A Walk Through Macau’s Historic Center

This post was last updated on September 24th, 2014

For many people, the name Macau is synonymous with one thing only: gambling. Referred to as the Las Vegas of the East, Macau has actually overtaken its American counterpart in terms of revenue and size. Prosperous Chinese mainlanders cross the border via bus; the wealthy from Hong Kong utilize the speedy ferries (and even helicopters!) to arrive at its shores. And with the biggest and best names like the Venetian, Wynn, and MGM, it’s no wonder why dollar signs dominate visitor’s minds.

Of course, there’s actually much more to Macau than high-end casinos and high-rolling gamers. Macau is also a former Portuguese colony, its original development to provide a trading port between China and Europe. It doesn’t take long to feel the Mediterranean influences that still permeate the peninsula’s streets as a result; in fact, it’s quite fascinating to experience the blending of Portuguese and Chinese cultures, jointly integrated into Macau’s street signs, food, and architecture.

Perhaps the most obvious place to observe the confluence of East and West is via a stroll through Macau’s Historic Center.

 Ruins of St Paul's and Pastel Houses Macau


A World Heritage Site, it is at times seething with tourists; however, visitors stroll through the celebrated streets for good reason. A walk through the area will reveal pastel-colored houses, cobblestone walkways, Chinese temples and Moorish barracks—just a few indicators of Macau’s rich cultural past.


 Portuguese Pastel House Macau


As much as we love roulette, spending the day meandering through Macau’s Historic Center was a highlight of our time in the area. Well, that and the inexpensive Portuguese wine! Beginning at the A-Ma Temple and concluding at the Ruins of St. Paul’s, walking through the historic center is relaxing and easy due to the numerous information signs that dot the path.


Here are a few of our favorite stops-and photographs-enjoyed along the way.


A-Ma Temple

Older than the city of Macau itself, the A-Ma Temple consists of numerous smaller pavilions, each dedicated to various deities. Influences from Confucianism, Buddhism, Taoism, and folk beliefs dominate.

 A Cruising Couple A Ma Temple Macau


Moorish Barracks

The Moorish Barracks are just fascinating to me. Originally designed by an Italian, the barracks were built in neo-classical Mediterranean style with Moorish influences to house Indian police officers under Portuguese rule in Chinese territory. Talk about numerous cultural influences!

 Moorish Barracks Macau


Lilau Square

Home to one of the first Portuguese residential areas in Macau, Lilau Square was also a main source of natural spring water. The World Heritage Guide says there is a popular Portuguese saying: “One who drinks from Lilau never forgets Macau”. Luckily there’s still a water fountain in the square to give the romantic testament a try.

 Lilau Square Macau

Lilau Square Spring Water Macau


St. Augustine’s Church

A lovely church first established by the Spanish Augustinians in 1591. According to the Macau Tourism Board, in times past the church would cover its roof with fan palm leaves. The Chinese attributed these leaves to dragon’s whiskers floating in the wind, resulting in the Chinese name Temple of the Long-whiskered Dragon. Love it.

 St Augustine's Church Macau


St. Dominic’s Church

With original construction completed in 1587, this is the oldest church in Macau. It’s located smack dab in the heart of Senado Square. which means you really can’t miss it.

Dominic's Church

Dominic's Church Interior


Senado Square

A distinct Mediterranean feel emanates from the pastel-colored buildings and blue ceramic tiles so prevalent in Senado Square (despite the Starbucks and McDonalds that share the venue). Numerous picturesque cafes, restaurants, and shops on the alleys extending off the square add to its charm.

 A Cruising Couple Senado Square Macau

Sanado Square and Grand Lisboa Macau


Ruins of St. Paul’s

Originally the church of Mater Dei, the Ruins of St. Paul’s are what is left of its façade. Today it is a symbolic alter to the city of Macau. Although most people will breeze past the details of the ruins, we recommend taking a moment to note the unique Portuguese and Chinese decorations on the structure. For example, you’ll find a pair of lions (similar to those you would find protecting the outside of Chinese temples) and Chinese inscriptions interspersed with the typical biblical scenes of Jesus, as well as the symbolic Christian dove.

Statue and Ruins of St Paul's Macau Ruins of St Paul's Macau


Old City Walls

The Old City Walls are a remnant of the original Portuguese defense walls. Perhaps more notable than the walls themselves are the views they offer of Macau. It’s also a great place to take a water break and make funny faces at the camera.

 View from Old City Walls Macau

A Crusing Couple Macau


These are just a few of the many attractions encountered while strolling through Macau’s Historic Center. As you can see from the pictures, the entire historical area is just bursting with Mediterranean influences. It’s easy to get lost wandering down the cobblestone paths; however, if you’re anything like us you might not have time for much more as you’ll be too busy stuffing your face with all the delicious Portuguese, Macanese, and even French food available. More on that coming soon!


Have you visited Macau’s Historic Center? Did you find it as memorable as we did?


  1. Macau’s historic centre looks a lot like Cartagena’s (minus the signs in Chinese). Love the mix of cultures as well – makes quite a good combination!
    Naomi recently posted…The To-Do ListMy Profile

    • I would LOVE to go to Cartagena-hoping to make it there soonish! I always find the mix of cultures so fascinating, especially when it’s when you least expect it :-)

  2. So many gorgeous photos! I love seeking out European architecture and other influences in Asia. My favorite was taking photographs of Georgetown in Malaysia, which also has quite a few remnants of the colonial past.
    Ashley recently posted…Cambodia’s Dark PastMy Profile

    • Thank you! Macau is certainly a fun place to photograph! We haven’t been to Malaysia yet but we have heard really good things about Georgetown. We’ll have to look into it more during our upcoming travels. Thanks for the advice!!

  3. After reading it and seeing all the photos I couldn’t stop smiling. You know why? We’ve been there too, everywhere and it feels to great to see you guys visiting the same street corners!! :) We enjoyed Ruins of St. Paul’s the most!
    Agness recently posted…Honoring Hiroshima, Japan For Less Than $25 a DayMy Profile

    • It’s too bad our schedules didn’t end up aligning–it would have been so fun to discover Macau together!! We loved looking at all your photos from Macau. It sounds like you guys had a blast! The Ruins of St. Paul are definitely magical–I would love to go back and visit at night. I think I loved the first third of the walk because there was no one else around at the time. We spent forever taking silly photographs in the middle of the road without anyone around to bother us :-)

    • Thank you so much! We highly recommend it… can’t wait to write about the incredible food in Macau as well :-) Hope you make it there one day soon!

    • Thank you so much! Hope you get the chance to go soon, especially if you are on this side of the world anyway!

  4. Although this is becoming a trend in all of my comments on your HK posts, I am just going to state once more for the record how bummed I am that we got sick and therefore weren’t able to take the ferry over to Macau. We’ve seen a lot of colonial cities in our months in Asia, but Macau definitely looks like it might be the prettiest one of them all!
    Steph (@ 20 Years Hence) recently posted…Coming Home in TaipeiMy Profile

    • We have yet to see any colonial city in Asia with such prevalent and integrated colonial architecture. It is by far the most beautiful we’ve seen. Even though you got sick it seems like you packed a lot of amazingness into your Hong Kong visit. We loved going through all your tips… and it’s not that far from Taiwan if you want to revisit both in one trip ;-)

  5. Gorgeous photos! We visited Macau during Christmas and the place was so crowded it wasn’t enjoyable. I’d like to go back and give it another try, mostly for the amazing Macanese food!
    Heather recently posted…Once Upon a Tea at the Langham, Hong KongMy Profile

    • Yikes! It was pretty crowded at the Ruins of St. Paul’s on a lazy Sunday. I can’t imagine Macau at Christmas. We also want to go back and find more Macanese food. The Portuguese food (along with the wine) was so good we couldn’t tear ourselves away.

    • It may not be Europe but it’s the closest thing we’ve seen in Asia. The pastel houses really make you feel like you’re in the Mediterranean. We would highly recommend it if you get the chance!

  6. What a great post! I hadn’t really heard much about Macau before but it looks gorgeous. It is hard to believe that this gem is in Asia with its unmistakably Portuguese and Moorish influence. I love it when worlds collide and will definitely put Macau on my to-visit list now!
    Mandy recently posted…The Historic Fishing Village of Polperro, CornwallMy Profile

    • I’m glad you enjoyed the post! :-) We had really only heard about the gambling before we arrived but after talking to some friends in Hong Kong they suggested the historic area. We are super grateful they did because there is so much more to Macau than all those glitzy casinos. I hope you get the chance to check it out soon!

  7. I had not thought much about visiting Macau (even when I was in Hong Kong last year) since I am really not much into gambling. After reading this post and enjoying your photographs, I will definitely have to visit. I love when cultures collide, mix and coexist like this. Reminds me of my recent few days in Penang. Besides, I have recently made it a mission to visit as many UNESCO WHS as possible.

    • We did our share of gambling but I still think our favorite part was the walk around the Historic Center, plus it’s free! :-p I’m glad you enjoyed the post. Thanks for stopping by!

  8. I only had one day on Macau but loved it and had to make a stop for Portuguese custard tarts! As I had been living on mainland China for two years it actually made a really nice break with a strong European feel. Thanks for your post!



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