How to See Historic Macau on a Day Trip from Hong Kong

December 11, 2023


Known as the "Las Vegas of the East" with its glitzy casinos, Macau is a famous gambling destination. If casinos are your thing, then you'll enjoy exploring that side of Macau. As for me, I prefer exploring its historic streets. Wandering through the small cobblestoned streets, admiring the architecture, and sampling delicious food is my favorite way to see Macau on a day trip from Hong Kong. In this article, I'll share my one-day itinerary for discovering historic Macau.

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A Little Bit about Macau

Brief History of Macau

Macau, or Macao, as you'll also see it written, is a city and an autonomous region of China in the western Pearl River Delta, just west of Hong Kong, on the South China Sea. 

Although various small settlements existed in the area that is now Macau as early as the Han Dynasty, the area became a major settlement once the Portuguese arrived in the 15th century. First leased from China by Portugal in 1557, Macau was a Portuguese colonial settlement (and official colony from the early 17th century) until 1999 when it was handed back to China. 

Macau became a special administrative region of China at its handover, officially named the Macao Special Administrative Region of the People's Republic of China. The agreement, like in Hong Kong, was for Macau to maintain its own governing and economic systems for 50 years under the "one country, two systems" policy.

Cobblestone street near St. Lazarus Church

Cobblestones in St. Lazarus neighborhood

Macau Geography

Macau has four main areas - the Macau Peninsula, the oldest section, which is connected to mainland China. Then, across the Outer Harbour is the island containing Taipa, Cotai, and Coloane. Taipa and Coloane used to be separate islands but the area between them was built up with reclaimed land, becoming the Cotai casino strip, which now connects them.

Planning a Day Trip to Macau

When to Visit Macau

In my opinion, the most pleasant time of year weather-wise to visit Macau (and Hong Kong) is November - December. It's still relatively warm with low amounts of rain which is perfect for lots of walking outside - the way I tend to explore. 

As far as crowds go, visiting during the middle of the week is best, especially if your schedule allows it. During weekdays, the streets and attractions will be much quieter. But if you live in Hong Kong and are looking for a weekend getaway, then Macau is a great option.

One time of year I do NOT recommend visiting, especially if it's your first time to Macau, is Lunar New Year. My first time to Macau was Lunar New Year 2018. It was so packed during the day on the narrow streets that they totally lost their charm in the crush of people. 

How Long Should I Visit Macau?

Obviously this is a day trip article, so I'll show you how you can enjoy Macau in a single day. However, the first time I went to Macau, we stayed overnight. Doing an overnight trip to Macau allowed us to explore the casinos in addition to seeing historic sites.

How Many Days to Spend in Macau

  • If you have 1 day in Macau - Easily explore the historic areas on the Macau Peninsula and also Taipa Village. Maybe also check out a casino or two, especially if it's summer and you need a break in air-conditioning.
  • If you have 2 days in Macau - In addition to the 1 day sights, tour the casinos and check out their lights at night. Or, discover the natural side of Macau by hiking or visiting Hac Sa Beach in Coloane.
Eiffel Tower at The Parisian Macao

The Parisian Macao at night

Macau Money

The official currency in Macau is the Macanese pataca (MOP). Macau is a place where you'll still find plenty of cash-only restaurants and shops so you'll want to be sure to have cash on hand. 

Hong Kong dollars (HKD) are also widely accepted in Macau at an exchange rate of 1:1. If you're only going for the day, you could just use HKD without withdrawing MOP. However, when you pay in HKD, you can still expect to receive change in MOP. Be sure to use your MOP before leaving Macau since they're not accepted in Hong Kong. 

Getting to Macau from Hong Kong

You can get to Macau a couple of different ways from Hong Kong. If you're coming from anywhere in Central Hong Kong, the easiest and fastest way is to take a ferry from Sheung Wan. However, the cheapest way is to take a bus, so if you have time and don't mind going out to the airport, that could be a great option.

Ferry to Macau from Hong Kong

In my opinion, taking a ferry from Hong Kong to Macau is the best way to get there for a day trip. Leaving from Central Hong Kong, the ferry is convenient which will save time which you can use to explore Macau. 

There are two ferries that leave from Sheung Wan's Macau Ferry Terminal on Hong Kong Island:

  • TurboJET - the red ferry to/from Macau Outer Harbour terminal 
  • Cotai Water Jet - blue ferry to/from Macau Taipa terminal

For a day trip, I recommend taking the TurboJET to Macau, then taking the Cotai Water Jet back to Hong Kong in the evening. The ferries cost the same amount with current (Dec 2023) one-way adult fares: HK $175 (US $22) on weekdays, HK $190 (US $24) on weekends, and $220 (US $28) at night. 

Bus to Macau

Although I've never taken the bus from Hong Kong to Macau, I've heard it's a great option and is cheaper than taking the ferry. Adult fares are only HK $65 (US $8) one-way.

The downside is that the bus leaves from the Hong Kong Port, next to the Hong Kong International Airport, so you'll first have to get out there. That will take some time as well that you'll have to factor into your overall journey. For more information on taking the bus from Hong Kong to Macau, check out this blog post on Hong Kong Guide.

Getting Around Macau

As with most of my trips, we spent our Macau day trip exploring the city primarily on foot. In my opinion, walking is the best way to see the smaller alleys and experience the real charm of Macau.

Taxis in Macau

We also took a few taxis to/from the ferry pier and over the Sai Van Bridge, one of the bridges connecting the two sections of Macau. It was easy to hail them and show them Google Maps on my phone to explain where we wanted to go.

Public Transportation in Macau

If you'd like to save a bit of money, you can also take public transportation. Macau has several public buses which run around the peninsula and connect it to Taipa, Cotai, and Coloane. There's also an elevated railway called the Macao Light Rapid Transit (LRT) which runs around Taipa and Cotai.

To ride public transportation, you'll need to purchase a Macau Pass, which works like an Octopus card in Hong Kong. You can purchase the Macau Pass at supermarkets, convenience stores and Macau Pass Customer Service Centers. Check out the Macau Pass website for more info.

Sample Itinerary for a Macau Day Trip

When my parents were visiting me in late November, we took a day trip to Macau from Hong Kong on a random Wednesday. It was the perfect time to go with the weather being fairly cool (although sadly, cloudy) and the crowds were low.

In this section, I'll share our day trip itinerary and lots of photos so that you can see what there is to do on a one-day trip visiting Macau.

TurboJET Ferry from Sheung Wan to Macau

We started our day trip from Hong Kong to Macau by taking the 10:00am TurboJET red ferry from Sheung Wan. Since I live in Kennedy Town, it's very convenient to jump in a taxi straight to the Macau Ferry Terminal.

Being a weekday, we hadn't bought tickets ahead of time. Even though we arrived ~15 minutes before the ferry was scheduled to depart, tickets were still available. We passed through purchasing tickets, ticket check, and immigration in about 5 minutes. 

TurboJET ferry to Macau

Views of my neighborhood - Kennedy Town - from the Macau ferry

When they check your ticket at the gate, you'll receive an assigned seat for the ferry. They try to seat you with the rest of your group and pre-arranged seats make boarding less stressful. Window seats fill up first so arrive early if you want one of those. 

Remember to bring your passport on your day trip to Macau! You'll go through immigration just like traveling to any other country.

Arriving at Macau Outer Harbour Ferry Terminal

Our arrival in Macau was smooth and easy. Immigration only took a couple of minutes and then we were in. The ferry terminal was clean and spacious with much nicer restrooms than on the ferry. From the ferry terminal, we caught a taxi at the taxi stand (follow the signs) to our first destination.

Exploring the Historic Macau Peninsula

For the first part of the day, we explored some of the historic areas on the Macau Peninsula. In 2005, the UNESCO World Heritage Convention declared the Historic Centre of Macao - encompassing 22 principal buildings and public spaces - a World Heritage Site. 

On our walking tour, we passed several of these historic buildings, though not all of them. You can follow our basic walking route on the Google Map below. I also suggest wandering off the path in the neighborhoods to see more of the quaint side streets. 

Macau Walking Path Map

CLICK TO OPEN IN GOOGLE MAPS

Guia Lighthouse and Fortress

The first stop we made was the Guia Lighthouse and Fortress (or, Farol e Fortaleza de Guia in Portuguese). Built in the early 1600s, the fortress was used in the protection of the city against Dutch invaders. The chapel was also built during this time period.

Guia Lighthouse and Chapel

Later, in 1865, the Guia Lighthouse was built and became the first western-style lighthouse in the Far East. The 360-degree views of Macau from the top of Guia Hill make it even more worth the stop.

View of Casino Lisboa from Guia fortress
View of Macau from Guia Hill
Getting to the Guia Lighthouse by Cable Car

The fortress and lighthouse are located in Guia Hill Municipal Park atop Guia Hill. Although you can hike up to the lighthouse through the park, you could skip the climb by riding the Guia Hill Cable Car. It's only 2 MOP one-way, 3 MOP return. My mom was very pleased not to have to climb the hill!

Guia Hill Cable Car

The cars can comfortably fit 4 adults

Becky on Guia Cable Car

Located at the north end of the park on Tv. do Tunel, it's listed as Teleférico da Guia on Google Maps. We showed the taxi driver the place on the map and he found it easily. 

The cable car takes you up to the north end of the Guia Hill Municipal Park. Just follow the park signs to the Guia Lighthouse to reach the fortress and lighthouse.

Guia Hill Municipal Park

Nice playground in the park - great for the kids!

Guia Fortress

Guia Fortress - keep walking on the road to reach the entrance

Tap Seac Square

When we were at the Guia Lighthouse, we saw the beautiful Tap Seac Square, or Praça do Tap Seac, down below and decided to make a stop. The cobblestone pattern was probably more impressive from above where you could appreciate the circular design, but the buildings were still pretty.

Tap Seac Square

St. Lazarus' Church

Next we headed to St. Lazarus' Church, or Igreja de São Lázaro. Built in the mid-16th century, it's one of the oldest churches in Macau.

St. Lazarus' Church

The neighborhood surrounding the church is beautiful with historic architecture and intricate cobblestone sidewalks.

These sidewalks, made of Portuguese pavement, or calçada portuguesa, are traditional in pedestrian areas in Portugal. After loving these sidewalks in Portugal, I was delighted to see them in Macau as well. I suggest wandering up down the streets in this area so you don't miss any of the beautiful patterns.

Street in St. Lazaras neighborhood

Lunch at Associação Amigos da Tasquinha Portuguesa

Next, we headed to Associação Amigos da Tasquinha Portuguesa for lunch. This Portuguese restaurant serves traditional dishes and has warm hospitality. The restaurant is located in what felt like a more residential area and seemed popular with local expats. 

Codfish cakes in Macau
Octopus rice in Macau

The codfish cakes were amazing and the octopus rice was also delicious, but a giant portion. I'm not sure if they scale the portions to how many people are eating it, but it was a lot of food!

**This restaurant is CASH ONLY (they also accept HKD) so make sure to bring some along. 

Neighborhood Views

As we walked through the neighborhood where the restaurant was located, we found some great contrasting views. I loved the street on which Associação Amigos da Tasquinha Portuguesa was located with the imposing Casino Lisboa looming over normal Macau life in the foreground. 

Street in Macau
Temple interior in Macau

Coffee at Two Moons

Because it's me, our next stop was an afternoon coffee at Two Moons. Just across from the Portuguese Consulate, we had a beautiful view of the historic building, which was originally a hospital, while we enjoyed our coffee.

Portuguese Consulate Macau

Walking towards Santo António Neighborhood

After lunch, we made our way to the Santo António neighborhood, which seems to be the touristy section of Macau. I loved the patterned cobblestone sidewalks we saw along the way.

Cobblestone sidewalks in Macau

Mount Fort (Fortaleza do Monte)

Mount Fort, or Fortaleza do Monte, is the historical military center of Macau. Built in the early 1600s by the Jesuits, it was designed to hold off a 2-year siege and was equipped with cannons, military barracks, wells, and ammunition stores. The fort was critical in holding off the attempted Dutch invasion of Macau in 1622. 

Built atop Mount Hill (52-m/ 171 ft), it's a bit of a climb to reach it but the gardens have great views of the casinos and historic center of Macau. My parents and I didn't make it up to the fort, but Jeremy took his parents when they visited in July. As you can see, they had a beautiful day, however, it was sweltering, so they paid a sweaty price for this gorgeous view.

View from Mount Fort Macau

View of the Ruins of St. Paul's from Mount Fort 

Pro Tip: To avoid part of the climb, head straight to the Ruins of St. Paul's instead of following the route on Google. Then, take the escalators on the right side of the ruins up to the museum at the fort. 

Ruins of St. Paul's

Probably the most popular historic attraction in Macau are the Ruins of St. Paul's. Built in the early 15th century, the Church of St. Paul, or Igreja de São Paulo, was one of the largest Catholic churches in Asia. In 1835, most of the building was destroyed by a fire after a typhoon, leaving only the façade. 

Ruins of St. Paul's in Macau

Given that only the façade is left, it's surprising how many people flock to it, but flock to it they do! And while these ruins and this neighborhood in general are thing you "must see" while in Macau, I strongly advise that it not be the only historic area you see. The areas with fewer tourists, like the one where we spent our morning, was more pleasant and it was easier to appreciate the historic details.

R. de São Paulo - Pork Jerky Heaven

From the ruins, head down the pedestrian Rua de São Paulo, or as I'd like to call it, Pork Jerky Street. For whatever reason, along this street, you'll find more shops than is reasonable on a short street selling Bak Kwa, or Chinese Pork Jerky. 

They all appear to be in fierce competition and are offering samples as you pass by them. My dad remarked that we could have just eaten lunch while walking up and down that street! Since you can buy this pork jerky in Hong Kong as well, we didn't buy any. But Bak Kwa is delicious so if you haven't tried it, this is a great spot to do it!

You could also try a Portuguese egg custard tart at one of the pastry shops (pastelaria) along this street.

St. Dominic's Church

As you round the corner at the end of Rua de São Paulo, you'll spot an eye-catching, bright yellow church. Built in the late 16th century, St. Dominic's Church, or Igreja de São Domingos is a mix of European and Macanese architecture. Designed in the Baroque style, the church also has Chinese-styled roof tiles as well as teak doors.  

St. Dominic's Church exterior
St. Dominic's Church interior

Senado Square

As you make your way along the cobblestoned pedestrian street, you'll reach Senado Square, or Largo do Senado. Around it, you'll find several historic buildings which are part of the Historic Centre of Macau - a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Holy House Of Mercy (Santa Casa da Misericórdia)

Built in 1569, the Holy House Of Mercy was a medical clinic and later an orphanage and refuge for widows of sailors lost at sea.

Santa Casa da Misericórdia
Macau General Post Office

Built in 1929, this building's purpose is pretty self-explanatory... it's a post office.

Macau General Post Office
Loyal Senate Building (Leal Senado Building)

Originally built in 1784, the Loyal Senate (Leal Senado) Building was the seat of Portuguese Macau's government. Today, it houses the Municipal Affairs Bureau and is across the Av. de Almeida Ribeiro from Senado Square. 

Loyal Senate Building in Macau

Make a stop inside to admire the blue and white tiles (azulejos) as well as the courtyard garden at the back. It's a peaceful spot to rest for a few minutes.

Garden in Loyal Senate Building

Rua da Felicidade

Next, we made our way to a quieter street - the Rua da Felicidade. During this 19th century, this street was the red-light district where you could find brothels, teahouses, and opium shops. Today, you can appreciate the historic shop fronts and colorful doors. Or, grab a bite to eat at one of the restaurants.

Rua da Felicidade in Macau

Praça de Ponte e Horta

By this time, we were winding down in our explorations of Macau's peninsula. We wandered through a few more streets, checking out some colorful street art. Eventually we found ourselves in the Praça de Ponte e Horta - a residential square and park with benches. 

This park is not a must-see attraction, but just happened to be where we ended up before catching a taxi.

Praça de Ponte e Horta, Macau

Taxi to Taipa Village

After resting on a bench for a bit, we hailed a taxi to the Taipa side of Macau. The ride cost 65 MOP from near the Praça de Ponte e Horta to Taipa Village.

Wandering through Taipa Village

Originally a small fishing village on the southern end of Taipa Island, Taipa Village is now a charming contrast to the flashy, opulent casinos in the newer Cotai district. It's quite small and does not take much time to explore, maybe 30 minutes to an hour if you're stopping to take photos.

Walking through Taipa Village

Cunha Street - the main street through the village - tends to be the most crowded with tourists. It reminded me a bit of the pork jerky street in front of the Ruins of St. Paul.

Taipa Village in Macau

But if you wander off into the alleys, you'll find the quieter side of Taipa Village.

Quiet street in Taipa Village

We admired several historic buildings as we wandered as well as the cobblestone sidewalks and squares.

Taipa Village azulejos
Cobblestone sidewalk in Taipa Village

Below are a few historic places that we saw while walking around Taipa Village. You can find more information on the village on the Taipa Village website

Museum of Taipa and Coloane History

Formerly the Municipal Council of the Islands, this 19th-century building is now a museum which houses relics uncovered in various archaeological excavations.

Museum of Taipa and Coloane History
Tin Hau Temple

Built in 1785, the Tin Hau Temple is the oldest one in Taipa. Originally it was built along the seaside, but now it borders the reclaimed land known as Cotai. Fisherman worshipped the Goddess Tin Hau for protecting them from bad weather at sea. 

Tin Hau Temple in Taipa Village
Pak Tai Temple in Taipa Village

The Pak Tai Temple is another historic temple in Taipa Village that has been around for 160 years according to an inscription carved into the temple. 

Pak Tai Temple in Taipa Village

Drink at Old Taipa Tavern

After walking around Taipa Village, we grabbed a late afternoon drink at the Old Taipa Tavern. They had several good beers on tap to refresh us after a long day of walking.

Dinner at Tapas de Portugal by Antonio

Then, we made our way to Tapas de Portugal by Antonio for an early dinner. The main restaurant - Antonio - is closed for renovations, but the food at this spot across the alley was delicious as well. I highly recommend the Fried Codfish Cakes and the Portuguese Duck Rice.

Portuguese Duck Rice in Macau

Cotai Water Jet Ferry to Hong Kong

After lingering at dinner for a bit longer than we should have, we quickly grabbed a taxi and made our way to the Cotai Water Jet Ferry terminal. We cut it a bit close - rushing into the terminal, running up the escalators to buy the tickets, then back down to go through immigration and board the ferry. Luckily, we made the 8:00pm ferry with about a minute to spare! 

Cotai Water Jet versus TurboJET Review

Although the Cotai Water Jet Ferry is more convenient to where we ended our night and costs the same, they don't have as many evening sailings as the TurboJET. However, the duration of the ride is about the same as well - a little over an hour.

As far as comfort, I found the seats on Cotai to not be as nice or comfortable as the ones on TurboJET. However, Cotai's air conditioning levels felt more appropriate and less like I was in a freezer, so I appreciated that.

Where to Stay in Macau

Think you'd like to stay overnight instead of just taking a day trip from Hong Kong? Macau has plenty of accommodations, including luxurious, 5-star resort casinos as well as smaller, more affordable hotels. You can use the map to start your search or find a few recommendations to consider below. 

The Parisian Macao

On our first trip to Macau (in 2018), we stayed overnight at The Parisian Macao. It was relatively new with good service and the rooms were spacious and comfortable. The Parisian is a giant hotel and feels a bit like being at EPCOT Park at Disney World. It's an experience just to walk around the property.

Reception at The Parisian Macao

Other Macau Resorts and Hotels 

If you enjoy city-themed hotels, you might also consider The Venetian Macao or The Londoner Hotel, although the Londoner is still quite new and very expensive compared to the others.

If you're traveling with kids, you might want to stay at the Hotel Okura Macau which has excellent swimming pool facilities, including a lazy river.

Looking for less extravagant, more budget-friendly accommodations? Consider the Caravel Hotel or the Holiday Inn Express Macau City Centre. Both are located on the Macau peninsula and are ideal for exploring the historic areas there. 

Final Thoughts

A day trip to Macau from Hong Kong is a great way to see a new place. Even if you aren't a gambler, exploring Macau's rich history and delicious cuisine make the trip worth it. As a Hong Kong expat, I found it fascinating to see how the vibe in Macau differs from that of Hong Kong.

I hope this article will be helpful as you plan your next day trip or weekend getaway to Macau!

Happy travels!


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How to See Historic Macau Day Trip Itinerary from Hong Kong
Historic Macau - The Perfect Day Trip from Hong Kong
How to See Historic Macau on a Day Trip from Hong Kong
  • Macau offers a captivating mix of cultures and medieval architecture. Strolling through the quaint streets of the city, visiting the UNESCO Site like the ruins of St. Paul, and the enchanting A-Ma temple is the best way to enjoy the rich colonial history and the unique charm of Macau.

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