Macau (Macao) is known as China’s gambling mecca and has even surpassed Las Vegas in terms of revenue. But it is also the first and last European colony in China, making Macau a unique testament to the marriage of East and West cultures. Located across the Pearl River Delta from Hong Kong, it also used to be one of the important trading ports. Its colonial architecture and cultural heritage make it more than just the Las Vegas of the East.
Last July 2015, I had the opportunity of visiting Macao Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China for a day tour from Hong Kong.
Macau travel guide: getting around Macau for free (or on a budget!)
Check out these tips on how to travel around Macau on the cheap!
1. Casino hopping at the Las Vegas of the East
The biggest casino in the city, The Venetian, is definitely a must-see even for non-gamblers. It was so ostentatious and grandiose with its East meets West architecture. Combined with a myriad of sights and smells, your senses will surely go into overdrive.
Book here if you have an extra budget and want to ride the gondola ala Venice.
The main lobby is inspired by Italian museums with hand-painted frescoes, fountain and statue, and vaulted ceilings. The Grand Colonnade leads the visitors to the casinos.
It’s easy to lose track of time inside the Grand Canal Shoppes of Venetian Macao, with its painted blue sky ceiling.
The façade of Galaxy Macau was also a sight to behold with all those gold and towers!
Wynn Hotel offers four entertainment attractions: Performance Lake, a water, light, and fire show which runs for 3 minutes at 15-minute intervals; Dragon of Fortune show; Tree of Prosperity show; and the Moon Jelly Aquarium.
In their effort to diversify, a slew of non-gambling attractions is set to entice more non-Chinese visitors to come to Macau for Macau 2.0 as reported by CNN. This includes the world’s largest wave pool and rooftop aquatic ride at Galaxy resorts, and world’s highest figure-8 Ferris wheel and a magic house theater among others at Melco Crown’s Studio City.
Casinos in Cotai: The Venetian, Galaxy, Sands Cotai Central, Four Seasons, City of Dreams
Casinos in Macau center: Wynn, MGM, Grand Lisboa
2. Make use of free casino shuttles to travel around Macau
Thanks to the big casinos in Macau, one can go around without having to spend a dime on transportation. The secret to getting around Macau for free? The casino buses!
During our day-tour, we took Venetian and Galaxy’s shuttle buses. To get to Senado Square, you can avail of the free shuttle bus to San Man Lo from Galaxy Macau then walk towards Senado Square.
To get to Macau Tower, the only shuttle bus that goes there is operated by the City of Dreams.
Take a look at the schedules of Galaxy, Venetian, and City of Dreams’ shuttle buses.
3. Visit the Historic Centre of Macau
The Historic Centre of Macau, inscribed as a World Heritage Site on July 15, 2005, is where you can find 25 monuments of historical and architectural importance. These attest to the unique interweaving of Portuguese and Chinese culture.
The Ruins of St. Paul has become one of the most visited sites in Macau. The remaining façade is also one of the most photographed in the city, evidenced by the crowds you will see on the stairs going up the ruins.
Aside from the remains of the former Church of the Mother of God (Mater Dei), visitors can also visit the Crypt below where the relics of the Martyrs of Japan and Vietnam rest. The crypt was quite cold and the solemn music/chanting echoes around the room, which makes goosebumps inevitable.
Near the Ruins is Mount Fortress which used to be the city’s principal military defense structure.
West of the Ruins are Na Tcha Temple, Section of the Old City’s Walls, and St. Anthony’s Church.
Largo do Senado (Senado Square), the city’s urban center, is surrounded by mosaic tiled floors and pastel-colored neo-classical buildings which create a European atmosphere. Around the Square is where you can also find the Leal Senado (Loyal Senate) Building, Sam Kai Vui Kum Temple (Kuan Tai), St. Dominic’s Church, Holy House of Mercy, Lou Kau Mansion, and Igreja da Se Cathedral.
TIP: For a small entrance fee of MOP 5, you can have a view overlooking the Square from the second-floor veranda of Holy House of Mercy.
4. Free taste of jerky and Macau delicacies
Coming from Senado Square, there is a street going to the Ruins of St. Paul where jerky sellers and Macanese delicacies abound. Most of the shops offer a free taste, enticing you to buy more of the tasty and delicious food they are selling. There are also restaurants and souvenir shops along the street.
Must try are Portuguese egg tarts, Tai Lei Loi Kei’s pork chop buns, Koi Kei’s almond cookies and egg rolls.[RELATED: Hong Kong Foodscapades: Tsui Wah, Cafe de Coral, Delicious Kitchen, and Din Tai Fung]
5. Stroll around Fisherman’s Wharf
Fisherman’s Wharf, at Macau’s outer harbor, is a ghost town in the morning. But that proved to be an advantage still because we didn’t have to compete with crowds just to take pictures. It is best to go here in the afternoon.
MWF is walking distance from Macau ferry terminal and the entertainment complex is free. Feast your eyes on European-themed buildings around the harbourfront.
6. Museum hopping for free
Rich with a cultural and historical past, the small city of Macau also has a plethora of museums to choose from. For those tight on budget, there are a handful of museums with free admission.
This includes Macau Tea Culture House, which will delight tea culture enthusiasts. There is also the Grand Prix Museum, which was opened to commemorate the anniversary of the Macau Grand Prix. The Wine Museum is also free and is certainly a must-see for oenophiles (wine enthusiasts).
Inside St. Dominic’s Church (next to Senado Square) is the Treasure of Sacred Art Museum, which houses around 300 artifacts dating from the 17th to the 19th centuries. Inside the Ruins of St. Paul, is the Museum of Sacred Art and Crypt. This is where one can find the only work of the ancient St. Paul’s College that survived the fire in 1835 – the 17th-century oil painting of Archangel Michael.
Other museums that are free admission are Museum of the Macau Security Forces, Handover Gifts Museum of Macau, Natural and Agrarian Museum, Fire Services Museum, and Dr. Sun Iat Sen Memorial House in Macau. Some museums are free on certain days. Macau Museum is free on the 15th of each month. Macau Museum of Art, Museum of Taipa and Coloane History, and Taipa Houses Museum are free on Sundays.
Free Maps you can get in the airport or ferry terminal:
Roaming the Museums of Macau
Museums of Macau
Macau Tea Culture House
Address: Lou Lin Ieoc Garden, Avenida do Conselheiro Ferreira de Almeida, Macau
Operating Hours: 9:00 am – 7:00 pm (closed on Mondays)
Bus Routes: 2, 2A, 5, 9, 9A, 12, 16, 22, 25, 25X, 28C
Grand Prix Museum
Address: Rua Luis Gonzaga Gomes, 431, basement
Operating Hours: 10:00 am – 8:00 pm (closed on Tuesdays)
Bus Routes: 1A, 3, 10, 10B, 10X, 23, 28A, 28B, 2BX, 23C, 32
Address: Estrada de Coelho do Amaral, no. 2 to 6
Operating Hours: 10:00 am – 6:00 pm
Bus Routes: 8A, 17, 18, 18A, 19, 26
Treasure of Sacred Art
Address: S. Domingos Square
Operating Hours: 10:00 am – 6:00 pm
Bus Routes: 2, 3, 3A, 3X, 4, 5, 6A, 7, 8A, 10, 10A, 11, 18, 18A, 19, 21A, 26A, 33
Museum of Sacred Art
Address: St. Paul’s Ruins
Operating Hours: 9:00 am – 6:00 pm (no admission after 5:30 pm, Tuesdays from 9 am to 2 pm)
7. Avail of Macau’s free WiFiGO
With the aim to promote easier access to the internet for citizens and visitors, Macao SAR Government started providing the Wireless Broadband System “Wifi GO” service in September 2010. Free wireless internet access can be availed at selected government premises, public facilities, and tourist locations.
System Requirements: devices supporting Wi-Fi (IEEE 802.11 b/g) standard
For a list of the locations, pick-up the free WiFiGO service locations map at the airport or ferry terminal
8. Temple Run: Macau edition
Aside from A-Ma, the oldest temple, in the Historic Centre of Macau, there are other temples around Macau that you can visit. What’s fascinating about the temples in Macau is that a combination of Buddhist, Taoist, and Animist gods are worshiped in them. Their location was also determined based on Feng Shui.
Kun Iam Tong, one of the biggest and wealthiest among Macau temples, is dedicated to the Goddess of Mercy. It is also one of the Three Ancient Temples of Macau. Lin Fung, one of the largest temples in scale is also one of the Three Ancient Temples of Macau.
It is best to remember that courtesy and respect must be shown on the temple grounds and it is best to ask permission before taking any pictures.
Free maps and guide for your temple hopping: Macau Temple Map and Macau Temples
9. Budget accommodations in Macau
Macau may be known for its luxurious hotels and casinos but that doesn’t mean there aren’t budget accommodations you can choose from.
Two-star hotels are mostly located in the Inner Harbour and some have been recently renovated. There are also Hostels, Guesthouses, and Villas available.
10. Experience Macau’s Communities Walking Tour Routes
If you’ll be spending more than a day in Macau, I highly suggest that you look for this free guide in the tourist information booth: Step Out, Experience Macau’s Communities Walking Tour Routes (along with the map)
Attractions to explore in each route are listed along with information, pictures, and an easy to read map. The guide highlights 8 walking tour routes to choose from:
- Footsteps into the Historic Centre
- An Experiment of Creativity
- Crossroads of China and Portugal
- A Legacy of Arts and Culture
- Enchanting Stories of Our Lady of Fatima Parish
- The Marriage of East and West in St. Anthony Parish
- Bygone days of Taipa Village
- Nostalgia in Coloane
Quick Guide to Macau
Currency: Macanese Pataca (MOP) is the official currency since 1906. But Hong Kong Dollars are widely accepted. We didn’t have to exchange our HKD to MOP when we were there.
Visa Requirements: Filipinos are not required to apply for Visa. For those that are required to apply for Visa, check out Entry Requirements.
Getting There: Macau is easily reached from Hong Kong via CotaiJET or TurboJet. Travel time can take from 45 minutes to 1 hour. You can also fly directly to Macau via Macau International Airport in Taipa Island.
Languages: Portuguese, Cantonese, English
Area: Macau Peninsula (connected to Mainland China), Taipa, Coloane, COTAI (reclaimed area)
Climate: Best months to visit Macau for pleasant temperatures and little rainfall would be from October to December (Autumn). Tropical climate all year round. The average temperature is 23 C and the average humidity is 79%.
For more information visit the Macao Government Tourism Office website.
Macao Day Tour Sample Itinerary
Best way to get around Macau in a day:
Entry – Hong Kong
0630 H – MTR to Sheung Wan; clear HK immigration
0730 H – Macau Ferry Terminal – Hong Kong to Macau via Cotai Water Jet
0830 H – ETA Macau’s Taipa Ferry Terminal; clear Macau immigration
0900 H – Ride free shuttle to Venetian Macau
0930 H – Explore Venetian Macau and City of Dreams; look for baggage storage (MOP10/piece)
1300 H – Senado Square, Ruins of St Paul, Historic Centre of Macau
1500 H – Wynn Hotel/Casino to Galaxy via free shuttles
1700 H – back to Venetian for free shuttle to airport
2215 H – Flight Macau to Manila (Cebu Pacific Air)
Have you been to Macau? Got any more tips how to get around Macau for free?
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