If you enjoy gambling, then Macau needs no introduction. It’s the gambling capital of the world, home to mega casinos and hotels generating billions of dollars in gambling revenue annually.
But even if you aren’t into gambling, you shouldn’t let that stop you from visiting Macau because there’s plenty to see and do here, even for non-gamblers. Macau has an old world European feel left by centuries of Portuguese influence. From its beautiful architecture to its delicious food, you’ll find touches of Iberian influence that will leave you guessing if you’re still in Asia. Remarkable considering not too far from old Macau are the glitzy hotels and casinos that have earned the peninsula its nickname, “The Las Vegas of Asia”.
Whether you’re into gambling or culture, there is much to experience in Macau.
My top 20 things that I love about Macao are:
1. Adrenaline Rush from the Macau Tower
Towering 338 meters (1,109 ft) above the ground, Macau Tower is one of the most recognizable landmarks on the peninsula. Its 360° observation deck offers the best views of Macau.
Situated at the top of the striking Macau Tower, jumpers leap from a platform 233m (764 ft) above the ground and experience the ultimate free fall experience. This is the ultimate in daredevil thrill-seeking. Macau Tower also offers alternatives like Skywalk and SkyJump activities that are slightly less terrifying!
It is 1 of the adventure activity from my bucket list.
2. House of Dancing Water
The House of Dancing Water show at City of Dreams resort is created by Cirque du Soliel’s Franco Dragone, it’s an incredible spectacle of dancers and gymnasts diving into water which suddenly becomes a stage. There is lighting and music and it’s a great show for the whole family – including motorbike stunts. How his brain works to create all this is the biggest mystery of all!
Being the Las Vegas of Asia, we can expect to catch some pretty spectacular shows in Macau. One of the most popular is The House of Dancing Water at the City of Dreams. I haven’t seen it yet, but it’s said to be one of the world’s largest and most impressive pool-based performances.
3. Incredible UNESCO World Heritage Sites
UNESCO World Heritage sites include the facade of St Paul’s just below the Macau Museum, which is also worth visiting for a glimpse of life here when firecracker factories employed hundreds and cricket fighting was for big money gamblers.
Senado Square and the Ruins of St. Paul are the heart of old Macau and its most iconic attractions.They’re part of the Historic Centre of Macau which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. There are many shops and restaurants in the area so apart from admiring the architecture, we can easily spend a few hours shopping and sampling all the delicious Macanese goodies.
4. Yummy Delicious food
Macau is one of Asia's best-kept culinary secrets, with an astonishing density of fine-dining options and a vibrant street-food scene. The 'must-try' is the iconic Macanese custard egg tart; some swear by those at Lord Stow's Bakery on Coloane, others argue passionately for those from rival Margaret's Cafe e Nata. Relishing the signature dishes of Macanese cuisine, which are a mix of southern Chinese and Portuguese ingredients, is something I would absolutely love to do.
5. Experience Two places at once
Travellers who visit Macau will find themselves immersed in an Asian destination that captures the important details of European heritage. Being in Macau will make we feel like we are in two destinations simultaneously because most of the street signs and advertisements are in Portuguese although we are essentially in China. Travellers will enjoy exploring Macau’s old town, which is one of UNESCO’s World Heritage sites. It showcases a unique combination of Portuguese and Chinese architecture. These influences are also evident in Macanese cuisine, which is born of African, Chinese, and Portuguese food. These include seafood, olives, and chorizo. Exploring the back streets of Macau’s Unesco World Heritage old town will give us a glimpse of a mix of Portuguese and Chinese architecture found nowhere else on earth.
6. Unique Black Sand Beach
Macau can satisfy beachgoers because this busy city has a natural beach. The Hac Sa Beach is Macau’s largest beach and is located on the southeast region of Coloane Island. It is famous for its black sand, the color of which can be attributed to the minerals that are washed ashore. Centuries ago, the sand was pitch black, but over time and due to erosion, the dark sand was replaced by yellowish sand that lightened the dark hue of the beach.
7. Fun watching Pandas
Away from the glittering streets of Macau city, lies the real natural treasure of this small peninsula; the Giant Pandas. Right on the hill side in Seac Pai Van Park in Coloane is the home of around 300 Pandas; highly popular amongst them are Kai Kai and Xin Xin.
The Panda Pavilion is actually a state of the art facility designed by best ecological minds to mimic nature. Its roof has been given an impression of a sea shell. While the architectural layout of the interiors have been kept completely in sync with the undulating terrains of the hill. Walk around the lanes, watching these cute creatures playing and jostling with each other in this artificially created natural habitat of them.
8. Shopping, Eating and Celebrations at Senado Square
One of the reasons why we should head to Macau is the ‘Senado Square’. The square is one of the major urban centers of Macau. Since centuries it has been a perfect venue for celebrations and public events. The square has also been inscribed UNESCO world heritage list. One thing that we certainly cannot miss while exploring this side of Macau is shopping. The whole square is dotted with pastel colored classical buildings; similar to those of the Mediterranean artistry. And what keeps these neo-styled buildings and their corners buzzing throughout the clock? Well, the square has shopping centers, traditional Chinese restaurants and cultural events making up for all its answers.
On special occasions like Christmas and Chinese Spring Festival, the square invites a lot of celebrations; lion and dragon dance, fireworks.
Just to the east of this historic square is the Macau Cathedral and near to the end of the paved road is the St. Domingo’s Church.
9. Gambling at the Venetian, MGM Grand, Sands Casino
Despite the constant comparison to Las Vegas, Macau is actually considered as THE world’s largest gambling centre. This has contributed to the skyrocketing of the city’s GDP, which in turn contributes to the “premium” feel that you get all over Macau. However, the casino culture stands in stark contrast to Macau’s true charms. We will often find many tourists stopping in front to take pictures, is pretty weird for a casino! But when the lights go on at night, it’s easy to see why this is a thing! And because most major casinos in Macau are located in hotels, there are many free shuttle bus services between the ferry terminals (Outer Harbour and Taipa) and the casino hotels. There also specialised shuttle buses between the aforementioned casinos as well.
10. Venetian Experience
There’s a shopping mall inside the hotel that is modelled after the city of Venice. The ‘streets’ are made of smooth cobblestone, the ceiling is painted to look like the afternoon sky, the buildings have a strong Renaissance era feel to them. A canal, with flowing water and gondola rides with a crooning boatman and everything!
11. A-MA TEMPLE
Built in 1488 under the Ming Dynasty, the A-Ma Temple is the oldest in Macau. It was erected in honor of A-Ma, the goddess of the sea. Legend has it that the goddess helps seafarers and guides them during their journey, especially during a storm. Located at Largo do Pagode da Barra in the southeastern tip of the peninsula, it is a bit isolated, making it a tiny isle of silence in the bustling, ravaging ocean that is the city center.
12. THE PARISIAN MACAO: EIFFEL TOWER
If anyone feel like they won’t be seeing the real Eiffel Tower in Paris anytime soon, visit this replica at the Parisian Macao. Don’t miss the fantastic lights show that mesmerizes viewers every 15 minutes starting 6:15pm to midnight.
We can also climb to the top and see the city lights from its observation deck.
13. WYNN MACAU: DANCING FOUNTAIN
The Dancing Fountain starts mesmerizing guests at 7pm and ends at 12midnight in 15-minute intervals. This means it plays every 15 minutes and the cool thing about it is that it does not do the same number twice, at least not within the day! Inside Wynn Tower is the Tree of Prosperity.
The Museum of Macau isn’t as eye-catching as its neighbor, the iconic Ruins of St. Paul’s, but it lodges significant artifacts narrating the history of Macau as a small settlement, as a Portuguese colony, and now as one of two Administrative Regions of China.
Its content isn’t the only thing worth admiring here. The location itself is of historical significance. The museum is set inside Mount Fortress (Fortaleza do Monte), Macau’s most important defense. Seated regally atop Mount Hill, the fortress affords gorgeous panoramic vistas of the city in all directions.
15. MACAU WINE MUSEUM
Learn the history of wine and be familiar with the tools used in the production of this highly prized alcoholic beverage. The 1400-square-meter site is composed of a Historical section, a Museum and Exhibitions area, and a Wine Cellar.
16. Spiritual Taipa Island
Despite the Portuguese continued to rule over Macau for some centuries, the inhabitants fiercely stuck to their Chinese roots, beliefs and customs. Now after going through the poker face of Macau, it is slightly hard to imagine a spiritual side of it. But that is prevailing in the Taipa village of Macau.
Amidst the concrete constructions of Macau, Taipa with its pre-historic temples manages to hone the spirituality of the region with utmost dedication.
The oldest amongst them is the Guanyin temple, the construction stones of which were laid back in the 13th century. It has statues and images of Lord Buddha decorated on its walls.
17. photographer’s paradise
Due to the multi-cultural influence in Macau, photographers will appreciate the diverse points and subjects for photography. From the ruins, food, and even simple shots of streets and people, it is very easy for photographers to create a unique photo essay. Macau can serve as the perfect training base for travel photographers, or a playground for those who just love taking good pictures because there are so many things that can be captured here.
18. Shopping haven
Macau has a lot of shopping destinations for the true shopaholic. Its offerings range from great bargains to the most luxurious brands. Travellers who would like to shop are in for a treat because Macau is quite easy to navigate thanks to its great transport infrastructure.
It has been widely claimed that the 2015 is Macau’s year. For travellers who would like to try something different from the more conventional cities in the Asia Pacific region, a detour to Macau may just be the trip that facilitates a rediscovery of the hidden jackpot (that is actually not found inside the casinos).
19. Hike up Guia Hill
Apart from the aforementioned Mount Fortress, Guia Fortress is another popular tourist attraction which forms an integral part of Macau’s Historic Centre of world-heritage sites.
The fortress features a chapel, an old military fort and the iconic Guia Lighthouse. Constructed in the 1600s, the fortress, much like most of Macau’s architecture, is largely influenced by Portuguese architectural styles. Built on Guia Hill (duh), the fortress is actually geographically located on the highest point of peninsular Macau, offering breathtaking skylines and views of the cultural cauldron that is Macau!
20. Urban parks in Macau
Macau is a balanced city of modern infrastructure and enough quiet and natural spaces for those needing a quick reprieve from the bustling urban life.
In Macau, we’ll find many large and active urban parks to stroll about appreciate some peace and quiet. For the true ‘local’ urban park, try the Sun Yat Sen Park or Camoes Garden among others.
Often, these parks are more than just trees, benches, and locals practising taichi. Many of the parks house monuments dedicated to historical figures who contributed to the cultural development of Macau and most of these parks also double up as a sort of mini-zoo (usually aviaries).
It’s a good activity to do when we’re tired of exploring the crowded tourist spots in Macau and the parks will definitely leave you feeling refreshed!