Macau is renowned for its casinos and its massive entertainment offerings, but the city offers a host of attractions, an insight into China’s colonial history, beautiful architecture, and villages by the beach that you won’t want to leave.
Macau is a little bit like Hong Kong in that it is still part of China but has its own administration, legal system, and economic system, and it is referred to as a Special Administrative Region of China. Macau is neither a country nor city, it is an autonomous region of China that uses its own currency, citizens hold a Macau SAR passport, and they have their own legal system.
What makes Macau very different from Hong Kong is that for one, it’s much smaller, secondly it’s former Portuguese rule has forged a unique culture and thirdly, most noticeably, is the legalised casinos.
I was heading to Macau from China, so, for the most part, it’s just like going to another country, meaning that I was officially departing China, and also requiring the normal customs checks and an entry visa for Macau.
Lucky for me, for Australians, the visa process for Macau is quite simple, I arrived at the border and without question, the official checking my passport automatically stamped it with a 30-day visa.
Like Hong Kong, foreign trade played a large part in forming what exists today. Portuguese traders used the area as a port in the mid-1500s and many of those traders began to settle in the area. Eventually, there were so many that they requested self-administration from the Chinese in the mid-1800s and were allowed some level of autonomy as a community. Following the Opium Wars of 1839-42, Portugal had developed an even larger presence in the region and by the late 1800s Macau was ceded to Portuguese rule. Later, and through the 1900’s Macau was slowly handed back to the Chinese, and in 1999 it was officially handed back by the Portuguese government and China regained sovereignty. Much like Hong Kong, the region retained its own government and a level of autonomy.
The Macau of today is a popular tourist destination, and with the legalisation of casinos, it’s also now a gambling mecca, and its where the Chinese come to play, and many people from around the world for that matter! And they like playing!
It really is an odd contrast, in one part of China I have seen communities still struggling to break free from poverty, residing in ramshackle dwellings and now I’m staring at ultra-modern grand gambling palaces where many Chinese throw money away like its toilet paper.
Some of that money ends up in Australian hands, James Packer has some large casino investments here, but the king of the casino industry in Macau is a Chinese native Stanley Ho.
Outside of the casinos, you can take in Macau’s sights in a day if you’re just taking a quick look, or two to three days if you really want to explore things in a relaxed fashion. The place really isn’t that big geographically.
As far as sight-seeing goes the most interesting part of Macau is the Heritage Area which features numerous historic buildings from its Portuguese past. Joined to Macau by three bridges are Tapai Island, Cotai, and Coloane. More about these places in posts to follow.
At the end of the day, its really is hard to look beyond the casinos, they are just in your face 24/7, it’s what Macau is about. The massive casino/entertainment/hotel buildings dominate the skyline during the day, and light up the night sky of Macau and drive its tourism industry, and thus it’s economy.
My Favorite Places to Stay in Macau
- Harbourview Hotel Macau – Four-star with a very convenient location and affordable rates
- Hotel Guia – Three-star offering clean modern rooms in a good location, a great restaurant, and walking distance to some key attractions.
- The Parisian Macao – Five-star, if you want to splurge it doesn’t get much better, offering a true luxury getaway experience and a French theme to boot.
Featuring my picks for the top ten: hotels, attractions, things to do and casinos.
The Top Ten Sights in Macau
1. Ruins of St Paul’s
The remaining facade of a church built in the 17th century that was destroyed by fire in 1835.
Bus Routes : 3, 3X, 4, 6A, 8A, 18A, 19, 26A, 33, N1A
2. Senado Square
Macau’s urban center and a beautiful display of architecture and urban design from the Portuguese era.
Bus Routes : 3, 3X, 4, 6A, 8A, 18A, 19, 26A, 33, N1A
3. ‘Leal Senado’ Building
The first government building and beautiful neo-classical architecture
Open hours: 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. (closed on Mondays) – Bus routes: 3, 3X, 4, 6A, 8A, 18A, 19, 26A, 33, N1A
4. A Ma Temple
A temple dedicated to the famous sea goddess, Mazu.
Open Hours: 7 am to 6 pm – Bus Routes – Barra Square : 1, 2, 5, 6B, 10, 10A, 11, 18, 21A, 26, 28B, 55, MT4, N3
5. St Dominic Church
Beautiful old church.
6. Macau Tower
Featuring an observation deck and revolving restaurant.
Bus Routes: 9A, 18, 23, 26, 32, 73
7. Guia Fortress
Lighthouse and old military post
Open Hours: 10 am to 5.30 pm – Bus Routes: 2, 2A, 6A, 12, 17, 18, 18A, 19, 22, 23, 25, 25X, 32, 56
8. Fortaleza do Monte
Ancient fort with cannons.
Open Hours: 7 am to 7 pm – Bus Routes: 10, 11, 21A, 2, 3, 4, 5, 8A, 26A, 33
9. Kun Iam Ecumenical Centre
A statue dedicated to the Goddess of Mercy.
Open Hours: 10 am to 6 pm. Closed on Friday – Bus Routes: 10A, 17, 30X
10. Chapel of St. Michael
Another beautiful church
The Top Ten Things to do in Macau
1. Eat Macanese Cuisine – a fusion of Western, Chinese, and Portuguese. It’s not to be missed, one of the icons, while deceptively simple is a must-try, the famous Pork Bun.
2. Try the World’s Highest Commercial Bungy Jump (at Adventure Zone Macau at the Macau Tower)
3. Explore St Lazarus Church District featuring cobblestone streets, colonial architecture, and a haven for artists.
4. Watch the world’s largest water show at The House of Dancing Water
5. Visit the Pandas at Macao Giant Panda Pavilion
6. Explore the museums – Taipa Houses-Museum Macau Wine Museum, Museum of Macau, Grand Prix Museum, Maritime Museum, Museum of Sacred Art and Crypt, Macau Museum of Art, Handover Gifts Museum of Macao, Macau Tea Culture House, Communications Museum, Museum of Taipa and Coloane History
7. Visit the Macau Science Center featuring loads of interactive games, and educational environment.
9. Explore the beaches of Coloanne – Hac Sa beach
10. Visit the Flora Garden – a garden in Sao Lazaro.
The Top Ten Casinos in Macau
The Venetian Macao – The Venetian Macao casino is the largest casino in the world, offering 850 table games and 4100 slot machines operating 24 hours a day. I struggle to find any place in the world that can compare with it. The Venetian also offers hotel resort, shopping, restaurants, a wellness hospital, Venetian pools, an indoors grand canal, mini golf, gym and so much more. Click here to know more about The Venetian Macao Casino.
The Parisian Macao – Owned by Las Vegas Sands, it’s more than a casino, it offers a journey into a French-themed wonderland with a recreation of classic French boulevards and even the Eifel Tower. Click here to know more about The Parisian Macao.
Galaxy Casino – It has a jaw-dropping scale to it, so much so that its split into 5 parts which offer a staggering 1,200 slot machines and over 600 gaming tables. It features a choice of five different luxury hotels including The Ritz Carlton, Banyan Tree, JW Marriot, Hotel Okura, Galaxy Hotel and Broadway Macau. Hotel guests can enjoy the amazing Skytop Wave Pool which covers 4,000 square meters and features a large white sand beach which is part of the Grand Resort Deck. If you are not a hotel guest you can buy a pass to the Grand Resort Deck at the Galaxy website.
Grand Lisboa – You can’t miss this one, it has an iconic design and at night it’s lit by over a million LED’s. Click here to know more about Grand Lisboa.
Sands Macao – Owned and operated by Las Vegas Sands Corporation it features hotel and casino plus live shows and entertainment at its Xanadu Lounge and Sands Theatre. Click here to know more about Sands Macao.
Wynn Macau Casino – Here’s something not to miss, the free Dragon of Fortune Show in the foyer of the Wynn Casino, it’s a short show that runs every 30 minutes that combines lighting, sound effects, moving sculpture and Chinese tradition. Other attractions include an art gallery, jellyfish aquarium, a water show and more. Click here to know more about Wynn Macau Casino.
MGM Macau – Be sure to see the 8-meter tall aquarium that is the centerpiece of the main foyer known as Grand Praca which is a staggering recreation of Portuguese architecture being modeled of Lisbon’s railway station. You’ll also find some luxury brand shops here, eight different dining options, spa and of course gaming. Click here to know more about MGM Grand Macau Casino.
City of Dreams – houses a casino, four hotels inc. Crown Towers, Morpheus, Grand Hyatt, and the Hard Rock Hotel along with a wide range of entertainment. There are actually three gambling areas inc. City of Dreams Casino, Hard Rock Hotel gaming area, and the Signature Club. For entertainment, the House of Dancing Water is an acclaimed show well worth the ticket cost, plus there is the Cubic Nightclub, Kid’s Club and live music at Hard Rock Cafe. Click here to know more about City of Dreams.
Star World – features regular live entertainment. It also houses a popular French bakery cafe, Passion. by Gérard Dubois and many great value Asian Chinese restaurants such as Laurel Cantonese restaurant, Tsui Wah a Hong Kong tea restaurant, Jade de Jardin (Michelin Star) which offers Shanghai cuisine and several others. Click here to know more about it.
Buses and Transport in Macau
The flag-fall charge is MOP19.00 for the first 1600 meters, with MOP2.00 added every 240 meters thereafter.
MOP2.00 is charged for waiting per minute at the passenger’s request. There is a MOP3.00 surcharge for each item of luggage carried in the boot. There is a MOP5.00 surcharge for boarding a taxi at Macau International Airport, the taxi station of Taipa Ferry Terminal, the campus of the University of Macau or journeys from Macao to Coloane. The surcharge for Taipa to Coloane is MOP2.00.
You can call a taxi via +853 288 12345 or visit http://macaotaxi.com/en/ there is a MOP5.00 fee plus normal taxi metered rates.
They are modern and air-conditioned, most fares are MOP2.5 with no change given so you must bring correct money. Longer distances to Taipa and Coloanne are between MOP3-5. You can get information on bus routes here http://www.dsat.gov.mo/bus.. or download their APP, or just use google maps.
Hop on Hop-Off Bus
A convenient way to take in the sights of Macau is the hop-on/hop-off bus. The open-top bus allows you to hop-off at 15 tourist attractions including Macau Fisherman’s Wharf, Macao Science Centre, Kun Iam Statue, Wynn Casino, Lisboa Casino, New Yaohan Mall, Macau Tower, A-Ma Temple, Sofitel Macau at Ponte 16, Inn Hotel, Rua do Cunha, City of Dreams Casino, Sands Cotai Central Casino, The Venetian Macao, Galaxy Macau.
Meeting and Purchase Point: Unit 1646, arrival hall, the Macao Outer Harbour Ferry Terminal
Time: 9:30 am to 4:15 pm Daily (Departure every 45 minutes, duration of each tour 90 minutes)
Hop on hop off sightseeing route map – click for larger image
Ferries run between Macau and Hong Kong, Shenzhen, Zhuhai & Guangzhou (charter only). Macau has three ferry terminals being the Macau Outer Harbour Ferry Terminal (Hong Kong Ferries & Shenzhen Airport Ferries) & Macau Inner Ferry Terminal (Zhuhai Ferries) and Taipa Ferry Terminal (Hong Kong Ferries & Shenzhen Shekou Ferries)
Hong Kong <> Macau Ferries
Ferries leave Hong Kong from:
- Hong Kong Macau Ferry Terminal – 3/F Shun Tak Centre, 200 Connaught Road Central, Sheung Wan
- Hong Kong International Airport – SkyPier (you can transfer from flight directly to ferry without passing HK Immigration)
- China (HK) Ferry Terminal on Canton Road, Tsim Sha Tsui in Kowloon.
- Tuen Mun Ferry Terminal – 148 Wu Chui Road, Tuen Mun, New Territories
Travel time is approx one hour.
Shenzhen, China <> Macau ferries
Shenzhen Macau Ferries leave from Shekou Ferry Terminal and Shenzhen Fuyong Ferry Terminal (near Shenzhen Airport)
Travel time is approx one hour and twenty minutes.
Zhuhai, China <> Macau ferries
Ferries transit hourly from 8 am to 4 pm between Macau Inner Harbour Pier 14 and Zhuhai Wanzai Ferry Terminal. The service is operated by Zhuhai Macau Ferry Co Ltd.
Macau International Airport
The airport offers a selection of duty-free stores selling international goods, personal needs, and some local products. On the landside, there is a McDonald’s and 7 Eleven. Airside there is a food court and Airport Restaurant. There is also the Plaza Premium Lounge (www.plaza-network.com) where you can pay a fee and make use of WiFi, lounge chairs, hot food and beverage buffet, TV, bar and there are also VIP rooms you can enjoy in private.
Macau Airport site: http://www.macau-airport.com
Transport to and from the airport
For Bus, the most convenient way to travel to your hotel is to take one of the many free shuttle buses. Walk toward the north exit of the airport and walk out into the parking lot then you will find them. Buses depart every 15-20 minutes between 11:00 am and 9:00 pm.
For Taxi, you can find the taxi queue outside the arrival hall. A trip downtown normally costs around MOP40.00.