Longing to see the bright lights of Macau but fear the cost? This Hong Kong to Macau itinerary shows you how to visit Macau as a budget-friendly day trip. Here you’ll find a full budget, plus recommendations tailored for design-savvy travellers and architecture lovers.
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Macau is a place that’s been playing on my mind ever since my mum and sister visited a few years ago. I promised myself that the next time I found myself in Hong Kong, I’d make time for a day trip to Macau.
Macau is known as the ‘Las Vegas of Asia’. In fact, it’s much bigger than Vegas in terms of revenue. 75% of people who visit the ‘special administrative’ enclave on China’s southeast coast come to gamble. But there’s so much more to the island than just casinos. Macau has some great tourist attractions – it’s culturally vibrant, surprisingly green, and offers a strange and exciting mix of Chinese and Portuguese cultures.
In my opinion, it’s definitely worth it to visit Macau if you have a spare day in Hong Kong. You don’t need a lot of money to do it, either.
Take a peek: my Hong Kong-Macau photo diary.
Macau day trip budget
I rarely (actually, never) talk finances on this blog—mainly because we’re pretty bad at keeping track of our expenses. This year we’ve been doing a much better job of tracking our travel budget, so I have data on Macau that I’m happy to share.
Macau has a reputation for being an expensive destination, but we managed to do it on a fairly conservative budget. Visiting as a day trip from Hong Kong and taking accommodation out of the equation definitely helped us keep costs down.
It’s a mere hour away by hydrofoil, but Macau has a different currency to Hong Kong. The Macanese Pataca (oh, how I love that name) is basically at parity with the Hong Kong Dollar (1:0.97 at the time of writing), so it’s much of a muchness. All taxis, shops, restaurants, cafes, buses, etc. in Macau accept either currency. DO NOT waste your time and money trying to exchange currency—there’s simply no need.
All the below prices are for one person. We travelled in June 2018.
Ferry from HK to Macau | 372 HKD
Taxi from Taipa Ferry to Senado Square | 86 HKD
Local breakfast | 48 HKD
Cross-river bus fare | 6 HKD
Bottle of coconut water | 12 HKD
Egg tart | 9 HKD
Total: 533 HKD (68 USD)
68 USD is still a reasonable amount to invest in a day trip. But considering Macau’s reputation and how much we could have shelled out, I was pretty happy with our overall spend. Of course it’s possible to cut the price down even further. There were a few things we overlooked and could have saved on—I’ll share what we learned in the next section.
Getting to Macau from Hong Kong
The easiest and most affordable way to travel between Hong Kong and Macau is by ferry. There are at least two companies that service this route, both with comparable prices. It’s possible to pre-book seats online, or just show up and purchase tickets on your day of travel. Both TurboJET and Cotai depart from the Hong Kong Macau Ferry Terminal in Sheung Wan. The ticket counters are located up the escalators and to the far right of the boarding gates.
Interestingly, it doesn’t pay to purchase a return ticket. The fare from Macau to Hong Kong is about 10HKD cheaper, but there’s no ’round-trip’ discount.
Macau has two ferry terminals: Macau Outer Harbour Ferry Terminal (located in the northern part of Macau, on the mainland) and Taipa Ferry Terminal (located in the southern part of Macau, on Taipa island). If we had our time again, we would purchase a one-way ticket to Macau Terminal then work our way south (according to the itinerary in the next section) before taking a ferry back to Hong Kong from Taipa. This would eliminate the need for one leg of transport, which in our case was an expensive taxi ride from Taipa to Senado Square.
Ferry fares go up on the weekend, so try to travel to Macau on a weekday. Make sure there are no big events on in Macau on the day you plan to travel, otherwise the ferry might be booked out. If not, you shouldn’t have any trouble purchasing tickets at the dock. It’s a good idea to arrive at least 20 minutes before the scheduled departure time to pass through immigration. And yes, you will need your passport!
Transport in Macau
Once you’re in Macau, there are a few transport options to choose from. Macau is surprisingly spread out (and depending on when you travel, it can be very hot). If you want to pack a lot in, you’ll no doubt find yourself having to use public transport at some stage.
Taxis are the most expensive option, but also the most efficient. If you have time to spare, utilise the public bus network, which connects the main part of Macau with Taipa. There are also free shuttles all over Macau, running on loops between the ferry terminals and some of the bigger hotels and casinos. They’re not just for guests, either. We took a free shuttle from the Venetian Casino back to Taipa Ferry Terminal at the end of our Macau day trip.
Take advantage of the free casino shuttles—but don’t forget about the public buses. Use Google Maps to access the schedules and routes, and have some coins ready (you can purchase single tickets on the bus, but no change is given).
Eating & drinking in Macau
Much like Hong Kong, Macau has Michelin-starred restaurants, hole-in-the-wall eateries, and everything in between. The Macau pork chop bun (a breaded, fried pork chop sandwiched on a white bread roll) is not for the faint of heart, but along with egg tarts, it’s something you should try. There are plenty of local Macau eateries listed on Google Maps. We ate breakfast at Sing Lei Cha Chaan Teng (勝利茶餐室), a clean, local joint off Senado Square. Lord Stowe’s Bakery in Taipa is a great place to try one of Macau’s famous Portuguese-style egg tarts.
Eat local (avoid the casinos at all costs) and bring your own drinking water. You should also pack snacks for the ferry ride—the canteens are quite expensive.
Things to do in Macau: One-day Macau itinerary
If you’re visiting Macau as a day trip from Hong Kong, you’ll need to carefully budget your time as well as your money. If you want to save money and experience a nicer, dare I say more authentic side of Macau, my advice is to skip the casinos and try some of these free activities instead. The below points of interest have a heavy focus on architecture and design—two of Macau’s strongest suits.
Here is my recommended Macau day trip itinerary.
(Doca dos Pescadores / 澳門漁人碼頭) 📍Location
Not exactly the bustling, pungent fishing wharf you might have in mind—but then again, nothing in Macau really fits the mold. This super-gentrified part of Macau features hotels, casinos, shops and restaurants—and some pretty kooky Roman-style architecture. Just 800 metres along the waterfront from the Outer Harbour Ferry Terminal, it’s a good place your day in Macau.
Guia Lighthouse (Fortress of Guia)
(Farol da Guia) 📍Location
Guia Lighthouse is your first look at Colonial Macau and the indelible mark the Portuguese left on the architecture here. Built in the 17th century, the complex’s two most iconic structures the white-washed, mustard-trimmed lighthouse and chapel.
Ruins of St. Paul’s
An absolute icon and a must-see when you’re in Macau. St. Paul’s Church was built by the Portuguese Jesuits and almost completely destroyed by fire less than 200 years after it was completed. Only one of the stone facades remains—an eerie edifice of what was once one of Asia’s biggest churches. You can still visit the underground crypt.
(Largo do Senado / 議事亭前地)📍Location
Another of Macau’s UNESCO-protected sites, Senado is Macau’s main town square. It was originally designed as a gathering point for the city’s Portuguese and Chinese residents, and shows evidence of both cultures. The beautiful Portuguese pavement—arranged to look like undulating waves—was only recently added in the 1990s. Some of the city’s most important civic buildings are located around Senado, including Macau’s General Post Office.
Leal Senado Building
(Edifício do Leal Senado / 民政總署大樓) 📍Location
The Leal Senado (Loyal Senate) building is the former seat of Macau’s ruling Portuguese government and a beautiful example of colonial-era architecture. Inside, events are regularly staged in the public library and exhibition halls. You can find some gorgeous examples of hand-painted Portuguese blue and white tiles inside the Leal Senado and throughout its courtyards.
St. Dominic’s Church
(Igreja de São Domingos / 玫瑰聖母堂) 📍Location
Close to the Leal Senado building you’ll find the pastel-yellow St. Dominic’s. The church was built in the Baroque-style in the 16th century, overseen by Spanish Dominican priests who came to Macau by way of Acapulco. The small museum inside the church’s bell tower is open to visitors.
Rua da Felicidade
Rua da Felicidade—the ‘street of joy’—is one of Macau’s most vibrant and photogenic spots. The neighbourhood has a bit of a sketchy history; nowadays you’ll find a sprinkling of cafes and restaurants along the strip and not much else. Be sure to take the smaller alleyways that lead behind the main drag for a look at the residential streets beyond. I recommend visiting early in the day to avoid the crowds and to be able to get a photo of the shops with their red and pink shutters drawn before they open for the day.
(Largo do Lilau / 亞婆井前地)📍Location
A delightful little residential square on the side of Penha Hill. There used to be a freshwater spring here; now all that remains of its heyday as a popular Portuguese neighbourhood are the gorgeous art deco-style apartment buildings and duplexes.
(Casa do Mandarim / 鄭家大屋) 📍Location
The family home of Zheng Guanying, author and reformist, is one of Macau’s most popular attractions. The house has been beautifully reconstructed and features delicate frescoes on some of the upper-floor walls. The entryway—this iconic round portal—is divine symmetry incarnate.
Evidence of yet another cultural melange, the Moorish Barracks was constructed to accommodate Indian soldiers appointed to Macau from the state of Goa. Designed by an Italian architect, the peaked arches and ivory pillars are meant to allude to the close relationship between Macau and Goa (the two were ‘sister’ regions under the Portuguese Empire).
Heading to Hong Kong next? Here are my hong Kong photos and recommendations.
(Templo de A-Ma / 媽閣廟) 📍Location
Built in 1488 as a tribute to the Chinese sea-goddess, Mazu, A-Ma is Macau’s oldest temple. Legend has it that the Portuguese decided to name their new colony ‘Macau’ after hearing the local name given to this house of worship.
Streets of Taipa
There are so many nice details and flourishes on the suburban streets around Taipa. We happened on a lot of things by accident when we jumped off the bus too early. I would have loved to have spent more time wandering around, but it was just too hot. Keep an eye out for the blue and white tiles, set here against a backdrop of grey penny tiles. The perfect combination of Portuguese and Chinese aesthetics.
Taipa is definitely the ‘touristy’ part of Macau and can get overcrowded fast. There are some interesting alleyways and backstreets off the main drag (where you’ll find a range of shops and eateries, including Lord Stowe’s Bakery), and the nearby Taipa Houses Museum is worth a look in. However, I definitely preferred the mainland part of Macau around Senado Square and would concentrate on that area over Taipa.
From Taipa, you can easily connect to the Venetian Casino via undercover walkway and take a free shuttle back to the Taipa Ferry Terminal. Buses leave regularly from a massive terminal on the casino’s western side, along Avenue Cidade Nova.
Have you been to Macau? What are your recommendations?