On the surface, the city of Macau is touted as the Las Vegas of Asia or the Monte Carlo of the Orient. But dig deeper and you’ll get to know a rich soul that’s been shaped by multiple influences from both east and west.
Macau’s history begins 5,000 years ago with the migration of Chinese fishermen from the mainland provinces of Guangdong and Fujian. It was then later taken over by the Portuguese, giving the city a vital role in the Maritime Silk Road. Everything that’s happened in the city’s past has left its mark on the people and their culture in the present. Indeed, visitors today can experience Macau’s more fascinating side through its UNESCO heritage landmarks, Macanese food, and even some modern attractions.
If you’re planning a trip to one of Asia’s richest cities in terms of wealth and heritage, make sure your Macau tour package includes activities that showcase the city’s culture and history. Here are a few highlights you can consider while shopping around for the best package for you.
Take Photos at the Ruins of St. Paul’s
Macau’s massive casinos and hotels may come and go but its historic landmarks like St. Paul’s Ruins will always remain as the iconic structures that define the city. This UNESCO site was built in the 15th century, but unfortunately burned down in 1835. It was a catholic church built by Jesuit priests, and originally included a school called St. Paul’s College. As most of the structure was made of wood, only the intricately carved granite façade was left intact.
As one of the most famous landmarks in the city, be prepared to compete with crowds of tourists who all want a picture of the ruins. It can get especially tricky if you don’t want any photobombers in your shots. If you’re counting yourself as interested, the best time to come is around 3:00 PM when the setting sun casts its golden light on the façade.
Walk Around Senado Square
Macau’s popular Senado Square is a large open space with a total area of 3,700 square meters. Black and white mosaic waves cover the entire square and the historic, colourful buildings on its perimeter house trendy boutiques and restaurants. Additionally, you can check out some of the nearby food stalls and try some popular street eats such as egg tarts and pork chop buns. And at the end of the square’s main paved path, you’ll find the historic St. Dominic’s Church, which was built by Dominican priests in 1587.
Visit A-Ma Temple
A-Ma is Macau’s oldest temple, having been built in 1488. It is dedicated to the Chinese sea-goddess Mazu, and its name is thought to be the origin of the name “Macau.” The story goes that 400 years ago, the first Portuguese sailors landed on the island near the temple and were asking for the name of the land. The locals replied, “A-Ma-Gau” or Bay or A-Ma, but the Portuguese misheard it as “Ma-Cau.”
Today, the temple complex is divided into 6 sections: the Gate Pavilion, the Hall of Guanyin, the Hall of Benevolence, the Prayer Hall, the Zhengjiao Chanlin Pavilion, and the Memorial Arch. All of these buildings together showcase the richness of Chinese culture and Taoist spiritualism. And with its spot on a forested hillside, it’s also a great place to take a moment, reflect, and meditate.
Hike the Coloane Trails
If you’re in the mood to take in some verdant views, you can trek through one of the trails in Taipa and Coloane. Originally two separate islands, the land between Taipa and Coloane was reclaimed over time to form the Cotai Strip. But despite the area’s development, the southern Coloane island remains home to the best place in Macau for a nature walk.
Among Coloane’s many trails, the most popular is the eponymous Coloane Trail, which stretches up to 8,100 meters with an average 100-meter elevation. You don’t have to worry about the difficulty since the trail is well-developed with stairs and well-trodden paths. Along the way, you’ll be greeted by stunning views of the city below, along with some strategic lookout points and gazebos that also act as resting spots.
Try the Macanese Cuisine
Macanese culture is the result of centuries of co-existence between Portuguese and Chinese cultures. This can also be seen through their food. Indeed, the Macanese food culture is probably one of the world’s first fusion cuisines, as their blended traditions go back more than 400 years.
With their position in the Maritime Silk Road, Macau cuisine also features spices from India and Africa. Dishes like the African Chicken and Minchi, the national dish, illustrate this very well. But while you’re in Macau, the best place to try Macanese dishes is at restaurants that have been serving visitors for generations. This includes Riquexo, APOMAC, and Restaurante Litoral.
There’s so much more to Macau than gambling and opulent lifestyles. Once you’re there, you’ll find that it’s a pleasure to uncover the city’s true heritage. Indeed, its success over the centuries can even show people from other places that it’s important to keep an open mind and embrace cultures different from your own.