Macao has gone from sleepy fishing villages to Portuguese colony to flashy Vegas-style casino hub (it’s the only place to legally gamble in China). But you don’t need to be a high-roller to appreciate a day trip or weekend getaway to the other SAR.
It only takes about an hour to get from Hong Kong to Macao, where you’ll find a rich melting-pot history, distinctive cuisine, a growing arts and entertainment scene and even sandy beaches. Read on for tips on how to easily transit by ferry or bus, plus an overview of where to go and what things to do once you’ve arrived.
Travelling to Macao by Ferry
To travel from the centre of Hong Kong to Macao, take a ferry ride from either the Hong Kong Macau Ferry Terminal in Sheung Wan or the Kowloon China Ferry Terminal in Tsim Sha Tsui.
There are two high-speed ferry operators that take passengers to different parts of Macao in about one hour. Ferries operated by TurboJet from Sheung Wan and Tsim Sha Tsui sail to and from the Macau Outer Harbour Ferry Terminal on the Macao Peninsula every 15 minutes. Cotai Water Jet sails to and from the Macau Taipa Ferry Terminal on the island of Taipa every 30 minutes.
TurboJet also operates six services a day from the Tuen Mun Ferry Pier in the New Territories to Macau Outer Harbour, and five return journeys.
Cathay Pacific customers in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Singapore and the US have the option to add a ferry transfer between Hong Kong and Macao to their flight bookings. Operated by Cotai Water Jet, the ferry service runs from Hong Kong International Airport’s SkyPier to the Macau Taipa Ferry Terminal. Ferries sail twice a day from the airport and five times a day from Macao. The stress-free arrangement includes baggage checked through the entire journey. Book through Cathay Pacific’s regional websites.
Note: Due to border control measures by the Hong Kong government in response to COVID-19, all ferry terminals in Hong Kong are temporarily closed, with TurboJet and Cotai Water Jet services between Hong Kong and Macao suspended until further notice.
Travelling to Macao by Bus
Travellers used to rely primarily on ferry services to move between the two cities, which made the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao Bridge (HZMB) a game-changer when it opened in late 2018.
Connecting passengers between Hong Kong and Macao as well as the city of Zhuhai in Mainland China, the HZMB is the world’s longest sea crossing by bridge and tunnel, spanning 55 kilometres. Operating 24 hours a day, the HZMB takes just 45 minutes to travel across.
There is a shuttle bus connecting the cities, with tickets sold in the departure hall of the Passenger Clearance Buildings in each of the three locations. The Hong Kong departure hall can be reached by public bus or taxi from the city and the airport. Detailed transport information is available on the HZMB website.
Travellers also have the option to take a privately run coach or car for direct travel from within Hong Kong. Trans Island and One Bus are two such operators, which offer advance ticket bookings online.
Note: The HZMB remains open for cross-border travel with added health regulations, but coach and shuttle services are operating on reduced schedules.
Exploring Macao’s Three Main Areas
Macao consists of the historic peninsula, the islands of Taipa and Coloane and Cotai – each with their own characteristics and charms. Here’s a quick primer.
Taipa and Coloane
Coloane, in Macao’s sleepy southern tip, is full of pastel colonial buildings, cobblestone streets and beaches. It’s also a popular destination for al fresco meals at Fernando’s, which puts a Macanese spin on Portuguese cuisine, and for egg tarts made fresh at the original branch of the legendary Lord Stow’s Bakery.
This is a newer part of Macao, created from reclaimed land that connects Taipa (to the north) and Coloane (to the south). Its centrepiece is the glitzy Cotai Strip, whose lineup of casino and hotel complexes – with upscale shopping, dining and entertainment – deliver on Macao’s reputation as the ‘Las Vegas of Asia.’
What to Do in Macao
Macao counts scores of world-class restaurants such as the Michelin-starred Alain Ducasse at Morpheus and Cantonese fine-dining spot Jade Dragon. There’s a growing contemporary art scene as well as blockbuster live shows like the long-running The House of Dancing Water, called ‘the world’s largest water extravaganza’.
For more detailed recommendations, consult our roundup of 20 old and new reasons to visit Macao.
Where to Stay in Macao
Major hotels include MGM Cotai, the Hollywood-themed Studio City, the French-inspired Parisian Macao and the Zaha Hadid-designed Morpheus (above left). For something more old-school, head south to Pousada de Coloane (above right), a charming Portuguese colonial-style resort that was formerly home to a tycoon.
What to Know Before You Go
Keep your passport on hand, as there are immigration and customs checkpoints between the two cities.
Macao’s currency is the pataca, but Hong Kong dollars are also widely accepted at an equivalent rate. However, patacas cannot be used in Hong Kong.
The official languages of the city are Cantonese and Portuguese; Mandarin and English are also commonly spoken.
Many hotels run free shuttles to and from the ferry terminals throughout the day, which allows you to skip taxi queues.
It’s common practice for taxi drivers to round up the fare, so don’t be surprised if you find yourself slightly short-changed.
Many of Cotai’s hotels and casinos are linked through massive complexes that can take a long time to navigate, so give yourself plenty of time to wander.
Macao launched its light-rail transit system in December 2019. The inaugural Taipa Line’s 11 stops include the airport, ferry terminal and Cotai West.