See also: Best Things to Do in Macau
Vegas of the East, they say? Well Macau is that and so much more. The region that was once a port city for the Portuguese may have been transformed into one of the world's biggest entertainment districts built on reclaimed land, but it has kept its rich cultural past and eclectic appeal alive for long. Look at Macau using a wider lens, and you will be astonished by the things that you find. Colonial walled cities, stunning waterfronts, vast hilly green belts and heritage villages to go along with the world's biggest casinos and resort hotels and Macau paints a picture like no other.
It might not be the biggest of cities in terms of area, but Macau is still a diverse and dynamic space. It then becomes important to know the city inside out before you even start planning your trip. And we are here to help with just that kind of information. In this article, we have listed some of the best neighbourhoods of Macau to stay in and what they might have in store for you.
The Cathedral Parish makes up for the 'downtown' part of the city, which is anchored by the overbearing presence of the two big casino hotels, the Grand Emperor Hotel and the Hotel Lisboa, right in the heart of the neighborhood. Not far off that point is the Fisherman's Wharf, a theme park and entertainment center which besides housing other famed casino venues, the Legend Boulevard and Babylon, is also home to a Colosseum-inspired amphitheater, plenty of restaurants, and a couple of luxury hotels as well. The casino district of Macau has attracted tourists from all over the world for long now and these hotels are the best of the best that the city has to offer.
On the other side of the neighborhood is Senado Square, the location of Macau's Legislature and is the common meeting point for travellers. Marvel at the beautiful architecture (the Senate Building and the Post Office being standouts) of the city which is a stunning example of Portuguese craftsmanship. The UNESCO World Heritage site is a paved, pedestrian only zone and is perfect for leisure walks. Other landmarks and venues worth a visit in this part of the city are the Science Centre and the iconic Macau Tower. You can always relax in one of the many green patches around the Nam Van Lake, just next to the Ferreria do Amaral Plaza at the end of a long day. The part of the city has maintained its charm even in the face of rapid changes and development and has something for everyone.
Just like the mix of things to do, you will find yourself with plenty of options to choose from in terms of hotels and homestays in the Cathedral Parish.
The older part of the city is rich in history and will transport you to a whole different world. Some of Macau's most iconic landmarks including the Macao Museum (which will take you through the history of Macau through brilliant exhibits) and the St. Anthony’s Church (the oldest church in the region) are in this area. You can always visit the other historical sites which are a good mix of Portuguese and Chinese culture; the Fort Monte, the distinctive colonial walls that bound the old colonial city, and the ruins of the St. Paul's cathedral will further immerse you in the history of the town. The old town is situated on the peninsula and offers breathtaking views at the waterfront.
Keeping in mind the picturesque part of the city, you can walk around the neighborhood to get a chance to reach a point with the fantastical view. One part of the neighborhood that you cannot miss out on is the cobblestone street market of Rua da Tercena. The century old trade market today offers an old worldly charm and a lot of street vendors selling souvenirs and never seen before inventory of food items. If you're looking for entertainment options, look no further than the Algeria Theatre, which again has become an iconic part of the neighborhood. You can easily find your way around the neighborhood's many cafes and restaurants, all of which have become known for serving innovative cuisines which are a good mix of Portuguese and Chinese meals with the continental cuisine!
You should not have too much trouble finding a good hotel in any budget range in this part of city as it has plenty of luxury boutique hotels and more affordable stays as well.
A small hillock, Penha Hill (at a height of about 63 metres/200 feet from sea level) makes for a big part of the St. Lawrence's Parish of Macau. Take a stroll to the top for a visit to the Penha Chapel and stunning views of the city. It is not the most frequented part of Macau and makes for a rewarding experience for the explorer within you. Take time off the city bounds and plan your day out on the hill to refresh yourself during a long vacation. The hill is surrounded by many hotels and other European style buildings that almost make up a fence. Start looking for good options to eat around the area and you'll find yourself with many options to choose from.
There are a lot of sightseeing options in the neighborhood as well. The most significant of those has to be the 15th century old A-Ma Temple of the Chinese deity of the sea. Not far off of the temple is the Macau Maritime museum, which is another worthy stop on your way. Plaza and marketplaces that attracts travellers include the Lilau Square, which is home to the oldest residential districts of Macau with great looking Portuguese townhouses lining up the roads. The Happiness Street of the 'Rua de Felicidade' has come a long way from being a red light district to its UNESCO World Heritage status. It is home to traditional Chinese stores coloured in a vibrant red shade and topped with distinctive shutters. Look for the best Chinese and Macanese food while you're here.
The neighborhood has many boutique hotels for you, especially around the Penha hill area. Finding a more affordable stay might not be as easy as in some other parts of the city, but homestays and bed and breakfasts are available nonetheless.
Onto the reclaimed land on Macau then! The more modern and contemporary part of the city is where the nightlife and casino district takes over. While this part of the town has caught the fancy of the more touristy crowd, there is plenty for everyone to do. First up of course, the famed casinos of Macau. Mega hotels including The Parisian and The Venetia Macau (which besides being the biggest casino in the world and is also the biggest hotel complex in Asia) have given the part of the city much of its appeal. Both establishments have outdone their purpose of being casino hotels and have transformed into mega entertainment centres with shopping malls, sporting arenas, music halls, replicas of the world landmarks including the Eiffel Tower and the Venice waterways to keep you invested for long.
And if you ever find time for anything else, go looking for the nightlife options outside of these mega ventures. Bars and clubs are in plenty and as innovative as they get anywhere in the world. Many of these specialize in handcrafted beer and cocktails which you should not miss out on trying. The food is also a big draw in the part of city as Cotai has become known for serving some of the best seafood in all of Macau. The perfect way to cap off you vacation in the glitzy neighborhood is a production of The House of Dancing Water at the City of Dreams resort. No number of taped viewings will ever come close to the first hand experience of this mega show in the grand setting.
Luxury hotels are the major draw in Cotai and most of them have transformed into big resorts and mini cities of their own. Find your suitable pick from the many available options in the neighborhood.
The charming old village town of Coloane served as a haven for real-life pirates for long before being taken over by the Portuguese. The southernmost part of Macau, it's only connection to the main city is through the Cotai strip. The disconnect has its advantages as the area has maintained its village-like charm to much affect and offers a unique experience. Visit the heritage town which is made up of tiny Portuguese houses that are right out of a children's story book setting. The cobblestone streets not only take you around the Portuguese settlements and churches, but also lead you to many native Chinese temples that spring out of nowhere to give the village a nice eclectic touch. Visit the Coloane Pier and the shipyards at the nearby Lai Chi Vun village while you're still around.
Coloane has a blessed geographical setting and the hills of the neighborhood offer for a great hiking and cycling kind of vacation. Enjoy the fresh air on your expeditions around the hills (which have both well defined hiking and cycling trails) that make for rewarding experiences irrespective of your mode of travelling. The two beaches of Coloane, the Cheoc Van and the bigger Hac Sa black sand beach also widen the appeal of this part of Macau, especially if you wish to escape the bustling crowds of the more mainstream districts of the city. Cater to your taste buds with local Macanese cuisine and a variety of seafood here and end your vacation with a trip to Seac Pai Van Park, home to the beloved Giant Panda!
The main resort on Coloane is the Grand Coloane resort, but you can always look for other options that suit your ideal stay better.
And for the last, we have saved the most eclectic and culturally rich part of the city of Macau. On the northern end of the Cotai strip is Macau's other village neighborhood of Taipa, which is also one of the oldest parts of the city. The neighborhood saw an influx of Portuguese culture with early settlers as much of the region, but Taipa is still home a number of Chinese landmarks that survived in the face of the Portuguese occupation and subsequent urban development. While parts like the Rua do Cunha are distinctly Portuguese, other parts are laden with Chinese and European architectural elements in equal measure. The number of temples and churches are best explored on foot on a day outing in the city centre.
While you're in Taipa, visit the Macau Jockey Club for the horse racing games or explore the history of the neighborhood at the Taipa Houses Museum and the Museum of Taipa and Coloane. Take a relaxing walk by the waterfront or go looking for the best street food that Macau has to offer in the streets and alleyways of the village. The Dumbo Restaurant warrants a mention because of its fusion food appeal. Do not miss out on trying some of the top options on the menu at the establishment. Taipa has a few casinos and more modern entertainment options that you might want to give a try, but that's if you find any time at all to spare from your stay in the village.
Taipa is the closest of all neighborhoods in Macau to the International airport and finding a hotel nearby or closer to the village should not trouble you at all.
So, casino districts to yesteryear towns, Macau has it all and now you know what part of the city to choose from for your ideal stay. Get packing traveller, a dynamic city disguised as the Vegas of the East awaits!