the agenda on their website. The rooftop garden is channels the idea of a thriving collaborative space with some benches and greenery. Ad even if there is nothing going on, you can enjoy the art displayed in the common areas.
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.
This charming Portuguese corner shop 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 store is tiny and tucked inside a Portuguese colonial building in the traditional yellow.
From the moment you walk in you feel transported back in time. The furniture is vintage and the store is neatly organised, as if you were in the living room or kitchen of your grandma. The products are all beautifully packaged in individual designs and stores behind glass cupboards, just like my grandma used to store the china. When you walk in you want to buy anything just because of how pretty it is. The shop is a good example of what the St. Lazarus District has to offer.
The owners of the store are famous Portuguese filmmaker and actor Ivo Ferreira and actress and former spouse, Margarida Vila-Nova, both of whom are regulars to Macau and have filmed and acted in several movies shot in the city, including the director’s last, Empire Hotel, entirely filmed in Macau.
Travessa da Paixão (Love Lane)
This small lane by the Ruins of St. Paul is interesting because of its name, which translates from the Portuguese as Passion Lane, or Love Lane. It is a pedestrian lane with a small incline and some steps but without any traffic, lined on both sides with pastel color colonial buildings. In the middle are large plant pots. It is not rare to see couples taking pre-wedding pictures here.
Despite its proximity to the most famous tourist spot in Macau, the lane is usually empty. Pop in for a photo op.
Macau Gaming History Gallery
Opened by theSociedade de Jogos de Macau (SJM) in 2018, The Macau Gaming History Gallery is located inside the Hotel Lisboa’s Crystal Palace hall and showcases the city’s gaming history along with a few vintage items.
You will be able to see slot machines from the 70s, old photos of Macau’s casinos, and the evolution of casino staff uniforms. The gallery also recovers old games that are no longer played, like Chinese Keno lottery balls and Sap I Chi.
Admire the largest cushion cut diamond in the world
And talking of the Hotel Lisboa…
The hotel belongs to the wealthiest Macanese tycoon, Stanley Ho, and is one of the flashiest hotels I have ever seen and a major tourist spot in Macau. Entering the lobby is like walking into a buzzing gold market. There is people everywhere, either guests or, the vast majority, coming to one of the many restaurant, including several Michel awarded ones, or simply taking the hotel in.
One of the most incredible things to see in Macau is the largest cushion cut diamond in the world (it is so large that I had to Google it to make sure its size was in fact real). The diamond is on display at the lobby of the hotel and you just need to follow the crowds to find it.
Sam Kai Vui Kun
Sam Kai Vui Kun also known as Kuan Tai Temple, is a small temple tucked away at the back of St. Dominic’s Market that is believed to have been constructed before 1792. The temple is associated with trade and commerce in the area and new edicts from Chinese Mainland authorities were announced in front of the temple so it is an interesting place to visit in Macau.
The entrance is located in a small alley and often hidden by several rows of motorbikes and cars parked in front of it. Inside, you will find a small space filled with the smell and smoke of large incense spirals and several traditional elements of Chinese architecture of the time that are also found in other temples in Macau.
Observe the grey brick facade, the green glazed tiles of the roof that are common in most temples in Macau, and the pretty drawings illustrating Chinese legends. The red, golden, grey colors give a sense of mysticism and despite its location in the busiest district in Old Macau, the temple is usually quiet with just a few devotees making their offerings and prayers.
The temple is open from 9am to 6pm daily and beware of the strong incense smoke in such small space.
Pawn shop Museum
I stumbled upon the Pawn Shop Museum almost by accident, wandering the street of Old Macau, a fine example of how the best things to do in Macau, beyond those found in most list, are those we stumble upon while simply wandering Old Macau, instead of ticking items off a list.
The Tak Seng On Pawnshop, translated as The Virtue and Success Pawnshop, opened in 1917 by a wealthy merchant. The house was taken over by the Macau Government and restored into a heritage shop, preserved as it was when it was still operational.
If you go in you can still see the furniture and the setup of the store, with dividers to preserve customers privacy and counters to record purchases and pledges.
The museum is not very big, as only the front office is open to the public whereas the storage tower where the goods would have been kept is closed. Entrance is free and the museum is open from 10,30am to 7pm daily with the exception of the first Monday of the month.
This is one of the nicest places to see in Macau. Built around 1869, Mandarin’s House, with over 60 rooms, was the family home of Zheng Guanying, a 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. It measures 4,000 square meters of courtyards, master and servant rooms, a garden and several halls.
The house is a typical Guangdong residence with many Western and elements and it is similar to Lau Kau Mansion. When it was built, the harbour was visible from the house. In the 50s, Zheng’s descendants moved out and rented the place which was divided up by many tenants, at one point amounting 300.
Perhaps one of the most beautiful features of the Mandarin House is a variety of Chinese “moon gates”, which separate the various spaces in the house. One of them was re-erected recently 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.
Visiting the Mandarin House is one of the nicest things to do in Macau because it not only provides a bit of insight into the lives of the wealthy in Macau’s prosperous 19th century, but also a connection to the rest of China. Its peaceful courtyards and gardens are also a nice place for a stop.
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.
Tai Fung Tong Art House
One of the best things to do in Macau is simply wandering the streets and finding new and interesting places. Like, Tai Fung Tong Art House, an exhibition center that was built by a philanthropist almost a century ago and is housed in the Choi Lok Chi Mansion. The building is unique in its design and incorporates elements of European architecture so it is worth admiring. Open daily from 2pm to 6pm.
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. You can purchase entrance into Macau Tower ahead of time online here
Biblioteca Sir Robert Ho Tung
Sir Robert Ho Tung’s library is a pretty building tucked at the end of a street with a quiet garden. The building dates from the 1894 and was originally the residence of Carolina Cunha until Sir. Robert Ho Tung, a businessmen from Hong Kong, acquired it in 1918. He moved into the house during the WWII and upon his death, the building was donated to the Government of Macau, as indicated in his will, together with enough cash to buy books and convert the house into a public library. It opened as such in 1958.
The library is a peaceful place to read or study and is also home to rare Chinese books from the Ming Dynasty as well as first edition Chinese-English and Chinese-Portuguese dictionaries. There are also Christian books from the 19th and beginning of the 20th century.
Tap Seac Square and Gallery
This beautiful square is surrounded by some of the most important neo-classical buildings from 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.
The Square is also home of the Glass House, repurposed into the home of creative entrepreneurs and artists and quite in contrast with the rest of the yellow and maroon buildings the surround the square. Tap Seac Square is also a place to check out during celebrations like Chinese New Year when it is decorated for the occasion.
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 iconic Ruins of the Church of St Paul, the most famous attraction in Macau.
Legend has it that Na Tcha was the greatest warrior from the Emperor of Heaven, powerful with his spear and fire wheel. One night, as the epidemic was taking its toll among the Chinese and Portuguese residents of Macau, a citizen received a message in a dream informing him that everyone had to drink water from Mount Hill with Chinese medicine and they would beat the epidemic.
Na Tcha Temple was built in 1888 by the local residents to express their gratitude for bringing an end to the epidemic. The temple is open from 8am to 6pm.
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.
The Ruins of St. Paul
The Ruins of St. Paul is the most emblematic site of Macau and the number one thing to see in Macau. It is also the most easily recognisable image of the region. 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 Macau’s UNESCO 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 behind and underground as well as admire the facade from the steps below. The museum and crypt are open from 9am to 6pm but the ruins are good all day long, and especially pretty at night when the steps are emptier from the tourist rush.
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 lasting up to two years.
Mount Fortress inspired the Chinese to build similar structures to defend their long coast elsewhere. 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.
Leal Senado Square and building
Leal Senado is the most important centre of Historical Macau and one of the most popular places to see in Macau. The square receives its name from the Leal Senado building presiding over it which was the municipal chamber named as such because of the City’s Portuguese nickname, bestowed by King John IV in 1654 for its loyalty to the crown during Spanish occupation.
You can go in and visit the building from the inside. There is a small patio at the back, beautiful blue tiled stairs and large halls in the upper floor. From here you can also take beautiful photos of Leal Senado Square below through the windows. The building is open from 9am to 9pm and has public bathrooms
The square was remodelled in 1990s, made pedestrian 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 day and night. During Christmas, it is decorated like any other European city. Here is also where a lot of the street food carts can be found.
The Holy House of Mercy
The Holly House of Mercy is 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.
A Ma Temple
A Ma Temple is a Taoist temple 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), which the Portuguese interpreted as the name of the area.
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.
A-Ma 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. One of the nicest things to do in Macau is to join the spirituality and write a wish to hang in the tree of wishes. You can buy the red cards at the temple. Or perhaps you can light some incense, also on sale at the temple.
The temple is open from 7am to 6pm, go early to avoid the crowds.
Kun Iam Temple
Kun Iam Temple, originally called Pou Chai Temple or Puji Temple, is Macau’s oldest temple and was founded in the 13th century, but the present structures date back to 1627 as indicated in a wooden table.
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 Kun Iam is much less crowded than A-Ma and in fact I could not believe it was almost empty when I visited, safe for devotees. When you walk pass the temple, you don’t have a feel for how large it is inside.
Spend some time in one of the three main halls or in the large garden courtyard taking it all in.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Have tea at a traditional tea house
Lung Wah Tea House is a vintage Cantonese style teahouse which opened in 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 downstairs, all with a cup of tea and some dim sum. The tea house was opened by the parents of the current owner and served as a meeting place for the laborers at the harbour, which is nearby. The old Chinese of drinking tea is still alive here, although this is one of the few such places which exist in Macau today, worth a trip down memory lane.
The menu here is not in English but you can choose your dim sum from a cart.
Have a Michelin starred meal
Like Hong Kong, Macau has a lot of Michelin-starred restaurants, even two with three stars, ready to absorb all those hard earned casino dollars. For some of the most interesting meals, head to the Grand Lisboa, where there are three restaurants with stars, including the top two, one Chinese and the other French, of Robuchon fame.
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.
Enjoy Macanese food
‘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. Plus they say that Macanese food is the first fusion food that existed created as a result of Portuguese utensils and cooking techniques used to prepare Chinese recipes. There are very few places serving Macanese food and A Lorcha is one of them. Book a foodie walking tour of Macau by clicking here
Indulge in Portuguese favorites
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.
Things to do and see in Taipa, Cotai and Coloane
The island is where many of the large and flash hotels and casino complexes of Macau are located. Taipa and Coloane used to be two separate islands with rich heritage, which were united through landfill in the middle, creating what is today called the Cotai strip.
The Cotai Strip mimics the Las Vegas Strip, complete with the same hotels and architecture, expect dancing fountains, the Venetian, an Eiffel Tower and other adult-entertainment options.
Although I am not much of a gambler and this is a non-gambler list of things to do in 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.
If you end up gambling, remember Stanley Ho’s famous quote: “No one can win all the time. We advise you to play merely for pleasure and to risk only what you can spare.”
Decide who does egg tarts best
Egg tarts are an eminently local food in Macau. They are a Portuguese dessert and snack that came to Macau and have remained one of the most recognizable symbols of the city. They are everywhere and sold in many stores, but there are three brands that are the most famous ones: Lord Stow, Koi Kei Bakery and Margaret cafe e Nata.
If you are a foodie or have a sweet tooth and are wondering what to do in Macau why not make your own decision on the best egg tart. Do like me and try them all three, then compare and decide. Who did it best?
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. This location is quite removed from the rest of Macau, located at the very farthest tip of Coloane, it is an interesting place to come to for a bit of a nostalgic feel. Coloane is green and has a fishing village feel. Stay for breakfast at the calm bakery then have a stroll in the village.
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 Lisboa Hotel is a convenient stop in the crazy neon-filled area. Take one of the outdoor tables if available but expect queues and crowds.
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.
Go on an eight-shaped ferris ride
Studio City is a luxury hotel at one end of the Cotai Strip that is themed around Hollywood and movies, as the name indicates. Here you can find all sorts of entertainment around movies and sci-fi but perhaps the most interesting of the attractions is an eight-shapes ferris wheel, the only one in the world, which you can ride for about fifteen minutes.
The ferris wheel is visible from pretty much anywhere on the strip and is housed right in the middle of the building, but don’t expect the compartments to actually go on an eight-shaped ride, instead, they stay on the outside following the outer edge of the number.
As cheesy as this may sounds, it is a worthwhile attraction in Macau because you get views from both sides, towards Old Macau and the river, as well as towards the Cotai Strip. The entire structure is quite impressive too. Built in silver and dark golden steel, encrusted inside the building and going around to the soundtrack from the movie Inception, it all felt quite futuristic and fun. You can also reserve your ticket online here
Have a pork chop bun
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.
Get lost at 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 and there are lots of things to do.
At The Venetian you can marvel at the large fountains, dancing to the tune of the music, take a gondola ride along the canals, complete with a singing gondolier and picture yourself against the famous backgrounds of St. Marc’s Square or the Ponte vecchio, you just need to be in the right frame of mind. Reserve your gondola ride online here
Marvel at the two Wynn Hotel properties
Another one of the first casinos to open in Macau is the Wynn, followed by a newer Wynn property in Cotai. The original Wynn is in Old Macau and is as flash as it gets in Macau, and you may be blinded by the amount of gold. But the hotel is also known for the many art pieces and installations, like an interesting Tree of Prosperity sculpture that is gold plated.
The Wynn in Cotai is equally as golden. It has a cable car that you can ride for free as many times as you like and which takes guests from the ground level by the dancing fountains to the entrance in the first floor flying above the water. It is particularly fun when the fountain is on. Talking of which, both Wynn have a dancing fountain which works a few times every hour to the sound of music.
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.
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.
Go up the Eiffel Tower
The Parisian is a major tourist spot in Macau. It is decorated and designed like the Versailles Palace, complete with performers dancing about in the hotel’s various halls and corridors, a dancing fountain, perfectly French bakeries and cafes and, of course, a replica of the Eiffel Tower you can go up to. From above you can have a panoramic view of the strip below and also a great perspective on the area, with all the ongoing developments. On your way out, stop at the souvenir shop for a truly Parisian souvenir, even if you have never been to Paris. Reserve your ticket to the Eiffel Tower Observation Deck here
Source: Taipa Village
If you are in Macau, take half a couple of hours 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 Macau 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.
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.
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.
Drink and party in Macau
Macau is not a party destination and if you are coming with the same mindset as going to Las Vegas you will be disappointed. casinos don’t even serve alcohol, except for at the highest bidding tables or private rooms.
If you look around you will see the players sipping tea with milk or a Coke. It is therefore not surprising that the nightlife is rather quiet. There are a few bars and clubs but nighttime activity usually means shopping till late, eating and enjoying the shows or entertainment from the few casino hotels, rather than partying the night away at a club.
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.
Best Luxury hotels in Macau
Macau has more luxury hotels that any other place and after spending your day exploring all the things to do in Macau on this list, you will need a good place to relax.
The choice for luxury hotels is staggering and pretty much every international chain plus all the big names in the gambling industry have a resort 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||Booking.com | HotelsCombined | Agoda | TripAdvisor|
|Mandarin Oriental||High||High||High||Medium||4.5||Booking.com | HotelsCombined | Agoda | TripAdvisor|
|Wynn Macau||High||High||High||Medium||4.5||Booking.com | HotelsCombined | Agoda | TripAdvisor|
|The Grand Lisboa||Medium||High||Medium||High||4||HotelsCombined | Agoda | TripAdvisor|
|Pousada de Sao Tiago||Medium||Affordable||High||Medium||4||Booking.com | 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 (currently closed for renovations)
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
The Sofitel Macau is located by the water, facing China and offers the Brand’s French undertones in an intimate setting. The Club rooms have access to the lounge which has unique views of the older part of Macau. This is the best place to stay if you want to get away from the casinos and be close to all the heritage places to see in Macau. I stayed here and found the hotel had the best location for walking around 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||Booking.com | HotelsCombined | Agoda | TripAdvisor|
|The Parisian||Medium||Medium||Medium||Medium||4||Booking.com | HotelsCombined | Agoda | TripAdvisor|
|The Venetian||Medium||Medium||Medium||High||4.5||Booking.com | HotelsCombined | Agoda | TripAdvisor|
|Altira Macau||High||High||High||Low||4.5||Booking.com | HotelsCombined | Agoda | TripAdvisor|
|Wynn Palace Cotai||High||High||High||Medium||4.5||Booking.com | HotelsCombined | Agoda | TripAdvisor|
|Banyan Tree Macau||High||High||High||Medium||4.5||Booking.com | 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.
Or you can just book the Spa here
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.
How to get to Macau and move around
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.
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.
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.
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.
Other things to know before traveling to Macau
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.
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.
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