Your Trip to Macao: The Complete Guide

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With all its sparkly resorts, many casinos, and sprawling shopping centers, Macao has a reputation as the Las Vegas of the East. Still, this Special Administrative Region (SAR) has so much more to offer. You can visit the 15th-century temple that gave the area its name, wander through streets that look eerily European, and sample some of the food that earned Macao the UNESCO Creative City of Gastronomy designation in 2017. Offering tons of history—with a whopping 25 UNESCO World Heritage Sites—right next to ultra-modern design hotels, Macao is an ideal destination for anyone interested in history, food, luxury, and everything in between.

Planning Your Trip

  • Best Time to Visit: November to March; temperatures are lower, and humidity is at comfortable levels.
  • Language: Chinese (the Cantonese dialect to be specific) and Portuguese are the official languages of Macao, but most people in restaurants and stores speak some English.
  • Currency: Patacas and Hong Kong dollars. Hong Kong dollars often have a more favorable exchange rate but expect to receive patacas as change for purchases.
  • Getting Around: Most hotels arrange shuttle buses to significant landmarks for guests. There are also taxis and a relatively expansive public bus network that travels across Macao Peninsula, Taipa, and Coloane
  • Travel Tip: Many travelers pair visits to Macao with a Hong Kong vacation since the two are a short ferry ride away from each other.

Things to Do

Because of its rich history and abundance of hotels and resorts, there's no shortage of things to do in Macao beyond gambling. Whether you want to explore streets that look like straight out of Europe, learn about the SAR's history, see ruins of churches, or ride the world's first figure-eight ferris wheel, you'll find something for you.

  • Make some time to visit A-Ma Temple, the reason that Macao is called Macao. When Portuguese travelers asked locals where they were, they were told "A Ma Gao" or place of A-Ma. "A-Ma gao" became Macao over the years. The temple has been around since the 1400s and is still a place of worship for many locals.
  • Whether you're a history buff or not, everyone should visit the Handover museum. When Macao was returned to China in 1999, each province sent a gift to celebrate the handover. Each gift is now on display in a free museum, and the artistry of each piece makes this a must-visit destination.
  • Thrillseekers should head straight to the Macau Tower to experience the world's tallest commercial bungee jump. For a fee, visitors can dive 233 meters off the edge. If that sounds too intense, there are also options to walk around the edge of the observation deck (tethered to it, of course) and to climb to the very top of the tower. Even if you don't do any of the more adventurous activities, the view from the tower is well worth a visit.

Check out our list for more ideas on what to do in Macao.

What to Eat and Drink

Because of its history, Macao's food scene is quite unique. You can eat traditional Cantonese cuisine for breakfast, Macanese for lunch, and Portuguese for dinner. The most famous food in the region is the Macanese egg tart. You'll find them sold everywhere (even the airport), but you should try it at one of the Lord Stow's locations. Other signature items include African chicken (braised chicken in a hearty peanut sauce), almond cookies, and serradura (a chilled dessert of whipped cream and crushed cookies)

Get more meal inspiration with our guides to the must-try foods in Macao and best restaurants in Macao.

Where to Stay

The experience that you want while in Macao will influence where you chose to stay. Most of the larger, flashier resorts are in the Cotai area of Taipa Island. Taipa is also home to Macau International Airport. The Cotai Strip (a term created by the Las Vegas Sands Corporation) is home to the Galaxy resort complex, Wynn Palace, Parisian, and the ultra-luxe Morpheus hotel at City of Dreams, to name a few. Cotai and Taipa are the places to be if you want to explore a ton of resorts easily or if you want to hit the casinos.

If you're interested in discovering the historic sections of Macao, Macao Penisula will be ideal. It's home to the Macau Tower, A-Ma Temple, the Ruins of St. Paul's, the historic center of Macao (a UNESCO World Heritage Site), and the Handover Gifts Museum. For a quieter experience, and to be closer to the Panda Pavilion, book a room on Coloane, the southernmost region of Macao. Staying on Coloane also puts you close to a golf course, several Buddhist temples, and an ecological garden

Getting There

There are three main ways of getting to Macao: plane, ferry, and the new HZM bridge. The airport is very close to the city center, and many resorts have free shuttle buses to transport guests from the airport to the hotel. Most flights from the United States or Europe will require a layover in Taiwan or Hong Kong.

Many travelers to Macao arrive via ferry from Hong Kong, which takes around 45 minutes to an hour. People driving in from Mainland China or Hong Kong will arrive on the HZM. After making it to Macao, you'll have to go through customs as with the airport or ferry.

Culture and Customs

Due to a relatively similar political history, the culture of Macao is more similar to Hong Kong than to Mainland China. The influence of Portugal is seen in the SAR's cuisine and architecture. Most signs will be in traditional Chinese characters and Portuguese. Tipping in Macao is very similar to tipping practices in Hong Kong. Tipping is not required or expected in most settings though bellhops might appreciate a small tip.

Macao is known for its casinos but if you visit, expect a more serious mood than what you'd find in Las Vegas. No alcohol is served on the casino floor and most gamblers are focused on one thing: the game they're playing.

Money-Saving Tips

  • Many resorts offer free shuttles to major attractions and tourist destinations around Macao. For the bigger resorts or those with casino floors, it's easy to hop on a shuttle even if you don't have a room there.
  • While it's costly to bungee jump off the top of Macau Tower, the views can be enjoyed for free.
  • While fall is a great time to visit, visiting during Golden Week in October could mean more massive crowds and higher accommodation prices.
  • Many of Macao's incredible restaurants can be quite expensive. To cut down costs considered swapping lunch at a restaurant for street food like pork chop buns, egg tarts, or jerky.
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