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Beyond the Casinos: Hidden Gems In Macau

Beyond the Casinos: Hidden Gems In Macau

Beautiful façade of the Santa Casa di Misericordia in Macau

Stepping off the bus in Macau, I felt immediately plunged into a world that was nothing like I’d expected.

All you normally hear about in mainstream media is how Macau is the “Las Vegas of China“, so you’d think it’s all about dazzling casinos and bright neon lights, right?

Well, let me tell you, it’s so much more.

Macau surprised me with its rich culture and history, where Chinese and Portuguese influences mingle beautifully.

I visited Macau from Hong Kong, mainly to catch up with my friend Venus. It’s her hometown, and honestly, seeing Macau through the eyes of a local made all the difference.

So, here’s a tip: if you can, explore places with someone who calls it home. It changes your perspective and makes your experience so much richer.

Am I in London or Macau?! Big Ben and other landmarks in the casino area

Casino Vibes: Experiencing Macau’s Gaming Scene

Diving into Macau’s cultural depths on day one, I couldn’t help but explore its other face on day two: its legendary gaming scene. From the lavish Venetian to the sleek MGM Grand, each casino showcased a bit of what makes Macau a hotspot for the jet set.

I checked out places like the Venetian, Londoner Macau, MGM Grand, and both the new and the old Grand Lisboa Palace, known for its collection of art. The Londoner was particularly fun with its life-size replicas of famous London landmarks – felt a bit like being in two places at once!

Walking through the casinos, surrounded by the energetic sounds of games and the bright lights, was nothing short of spectacular. It was also fascinating to see games I recognised, like Blackjack and Poker, alongside more culturally-relevant games like Sic Bo.

Sic Bo is most popular in Asia, especially in the casino hubs Hong Kong and Macau, so learning the rules and bets is the first step. My friend Venus had said, “If you’re in Macau you gotta gamble at least once!” But while the idea of Sic Bo caught my interest, I wasn’t quite brave enough to place a bet!

Discovering Hidden Gems in Macau: Beyond the Casino Floors

Thrilled to spot the Ruins of St. Paul above the crowds during Chinese New Year in Macau

5 Hidden Gems In Macau

1. Coloane Village: A Taste of Authentic Macanese Culture

One of our journeys into the heart of Macau took place in Coloane Village, a quaint enclave that felt like a world away from the glitz and glamour of the city’s casino strip that we had explored earlier that morning.

Wandering through Coloane Village’s narrow streets, flanked by pastel-hued colonial buildings adorned with wooden shutters and intricate balconies, we soon spilled out onto a beautiful riverside walk.

We tried Lord Stow’s Bakery egg tarts (which, under threat of fatal injury, my friend Venus got me to agree were better than those in Portugal), picked up delicious matcha lattes from 3345 Coffee & Vinyl (a cute, hipster café set in a small square), then sat along the river and watched day turn to night.

Right opposite us across the water, a river estuary, was Dahengqin Island, otherwise known as Xiangzhou, considered as mainland China.

Away from the crowds of tourists, Coloane Village offered a glimpse into authentic Macanese life, where time seemed to move at a slower pace and every corner held something new to discover.

We even saw a tortoise (yes, a real life tortoise) munching on lettuce at a nearby café!

Discovering Hidden Gems in Macau: Beyond the Casino Floors

My partner taking a photo of the stunning round entryway at Mandarin’s House in Macau

2. Mandarin’s House: Preserving Macau’s Heritage

Diving deeper into Macau’s heart, we discovered Mandarin’s House, a stunning piece of the city’s cultural heritage. Walking through its detailed gateways and peaceful gardens, it was easy to be impressed by the architecture and the care put into preserving it over the years.

Inside Mandarin’s House, there’s a deep and vivid respect for the people who lived here, their lives woven into the very fabric of the place.

I absolutely loved exploring Mandarin’s House. Its architecture is gorgeous.

We even got into the spirit of Chinese New Year, writing our hopes on red cards and hanging them on a blossom tree.

If you’re keen on experiencing a piece of Macau’s soul, Mandarin’s House is a must-visit. It’s not just about the history, but also about feeling connected to the stories and dreams that have shaped this place. Plus, it’s a great way to add a bit of tradition to your visit, especially around the New Year.

Discovering Hidden Gems in Macau: Beyond the Casino Floors

Glowing golden hour on the steps at A-Ma Temple in Macau

3. A-Ma Temple: How Macau Got Its Name

Tucked away in Macau’s lively streets, you’ll find the A-Ma Temple, a peaceful Macau world heritage spot with roots stretching back to the 15th century.

At the A-Ma Temple, surrounded by the strong smell of incense, people come to give their respects to Mazu (the goddess who looks after those at sea), their prayers blending with the air in a quiet show of faith. Even with my eyes watering from the incense, the calmness and the echoing chants had a way of pulling me in.

Fun fact: Macau’s name actually comes from this temple, thanks to the Portuguese sailors who first landed here and called it “A-Ma Gau.” It’s a neat piece of history that highlights how central the temple is to Macau’s identity.

While it’s not quite one of the hidden gems in Macau – more like an iconic cultural landmark – the A-Ma Temple really shows off the deep cultural and spiritual traditions in Macau. The temple’s complex alleys, pavilioins and architecture are full of interesting designs and colours.

I loved how sunset light hit the temple during our visit, too.

If you’re looking for a bit of peace or some time to reflect, hitting up the A-Ma Temple early in the morning or later in the afternoon is the move. That’s when it’s less crowded, and the place has this soft, golden glow. It’s worth taking a moment to watch the worshippers and soak in the atmosphere.

Discovering Hidden Gems in Macau: Beyond the Casino Floors

Say cheese! Being a tourist with my friends at the Ruins of St. Paul in Macau

4. Ruins of St. Paul: Macau’s Iconic Catholic Landmark

If you’re hitting up Macau, you can’t miss the Ruins of St. Paul. When I walked up those grand steps to the church’s impressive façade, I was blown away by its beauty, even standing in ruins.

Given it was Chinese New Year, the place was buzzing with energy, packed with folks everywhere. Despite it heaving with people, we got some great photos by angling the camera upwards.

Standing in the remnants of centuries-old architecture, the Ruins of St. Paul served as a poignant reminder of Macau’s rich history and how its past and present mesh together beautifully.

Away the crowds, just behind the ruins, we slipped into a little alleyway and suddenly the noise died down, and we found ourselves standing on a quiet and peaceful row of residential houses that felt miles away from the chaotic din outside.

Macau is full of contrasts, and that’s what makes it unforgettable.

So, if you’re hitting up Macau, make sure to take a moment at the Ruins of St. Paul. It’s a perfect spot for reflection (and great photos, on a quieter day). Remember to explore the little nooks and crannies around – you never know what quiet spot you might find.

5. Master Lu Ban Woodwork Museum: Celebrating Artistry and Craftsmanship

When I visited Macau, one spot I really appreciated was the Master Lu Ban Woodwork Museum. It’s a unique testament to exquisite woodwork, craftsmanship and ancient innovation. Again, I love the way Macau is so dedicated to preserving its cultural heritage.

Master Lu Ban is a legendary figure in Chinese history, known for his exceptional skills as a carpenter, engineer, and inventor. He’s celebrated not only for his woodworking but also for his innovations in building and mechanical designs. But what really sets him apart is his work ethic, high standards, and the way he respected and taught his craft.

Master Lu Ban stands for top-notch carpentry in China, earning him serious respect among craftsmen and those who love traditional Chinese art and culture. The Master Lu Ban Woodwork Museum honours his life and work, celebrating his lasting impact on modern craftsmanship and design. There’s even a shrine in the museum, where those in the industry can pray to him.

The museum does a fantastic job of honouring his legacy, packed with historical pieces that highlight just how much his work influences modern craftsmanship and design. You’ll see everything from beautifully carved furniture to stunning sculptures, all showcasing the talents of Macau’s craftsmen, passed down through generations. We bought two wooden puzzles to bring back to the UK.

It’s pretty inspiring to see the level of dedication and passion that goes into furniture design.

If you’re ever in Macau, I recommend stopping by; it’s a great way to see the skill and history behind Macau’s spirit of artistry and innovation.

Hidden Gems In Macau: Scratching Beneath The Glitz

Reflecting on my journey through Macau’s lesser-known spots, I’m grateful for the rich experiences and lasting memories I’ve gathered there. Whether wandering the peaceful streets of Coloane Village or standing by the majestic ruins of St. Paul, every part of this city has fascinated me.

Though Macau is often dubbed the “Las Vegas of China,” for me, it’s so much more. It’s where East meets West, where glitz meets grit, and where every corner promises a new adventure.

In my travels, I’ve found that the real essence of a place lies beyond its obvious attractions. Macau is no exception. It’s all about the stories, the culture, and the hidden gems waiting to be discovered.

Discovering Hidden Gems in Macau: Beyond the Casino Floors

Admiring the beautiful wishes hung on a cherry blossom tree at a traditional house in Macau

So, if you’re planning your next trip and crave a destination that offers both dazzling sights and a soulful experience, consider Macau.

Take a moment to explore beyond its surface—you’ll be pleasantly surprised at what you find.

Mel Legarda

Melissa Legarda is the founder of illumelation. She has worked as a travel blogger, creator and writer since 2015, and has collaborated with well-known brands worldwide. She has helped over 1,100+ students improve their travel photography skills since launching her creative courses. Her mission is to encourage and empower others to travel and create more. Find her on Instagram.