Macau may be the most popular casino destination on earth, but the small Asian island packs a mighty punch heritage-wise, courtesy of Portuguese and Chinese influences. Colonial architecture sits alongside fortresses, temples and churches; take a day-trip ferry over from Hong Kong and soak up these unmissable cultural sights in Macau.
The northernmost area of Macau is connected to the Chinese mainland and this bustling area is home to the greatest concentration of historical and cultural sights. Macau and Hong Kong are Special Administrative Regions (SAR) of China.
St Pauls Cathedral – Dominating Macau’s central Travessa de São Paulo is the treasured UNESCO-listed St Pauls Catedral (pictured above), where only the 17th century façade and majestic staircase is all that remains of this Portuguese colonial gem. Designed by an Italian Jesuit, built in 1602 by Japanese Christians and destroyed by fire in 1835, this cathedral provides a fascinating insight into Macau’s heritage.
Mount Fortress, aka Fortaleza do Monte – Waiting patiently beside the ruins of St Paul's is the magnificent Monte Fort which was built by the Jesuits between 1617 and 1626 and served as an important defence structure. Wander the barracks, arsenal and storehouses, which were equipped with enough provisions to withstand a two year siege. Take in the awesome views over the Macau Peninsula from the gardens.
Macau Museum – Learn more about the cultures and traditions that shaped Macau; from its foundation during the Qin Dynasty period (221–206 BC), its rule by the Portuguese from 1513 to 1999, when it was returned to China.
Historic Centre of Macao – Stop off at the Macau Government Tourist Office and pick up a copy of the newly compiled self-guided walks which have opened up the residential back lanes to tourists for the very first time. The intriguing routes cross-cross the peninsula, taking in many of the 25 UNESCO World Heritage sites.
Macau Tower – Ascend the 338 meter tall Macau Tower within the Convention and Entertainment Centre for superb views over the peninsula, sea and China beyond. There are observation decks on both floor 58 and 61, as well as restaurants shops and bars, including the 360° revolving café.
A-Ma Temple – Older than Macau itself, is the majestic A-Ma Temple which blends Confucianism, Taoism and Buddhism influences. Pass through the Gate Pavilion, light an incense stick in the Prayer Hall and say a prayer in the Zhengjiao Chanlin pavilion.
Senate Square – The colourful and lively Largo do Senado is a typical Iberian town square, in the heart of Asia! This is where locals and travellers alike come to hang out, amongst the pastel-coloured colonial-style neo-classical buildings.
Mandarin’s House – Located at number 10 Travessa de António da Silva, this sumptuous white-washed structure was built around 1869 and is a superb example of a traditional Chinese residence. The compound belonged to Zheng Guanying who was prominent within Chinese literature. Typical of the style, the complex features multiple courtyard houses fusing both Chinese and Western touches.
Lou Lim Leoc Gardens – These gardens offers a little bit of serenity in an otherwise frenetic city – let the beautiful Chinese garden sanctuary envelop you. Established by a 19th century merchant from China, the historical gardens were inherited by his and took his name, Lou Lim Leoc, before passing to the government, being restored and opened to the public in 1973. Modelled on Suzhou style classical gardens, these are enclosed within a towering wall where narrow paths meander through forests of bamboo, amongst flowering shrubs and over golden carp filled ponds. Cross the nine-turn bridge whose zigzag design is said to repel evil spirits, who can only move in straight lines. Rest awhile at the large pavilion which fuses both classical and Chinese architecture and which holds many art and craft festivals throughout the year, as well as the International Music Festival.
Guia Fortress – Completed in 1638, the Guia Fortress complex was established by Clarist nuns and houses a chapel and lighthouse. The highly decorative frescoes within the chapel are unmissable and depict western and Chinese mythology and religion. The 15 meter tall Guia lighthouse, built in 1865 was the very first modern lighthouse to be built along the Chinese coast. The Guia Fort complex offers a fascinating insight into Macau's maritime and military heritage. Located atop Guia Hill, the best way to get here is via the Guia Cable Car, which picks up outside the entrance to the Flora Gardens on Rua do Tunel.