A former fishing village and trading post turned neon-lit “Vegas of Asia”, Macau deals a winning hand of culture and fine food to go with the gaming
Picture a few dozen glitzy Las Vegas casinos and a modest sampling of Oporto’s famed edificios and avenidas jammed together on a strip of land overlooking the sea and you’re well on your way to grasping the essence of Macau. Located about 60km west of Hong Kong, Macau is home to centuries-old remnants of its past as a Portuguese colony – from chapels and temples to fortress walls and a Mediterranean-style town square.
At one time occupying little more than a square mile of real estate, Macau has grown in the course of 500 years of land reclamation projects such that it now encompasses the Macau Peninsula, the islands of Coloane and Taipa, and the newly reclaimed land in between. The latter area, known as the Cotai Strip, is home to a growing number of mammoth casino resorts – the most noteworthy of these being Galaxy Macau, the Venetian Macao and City of Dreams – that are the primary reason for Macau’s rapid ascent in the ranks of top Asian tourism destinations.
Things to do
Aces go places
It might rankle gaming’s US movers and shakers to hear Vegas referred to as “The Macau of the West” but given that the Asian city became the world’s No 1 gambling destination in terms of revenue in 2010, the name fits. For old-school types, Hong Kong tycoon Stanley Ho’s Hotel Lisboa is still going strong but in the past few years it has been joined by a host of Vegas-style gambling palaces ranging from the Sands Macao, Wynn Macau and the Venetian Macao to Galaxy Macau and City of Dreams. Place your bets!
Fancy a trip to the celebrated seaports of Venice, Amsterdam, New Orleans and the Italian Riviera? You can do the next best thing at Macau Fisherman’s Wharf, a theme park and lifestyle hub just minutes from The Outer Harbor Ferry Terminal that’s all decked out to resemble landmark cities across the globe. Though this place caters for kids with attractions like Vulcania, a replica volcano that “erupts” nightly, performance venue Vasco de Gama Waterworld and the amusement park-like Aladdin’s fort, it’s also home to dining, shopping, hotels and entertainment facilities.
Macau’s ever-growing skyline hasn’t yet succeeded in robbing Colina da Guia, the city’s highest point, of its enduring grandeur. Located to the east of Sun Yat Sen Memorial House, a museum dedicated to the “Father of Modern China”, the hill is home to Guia Fortress and Lighthouse, the latter dating to the 17th-century and owning the distinction of being the oldest on the Chinese coast. Come for the views, stay for the history and the art, and enjoy a cable-car ride back to the park below.
Instantly recognisable thanks to the wave-pattern mosaic that adorns it, Largo do Senado (Senate Square) is the epicentre of Old Macau. Check out the religious artefacts at Santa Casa da Misericórdia (Holy House of Mercy), marvel at yellow-and-white Sao Domingos, which dates to the 17th century and feast your eyes on the architectural wonder that is Leal Senado (Loyal Senate) and explore the tiled courtyard, library and lovely woodwork-adorned council chamber within.
Wall of fame
A sight that has become synonymous with Macau, the towering façade and grand staircase leading up to the Ruins of St Paul’s (São Paulo) are even more awe-inspiring than the ubiquitous images of this landmark might seem to suggest. Destroyed by fire not once but twice (in 1601 and 1835) the church once stood cheek by jowl with a college and celebrated classical library that were also consumed by flames. Though efforts were once made to rebuild this grand edifice, the reality of the church would be hard-pressed to match the version of it that many visitors no doubt have of it in their minds.
CBD 4km to Cotai, 6km to Coloane
Travel time 5 minutes (Cotai), 10 minutes (Coloane)
Taxi Approx MOP 40-70 with MOP 5 surcharge and an extra MOP 3 for luggage carried in the trunk
Shuttle buses are free and depart every 15-20 minutesBack to top
When to go
Mid-October to December is the best time to visit Macau as the weather is cool, dry and generally sunny. The rainy season runs from April to October, with precipitation hitting its peak in May and from July to September, which is the typhoon season. The average annual temperature is about 20°C, with the mercury climbing above 30°C in the summer but seldom dropping below 10°C in the winter.
As with most parts of China, the Lunar New Year period in January or February sees Macau go into full-on party mode, with parades, festivities in the streets and colourful temple rituals. The Macau Arts Festival falls in May or June, the Macau International Dragon Boat Races in June, the Macau International Fireworks Display Contest in September or October and the Macau Grand Prix in November.Back to top
Transmac, TCM and Reolian ply circuit-style routes covering major attractions and hotels on the peninsula, Taipa, Coloane and Cotai. Buy a prepaid electronic MacauPass at any 7-Eleven store for use on all buses. Macau is home to two taxi companies, Yellow (tel: +853 23 519519) and Black (tel: +853 28 939939), which can be flagged on the street or called. Visitors can also travel via old-fashioned pedicabs, a replica of 1920s English bus and, in the Municipal Garden of Taipa Village, via rental bicycle.Back to top