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One Day Trip to Macau
Macau (also spelled "Macao") is a fascinating city combining Portuguese colonial charm along with glitzy hotels that make it an alluring destination for both visitors trying their luck and those who want to experience a piece of Europe in Asia. Located on the coast, Macau is actually a peninsula and includes two islands, Coloane and Taipa.
The Portuguese arrived in Macau in 1535, later colonized it and it remained a colony until 1999. When Portugal handed over Macau to China, it went down in history as the first and last European colony in China. Nowadays, Macau is an intriguing fusion of Portuguese and Chinese culture.
The biggest draws to Macau are tourism and gambling. In fact, Macau is the world's largest gambling destination! It's the only city in China where casinos are legal.
Are you thinking of doing a day trip to Macau? I went on a day trip from Hong Kong (HK) to Macau during the summer of 2010 and due to the trip's short duration, I decided to just concentrate on seeing all the historic sights. Perhaps you too are staying in Hong Kong, which is just a 45-minute ferry ride away. This article will guide you through Macau's famous historic sights, museums to check out, and food to try - helping you plan a fabulous day in Vegas of the East!
Senado Square in MacauClick thumbnail to view full-size
Macao PicsClick thumbnail to view full-size
The Ruins of St. PaulClick thumbnail to view full-size
Macau or Macao?
There's a bit of a confusion about the spelling of this SAR's (Special Administrative Region) name. Its name used to be spelled Macao when the city was a Portuguese territory but since it was handed back to China, it's official name became Macau. That's because the "o" at the end of Macao is pronounced like an English "u" in Portuguese.
Historic Attractions in Macao
Any itinerary in Macao should include a walk around Macao's historic center, which is a UNESCO site.There are actually two historical zones Zone 1 that includes many historic streets and historic religious Portuguese and Chinese buildings; and Zone 2 that includes a Portuguese fort with a lighthouse and chapel within it.
Zone 1 is located between Mount Hill and Barra Hill. Most people begin their sightseeing by walking over to the Senado Square. Attractions to see in this zone include:
- A-Ma Temple is the oldest temple in Macau and is located a short walk away from the historic center. It was built in 1488 to commemorate Mazu, the sacred sea goddess who blesses the local fisherman.
- The Moorish Barracks were actual barracks that housed an Indian Goan regiment to increase the local police force's strength. The barracks are locate at the Calcada da Barra, close to the A-Ma Temple.
- Lilau Square was one of the first residential areas of Macau. The locals once got their water from here and have an attachment to the area.
- Mandarin's House, also known as Zhengjia House is a large historic complex that displays typical Guangdong housing of the 19th century.
- St. Lawrence Church was originally built using wood around 1569, then was rebuilt using clay, and lastly, in 1856 was done in stone. It's located near the southern coast and the families of Portuguese sailors used to pray for their safe return, giving the church the nickname, "Feng Shun Tang", which translated to "Church of Smooth-sailing Wind".
- St. Joseph's Seminary and Church was the base for missionary work in China. It's now the only surviving Baroque church in Macau.
- St. Augustine's Square is a nice square done in traditional Portuguese "calcada" (cobblestone). Nearby attractions include St. Augustine church, Sir Robert Ho Tung Library, the Dom Pedro V Theater and St. Joseph Seminary and Church.
- Dom Pedro V Theater was one of the first theaters constructed in European style in China.
- Sir Robert Ho Tung Library, also known as Hedong Library is a former Portuguese residnece that was converted to the summer residence of the Ho Tung family from Hong Kong. It was donated to the Macau government under the terms that it becomes a public library and that's what it is today.
- St. Augustine's Church which stands in the St. Augustine's Square was originally constructed in the 1580s by Spanish Augustinian priests.
- Leal Senado Building or "The Loyal Senate" is a building located just off Senado Square in the heart of the Macau city centre, was originally built in the late 16th century and has seen many changes over the years.
- Largo do Senado or "Senate Square" in English is the central square in Macau where Portuguese settlement grew. It is the most central and historical area of the city. Nearby attractions include the Ruins of St. Paul, St. Domingos Church, Casa de Lou Kau and the famous bakery, Koi Kei Bakery.
- Sam Kai Vui Kun, also known as Kuan Tai Temple is a temple next to the old Chinese Bazaar area. It's now called St. Dominic's Market.
- St. Dominic's Church is a church in Leal Senado Place. It was built by the Order of Dominicans in 1687.
- The Ruins of St. Paul is all that remains of a 17th century Jesuit church after a fire broke out in 1835. It's one of the most iconic sights in Macau, called Tai Sam Ba in Cantonese.
- Na Tcha Temple is a simple temple commemorating Na Tcha, the patron of children. It was built in 1888.
- The Old Macau City Walls were started in 1569 to help in defending Macau. Only a small section still stands today.
- Mount Fortress was built from 1617-26 and stands on top of a hill to the east of the St. Paul's ruins. The cannons were used once to defend against the Dutch who invaded in 1622. The Macau Museum is located here.
- St. Anthony's Church is considered the first church in Macau, originally built in 1588. A stone church was built afterwards in 1638.
- Casa Garden is a garden next to a gorgeous colonial villa that was once the HQ of the British East India Company, which was based in Macau in the early 19th century. Inside the villa is an exhibition gallery with antiques, porcelain and modern art.
- The Old Protestant Cemetery was the first Protestant cemetery in Macau. There are German, American, British, and Dutch graves there.
Zone 2 attractions include:
- Guia Fortress, built in 1638, Guia Fortress stands on top of the highest point in Macau to defend the border with China and from attacks from the sea. There's an old chapel here, the Chapel of Our Lady of Guia, built in 1622 and a 15 meter tall Guia Lighthouse, which is the oldest lighthouse on the Chinese coast. To get to the top of the hill, use the Guia Cable Car that runs from 8:00 am to 6:00 pm Tuesday - Sunday from the Flora Garden, which are located next to Avenida de Sidónio Pais.
UNESCO Historic Center Itinerary for a Day in Macau
Hours: 10:00am - 6:00pm, closed on Wednesday and Thursdays. Free Entrance.
One of the oldest churches in Macau. Hours: Weekdays 10am-4pm, Sat. 10am-1pm
A Portuguese-style square where surrounding attractions include St. Augustine church, Sir Robert Ho Tung Library, Dom Pedro V Theater & St. Joseph
The most famous square in Macau from which you can easily walk to the Ruins of St. Paul (open 9am-6pm), St. Domingos Church, & Casa de Lou Kau.
All located close to each other, from Rua de Sao Paul, you have the Ruins of St. Paul's, Na Tcha Temple, and the Old City Walls close to each other
The Mount Fortress is here, as well as the Macau Museum.
The Casa Gardens, with the nearby Old Protestant Cemetery and chapel.
Guia Fort which includes also a chapel and a lighthouse
Museums in Macau
Macau has a number of museums but since you're short on time, below are the three that you should consider on your day in Macau (two are in the same building!).
- The Wine Museum has great information and wine-related displays including the history of wine, over a thousand different wines, and tools for wine-making. You can do a Portuguese wine tasting of three wines for 15 Macao Pataca (MOP), which is just about $1.90 USD. Open from 10am - 6pm, closed on Tuesdays. Admission is free.
- To learn about Macau's culture, history and people, stop by the Macau Museum. Open 10am - 6pm, closed on Mondays. Admission is 15 MOP.
- The Grand Prix Museum features a nice collection of cars and racing bikes that take part in the annual Grand Prix Museum each November. Famous racers who have partaken in the race include Ayrton Senna, brothers Michael and Ralf Schumacher, and David Coulthard. Open from 10am - 9pm, closed on Tuesdays. Admission is free. The Grand Prix Museum is in the same building as the Wine Museum.
Food in Macao
If you're looking to sample some Macanese and Portuguese treats, stop by the bakeries below for the best specialty food Macau has to offer.
- Lord Stow’s Bakery - to try the Portuguese pastry that left its mark everywhere the Portuguese went, have a pastel de nata, a warm egg custard tart in one of the Lord Stow's Bakeries. Locations are: 1 Rua da Tassara, 105 Rua da Cordoaria, and 9 Largo do Matadouro
- Koi Kei Bakery - stop by one of Koi Kei's many bakeries throughout Macau for some delicious braised meat, almond biscuits, and pasteis de nata.
- Tai Lei Loi Kei - an iconic cafe popular among both locals and tourists for their pork chop buns. Address: No.18, Largo Gov. Tamagnini Barbosa, Vila de Taipa.
Cotai Strip in Macau
Cotai Strip in Macau
Cotail Strip is Macau's version of the Vegas Strip in Las Vegas however it's not just one long road full of casinos but it's a strip of land between two islands, Coloane and Taipa, hence the name. Hotels on the Cotai Strip include:
- The Venetian Hotel and Casino
- The City of Dreams complex
- The Grand Waldo
- The Galaxy Macau Resort
- The Sands Cotai Central
If you're looking to visit the strip on your day in Macau, you'll be happy to know that large hotels and casinos offer free shuttle service to and from the ferry terminals.