Around St. Paul's
Start: Senado Square (Largo do Senado).
Finish: Senado Square.
Time: Allow approximately 3 hours, including museum stops.
Best Times: Weekends and holidays, when the second floor of Lou Kau Mansion is open.
Worst Times: Monday, when the Macau Museum and Lou Kau Mansion are closed.
If anything remains of old Macau, this is it. Declared a World Heritage Site in 2005, the Historic Centre of Macao celebrates Macau's dual heritage with architectural treasures ranging from temples and Chinese mansions to churches and plazas. With their narrow, hilly streets, diminutive squares shaded by ancient banyan trees, family-owned shops, and unique buildings, the slopes and neighborhoods below the ruins of St. Paul's offer colorful snapshots of Macau's long past. This is also the vibrant heart of the city, with children's laughter drifting from schoolyards, shopkeepers gossiping in the street, worshippers filing in for Mass, and friends playing mah-jongg right in the middle of a store. And don't worry if you get lost -- Macau is too small to be truly lost for long, and the back streets and alleys make for fascinating exploring.
1. Senado Square (Largo do Senado)
This large plaza, paved with a wavy pattern of black and white cobblestones, dominated by a fountain, and encircled by pastel-colored neoclassical buildings from the 19th and 20th centuries, has been the center of Macau's commercial life for centuries. It's always packed with tourists, families, and passersby, giving it a festive atmosphere even when no public events -- and there are plenty -- are staged. If you haven't already done so, stop off at the MGTO tourist office on Senado Square to pick up a map and the Macau World Heritage brochure.
Following the wavy-patterned paving uphill, at the top of Senado Square, to the left, is:
2. St. Dominic's Church (Igreja de São Domingos)
Founded in 1587 by three Spanish Dominican priests from Mexico, the present yellow-and-white church with green shutters dates from the early 17th century. Its baroque altar, with a statue of the Virgin Mary and Jesus, is the picture of serenity today, belying an act of violence that occurred in 1644 during Mass: A military officer sympathetic to the Spanish rushed inside to escape a street mob but was murdered at the altar. If you take the stairs at the end of a side corridor, you'll arrive at the free Treasure of the Sacred Heart museum, open daily 10am to 6pm, with three floors of woodcarvings, vestments, and other religious artifacts (the top floor is especially interesting, since its soaring ceiling allows you to see something of the building's architecture).
Upon exiting the church, head for the small side street catty-corner across the square to the right (beside McDonald's), called Travessa de S. Domingos. It leads uphill, where, to the right, it opens onto:
3. Largo da Se (Cathedral Square)
This handsome square, boasting a big cross at its center, is most famous for the Cathedral (Igreja da Se), which has stood here in various forms since 1622. Once serving as the mother church of a diocese that stretched from China and Korea to Japan, it was last rebuilt in 1937 and boasts fine stained-glass windows. If time permits, soak up the local atmosphere from one of the square's benches, where you have a front-row seat of Macau's laid-back urban life and the parade of people walking by.
Head back downhill to the right of the cross, on Travessa da Se, where almost immediately on the right, at no. 7, you'll come to a highlight of this stroll, the:
4. Lou Kau Mansion
Built in 1889 by a prominent Chinese merchant, this handsome two-story house centered on a courtyard, is one of only a few Chinese mansions remaining in Macau. Before the mansion was renovated in 2002, however, it had fallen into acute neglect, with as many as 20 families living here at one time. It's open Tuesday to Sunday from 9am to 7pm, but the second floor is open only weekends and holidays. Admission is free.
Continuing on Travessa da Se, you'll find yourself back at St. Dominic's. To the right of the church is Rua da Palha, which you should follow shortly before veering uphill on Rua da S. Pãolo. This is one of Macau's liveliest old streets, with open-fronted shops selling souvenirs and local foodstuffs, including slices of barbecued beef jerky. You'll also see a few stores specializing in reproduction Chinese furniture, some of which is so good that many visitors commission pieces to be shipped back home. In fact, this area has long been famous for its craftsmen; centuries ago, many from this neighborhood helped build St. Paul's Church. At the top of Rua da S. Pãolo is a grand flight of stairs, always packed with tourists and leading to Macau's most famous landmark, the Ruins of St. Paul's. First, however, at the top of the stairs, turn right for the:
5. Macau Museum
Occupying the foundations of a former fortress, the Macau Museum does a good job depicting Macau's colorful history, traditions, and architecture, making it well worth a spin. After touring the museum, be sure to exit from the top floor, which takes you to the fortress ramparts with its cannons and good views of the Inner Harbour with its busy boat traffic.
Exit the ramparts by following the sign for the SNACK BAR and continuing on around to the right, which will bring you back to Macau's most famous landmark, the:
6. Ruins of St. Paul's (Ruinas de São Paulo)
Constructed in 1602 but destroyed by fire in 1835, leaving only its facade punctuated by reliefs and statues, this is Macau's top tourist attraction. Its facade, carved by Japanese Christian exiles and local craftsmen and with a curious mix of Asian and Western symbols, has been called a "sermon in stone." Its grounds contain a viewing platform behind the facade, archaeological pits, a crypt containing bones of Japanese and Vietnamese martyrs, and a museum of sacred art.
On the other side of St. Paul's is:
7. Na Tcha Temple
Another protected structure of the World Heritage Site, this tiny temple was built in 1888 to honor Na Tcha, the patron saint of children and -- well, this is Macau -- of lotteries and gambling. It stands next to a:
8. Section of the Old City Walls
The Portuguese invariably constructed walls around their port settlements, including those in India and Africa. Built of clay, soil, sand, rice straw, crushed rocks, and oyster shells, the chunk you see today was once part of a defensive wall first built by the Portuguese in 1569.
Follow the wall onto Calçada de S. Francisco Xavier, turning right on Rua de S. Paulo and continuing on Rua de Santo Antonio, where you'll find more shops selling antiques, reproduction furniture, and pottery. After a 5-minute walk or so, following signs for CAMOES SQUARE, you'll come to:
9. St. Anthony's Church (Igreja de Santo Antonio)
Macau's first church, made of wood and bamboo, was built here in 1558. After many fires and reconstructions, this latest reincarnation dates from 1930. It's dedicated to St. Anthony, a military saint and a captain in the Portuguese army.
Take a right out of the church, where, across the small square with its minibus station, is the old:
10. Protestant Cemetery (Cemiterio Protestante)
A good illustration of Macau's religious diversity, this picturesque graveyard with about 160 graves provides a visual record of Macau's earliest Protestant community, with many prominent citizens buried here, including artist George Chinnery (buried in the upper row at the end; you can see his works in the Macao Museum of Art), Robert Morrison (who wrote the first Chinese-English dictionary and translated the Bible into Chinese), Joseph Adams (grandson of George Washington), and -- they were considered respectable at the time -- opium traders. It's open daily from 8:30am to 5:30pm.
Upon exiting the cemetery, you'll see a gate to the right with the sign FUNDACAO ORIENTE. Headquarters of the Oriental Foundation, this attractive pink and white building is the old:
11. Casa Garden
Built in 1770 as the private mansion of a wealthy Portuguese merchant, it was later rented out to officials of the East India Company, which maintained an office in Macau. You're welcome to enter the small gallery, which holds changing exhibitions Monday to Friday from 9:30am to 6pm.
Next to Casa Garden is:
12. Camoes Garden (Jardim Luis De Camões)
Once part of Casa Garden's private estate, this public park is dedicated to Portugal's most famous poet, often referred to as Portugal's Shakespeare and thought to have lived in Macau in 1557. A natural grotto contains a bust of Camões, but I like walking beyond the grotto to the end of the park, where there's a good view of the Inner Harbour and tables where men play Chinese games. If you come in early morning, you may also see men walking their pet birds in cages and people going through their daily exercise regimen. The garden is open daily from 6am to 10pm.
Walking back toward St. Anthony's Church, turn right onto Calçada do Botelho, which turns into Rua do Tarrafeiro, and then left at the bottom of the hill onto Rua dos Faitiôes. This soon turns into Rua da Tercena, heart of the:
13. Tercena Neighborhood
A typical old Macau street, Rua da Tercena is noted for its shops selling everything from antiques to coconut products. At the end of Rua da Tercena, take the tiled street to the right, Rua dos Ervanarios. This is a wonderful, narrow pedestrian lane, where you'll see small ma-and-pa shops, some with back tables where women are busy in that favorite pastime, mah-jongg. Yet towering above the lane, in the far distance, is modern Macau's new landmark, the 50-story Grand Lisboa.
After Rua dos Ervanarios ends, continue on Rua dos Mercados, turning left on a tiled street called Travessa do Soriano and the first right onto Rua Oeste do Mercado de São Domingos, site of the:
14. Mercado de São Domingos
This street market, with stalls and open-fronted shops, sells inexpensive casual attire, mostly overruns and seconds from Macau's many garment factories. You'll find inexpensive children's clothing, knitwear, jeans, and Chinese jackets, at prices much cheaper than Hong Kong's, making it fun to browse. At the end of the lane, turn left and you'll end up back at Senado Square.
Winding Down -- If you're hungering for Chinese, two of Macau's oldest Cantonese restaurants are Long Kei (tel. 853/2857 3970), which has been offering inexpensive fare since 1945; and Wong Chi Kei (tel. 853/2833 1313), always packed with patrons enjoying its noodles and congee. For French fare, head to La Bonne Heure (tel. 853/2833 1209), serving lunch and dinner in a cozy setting.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.