Macao’s 'East meets West' culture is unique. The peninsula is an amalgamation of old-world charm that the Portuguese brought when they colonised it and the glamour of modern China. From architecture to cuisine, there's a harmonious blend of European styles with the local Macanese community. Hole-in-the-wall cafes, opulent hotels, cultural exhibitions and shows, authentic restaurants, exciting nightlife and activities for adrenaline junkies make this a destination that everyone can enjoy. So whether it's a bachelorette, a trip with the family, a solo holiday, Macao offers something for every kind of tourist.
This is exactly what I felt when I visited the city a week ago and was completely floored by how much there is to explore in the tiny landmass.
Whenever people talk about Macao, the only thing talked about is Macao’s main tourist attraction: the casinos. After all, they call it the Las Vegas of the East for a reason. Well, that and that one scene shot there for the James Bond film Skyfall. However, unlike popular belief, there’s so much more to the city.
One of the most famous historical structures in Macao, the Ruins of St Paul is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and attracts hordes of tourists daily. The 17th-century monument that's located within Senado Square was the largest Catholic Church in Asia when it was built. Unfortunately, after three fires, the ruins are all that is left of the iconic church. History and architecture enthusiasts will be interested in deep-diving into the history of the church.
This temple was built in 1488 and is dedicated to the Chinese sea-goddess Mazu. It is believed that the name Macao was thought to be derived from the name of the temple. When Portuguese sailors landed on the coast just outside the temple, they asked the name of the place and the locals said ‘Maa-gok’ or ‘A-maa-gok’, which means Pavilion of the Mother. The Portuguese then named the peninsula ‘Macau’. Burn some incense and make some wishes here and see if they come true.
This building is also a part of the Macao architectural heritage walk and was restored by the government in 2002. The mansion was inhabited by scholar Zheng and has a gorgeous courtyard, which allows you to sit and ponder. It’s a must-visit for architecture buffs.
Macao is the perfect destination for luxury travellers. All the five-star properties have a theme and all offer a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
The entire hotel is inspired by the Italian city of Venice and you actually get a whiff of that in the property. With elaborate gondola rides and people actually throwing in a coin along with a wish into the man-made river, Venetian Macao is magnificent. It is home to the largest casino in the world, so everyone looking to make (or lose) a quick buck, this is the place to stay. An all-suite hotel, there are 3,000 guestrooms with bathtubs and living areas. So throw on a robe, put in a bath bomb and relax. They also have hotel facilities like an outdoor pool, a gym, a children's play area, and a shopping mall. There are also restaurants like Golden Peacock specialising in Indian cuisine and Edo Japanese Restaurant, so you can actually spend a part of your holiday just at the hotel and have a lot to do.
Cost per night: Rs 20,281 upwards
There are two MGM properties in Macao, but the one in Cotai redefines splendour. With a jewel-like facade, it has an emerald lobby that’s completely made of jade. They even have a shopping mall within the compound of the hotel, so if you're there for a shopping-binge, MGM could be a good fit to stay. Art enthusiasts, you’ll also be interested to note that all the signature pieces displayed have a barcode which upon scanning gives you the details of the piece.
Cost per night: Rs 34,000 upwards
Macao is a foodie’s paradise. It is home to 19 Michelin-starred restaurants that offer unique dining experiences.
Now doesn’t that look like a delicious garden? The food at Golden Peacock is almost too pretty to eat, but eat we must because it is a Michelin two-starred restaurant. Offering contemporary Indian cuisine, it’s tough to beat this place in terms of presentation and taste. Try the Chicken Tikka platter as well as the Malabari King Prawns.
Where: The Venetian, Macao
Price for two: Rs 9,350 upwards
Because of the heavy Portuguese influence in the city, it isn’t a surprise that there are so many authentic restaurants serving the cuisine. The most famous of them is Antonio, which is headed by Chef Antonio himself. It’s a Michelin recommended restaurant and you have to try the Casquinha de Caranguejo (stuffed crab meat in a shell) and the Portugese octopus salad.
Where: Old Taipa Village, Macao
Price for two: Rs 9,350 upwards
This is one of those places that need to be your bucket list in Macao. The quaint Lord Stow’s bakery was established in 1989 and they serve the most soothing ginger and lemongrass tea along with their signature egg tarts. Take a stroll in the village and go to their original bakery because it’s worth it.
Where: Coloane Village, Macao
Price for two: Rs 3,400 upwards
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Macao hosts a variety of events and cultural festivals that attract tourists through the year. From music concerts and live shows to art festivals, there’s something for everyone here.
Art Macao is a five-month international art and cultural event, where different pieces are displayed. From trippy visual art exhibitions to outdoor displays of pottery and paintings, this is every art admirer’s dream. Hotels like The Venetian Macao, MGM, Grand Lisboa, Wynn Palace have all displayed works of renowned artists this year.
The show House of Dancing Water is an experience that the viewer will never forget. The acrobatics, water stunts, bike stunts leave you wide-mouthed. The starting price of the show is Rs 5,100 and goes up to Rs 12,800.
Where: City of Dreams, Macao
Macao is big on adventure. From bungee jumping and sky walking to figure eight ferris wheels, you will be spoilt for choice.
The world’s first figure-eight ferris wheel in the Hollywood themed resort Studio City is one thing you have to witness. It ascends about 130 mts above the ground and had 17 cabins accommodating 10 people each.
This one’s only for the fearless because you have to jump from a height of 233 mts. It’s the world’s highest commercial bungy jump and is located right in the heart of the city from the Macao Tower.
If bungy jumping isn’t your thing but you still want a once-in-a-lifetime view of the entire city of Macao, sky walking on the Macao Tower is a good idea. The instructor will make you do all sorts of acrobatics to get some killer shots but the cityscape makes it worth it.
The nightlife is Macao is one of the primary attractions of the city. From rooftop bars and swanky clubs to casinos, there is a whole lot to explore when it comes to partying.
You can have a drink (or three) at Sky 21; from its rooftop bar, the entire glittering skyline is visible. Another popular hangout spot is the Galaxy’s China Rouge, which features a club, lounge, art gallery and a cabaret. There is also the City of Dreams’ Club Cubic, the city’s largest club. Artists like Steve Aoki, LMFAO, Flo Rida have starred as headlining acts here since it first opened shop in 2011.
But if you’re living in the Cotai area, you’ll find the streets mushrooming with clubs. There are also swinging midnight pool parties organised at hotels like Studio City, so if clubs are a little too crowded for your liking, throw on a pair of denim shorts and a bikini top and dive in.
As far as shopping goes, Macao offers lots of markets to get lost in. The most convenient part is that if you’re staying at one of the five-star properties, they all have shopping malls in the hotel. This alone can be a reason for you to not miss out the peninsula close to Hong Kong.
For shopaholics, the Senado Square is always bustling with people. It’s close to the Av. Almeida Ribeiro, so both the places can be combined for a day trip. There are a vast number of highstreet fashion stores here as well as beauty departmental stores like Sasa, Innisfree and other Korean and Chinese brands. with great discounts during the months of June-July and during the holiday season in the winter. There are also street food hawkers making beef jerky if you want to get a taste of the local flavours.
Macao’s biggest mall and home to the most popular stores, the Grand Canal Shoppes is a shopping haven for tourists. The third floor of the Venetian Macao is lined up with shops like Pull and Bear, Zara, Vivienne Westwood, Louis Vuitton and so many more.
Less glamorous than the swanky address above, the Red Market is a buzzing wet market crammed with fruit and vegetable stalls, sellers with stacks of live chickens and butchers slicing into meat. Bargaining, bantering and barging into shops is the norm here and gives it a distinctive character that’ll stay on long after the trip. Go more for the enjoyable experience and less for actually buying things.
There is no direct flight to the peninsula, so the travel route is from Hong Kong where you land by flight and then take an hour-long ferry to Macao. Cathay Pacific is a safe bet for a comfortable journey. The ferry terminal is on the airport itself, so once you’ve landed in Hong Kong you can directly go from there. The best part is that for Indian citizens, it is visa on arrival.
May is monsoon in Macao and July to August is typhoon season. Autumn-winter, especially mid-October to December, are recommended as the best times to visit. If racing is what catches your fancy, then November would be the ideal time to visit as the Grand Prix happens then.
Isn’t it so much more than just the glitz and gambling? BRB dying to go back.