Often considered the Vegas of China, Macao holds so much more charm than its casinos and gambling escapades. From the extravagant Cotai strip to Macao’s distinct cuisine and traditions, you will be amazed at the range of things to do in Macao. I first visited 20 years ago and was impressed by the Portuguese influence back then. I was even more captivated when I returned for the Sands Lifestyle #ReDiscoverMacao 2023 Familiarisation campaign with almost 150 travel professionals from around the world. I was thrilled to discover the new developments have been built on reclaimed land, preserving Macao’s unique heritage across the historic peninsula and the islands of Taipa, Coloane and Cotai.
With over 450 years of history where the East blends with Western culture, Macao boasts a UNESCO-listed World Heritage Listed Historic Centre and has been designated as a UNESCO Creative City of Gastronomy. Like Hong Kong, Macao falls under the Special Administrative Region (SAR), offering governing and economic autonomy from mainland China. Combined with the island’s integrated resorts and annual events like the Macau Grand Prix, the Macau Food Festival and Dragon Boat Races, this is an up-and-coming global destination with so many things to do in Macao; you really need to add this to your list, especially if you’re in Hong Kong as you can be on the island in less than an hour.
Experience a slice of Europe, Macao-style
Did you know you can visit Paris, Venice and London in one day? On Macao’s glitzy Cotai Strip, you’ll find all the luxury you could possibly imagine at the Sands Resorts Macao integrated complex featuring the Parisian, Venetian, Plaza, Four Seasons and Londoner, also encompassing the Conrad, Sheraton Grand (the world’s largest Sheraton), St Regis Macao and Londoner Court. You won’t be able to miss them, just look for the Eiffel Tower, Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament on the Cotai Strip. Venture inside any of these palatial hotels and you’ll be amazed at the attention to detail, like Crystal Palace in The Londoner and the Grand Canal at The Venetian weaving through a shopping mall selling every high-end brand you could imagine.
With approximately 12,500 hotel rooms and suites, entertainment, shopping, wellness and 150 dining options, including Michelin-starred restaurants, bars and lounges, as well as meeting and exhibition spaces for conferences and exhibitions, the Sands Resorts Macao is like a city unto itself. You could easily stay within the complex for your entire holiday and still not experience it all – but then you missed the other side of Macao.
David Beckham slept here
Even if you didn’t already know that David Beckham was The Londoner’s brand ambassador before you arrived, you’ll work it out pretty quickly. His cheeky face is everywhere, from the signed posters in the shopping mall to his hologram in the welcome video in your sumptuous suite. I was wowed with my stay in a Louis Suite in The Londoner, where the standard of service really sets it apart from many other high-end hotels with its concierge service, where I suspect pretty much any request could be satisfied, within reason, of course. Not that I had to put this to the test since I was spoilt with endless treats like high tea and personalised presents every day. The luxe décor included a 3-function shower, seat foot massager, a pillow menu, an air purifier, a marble bathroom with a Victorian bathtub and the fluffiest towels and robes you can imagine. Being a coffee addict, I was impressed by the endless replenishment of Ristretto Nespresso pods. The staff noticed I ran out of these particular pods on the first day and left me extra ones every day – the small creature comforts really count.
Access to The Residence, the hotel’s exclusive club, presented a huge array of food on offer, and although I didn’t try the oysters for breakfast, they were readily available along with braised goose and jamon. I couldn’t resist starting the day with freshly made soup with handmade noodles and wantons, fried rice, charcuterie and an array of fresh fruits – there are no calories in Macao (I wish!).
High rollers can only hope to be invited to stay in the Suites by David Beckham, but I was treated to a private tour, and I can safely say, I’ve seen where the man himself slept, showered and swirled his martini at his bespoke bar – maybe, as there’s 14 David Beckham suites in total. In collaboration with London’s David Collins Studio, the décor reflects his style to the point where the detailing on the bar features a soccer ball, and there’s also a hair salon and a chillout zone equipped with a play station.
A UNESCO-listed Creative City of Gastronomy
Since the Portuguese landed in the 16th Century, it’s likely Macao is one of the first destinations in the world to experiment with fusion food that is still enjoyed today. While it’s possible to experience almost any cuisine on the island, Macanese cuisine is unique to Macao with its mix of Portuguese and Chinese dishes flavoured with ingredients from around the world, including spices from Africa and India. Major food festivals like the Macao Food Festival attract visitors globally for its gastronomic heritage with dishes like Portuguese Chicken (aka African Chicken), Portuguese sausage, seafood rice, suckling pig, Portuguese egg tarts, molotof (crème caramel), pork chop bun, almond cookies and sweet pork jerky.
As you’d expect, there is a wide range of dishes from mainland China, like Peking duck, Yum Cha, Sichuan soups, dumplings and freshwater hairy crabs. Most international cuisines are readily available in Taipa Village, the Three Lamps District and Senado Square in the old town and at many hotels. It’s easy to see why Macao was deemed a UNESCO-listed Creative City of Gastronomy since 2018.
The Sands Resorts Macao outdoes itself in the dining stakes with countless eateries and high-end options such as North (Venetian), North Palace (Londoner), Hiro by Hiroshi Kagata (Venetian), Brasserie (Parisian) and Lotus Palace (Parisian). I dined at the newly-opened Gordon Ramsay Pub and Grill (Londoner) and so authentically British, I half expected Gordon to appear himself. I highly recommend the beetroot cured salmon, steak, crème caramel, as well as the beef wellington, which was fantastic during the London Jubilee Gala Dinner on the last night of the famil.
Get Lost in the Old Town
Teamed with swirly patterned cobblestones, grand architecture usually reserved for Europe and an ancient fortress and lighthouse, Macao showcases one of the longest-lasting fusions of China and the West. Once a vibrant international port, the historic centre remains as bustling as ever, with over 20 monuments earning its UNESCO World Heritage status since 2005. Senado Square, St Dominic’s Square, A-Ma Temple and the Ruins of St. Paul’s are Instagram heaven, along with a section of the Old City Wall, which once divided the Portuguese and Chinese communities.
Immerse yourself in history at the Macao Museum, which tells a rich story of Macao’s cultural diversity. Guia Fortress, its chapel, lighthouse, and Mount Fortress offer sweeping views over the old town. If dizzying heights don’t bother you, the nearby 338-metre Macau Tower offers even better views, where you can do a precarious skywalk, bungee jump or settle for the spectacular panoramic views of Macao and the Pearl River Delta with your feet securely in the observation deck.
Travel back in time to Taipa Village
Many consider Taipa Village as “authentic Macao” for its blend of Portuguese and Chinese culture. It’s an easy stroll from the Cotai Strip, especially if you take the travelator from The Venetian to save your feet. Those famous mint-green buildings you’ve seen all over social media hover at the water’s edge where fishermen once caught their bounty. Continue further into the town for vibrant street art, pastel-coloured villas, grand colonial churches, Chinese temples and quaint cobblestone alleys transporting you to another era.
Taipa Village heaves year-round with locals and tourists drawn to the range of restaurants, cafes and street food among souvenir stores, boutiques, museums and festivals. Fairly compact in size, you can easily spend hours here eating and taking photos as every corner intrigues you.
Drive over the world’s longest open-sea bridge
If flying into Hong Kong, take a ferry to the island or the shuttle bus from Hong Kong Departure Hall across the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge, a 55-kilometre bridge and tunnel system consisting of cable-stayed bridges, an undersea tunnel and artificial islands. It’s the longest open-sea fixed link in the world and only takes 45 minutes from Hong Kong Airport. Australia is one of the 79 countries exempt from needing a visa to enter Macao, but you will need to have your passport ready as you pass through multiple immigration and customs checkpoints between the two cities, which is fairly straightforward as the signage is in English and there are plenty of helpful staff on standby. You can also take a taxi, but my pick would be to ask your hotel to arrange an airport transfer.
Year-round events galore
A light show on the Cotai Strip dazzles nightly with the Eiffel Tower and Houses of Parliament glittering in amongst dozens of high-end hotels. Venture into The Venetian’s Grand Canal, featuring gondoliers traversing the extensive canals beneath blue skies during the day and star-studded nights or delve into the immersive Team Lab Super Nature. A year-round calendar of shows at The Londoner includes the Harry Potter Exhibition and Westlife.
That’s only the beginning of events, with the Macau Grand Prix returning in November 2023, but if you miss it, check out the Macao Grand Prix Museum. The Macau Food Festival also runs in November. Chinese New Year puts everyone into a party mood each February, and the Macao International Dragon Boat Races and Macao Light Festival exhilarate in June. During September and October, the sky is ablaze with the annual Macao International Fireworks Display Contest.
Tax-free haven – duty-free shopping
Macao is a tax-free haven with duty-free shopping, making luxury goods just a little more within your reach. You’ll find almost every brand imaginable at over 850 retailers at the Sands Resorts Macao. Venturing out into Taipa Village or the old town rewards with an eclectic range of boutiques, jewellery stores, souvenir shops and a surprisingly large amount of sneaker stores, which I’m guessing are reasonably priced. Don’t quote me, but I believe all name brands are originals as Macao doesn’t promote imitation goods. Many consider the quality of gold to be of superior quality either for jewellery or as an investment.
MICE (Meetings, Incentives, Conferences and Events) heaven
The MICE (Meetings, Incentives, Conferences and Events) market has exploded in Macao, catering to business tourism on a global scale. The Sands Resorts Macao has world-class purpose-built facilities, such as The Londoner Macao’s Smart Stage, the island’s first hybrid meeting space with high-end broadcast live-streaming capability and hologram functionality. With over 150,000 sqm of event space, with the largest space catering to 15,000 people and over 300 breakout rooms, it’s no wonder Macao is a mecca for weddings, exhibitions, conferences and concerts combined with its attractions, accommodation and dining options.
To give you an example of what the Sands Resorts Macao is capable of, for the Sands Lifestyle #ReDiscoverMacao 2023 Familiarisation programme, I loved the variety of events they offered. A welcome cocktail party on the Eiffel Tower’s deck, a Chef’s Challenge at The Londoner’s Smart Stage and a #ReDiscover Macao 2023 Forum delving into innovation, technology and talent retention.
The London Jubilee Gala Dinner at The Londoner Arena blew everyone away with the light show and a surprise performance by Casey Donavan – such an incredible Australian talent, and boy, did she put on a show and then continued on at the after-party and after-after party.
My favourite event was the Showcase Dinner at The Venetian’s Colonnade. This candle-lit dinner set beneath a fresco-adorned domed ceiling was already magical, but then the night became even more special with duelling violinists and a catwalk fashion show from local designer Nuno Lopes. The after-party at the St Regis Bar Macao reminded me of New York City’s Bemelmans Bar with its mural and wood panelling – it’s a night I won’t forget anytime soon.
In amongst all of this glamour, there are plenty of ways to decompress and connect with nature. There are over a dozen hiking and cycling trails, such as the Grand Taipa Hiking Trail, the Taipa Pequena Trail and Hac Sӑ Long Chong Kok Family Trail. Since you’re on an island, many flock to the black sand of Hac-Sa Beach, or the crescent-shaped Cheoc Van Beach on Coloane Island for water sports and a swimming pool. Or tee off at the championship-level Macau Golf & Country Club on Coloane Island or the 18-hole Caesars Golf Macau in the Cotai District. I didn’t have the chance to visit the pandas at the Macao Giant Panda Pavilion and Pavilion of Rare Animals, but those who did rave about this cuddly experience, especially if you’re travelling with little ones.
How do I get to Macao?
It’s possible to fly directly into Macao International Airport or fly with Cathay Pacific into the Hong Kong International Airport. I flew Premium Economy with Cathay Pacific, where the roomy seats recline a generous amount, and the full-length calf rests and footrests make sleep easy, especially when you’re wrapped up in one of their cosy blankets. That’s assuming you can tear yourself away from the extensive range of entertainment and delicious inflight menu served with stainless steel cutlery. Generous luggage allowance inspires shopping splurges once you arrive in Macao – or at Hong Kong’s International Airport. One other thing worth mentioning is the temperature onboard. I normally find it way too cold, but Cathay seems to have worked out the ideal cabin temperature.
- Unlike mainland China, you will have free access to social media thanks to its SAR zoning.
- Hong Kong dollars are accepted in Macao, but it also has its own pataca currency, which is only used on the island.
- English, Cantonese, Mandarin and Portuguese are spoken.
- Uber and Grab aren’t available in Macao, but taxis are fairly easy to find in built-up areas, and many hotels offer free shuttle services.
- Be prepared to walk far if you’re staying on the Cotai strip, as the resort complexes are massive and require a good sense of direction or at least a map and plenty of time to allow yourself to navigate your way around. You’ll definitely get your steps in and walk off some of that indulgent food.
- Never leave home without travel insurance; although crime is low in Macao, pickpocketing is common. Always be mindful when venturing out at night, especially if you’re a solo traveller.
- The spelling of Macao or Macau is both correct and used interchangeably.