14 Best Things to Do in Macao

Panorama of Macau City
Hildegarde / Getty Images

Known as the "Las Vegas of Asia," Macao is all about flashy lights, grand shows, and extravagant nights out. The city may be geographically small but it packs a lot in, so much that it's the most densely populated territory in the world. Just 45 minutes away from Hong Kong, the once-Portuguese colony is an easy place to visit where the combination of East and West couldn't be more striking. Visit Buddhist temples built alongside colonial-era Catholic churches, or eat a typical Cantonese lunch but dine out on a Portuguese staple like piri-piri chicken. Even if you aren't much of a gambler, there's plenty of history and culture in Macao to fill in your stay.

01 of 14

Try and Get Lucky at the Macao Casinos

Macau Grand Lisboa Hotel and Casino
Chu Yong / Getty Images
MacaoAv. de Lisboa, 4號, no.2-4, 4號
Phone +853 8297 7111

If there's only one thing you know about Macao, it's likely that the city is famous for its over-the-top casinos. Walking around the streets, you may even feel like you're walking down the Strip in Las Vegas, including some familiar hotels like the Venetian or MGM. And just like Vegas, you don't have to gamble to enjoy the casinos. Simply going for a stroll to take in the sights and extravagant displays is an attraction in itself, and a completely free one at that. The Grand Lisboa is one of the oldest and most iconic casinos in Macao, so it's a good place to start before wandering off to explore.

02 of 14

Have Coffee in Senado Square

Largo do Senado (Senado Square).
Manfred Gottschalk / Getty Images

The main plaza and the pulse of Macao is Largo do Senado, or Senado Square, and you'll swear that you're actually in Lisbon because the resemblance is so uncanny. If it's your first visit to Macao, you can't get away without a visit to Senado Square and its many shops and cafes. If there's some type of event or holiday going on, you can be sure that the plaza is decorated to match and likely with scheduled performances to enjoy. Even though it's a bit touristy, it's worth it for the photogenic backdrops alone.

03 of 14

Feel an Adrenaline Rush at Macao Tower

Sky Jump Launched In Macau Tower
China Photos / Getty Images
Phone +853 2893 3339

At 1,109 feet high, the Macao Tower is the tallest structure in the city and easily recognizable. If you're woozy about heights then just going to the top may be enough of a rush as it is, but for the ultimate thrill seekers, there are few activities that compare to bungee jumping off the tower. Bungee jumpers launch off from 764 feet, which is still the highest bungee jump off of a building in the world. It's definitely not an activity for the faint of heart, but those brave enough to give it a try won't ever forget it.

04 of 14

Explore at an Iberian Pace in the St. Lazarus District

St. Lazarus Church in Macao
gionnixxx / Getty Images
Adro de São Lazaro, Macao
Phone +853 2837 3094

Yes, there are the big hitters like the Ruins of St. Paul’s and Senado Square to tick off your list, but the best place to get a sense of Portuguese Macao is in the St. Lazarus District. The cobblestoned streets, pastel-painted houses, and quiet courtyards give these dozen alleys their very own colonial atmosphere. The centerpiece is the wonderfully preserved St. Lazarus church, while cafes and restaurants use the cobblestones to good effect for al fresco dining.

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05 of 14

Sit at the Table Where the First China-America Trade Pact Was Signed

Interior of Kun Iam Temple in Macau
Holger Leue / Getty Images

That’s right, hidden away in the back garden of the Kun Iam Temple is where the first trade deal between the two future superpowers was inked in 1844. Today, you can still see the stone table and chairs where the plenipotentiaries sat to start a relationship that is still shaping the world. Apart from that fateful event, the Kun Iam Temple is also one of the largest and most important temples in Macao. It was built over 200 years before the trade deal signing, so its history goes back long before the U.S. entered the picture.

06 of 14

Step Inside an Imperial Mandarin's House

Mandarin House in Macau
simon_photos / Getty Images
MacaoAntonio da Silva10 Travessa de
Phone +853 2896 8820

Portuguese architecture tends to steal the show in Macao, but there are some fantastic examples of Chinese architecture as well. The Mandarin's House is probably the most impressive. Built in the late 19th century in imperial style, the Mandarin’s House is a mini estate of buildings set out along several courtyards. The wooden lattice windows, timbered ceilings, and mother of pearl screens look like they are straight from the set of your favorite kung-fu movie.

07 of 14

Load up on Local Gifts at the Macao Design Centre

Macao Design Centre

Macao Design Centre

5 Tv. da Fabrica, Macao
Phone +853 2852 0335

Unlike neighboring Hong Kong, Macao isn’t really a shopping destination unless you want to pay too much for fancy handbags and jewels inside the newly minted boutiques at each casino. Instead, try the Macao Design Centre for gifts created by local artists. On the ground floor, ​you’ll find a collection of startups selling their latest designs, everything from wallets to clothing. The rooftop, meanwhile, often plays host to art exhibitions, concerts, and outdoor cinema.

08 of 14

Stretch Out on the Sand of Bamboo Bay Beach

Cheoc Van beach

rheins / Wikimedia Commons

4H76+85H, Macao

The black sand beach of Hac Sa may get all the attention, but it also attracts the biggest crowds. Instead, escape the hordes at Bamboo Bay Beach, also known as Cheoc Van. You’ll find a neat stretch of sand and a large outdoor swimming pool where you can take a dip when the South China Sea is a bit too chilly.

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09 of 14

Barter at the Bustle of the Red Market

Meat on sale at market in Macao
Zenobillis / Getty Images
125 Av. do Alm. Lacerda, Macao
Phone +853 2821 0434

For something more traditional head to the Red Market, Macao’s oldest still-operating market. Built in 1934, this grand building has been hosting sellers since the day when the doors first swung open. Today, the focus is on food and produce, while the streets around are filled with flower sellers and mom-and-pop sized electronic stores.

10 of 14

Explore Carmel Gardens

Gardens in Macao

Corbis / Getty Images

Macao, Avenida de Carlos da Maia

There are at least half a dozen prim and proper European-style gardens to wander in Macao but Carmel Garden—or Jardim do Carmo—enjoys the best location. Set on a hill overlooking Taipa and the South China Sea, you’ll find beautifully executed beds of flowers, vine-covered gazebos, and plenty of benches to rest on away from the bright lights of the casino. It's located on the grounds of the Church of Our Lady of Carmel.

11 of 14

Taste Macanese Food at A Lorcha

minchi plate in Macau
Matthew Keegan / Getty Images
5GPJ+RF7, Macao
Phone +853 2831 3193

You’ll find the influence of Portugal in the architecture, the culture, and the dinner table in Macao. Macanese cuisine is a fusion of Portuguese spices and Cantonese ingredients. The national dish is minchi, a mix of minced beef or pork cooked with potatoes, onions, soy sauce, and occasionally an egg. There are plenty of popular Macanese restaurants to choose from, but many people rate A Lorcha as the best.

12 of 14

See the Handover Gifts Museum of Macao

Handover gifts museum in Macau
Handover Gifts Museum
237-285 Av. Xian Xing Hai, Macao
Phone +853 8504 1800

When the then-colony of Macao was returned to China from Portugal in 1999, it was celebrated with a major ceremony where each of China's 56 regions provided a special gift to Macao. Today, all of those gifts are on display at the Handover Gifts Museum, most of which represent something unique or special about their home region. You'll find silk embroidery, lavish calligraphy art, and ornately painted vases, among many other objects.

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13 of 14

Try Some Traditional Tea Making at the Macao Tea Culture House

Close-Up Of Hand Holding Tea Kettle
Hio Cheang / EyeEm / Getty Images
Jardim de Lou Lim Leoc, 10 Estr. de Adolfo Loureiro, Macao
Phone +853 2882 7103

Tea making means more to the Cantonese than dipping a tea bag in some hot water. Apart from the impressive collection of teapots always on display at the Macao Tea Culture House, head there on Saturdays and Sundays when they give an exhibition of traditional Chinese tea making skills with tastings. Be sure to check ahead of time to find out what time the tea tastings are being held.

14 of 14

Meet the Pandas at the Macao Panda Pavilion

Macau pandas

Victor U / Flickr

Estr. de Seac Pai Van, Macao
Phone +853 2888 0087

Who doesn’t love the world’s cuddliest bears? Macao is the proud owner of Kai Kai and Xin Xin, a pair of bamboo-chomping great pandas that were gifted from mainland China. The large pavilion must be one of the most luxurious bear pads in the world and includes two separate levels for viewing so you won’t be crushed by the crowds. Apart from the pandas, the small zoo also includes gorillas, flamingos, and other monkeys. Best of all, it's completely free to visit.

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14 Best Things to Do in Macao