Macau, Part 2…the Peninsula and the Historic Center

Senado Square (Lagro do Senado)
Senado Square (Lagro do Senado) in the morning, before the place gets crowded.

LAGRO DO SENADO (Senado Square)

First in our itinerary in Macau was the old colonial seat of government. Macau had been administered by the Portuguese since the time of the Ming Dynasty up to 1999, when the territory was handed back to the People’s Republic of China. While not exactly “colonized” in the traditional way of colonization (by force), european influence on the territory ran for a very long time (four centuries, starting in the 1500’s). In contrast, Hong Kong was only colonized by the British by the early 1800’s. The Leal Senado, on one end of the Lagro do Senado (Senado Square) was the seat of the Legislative Council, the colony’s governing body.

Today the area, especially the square, is the thriving “hub” of Macau. The striped pavement on the square has graced many a postcard and magazine, and the place is often at the top spot on any travel guide you would find about Macau. Here you will find old European architecture mixed with Chinese signages and merchandise, and is perhaps the best visual example of “east meets west” anywhere. Apart from the history, the area is also one of the best parts in town for shopping and “food tripping”, and the whole place is compact enough to cover on foot.

Mornings in Senado Square will give you light crowds and a good chance to walk and shop without that feeling of rush and congestion. The square is prettier in the evening though, with all the lights, but expect a tight squeeze as the entire place can seriously get packed. If you can, try visiting it once in the morning, and once in the evening, to see how the place changes in character through the day.

Saint Dominic’s church, at Senado Square
The narrow streets and alleys around Senado Square
The narrow streets and alleys around Senado Square


Saint Dominic's at dusk
Saint Dominic’s at dusk

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Senado Square on a cool December evening
Senado Square on a cool December evening
The Leal Senado building, another historical landmark
The Leal Senado building, another historical landmark



The people who witnessed the Cathedral of St. Paul burning may not have realized it, but they were witnessing the making of an icon that would remain standing almost two centuries later, and what is to become the most distinguishing landmark of Macau. The cathedral was said to once be the grandest on the east, during the heyday of Macau as Europe’s gateway to China. However a fire that broke out in 1835 gutted almost the entire structure and what’s left of it today is its intricate facade.

Just a short 10-15 minute walk was from the Lagro do Senado, the ruins of St. Paul rises majestically from a small hill as you approach it from the south (as most tourists typically do). From the top of the hill one could also get a panoramic view of Macau, although the place is typically packed with tourists, even on mornings, that you would most likely be too busy – keeping yourself out of the way of people taking photos – to absorb the scenery.

Behind the ruins, one can also find a museum, as well as a section of the old city walls, for those who are a bit more interested with history.

The ruins of St. Paul, as you emerge from the narrow streets coming from Senado Square
The ruins of St. Paul, as you emerge from the narrow streets coming from Senado Square

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Macau's most famous landmark, the Ruins of St. Paul
Macau’s most famous landmark, the Ruins of St. Paul

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At the southwestern edge of Macau’s historic district is the scenic A-ma temple. Being a historically “maritime” people, Macau’s most famous temple was dedicated to Matsu, the goddess of seafarers and fishermen, hence its location on a hillside close to the strait between the peninsula and the island of Taipa. Unlike most temples which lie on flat ground, the A-ma temple sits on sloping terrain, where visitors climb to reach the praying “stations” (forgive me, I’m not Taoist) scattered across different levels on the hillside.

Right in front of the temple is a small park with lush trees that form a cool and attractive canopy – a perfect resting spot for weary travelers.

The park infront of A-ma Temple
The park infront of A-am Temple
The streets around the A-ma Temple
The streets around the A-ma Temple


Incense coils, at A-ma Temple
Incense coils, at A-ma Temple

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Macau has long been a patron of motor sports, and it plays host to a regular motor racing event, the Macau Grand Prix. While not exactly “F1-caliber”, the grand prix gives Macau a big enough stature in the world of high speed racing. The thought of a racing circuit along narrow streets in a small territory brings striking similarity to the world famous Monaco Grand Prix (and they sound alike too!), and some of the famous world champions, like Ayrton Senna and Michael Schumacher, were once winners of the grand prix in their junior years.

The grand prix is usually held in November, but a museum dedicated to the event is open all year. For many, the Macau Grand Prix Museum is the closest they would ever get to a real race car. Located at the basement of an “unspectacular” building, the museum does not look like much at first sight. They do keep a pretty good collection of cars inside though, and at pristine condition too.

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To view Part 1 of our trip, click here

* To get to Senado Square, take buses 3, 4, 6, 8A, 18A, 19, 26A, 33 or N1A to bus stop “Almeida Ribiero”, if coming from the south (eg. Terminal Maritimo, Torre De Macau, Grand Prix Museum, Airport, Venetian, etc). If coming from the north (eg. Border crossing), take the multitude of bus routes that stop at “Almeida Ribiero/Rua Mercadores”. Bus fares to and from any point within the Macau Peninsula (eg. Terminal Maritimo, Torre de Macau, Lagro do Senado, Grand Prix Museum) is MOP 3.20. It will be MOP 4.20 if coming from Taipa (including Cotai), and MOP 5.00 if coming from Coloane.

* The Ruins of St. Paul can be easily reached on foot from Senado Square. There are signs in the alleys leading to the ruins, or if all else fails, just follow the crowd 🙂

* The A-ma Temple is just a few steps from the “Templo A-ma” bus stop, or the “Largo Do Pagode Da Barra” bus stop, which are reachable through a large number of bus routes (too many to mention).

* The grand prix museum can be reached through the “Forum” bus stop, or the “Centro Actividades Turisticas” bus stop, which are also served by a multitude of bus routes.

* For more information regarding Macau bus routes, click on the Macau Public Bus Information website:

* We were in Macau last December 2012. All photos taken with Panasonic Lumix LX5.

For part 1 of this trip, click here.

For part 3 of this trip, click here.


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