With everyone so enthusiastic about the rise of world-class gaming on Macau, and so in awe of the multibillion-dollar projects sprouting up overnight, Macau's subtle historical appeal tends to be overshadowed. During my first trip to Macau last year, I frankly didn't know what to expect. I'm well traveled in Portugal and was looking forward to Macau's mix of Chinese and Portuguese heritage and culture. The Chinese gave Macau to Portugal in the 16th century, making Macau the first European colony in Asia. Portugal eventually relinquished all hold on Macau and it was returned to full Chinese sovereignty in 1999.
On arrival, I was immediately impressed by the Portuguese architecture of Macau's historic center. The old city is a delightful place to stroll through, its numerous squares lined with Portuguese churches and fortresses cheek-to-jowl with Chinese temples and shops. Macau has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site and 25 buildings and sites have received protective status. A good introduction to Macau's history can be found at the Macau Museum, which is in the heart of the old city. The museum will give you an understanding of Macau's history, local traditions, arts and crafts and the variety of cultural influences exerted upon this relatively tiny destination.
After a morning of sightseeing, do what we did and head to one of the old city's Portuguese restaurants and dine on traditional specialties, such as bacalhau (salted cod), a mainstay of Portuguese cooking. In fact, it's said that the Portuguese have 365 ways of preparing bacalhau—one for every day of the year. Try one of Portugal's green Vinho Verde wines; these make a refreshing complement to the salted cod.
Switching gears, head for the Macau Tower, billed as the 10th-highest freestanding tower in the world at 1,109 feet. The main observation level is 732 feet high. Here you can grab a bite in the restaurant and, if you want an adrenaline rush, you can don protective gear and straps and actually head outside for a walk along the outer deck. You'll be rewarded with thrilling views of Macau and the Pearl River and the numerous construction projects dotting the ground below.
At this stage of the game, Macau makes a nice add-on to a Hong Kong journey. A plus is the ease of visiting Hong Kong and Macau. Although Macau (also spelled "Macao") is located in Southeast China and is referred to as a Special Administrative Region of the People's Republic of China, a visa isn't needed to visit.