Macau is a glittering oasis on the Pearl River Delta. The tiny territory covers just over 32 square kilometers, yet it contains a multitude of rich experiences. Narrow streets and tight corners conceal stately Portuguese colonial-era architecture. Across the harbor, towering casinos draw visitors from around the world. The famous Ruins of St. Paul’s stand solemn watch as visitors wander nearby markets and shops. Though Macau is able to claim the title of the world’s most densely populated territory, there’s a tranquility to be found in the fishing villages around Coloane. When you visit Macau, you will instantly recognize the charm and hopefully discover all this unique destination has to offer.
Macau is best traversed on foot or via the city’s extensive public bus service. To maximize your time and the things you’re able to see, concentrate on a few key areas. While Macau is small, it can take time to get from one side to the other depending on traffic patterns. Exploring several sites clustered together will help you avoid long delays.
The Historic City
Macau is essentially divided into two parts. There is the historic section of Macau and the newer, land-reclaimed portions often collectively labeled as Macau-Taipa. Start your tour of the historic city at Monte Forte, which was the Portuguese colonial military fort. It now houses the city museum and provides a great view of the Macau skyline. From here you can easily wander down to the Ruins of St. Paul’s, which is the city’s most famous attraction. The ruins are set on a large open plaza great for taking pictures. Be sure to visit the museum inside where additional artifacts are on display. Both the fort and St. Paul’s are part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The area officially comprises 22 buildings and corresponding streets that demonstrate the blending of Portuguese and Chinese cultures. Highlights include the Moorish Barracks, St. Augustine's Square, St. Dominic's Church, and others. These are cultural and architectural treasures in Macau and should not be missed.
Another great thing to do is simply walk around the narrow streets and alleyways. There are countless restaurants, shops, and great examples of local culture to be found. You will really get a sense of the high urban density and true character of Macau. As a practical matter, the city maintains its own currency called the pataca; however, Hong Kong Dollars are accepted and widely circulated. A high proportion of visitors arrive by ferry from Hong Kong, so chances are you will have some Hong Kong Dollars in your pocket. As you’re wandering around, find some time to enjoy an egg tart or a pork chop bun. Finally, visit Guia Municipal Park which provides another great overview of historic Macau. You can climb up for some great pictures and wander through Guia Fortress. The park is a welcome respite if you’re feeling a bit claustrophobic in the dense streets below.
Taipa and Cotai
Located across a wide harbor from historic Macau is the center of the city’s famed gambling scene. Macau is the world’s biggest destination for legalized gambling. The amount of money flowing through the industry is more than double that of Las Vegas. As you might expect then, the casinos in Macau epitomize luxury. Big name global brands including the MGM, the Wynn, and the Sands all have operations in Macau as big (if not bigger) than their operations in Las Vegas. If part of your reason for coming to Macau was for the casinos, expect to send a lot of time in Taipa and Cotai. Some older casinos are located near the waterfront in the historic city. These are worth a visit if you are pressed for time or just want a break from other sightseeing. Otherwise, it makes sense to save your casino time for Taipa and Cotai.
Nearly all casinos provide free shuttle service to the airport and ferry terminals. You can also find free transportation between different casinos so it’s quite easy to move around. Highlights include the Venetian with its replica of the Venice canals filled with shops and luxury goods, the Parisian with its elegance and taste, and the Wynn Palace where you can see the famous water fountain performance and ride the cable car. As one would expect, the casinos provide lavish entertainment spectacles in addition to gambling. Highly artistic acrobatic shows, concerts, comedy, and more are all on offer. Glace ahead as you’re planning your trip and find a show you’re interested in seeing. It’s a great experience and one you can certainly tell others about.
The southernmost area in new Macau is Coloane Village. This is the place to come to see a truly different side of Macau. Lush greenery, sandy beaches, and beautiful hiking trails are all to be found here. Be sure to visit the chapel of St. Francis Xavier, which was built in 1927 during the colonial era. You can also hike up to visit A-Ma Cultural Village where you will find a lovely Buddhist temple. This is a great place for a stroll. Afterwards, head down to Hac Sa Beach, where you can spend some time in the sun or enjoy a dip in the water. Finally, visit the Macau Giant Panda Pavilion where you can see amazing pandas up close. It is a fun outing for the whole family.
Macau has a lot to offer. Its reputation as a magnet for casino gambling is well-founded; yet there is so much more. Following the suggestions laid out there will help you plan a fun and exciting trip to this great destination. No matter what you’re looking for, be it history and culture, gambling, resort relaxation, or beautiful scenery, you can find it all and more in Macau.