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Header photo credit by Dennis Wong

Thanks to appearances in countless Hollywood movies, Las Vegas has been widely regarded as the gambling capital of the world, with the bright lights of Sin City drawing visitors from around the globe for many decades.

However, the famous Nevada city can no longer claim to be the king of casino culture, and, in truth, hasn’t been for just over a decade now.

Rising to park itself firmly on that particular throne is Macau, which has transformed itself remarkably from what was once a sleepy fishing port to a booming Asian tourist destination at the top of many ‘must visit’ lists. Move over Las Vegas, because Macau is where the action is!

Move Over Las Vegas; Here are 3 Reasons Why Tourists Prefer Macau

Macau City Panarama

Photo by Andrew Moore

#1 Fusion of European and Oriental Cultures

Macau was the first European colony in Asia when the Portuguese established a permanent settlement in 1557. It was also the last in 1999, when Macau became a special administrative region and formal sovereignty was returned to China, just like the British relinquished control of nearby Hong Kong just a few years earlier.

Steeped in authentic colonial history, Portuguese and Chinese are the two main official languages, although English is also fluently spoken due to the proximity of Hong Kong and the large number of visitors from the former British colony, being just an hour trip across the Delta by boat.

Before the major casino operators rolled into town, Macau smartly applied for UNESCO World Heritage status and, in 2005, it was added to the list of locations considered to be of Outstanding Universal Value.

There’s a wealth of fabulous architecture dating back through the centuries, with marvelous examples of the earliest encounters between the Chinese and European civilizations.

Senado Square

View from St Paul's Cathedral steps

Photos by travel oriented & MrT HK

Places to Visit

Places to visit include the original colonial urban center of Senado Square, the Holy House of Mercy established by the first Bishop of Macau in 1569, and the ruins of St Pauls; a 17th-century Portuguese church dedicated to Saint Paul the Apostle.

You can also visit spiritual and sacred shrines such as the ancient A-Ma Temple, which already existed before the city itself, inspired by Confucianism, Taoism, Buddhism, and numerous local folk beliefs. All make for a remarkable cultural adventure back through time.

Within the beautifully tended and tranquil open spaces, such as the European-style Flora Garden at the base of Guia Hill, or the charmingly Chinese influenced Lou Lim Ieoc Garden, you can genuinely escape the hustle and bustle of the urban jungle; even forgetting for a while that you’re in one of the most densely populated places in the world.

There’s also an excellent variety of museums to visit, covering everything from arts and ‘East meets West’ history, cultural curiosities and sciences, an even a Grand Prix museum dedicated to motorsports. All underline exactly why Macau is such a truly unique location in the world.

St Paul's Cathedral Macau

St Paul’s Cathedral Macau

#2 Casino Culture and Bright Lights

Gambling has always been one of the most popular and profitable sources of revenue but Macau only fully began to realize its huge global potential and appeal by genuinely developing its prominent casino culture in the last fifteen years.

For most of the 20th century, all forms of gambling in the so-called “Monte Carlo of the Orient” were controlled by syndicates of Hong Kong and Macau businessmen, who modernized marine transport between the two cities and introduced western-style games. But major changes in 2002 saw the local government end the gambling monopoly system.

This sparked a boom in both local and international investments, as casino empires set their sights on the city. Particularly, since the Sands Macau opened near the Ferry Terminal in 2004, the construction of some of the world’s biggest and most luxurious casino and hotel resorts has followed.

Such was the demand for the limited space available to embark upon such grandiose construction projects, the southern islands of Taipa and Coloane were united by a massive landfill project, reclaiming two square miles of land on top of the Seac Pai Bay, forming what is now the Cotai Strip and home to the main concentration of casino resorts.

Macau skyline at night

Macau | Outside The Venetian

Photo by paul.wasneski & travel oriented

Construction of Macau’s Casino Resorts

The Grand Waldo Hotel was the first to be completed on the new land, opening its doors in 2006 and quickly followed by more. Among them is The Venetian Macao on the Cotai Strip, the first of the enormous integrated hotel resorts, with 3,000 suites and boasting the seventh largest floor area (3,350,000 square feet) construction in the world.

There are giant retail areas and venues such as the 15,000 seat Cotai Arena for entertainment and sports events. An impressive 550,000 square feet of the overall construction is the casino floors, divided into four themed areas, featuring over 3,400 slot machines and 800 gaming tables, with baccarat and various forms of poker the most popular games.

Such amazing facilities and massive investment have made Macau one of the most popular casino and gambling resort destinations in the world, unrivaled by any other city and vastly outstripping even Las Vegas.

The former Portuguese enclave generated a whopping $24.06 billion in casino gross gaming revenue during the first nine months of 2017 alone. Growth looks set to continue, as millions more visitors continue flocking to Macau.

Venice Italy Europe

The Venetian Macao

#3 Plenty of Variety

Macau evidently has much to offer its millions of annual visitors, whether it’s immersing yourself in the glamour and glitz of the casinos, surrounded by the opulent and all-inclusive entertainment they offer or soaking up the rich diversity of the Sino-European history and culture of the city, with areas of great natural and architectural beauty.

There is genuinely enough to see and do that an entire vacation spanning a week or two could be spent fully exploring the entirety of Macau and everything this glittering Asian jewel has to offer.

But it’s also a short boat trip from Hong Kong, making the Chinese peninsula city and its islands a popular day-trip destination, as visitors pack in the key sights and experiences in a day or two.

One final thing that is certainly worth mentioning, however long you stay, is to tuck into the fabulous cuisine on offer, given the distinctive mixture of Chinese and Portuguese colonial dishes that’ll whet any appetite. It’s for that reason that, at the end of 2017, Macau was designated a UNESCO Creative City of Gastronomy.


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Megan is an Australian Journalist and award-winning travel writer who has been blogging since 2007. Her husband Mike is the American naturalist and wildlife photographer behind Waking Up Wild; a website dedicated to opening your eyes to the wild & natural world.

Committed to bringing you the best in adventure travel from all around the globe, there is no mountain too high, and no fete too extreme! They haven’t been everywhere, but it’s on their list.

If you enjoy getting social, you can follow their journey on FacebookTwitterYouTubePinterest and Instagram.


  1. I always love reading your posts. You sell me on basically every destination!

    Macau sounds much more exciting than Vegas, especially from a cultural and food perspective. If I went I would probably also hit the casinos once or twice.

    Also great background information: I had no idea of the history, and the whole experience sounds like a unique mix of cultures.

    Maybe I can organise a visa run there from Yangon!

    • Thanks Natasha!! So glad to hear you’re enjoying our content :)

      Macau definitely has a lot more going for it from a cultural and food perspective; casino wise they’re probably on par with each other in terms of the experience, but yes, great to have a rich heritage and diverse cultural playground to dive into during the day!

      Would be a great place to experience if you have a visa run coming up soon :)

  2. I knew of Macau as the latest Casino destination and the fact that it is a UNESCO world heritage site for its architecture but I did not know it is one of the densest places on earth and the fact that it has so many museums. Looks like the museums are a mix of old and new, historical and futuristic at the same time. I wonder if I made a mistake of not visiting Macau on my Hong Kong trip but then it probably deserves a dedicated trip.

    • Definitely deserves a dedicated trip, I’m glad we could give you more of an Macau overview. Yes, there’s definitely a great range of museums – maybe the next time you’re in Hong Kong you can set aside a couple of days :)

  3. It’s crazy how much Macau looks like Vegas! I’m a Vegas/gambling junkie, so when I was in Hong Kong I’d make plans to take the ferry to Macau. I arrived one day late due to weather, so it didn’t happen. I think I’ll go back just to visit Macau.

    • Definitely a worthy destination of a trip in it’s own right :) Touch base after you do visit – would love to know what you think of Macau being a hardcore Vegas fan!

  4. So many of my friends have been to Macau and this is what they always say – it’s a mini Las Vegas! I have been to Vegas but not to Macau and I haven’t been to Hong Kong either else I know it makes for a great day trip (or overnight trip) from there. But I didn’t think there was much to do apart from the casinos and the bright lights! I have to agree that the best part about Macau (over Vegas) is the blend of the European and Oriental. I mean, the food, has to be amazing! Mini Vegas with south-east Asian cuisine- priceless!

    • Or is Vegas a mini Macau lol :D There’s definitely a lot of really cool things to do past the casinos and bright lights, especially the fusion of food!

      If you do have the chance to visit Hong Kong in the future, definitely think about a day trip to Macau, or perhaps even a couple of days if you have the time :)

  5. Fusion of cultures always is a success because it attracts more people than if it were a single culture. Interesting how Macau has benefited with this concept. Gambling also attracts especially when it is legalized. ? I have been to Macau and really enjoyed the confluence of cultures there.

    • I agree – so glad to hear you’ve enjoyed your time in Macau, and enjoyed it for the diverse cultural scene!

  6. I also love Macau, it has so much to offer. The casino life is what I love much especially at night where the streets are full of colorful lights. I didn’t know much about her history but I took a liking to Macau from films. Thanks for the tidbits. I’m sure the dishes from Macau will wow since the city has bits of two culture fused. And your pictures are just too alluring. By the way, is it expensive here? It looks so.

    • Glad to hear that you’re also a fan of Macau Lydia! And that we could give you some more info about the history here :) Which are your favorite Macau films? I’ll have to check them out.

      Budget wise, it’s one of those places where you can spend as much or as little as you want to, especially if you plan on gambling. But food wise an average might be to budget $10 for a basic lunch / breakfast, around $50 for a dinner, and you’ll likely spend around $180 for an average hotel. And then for transport, many of the casinos have shuttle buses, which you can usually jump on even if you’re not staying there (don’t know if this has changed, but it used to work!)

  7. My sister’s partner’s company designs the neon signage over slot machines / in casinos, and therefore spends a lot of time in Macau. But I don’t think I really understood the scale of the casino industry there until reading this. The growth has been huge, but I’m glad to see that the UNESCO classification will protect the old colonial aspects of the city. I love the juxtaposition between the old Portuguese architecture, the Chinese influence, plus the ultra modern casinos – fascinating! I must ask my sister more now :-)

    • Oh wow, very cool! Yes, the scale of the casino industry in Macau is one of the largest in Asia; it’s the Vegas of the East! Like you though I’m very glad that they’ve preserved their heritage while embracing modernization. It really is quite the fascinating juxtaposition!

  8. I didn’t know that Macau was the first European colony in Asia – it looks like such a superb destination – and I definitely didn’t know it had so many casinos, so yep, I think I’d prefer this to Vegas! But, as a fan of history and culture and architecture, I’m glad to see there is some UNESCO protection – best of both worlds I think! (Although definitely didn’t know you could get it for food!)

    • Glad we could tell you a couple of things about Macau :) It really is the best of both worlds – when you tire of the casino thrill you can immerse yourself in history, culture and architecture, and splurge on some authentic Asian cuisine!

  9. It’s interesting to hear that Macau is like an Asian Vegas. I knew nothing about Macau before this post. I would certainly choose this over Vegas because it has the awesome fusion of cultures. I had no idea that it was the first Asian land that was colonized by Europeans. That’s so very interesting! I also love that there’s a large amount of variety of things to do.

    • Glad we could introduce you! It definitely has a bigger draw than Vegas does from a cultural point of view. There really is so much to do!!

  10. I actually read about this place not too long ago. Before that, I had never heard of it. It’s so interesting that there is a ‘Vegas’ in Asia! I never knew that it was also a UNESCO city of gastronomy. This just makes me want to visit even more.

    I would love to read more into the history of this place. I will definitely put this place on must-visits when I fly to and from New Zealand and need a stopover!

    • Awesome Anita! Hopefully we managed to reinspire some wanderust to plan a future trip! And yes, there are many UNESCO cities of gastronomy now – they established what they call a Creative Cities Network, which includes UNESCO status for things such as music, literature, folk arts etc. It’s a fabulous concept!

      Hong Kong is a pretty major stopover for flights coming into Aus / NZ, so you could definitely plan an extended layover and do a day trip to Macau :)

  11. Wow, Great article ! Macau is one of the most desirable cities in Asia. There are many places to visit here. I remember I went there once but luckily I lost some money at a casino. But it was an enjoyable experience.
    Long time no see! Meg Jerrard.

    • Thanks Zenni! So glad you enjoyed your time here – haha every time I lose money in a casino I tell my friends I “donated” money to the casino lol!

      I hope you’re having an amazing start to the week :)

  12. Hi Meg. It is great to read through your post. I love to come to Macau one day although I do not really wish to visit CASINO here! Thank you for sharing and kêp doing a good job!

    • So glad you enjoyed the post – yes, there is definitely a lot more to experience in Macau than just the casino!

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