It’s been a booming two decades for Macao, with an influx of luxury hotels, Michelin-starred restaurants and other new draws to complement its colonial history, laidback southern beaches and fusion cuisine.
A new creative energy is bubbling up, too, with local talent celebrated as part of Art Macao, a series of special exhibitions and performances through October 2019.
There are also new ways to reach Macao, namely along the 55-kilometre Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao Bridge which opened in 2018 and offers an alternative to the border crossing with Zhuhai and the ferry service from Hong Kong. The bridge helped some of the 35.8 million tourists reach Macao’s shores in 2018 – a huge increase from the roughly eight million annual tourists before the handover to China.
However you arrive, we’ve put together a guide to the best of Macao, old and new.
New: MGM Cotai
The lavish MGM Cotai opened in February 2018, with numerous family-friendly attractions. Visitors can check out the enormous 4K LED screen in its cinema, enjoy restaurants by acclaimed chefs, view a collection of 300 art pieces, and watch The Spectacle, an ever-changing display of 25 LED screens in the cavernous atrium. The 38-tonne lion statue outside is gilded in 24-karat gold because – why not? Also new on the Cotai Strip is the Wynn Palace, Macao’s most expensive resort to date.
Old: Grand Coloane Resort
The Cotai Strip may be where the big money flows, but Coloane, on the sleepy southern shores, is where the tourists and locals looking for a relaxing escape flow to. At The Grand Coloane Resort, every room has a sizeable sun terrace, with many offering unbroken ocean views. If you can drag yourself off your lounger, you’ll get to enjoy facilities such as an outdoor pool complex, an 18-hole golf course, spa and fitness centre, kids’ club, tennis courts and the nearby Hac Sa beach.
Even among the glitzy towers of the Cotai Strip, Morpheus stands apart. The latest wing of the sprawling City of Dreams complex sports a surreal, cage-like webbing structure with three holes punched out, designed by the late British-Iraqi architect Zaha Hadid. The wow factor continues inside with a cavernous lobby, from which a breathtaking lift ride takes you through three holes ‘punched’ through the structure up to fabulous restaurants, 772 guest rooms, suites and villas, and a rooftop infinity pool.
Old: Pousada de Coloane
If you prefer a more boutique feel, Pousada de Coloane – formerly a private retreat for a wealthy Macanese tycoon – is a bucolic hideaway in the south. The charming throwback has just 28 sea-facing rooms facing Cheoc Van Beach below. Around the resort you’ll find blue-and-white Portuguese tiling, while the decor in the rooms is classic colonial reserve, with few frills. An added perk: it’s a five-minute ride to famed Portuguese restaurant Fernando.
New: Live Music Powerhouse
Macao has become a must-play destination for many touring acts. On 6 July, veteran Cantopop star George Lam is joined by Alex Lam, Bianca Wu and Terence Siufay for La Musical, a retrospective of his hits at Cotai Arena. Irish boyband Westlife performs over 26-27 July; Parisian cabaret troupe Crazy Horse brings its Forever Crazy show to the Parisian Theatre 25 September-5 October; and Canadian pop music heartthrob Shawn Mendes plays the Cotai Arena on 13 October.
Old: The House of Dancing Water
The ‘world’s largest water extravaganza’ is worthy of the hype. The House of Dancing Water has been a mainstay of Macao’s entertainment scene since 2010, performed in a purpose-built, 270-degree theatre with a pool holding 3.7 million gallons of water (enough to fill five Olympic-sized swimming pools). Ninety performers display their prowess across ballet, trapeze, motorsports (yep, you read that right) and frankly preposterous feats of diving – all among elaborate sets that rise from the watery depths.
New: Contemporary Art
Think of culture in Macao and its the centuries-old colonial influences that often come to mind, but there’s also a growing contemporary arts scene. Taipa Village Art Space is a gallery set up in a village shophouse with a focus on promoting local and regional artists. For creative souvenirs, head to Macao Design Centre, a converted factory that now hosts galleries, shops, a cafe, bookshop and performance space. And the Macao Museum of Art always has something new on view.
Old: Taipa Houses Museum
The five peppermint-green buildings that comprise the Taipa Houses Museum are a history lesson doubling as an Insta-perfect photo opportunity. Built in 1921 as residences for wealthy Macanese, they now serve as a reminder of the territory’s colonial chapter through recreations of traditional living quarters with authentic furnishings in the Macanese Living Museum house – as well as special exhibitions in the others. Spare a minute to check out Our Lady of Carmo Church next door, too.
New: The Parisian Macao’s Eiffel Tower
Let’s face it: on paper, a replica Eiffel Tower sounds garish at best. But a visit to The Parisian Macao reveals otherwise. This new landmark is built at half scale to the real thing with outstanding attention to detail while incorporating two observation decks. Each evening, the tower is illuminated with a light and music show. Fans of quirky attractions should also take a ride on the Golden Reel Ferris wheel, built into the facade of the Hollywood-themed Studio City hotel. The world’s first figure-eight-shaped Ferris wheel has 17 steampunk-themed cabins that rise 130 metres above the ground.
Old: Our Lady of St Penha Chapel
Take a break from the bustle at this serene chapel on top of Penha Hill, which was constructed in 1622 and rebuilt in 1935. Thousands of Catholics make their way here on 13 May every year for the Procession of Our Lady of Fátima. The chapel is simple, but the panoramic views over the Macao Tower and the city’s three bridges are sensational, making the steep ascent worthwhile. The beautiful baroque St Dominic’s Church, just off Senado Square, is also worth a visit, and makes a great alternative to the busy Ruins of St Paul’s – don’t miss the Museum of Sacred Art and Crypt in the bell tower.
New: Rua de Nossa Senhora do Amparo
Design-forward shops and cafes are springing up along two historic streets near the Ruins of St Paul’s: Rua de Nossa Senhora do Amparo and Rua dos Ervanários. This has to do with a push by local property company Number 81 to boost the area. Visitors can fuel up at stylish coffee shops, including A Porta Da Arte and Black Gold Coffee Corner, before enjoying a wander down Patio de Chon Sau – a small terrace lined with colourful street art.
Old: Coloane Village
While the egg tarts at Lord Stow’s Bakery are the best-known reason to venture down to the southwestern corner of Coloane, the sleepy village also holds a few other draws: the baroque Chapel of Francis Xavier and surrounding Portuguese cobblestone square, and the eerie abandoned Lai Chi Vun shipyards, which you can explore on the northern fringes of the village. The heritage value of the shipyards is currently under consultation after two were demolished in 2016, so check them out while you still can.
New: Voyages by Alain Ducasse
The Morpheus hotel has a whole floor dedicated to celebrated French chef Alain Ducasse. Voyages by Alain Ducasse pays tribute to Asian food, with contemporary dishes inspired by his travels in Thailand, Japan, China and beyond. The wood-panelled bar is the perfect setting to start an evening with a Negroni from the cocktail trolley before dinner at two-Michelin-starred Alain Ducasse at Morpheus. Here, head chef Pierre Marty channels Ducasse’s take on haute French cuisine with an emphasis on seasonal ingredients, backed by a list of French wines, served in an exquisite, light-filled dining room.
Old: Albergue 1601
Macao is known for its excellent cuisine and, in 2017, Unesco named it a Creative City of Gastronomy. Our top old-school pick is Albergue 1601. It offers solid Portuguese and Macanese fare, but the real draw is the setting: the restaurant sits in a butterscotch-coloured 1920s colonial building next to a courtyard framed by giant camphor trees. Come for a relaxed lunch, then get an outside table and while the afternoon away over fresh sangria before checking out the art gallery and Portuguese provisions shop Mercearia Portuguesa next door. Alternatively, for a quick and delicious Macanese pork chop bun, stop at Ou Mun Cafe near Senado Square.
New: Jade Dragon
The dining experience at Jade Dragon has been recognised by the Michelin guide (three stars), ranked on Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants (27th on the 2019 list), lauded by critics and loved by diners. Credit goes to executive chef Kelvin Au Yeung and his team for taking Cantonese classics to new heights – don’t miss the barbecued pork (Iberico, barbecued over lychee wood for a delicate, sweet flavour), dim sum and hot and sour soup (lifted by the addition of Hokkaido crabmeat).
Old: Three Lamps District
Locals know the area surrounding the Rotunda de Carlos da Maia in Taipa for market stalls hawking fresh vegetables, packaged snacks, sundry household goods – and Burmese food. In the 1960s and ’70s, Burmese people of Chinese descent emigrated to Macao, bringing along their classic dishes. One of the most popular is mohinga, rice noodles in rich, fish broth topped with a boiled egg and split pea crackers, which is typically eaten for breakfast in Myanmar, but available all day at Ngau Ngau and Restaurante Birmanes Nga Heong. In Taipa Village, make a beeline for Rest Yangon, down the backstreet Travessa Lou Fu, opposite The Blissful Carrot cafe.
New: Batman Dark Flight
The HK$250 billion Hollywood-themed Studio City’s blockbuster attractions include the world’s first ride to feature the Dark Knight. With a multistorey screen and state-of-the-art sound design, Batman Dark Flight (MOP178/HK$172) is an immersive flight simulation that takes you out crime fighting, flying through Gotham City in the Batplane and tearing through its streets in the fabled Batmobile in pursuit of supervillains The Joker, Two-Face and Bane.
Old: Chong San tram
You can’t beat Macau’s Chong San tram for kitschy charm and value for money – just MOP3 (HK$3) for a round-trip ticket. Setting out from Jardin de la Flora, the two-minute ride aboard a gondola (big enough to squeeze in four people) delivers superb panoramic views. It’s also quicker than hiking up Guia Hill if you want to check out the colonial fort and lighthouse, built in 1865, and the frescoed chapel dating back to 1622.
New: Loja das Conservas
Loja das Conservas, an outpost of the renowed Lisbon emporium, showcases more than 200 Portuguese producers of canned fish. Reach for the sardines, obviously, but don’t ignore the codfish, squid, mussels and eels; all pickled, drenched in spices or preserved in oil. The packaging – gorgeous retro designs emblazoned on the tins, jars and paper wrappings – is reason enough to pick up a souvenir or two.
Old: Almond biscuits
Venture about 10 minutes south from the Ruins of St Paul, and you’ll reach Pastelaria Chui Heong, a longtime favourite for the almond biscuits made on site. (It was founded in 1958 by the father of current owner Lee Chi-Yung.) There’s usually a queue outside, but it moves quickly and is worth the wait to snag a box or two – and some egg rolls while you’re at it.
This story was originally published in May 2018 and updated in June 2019