By Darren Griffiths

Our Guide to Macao – East Meets West; Old Meets New

28th November 2023

Macau (aka Macao) is both an island and a peninsula, joined by bridges. While it is a part of China, it does enjoy a lot of local autonomy as what is called a “special administrative district.” Visitors will immediately be struck by the huge dichotomy of architecture and cultures.

This is because Macau was first colonized by the Portuguese in the 16th century. It became a part of China by mutual agreement in 1999, and that’s when the modernization began.

Today, Macau is also called the “Las Vegas of Asia,” because of the large number of luxury casinos/resorts that attract tourists from both the rest of Asia and Europe. And like Las Vegas, the casino district never sleeps.

Outside of the busy and thriving urban center is the old Macau – the markets, the shops, the traditional eateries, and the artisans.

If you’ve never traveled to Macau but intend to or would like to, here is a complete guide from arrival to departure.

Best Time to Visit

Early spring through early fall is the best time to encounter good weather in Macau. The weather is pretty good for outdoor sightseeing activities – lots of sun but not sweltering. As with any spot that is on the water, you may have short rain showers in the afternoons but they are just that – short.

Evenings in Macau can get a bit chilly, so a light jacket is in order.

Getting to Macau

The easiest way is to go from Hong Kong. There are hydrofoil docks near the airport, and the trip to Macau takes about 40 minutes. 

You can also fly in from Vietnam on Viva Macau Airlines, but it’s a bit pricey.

However you go, you will need a separate visa for Macau. The good news? You can apply for it when you arrive, if you haven’t already done so in Hong Kong.

Where to Stay

There are a number of high-quality hotels, and most have saunas, spas, workout rooms, and a pool. Prices will range from about 80$ – 160$/night. 

If you’re on a tight budget, stay at the Old London Hotel – clean rooms but not the amenities you will find at 4- and 5-star hotels.

There is even a Sheraton, along with other luxurious hotels – the Grandview, Lisboa, and Venetian, for example.

Do your research and pick a place within your budget. You really can’t go wrong at any of the hotels that are in the casino-resort district.

Getting Around Macau

You have plenty of options here. Obviously, the most expensive options are renting a car or hiring taxis. For the fit and adventurous, rent a motorbike. 

The bus system is great – get a map and schedules, and do Macau on your own.

There is also the trishaw, a more modern version of the rickshaw, with a bicycle rider rather than a runner. You’ll need to negotiate the price beforehand but expect to pay 18$-20$/hour.

What to Do and See

macau things to do

Here’s the thing about Macau. This small gem in Asia has whatever someone may be looking for when they vacation. For those who want nightlife, there’s plenty in the casinos with gambling, shows, etc. For those who are history buffs, there’s plenty from the centuries of Portuguese colonial rule; and for those who want to experience native cultures and their way of life, there are the native sections with their markets, restaurants, etc. And of course, there are beaches and other entertainment venues.

Here are some not-to-miss sights and activities.

Historical and Religious Sights

Ruins of St Paul Cathedral

This is probably the first cultural and historical landmark recommended for a visit. Built in 1602, the Cathedral’s purpose was to honor St Paul and is one of the largest monuments to Christianity in Asia. There are five levels with statues and elaborate carvings.

Macau Museum

This museum summarizes the history of the territory. And for good measure, it’s built in a fortress. You will see building reproductions, and everything chronologically displayed. You can easily spend a couple of hours here.

A-Ma Temple

This is the oldest of three ancient temples and is dedicated to Matsu. Matsu is the goddess of fishermen and other seamen. It is believed that the name Matsu was the impetus for the Portuguese naming their colony Macau. You may also want to visit Kun Iam Temple, originally built in the 1400s but highly modernized. The big draw is not just the three worship halls but the gardens.

Modern Destinations

Modern Macau is glitzy and full of sights and entertainment venues. For those who come for the gambling, the shows, and the nightlife, there will be no lack of things to do.

Macau Tower

Over 1100 feet tall, this is a big landmark. Visitors take high-speed elevators to the top and can see all of Macau from the observation deck. There is also the 360-degree revolving restaurant, a couple of shopping malls, and a walking tour around the rim.

Casinos

These were already mentioned – gamblers will have their choice of many.

Grand Prix Museum

If you happen to be in Macau in November, you will be able to attend the Macau Grand Prix – car and motorbike races. These began in 1954. If not, however, and you are a bit of a car enthusiast, you’ll want to visit the Grand Prix Museum – cars, videos, memorabilia, and even a race-driving simulator.

Fisherman’s Wharf

If you’ve been to Navy Pier in Chicago, you’ll find Fisherman’s Wharf a bit familiar- shops, an amusement park, restaurants, an amphitheater, and a rich nightlife.

Life on the Market Streets

It’s worth the crowds and the walking to visit the traditional neighborhoods and markets of older Macau. One of the best ways to do this is to sightsee with a native. If you visit Hily.com, a dating and social app, you are likely to find natives of Macau. You can chat in advance and arrange to meet up. Here are a couple of photos of typical streets where you can sample the foods and buy some souvenirs to remember your trip.