Things to do in Macao, beyond the egg tarts and casinos


Iconic buildings like Macao Tower (left) and Grand Lisboa (far right) as viewed from Altira. — Photos: FLOREY D. MIKIL/The Star

Landing in Macao in the evening is truly an unforgettable experience. Look to the left as the plane touches down on the tarmac and you will see the bright lights of the resort hotels in Cotai greeting you.

It was this captivating view that welcomed us on our recent media trip with AirAsia to the region, making us highly anticipate the wonders that we would discover during our stay there for the next four days.

Typically, when Macao is mentioned, casinos are what many would think of first. One would be forgiven for thinking so, since it is the world’s top gambling hub – a title rivalled only by Nevada (where Las Vegas is located) in the United States.

But there is more to Macao than that, as we would soon learn. Accompanied by Macao Government Tourism Office personnel who served as our wonderfully knowledgeable guides throughout the trip, we were able to experience our destination through the lens of locals. Other than the traditional and cultural side, there is also the modern side of Macao that involves more than just the brightly-lit casinos.

From the plane to the coach – comfortably seated in the small bus, we made our way to our Cotai-based abode, Studio City, which we wouldn’t describe as “humble” since the integrated movie-themed entertainment resort is a sprawling property that houses opulent hotels (one of which is W Macau), theme parks (including a huge space-themed water park), and a mall with plenty of dining and shopping options. In the heart of the resort is, of course, a casino.

We were informed that the casinos would usually be set in the centre of hotels or resorts, to ensure tighter security. Inside, there are complimentary desserts like ice cream and bubble tea served for casino guests.

You could attempt to score these if you were brazen enough to walk in without participating in the gaming activities – just keep your identification handy for the security check at the entrance. (Yes, we attempted this and successfully walked out with our spoils in hand.)

Towering hotels and structures (like the “Eiffel Tower” and “Arc de Triomphe”, scaled down replicas of the real deals) loomed over us as our coach navigated the roads. An unsurprising sight considering the fact that Cotai, also known as The Cotai Strip, was created as a means to expand the region’s tourism and casino area. The reclaimed land connects the islands Taipa and Coloane, which we would get the chance to explore too.

The view and the thrills

There is plenty of fun to be had in Macao, where new attractions have mushroomed over the years to offer tourists more to do other than just checking out the casinos.

The 130m-tall Golden Reel at Studio City is the world’s highest figure-8 Ferris wheel.The 130m-tall Golden Reel at Studio City is the world’s highest figure-8 Ferris wheel.

While we unfortunately did not have the chance to experience Studio City’s Golden Reel, the world’s highest figure-8 Ferris wheel that stands at 130m tall, we still managed to get a glimpse of the region from above when we visited Altira. Lunch at its Aurora restaurant was served with a view of the Pearl River and iconic buildings like the Macao Tower and Grand Lisboa.

To get our adrenaline pumping, however, we were treated to a bird’s-eye view of Macao in another interesting way – while zipping 55km/h through the air. To do so, we headed to Lisboeta Macao H853 Fun Factory, where the GoAirborne Indoor Skydiving and Zipcity awaited us.

The former, as its name dictates, is an indoor centre that allows you to experience skydiving – sans the “jumping out of a plane” part. The latter, meanwhile, is an urban zipline attraction measuring 60m high and 388m long. The countdown music playing as we dangled in the air, waiting to be “released”, added to the thrill.

There is also an exciting addition to the zipline which comes after one has completed the ziplining part. We were admittedly reluctant to partake in it at first – because it involved jumping off the three-storey platform we had just safely landed on.

“The stairs will take too long, this way’s much faster,” the Zipcity staff persuaded us with a grin, his hands already busy preparing the cords needed for the Challenge Jump.

Challenge Jump at Zipcity is a true test of one’s love (or fear) of heights.Challenge Jump at Zipcity is a true test of one’s love (or fear) of heights.

We succumbed to the curiosity of leaping from such height. Heart pumping out of our chest, we stood at the edge, ready to step off ... but rather than simply jumping off, it really was taking a step into the open air and feeling yourself plunge down, which made it even scarier!

The first step is always the hardest, even more so in this case. But once we did put one foot out, it was actually a leisurely descend to the ground.

The staff was right, this was faster than the stairs.

For those who prefer ground-level attractions, visit Macao Grand Prix Museum instead. We were pleasantly surprised to see that it entailed more than simply weaving in and out among the many Grand Prix-related exhibits, there were also various interactive games for visitors to immerse themselves in.

Opened in 1983, its current look is the result of the 2018 expansion which added the second floor that features a MotoVR Race Experience area. This is where visitors get to try their hand at racing.

Our friendly museum guide, Ian, enthusiastically relayed interesting information as she took us through all four floors of the place, including the basement where there was a screening room that periodically showed a short film about the Macao Grand Prix. The same level houses a Race Day Experience area for visitors to try driving their own race cars.

Another interesting area, Memory Lane, is found on the first floor. “The Selfie section is the most popular here,” Ian said, demonstrating to us how to scan the QR codes in order to play the AR games peppered throughout the long corridor. Here, we got to try taking selfies as race car drivers and being a Flagman (in the AR game “Cross the Finishing Line”).

Ignite the imagination

Now for tourists seeking something even more immersive than that, a magical attraction awaits at The Londoner Macao.

While snapping fun photos at the resort hotel’s Instagram spots, which included a red telephone booth and an original 1966 double decker bus, we could at the same time enjoy the view of “Paris” and “Venice” right across the road from “London”.

This was due to the proximity of The Parisian, The Venetian and, of course, The Londoner – a trio of Europe-themed resort hotels that would make any tourist visiting this particular part of Cotai feel transported to the European cities.

That is not the magical part we mentioned, however. This is: Occupying more than 2,790sq m of The Londoner’s third floor is the Harry Potter: The Exhibition.

Opened since December 2023, we were informed that there is still no end date to the exhibition so far. (Potterheads, go wild while you can!)

Given a couple of hours to roam the entire exhibition, we were more than happy to play the various interactive games, snap photos with the movie props and pretend we were in Hogwarts for the day.

Illuminarium at Wynn Palace is an immersive sensory exhibition. — Photos: FLOREY D. MIKIL/The StarIlluminarium at Wynn Palace is an immersive sensory exhibition. — Photos: FLOREY D. MIKIL/The Star

Speaking of pretending to be elsewhere, Illuminarium is another great place for that. After all the excitement we’d had, it was time to wind down within an immersive sensory exhibition. Located at another luxurious resort hotel, Wynn Palace, Illuminarium takes guests on either a trip through an African safari or a trip to space.

Our session was the latter. As we stood around filming, or periodically sat down at one of the few benches to rest during the riveting 30-minute or so journey, we found ourselves serenely surrounded by the ethereal colours of the galaxies in one moment and the next we were hurtling through space, or taking off in a rocket and landing on the moon. Trust us when we say this experience was out of this world!

An epicurean heaven

While at Wynn Palace, we were treated to a sumptuous spread of Jiangnan cuisine for lunch. This was at Lakeview Palace specifically, which is situated right by the Performance Lake. Guests dining at the restaurant will have a nice view of the performance in the evening, when the lake’s water “dances” to music and shoots into the air as tall as the 28-storey hotel that serves as backdrop.

We did not get to witness this during lunch, of course, but we were parked by the roadside opposite the hotel just two nights before to do so. Our open-top bus tour that evening included a momentary stop to watch the impressive water show.

Also visible from the restaurant, as it is located next to the same lake, is the Light Rapid Transit (LRT). Its Taipa Line conveniently connects tourists from the airport to 11 other stations, including Barra (where the A-Ma Temple that inspired Macao’s name is located).

Lakeview Palace was previously the one-star Michelin restaurant Wing Lei Palace. The renaming took place after “China’s best chef”, Chef Tam Kwok Fung, left to start his own concept restaurant, Chef Tam’s Seasons – which was awarded one Michelin star last month after less than a year of being launched.

Five Foot Road at MGM Cotai is a one -Michelin star restaurant.Five Foot Road at MGM Cotai is a one -Michelin star restaurant.

As of March 2024, Macao is home to 48 Michelin-approved eateries. We had the pleasure of dining at Five Foot Road, a one Michelin star restaurant serving Sichuan dishes. Prior to the dinner, we first spent some time wandering through MGM Cotai, the hotel it was located at. Dropping by one of the hotel’s permanent attractions, namely the Fondant Art Exhibition, we marvelled at intricate fondant sculptures crafted by “China’s sugar king”, Zhou Yi.

Not all the eateries with Michelin approvals are set within luxurious hotels, some are in humbler establishments found along the streets of Macao. One such example is the Lord Stow’s Bakery in Coloane, serving Portuguese egg tarts made using a recipe so tightly kept, it exists in the same realm as Coca-Cola’s or KFC’s secret recipe.

Of course, not all delicious delights must be sealed with a Michelin star. Take Blossom Palaces, for instance. The restaurant in Galaxy Macao serves its signature fruitwood-roasted Peking Duck with tea served by a tea master.

For a more “adorable” eating experience, Lisboeta Macao’s Brown & Friends Café & Bistro is as cute as it gets. We had fun posing with the various characters from South Korea’s popular Line Friends, which not only decorated the place but was also incorporated into the designs of the food and beverages!

By the way, if you’ve ever wondered if it’s Macau or Macao, we asked the locals and here’s the answer: “Locally we use Macau, but because certain nationalities have trouble reading it that way (pronouncing it closer to “muh-ka-wu” than “muh-kow”), we standardise it to Macao for international usage.”

Well, there you go. It will still be confusing to see the two spellings used interchangeably, but at least now you know that both are actually correct.


Travel notes

Getting there: AirAsia operates 14 direct flights weekly to Macao International Airport from Kuala Lumpur International Airport (Terminal 2). Find out more at airasia.com.

Where to stay: Studio City, Morpheus, Sheraton Grand, Grand Lisboa Palace Resort and Sofitel at Ponte 16

Currency: Macau Pataca is the official currency, with RM1 equivalent to MOP1.7. Alternatively, Hong Kong dollars are accepted, too. Malaysia’s Touch ‘n Go ewallet can also be used in Macao.


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