Like Hong Kong, Macau (also sometimes spelled “Macao”) is what is known as a “Special Administrative Region”. It was once a Portuguese colony and was handed back over to China in the late 1990s. Macau features a rich history that exhibits influences from both the East and the West, its historic centre is even a UNESCO-listed World Heritage Site; today, it is also home to dozens of casinos and is sometimes referred to as the “Vegas of the East”.
Due to its proximity to Hong Kong (it’s only 1 hour away by ferry), it is one of the more popular day trips from Hong Kong. I’ve visited Macau a dozen times and while I didn’t start off liking it much, I’ve slowly learned to appreciate what Macau has to offer beyond the obvious tourist attractions. If you’re planning a trip to Macau, read on for what to expect and the top things to do in Macau!
Quick tips for visiting Macau
- The local currency is the Macanese Pataca. However, the Hong Kong dollar is also widely accepted, though you might be given change in the local currency – the exchange rate is pretty much 1:1. I recommend trying to get rid of your remaining Pataca before leaving Macau as it is not accepted in Hong Kong. Most places also accept Visa or Mastercard.
- Macau gets 4 seasons and experiences steaming hot summers from July to September and a bitter winter from December to February. The best time to visit Macau is from March to early June, and September to November (but avoid the 1st week of October which is a national holiday in China). Macau is practically always crowded all year round, especially around the main tourist attractions, though it is not too hard to get off the beaten track. The rainy season in Macau is in July and August when typhoons are most likely to hit.
- The main language spoken in Macau is Cantonese, a local dialect originating in Guangdong Province. Some people also speak English (or at least basic English), and almost all signs are trilingual in Portuguese, English and Chinese.
- Stay connected and pre-buy a local SIM card. Your Hong Kong SIM card will not work in Macau. You can buy a Macau SIM card for 30% off here! The SIM card provides 1 GB each day for 2 days or 3 days. Just head to the pick-up counter at the Sheung Wan Macau Ferry Terminal.
- You pretty much never have to pay full price for admissions tickets in Macau. Just click here and search for places you want to go, and book online for discounted entry or head on over here to read more about how to use Klook to book travel experiences.
Is it worth visiting Macau?
I’m often asked whether it is worthwhile visiting Macau, and my answer is always, “it depends”. If you are planning a day trip from Hong Kong and it is your first time to Hong Kong then I do not recommend taking on a day trip to Macau. There are so many unique things to do in Hong Kong that are probably not in your guidebook, and I encourage you to explore Hong Kong to the fullest if you are short on time.
However, if it is not your first time to Hong Kong and you are looking for fun day trips for a change of scenery then it’s worth checking out Macau seeing as it is an easy 1 hour ferry ride away. You can either stop by for the day (ferries run nearly 24 hours) or spend a night at one of the many hotels in Macau.
One of my most important tips for visiting Macau is that you are mindful of your expectations – though it is often referred to as the “Las Vegas of Asia” it doesn’t quite compare in terms of entertainment offerings. There is only 1 main show that you can check out, The House of Dancing Water, and the gambling isn’t as exciting – you’ll find that the betting limits can be extremely high. It doesn’t lend itself to a fun few hands of Black Jack without having to hit up the ATM.
Macau can be quite divisive – people either love or hate it. That being said, you can easily fill a 1 or 2 day Macau itinerary with plenty of sightseeing, street food and excellent cocktails. I would encourage you not to overlook the rich history and exquisite architecture scattered around the city, not to mention the mouthwatering Portuguese egg tarts on offer!
How much time to spend in Macau
Is 1 day enough for Macau? Macau is not that big in size and it is extremely easy to get around, which means that you can cover a lot of ground in just 1 day in Macau. If you take a morning ferry over, you can easily take a ferry back to Hong Kong at night. However, if you plan on staying overnight in Macau you can check out one of its many 5-star hotels, perhaps indulge in a spa treatment and also spend some time at the pool. I personally do not recommend spending more than 2 days in Macau.
Read on for some of the top things to do if you’re planning on spending 1 or 2 days in Macau. You can check out some Macau hotel deals here if you are staying overnight, or book direct as they often offer special deals that include dining credit, ferry tickets and/or show tickets.
Also visiting Hong Kong? Don’t miss my insider guides to Hong Kong here!
How to get to Macau from Hong Kong
You can take a bus or private car from Macau to Hong Kong, but the easiest way is by ferry – they are fast, clean and frequent. Ferries run every hour or so from the Macau ferry terminal in Sheung Wan (take MTR exit D) to either Taipa (where most of the newer hotels including the Venetian and City of Dreams are located), or Macau Outer Harbor/Macau Peninsula where the historic centre is located. Ferries also run between Macau and Hong Kong International Airport.
There are 2 main ferry options – should you take the Cotai Jet or Turbo Jet? It doesn’t really matter too much as the prices are comparable – the difference is that the Turbo Jet takes you to Macau’s historic centre (which is more suitable for a day trip from Hong Kong to Macau), and the Cotai Jet takes you to Taipa (which is more suitable if you are staying overnight in one of the hotels along Macau’s Cotai Strip).
Getting between the two ferry ports is easy as well – there are regular free hotel shuttles or you can hop in a taxi. Click here to get 25% off your Hong Kong to Macau Outer Harbor (historic centre) tickets with Turbo Jet or click here for your Hong Kong to Taipa/Cotai ferry tickets! All you have to do is bring your voucher to the designated ticket pick-up counter in the Sheung Wan ferry terminal and select your ferry times.
Feeling fancy? There are even helicopters that transport people between Hong Kong and Macau.
Remember: Macau is a “Special Administrative Region” which means you will need to bring your passport/travel documents if you are traveling to Macau from Hong Kong. Do you need a visa to visit Macau? Click here to see if you hold a passport from a visa exempt country.
How to get around Macau
Once you have arrived in Macau, it is easy to get around by taxi, hotel shuttle buses or on foot. Taxis are metered in Macau and can be hailed fairly easily, but you might find that you don’t really need a taxi because almost every hotel in Macau has a free shuttle bus that transports people between the historic centre, the various Macau hotels, to and from ferry piers and to and from the airport. These shuttle buses are free to use, and you do not need to prove that you are staying at their property.
Where to stay in Macau
There are many, many hotel options when it comes to visiting Macau. I have stayed in a few hotels on the Cotai Strip, and can highly recommend either the Venetian Macau or Countdown Hotel (the former Hard Rock Hotel). Alternatively, you can check out some other highly rated hotels in Macau by clicking here.
The Venetian Macau is one of the best luxury hotels in Macau, and offers spacious rooms, an in-house spa, pool, plenty of shops and a variety of dining options. There’s also a replica of the Venetian canals complete with gondola rides within its shopping mall, and a large gambling arena. The furnishings are more traditional and may appeal to people who are looking for an elegant, more “old school” room design. Click here to check current rates and availability at the Venetian Macau!
The Countdown Hotel is a newer and more modern hotel within the City of Dreams complex. The rooms are also extremely spacious and feature more contemporary furnishings. We loved spending time at the pool and having easy access to the House of Dancing Water show which is housed within the City of Dreams complex. The only issue is that check-in can be rather slow during peak times as there is only 1 counter. Click here to check current rates and availability at Countdown Hotel in Macau!
Incredible things to do in Macau
Macau’s most famous attraction is the Ruins of St. Paul’s in its historic centre, but that’s not to say that’s all there is to see in Macau. There are a number of places to visit in Macau that are worth visiting and offer a glimpse into Macau’s colonial past as well as local traditional life. If you are averse to big crowds you’ll be happy to know that it is not too difficult to get off the beaten path in Macau! Not into gambling? Don’t worry – there are plenty of things to do in Macau that don’t involve gambling. Read on for some of my favourite things to do in Macau.
1. Walk the walls of Mount Fortress
Also known as Monte Fort or Fortaleza do Monte, Mount Fortress was built by the Jesuits in the early 17th Century and was crucial in holding off the attempted Dutch invasion of Macau in 1622. It is located high on top of Mount Hill and offers a 360-degree panoramic view over Macau.
The fortress still features a number of cannons and offers a drastically different perspective of St. Paul’s Ruins from above.
Visiting Monte Fort and walking around the fortress walls is one of the most unique things to do in Macau. Entrance is free and the fort can be reached on foot – it’s a 10-minute uphill walk from the Ruins of St. Paul’s.
2. See the tilework at the Municipal Affairs Bureau
The Municipal Affairs Bureau stands in the historic centre of Macau and handles, you guessed it, municipal affairs. It was built in 1784 and underwent several reconstruction phases over the centuries, but has largely retained its architectural appearance.
The reason why I love stopping to check out this building is because it still features traditional Portuguese ceramic tiles, or Azulejos, along the walls of its entrance. They’re reminiscent of the stunning tiled facades you find in quintessentially Portuguese cities like Porto and Lisbon. There’s also a cute internal courtyard that is a great place to sit down after a big day of walking.
3. Stop by Senado Square
Only have 1 day in Macau? Then you can’t skip this stunning open space. Senado Square sits at the very heart of Macau’s historic centre and is directly across the street from the Municipal Affairs Bureau building.
In the early 1990s, Portuguese experts were hired to pave Senado Square with a wave-like mosaic pattern; the public square is lined on either side by a number of traditional colonial heritage buildings and regularly hosts events and festivals.
4. Grab a drink at Sky 21 Rooftop Bar
A relatively newcomer to Macau, Sky 21 is a good alternative if you don’t want to visit Macau Tower. If you want a drink to go with the view then I recommend checking out this rooftop bar in Macau – prices are reasonable and there are plenty of tables available. Bookings are not required.
5. Watch the House of Dancing Water
The House of Dancing Water show is one of the crown jewels of Macau’s tourism offerings. I’ve now watched the show twice, and have been on the edge of my seat both times. The stage design is incredible and features a pool in the centre where acrobats and dancers magically appear out of nowhere; the stage is modular so don’t be surprised if platforms, ships and pagodas emerge from the depths of the pool. It is a truly world-class show not to be skipped.
Fun facts about the House of Dancing Water show: The theater contains the world’s largest commercial pool –approximately 160 feet in diameter and approximately 26 feet deep. It contains approximately 3.7 million gallons (approximately 17 million litres) of water in the pool – more than five times the volume of an Olympic-sized swimming pool.
If you’re staying overnight in Macau, make sure you check out the spectacular House of Dancing Water show. You can get 10-15% off your House of Dancing Water show tickets – book online here!
6. Visit Taipa Village
Taipa Village is located in Taipa, just north of the Cotai Strip. Formerly home to local fishermen, Taipa Village features traditional shophouses and cobbled streets, and offers a number of heritage attractions, dining options, historical museums and even a walking food street. You’ll also stumble upon some truly funky street art along the streets of Taipa.
If you are visiting Taipa Village, don’t miss Tin Hau Temple; the Historical Musem of Coloane and Taipa; the Rua do Cunha food street; the adorable rooftopmacau coffee shop; and the converted Taipa Houses, 5 pastel-colored colonial homes dating back to 1921 that showcase exhibits and artifacts on the area’s history.
7. Check out Coloane
South of Macau and one of the quieter areas of Macau, Coloane is home to Hac Sa black sand beach, the original Lord Stow’s Bakery that serves up delicious Portuguese egg tarts, and the Chapel of St. Francis Xavier.
Coloane was once a haven for pirates who sought shelter in its many coves, and is a fantastic place to wander around if you appreciate a slower pace of life. Its narrow side streets offer a glimpse into everyday life in Macau for local citizens, and takes you far away from the crowds.
How to get to Coloane: take a taxi as it is one of the few places that most hotel shuttles don’t take you to.
8. See the Ruins of St. Paul’s
Last but not least, the famous Ruins of St. Paul’s in the heart of Macau’s historic centre. The ruins are what remains of the Church of St. Paul’s dating back to the early 17th Century. The towering facade is more than 25-metres tall and built of granite, which may explain why it wasn’t burnt down in the fire that destroyed the rest of the church. It is probably the most iconic landmark in Macau which also makes it ridiculously busy, all year round. Nevertheless, it’s worth a quick pit stop during your day trip to Macau.
If you have more than 1 day in Macau, the city can be a wonderful place to wander around if you stray from the pack. You will find old gentlemen playing Chinese chess and mahjong or watch artisans craft wooden ships just blocks away from the main tourist attractions in Macau. Feeling adventurous? You might even want to try bungee jumping from Macau Tower!
I hope this Macau travel guide has helped you to better plan your time in the city! Don’t forget that you can get discounted Hong Kong to Macau ferry tickets online ahead of time: click here for Macau Outer Harbor (historic centre) tickets with Turbo Jet or click here for your Hong Kong to Taipa/Cotai ferry tickets!
Ready to plan your trip to Macau? I recommend staying at The Venetian Macau, a sprawling mega complex of shops, a spa, rooms and gambling floor, or more modern Countdown Hotel in the City of Dreams complex. You can also check out other highly rated hotels in Macau here!
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