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If you’ve never visited Macao before, you might be wondering what to see and do while you’re there. ? Apart from eating Portuguese egg tarts and sailing through the canals of the Venetian Macao, what else does Macao have in store for the avid traveller?As it turns out, Macao is a unique mix of East-meets-West and is full of rich culture and heritage dating back centuries! We recently got to visit this amazing city, so keep reading for our top 8 picks of things you must do during your first trip to Macao. ?Note: All prices are stated in Macao Pataca (MOP) which can be used interchangeably with Hong Kong Dollars (HKD). Based on currency exchange rates on 17 December 2019, HKD100 ~ SGD17.40 ~ MYR53.21 ~ IDR179950.32.
1. See world-famous historic and heritage sites
Macao’s history as an international port and subsequent colonization by the Portuguese for over 400 years has left its streets bearing a unique mix of Portuguese and Chinese architectural styles. So many of the colonial buildings have been left standing that the Historic Centre of Macao was even declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2005!
Lou Kau Mansion is located in the middle of the Historic Centre of Macao, and dates back to 1889! It’s the former family home of the businessman Lou Kau and has now been gazetted as a historic space for visitors to enter for free! The building was built in a traditional Chinese style, with interconnected rooms and courtyards that reflect the family’s hierarchies and dynamics. Take a closer look at the Western-style decorative plasterwork of animals and auspicious plants or strike a pose with the classic dark wooden chairs and tables that have been set out!
Macao’s most famous landmark is definitely the Ruins of St. Paul’s. The ruins used to be part of a large 15th-century church, but several fires throughout the years have left only the façade standing. Snapping a photo here is a must-do for any visitor to Macao! You can also take a short walk through the exhibits in the crypt, which include some rare Christian relics and remains.#HHWT Tip: Arrive before 9AM to avoid the crowds if you want to get a photo alone with the ruins. Tour groups can arrive as early as 8AM, but they usually leave after 15-20 minutes so just be patient and check out the intricate symbolism and details on the ruins while you wait for the perfect window to snap your picture. ?
On the southern end of the Macao peninsula is Taipa island. One of the newer tourist spotsin Macao, the area has an old-world charm to it thanks to the European-style houses and buildings across it. The Taipa Houses (also known as the Taipa Houses-Museum) are a set of 5 pastel-coloured buildings that have been restored to reflect the lifestyles of early 20th-century Portuguese families in Macao. They’re also great as a photo backdrop!P.S. We rented out a traditional Portuguese costume for the afternoon to up our photo game. ? There are also options for families and couples so you can take a unique and commemorative photo as a souvenir of your trip! Get 8% off your booking (discount capped at MYR50) if you book between now to 31 December – just use the code MYMACAO08!
Macao isn’t just old buildings and heritage sites – there’s plenty of excitement for thrill-lovers too! Head to the top of the Macao Tower for a breath-taking view of the city. Daredevils can also opt to skywalk, sky jump, or even bungy jump off the tower! ? Did you know that the AJ Hackett Macao Tower Bungy Jump holds the Guinness World Record for the Highest Commercial Bungy Jump in the world? Time to strike this off your bucket list.P.S. Curious what those white fixtures on the bottom are? Keep reading to find out how they come to life during the Macao Light Festival! ☺️
2. Feast on delicious halal options throughout the city
Before our trip to Macao, we weren’t sure what halal food we would be able to find. However we were surprised to find out that there are actually quite a few halal-certified, Muslim-owned, or Muslim-friendly eateries to choose from! ?
Loulan Islam Restaurant is a 15-minute walk from the Ruins of St. Paul’s and is a Muslim-owned restaurant serving Xinjiang cuisine. The restaurant is great for solo diners as well as large groups, and their dishes left us feeling super full and fuelled up for the day ahead. ☺️ Signature dishes include the Leg of Lamb (requires pre-order 3 days in advance), Deep-Fried/Braised Lamb Chops, and Stir-Fried Spiced Beef/Lamb. There’s even a prayer space available upstairs upon request, so you can do your prayers after you eat!Halal Status: Muslim-owned. Serves a fermented Xinjiang grape drink, but no other alcohol is included anywhere in the menu. A prayer space is available upon request but do bring your own prayer mats and garments.Average Price: MOP80 (Rice/noodles), MOP70-300 (Dishes)Opening Hours: Open daily; 9AM – 11PMAddress: Rua do Teatro (澳門大碼頭街)Contact: +853 2853 0264
Loly Indonesian Food is a Muslim-owned family restaurant that was one of our favourites throughout the trip! The owner’s wife is an Indonesian Muslim, which is why all of the dishes taste so authentic. ? Make sure to order their Ayam Penyet and Ayam Bakar, which come with some of the spiciest and tastiest sambal we’ve ever had. The restaurant can get a little cramped once it gets too full, but it gave it a cozy atmosphere that made us feel right at home! You can also request to do your prayers on their 2nd level.Halal Status: Muslim-owned. A prayer space is available upon request but do bring your own prayer mats and garments.Average Price: MOP38-50 (Mains)Opening Hours: 12PM – 9PM (Tues-Sun), closed on Mondays. They may open later on selected days, do check their Facebook page for updates on your day of visit.Address: 33 Rua da Erva, Edificio Pek Hoi Kok (青草街4O號A地下)Contact: +853 2855 7318Facebook
The standout eatery for us was definitely the 1 Michelin-starred halal-certified Golden Peacock! ? North Indian cuisine – something we all thought we were familiar with – was elevated beyond our expectations here. Every bite had really complex layers of flavour and taste to it, and we were even rendered speechless by how good some of the dishes were. My favourite was by far the Kandari Murgh Tikka, which was one of the best chicken tikka I’ve ever had. The meat was tender and smokey, and the slight heat of the spices was balanced with the sweetness of the pomegranate seeds. ? The service was also amazing and didn’t feel intimidating at all. It’s an experience every foodie should strike off their bucket list!P.S. Many activities and heritage sites in Macao are free of charge, so you can treat yourself to a luxurious meal and still spend within your budget. ? Look out for our upcoming itinerary to Macao to see how to work this into your trip!Halal Status: Halal-certified by the Incorporated Trustees of the Islamic Community Fund of Hong Kong. There is a bar serving alcoholic drinks but there is no alcohol used in any of the dishes or drinks on the menu.Average Price: MOP108-MOP428 (Mains)Opening Hours: Open daily; 11AM – 3PM, 6PM – 11PM (Last entry 10.15PM, last order 10.30PM)Address: The Venetian Macao, Level 1, Shop 1037Contact: +853 8118 9696Website
3. Snap Insta-worthy poses with unique street art
Just when we began to think Macao is just old buildings, it found a way to surprise us. ? There’s actually lots of street art scattered in the small lanes and avenues! Many of Macao’s streets have been rejuvenated to showcase a blend of old-meets-new. One of the cutest fixtures were the electrical boxes that were decorated with unique art pieces ranging from cartoon animals to Van Gogh-esque impressionistic flowers.
Head to the area around Patio de Chon Sau and Calçada do Amparo to start your street art hunt. Many of the shops in Macao only open after 11AM, so if you want your background to be free of crowds make sure to arrive between 9AM – 10.30AM. There are also many cafés and small independent boutiques along these streets you can shop for souvenirs between takes! ?P.S. If you visit during the Macao Light Festival at the end of the year, you might even see the area dressed up with light installations and exhibits! Keep reading to find out more about this yearly event that transforms the streets of Macao after dark.
4. Get a taste of Venice in the East at the Venetian Macao
The Venetian Macao is a luxury integrated resort themed after the canals of Venice, Italy. Stepping into the hotel feels like entering a whole new world as even the ceiling is decorated with soft lighting to make you feel like you’re outdoors. ? The Venetian is also one of the largest collections of duty-free shopping outlets in Macao ranging from top-notch luxury brands such as Moschino and CHANEL to high street names like Furla and kate spade new york.
You can go on a signature gondola ride along 3 different routes, accompanied by a gondolier who will explain a brief history of gondolas in Venice. Each boat can seat up to 6 passengers so the whole family can enjoy the ride! The gondoliers are also trained to sing 6 famous Italian songs including O Sole Mio and the operatic Santa Lucia. ? You can also pre-purchase your tickets to ensure that you’ll get your spot!P.S. Find out what other exciting activities you can do in Macao here!
If you’re visiting the Venetian during the festive season, we recommend going in the evening so you can catch the 3D Light and Sound Spectacular light projection mapping show at the Lagoon area from 6.30PM – 10PM! ? The show is held during the festive season in December and is free for all to watch. There are even special seasonal shows for special events such as Chinese New Year or Christmas. The show we caught had a special feature for the 20th anniversary of Macao’s return to China from the Portuguese!
5. Enjoy French elegance and charm at the Parisian Macao
Right next to the Venetian Macao is another famous hotel – the Parisian Macao! Themed after Paris in France, the hotel’s architecture, décor, and attractions have a romantic feel to them that will make you feel like you’re at the Palace of Versailles. ? The sculpture fountain in the rotunda was a jaw-dropping welcome to the hotel – and the special upside-down Christmas tree for the festive season made it even more amazing!
The Parisian Macao is also known for its scale replica of the famous Eiffel Tower! It’s half the height of the one in France, but it’s just as gorgeous and you can even pay a fee to go up to the observatories on the 7th and 37th floors (hotel guests get free entrance to the 7th floor observatory).
We had a chance to visit the 37th floor observatory and though the winter wind was freezing cold, being able to see the Cotai strip hotels from a bird’s eye view made it a worthwhile experience. ?
Credit: @jkscharile.cc on InstagramThe best place to take a selfie with the Eiffel Tower is from the French-style Le Jardin gardens just opposite the hotel! The Eiffel Tower also lights up with a light and sound show every night, and the gardens are a gorgeous spot to catch the whole show. ?
6. Try delicious Muslim-friendly snacks for every palate
We visited Macao during winter (the temperature ranged between 11-20 Celsius!) and being able to treat ourselves to a warm snack definitely helped us through the cold days. ? Macao’s cuisine is influenced by Portuguese and Chinese flavours and you can see this in their snacks and desserts too!
Macao’s most famous snack is definitely the Portuguese Egg Tart. Based on the Portuguese Pastéis de Nata, it was introduced to Macao by Andrew Stow (Lord Stow, the founder of Lord Stow’s Bakery) in the 1980s. His recipe has now become famous in Macao and abroad for its sweet egg custard filling surrounded by crunchy pastry. ? Many stores that produce it use lard as an ingredient, but we were informed that Lord Stow’s Bakery uses butter instead of lard. ? The egg tart definitely needs to be eaten when it’s freshly made and piping hot – the custard was soft and creamy, and the crust was so soft and flaky! The crème brulee-like appearance actually comes from the milk protein being caramelised, and those extra-sweet spots really made it the perfect mid-day snack.Halal Status: Lord Stow’s egg tarts are made with vegetarian-friendly ingredients and are made in a separate facility from Lord Stow’s other products. Do note that Lord Stow’s does make meat-based pastries at its other facilities. We recommend you dine at your own discretion.Average Price: MOP10Opening Hours: Open daily; 10AM – 9PMAddress: Rua do Cunha, 9-E, Edificio Pak Hung, G/F, Taipa, MacauContact: +853 2857 6580Website | Facebook | Instagram
For a more traditional Chinese dessert, we headed to a famous roadside stall about 10 minutes from the Sofitel Macao. Qin Kee Dessert (勤記糖水) serves Cantonese-style dessert ‘soups’ made from ground sesame, red bean, bean curd, and peanut. You can also add tang yuan which are glutinous rice balls with peanut or sesame filling. Despite the cold, there was a line of patrons waiting to get their late-night dessert which only got us more excited to try it out! The sesame paste was smooth and creamy, and the tang yuan was so soft. ? Getting to sit by the roadside and dig into our dessert was also an experience that reflected Macao’s old-school vibes.P.S. While the menu is all in Chinese, you can point to the flavour you want to try and indicate if you wish to eat it at the stall or for takeaway.Halal Status: Vegetarian-friendly. We recommend you dine at your own discretion.Average Price: MOP13Opening Hours: Open daily; 3PM – 1AMAddress: Shalitou Seaside Street, R. da Ribeira do Patane (Macao, 澳門沙梨頭海邊街沙梨頭海邊巷)
Credit: The Factory MacaoBefore reaching Macao, we’d heard of a dessert called the ‘Best Chocolate Cake In The World’ and were instantly intrigued. ? Located in a small street about 15 minutes’ walk away from the Ruins of St. Paul’s, the cake is sold by The Factory, which originated in Portugal. It may look simple, but one bite into the cake was enough to stun us. The texture was crunchy but light, and every bite seemed to melt in our mouths. The chocolate taste was rich but not too sweet – a definite recommendation for cake lovers! ?Halal Status: Vegetarian-friendly ingredients (butter, sugar, chocolate, and eggs). No gelatin, alcohol, or shortening used in the establishment. Do note that some items might include meat such as their Chorizo Bread and we recommend asking the staff about ingredients. Do dine at your own discretion.Average Price: MOP35 (Slice)Opening Hours: 10AM – 8PM (Tues-Sun), closed on MondayAddress: Rua da Barca da Lenha, 73號R/C (柴船尾街73號R/C)Contact: +853 2857 7545Facebook | Instagram
7. See a new side of Macao during the annual Macao Light Festival
If you visit Macao in December, you can see the city transformed after dark during the Macao Light Festival! Famous heritage sites including the Ruins of St. Paul’s are turned into colourful wonders, with projection mapping, interactive light installations and more across 4 zones (for the 2019 edition).P.S. Macao also has many other exciting festivals and celebrations year-round, and visitors are welcome to join in! Check out the official events calendar to see what else is coming up. ?
Seeing the Ruins of St Paul come to life at night was a mesmerizing sight. The light show “Bloom” by Spanish artists Tigrelab ART was just a few minutes long, but the mapping was so perfectly done and timed with the music that you could lose yourself in the changing patterns and colours. 3 different designs are being projected onto the Ruins for the 2019 festival, each highlighting a different aspect of Macao’s history and culture. “Bloom” used natural images such as flowers to highlight Macao’s own beautiful ‘blooming’ into prosperity. ?The Anim’Arte NAM VAN area next to Nam Van Lake was also transformed into a family-friendly extravaganza with light installations and interactive exhibits! A walkway was hung with colour-changing lights for the “Ocean Sparkle” exhibit and someone was playing a piano as part of the “Flow of Melody” installation. There was even a parade of Macao’s Mak Mak tourism mascots, and plenty of families were out enjoying the cool breeze and letting the kids run around having fun with the changing lights. ?
8. Catch critically acclaimed films at the yearly International Film Festival and Awards
Macao has hosted the International Film Festival and Awards (IFFAM) since 2016 to showcase Asian and international films. Some of these films are specially presented or premiered at the festival itself!
Credit: 4th International Film Festival and Awards MacaoBefore attending 2019’s IFFAM, it didn’t occur to me that a film festival was something anyone could just buy tickets and attend. ? In my mind, a film festival meant a fancy red carpet and celebrities – but IFFAM changed that for me!
Credit: 4th International Film Festival and Awards MacaoWe bought tickets to catch a screening of “Lucky Grandma” (2019) at the festival. The film was entirely in Mandarin dialects (and was even under the New Chinese Cinema category), but had English subtitles so the audience could understand. All 3 of us left the cinema laughing over the dark humour in the film! ? I wouldn’t have heard of the film without IFFAM let alone get the chance to watch it! IFFAM’s films are also grouped into different categories, and the films listed covered everything from noir to comedy to family dramas and more.
The festival was held over 6 days and films were screened at several venues across Macao so it was easy to find one that fit into our schedule. ? Some were even held at iconic locations like the Macao Tower and Cinematheque:Passion (located in the famous Travessa da Paixão street). If you want to immerse yourself in Macao’s culture scene, attending a film festival is definitely a unique way to see a more artistic side of the city – and you can even catch a film you wouldn’t be able to find back home!Whether you’re a foodie, daredevil or arts lover you’ll definitely fall in love with Macao. ? There are also direct flights to Macao from Singapore, Kuala Lumpur and Kota Kinabalu – and it’s only a 4-hour flight! Our visit certainly showed us all the different sides to this vibrant city, from the old traditions to brand-new ventures. We hope this guide gives you some ideas where to start planning your great Macao adventure! ?This article is brought to you by Macao Government Tourism Office (MGTO).