If you’re looking for a truly unique place to explore, then you can’t go wrong with a visit to Macau. Located on the southern coast of China, just a short boat ride from Hong Kong, Macau has a spirit, culture, atmosphere and appeals all of its own. Whether you’re looking for a cultural day trip or a luxury city break, there is something here for every taste, style and budget.
Comprehensive Guide to Exploring Macau
Macau has a long history of being a former Portuguese colony, which is evident in its picturesque older buildings and UNESCO World Heritage Center. But the glittering modern structures built today can rival the famous skyscrapers of Dubai. These eye-catching constructions slowly redefine the landscape of Macau, transforming it into a stunning backdrop for social media photos.
For a glimpse into the fascinating history of Macau, head to São Lourenço to soak up the sights of the Mandarin’s House, which features an incredible fusion of Chinese and Portuguese architecture. From here, you can find the famous Lilau Square where one of the first Portuguese districts was built, heavily influenced by art deco and Mediterranean styles.
Although the older buildings of Macau are worth exploring, when it comes to modern architecture, visitors will have plenty of choices. The newly opened Morpheus Hotel at the City of Dreams in Cotai is the world’s first free-form exoskeleton steel-structured high-rise, featuring two sky bridges, an infinity pool and more than 28,000 tons of steel. The Macau Tower, situated at the Nam Van Lake, is one of the city’s most iconic landmarks. With a 360-degree observation deck overlooking the peninsula as well as the world’s highest commercial bungee jump, it’s one for adrenaline seekers.
The culture of Macau is a well and truly unique melting pot of Eastern and Western influences. That means it is home to some incredible festivals and events, each one worthy of a visit. The Macau Arts Festival brings together theater, dance, circus and visual arts every summer with more than 100 performances and programs to enjoy. The most traditional event is the Lunar Chinese New Year, which locals celebrate all over the city with significant enthusiasm while the Macau International Fireworks Display Contest draws crowds from all over the world to witness the jaw-dropping displays. Visitors should also head to Senado Square where the pastel-colored buildings tell the story of Macau’s diverse history.
The Macau Cultural Centre should also be high on the list for anyone who wants to experience traditional Chinese music and dance as well as incredible martial arts performances. It is also worth watching performances by a local drama group called Dóci Papiaçam di Macau who dedicate themselves to preserving the endangered native language of Macanese Patois or Patúa. Originating in the 16th century, Macanese Patois was a Portuguese creole language spoken by ethnic Macanese. However, there are roughly no more than 50 speakers of this language left in Macau, which is why it is now in the “UNESCO’s Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger.”
Another notable part of Macanese culture is the food. Often thought of as the original “fusion cuisine,” the blending of Portuguese and Chinese influences have taken place over the course of around 400 years, creating a cuisine like no other. After the Portuguese colonized Macau in 1557, they brought with them cooking methods, herbs and spices considered highly unusual by the Chinese inhabitants. As time went on, traditional Chinese ingredients and methods began to fuse with the Portuguese spices and techniques, creating a distinctive style known as Macanese.
The resultant cuisine largely centers on freshly caught seafood, generously flavored with spices such as chili, saffron and cinnamon, and then roasted or baked to draw the flavors out. A popular dish with the locals is porco bafassa, a hearty dish of braised pork and stewed potatoes in turmeric gravy. Minchi is the national dish of Macau and consists of minced beef, soya sauce, onions and a fried egg while tacho is a super tasty fusion stew made with Eastern and Western ingredients, such as cabbage, ham and Chinese sausage.
Arguably the best place to sample these dishes is the oldest Macanese restaurant in Macau, Riquexó. Open for the last 35 years and run by Sonia Palmer and her mother, 103-year-old Aida de Jesus, the restaurant preserves traditional Macanese cooking techniques and flavors that have become increasingly hard to come by over time. A Vencedora is another favorite among the locals and has been open since 1918, while Solmar Restaurant is famous for its Portuguese chicken and Solmar spicy prawns.
Even if you only decide to make a day trip, it is worth staying after dark to see the glittering lights transform this city into a magical wonderland. The nightlife here is particularly worth staying around for, as it is well-regarded among the tourists and locals alike.
Not only is it famous for its array of trendy bars and chic nightclubs, but Macau has also overtaken Las Vegas as the world’s top spot for glamorous casinos.
For a classic pub-crawl, head to Hotel Lan Kwai Fong, but if you’re looking for something a little more elegant try The Docks for a chic place to kick back and enjoy a Martini or two. Almost all the casinos in Macau have trendy Vegas-style bars, which serve an array of mouth-watering cocktails and drinks. The Xanadu Bar, inside the Sands Macau, has some of the best drinks around while Club Cubic in the City of Dreams is a super upmarket destination for the chicest people in town.
Fernando’s is another favorite among tourists and locals alike for its al fresco bar and relaxed atmosphere. When you’re there, order an ice-cold pint and snack on chorizo as you plan your night ahead. For an unforgettable experience, check out the downtown high-rise SKY 21 where one area has a restaurant, another has live music and a third has the SKY B Terrace roof deck. From here, you can catch incredible views of the city, sea and horizon as well as uninterrupted views of the city’s gorgeous sunsets.
Whether you choose to spend a few hours or a few days, there is plenty to see and do in this unique and fascinating country. It is the only place in the world with both Chinese and Portuguese culture, which makes it a great bucket-list destination!