Ahh Macau. For a long time it was the slightly rakish cousin to Hong Kong. A bit rough around the edges but still popular for its laid-back charm and cool card tricks.
It seemed that while HK was busy playing the stock market and drinking Pimms at the club, Macau was content to while away its days revelling in its legal casinos and feasting on salted cod by the shores of the Pearl River Delta.
They were good times but everyone knows that chilled-out fun never pays the bills…
That was until about 8 years ago when the The Venetian (of Las Vegas fame) opened its gilded doors and filled its mock canal on the Cotai strip, a newly reclaimed piece of land between Taipa and Coloane islands.
Acting as sort hugely expensive experiment, its success paved the way for the sea of Vegas classics that now dot the skyline.
The Wynn, Crown and MGM Grand have all put their neon stamp on the city, making the Macau of now feel more like fairground of grown up delights and you can’t help but get a child-like buzz of excitement as you see its sparkly skyline from the Turbo-Jet from Hong Kong airport (for the record, families are well catered for here as well).
But like any roguish character, Macau has a softer side. One that only needs a little coaxing to reveal but yields much in the way of reward. Thanks to some 440 years of Portuguese rule, there’s a layer of European culture infused into every experience. This medley of East meets West is what makes it one of the most fascinating (and picturesque) metropolises we’ve ever visited.
You might come for the casinos but you’ll fall in love with the culture.
112 Praceta do Museu de Macau
+853 2835 8503
We know that most people tend to leave the museums to the back of their to-do list when they hit a city. You want to explore the true authentic side of a city, how can a curated collection of artifacts provide you with the kind of real-world insights that you can only get by pounding the pavement and eating street-food? We get it. So take the fact that we’re putting this front and centre as verification that the Macao Museum is a must-do.
First of all, it’s located within Mount Fortress, built by the 17th century Jesuits. And if you know anything about the Jesuits it’s that they did not mess around when it came to building things. The structure covers from 8,000 square metres and is formed atop wide granite bases.
From the top of the Fortress Gardens you’ll enjoy a perfect 360 degree view of the entire city and the best part is, this being China, you won’t even have to walk up any stairs to get there, elevators throughout the entire museum means you’re remain relatively fresh even on those humid days.
On your way up you’ll pass all manor of folk art and religious and literary heirlooms, setting you up to properly appreciate all the spots you’ll visit on the rest of your trip.
Ruins of St Pauls
Just next to the Macau Museum
Originally the Church of Mater Dei, this stunning facade is another ornate gem for the Jesuit architectural digest. Often referred to as Macau’s ‘acropolis’, thousands flock to the steps beneath the structure to admire the oriental-meets-European motifs.
Have an explore through the adjacent gardens and keep an eye (and an ear) out for locals hanging their pet birds in trees to give them a bit of a social life.
Peak times here are around lunch time, so if you prefer your Instagrams to project the image of minimal crowds and sweet artsy isolation then we suggest avoiding this time. Though there is something to be said for the people watching. We perched on the side, eating a couple of Portuguese tarts (how VERY Macau-ian) and watched the world go by for half and hour, spying one of the cutest families to ever use a selfie-stick.
Senado Square (or Largo do Senado)
Keep your phone charged because it only takes a second in Senado Square to realise that you’ve died and gone to Instagram heaven. The ancient cobblestone pavements! The rainbow-hued and perfectly preserved Portguese buildings! The juxtaposition of it all against glaring neon Chinese signs advertising Canton and Macanese food! It’s almost a bit Disney-town for how out of place this seems in China but it’s a working town square (albeit a little bit touristy) and a popular place for locals to convene.
Barra Square and A-Ma Temple
Barra Square is just in front of A-Ma Temple, so you’re ticking off two historic hotspots in one. Like Senado, Barra Square is a brilliant promenade of architectural gems from Praia Grande through to Praia do bom Parto. Halfway up Barra Hill you’ll find the A-Ma Temple (you can’t miss it thanks to its elaborate gate pavilion). Best appreciated up close, there are a number of working shrines to explore and in the middle of the day the entire complex buzzes with worshipers burning incense and paper money. Some of them are built up high into the rock and only accessible for the truly energetic (nb: stairs).
The Red Market
Avenue do Alm, Lacerda, Macau, China
Do you watch Game of Thrones? If so, then you’ll know that anything with ‘Red’ in the title is a giant clue to what awaits you within the walls of this unassuming building in the middle of Lacerda. Not going to sugar-coat it, it’s real Macau in the rawest sense and is really only for travellers who don’t shy away from reality. Put simply, it’s where locals who want their fish so-fresh-they’re-alive shop. We’ll leave the rest to your imagination but will say that we were informed that it used to be even more real but with each passing generation the Red Market gets a little less red. So there’s that at least.
These are the most tame photos from our edit…
Long Wa Tea House
3 Rua Norte de Mercado Almirante, Lacerda, Macau, China
+853 2857 4456
Not keen to get your George R. R. Martin on at The Red Market? Can’t really blame you. Literally across the road and up a flight of stairs you’ll find the Long Wa Tea House, where you’ll be instantly whisked back into the romance of the European-influenced Macau of the 1930s.
It’s an art-deco treasure and one of last of the real tea houses, complete with wrap-around balcony, decorated with bonsai plants. Grab a booth by the window, sip some tea and feel positively noir.
Lilau Neighbourhood & Our Lady of Penha
Once you’ve had your history fix it’s time to get acquainted with the Macau of now and there’s no better spot to get a voyeurs view into how people live than taking a fun drive through Lilau (also known as ‘The Beverly Hills of Macau’).
This quiet leafy neighbourhood is where you’ll find the houses of the local ultra elite.
Have a peek through their gates (mind their security guards) and count the Ferraris. Then make your way up to Our Lady of Penha, a Trappistine chapel with a cluster of old Banyan trees and stellar views over the inner harbour and bridges to Taipa.
Take in the sunset views from the top of Macau Tower (address not required – you can’t miss it)
The House of Dancing Water
Estrada do Istmo, Cotai, City of Dreams, Macau, China
+853 8868 6688
Firstly, we love that this is in a complex called ‘City of Dreams’. So fearless. Never a worry about elevating expectations beyond what’s actually possible for a casino/mall. Probably because they know people come here to see this show and, honestly, we’ll be damned if you don’t walk out of the theatre with a fantasmic sense of wonderment about you. The super high-tech space can fill and empty 3.7 million gallons of water in 5 minutes, seeing divers and dancers working with a hidden scuba team to produce one of the most breathtaking productions you’ll see. Sorry Cirque Du Soleil.
7 Rua dos Clerigos, Old Taipa Village, Taipa, Macau, China
+853 2899 9998
Mention restaurant Antonio to anyone in Macau or Hong Kong and it seems everyone has a story to tell from this place, fuelled by chef Antonio’s boundless energy and welcoming spirit (and a well-earned Michelin star to boot). Don’t be surprised to find him out front with a cold Portuguese beer, entertaining and posing for photos with crowds of foodie fans. One of the best parts of a trip to Antonio is the stroll through Old Taipa Village. If you need a bit of a break from the OTT glam of the casinos the romance of the colonial houses, churches and temples will fix you right up.
Sheraton Macau Hotel, Estrada do Istmo, Cotai, Macau, China
+853 2880 2000
Hong Kong and Macau locals take their hot pot seriously and Xin has been designed with the experts in mind. There’s so much seafood and raw meat to choose from, the challenge is not to mix it all together at once. Make a mistake with your flavours? Never fear, just ask for a new pot of broth. You have 7 to choose from and are welcome to flip between types in order to experience all the flavours.
261 Rua do Alm, Sergio, Macau, China
+853 2896 7878
Home to delicious cross cultural fare and the arguably the best website music on the entire internet. Want proof? We recommend you click here now. Once you’ve let the smooth undulating Kenny G funk take over for a few minutes, make a booking and make sure they have the African chicken on hand.
We’re not overstating it when we say it’s absolutely one of the top 100 things you must eat before you die.
Lord Stow’s Bakery
Coloane Town Square, No.1 Rua da Tassara, Macau China
+853 2888 2534
Sorry to be the ones to break this to you but every Portuguese tart you’ve ever eaten has been a fake. A false-tart even. One designed to appear and taste like the famous custard treat but ultimately doomed to never live up to the true original.
Because unless it came directly from the hot ovens at Lord Stow’s (historically the bonafide original creators of the less-sugary mouthwatering Macau-style pastry) then it’s just a replica. Once you’ve had one bite we promise your tastebuds will know the difference. #truth
Estrada de Hac Sa, Praia de Hac Sá, Macau, China
+853 2888 2623
Still on Coloane? Perfect. Head over to Miramar, where you should finish off your day of hard enjoyment. The kitchen is presided over by Madame Rosa, one of Macau’s only female head chefs (as far as we know) and almost every single day she’s on site delivering Macanese favourites like coffee-style steak and stewed red beans with pork.
Estrado do Istmo, Cotai, Macau
+853 2880 2000
So you want the full-on high-glitz high-rolling Macau vibe but not sure if you want to completely entrench yourself in the thick of things on Avenida de Lisboa (Ground Zero for the gambling crowd)? The Sheraton on Cotai is the perfect happy medium. Yes, you’ve got a pumping casino floor but overall this feels a lot more laid back.
Probably because the whole Cotai Strip was designed with families in mind. Basically, you check-in here and it’s a one-stop all-you-can-enjoy buffet of fine-dining spots, multiple swimming pools, and boutique shopping.
In keeping with the friendly tone, The Sheraton is buddies with The Venetian (joined by an over-road bridge) so you’re 5 minutes from those squint-and-you’re-in-Venice (jokes) canal side strolls.
Pousada De Sao Tiago
Avenida da Republica, Fortaleza de Sao da Barra, Macau, China
+853 2873 8111
In a city where a 600-room mega-hotel is considered ’boutique’ (most of the larger chains cater for a pax of thousands), this 12-room hideaway is utterly unique and historic with a capital H. The Pousada was originally built in the 17th century, where it spent its early days as fortress.
It has since been renovated to reflect the best in modern hotel accommodation but with a strong slant towards the European, making it a very popular spot with the Hong Kong wedding crowd (and anyone looking for a super romantic escape).