This year the Historic Centre of Macau is celebrating its 10th anniversary! It was formally inscribed onto the UNESCO World Heritage list in July 2005. At that time, 20 of Macau’s historic buildings along with surrounding public spaces were recognized for their contribution to the unique Portuguese – Chinese blended heritage found only here in Macau. Collectively these attractions are now referred to as Macau World Heritage. Here’s a selection of the best of these Macau World Heritage sites to help streamline your Macau itinerary and sightseeing plans.
Ruins of St. Paul’s
The Ruins of St. Paul refer to the former Church of Mater Dei built between 1602 and 1640.
The church stood alongside St. Paul’s College, for which it has taken name. Destroyed by fire in 1835, Mater Dei was never rebuilt, leaving only its decorative stone facade.
This iconic attraction has long been the face of Macau and the most popular spot for tourists to take photos. When skies are blue, it is a striking image and one you will long remember of your time in Macau.
Note: The staircase in front of the Ruins of St. Paul’s is where the famous dragon parade begins during Chinese New Year.
This is a fabulous event to catch if you happen to be visiting Macau during this important holiday period.
St. Dominic’s Church
The most famous church in Macau is St. Dominic’s located at the far end of Senado Square.
Built by the Dominicans during the early 17th century, this is another very popular photo stop, taking in the beautiful yellow-coloured church facade and waved-patterned pavements in your frame.
Take a quick peek inside of St. Dominic’s and for those with 15 to 20 minutes to spare, visit the attached three-storey building which hosts the Treasure of Sacred Art Museum. Here you find over 300 religious artifacts and artworks on display.
St. Dominic’s Church and Treasure of Sacred Art Museum are open daily from 10am to 6pm.
The most important Chinese building of the Historic Centre of Macau is A-Ma Temple, situated on the southwest tip of the Macau Peninsula.
Legend has it that local fisherman built the first shrine here in 1490 to worship Matsu (locally referred to as A-Ma), after seeing the goddess as a lost young girl upon the rocks.
This is an interesting temple built around the contours of the rocky hillside. It is a particularly vibrant place to visit during Chinese New Year, when A-Ma temple is packed with worshippers, in search of good luck and wishing to ward off bad luck and evil spirits by setting off long strings of firecrackers.
Fun tidbit about A-Ma Temple
A-Ma Temple likely played part in the naming of Macau. It is believed that early Portuguese arrivals, upon hearing locals refer to the area as ‘A Maa Gau’, which means Bay of A-Ma in Chinese, believed they were hearing ‘Ma Cau’, hence their historical reference to this land as ‘Macau’.
A-Ma Temple is open daily from 10am to 6pm.
Another iconic image of Macau is the Guia Lighthouse situated within the fort at Guia Hill. Built in 1865, this is an attractive building and a popular place to take close up pictures.
While visitors can’t enter Guia Lighthouse, the attached Guia Chapel is open to the public and contains peculiar Portuguese and Chinese religious frescos.
You will also find very good views of the city from this elevated location.
Note: A great way to visit the Guia Lighthouse is by way of the Guia Cable Car (MOP2 per ride, MOP3 return journey) located at Flora Garden. This is one the best-unknown activities in Macau, especially for those with children.
Guia Fort and Lighthouse are open daily from 9am to 6pm.
Portuguese Colonial Buildings
Leal Senado (Municipal Council)
Leal Senado was originally built at Senado Square in 1784. The building you see today is Macau’s best representation of Portuguese architecture in the World Heritage area.
Highlights include an elegant staircase and inner courtyard, which are both decorated with flowers and delightful Portuguese style blue-and-white murals.
At Leal Senado, visitors can also enjoy small afternoon concerts, free art exhibitions and see Macau’s oldest library, an elaborately carved hidden gem in the city centre.
Leal Senado is open daily from 9am to 9pm.
Dom Pedro V Theatre
Dom Pedro V was built in 1860 and was the first western theatre in China. Situated at St. Augustine Square, this mint-green coloured building with its a neo-classical facade and Ionic columns creates a striking composition and most unexpected find in this part of the world.
Dom Pedro V is now open to the public. Visitors can view the lobby and peer into the 300-seat auditorium, which has been modernized. Performances are still held at Dom Pedro V at various times of the year.
Dom Pedro V Theatre is open Wednesdays to Mondays (10am to 6pm), closed on Tuesdays and national holidays.
Traditional Chinese Buildings
The Mandarin House is the finest representation of Chinese architecture in the Historic Centre of Macau.
Located at Lilau Square, it was built prior to 1869 and was a residential compound for notable reformist and literary figure Zheng Guanying.
At the Mandarin House, visitors can explore numerous rooms, hallways and courtyards, displaying various styles of historical Chinese building design and furnishings.
It is even more beautiful during Chinese New Year when the entire compound is filled with festive flowers, mandarin bushes and cherry-blossoms.
Mandarin House is open Thursdays to Tuesdays (10am to 6pm), closed on Wednesdays and national holidays.
Lou Kau Mansion
A smaller scale version of the Mandarin House can be found in the Lou Kau Mansion at Senado Square.
The ground floor of the Lou Kau Mansion is open to the public and you can explore small courtyards, rooms and hallways.
The building features grey-brick walls, decorative plaster works, wood carved canopies and screens and traditional Chinese furniture.
Lou Kau Mansion is open Tuesdays to Sundays (10am to 6pm), closed on Mondays and national holidays.
St. Lawrence’s Church
St. Lawrence is one of Macau’s oldest and most beautiful churches to visit.
Originally built by the Jesuits in the mid 16th century, it boasts a particularly impressive facade, set before an attractive staircase and surrounding garden.
Within the church, visitors find subtle hints of Baroque design, particularly around the altar.
The wooden ceiling, painted in soft blue colour, does well to complement the traditional yellows adorning the inner walls of the church.
St. Lawrence’s Church is open daily from 7am to 9pm.
St. Augustine’s Church
Situated on the small square by the same name, St. Augustine was built in 1591 by Spanish Augustinians.
The church features a Portuguese style facade and possesses an important statue called ‘Bom Jesus dos Passos’ behind the altar.
Note: St. Augustine Church receives far fewer visitors than the famous St. Dominic’s at nearby Senado Square.
As such, a visit here makes a good option if you wish to avoid the crowds that regularly gather at the Senado Square area attractions.
St. Augustine’s Church is open daily from 10am to 6pm.
Macau World Heritage – Best Museum
Macau Museum (Monte Forte)
For those eager to learn about the history of Macau, make your way to the Macau Museum (MOP15 per person), situated within Forte Monte, the World Heritage attraction next to the Ruins of St. Paul’s.
This museum provides a good overview of Macau’s intertwined history of colonial Portuguese and local Chinese culture and heritage.
You will find three floors of permanent exhibitions that make for a good introduction prior to visiting the rest of the World Heritage attractions that make up the Historic Centre of Macau.
The Macao Museum is open Tuesdays to Sundays (10am to 6pm), closed on Mondays and national holidays.
For more information on Macau’s world heritage attractions, visit the MGTO and Macau World Heritage websites prior to your trip to Macau.
Tip: For more thorough explorations of the Historic Centre of Macau, MGTO offers a free audio guide service (MOP200 deposit) made available at the Macau Business Tourism Centre at Senado Square.
Tip: To help navigate your way around the city centre, make sure to pick up free city maps and Macau World Heritage brochures at the Macau Government Tourist Offices located at both ferry terminals and the airport.
Brad Reynolds lives and works in Hong Kong but enjoys spending his free time in Macau exploring the UNESCO World Heritage area of the city.
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