The dazzling city of Macau has rapidly become one of the most up-and-coming tourist destinations in the Far East. If you are someone that regularly ventures to Asia, either for business or pleasure, you should certainly add Macau to your bucket list of places to explore. It’s a veritable melting pot of cultures and industries, with the island city a former Portuguese colony and now a “special administrative region” of China, which enables it to set its own laws that differ from the mainland.
As a genuine “East Meets West” destination, fusing Mediterranean flavours and architecture with Chinese traditions, Macau is a dizzying place like no other in Asia. Any newcomer to Macau should consider the six following attractions as a starting point to get a feel for the Macanese way of life:
The Ruins of St. Paul’s
There is no better statement of Macau’s western influences than the Ruins of St. Paul’s. Originally the world’s most extravagant building for Catholics built in Asia, the remaining façade is a homage to its Mediterranean roots. Constructed in the early 17th century by Jesuits, the majority of the structure was damaged by a typhoon, but the remaining part is a UNESCO World Heritage site and a reminder of its colonial heritage.
The eye-catching Senado Square is another taste of Macau’s history as a Portuguese colony. The city’s main square was transformed into a stunning, symmetrical pedestrianized area and is still considered one of the best examples of Portuguese architecture on the island. With the square adorned with plentiful retail stores and restaurants, it’s always a bustling hive of activity.
Historic Center of Macau
The Historic Center of Macau is yet another UNESCO Heritage Site within the city’s walls. It literally oozes history with every step you take around the “Old Town” region. Within the Old Town you will almost certainly encounter what is considered the world’s first fusion cuisine – Macanese food. This blend of Mediterranean and Chinese flavors suggests that claim to fame may just be genuine, with the city’s former Portuguese colony bringing with it many European ingredients, as well as other spices from North Africa and India. Traditional dishes such as Minchi, Bacalhau and, for those with a sweet tooth, Pasteis de Nata (egg tarts) are well worth sampling from the Old Town’s back street eateries.
The Venetian Macao
The Venetian Macao houses the largest casino floor space on the planet, with 50,000 square meters of gaming action going on. It typifies the rapid growth of Macau’s gaming industry, since the Chinese government sought to clean up the island’s casino scene by regulating it from the early 2000s. In the awe-inspiring Venetian Macao resort, there’s over 2,000 slot machines and electronic table games to sample. Many of those are inspired by the latest slots online, which have been developed by the same software studios that have delivered for land-based casino floors for decades now.
Aside from its Portuguese traditions, there are plenty of Chinese links across the city too. The A-Ma Temple is one of the most spectacular celebrations of Taoism, built way back in 1488. There are six separate areas to explore around the A-Ma Temple, each one guarded by imposing stone-carved lions. The grounds of the temple are the perfect place to enjoy a quiet moment and soak up the tranquillity that’s so rarely on offer in one of the most densely populated cities on Earth.
Hac Sa Beach
Given that Macau is an island, it won’t be of surprise to you that there are some impressive beaches that locals and tourists alike typically flock to in the warmer weather. Hac Sa Beach in Coloane is arguably the best known location. It’s the largest natural beach and boasts rather unique black sand. The darkness of the sand occurs due to the lack of minerals in the sea water, akin to other volcanic beaches like those found in Hawaii.
In truth, there are dozens more attractions in this intoxicating city. There are very few cities in the Far East that have such dramatic contrasts between the old and the new. Given Macau’s close proximity to Hong Kong – connected via the new Zhuhai Bridge – it’s possible to fly here as part of a multi-stop trip from most major US international airports too!