What are the five best free things to do in Macau?

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Hanging Coiled Incenses©iStock/hippostudio

Most of Macau's heritage sites are free of admission, which makes learning about the city's rich history more affordable than you might assume. A-Ma Temple, Camoes Garden and São Lourenço only require you to bring your undivided attention. You also won't spend a penny at Sir Robert Ho Hung Library and Dom Pedro V Theatre.

1. Built in the 1500s, this temple predates the arrival of Portuguese sailors. When settlers initially set food on Macau's inner-harbor shores, it is said that the first thing they saw was this temple, dedicated to A-Ma, the goddess of sailors and fisherman. When they asked for the name of the area, locals supposedly responded “A-Ma-Gau” (A Ma Bay), hence the name Macau. The multi-level temple has several prayer halls and pavilions, where worshippers still flock to light the many basket-like coiled incenses and joss sticks or make money offerings.

2. Camoes Squares is home to Camoes Garden (Jardim de Camoes), the oldest garden in Macau and a favorite spot for locals to do their early-morning tai chi exercises. Filled with tropical flowers and century-old trees, the garden is guardian to a grotto dedicated to beloved Portuguese poet Luis Vaz de Camoes. Next to the garden is Casa Garden mansion, which used to be the headquarters of the British East India Company. (These days, though, this is the headquarters of the Orient Foundation in Macau.) The Protestant Cemetery and Chapel adjoined to the mansion date back to 1821. The cemetery is the final resting place for many non-Catholic "foreigners," missionaries, among them Robert Morrison, a Scottish missionary and the first translator of the Bibles into the Chinese language.

3. São Lourenço, or St. Lawrence's Church, is one of the most beautiful churches in Macau; Jesuits erected this neoclassical style structure in 1560. The families of Portuguese sailors used to pray here for the safe return of their loved ones before their departure. The church is a short walk south from the Leal Senado, and it's located behind the Government Headquarters.

4. Hong Kong businessman Sir Robert Ho Tung converted a mansion, built in 1894, into his home in 1918. After this death in 1955, the property was bequeathed to the Macau Government, which transformed the mansion into a public library. If you're not in the mood for a read, the onsite gardens are as peaceful and quiet as the library, but without the stuffiness. Head here for a brief escape from the frantic streets of downtown. Inside, you can find manuscripts from the Ming and Qing dynasties and a gallery.

5. Built in 1860, Dom Pedro V Theatre was the first Western-style theater house in China, and hosted the first staging in Asia of Puccini Madame Butterfly. Less haute-culture, but equally as interesting — in the past, the theater was home to the infamous Crazy Paris Show cabaret (now at the Grand Lisboa).

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