9 Best Things to Do in Macau in One Day

The Ruins of St. Paul's around Lunar New Year
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Macau (also spelled Macao) is a city and special administrative region off of China’s southern coast. Macau is a very distinctive place thanks to its massive gambling industry and unique cultural history. But in such a busy place, what are the best things to do in Macau in one day?

Sometimes called the “Las Vegas of Asia,” Macau is the gambling capital of the world, actually dwarfing the gambling industry in Las Vegas. The city has 41 casinos, five of which are in the top ten of the world’s largest casinos.

Much of Macau’s success in the gambling industry stems from it being the only place to legally gamble in China. This has turned Macau into a major resort destination.

Beyond casinos, Macau has a very unique history that blends Portuguese and Chinese cultures. Macau was a Portuguese colony from 1557 until 1999, when Portugal transferred the area to China. Portugal’s colonial legacy can be seen all across the city, from architecture and signs to food.

Macau is also the most densely populated area in the world, with a population of around 630,000 people in roughly 10 square miles/28 square kilometers of land. That amounts to over 63,000 people per square mile (or over 22,000 people per square kilometer)!

Macau is a dynamic and distinctive city, with a bit of something for every kind of tourist. Gambling, shopping, nightlife, food, architecture, history and more can all be enjoyed to your heart’s content there.

This post is based on two different day trips I took to Macau from Hong Kong. Pairing a trip to Hong Kong with a visit to Macau is a great option for those staying a longer time in Hong Kong. The two cities are around 37 miles/60 kilometers apart, and you can take a ferry between them. You can also drive, take a bus, or fly between the two destinations.

Even on a day trip, you can see more than you might think in Macau in one day. Here are some of the best things to do in Macau:

Getting to Macau from Hong Kong

This post is based on two different day trips I took to Macau from Hong Kong. Pairing a trip to Hong Kong with a visit to Macau is a great option for those staying a longer time in Hong Kong.

The two cities are around 37 miles/60 kilometers apart, and you can take a ferry between them. You can also drive, take a bus, or fly between the two destinations.

Several terminals provide ferries between Hong Kong and Macau. I went out the Macau Ferry Terminal at Sheung Wan on Hong Kong Island. This is an easy place to catch a ferry because it’s well-connected to public transportation. This terminal also has multiple ferries to Macau each hour.

The ferry to Macau takes about an hour, and costs around $20-30 USD one way, depending on the day and time.

Some views from the ferry of Hong Kong and Macau

You can definitely catch some great views of Hong Kong and Macau if you take the ferry between the two cities. Though I’m sure there are some lovely sights on the bus route as well.

Getting Around Macau

Obviously, if you are in Macau on a day trip, you need to be a bit strategic about where you’re going and how you get there, as you have limited time in the city.

Luckily, Macau isn’t an enormous place, and many of its attractions are located pretty close to each other. So it isn’t too bad getting around Macau.

The first way you can get around Macau is on foot. This works particularly well for attractions around Macau’s historic city center. For example, you can walk from Macau’s Outer Harbor ferry terminal to the famous Ruins of St. Paul in approximately 35 minutes.

Next, you can take public transportation, including buses and the light rail system. The buses in Macau go all over, but the light rail system has only one portion complete (the Taipa line) at the time of writing. This line has 11 stops and stretches from the Taipa Ferry Terminal (Terminal Marítimo da Taipa) to Ocean Station (Oceano).

You can also catch taxis to get around Macau, which can be a good option if you are traveling in a group.

Even on a day trip, you can see more than you might think in Macau in one day. Here are some of the best things to do in Macau:

1. Explore the Ruins of St. Paul's

No trip to Macau is complete without stopping by the Ruins of St. Paul’s, one of the most iconic landmarks of the city.

A UNESCO World Heritage Site as part of the Historic Center of Macau, the Ruins of St Paul’s was originally part of the Church of St. Paul, built in the 17th century. But the church burned down in 1835, leaving the facade that you can see today.

Scenes around the Ruins of St. Paul’s

Even though only the front of the church and some bits of wall are all that remain, they are quite spectacular. The facade has quite a lot of detailing on it between the statues, columns, and carvings.

Additionally, you can get a pretty cool view from the top of the stairs:

The view from the Ruins of St. Paul's

Looking down from the stairs

The street leading up to the Ruins of St. Paul’s is pretty touristy, with some chain stores and restaurants in the surrounding area. Nevertheless, the area still has a distinctive Macanese look and feel.

Admission Fee: Free

2. Wander around Macau’s Historic City Center

There are almost 30 sights that make up Macau’s Historic City Center on the UNESCO World Heritage list. These spots all demonstrate the unique mixture of Chinese and Portuguese heritage of Macau.

Among these are several public squares, various temples and churches, and other buildings. This includes the spacious Senado Square (or Senate Square), which features some absolutely beautiful architecture.

Around Senado Square, you can find the Holy House of Mercy (Santa Casa da Misericórdia) and the Leal Senado Building.

Holy House of Mercy and red lanterns for Lunar New Year

Buildings around Senado Square

Northeast of Senado Square is St. Dominic’s Square, where you can see the eponymous St. Dominic’s Church. Southwest of Senado Square is St. Augustine’s Square and the beautiful Dom Pedro V Theatre and Sir Robert Ho Tung Library.

It is definitely worth the time to just meander the streets of this area a bit when walking between destinations and seeing what you can discover.

3. Visit some churches and temples

Dotted around the city are various churches and temples that further demonstrate the amalgamation of Portuguese and Chinese cultures in Macau.

In the historic city center, you can easily visit St. Dominic’s Church, the Cathedral of the Nativity of Our Lady, St. Joseph’s Seminary and Church, and St. Lawrence’s Church, among others, to fill your Roman Catholic architecture needs.

Around St. Dominic’s Church

In the way of temples, the historic city center offers Sam Kai Vui Kun (also known as Kuan Tai Temple) and Na Tcha Temple. There is also A-Ma Temple and Kun Iam Temple, though these are a bit further out than the other spots.

Around Kun Iam Temple

If you want to see something impressive, head to the Kun Iam Ecumenical Center on the waterfront. Just what’s so impressive about this ecumenical center? Its towering, elegant statue of Kun Iam!

The 66-foot/20-meter statue is a depiction of Kun Iam, the Buddhist goddess of mercy (who is also known as Guanyin). The Kun Iam statue is impressive not just for its size, but also its serene elegance.

A full shot of the Kun Iam statue

The lovely Kun Iam statue

The Ecumenical Center offers visitors a chance to learn about Buddhism, Taoism, and Confucianism with materials and artwork. Unfortunately, I didn’t arrive in time to see the inside of the center, as they were closing up. But you don’t have to go inside the center or even get super close to it to enjoy the beauty of the Kun Iam statue.

Do note that this is a different spot and building than the Kun Iam Temple mentioned above. Don’t make the same mistake I did and put “Kun Iam temple” into your map app. Be sure to search for the Kun Iam Ecumenical Center and make sure it’s located on the water.

4. Enjoy Macanese eats

There is an abundance of good food to check out in Macau, with both Chinese and Portuguese offerings.

A Macau specialty you’ll see all over is the pork chop bun, a simple sandwich made up of a fried pork chop on a bun. For a bit of a twist on the pork chop bun, you can order it in some locations it with pineapple bun.

A pineapple bun is a sweet bread especially popular in Hong Kong and Macau. The inside of a pineapple bun is soft, but the top is covered in a crispy, golden brown sugar crust. Typically, there is no pineapple in a pineapple bun; it got its name because the crust looks a bit like the exterior of a pineapple.

A typical pork chop sandwich (left) and a pineapple bun pork chop sandwich (right)

A trip to Macau can’t be complete without a pastel de nata, or custard tart. This is a specialty of Portugal, and has been imported to Macau as a former Portuguese colony.

Portuguese custard tarts have crispy, flaky crusts that are filled with rich egg custard. Putting powdered sugar and cinnamon on top of your pastel de nata makes it all the more delicious. If you won’t be going to Portugal anytime soon, definitely try a custard tart in Macau.

Food of Macau: pastel de nata, or Portuguese custard tart, one of the best things to eat on a Macau day trip

A delicious pastel de nata

Looking for something else sweet? Another Portuguese import, sawdust pudding (or serradura) will help satisfy your sweet tooth. This dessert is made with alternating layers of whipped cream and crushed cookies, and is very delicious.

Food of Macau: serradura (or sawdust pudding)

Not the best picture, but I promise serradura is delicious

Of course, there are many more foods you could try in Macau! Just prioritize a few foods that you’d like to try, as you can only eat so much in one day.

5. Hit up a casino

Macau is home to some of the world’s largest casinos (but not the largest – that’s WinStar World Casino in Oklahoma). The city’s biggest casinos include the Venetian Macau, City of Dreams, Wynn Macau, Ponte 16, and Sands Macau.

Obviously, gambling is an extremely popular activity for tourists in Macau. For people on a day trip to Macau, there isn’t time to spend hours at various casinos. But if you’re all the way in Macau, it’s really worth it to at least stroll through one of the bigger or more famous casinos.

Inside the Venetian Macau; the Galaxy Macau and Venetian Macau at night

The sheer size of some of these casinos is pretty staggering. For example, the casino portion of the Venetian Macau, the world’s second largest casino, sits at 550,000 square feet/51,000 square meters.

Even if you’re not into gambling, walking through such a place is definitely an interesting experience. For instance, the Venetian Macau has the indoor canal and gondolas like its sister casino in Las Vegas.

Some shops and decorations inside the Venetian Macau (obviously around Christmas)

I would recommend picking the hotel you think seems the coolest or most interesting and prioritize visiting there. If you have extra time, you can always visit another casino along the way.

6. Admire the city skyline from Mount Fortress

Another UNESCO World Heritage Site from the Historic Center of Macau, Mount Fortress (or Fortaleza do Monte) is a fort built in the 17th century located on a hill right next to the Ruins of St. Paul’s.

An aged wall of Mount Fortress, Macau

Scenes around Fortaleza do Monte

The fort is cool enough on its own, but the best thing about it is the view from the top. Mount Fortress gives visitors an amazing panoramic view of the area. And it’s free to get in!

Some of the views from the top of Mount Fortress

If you’re interested in learning more about Macau, inside the fort is the Macau Museum. Set across three floors, the musuem gives a look into the history and culture of Macau.

Mount Fortress
Admission Fee: Free
Hours: 7 AM to 7 PM

Macau Musuem
Admission Fee: MOP 15.00 (~$1.85 USD)
Hours: 10 AM to 6 PM (last entry at 5:30 PM); closed on Mondays

7. See Macau lit up

Depending on your schedule, you will probably have to leave Macau by early evening. But even if the sun has only started to set, many of the buildings will begin to light up.

Macau is beautiful during the day, but it has a totally different atmosphere at night. The bright lights of all the casinos and signs give the city a celestial feel.

Night scenes around Macau

If you can stay in Macau a bit into the evening to see the city light up, I would definitely recommend doing so. Even if you only have a half hour, you can still see some cool sights.

If you have limited time, it’s best to strategically plan your day trip itinerary a bit so you can see a good concentration of lights in a short period of time. For example, you could walk through an area with numerous casinos as one of your last stops.

8. Stop by Koi Kei Bakery

Koi Kei Bakery (Pastelaria Koi Kei) is a famous bakery chain in Macau. Their shops offer a variety of snacks and pastries, but they are especially well-known for their almond cookies and peanut brittle. Their snack tins make a good souvenir to take home for yourself or to share with others.

A Koi Kei Bakery and my cookie tin

It’s very easy to pop into one of their shops at some point on your Macau day trip, as they have over 20 spots across the city.

Even if you’re not big on pastries and snacks, checking out Koi Kei Bakery’s offerings is a great way to see that distinctive combination of Chinese and Portuguese heritages.

9. Take in Macau’s unique atmosphere

As you’re sightseeing around Macau on your day trip, make sure to pay attention to the small details! The languages on signs and menus, the juxtaposition of architecture, and so on.

This is the only place in the world where you will see this melding of Chinese and Portuguese features and cultures, so make the most of it!

A bit of the ambience of Macau

Look up at the multi-story buildings, look down side streets and alleys, and even look back the way you came to see different facets of Macau.

Want to see another place that blends several cultures? Check out Jiufen in Taiwan!

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