As the high-roller set alongside wannabe tycoons and hipsters from nearby Hong Kong converge in Macau to live the highlife, there are some of us who would like to get in on the action but without having to break the piggy bank. Macau, arguably rated as the world’s largest gambling hub, does have its secret treasures. Thankfully, Macau offers experiences for savvy budget conscious visitors. Here are 10 ways to explore Macau on a budget.
1 – Self-walking tours
There’s no need to hook up with a guided organized tour when you can head into the ancient streets of Macau on your own. Guidebooks like Frommer’s pack in their favorite sites worth exploring and are easily accessible but I prefer the easy-to-use-at-my-fingertips, “Step Out, Macau,” a free app download ().
Macau Tourism also offers eight suggested independent tour itineraries from their website. From this list, I liked the ‘Footsteps in the Historic Centre’ self-guided tour.
The map itself has cool pop-ups with notable descriptions.
One of the favourite discoveries on this enjoyable, easy walk was a stop to see the Opium House, a fabulous 19th century architectural piece that has withstood the testaments of time.
2 – Cheap Eats
You don’t need to have the coffers of a Ming Dynasty Chinese Emperor or a 17th century Portuguese explorer to eat like royalty.
Macau is a foodie haven with delectable stashes of bakery shops, snack stops, and other budget-friendly eateries.
I liked munching on the crunchy peanut and ginger candy at Koi Kei Bakery near the St. Paul Ruins and hanging out by the foodie street vendors then switching over to Dasanba Street for some more Macanese snacks.
Be sure to stock up on almond pastries and pork buns. Alternatively, the Macau Food Festival in November is a great time to chow down on delicious Asian, European, Mainland Chinese and local delicacies in the evening and to watch a massive fireworks extravaganza at night.
3 – See a free festival and other free events
That’s when a super long dragon rears its head for the Dragon Parade, and dragon dances take place.
For calendar listings see the Macau Tourism Office website.
For New Years Eve, head to Avenida da Praia Grande at the glorious Nam Van Lake to watch the kaleidoscope of colour illuminate the night sky.
Check the program guide for The Macau International Music Festival, another crowd pleaser, for its free concerts.
4 – Head to Fisherman’s Wharf
An easy five minutes from the Macau Ferry Terminal lies Macau’s first ever themed attraction.
Fisherman’s Wharf is a mock village with a setting that turns back the clock to yesteryear. It has a cool collection of faux seaside buildings, each possessing their own panache.
Some structures resemble other famous seaside hubs like Miami, Venice or New Orleans. There’s everything from casinos like the Babylon and Flamingo to hotels named Rocks and Harbourview.
For shoppers and tourists craving entertainment, you’ll find plenty of that too. I liked hanging out by the Dynasty Wharf, which is a weird assortment of Chinese architecture reproductions of Chinese towers built in the Tang-style.
Over at East Meets West there used to be a faux volcano spewing repro lava but that attraction disappeared a couple of years ago. In its place: another casino.
There’s a replica of the Roman Coliseum. While not to scale, the repro is pretty interesting and makes a fun backdrop for more selfies.
Free shuttle buses depart every 30 minutes from the ferry terminal and various other pick-up spots across town.
Look out for the free guide, Macau Legend Winter 2015, with its assortment of coupons available at several wharf locations.
5 – Explore free heritage sites
Macau’s landscape is dotted with free heritage sites, many of them situated in parks, public plazas or landmark buildings where you can roam and admire the early days.
City insiders report there are approximately 30 heritage sites in the historic city centre.
Some of the top favourites are Senado Square, Ruins of St. Paul, Monte Forte, A-Ma Temple and St. Dominic’s Church, all of which are free to enjoy.
Hang out at Senado Square for sightseeing at the city’s oldest urban center. I love the Portuguese style two-toned mosaic tiles that reflect the waves similar to the grand promenades in Lisbon.
Take selfies by the Ruins of St. Paul, a renowned facade that’s a left-over of the Church of Mater Dei built in the 1600s.
Meander through A-Ma Temple, a great example of a place of worship dedicated to three religions in one.
The Macau Government Tourist Office offers free audio guides of the various UNESCO World Heritage Sites which can be picked up and returned at their visitor center by the Senado Square daily 9am to 5pm.
The audio device comes in Mandarin, Cantonese, Portuguese, English, German, Japanese and Korean. It’s available on a first come, first served basis, for a returnable deposit of MOP 200.
6 – Grand Prix Museum
If you weren’t able to make the annual race car rally in November, the Macau Formula 3 Grand Prix, a visit to the museum is the next best alternative.
A free museum located next to the Wine Museum (another free museum) it’s a pleasant diversion from the casinos and the historic center.
The museum opened in 1993 to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Macau Grand Prix. See classic race cars, motorbikes and other memorabilia and some of the winning race cars on display.
7 – Free Hotel and Casino Attractions
You don’t have to spend all your money at the casinos but if you did, don’t worry there are plenty of free attractions inside the hotels and casinos.
I like the canals at the Venetian Macau Resort.
If you’re at Wynn Macau Hotel, Performance Lakes is a tantalizingly good waterworks night show. I
t’s also worth hanging around to watch the Dragon of Fortune rise to the ceiling in a rather phantasmagorical multimedia display.
8 – Free and cheap transportation (major hotels and casinos)
One of the unsettling things often associated with travel is how to get around your vacation hub.
Thankfully Macau’s best landmarks are situated in the historic centre but if you find yourself requiring some wheels, the major hotels and casinos schedule free shuttle services regularly between the big public transit hubs like the ferry terminals and the airport. You can even casino and hotel hop by using the free shuttle services.
Then again, if you’re like most people, cabs are easily available and not that pricey. Public transit buses are pretty good too. For example, you can hop on a free casino shuttle from The Venetian or the City of Dreams located in the south and get yourself to the Sands Macao Hotel in the north.
9 – Time for tea, Macanese style
The Macanese have a great history of tea. While tea plantations really didn’t grow there, the popular past-time of tea drinking not to mention the mass significance of Macau’s location definitely helped raise Macau’s tea profile.
Opened 10 years ago, The Macau Tea Cultural House is where you can learn about the glorious tea past and traditions.
The Museum’s website reports, “When it came to modern history, Macao was the earliest window for Chinese tea culture to spread to the western world. It is said that Macao has an indispensable relationship with tea.” I agree.
A gateway to export tea to the world, the museum is open daily, except on Monday.
10 – Nam Van Lake Cybernetic Fountain
At Nam Van Lake, weekend nightly laser performances attract a huge crowd of waltzing water gawkers. But even during the day, visitors can enjoy a spectacular waterworks show that has water streams spewing to music.
All in all, there are 86 spouts and over 200 laser lights for this free attraction.
Looking for somewhere off the beaten track to explore in Macao? Check out Taipa Village.