The Best Things to do in Macau

Macau. The “Vegas of the Far East.”

For centuries, this tiny region in the South China Sea was controlled by the Portuguese, who used it as a trading hub for Asia. After almost 600 years, the Portuguese finally handed over Macau to the Chinese in 1999, making it the last European colony in Asia. Much like its nearby neighbor Hong Kong, Macau is an autonomous region, meaning that while the Chinese government oversees its foreign affairs and military, it maintains its own legal system, immigration policy, and even its own currency (the Macau patacama).

Oddly, we can visit Macau with our US passports without a problem, yet Chinese nationals need a visa to enter, much like Hong Kong.

Macau lies on the Pearl River Delta on the Southern China coast, about 60 miles to the southwest of Hong Kong and shares a land border with the Chinese city of Zhuhai. It is tiny but incredibly densely populated, packing in 650,000 people in just 12 square miles. It used to consist of the Macau Peninsula, and two smaller islands – Taipa and Coloane. But then, finding themselves short on space, industrious locals filled in the space between the two islands and it’s now one.

The strip in the center – modeled after the strip in Las Vegas – is called Cotai, a nice little play on the names of the original islands.

What spurred all of this growth and development was the influx of the casinos. Macau is one of the largest gambling centers in the world, and the close proximity to the wealthy elite of Hong Kong means there is no shortage of people willing to bet big. More and more casinos are popping up, bringing with them more restaurants, activities, and visitors.

But Macau is not all about casinos. It has a fascinating history, and a unique blend of Chinese and Portuguese cultures that goes beyond the draw of slot machines and gaming tables. Here is our picks for the best things to do in Macau on your next visit.

The Best Things to do in Macau

Things to do in Macau

Things to do in Macau

Explore Old Town

The Historic Centre of Macau is where you will find the most obvious blending of Portuguese and Chinese cultures. This tiny walkable area located on Macau Peninsula is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, studded with European-style architecture, churches, and open squares.

This is where you will find St. Dominic’s Church, the Ruins of St. Paul, and Senado Square alongside A-Ma Temple and Na Tcha Temple. You can sip on ginjinha, the Portuguese sour cherry liqueur at Albergue SCM, or sample Cantonese seafood at Tou Tou Koi.

Be warned that during peak afternoon hours, tourists will flock to this area for shopping and sightseeing, so it’s best to plan your visit either in the morning or in the evening.

Things to do in Macau

Things to do in Macau

Things to do in Macau

Things to do in Macau

Things to do in Macau

Eat Incredibly Well

Thanks to it’s history, Macau has excellent Portuguese and Cantonese food. And thanks to its massive casinos, Macau has been able to attract some rather famous chefs from around the world to showcase their high-end, Michelin-starred cuisine.

For something traditional and away from the casinos, you can head to Lok Kei to try the dying art of bamboo noodles, served simply stir-fried with an intense shrimp roe powder. Or try the pork chop bun, a Macau favorite, at Tai Lei Loi Kei.

If you feel like Portuguese, you can’t go wrong with Antonio’s in Taipa Village. The goat cheese gratin, bacalhau (salt cod), Portuguese duck rice and African chicken are standouts. For more classic Portuguese food in a more relaxed setting, head to Restaurante Fernando Coloane for the Portuguese classics.

If money is no object, than you can choose from no fewer than 19 Michelin-starred restaurants, including the 3-star Robuchon au Dôme at the Grand Lisboa. Here, superstar chef Joel Robuchon showcases his French-inspired cuisine, where the set-lunch menu is one of the most inexpensive ways to try a 3-star restaurant in the world (though at around $85/person, it still isn’t cheap).

The Best Things to do in Macau

Things to do in Macau

Take Home Some Snacks

If you take the ferry from Macau back to Shenzhen or Hong Kong, you are sure to see hoards of people toting large shopping bags of treats from Koi Kei Bakery. This now famous bakery, with multiple branches, is known for its peanut brittle, almond biscuits, pork floss (yes, that’s a thing), and more.

Don’t forget to save room for pastéis de nata, the Portuguese egg custard tart that is popular in Macau as well. Check out Lord Stow’s Bakery on Coloane Island for one of the best versions.

Things to do in Macau

Things to do in Macau

Enjoy the Craziness of the Cotai Strip

Much like the Vegas Strip, Macau has been hard at work developing its own version, the Cotai Strip. Here is where many of the new hotels and shopping malls are located, including the Venetian, which contains the world’s largest casino floor among downstairs from nearly 3,000 hotel rooms.

Nearby is the Galaxy, a dining, shopping, casino, and hotel complex with five hotels, dozens of restaurants (including the Michelin-starred 8 1/2 Otto e Mezzo), and thousands of gaming tables.

Much like Vegas, the Strip is best seen at night, when its neon lighting lights up the sky.

Things to do in Macau

Things to do in Macau

Things to do in Macau

Seek Some Thrills at the Macau Tower

Standing at over 1,000 ft tall, the Macau Tower is hard to miss. It sits right on the bay, and offers more than just panoramic views from its observation deck. Here, you can take part in Skywalk X, a tethered walk around the outer rim of the top of the tower. Or, if you are a true adrenaline junkie, you can literally jump off the building, one of the tallest bungee jumps in the world, at almost 800 ft.

Things to do in Macau

Relax at a Posh Hotel

While hitting the tables is always fun, relaxing at a lovely hotel should be on anyone’s agenda in Macau. Many of the hotels are holidays in and of themselves.

You could easily park yourself in the Venetian or Grand Lisboa and find ways to amuse yourself for an entire weekend. If gambling is your thing, look no further than the HK$2,000 baccarat tables at the MGM Grand. We came to Macau looking for a little peace and quiet and found it at the Mandarin Oriental. This hotel doesn’t have a casino, which might be a bummer for the high rollers but we liked the less frantic pace of the hotel overall. Plus, the nearest casino floor was only a five minute walk to the adjoining MGM Grand.

The Best Things to do in Macau

The Best Things to do in Macau

How to Get There

Macau is well connected by various forms of transportation. From China, you can drive across the border from Zhuzhi into Macau. If you are coming from Shenzhen, like we were, there are ferries almost every hour from the Shekou Ferry Terminal (60 minutes/US$50). From Hong Kong, the ferry is also the easiest. Ferries depart every 15-30 minutes from the Hong Kong/Macau Ferry Terminal in Central (55 minutes/US$40).

If you are feeling particular flush with cash, there is always the helicopter option, which can take you to Hong Kong or Shenzhen in under 10 minutes, though the steep $600/person price tag is a bit insane. Of course, if you need to fly, Macau does have a small airport, with direct flights to over a dozen destinations, including Seoul, Bangkok, Tokyo, and Singapore.

The Best Things to do in Macau

Have you been to Macau? What were some of your favorite things to do in Macau?

The Best Things to do in Macau

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  • August 19, 2017

    WOW. Thats probably the prettiest post on Macau I have come across. Nice pics!

  • August 19, 2017

    Nice one…

  • August 19, 2017

    we were considering doing just a day trip to Macau whilst we were in Hong Kong, but now that I have read this I am so very glad we didn’t! There is no way one could be satisfied with just a day here ( contrary to what so many reviews said).

    • August 23, 2017

      A day trip is possible, but to see everything, you definitely need more time!

  • August 19, 2017

    Still on my bucket list, I’d probably be blown away by Macau because of its mixture of cultures. 🙂 Your photos are lovely, it’s easy to see the Portuguese heritage. Thanks for the guide, you’ve made me impatient to go! 😀

    • August 23, 2017

      Definitely weird to see road signs in Portuguese and Cantonese…

  • August 20, 2017

    I think we could easily spend a few days in Macau. As you said experiencing the craziness of the Cotai Strip and then back to a luxury hotel.
    Marcus and Mel recently posted…FlyBe Flight Review – Cardiff To London City AirportMy Profile

  • August 21, 2017
    Sandy N Vyjay

    Macau is really a unique destination and has many facets to it. Though it is known more for its casinos, there it much more to Macau than this and it has a rich culture that is a fine blend of different regions. We loved our time in Macau when we were there for a short visit a couple of years ago and hope to get there again soon.

    • August 23, 2017

      There is certainly plenty to do outside of the casinos, that’s for sure.

  • August 21, 2017

    I am so surprised that most people just emphasise the Vegas bit and the luxury stay, and skip the atmospheric old town! Seeing these pictures in your post makes me want to go and explore that part of it. The Portuguese tarts may not be the same as in Lisbon, but they will do!

    • August 23, 2017

      They egg tarts tasted pretty good, I must say!

  • August 21, 2017

    I love the look of this place Drew. I always thought of casinos and gambling when pondering Macau but it has much more to offer. I dig the Portugal influence in buildings and names. I have seen a huge push to head to Macau too, especially when flying Air Asia as I believe they added a few flights not too long ago.
    Ryan Biddulph recently posted…12 Annoying Strategies That Torpedo Your Blogging Success (Amazon eBook)My Profile

    • August 23, 2017

      I believe Air Asia has a couple of flights into Macau. Plus, it’s easy to reach by ferry from Hong Kong.

  • August 21, 2017

    We’ve never thought about visiting Macau before, but now that I’ve read this I certainly want to add it to my bucket list. The snacks look absolutely delicious.
    Rhonda Albom recently posted…Juneau Whale Watching and Glacier Viewing in AlaskaMy Profile

    • August 23, 2017

      It’s a fun place, and so easy to reach from Hong Kong too. Makes for a great day or overnight trip.

  • August 22, 2017

    Macau looks like the perfect blend of modern and old school buildings. I would love to wake up to that view. What a lovely hotel room! The food looks like the star attraction though. I love Portugese food. What dimsums did you have! They look super delicious.
    Shruti Prabhu recently posted…Underneath the Mango Tree – not your usual resortMy Profile

    • August 23, 2017

      We had ALL the dim sum! Har gaw, steamed buns, taro cake, radish cake, soup dumplings, sui mai. The list goes on!

  • August 23, 2017
    Megan Jerrard

    I had no idea that Macau was the last European colony in Asia. Crazy that US passports are fine for entry but the Chinese need a visa! Definitely looks very resemblant of Vegas once you get to the strip – I’m not a big partier or gambler, but I did enjoy walking Vegas for the lights and the atmosphere.

    I love that it has a lot more authenticity and culture than Vegas though – would love to visit Olt Town for the blend of Portugese history, and the architecture looks really interesting. Also, the blend of cuisine! I’m a big adrenalin junkie too, so a bungee jump might be on the list 😀

    Thanks for featuring Macau – I learned a lot today 🙂

    • August 29, 2017

      Lots to do culturally in Macau, which is a nice alternative to the gambling scene. The cuisine is so funky too, mixing Cantonese with Portuguese. A unique destination for sure.

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