Chinese New Year in Macao

Macao celebrates the Year of the Dog with an impressive programme of events and activities in the month of February.

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Of all the things to do in Macau, Macau Chinese New Year, also known as Lunar New Year, is a unique opportunity to see the city during the most festive time of the year. During Chinese New Year in Macau, the city morphs into a continuous multiple-day celebration that can be experienced throughout the city by residents and tourists.

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Gods of Prosperity and Fortune passing out lai see (red packets). Photo: Brad Reynolds
Chinese New Year party
The diversity of Chinese New Year in Macau. Photos: MGTO.

Macau gets it right when it comes to celebrating Chinese New Year. Think New York City at Christmas time or Venice during Carnival and you’ll get the idea of what to expect when visiting Macau during Chinese New Year.

There are festive markets, parades, lion and dragon dances, cultural performances, fireworks and endless family-friendly activities alongside the usual sightseeing and World Heritage attractions.

Chinese New Year is an entertaining, exciting and rewarding time to be in Macau (for racing fans, another exciting time to visit is during the Macau Grand Prix). Here’s what not to miss during the Macau Chinese New Year.

Macau Chinese New Year Parade

The holiday officially kicks off with the Parade of the Gigantic Dragon (16 February 2018), which is a fantastic event, highlighted by the 238m-long dragon that winds its way through the streets of the Historic City Centre.

The parade is a true spectacle, beginning with drummers and lion dancer tandems.

Mascots of the twelve zodiac animals, as well as the gods of Fortune, Prosperity and Longevity, are also on hand, passing out lai see (red packets) and wishing good luck to all who attend the ceremony and parade. 

Chinese New Year parade

Best places to visit in Macau during the Chinese New Year Parade of Gigantic Dragon

Chinese New Year in Macau

1- Ruins of St. Paul’s

The Ruins of St. Paul’s staircase is the starting point for the Parade of the Gigantic Dragon (16 February) and the staging area for the dragon and parade performers, making it a popular spot for spectators.

For approximately 90 minutes before the parade, you can see the dragon wrapped up on the steps leading to the Ruins.

This is a breathtaking sight against the backdrop of clear blue skies.

After the eye-dotting ritual to awaken the dragon, the parade begins and the dragon starts slinking its way through the World Heritage area.

If you watch from the Ruins of St. Paul’s and are handy with a map, you can then make a beeline for St. Augustine’s Square to watch it pass by again.

You’ll need to be quick however as this dragon moves surprisingly fast once started.

2- Senado Square

chinese new year macao
The dragon passing through Senado Square. Photo: Brad Reynolds.

Senado Square is another great spot to enjoy the Chinese New Year’s Day celebrations. Like the Ruins of St. Paul’s, this area will be teeming with festive activity; including musical performances, lion dances and firecrackers.

Arrive early if you want to be seated during the Chinese New Year parade. Otherwise, be ready to stand and enjoy. Listen for the drums and brass and keep an eye out for the dragon as it makes its way through the square from the Ruins of St. Paul’s.

3- St. Augustine’s Square

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The dragon approaching a mostly emptied St. Augustine’s Square. Photo: Brad Reynolds.

If there is a hidden gem to the Chinese New Year holiday period in Macau, it is being on St. Augustine’s Square during the New Year’s Day Parade.

While Senado Square and the Ruins of St. Paul’s are packed with crowds, only a handful of wise watchers know to come here to await the dragon, which slows down and pauses for pictures in front of St. Augustine’s Church.

The best vantage point for photos and videos are found on the higher grounds at the Dom Pedro V Theatre, just across from St. Augustine’s Church.

Macau Chinese New Year Lion Dances

Another memorable activity to see during Chinese New Year in Macau is the traditional lion dance, which occurs at locations throughout the city.

There are numerous performances at Senado Square, Tap Seac Square and Taipa Village. Information regarding dates and times is posted by this post (MGTO) so you can plan where to be and when.

Many of the major resorts in Macau also feature lion dance performances during the Chinese New Year holiday.

For starters, you can see them in front of the Performing Lakes at Wynn Macau as well as in the Grande Praça at MGM Macau.

Firecrackers and Fireworks in Macau during Chinese New Year

A festival in Macau wouldn’t be complete without firecrackers and fireworks.

Throughout the Chinese New Year period, you will hear and see firecrackers being set off in front of homes, businesses, in popular squares and at temples all over Macau.

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Strings of Fireworks being set off during Chinese New Year. Photo: Brad Reynolds.

For those wanting to see more serious firecracker action, make your way to A-Ma Temple at Barra Square or Tam Sin Sang Temple in Coloane to witness locals wishing to ward off bad luck and evil spirits by hoisting up and setting off long strings of firecrackers by the thousands.  

Witnessing this Chinese New Year activity is one of the things that visitors long remember from their trips to Macau.

Needless to say, this is a din of continuous bangs and louder bangs so be ready to put the camera down and cover your ears.

For those who stick around until the last day of the Chinese New Year holiday period, Macau hosts a spectacular fireworks display.

A popular viewing point is along Avenida da Republica, where you can see the fireworks alongside the Macau Tower building. The tower is where adventurous travellers can try bungy jumping.  

Macau Chinese New Year decorations 

Expectedly, Macau’s World Heritage attractions, already great places to visit throughout the year, are most delightful during Chinese New Year with their holiday decorations.

A particular star in this regard is the Leal Senado Building and its lovely courtyard.

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Leal Senado during the Chinese New Year

The Lou Kau Mansion and larger Mandarin House are also given festive makeovers, which accentuate their traditional Chinese architecture and enhance their overall appeal to visitors.

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Chinese New Year prayer at Mandarin’s House

Mandarin House visitors are often treated to a free Chinese New Year souvenir to take back home as well.  

Meanwhile, Senado Square, a place that most eventually visit while in Macau, bursts into colour with various Chinese New Year decorations.

There’s a prodigious amount of flowers lining the square and encircling its fountain, a fitting reminder that Chinese New Year is the ‘Spring Festival’ after all!

There are also performance stages and activity stalls to keep everyone entertained, making Senado Square a hive of activity.

Barra Square is another Chinese New Year hot spot, where you can join thousands of worshippers visiting A-Ma Temple. Or you can “turn your life around” and pick up a pinwheel from the pinwheel stalls or buy a lucky Chinese New Year ornament.

On the other side of the Historic City Centre of Macau, Tap Seac Square hosts a Lunar New Year’s Eve Flower Market.

This is where residents purchase lucky bamboo, New Year fruit plants, orchids or cherry blossom stems amongst other popular holiday plants.  

Nearby, Lou Lim Ieok Garden holds an orchid exhibition and a cultural exhibition, highlighting how the holiday is celebrated in various other regions of China.

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CNY Orchid Exhibition at Lou Lim Ieok Garden

Chinese New Year in Macau at night

Chinese New Year Macau

The sun may set over Macau but the festive spirit continues into the night. Returning to Senado Square, visitors will find illuminated decorations as well as World Heritage buildings hit by floodlights.

This makes for a lovely scene, especially with crowds having thinned from earlier in the day.

Another great spot to target after dark is Venetian Macau along the Cotai Strip.

Evening exhibitions, nighttime lion dances and outdoor LED projection shows give more reasons to be out and about as the day winds to an end.

With new property developments a long way at the Cotai Strip, future visitors can expect this area to become a real Chinese New Year hotspot in coming years.

Three tips for visiting during Macau Chinese New Year

1- Book your Macau hotel package early

Hotel rates in Macau are much higher during the holidays and this is particularly true with Chinese New Year, due to it being a longer holiday period and falling a weekend when room rates are normally much higher in Macau.  

Although prices are never cheap during Chinese New Year, you can obtain a good hotel rate if you book your Macau hotel package early. For a Macau vacation at this time of the year, it’s advisable to reserve a room three to four months in advance.

2- Reserve Hong Kong to Macau ferry tickets  

Ferries from Hong Kong are very busy during holiday periods. As such, if you are planning to arrive in Macau after first staying in Hong Kong, it is best to reserve ferry tickets in advance to avoid being stuck at a ferry terminal for several hours beforehand.

3- Choose your restaurants wisely

Eating out during Chinese New Year can be a tricky affair. Traditionally, most restaurants will close during Chinese New Year. However, major hotel restaurants, coffee shops, fast-food joints and the eateries on and around Senado Square and Rua do Cunha in Taipa will be open. Here are some places that serve vegetarian food in Macau

Several of Macau’s top restaurants will likely remain open, especially the Michelin-starred restaurants. Some worth trying include Restaurante Litoral, FADO at Royal Macau hotel, Privé at Sofitel and Espaco Lisboa (Coloane). These should all be open and are worth making reservations if you want to secure a table during Chinese New Year. Here’s a guide on where and what to eat in Macau.

There’s usually a restaurant holiday surcharge. Restaurants levy an additional holiday surcharge during Chinese New Year. Restaurant host/hostesses usually inform you of the extra holiday service fee when you arrive so that you won’t be surprised when receiving your bill afterwards.

Brad Reynolds lives in Hong Kong and visits Macau regularly. One of his favourite times to visit Macau is during Chinese New Year.

Chinese New Year 2018 in Macau

Macao will celebrate the Year of the Dog with a roster of fun events and activities during Chinese New Year 2018. Here are some of the exciting happenings during the Chinese New Year period.

16 February – Chinese New Year in Macau starts off with a bang with the Parade of Gigantic Dragon (10.30am to 1.15pm)

17 and 18 February – Procession of the Passion of Our Lord, the God Jesus is an impressive Catholic procession through the streets of downtown Macao.

18 February – Parade for Celebration of the Year of the Dog (8 pm to 10 pm) and a firework display. The first of two Macau Chinese New Year parades will be a colourful procession of floats at cultural performances. Don’t miss the opening ceremony, where celebrity performers Fama, Germano Guilherme, Mag Lam, Vivian Chan and Jason Chan will entertain the crowd at Sai Van Lake Square. If you miss the start, hear to Macau Tower to catch the fireworks display at 945pm.

New Year in Macau

23 February –  The Macao Chinese Orchestra hosts the “Dance on the Strings” – Bowed Strings Concert. The performance is a blend of tradition and contemporary and a showcase of the versatility of the ehru, a staple instrument of Chinese music tradition.

24 February – Parade for Celebration of the Year of the Dog (8 pm to 930 pm). There’s a kickoff ceremony at Rua Norte do Patane with celebrity hosts Stephen Chan, Kitty Yuen and Germano Guilherme. The parade marches through the streets of Macau to Iao Hon Market Garden, where you can rub shoulders with celebrity entertainers like Nancy Sit Ka Yin, Sean Pang, Viviana Lo, Kane Ao Ieong, Roberto Madan and Elvis Lam.

Chinese New Year night parade

See ‘What’s On Macau’, updated at the beginning of each month. You will also be able to pick up holiday event schedules and other information at the MGTO offices at the airport and ferry terminals when you arrive in Macau.  

Where to see fireworks in Macau during Chinese New Year

15 February 12:00 midnight to 1:00 am

16 to 20 February 10:00 am to 12 noon

Venue: Av. Dr. Sun Yat-Sen (next to Macau Tower) and Estrada Almirante Marques Esparteiro, Taipa (near the waterfront)

Discover Macau

It’s also worth checking out the TripAdvisor Macau travel forum to learn more about what to expect during the Chinese New Year holiday. 

Visit Macao at festival time and you’ll have a real party. If you’re travelling in December, check out the Macao Light FestivalMacao’s clubs and bars are fun. Read this.

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