A former Portuguese enclave in southern China, Macau often gets short-changed. It’s better known for its flashy attractions and gaming tables than for its rich heritage or culinary prowess, but as the territory evolves, so too does its bucket list.
For those hoping to experience the real Macau — beyond the baccarat tables and slot machines — here’s how to make the most of your trip.
Soak up the heritage
Formerly a Portuguese trade colony for 450 years, Macau boasts a mix of European-style churches and colonial buildings, alongside Buddhist, Confucian and Taoist temples. To see the highlights, we’d recommend touring the pedestrian streets off Senado Square, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Here, Macau’s famous swirling tiles will lead you to the iconic Ruínas de São Paulo, where the facade of a 17th-century cathedral remains, following a fire in 1835.
Nearby, the Macao Museum and UNESCO-listed Monte Fort sit inside a lush garden. Toward the southern end of Macau’s main peninsula, the 15th-century A-Ma Temple was built into a hillside in honor of the Chinese sea goddess Mazu.
For a peek inside historic Portuguese-style homes, head to the Taipa Houses Museum nestled within Carmel Garden on the Avenida da Praia. The early 20th-century turquoise residences have been meticulously maintained.
Go on a food crawl
Macau is a gourmand’s wonderland. While there are countless little teahouses and old-school Chinese diners to duck into, the easiest place to explore the food culture is in Taipa Village.
The traditional town is home to various pedestrian streets and alleyways, where you’ll find everything from pork chop buns at Cafe Tai Lei Loi Kei to famous almond cookies at Fong Kei, plus durian ice cream, pork jerky and even housemade fruit mochi.
And if you’re craving caffeine, drop into Quarter Square for some locally roasted coffee and a little interior design inspiration.
Hit the beach
If you thought Macau was just one big casino — think again. The region is made up of two major islands and lots of coastline. The Coloane region, in the south, is home to a few worthy stretches of sand, including Hac Sa Beach and Cheoc Van.
While Cheoc Van tends to be the cleaner option, Hac Sa proves more convenient with its own beachfront property, Grand Coloane Resort. The hotel sits right on the eastern edge of the sand alongside an 18-hole golf course, should you be up for a few holes.
Try Portuguese cuisine
Sampling some street-style snacks is one thing, but sitting down for a Portuguese feast is a whole new ball game.
A highlight on most Macau menus is African chicken (made with coconut and piri piri sauce), seafood paella, bacalhau (dried codfish) and serradura (whipped cream and cookie crumbs) for dessert.
Visit Coloane village
Tucked away on the far southern tip of Macau, Coloane remains untouched by commercial development — picture seaside promenades, elderly residents playing mahjong and a charming Portuguese church in the middle of the town square.
You’ll stumble upon mom-and-pop shops selling everything from handcrafted furniture to dried seafood, open-air cafés and one of the city’s best restaurants, a homey spot called Restaurante Espaco Lisboa.
For those with a little extra time for another memorable bite, we’d also recommend a trip to Restaurante Fernando. The sprawling open-air eatery is a crowd-pleaser thanks to its checkered tables, made-from-scratch chorizo, boisterous staff and potent sangria.
Eat Portuguese egg tarts
While in Coloane, make a beeline to Lord Stow’s egg tart shops. The original location of this now-international chain of bakeries is in a tiny storefront right off the town square. It’s here that Macau’s most iconic food was born: a flaky, buttery pastry crust filled with warm, caramelized egg custard.
English founder Andrew Stow (a pharmacist-turned-baker), who created these delights, has since passed away, but his daughter and sister carry on the family-run business.
If you can’t make the pilgrimage down to Coloane, visit branches inside Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star The Venetian Macao and the City of Dreams complex on the Cotai Strip.
See a show
Though Macau regularly attracts international headliners — including Madonna and Mariah Carey — one of the best shows is actually a homegrown affair.
Designed by one of the creators of Cirque du Soleil, House of Dancing Water at the City of Dreams entertainment-hotel complex is the region’s most famous performance — not to mention the world’s largest aquatic production.
The 90-minute show features a mix of acrobatics, dance, diving and incredible stunts — all revolving around a massive pool holding 3.7 million gallons of water.
And for something a little more exotic, Five-Star Golden Flower at Five-Star Wynn Macau specializes in Tan cuisine — a labor-intensive Chinese culinary tradition that blends flavors from north and south. Here, the lavish tasting menu comes with an herbal pairing designed by the devoted tea sommelier.
Hike up Guia Hill
Located in the center of town, Guia Hill provides a quiet lookout from which to observe the entire city — it is the peninsula’s highest point, after all. Take the short hike up the hillside or buy a ticket for the five-minute cable car ride (located inside the Flora Gardens).
Once atop the mountain, explore the 19th-century lighthouse, the beautifully preserved 17th-century Chapel of Our Lady of Guia with original frescoes and panoramic views of Macau.
Indulge at the spa
Macau is an indulgent place, so it should come as no surprise that the peninsula is home to many an extravagant spa. For the ultimate pampering treatment, head to Spa at Wynn Palace Macau, a sanctuary that’s newly opened in the sumptuous Wynn Palace.
Couples can relax in style here with the Emperor and Empress package. Enjoy a chakra-balancing massage and a personalized facial that will leave you both feeling refreshed.