Not a Casino, but Still Fantastic: The Ruins of St. Paul’s in Macau

Macau may be known for its casinos and excellent hotels, but some people do not realize that this independent state used to be an important Portuguese territory. Fast forward to the 21st century, and the Portuguese have long been gone, but they left behind old streets, buildings and structures to remind people of their once formidable presence in the casino capital.

One of the most prominent reminders is site collective known as the Ruins of St. Paul. Tourists who decide to visit Macau should not miss checking out this spot. Unless of course, you come here solely to gamble the whole day and night (which some people do, by the way, believe or not.) But even if you travel to Macau to test your luck, dropping by the Ruins of St. Paul’s is not a bad break from the smoke, cards, poker faces and slot machines. After all, this famous archaeological site is conveniently located within the city center.

The famous Ruins of St. Paul's
The famous Ruins of St. Paul’s

Since it is arguably, the most prominent historical site in the city, don’t be surprised that you will see quite a large crowd at the Ruins of St. Paul. Now for some tourists, this fact can be a major turn-off. But for me, the crowd just added up to the energetic atmosphere of the area.

Just to give you an overview, the Ruins of St. Paul, locally called Sam Ba Sing Tzik, dramatically sit on a hill overlooking the city.  The ruins collectively refer to what remains of the Church of Mater Dei and St. Paul’s College, which lies adjacent to the Church. Today, only the façade and the grand stone stairs visibly remain from the once marvelous Mater Dei. But even on their own, the remains never fail to captivate visitors.

The Ruins from a different vantage point.
The Ruins from a different vantage point.
History merging with modernity in Macau, from the roof of Macau Museum
History merging with modernity in Macau, from the roof of Macau Museum

But why are these structures the only things left? St. Paul’s had the unfortunate fate of setting on fire three times. The third time, which occurred on 1835 was the straw that broke the camel’s back. The 66 steps made out of stone and the façade made out of granite withstood the raging flames, while the rest was devoured.

Luckily the rich carvings of the Baroque façade stayed intact, and they are still a sight to behold even today. They feature a combination of classical oriental artistry and traditional European Renaissance.

Aside from admiring the incredible architecture of the site and walking around it; there is not much you to do otherwise.  But luckily, the ruins sit right next to Macau Museum, where you can learn more about the long history of Macau.

The pedestrian street leading up the Ruins of St Paul's
The pedestrian street leading up the Ruins of St Paul’s

Travel Checklist: Do you have everything you need?

Another interesting thing about the ruins is the journey on the way up to the hill. While walking on a steep road towards the ruins, you will encounter a big line up of vendor stalls on each side of the road. Most of these stalls sell the same products, which are dried fruits and cured ready-to-eat pork strips. I have no idea why these meat vendors have decided to congregate in the same area selling the same things. I can understand why they would want to be where the crowd is, but you would think that they would try to vary the products they are offering consumers? It was almost a bizarre site next to an important historical landmark, but nevertheless, it is a crowd pleaser too. In fact, I think that some people actually came here to sample the cured meat products instead of visiting the ruins.

When you visit the Ruins of St. Paul’s, keep in mind that its significance to the state and world lies in its history and architecture. Thus, when you come here, these are the things that you are expected to appreciate. However, it seems that many people fail to realize this and find the Church façade to be inadequate and anti-climactic.  I, personally, love everything about it, especially the exquisite medieval design and its enormous size, giving it a striking and surreal appearance. But for those who want something more, all I can say is that to be able to truly appreciate the ruins, you must learn the history. This is the reason why it is more worthwhile to explore the site with a knowledgeable guide. But if you don’t want to spend for such luxury, it does not hurt to read a guide book or a historical account about the place.

Pork appears to be in high demand near the Ruins of St.-Paul's
Pork appears to be in high demand near the Ruins of St.-Paul’s
The area leading up the the Ruins tends to be quite atmospheric and excellent for people watching.
The area leading up the the Ruins tends to be quite atmospheric and excellent for people watching.

To me, everything about the Ruins of St. Paul’s is atmospheric. Aside from admiring the main structure and walking around, the neighborhood itself is truly an attraction. There were many quaint old houses in the area, well-complimented by old narrow stoned alleyways. A lot of people still live in this Old Portuguese section of town. But the whole neighborhood takes you back to a time that has long gone by. I was feeling nostalgic just walking around even though my personal history and ancestry has nothing to do with the place. I think that the Ruins of St. Paul’s is unique site in its own right and that is why I found the entire visiting experience to be quite memorable.

Where did we stay in Macau?

We stayed at a great property in Macau – the Sintra Hotel. We are not directly affiliated with this property, therefore here is our honest opinion of the place. I can fondly remember that our room was nicely decorated, extremely clean and well prepared. The selling point of this property is it’s amazing location.  It’s right beside some of the most prominent casinos in the city and it’s also within walking distance to the Ruins of St. Paul’s. Actually, I can’t remember anything that I disliked about this property. I would suggest booking early because it’s a pretty good deal considering it’s location.  Therefore, during Chinese New Year and other peak times, it probably will sell out. At the time of writing it had a score of 8.1/10 based on over 5400+ verified guest reviews. I would highly recommend this property if you would like a great location while in Macau without breaking the bank.

Want to find the cheapest rooms in Macau? 


If you are heading to Macau in the near future, then click here to compare room prices.  We recommend The Venetian Macao Hotel Resort if you want to be near the airport and spoiled with luxury.  If you want to stay at the most historic hotel and casino complex, then the Lisboa is popular choice.

During our travels to Macau over the years we have relied on booking our rooms with three different providers:, and All three have their advantages.  Agoda has the largest selection of rooms, whereas has the best cancellation policies. Hotelscombined will enable you to quickly compare room prices from the world’s top sites in a second. We typically check out these sites in Macau and then identify the exact location we want using their respective map tools. I have included links to their property lists to save you some time:




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