Macao is small enough to be enjoyed in just 48 hours but big enough to provide plenty of options for things to do and see on your trip. Split into three major areas (the Macau Peninsular, Taipa Island, and Coloane) Macao has glimmering casinos, sprawling resort complexes, historic squares, and more than 20 UNESCO World Heritage Sites all within 45 square miles.
While Macao is fairly small there, isn't an expansive public transportation system that connects the islands. As such, we recommend renting a car or hiring a driver for this itinerary.
Day 1: Morning
10 a.m.: If you're coming by plane or taking a ferry to the Macau Taipa Ferry Terminal, you'll first set foot in Macao's Taipa Island. After clearing customs, you could head to your hotel but we suggest you start exploring immediately: Just an eight-minute drive or 40-minute walk away is Taipa Grande Hill (Colina da Taipa Grande). When you arrive, you can ride the funicular up the hill where you're rewarded with excellent views of Cotai and the rest of Macao. If you're coming into the Outer Harbor Ferry Terminal your trip to Taipa Grande Hill will still take eight minutes by car. Once you've had your fill of sightseeing on the hill, take the funicular back down to the base of Taipa Grande Hill.
Then pay a visit to the Taipa Houses. The five teal homes are remnants of Macao's colonial history, and four of them have been converted into museums, galleries, and gift shops.
11:30 a.m.: Now is the time to head to your hotel and drop off your bags in the lobby before getting to know some of Macao's UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The Cotai Strip is an ideal to area to stay in Macao. It's home to a lot of resorts, and it's easy to get to Coloane and the Macau Peninsula. There are so many hotels in Cotai, it's hard to go wrong, but we're partial to Hotel Okura. The five-star, Japanese-inspired hotel is relatively affordable and shares facilities with the Ritz Carlton, Galaxy Hotel, Banyan Tree, JW Marriott, and the more affordable Broadway Hotel.
Day 1: Afternoon
Noon: Now that you're free of your bags, head over to Macau Peninsula from Cotai for your first meal in Macao. Restaurante Litoral is an excellent Macanese restaurant that is the perfect starting point for your afternoon exploring. Tuck into Portuguese and Macanese favorites like minchi, Portugese fried rice, codfish fritters, and the oh-so-delicious African chicken. We also recommend the housemade sangria.
1:30 p.m.: Once lunch is done, it's time to work off some of those calories with a self-guided tour around the Macao Historic center. Your first stop should be A-Ma Temple, which is very close to Restaurante Litoral. This temple was the first thing that Portuguese saw when they arrived in Macao, and it's still an active site of worship. You'll see people purchasing and burning incense around the gorgeous temple complex dedicated to a goddess of the sea.
From A-Ma Temple you can walk up Rua da Barra. You'll pass by the Moorish Barracks, Mandarin's House, St. Laurence Church, St. Augustines, and Senado Square. You could take a detour to see Happiness Street (Rua de Felicidade); the street of red-windowed buildings used to be Macao's equivalent of a red-light district and is now home to charming shops.
After getting some great photos, walk 10 more minutes to the Ruins of St. Paul's, one of Macao's most iconic sites. The 17th-century Catholic church was one of the biggest in Asia when it was built until it was destroyed by a fire in 1835. All that remains now is a stone facade and a small, free museum in the former crypt.
If you're feeling peckish, the area around the Ruins of St. Paul's is a great place to buy some snacks like jerky or almond cookies. People who are still up for more walking should consider heading up to Monte Fort for more views of Macao and to explore a 17th-century Portuguese fort.
4 p.m.: Now that you've gotten a taste of historic Macao, head back to your hotel to officially check-in, freshen up, and rest for a bit after all that walking.
Day 1: Evening
6 p.m.: Rested and refreshed, early evening is the perfect time to explore Taipa Food Street on Taipa Island. The area is packed with stalls selling postcards, keychains, snacks, and more. This is a perfect time to pick up some souvenirs for the folks back home. Also if you didn't have a chance to buy any almond cookies by the Ruins of St. Paul there's a Koi Kei Bakery in the Food Street and they sell some of the best. You should also buy a pre-dinner snack at a small mochi stand on Rua de Horta e Sousa. Cheung Chau Mochi Dessert (called Mochi Macau on Google) sells tender mochi wrapped around fresh fruit. The mango option is absolutely divine.
7 p.m.: You had Macanese food for lunch, so now is the time for some Portuguese fare. Exit Taipa Food Street at Rua Direita Carlos Eugénio and walk east until you get to Le Cesar Old Taipa (it should take about five minutes). Almost everything on the menu tastes great but we highly recommend the wet seafood rice, codfish cakes, and sautéed clams. Pair dinner with a glass of imported Portuguese wine, and follow it up with Macao's iconic dessert: serradura.
8:30 p.m.: Now that you're well fed, spend time admiring the area's sparkling resorts and hotels. Those who are interested in gambling have their choice of Macao's top casinos. Otherwise, travelers can see impressive ground-floor displays (like the Wynn Palace's beautiful floral sculptures), marvel at sprawling shopping complexes, or even take a ride on the world's highest figure-eight ferris wheel at Studio City.
Day 2: Morning
9:30 a.m.: Rise and shine, it's panda time. Have breakfast at your hotel if it's available or grab a quick bite on your way to the Macao Giant Panda Pavilion in Coloane. The 32,000-square-foot (3,000 square meters) fan-shaped facility houses four giant pandas that visitors can watch play, eat, and sleep. Get your fill of the adorable animals, and then continue to explore the rest of the Pavilion, which doubles as a relatively small zoo. There's a variety of monkeys, red pandas, and birds to keep guests entertained. All the information plaques have English translations, so it's easy to learn about the animals you'll see.
11:30 a.m.: Make your way to the original Lord Stowe's cafe in Coloane for some egg tarts. The iconic Macanese treat was first created there, and you can watch employees preparing batches of tarts.
Eat your snack as you take some time to enjoy the charming tranquility of Coloane. Because it's farther away from the hustle and bustle of Taipa Island and the Macau Peninsula, Coloane tends to be much less crowded. If you're interested in scavenger hunts, each of the Buddhist temples across Macao has a collection of small books and a stamp. The books are essentially a passport that you can stamp at each of the region's temples. Hunting down temples is a great way to explore Coloane without feeling like you're walking aimlessly.
Day 2: Afternoon
12:30 p.m.: For lunch in the area, pay a visit to Nga Tim Cafe. You'll know you're close when you see the soft yellow facade of the Church of St. Francis Xavier. Curious travelers can take a peek inside the small church or just enjoy the pleasant exterior. Nga Tim Cafe is just to the left with a bunch of tables outside if the weather is nice. The restaurant offers a mix of Chinese and Portuguese fare, so you'll have a nice variety to choose from. Very adventurous eaters can even try a dish that uses worms as the main protein!
2 p.m.: Head back to Taipa Island for a visit to the Handover Gifts Museum. The free museum houses each gift given to Macao from 56 Chinese provinces and ethnic groups to celebrate the handover in 1999. The gifts range from tapestries to enormous vases made from carved walnut shells to a large display of bells. Each item has a plaque pointing out where in China it was made and explaining the meaning behind the work of art.
On the way to the Handover Gifts Museum you may have seen a large figure of a woman standing in the water. The 66-foot (20-meter) bronze statue Kun Iam (a goddess of mercy, also called Guan Yin) was given to Macao by the Portuguese government in 1997. She faces Macao and is viewed as a protector. There is a walkway that leads straight to the base of the statue. If you stop at the lotus flower marking on the walkway, you'll be in the perfect spot for a stunning picture of Kun Iam. Because of its location next to a major street, it's best to walk to the statue rather than drive.
3:45 p.m.: Make the short drive (or 20-minute walk) from the Handover Gifts Museum to Macau Tower. You've already seen some pretty great views but they don't hold a candle to the panoramic views you can get from the top of this 1,109-foot (338-meter) tower. Adventurous types can try the world's highest commercial bungee jump or walk around the outside edge of the tower. Otherwise, enjoy the views and have fun watching brave souls leap off the edge. If you're hungry again (or need a bite to settle your stomach from the jump!), the ground floor of the tower complex has a variety of restaurants and cafes to try. But don't fill up—it's time to head back to your hotel, put on something fancy, and go out for your last evening in Macao.
Day 2: Evening
6:30 p.m.: For your last meal, why not head to one of the opulent restaurants housed in Macao's resorts. If you'd like to try some insanely decadent hot pot, Lotus Palace in the Parisian Macao is right for you. Lovers of spicy food will love Michelin-starred Sichuan Moon in Wynn Palace. If you'd like to be close to the next stop of the night, consider eating at one of the 35 eateries housing with the City of Dreams resort complex including an outpost of Alain Ducasse and Din Tai Fung.
8 p.m.: You may have seen the awe-inspiring Morpheus hotel on your travels around Cotai but now is the time to head inside for an incredible show. The hotel, one of the last designed by Zaha Hadid, hosts the House of Dancing Water. Acrobats leap, tumble, and dive from obscenely high heights during the show. Performances happen Friday through Sunday, with the occasional Thursday show. If you don't mind getting wet, grab a seat in the front rows.
10:30 p.m.: Toast the end of your whirlwind trip to Macao with a drink at one of the best bars in the SAR. The Ritz-Carlton Bar & Lounge on the 51st floor of the Ritz-Carlton Macau is the perfect place to unwind and relax while enjoying views of Taipa Island. The dimly lit bar has a lounge singer serenading patrons but the real star of the show is the gin cart. A bartender will let you sample various gins and peruse the extensive gin menu before creating a tailor-made cocktail. There's no better send-off than that.