Honestly saying, when I first got the invitation for a five days trip in Macao, I was like – Okay, what can I do in Macao for such a long time? What to see in Macao? Isn’t it a place for gambling? All these questions popped up in my head. Maybe it was me who didn’t do enough research and had no clue about Macao. But as soon as I started my first day exploring the Historic Centre of Macao, I was taken aback. This is not what I expected from Macao, the classic European-style buildings, antique shops hidden in a small laneways, old charming apartments, I was in love at first sight.
Before we start
Let’s take a quick look about Macao itself. At least, you’ll have some ideas before we jump into the Historic Centre of Macao. Here are some interesting facts about Macao:
The name of Macao is derived from a misunderstanding between locals and Portugese when the Portugese first arrived near A-Ma Temple and asked about the land’s name. The locals answered A-Ma-Gao, meaning “Bay of A-Ma”. In Cantonese, it is called Ou Mun which means “Gateway of the Bay”.
Macao is colonized by Portugese for more than 400 years. In 1999, Macao was handed over to China, becoming a Special Administrative Region (SAR) which benefits from the principle of “one country, two systems”.
Macao consists of three main area; Macao Peninsula, Taipa Island, and Coloane Island. The two island is now connected after the land reclamation and a new town called Cotai has been built, home to several casinos.
Macao is the only legal place for casinos and gambling in China. The numbers of casino in Macao is 40 and Macao gambling revenue has surpassed Las Vegas.
The Historic Centre of Macao
Macao is probably the only place in China where you can still find European architectural legacy standing today. As a result of unique-cultural blending between the East and the West, UNESCO inscribed The Historic Centre of Macao as a World Heritage Site on 2005, spanning eight major squares and 22 historic buildings. In addition, most of the buildings are predominantly close to each other, meaning easily-accessible by foot, make it a pleasant destination to eyewitness the bond from two different cultures in the past.
- Ruins of St. Paul’s
Probably, many of you have seen this building from your friends’ profile pictures and guess what, you made a huge mistakes if you think this place is in Europe. I was fooled, thinking how cool my friends were traveling to Europe, in fact this church which is dubbed as the Ruins of St. Paul’s stands in the heart of Macao Old City. The compelling story behind how the church and the college was burnt in the fire, leaving only the great carved stone facade. The Museum of Sacred Art and Crypt was installed and contains some altar pieces. Little tips for you, come earlier to avoid tour groups.
- Na Tcha Temple
Right behind the Ruins of St. Paul’s, a small temple was built to worship Na Tcha, a legendary young hero in Chinese Folk Stories. Na Tcha Temple is linked with the Section of Old Walls and has become a part of the historic centre. This modest-looking temple has only a single chamber with little ornaments where spirally-incense sticks are hanged on the ceiling.
- St. Dominic’s Church
Flanked between Ruins of St. Paul’s and “Leal Senado” Building, the yellow-painted wall church which was founded by three Spanish Dominician Priests automatically become a famous layover in between. Stomp inside to see a huge collection of the Catholic artifacts. St. Domimic’s Square which lies in front of the church, still surrounded by European-style buildings though some of them are used for commercial space.
- Senado Square
Macao’s main square, always busy with pedestrians enjoying the fineness of the buildings around. The wavy pattern stone is the trademark of Senado Square. Some other buildings around this square; Holy House of Mercy, the General Post Office and the “Leal Senado” Building.
- A-Ma Temple
Existed even before the city of Macao came into being, A-Ma Temple is the oldest temple constructed to worship Mazu, the sacred sea goddess. It consists of several prayer pavillions in different levels. Some giant boulders are painted with Chinese character, sitting along the way. Try to test your luck by rubbing your palm on the both handle of a bronze bowl filled with coins and water. If the water vibrates and bursts out, you succeed.
- Mandarin House
A great example of a traditional Chinese style house. Associated with a famous Chinese thinker Zheng Guanying, the two-storey house looks impressed me with the structure – or I would say the elements and details especially the doors and the windows. The house consists several courtyards and small gardens, furnished with a few of old wooden chairs and tables.
- St. Augustine’s Square
Mostly yellow or green colored Portugese-style building surrounding this little square where some renowned monuments are inch-away one to another. The square embraces St. Augustine’s Church, the Dom Pedro V Theatre, St. Joseph’s Seminary and Church, and the Sir Robert Ho Tung Library.
- Guia Fortress
A short nail-bitting ride of local cable car (cheap as chips! Only 2 MOP/person) from Flora Garden will take you up to the hill, then you just have to hike a bit to the highest point in Macao, Guia Fortress. A fully white lighthouse perched on the top – the oldest western style lighthouse on the China Coast. It offers a panoramic view of the whole city. A small chapel situated next to the lighthouse has its wall painted with colorful mural makes it unique yet beautiful.
- Chong Sai Pharmacy
Recently opened in 2016, the old Dr. Sun Yat Sen’s pharmacy which is located at no.80 of Rua das Estalagens was transformed to a small museum – exhibits various historical objects such as boulders and ceramics. It is a place not only learning about Dr. Sun Yat Sen’s life during his time in Macao but also the look of Old Macao as a famous port back then.
- The alleys
Seriously, strolling along the streets and alleys in Macao can’t be more appealing in order to see different shapes of buildings – both Chinese and Western style. The charm of old apartments, vintage housings, lots of interesting stuffs. My favorite: Rua da Felicidade and Rua dos Ervanarious, you might bump into street vendors and don’t miss the chance to sample them.
Suggested Itinerary for Walking Tour in Macao
Walking is the best way to expeience Macao since the landmark is not far from each other. I would suggest at least three days staying in Macao to fully explore and experience the historic sites and the luxuriness of the shopping malls and casios as well. If you have:
One Full Day
Start from the South of Peninsula by taking bus to A-Ma Temple. Then continue by walking to Moorish Barracks – Mandarin House – Lilau Square – St. Lawrence’s Church – St. Augustine’s Square. Take a break around Nam Van Lake to take few photos of the lake and Macao Tower. Once you feel refreshed then continue by foot to Senado Square – St. Dominic’s Church – Ruins of St. Paul’s – Na Tcha Temple. For the night, walk around Grand Lisboa, Wynn for the “Tree of Prosperity” and the fountain show. and MGM for the aquarium.
Two Full Days
On the first day, visit the Ruins of St. Pauls – Na Tcha Temple – Sections of the Old City Walls. Walk to Flora Garden and take the cable car ride to the hill and visit Guia Fortress. Walk down to Senado Square and explore more around the buildings such as General Post Office and “Leal Senado” Buldings, St. Dominic’s Church. Walk around the alleys to Rua Dos Ervanarious. If you still have time do the St. Augustine’s Square and explore more the buildings around all the way down to A-Ma Temple and take the bus back.
On the second day, take the bus to Taipa Island, visit Taipa Houses Museum and walk around Taipa. You’ll find cute alleys, street full of restaurants for lunch. After having lunch, walk to the Venetian, Parisian, and City of Dreams then back to the Peninsula.
Three Full Days
Still following the same route or itinerary from above but I might split the Historical Centre or the Peninsula in two days to spend more time in each places to learn more without rushing. On the third day, I would add extra trip to Coloane. If you have three days or more, you can also add some other fun activities (coming up in my next post).
Must Eat Food in Macao
- Lord Stow’s Portugese Egg Tart
- Nan Peng Sandwich
- Koi Kei Bakery Almond Cookie and Sea Weed Pork Floss Roll
- Tapas de Portugal by Antonio for Tapas and Serradura
- A Porta de Arte, try the drink with coffee and tea mixed together
- Litoral Restaurant
- Beer Temple
Getting in and out Macao
By air: There are some direct flights to Macao from Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok, Taipei, and Beijing, otherwise connecting flights are available for other regions. Macao International Airport is located in Taipa.
By sea: Taking ferry from Hongkong to Macao is the most common way. There are two big operators; TurboJet and Cotai Water Jet. The ride takes about 40-60 minutes with ticket fare starting from HKD 165. Click here for more information about the ferry ride from Hongkong to Macao and vice versa.
Traveled in 8-13 April 2018
Thanks to Macao Government Tourism Office to organize this trip. Please check their website for more information about Macao. If you think this post is useful, kindly share this information by clicking the logo below. You’ll be directed to your facebook or twitter.