Macau Travel Guide

Historic cannons on the ramparts of Fortaleza do Monte
Historic cannons on the ramparts
of Fortaleza do Monte

An hour by ferry from Hong Kong, Macau was once seen as principally a sleepy side-trip offering a break from the buzz and bustle of the British enclave. Economically backward, it traded on the preservation of colonial-era buildings and as a gambling weekend resort. But even before the Portuguese colony’s return to China in 1999, two years after Hong Kong, a complete restructuring of the tiny territory was underway, with vast public works projects including harbor reclamation, an airport, new bridges, and the fusing of the islands Taipa and Coloane into one. The connecting land, known as the Cotai Strip, is filling up with luxurious hotel-casinos, anchored by a copy of Las Vegas’s The Venetian, with sampans floating amongst the gondolas. Macau now out-glitzes neighboring Hong Kong.

Visitors' checklist

  • 560,000
  • Taipa Island, about a mile (2 km) South
  • Macau Ferry Terminal, Avenida Amizade (ferries to Hong Kong, Hong Kong Airport, and Shenzhen Airport)
  • 9 Largo de Senado, 0853 2831 5566
  • Macau Arts Festival (May)

    Macau City Center

    • Fisherman’s Wharf 12
    • Fortaleza do Monte 1
    • Guia Fort & Lighthouse 4
    • Largo do Senado 6
    • Macau Tower 11
    • Maritime Museum 9
    • Pousada São Tiago 10
    • Praia Grande 7
    • Rua da Felicidade 8
    • Ruinas de São Paulo 2
    • The Old Protestant Cemetery 3
    • The Venetian 5

    Fortaleza Do Monte

    • Rua de Monte
    • May–Sep: 6am–7pm; Oct–Apr: 7am–6pm daily

    Macau Museum

    • Macau Museum
    • Praceta do Museu de Macao, No 112
    • 0853 2835 7911
    • 10am–6pm Tue–Sun

    Built between 1617 and 1626, this fortress housed the original Portuguese settlement at Macau. Its thick ramparts, surmounted by ancient cannons, still occupy a commanding position and appear as invincible as they did in 1622, when the invading Dutch forces were defeated.

    Dug into the hill beneath the fort is the impressively informative Macau Museum. Its escalators and stairs provide an air-conditioned route to the hill-top fortress passing through re-creations of Portuguese and Chinese life. Beginning with the arrival of Portuguese traders and Jesuit missionaries, the exhibitions compare the two cultures at the time of contact and go on to cover the development of Macau and its unique traditions.

    The magnificent façade of the Ruinas de São Paulo
    The magnificent façade of
    the Ruinas de São Paulo

    Ruinas de São Paulo

  • Rua de São Paulo
  • 0853 2835 8444
  • 9am–6pm daily

    All that is left of this once grand cathedral, built by the Jesuits and perched precariously atop a steep flight of steps, is its magnificent, crumbling façade. Its most outstanding features are the ornate figures on the façade, comprising a "sermon in stone" that records some of the main events from the Christian scriptures.

    The cathedral was built by Japanese Christian converts, who fled to Macau in the 16th century following religious repression. In the 18th century, Macau also expelled the Jesuits, and the building was converted into barracks until it was destroyed by a fire in 1835. Only extensive structural work in the 1990s stopped the façade from crumbling. The attached museum houses paintings, sculptures, and relics from Macau's churches.

    Gravestone, Old Protestant Cemetery
    Gravestone, Old Protestant Cemetery

    The Old Protestant Cemetery

  • Praca Luis de Camões
  • 9am–5:30pm daily

    The gravestones at this cemetery at the corner of the Camões Gardens are crammed with fascinating historical details that give some wonderful insights into the lives led by early colonists. Many of them were Britons, who traded, married, or fought in and around Macau before Hong Kong was established as a British territory. Among the notable people buried here are Robert Morrison, the first Protestant missionary to venture to China, and the artist George Chinnery. The gravestones speak of short but heroic lives, such as that of the brave Lieutenant Fitzgerald killed after "gallantly storming" a gun battery at Canton (now Guangzhou). The inscription on Robert Morrison’s tomb states that he produced the first Chinese version of the Old and New Testaments. The adjoining Camões Gardens are named after the renowned Portuguese poet Luis Vaz de Camões, the author of the 16th-century epic The Lusiads.

    Guia Fort & Lighthouse

    • Estrada de Cacilhas
    • 0853 2859 5481
    • varies, call ahead
    The Guia Fort was built between 1622 and 1638, and offers great views over the town. Initially it served as a fort to defend the border with China, but in 1865 a lighthouse was added. A pleasant way to get here is to take the cable car to the hilltop. A small chapel stands next door and there are several gentle walking trails around the hill.

    The Venetian

    • Cotai Strip
    • 0853 2882 8888
    Inspired by The Venetian in Las Vegas, Macau’s most spectacular hotel-casino recreates a miniature Venice, complete with campanile, Rialto Bridge, and gondolas with singing gondoliers. The mega-resort is suites-only and offers themed shopping as well as a theater seating up to 1800 people. There is the usual array of slot machines, blackjack, baccarat, roulette, and keno (bingo), as well as some Chinese games, including the dice game dai sui and the mahjong-style pai kao. Gambling is Macau’s lifeblood, contributing more than half the government’s revenue. Macau also hosts horse racing, held twice a week, and greyhound racing, four times a week .

    Colonial façade on Largo do Senado
    Colonial façade on Largo do Senado

    Largo Do Senado
    The symbolic heart of Macau, the Largo do Senado or Senate Square has numerous stately colonial buildings set around it, including the Leal Senado or Loyal Senate, which now houses the municipal government, the General Post Office, and the Santa Casa de Misericordia, an old refuge for orphans and prostitutes. There are also numerous restaurants and the tourist office. The striking, wavy black and white tile patterns snaking across the square make it a great place to take photographs by day or floodlit by night.

    Praia Grande
    Perhaps the best way to get a flavor of Macau’s colonial architecture is to take a stroll on the Avenida de Praia Grande. Although land reclamation has encroached on the waterfront and robbed the Praia Grande of some of its elegance, it is still a charming place with many grand houses still in excellent condition. The monument to Jorge Alvares, the first Portuguese explorer to reach China, stands near the corner of Avenida do Dr. Mario Soares. One of the most handsome buildings is the old Governor’s Residence. Although it is not open to the public as it is a private residence, a good view can be had from the road.

    Rua da Felicidade
    A variety of sweet scents waft from the Rua da Felicidade or "Street of Happiness," where tasty and colorful Macanese biscuits and cakes are baked and sold. The area once teemed with brothels, hence its somewhat ironically bestowed name. Today, it is a charming, cobbled street lined with small eateries, which makes it a good place for a quick lunch stop.

    A scale model of a Chinese junk, Maritime Museum
    A scale model of a Chinese junk,
    Maritime Museum

    Maritime Museum

    • Largo do Pagode da Barra 1
    • 0853 28595 481
    • 10am–6pm Wed–Mon
    Small-scale but interesting exhibits make this museum worth a visit for insights into Macau’s maritime past upon which its wealth was built. Displays include models of Chinese junks, Portuguese ships and fishing boats, a mock Hakka village (see Earthen Dwellings of Yongding), a dragon boat, and a small aquarium. There are also motorized junk rides around the harbor.

    Pousada São Tiago

    • Avenida da Republica Fortaleza de São Tiago da Barra
    • 0853 28378 111

    Well worth a visit for a drink on the terrace, a night’s stay, or a meal at its restaurant, this tiny but enchanting hotel (see Pousada de São Tiago) was once a fortress hewn from the rock on which it stood in the 17th century. The chapel to São Tiago, Portugal’s patron saint of soldiers, remains to this day. The structure is more a rocky grotto than a smart hotel, which only adds to its charm. A natural spring runs through the lobby and the corridors are paved with flagstones. Its rooms are traditionally decorated in Portuguese style, with dark wooden furniture and attractive tiles. The hotel also runs a good restaurant, La Paloma.

    The modern Macau Tower
    The modern
    Macau Tower

    Macau Tower

    • Largo da Torre de Macau
    • 0853 28933 339
    • 10am–9pm Mon–Fri, 9am–9pm Sat & Sun

    The Macau Tower, the peninsula’s most visible attraction, is 1,107 ft (338 m) high. The tower provides a great view; in fact, visitors can see Hong Kong’s surrounding islands on a clear day. It is, however, not the ideal place for those who don’t like heights. Glass-sided elevators rocket visitors skywards, and the restaurants and viewing galleries at the top are also partially glass-bottomed. For the truly adventurous, it is possible to don overalls and a harness, and explore parts of the tower’s exterior with the adventure sports company, A.J. Hackett, which runs a number of activities around the tower. These range from the relatively sedate bungy trampolining to a dizzying skywalk around the tower’s outer rim at a height of over 764 ft (233 m).

    Fisherman’s Wharf

    • Five minutes walk from Macau Ferry Terminal
    • 24 hours daily

    As themed complexes go, this is one of the largest and most technicolor in the region. It occupies a total of 1,300,000 sq ft (120,000 sq m) at the outer harbor. The brainchild of tycoon Stanley Ho, it is built on newly reclaimed land and is divided into three areas. Dynasty Wharf is a massive Food mall, while at East Meets West, an artificial volcano erupts in pyrotechnic display at night, while inside are thrilling rides in mine carts (think Indiana Jones). The adjacent Children’s Fort is specifically for families. To see replicas of different areas of the world with themed restaurants and shops, go to Legend Wharf. It also has a luxury yacht marina.

    Regional Food: Macau

    A selection of Cantonese sweetmeats in a Macau shop
    A selection of Cantonese sweetmeats
    in a Macau shop

    When the Portuguese arrived in Macau 450 years ago, the peninsula was virtually uninhabited. They cooked using Portuguese methods, but with local Chinese ingredients and southeast Asian herbs and spices picked up from their other outposts in Africa, Goa, Malacca, Indonesia, and Japan. As the years went by, and links home were established, some of the grander families stuck with Portuguese recipes made with the traditionally correct ingredients, while the less well-off incorporated more Cantonese-style dishes and ingredients, and over time the two cuisines fused together to form a separate Macanese cuisine.

    A selection of typical Macanese ingredients
    A selection of typical
    Macanese ingredients

    Bacalhau is the most famous Portuguese ingredient. This dried and salted cod is integral to Iberian cookery and in Macau is cooked in every way possible. Distinguishing other Portuguese influences is difficult but good signs include the liberal use of olive oil, almonds, chorizo (paprika sausage), rabbit, and saffron. Other non-Chinese foods that are available are bread, cakes, cheese, olives, and coffee. Macau is also home to a well-developed wine culture, and naturally almost all the wines on offer are Portuguese. These are generally better quality than on the mainland and even better value.

    Other Influences
    The other obvious change to Cantonese cuisine is the more generous use of herbs and spices: coriander and chilies in peri-peri dishes from Africa; fish sauce from SE Asia; hot and spicy curries from Goa;feijoada and sweet potatoes from Brazil; tamarind from Malacca.

    Flowering choi sum
    Flowering choi sum
    Saffron strands
    Saffron strands
    Galinha Africana (African Chicken) is so called perhaps because of its blackened coloring. It is marinated in garlic, chilies, and coconut milk, then roasted in a hot oven.
    Galinha Africana (African Chicken)
    is so called perhaps because of its
    blackened coloring. It is marinated
    in garlic, chilies, and coconut milk,
    then roasted in a hot oven.

    Regional Dishes and Specialties
    There are very few totally Cantonese-inspired dishes in the Macanese cuisine. Tacho – a winter casserole of beef, pork, chicken and Chinese sausage is perhaps the most Cantonese of all Macanese dishes. As expected, bacalhau dishes feature prominently. There are Bacalhau Guisado (Salted Cod Stew), Bacalhau a Gomes de Sa (Salted Cod in Gomes de Sa Style), and Pasteis de Bacalhau (Salted Cod Cake) to name just a few. Other popular dishes include Caril de Camarao (Shrimp Curry). There are traditional Portuguese dishes like Caldo Verde (Cabbage and Potato Stew) and Carne de Porco a Algarvia (Braised Pork with Clams). At first sight, Pasteis de Nata (Egg Tartlets) look the same as the Cantonese ones in Hong Kong, but they taste quite different.

    For more details, please visit China Tours and China Travel Information.


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