Macau may be just one hour from Hong Kong, but it feels a world away with its distinctive blend of Chinese and Portugese cultures. Macau’s unique feel and flavour makes it a wonderful destination for a quick getaway from Hong Kong. There’s plenty of things to do in Macau if you are planning a short break.
It has been dubbed the ‘Vegas of the East’ or ‘Monte Carlo of the Orient’, due to its thriving gambling industry which began when gambling was legalised by the Portuguese in 1884. But there is much more to Macau. Portuguese colonists, who turned Macau to an important trade outpost between China and the Western world, arrived in the area in the sixteenth century. While Macau was returned to China as a special administrative region in 1999, you can still find pastel-coloured neoclassical buildings built in Portuguese-style in many parts of the city. The UNESCO World Heritage site also contains the oldest fortress and lighthouse in China. Here are some highlight attractions.
1. Ruins of St. Paul’s
As you walk into the Company of Jesus Square, you will see the symbolic icon of Macau – the Ruins of St. Paul’s. The ruins comprise the facade of Church of Mater Dei which was built in 1602-1640 and the ruins of St. Paul’s College next to the church. The College was the first western-style university in the Far East. Both buildings were destroyed in a fire started in the kitchen of the barracks of the church in 1835. The facade sits on a small hill, with 68 stone steps leading up to it. In 2005, the ruins were officially listed as part of the Historic Centre of Macau, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
2. St Dominic’s Church
Located in St. Dominic’s Square, a UNESCO World Heritage site, St. Dominic’s Church was established in 1587 by three Spanish Dominican priests from Mexico. Inside the Baroque-style church, you can find Chinese-style roof tiles and doors made of teak, perfect examples of the unique blend of European and local Macanese features. It also has an impressive facade of cream stone and white stucco mouldings. A small Museum called the Treasure of Sacred Art in the bell tower exhibits a collection of about 300 valuable sacred artefacts from the 17th to the 19th century.
3. Senado Square
Add a stroll around Senado Square to your list of things to do in Macau. You will feel like you are in one of the many town squares of Europe with this 3,700 sqm site surrounded by European style buildings. Senado Sqaure is part of the UNESCO Historic Centre of Macau World Heritage Site. It is an elongated triangular shaped square and connects Largo do São Domingos at one end and Avenida de Almeida Ribeiro on the other.
4. Taipa Houses-Museum
Go to the Carmo Zone of Taipa and you will see the five distinctive green houses standing side-by-side by a small lake. This set of former residences of senior civil servants in Portuguese architectural style was revamped into a museum site, Taipa Houses-Museum in 1999. The five buildings are the ‘Macanese Living Museum’, ‘Exhibitions Gallery’, ‘Creative Casa’, ‘Nostalgic House’ and ‘House for Receptions’. Visit them and learn more about Macanese community, that has its own dialect and lifestyle influenced by both Western religious beliefs and Chinese life patterns, and Cotai district in the past and present.
5. Rua Da Felicidade
Rua da Felicidade, meaning ‘street of joy’ used to be a red-light district. The opium dens, gambling stalls and bars are long gone, instead the historic street with its distinctive red-and-white Chinese-style buildings now draws tourists with its souvenir stores and food. Expect to find traditional classics such as Chinese herbal tea, shark fin soup, steamed milk pudding and porridge. One of the landmarks of the street is SanVa Hostel built in the 1870’s. It has been a popular film location, and has featured in films such as Wong Kar-wai’s 2046.
6. Lord Stow’s Bakery
This is a must-do on most lists of things to do in Macau, for those who want to try a Portuguese tart. Portuguese tarts are one of the trademark dishes of Macau, a crispy puff pastry filled with rich creamy egg custard with a caramelised, brulee-like topping. The famous tart was introduced to Macau in the late-80’s by Lord Stow’s owner after a trip to Belem, Lisbon. Despite not having the recipe, he managed to replicate Pasteis de Nata with an English touch and created the delicious dessert. Now, the company has eight outlets in Macau with the original shop located in Coloane Town Square.
7. Macau Tower
The Macau Tower stands at 338 metres high and is the 20th tallest tower in the world. Construction on the tower started in 1998, after a visit by Macau businessman Dr. Stanley Ho Hung-Sun to the Sky Tower in Auckland, New Zealand. He wanted to replicate the structure in Macau, with the result being the Macau Tower. It was opened in 2001 and has shopping and dining offerings. Those looking for adventurous things to do in Macau can even bungy jump from the Tower!
8. A-Ma Temple
The A-Ma Temple is the oldest temple in Macau and dates back to 1488. It was built to honour the Chinese sea-goddess Mazu. The temple is believed to be linked to how Macau got its name. Legend has it that when the Portuguese first arrived in Macau, they asked local inhabitants the name of the land. The locals understood and gave the name of the temple ‘Ma Ge’, which then was translated to Macau.
9. The House of Dancing Water
The various venues on the Cotai strip present plenty of performances, including from touring celebrities, but a perennial family favourite is The House of Dancing Water show at City of Dreams; it’s a watery extravaganza full of special effects.
Related: Must-see temples and places of worship in Hong Kong