Macau is a city made for walking. Macau’s compact 30 square kilometres is packed with historic buildings, cafes, restaurants and intriguing streetscapes. Discovering Macau at your leisure while on foot is a real bonus as you can linger longer at the places that appeal the most. There are plenty of wonderful places to visit in Macau. The older parts of Macau’s streetscape is protected as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and has retained its historic charm.
UNESCO World Heritage city
Macau Government Tourism has produced excellent walking trail maps and a mobile app. The best place to start exploring Macau’s historic heartland is the tourism office, which is located opposite the Holy House of Mercy near Senado Square on Avenida de Almeida Ribeiro (known to the locals as San Ma Lo) which links the Outer Harbour to the Inner Harbour.
Senado Square has been Macau’s urban centre for centuries and the venue for many public events. The square’s neo-classical buildings create a Mediterranean atmosphere.
The square is covered in black and white tiles laid by Portuguese artisans in a pattern resembling a wave.
The main building, Leal Senado (open daily from 9am to 9pm), was built in 1784 as the first municipal chamber for discussing official matters of state.
It has had several incarnations since its conception but the exterior has remained unchanged since 1940.
Guia Lighthouse – Stamp of approval
Macau attained UNESCO status because it was (and still is) a strategic maritime port. It was in Portuguese hands from 1513 until it was officially returned to China in 1999.
Like most ports, Macau has a fort and lighthouse (situated on Guia Hill). Guia Lighthouse is a historic star that has been featured on a set of stamps by Macao Post today (8 July 2015).
In recognition of the lighthouse’s 150th anniversary, Macao Post has released a special souvenir set of two stamps and a souvenir sheet with images of the lighthouse and view of Macau peninsula from the old Guia fortress.
The lighthouse is accessible by walking up a gentle rise on a landscaped hillside but there’s also a cable car to the summit. It’s worth the effort as there are good views of Zhuhai in China and across the South China Sea to Hong Kong.
The fortress on Guia Hill (open from 8am to 6pm) was built between 1622 and 1638, after an unsuccessful attempt by the Dutch to take control of the small but strategic territory.
One of the buildings is a small chapel originally established by Clarist nuns who lived here before establishing the Convent of St. Clare.
Nearby, the lighthouse, built in 1864 was the first modern lighthouse to be constructed along the Chinese coastline. It stands 91m high and the beam can be seen for 20 nautical miles on a clear evening.
Parts of Macau’s heritage heartland of narrow cobble-stoned streets resemble those back in Portugal.
Macau rose to fame as trading port to export Asian goods to Europe. Its architecture is an attractive mosaic of Moorish buildings, Chinese temples and European churches dating back to the 16th century.
Squares and Spires
From Senado Square, narrow cobblestone streets pass St. Dominic’s Church which was founded by the Dominicans in 1587 as the first church of the order in China.
It was built with wooden structures and became known to the Chinese as the wooden board temple.
The narrow street winds its way to the popular heritage site of the 17th century ruins of St. Paul’s Church. Its stone façade is all that remains after it was destroyed by a fire in 1835.
Originally known as the Church of Mater Dei, it was built by the Jesuits from 1602 to 1640 and is considered the first Western-styled university in the Far East.
Nowadays the ruins act as an altar to the city and the steps and decorative flowerboxes make it a popular place for photographers.
Nearby, Kuan Kai Temple or Sam Kai Vui Kun now functions as St. Dominic’s Market. Its architectural design is more Western than Eastern and historians suggest that this is representative of the coexistence of the two cultures in Macau.
Travessa do Mastro and Rua da Felicidade are two streets along the A Tour of Historical Trails walk. It receives a lot of attention as it is lined with Chinese restaurants and is the ideal place to take a break from the rigors of sightseeing.
The trail winds its way to Rua do Almirante Sérgio. Pier 16 is a good place to view the protected Inner Harbour and the fishing boats that moor here in the waterway separating Macau to mainland China.
Just off the main waterfront road is Opium House at 16 Praça de Ponte e Horta. This warehouse was built in 1880 in an architectural style typical of the era. Opium was only banned in 1946 and in 1996 the building was meticulously banned. Close by is Praça de Ponte e Horta which is an open square along the Inner Harbour.
David Bowden is a freelance travel writer who lives in Malaysia.