Macau (or Macao in English) is a former colonial trading port of Portugal on the Pearl River estuary in Southern China. Macau was returned back to China in 1999, and it’s governed as a Special Administrative Region of China (like Hong Kong). While it’s much smaller than its counterpart across the river, Macau has made a name for itself as the casino capital of China.
The appeal of Macau is that it still has a well-preserved old city that is distinctly Portuguese. Macau is a popular day trip from Hong Kong, with regular ferries making the trip in one hour. If you’re not here to gamble and just want to see the sights, then a day trip is enough. If you do want to stay here then this guide is for the best areas to stay in Macau.
The old area of Macau is where most of the action is. Not only is it more interesting but most of the casinos are here as well. If it’s your first time to Macau then you should stay here.
Hostels and Guesthouses
SanVa Hostel is the cheapest hotel in Macau. If you’ve ever dreamed of staying in an old-world flophouse in the far east, then this is your place. This old guesthouse is the only one of its kind now, so staying here is to see old Macau before it disappears. I stayed here during my visit in 2010, and the cheapest rooms are nothing more than a box with a bed in it, and all rooms have shared bathrooms. The Hospedaria is famous for being a set location for films, and it’s located on Rua de Felicidade, one of the most picturesque old streets in Macau.
[Rua Felicidade, Macau SAR – China.]
Augusters Lodge used to be the go-to hostel in Macau. They have since closed down but they have kept their home page up to recommend staying in Hong Kong. New accommodation laws (pushed by the powerful hotel lobby) seems be a reason for the lack of backpacker hostels in Macau.
With no hostels the best alternative is Airbnb. There are a few beds available for around $20USD, which are most suitable for budget backpackers. If you are new to Airbnb sign up here first to get a free credit.
At the mid-range level (3-4 star), these are a good option if you prefer not to stay in a casino.
At this stage Macau doesn’t have mid-range casino options like in Las Vegas, where you can find 3-star hotels for $40 a night. The all the casino operators are going for the luxury market, so maybe in a few years once the city has built itself out there will be more mid-range options.
5 star hotels in Macau
Most of the luxury hotels in Macau are part of a casino, so if you are here to gamble there is usually a hotel promotion on somewhere that is offering a discount rate. It’s worth filtering your search results to 5 stars as there are often deals on that would make this a cheap luxury break.
[Wynn Macau Hotel.]
The defining landmark of Macau is Grand Lisboa Hotel. This is the tallest hotel in Macau and is shaped like no other building in the world. It’s supposed to represent a lotus flower, though I think it looks like a giant flame (a bonfire of gamblers cash, perhaps.) Anyway, if you are staying here you will never forget where your hotel is because you can see it from just about everywhere.
[Grand Lisboa Hotel.]
Considering that the city has a decent collection of heritage buildings, there is a surprising lack of boutique hotels in any of the old colonial properties. One such place is the Pousada De Sao Tiago Hotel, which is set in the old Fortaleza da Barra fortress.
Taipa / Cotai
[The Cotai Strip – Asia’s Las Vegas]
The other big hotel area is The Cotai Strip, which is reclaimed land between the islands of Taipa and Coloane.
Taipa is south of Macau City and is where the airport is. It’s just across the bay from the old city, but there is no reason to stay here unless you have business to do so.
The Cotai Strip is mostly luxury casino developments and is best if you’re on a gambling jaunt, or if your favourite casino is here. When you are on the Cotai Strip you will see they they are not joking when they say that Macau is the Vegas of the East.
The flagship casino of the Cotai Strip is The Venetian Macao, which is the largest casino in the world. This luxury hotel and casino resort is owned by Las Vegas Sands company and is modelled on the Venetian Las Vegas.
Opposite The Venetian Macao is the City of Dreams resort and casino complex. The casino is surrounded by four towers with familiar names: the Hard Rock Hotel, Crown Towers Hotel, and the Grand Hyatt Macau Hotel, which occupies two towers.
While Macau has surpassed Vegas in terms of gambling revenue, it has a long way to go before the Macau nightlife catches up to the cool factor that Vegas has. There are plans for further Vegasization of Macau, which is to say the development of non-gaming entertainment that Las Vegas does so well.
I will be curious to see Cotai develops in the future and if it offers more entertainment options. For now I would only recommend Cotai for casino visitors.
Book hotels on The Cotai Strip.