There's a place in China where Portuguese fishing villages exist alongside sparkling new skyscrapers; where the food scene is equal parts tempting street stalls and Michelin-starred restaurants; and where you can start your day with a bungee jump and end it with a Broadway-style show.
That place—in case our headline didn’t give it away—is Macao. Only a 45-minute high-speed ferry ride from Hong Kong, Macao is one of Asia’s most intriguing destinations, blending Portuguese heritage (it was a colony until 1999) with mainland Chinese traditions and Western-style glitz. World-class casinos and luxury hotels have earned Macao the nickname the “Las Vegas of Asia,” but that barely scratches the surface.
Whether you’re into art and antiques, traveling with the kids, or seeking a heart-pounding adventure, there's something to wow every style of traveler. Here are some shortcuts for finding your Macao.
Macao for History Buffs… Macao's UNESCO World Heritage-listed Historic Centre delivers a crash course in Macao’s singular story—and it’s a lovely one at that. Wavy black-and-white tiled streets lined by Mediterranean-style buildings lead to Senado Square, a lively focal point for exploring this district. St. Augustine's Church, established by the Spanish in the 16th century, and the Ruins of St. Paul monument, with the still-standing facade of a 17th-century church, are the main attractions. But half the fun is in wandering side streets to chance upon historic Portuguese and Chinese merchant homes, Buddhist temples, Jesuit fortresses, and China’s first Western-style theater (Dom Pedro V Theater, est. 1860). You’ll find more Macao insights at the Museum of Taipa and Coloane History and The Taipa Houses Museum, surrounded by lanes where you can soak up the atmosphere of days gone by.
Macao for Foodies… Macao's strategic role as a maritime trading hub resulted in diverse culinary traditions, peppered with flavors from Portugal, mainland China, India, Europe, and beyond. Evolved over the last 450 years, the signature Macanese cuisine blends Portuguese and Chinese recipes with ingredients and spices from Southeast Asia and South Africa (think curry and coconut milk). The result is dishes like Galinha à Africana (African chicken), Minchi (minced meat and potato with a fried egg), and Macanese Chili Shrimp. Portuguese egg custard tarts are also a local favorite. While sampling the street food, save some room for fine dining at restaurants like The Eight, whose inventive Chinese cooking has racked up three Michelin stars.
Macao for Families… To get the lay of the land, take your crew on a cable car ride up Guia Hill—with sweeping views of the Pearl River and surrounding islands—or on the one-of-a-kind figure eight Ferris wheel atop the Studio City hotel. Studio City is also home to the "Batman Dark Flight" 4D simulation ride and the 40,000-square-foot Warner Bros. Fun Zone, an indoor playground themed around classic movie and cartoon characters. Over at the Sands Cotai Central, you can get the day started with smiles at the "Shrekfast" character breakfast. Learning is fun here too: explore the I.M. Pei-designed Macao Science Center, with its 3D planetarium, and make some furry friends at the Macau Giant Panda Pavilion in Seac Pai Van Park.
Macao for the Adventurous… Adrenaline junkies should make a beeline for Macau Tower. You can do a Skywalk X walk around the main outer rim (no handrails!); try a controlled SkyJump at around 47 miles per hour; or take flight in a 124 miles-per-hour freefall from one of the world's highest bungee jump points. You can also catch some speed at the Coloane Karting Track, named one of the most challenging go-kart tracks in Asia, or during a horseback ride at the Macau Horse Riding School, also on Coloane island. Taipa and Coloane islands are ideal for scenic bike rides, while Cheoc Van Beach and Hác-Sá Beach offer activities like canoeing, windsurfing, sailing, and jet-skiing.
© 2016 AFAR Media