More than just a starting point, Manila — pulsing with frenetic energy, infused with both rich history and competitive modernizations — remains a top destination in itself.
There are two sides to Manila. The first is the old city of Manila, where visitors can experience a bygone age. The walled city of Intramuros is where the country’s colonial Hispanic past comes alive — in the architecture of the buildings and along the cobbled streets. Binondo is home to the world’s oldest Chinatown and a bustling crowd of people. The country’s capital is also home to the national museums of natural history, anthropology and fine art.
But the Manila that most people know is actually the greater area of Metro Manila, where the more cosmopolitan side of the city emerges. Metro Manila includes the cities of Makati, the central business district; Taguig City, which encompasses Bonifacio Global City, a thriving business, restaurant and shopping district with a Singapore-like feel; Pasig, home to the Ortigas Business District; and Quezon City, where large shopping centers and corporate buildings are juxtaposed with suburban life.
Southeast Asia is home to many megapolises worth visiting — and Manila, Philippines is no exception. Though it may be underrated by many who tour around Asia, this pearl of a city will certainly make an impression on you and may just entice you to return again and again.
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Shopping, Souvenirs And Staycations
Manila is filled with towering buildings and massive shopping complexes that string together multiple malls — duck into one of the shopping centers to escape the rush hour traffic or to cool off from the humid, tropical weather. Shopaholics be advised: bring extra luggage. Shopping in the Philippines is almost a competitive sport, with mall sales happening every month. Luxury brands are well-represented, but do not miss popping into local shops that proffer avant-garde designs and edgy streetwear, as well as tiangges or street markets selling affordable souvenirs.
The region's dining scene is flourishing with a slew of concept eateries—from a French bistro, to Italian cuisine, to idealized Filipino dishes. As of December 2019.
With top-notch services, effective products, reasonable prices and, often, a great view, these establishments and brands make are well-kept secrets for those seeking self-care in the city.
Culture, History, Dining, Nightlife
Metro Manila is home to about 12 million people, making it one of the most densely populated cities in Asia. The crush of humans hurrying about and vehicles on the road is enough to drive anyone crazy, and yet this is a popular destination not just for tourists, but also global investors who are bringing in a wave of economic and industrial expansion. There is a large and lively expat community in the city, creating a cultural melting pot that contributes to Manila’s cosmopolitan scene.
Aside from learning about the city’s rich and storied history from old Spanish forts and museums, you can get your culture fix from Manila’s thriving modern art scene, which attracts art connoisseurs from all over the region. Experience the after-hours vibes of the city and catch a drag show, dance the night away in clubs or check out late-night dives for some excellent indie music.
Around town are some of the best restaurants and bars in Asia, as well as hole-in-the-wall gems that will please any epicurean. Discover the numerous weekend markets where you can try Filipino delicacies and buy freshly farmed produce.
A community of creatives has succeeded in injecting a fresh and artsy vibe into Escolta, one of the capital’s most historic districts. Now they’re working to keep its soul intact for future generations.
Tucked away in a corner of the capital city lies the seat of political power in the country, Malacañan Palace—and the neighborhood around it—is a fascinating reminder of history and the fickle nature of power.
How To Get Around Manila
It’s relatively easy to find a cab or use a ride-hailing service. If you’re up for some cultural immersion, try getting a ride on a jeepney — you can flag one down and get off practically anywhere along its route. These descendants of military jeeps from American times are known for their kitschy decorations and elbow-to-elbow seating; you’ll likely be squished between locals. For short distances, you can hop on a tricycle, a local mode of transportation which looks like a motorized rickshaw.
If these aren’t your speed, you can jump on an air-conditioned point-to-point bus, which gets you directly from one place to another without fuss, so you won’t have to worry about missing your stop. Thinking of taking the train? Be warned: The lines can be long and the train cars packed, especially during rush hour.
Travel Just Outside Manila
Along the edges of the city lies a bucolic countryside. Tourists who prefer a quiet retreat can wander off around 65km down south to Tagaytay, in the nearby province of Cavite — here, you can trek up Taal Volcano, an active volcano that sits in the middle of a lake. Make it a day trip or stay overnight at one of the hotels with a view. There are also beaches and dive spots in Batangas, a province over 100km south of Manila.
Whether it’s your first or fifteenth trip to the city, there’s always something new to discover. More and more of Manila’s never-ending maze of streets have become more gentrified over the past few years, their layers of grime peeling off to reveal another facet of the city to be explored. Feeling lost? Make friends with locals who are always up to date with the latest food craze, the newest clubs and the best music in town.
Go Hotels Cybergate Plaza, UG/F Robinsons Cybergate Plaza, EDSA, corner Pioneer St, Mandaluyong City; +63 2 398 8788; gohotels.ph. Go Hotels’ pioneer property is situated along Metro Manila’s main thoroughfare. Rooms are clean and comfortable, and are equipped with free WiFi. $
Lokal Hostel, 3/F, 5023 P Burgos St., Brgy Poblacion, Makati City; +63 2 890 0927; lokalhostel.com. The walls at this artsy lodging feature Pinoy-themed murals by Ang Gerilya. You can choose to stay in an air-conditioned private or dormitory-type room, or in a fan-cooled room. $
The Jeepney House, 5953 Enriquez St, Brgy Poblacion, Makati City; +63 2 831 1711; thejeepneyhouse.com. Aside from affordable accommodations, this hostel also offers unique Metro Manila tours, including the Market Tour, the Cockfighting Tour and the Smokey Mountain Tour. $
Citadines Salcedo Makati, 148 Valero St, Makati City; +63 2 863 9888; citadines.com. Stylish serviced apartments with a fitness center, a 21m lap pool and a business corner. $$
H2O Hotel, Luneta; +63 2 238 6100; hotelh2o.com. The 147 rooms at this water-themed hotel are all ocean-inspired, with selected suites housing illuminated, wall-to-wall aquariums. Other rooms boast floor-to-ceiling windows that offer gorgeous views of the beautiful Manila Bay. $$
Henry Hotel, 2680 FB Harrison St, Pasay City; +63 2 8807 8888; thehenryhotel.com. Nestled in the heart of old Manila, this boutique hotel has only 34 rooms, all thoughtfully decorated with Philippine-inspired Mid-Century touches. $$
Holiday Inn Manila Galleria, One Asian Development Bank Ave, Ortigas Center, Pasig City; +63 2 633 7111; ihg.com. A high-rise hotel located in the heart of the Ortigas Central Business District, and a stone’s throw away from must-see tourist destinations like Greenhills Shopping Center and Tiendesitas. $$
Picasso Boutique Serviced Residences, 119 L P Leviste St, Salcedo Village, Makati City; +63 2 828 4774; picassomakati.com. A chic, artsy boutique hotel with colorful suites and a gallery featuring contemporary Filipino art. $$
Seda BGC, 11th Ave, corner30th St, Bonifacio Global City, Taguig; + 63 2 7945 8888, +63 2 8588 5700; bgc.sedahotels.com. In the heart of the BGC financial area, this hotel is favored by business travelers. The rooms are well-appointed, complete with all the modern amenities needed to have a relaxing yet productive stay. $$
Z Hostel, 5660 Don Pedro St, Makati City; +63 927 965 2692; zhostel.com. The biggest and only luxury hostel in the Philippines, offering fully equipped dormitories and private rooms. $$
Aruga by Rockwell Hotel Makati, Waterfront Dr, Rockwell Center, Makati City; +63 2 818 0000; arugabyrockwell.com. Serviced apartments with a contemporary Asian aesthetic. Studios, one- and two-bedroom suites are available. $$$
Ascott Serviced Apartments, 5th Ave, corner 28th St, Bonifacio Global City, Taguig; +63 2 8860 9888. For those who need to stay in town longer, Ascott’s serviced apartments have great service, good food and spacious apartments. Located in the heart of BGC, food, shopping and entertainment are just a few steps away. $$$
EDSA Shangri-La, 1 Garden Way, Ortigas Center, Mandaluyong City; +63 2 8633 8888; shangri-la/manila/edsashangrila. A garden oasis in the middle of the bustling Ortigas Business District. $$$
Hilton Manila, 1 Newport Boulevard, Newport City, Pasay; +63 2 7239 7788; hilton.com. This resort-like urban getaway is located in the Resorts World complex. Take a swim in the pool and enjoy cocktails poolside as the kids have a blast in the water play area. $$$
Maxims Hotel, Newport Boulevard, Newport City, Pasay; +63 2 7908 8888; rwmanila.com/hotels/maxims-hotel. Part of the Resorts World complex, this suites-only hotel is an oasis where your every need is met. Once checked in, guests may never want to leave thanks to the hotel’s 24-hour butler service, seven restaurants, outdoor pool and casino. $$$
Okada Manila, New Seaside Dr, Parañaque; +63 2 8838 1234; okadamanila.com. Stay, play, dance, and dine in this massive complex full of exciting activities for everyone in the family. $$$
Shangri-la at the Fort, Manila, 30th St, corner 5th Ave, Bonifacio Global City, Taguig; +632 8820 0888; shangri-la.com/en/manila/shangrilaatthefort. A luxury five-star hotel and mixed-use property with 576 beautifully appointed guest rooms, a whopping 15 restaurants and over 30 stylish boutiques. Deluxe accommodations start at a roomy 45m², and each room embodies the understated elegance of the Shangri-La brand — all natural-finish Italian wood and dove-gray marble. $$$
The Grand Hyatt Manila, 8th Avenue, corner 35th St, Bonifacio Global City, Taguig; +632 8838 1234; hyatt.com/manila. Enjoy luxe, modern amenities and spacious rooms in the heart of Bonifacio Global City. $$$
Black Market, Warehouse 5, La Fuerza Plaza, 2241 Don Chino Roces Ave, Makati City; +63 917 829 4162. An industrial-style club with themed nights ranging from Bad Decisions Wednesdays to Saturday Riot House. $$
Brown Paper Project Cafe, G/F Warehouse 8B, La Fuerza Plaza Compound, 2241 Chino Roces Ave, Makati City; +63 916 570 4713; fb.com/brownpaperproject. BPPC is a labor of love for four friends who want to support local coffee farmers and educate consumers about the wonders of the humble bean. The coffee they serve is made from fair-trade, single-origin beans, prepared using hand-brewing methods that include Aeropress, V60 pour-over and Chemex. $$
Cafe Juanita, 2 United St, Kapitolyo, Pasig City; +63 2 8632 0357; fb.com/cafe.juanita.ph. You’ll love the eclectic, bohemian vibe at this cozy Filipino restaurant, which serves up hearty, home-cooked fare like beef and pork pochero. $$$
Calderon, G/F Classica Condominium, 112 H V Dela Costa St, Salcedo Village, Makati City; +63 905 520 4250. Come here for authentic Spanish cuisine, such as paella and a wide variety of tapas. $$$
Causeway Seafood Restaurant, 883 Banawe St, corner Del Monte Ave, Sienna, Quezon City; +63 2 410 8690. Feast on Chinese-style seafood and assorted dim sum. Diners enjoy a 50% discount on the latter after 9pm. $$
Estée de Pob, 5655 Don Pedro, corner Jacobo, Brgy Poblacion, Makati City; fb.com/esteedepob The French-inspired modern bistro aims to offer food that is succulent but not overly seasoned It also opens for breakfast and has allotted a co-working space for those who need it. Don’t miss the Poulet & Gratin, which is chicken with classic gratinated potatoes. It’s cooked in a sous vide technique that keeps the chicken tender. The eatery is open 8am to midnight. $$
Gallery by Chele, 5/F Clipp Center, 11th Ave, corner 39th St, Bonifacio Global City; +63 917 546 1673; galleryvask.com. Situated in a high-concept art gallery, Gallery Vask – #39 on the prestigious Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants list for 2016 – serves up modern Spanish cuisine with a Filipino twist, such as adlai rice paired with bagoong fermented-fish paste and served with sea urchin and pigeon. $$$$
Brera, G/F Park Terraces, 1918 Arnaiz Ave, Makati City; +63 2 8478 7384. A casual bistro and deli just a block away from the Greenbelt shopping complex. Brera prides itself on its steaks, which are aged in the restaurant’s very own dry ageing room. Don’t forget to check out the deli, where you’ll find great cheeses, breads, cold cuts and an extensive variety of charcuterie. There are also nearly 100 labels of wine to choose from. Do order the house-made Mediterranean dips like hummus, tzatziki, baba ganoush, and tabbouleh with your drink — you won’t regret it. $$$
Wantusawa Oyster Bar Tambai Alley, Felipe St, Poblacion, Makati City; +63 917 301 7968. Gorge on freshly harvested oysters flown in daily from Aklan in this little gem of a place. Not a fan of raw food? Try the grilled and baked options — the baked oysters are particularly noteworthy, with a miso crust. After a night of partying in Poblacion, the grilled prawn laksa is a must-try. $$
O Bar Ortigas Technopoint, Julia Vargas Ave, Ortigas Center; +63 956 827 2711, +63 919 996 4154. Hidden in the back of a Home Depot and IT-centric offices, this late-night gay bar is home to some of the best drag performers in the country. There’s never a dull moment at this club, but make sure to keep your energy up: the drag shows start at midnight. $
Toyo Eatery, 2316 Chino Roces Ave, Makati City; +63 917 720 8630. Bestowed the Miele One To Watch award in 2018 and names one of the 50 best restaurants in Asia in 2019, Toyo is a reimagining of local flavors and produce, creating a sophisticated menu using traditional cooking methods. $$$
The Curator, 134 Legaspi St, Makati City; +63 916 355 4129. Third-wave coffee shop during the day, incredible cocktails at night. The Curator has been named one of Asia’s 50 best bars four years in a row and the Best Bar in the Philippines in 2019. Not sure what your poison is? The incredibly friendly and knowledgeable staff can guide you through the menu or create something just for you. $$
Conspiracy Garden Café, 59 Visayas Ave, Quezon City; +632 8920 6157. Catch local artists and listen to folk and world music in this charming home and garden that’s been transformed into a lively spot for grub and gigs. $
Grace Park, G/F One Rockwell West Tower, Rockwell Dr, Makati City; +63 2 8843 7275. Helmed by Margarita Forés, Asia’s Best Female Chef for 2016, this restaurant serves up dishes made from sustainable ingredients supplied by a host of partner farms and artisan producers. Expect hearty dishes such as handmade pastas, lamb adobo rice, meatballs, muscovado beef belly and more. $$$
Locavore, 10 Brixton St, Pasig City; +63 2 8632 9600; locavore.ph. Popular for its delicious Filipino cuisine, especially its sizzling sinigang and beef short ribs. Go early to avoid the lunch and dinner queues. $$
Mow’s, Kowloon House Basement, 20 Matalino St, Quezon City; +63 915 927 0102; fb.com/mowsbar. Check out Mow’s for a spot of live music and, on Tuesdays, open mic sessions (featuring both amateur and professional stand-up comedians). $$
Naimas: Taste of Home, fb.com/naimasrestaurant. This restaurant champions local produce from the northern provinces, so you’ll see shelves brimming with native garlic, basi and more. Feast on hearty and authentic northern fare like naimas bagnet — crunchy yet tender pieces of deep-fried pork served with a dipping sauce of sukang ikolo and bagoong isda, or fermented fish sauce. $$
Pino Resto Bar, 39 Malingap St, UP Teacher’s Village, Quezon City; +63 2 441 1773; pinorestaurant.webs.com. For creative Filipino comfort food like kare-kareng bagnet — deep-fried crispy pork belly in a vegetable peanut stew — and mini pork sisig tacos. $$
SaGuijo Cafe +Bar, 7612 Guijo St, San Antonio Village, Makati City; +63 2 8897 8629; saguijo.com. A great spot for live music, where unsigned bands play alongside more established acts. $
The Snack Shack, Roces St, corner Laurel St, University of the Philippines, Diliman, Quezon City; +63 915 259 9495; fb.com/snackshackburgers. Sink your teeth into juicy burgers fresh off the grill. The patties here are made from 100% beef. $
The Wholesome Table, various locations; thewholesometable.com. Come here for healthy yet tasty organic fare, such as veggie burgers and slow-braised pork, along with fresh cold-pressed juices. $$$
Urameshiya Yakiniku Restaurant, Little Tokyo, Chino Roces Ave, Legaspi Village, Makati City; +63 2 813 2210. A quaint Japanese joint specializing in grilled meat dishes. Feast on eat-all-you-can wagyu beef cubes for just ₱500 (Mondays to Wednesdays, 5pm to midnight). Omakase options are also available. $$$
Wildflour Café + Bakery, various locations, wildflour.com.ph; +63 2 856 7600. Take your pick from an extensive range of freshly-baked bread, pastries, desserts, coffee and more. (Pro tip: The breads go on sale near closing time.) $$$
Your Local, Universal LMS Building, 106 Esteban St, Legazpi Village, Makati City; +63 2 823 6206; yourlocal.ph. This Brooklyn-inspired hangout offers inventive Asian comfort food, such as torched salmon donburi with shiitake black rice. $$$
Zark’s Burgers, Archer’s Nook, 2464 Taft Ave, Malate; +63 936 134 4409. Take on the restaurant’s Jaw Breaker challenge. If you finish eating a huge burger in five minutes, you don’t have to pay a single centavo! $
Lo De Alberto, fb.com/lodealbertoph. Mexican chef Balam Nazar heads the kitchen of this taqueria, making sure every dish coming out of it tastes like it does back home. Grab a taquiza (a platter of six tacos) to share, or not — they won’t judge you. $$
La Chinesca, fb.com/lachinesca. Chef Bruce Ricketts puts his spin on Mexican dishes and drinks. For example, he adds pinipig, or pounded glutinous rice flakes, to the guisada de res tacos, and combines cucumber, aloe vera and gin in the La Fresa. $$
The Back Room, Shangri-La at the Fort, Manila, 30th Street, corner 5th Ave, BGC, Taguig; +63 2 8820 0888. Since opening in 2018, The Back Room has mixed enough great cocktails to make it to the 50 Best Bars in Asia list for 2019. Hidden in Shangri-La at the Fort (find the old-fashioned shoe-shine station and gramophone to slip into the bar), and reminiscent of prohibition-era speakeasies, it boasts more than 150 varieties of — what else — gin. Don’t know where to begin? Ask one of the well-informed bartenders to help. $$$
Ayala Museum, Makati Ave, corner De La Rosa St, Greenbelt Park, Makati City; +63 2 759 8288; ayalamuseum.org. Admire 60 handcrafted dioramas, which depict iconic scenes in Philippine history – from the the pre-colonial era to independence.
Bambike Ecotours, Plaza San Luis Complex, Real St, corner General Luna St, Intramuros; +63 2 525 8289; bambike.com/ecotours. Check out historical sites in Manila while riding a bamboo bike handmade by Gawad Kalinga villagers.
Baywalk. Enjoy the outdoor cafes, along with the fiery sunset, along this promenade flanking Roxas Boulevard.
Bonifacio Global City, Fort Bonifacio, Taguig City; +63 2 818 3601; bgc.com.ph. This metropolitan financial district is home to plenty of designer shops, restaurants, bars and more.
DreamPlay by Dreamworks, Asean Ave. corner Roxas Blvd, Paranaque City; +63 2 800 8080;www.cityofdreams.com.ph/dreamplay. A recreational and interactive center where kids can have fun at a Dreamworks-themed play area.
Greenbelt, Ayala Center, Makati City; ayalamalls.com.ph. An award-winning, sprawling shopping paradise with an incredible array of shops and restaurants, and even a beautiful central garden.
The Mind Museum. 3rd Ave. BGC, Taguig City; +63 2 7909 6463; themindmuseum.org. At this interactive museum for children, get ready to learn about art and science the fun way. Even adults will enjoy wandering around the various galleries and exhibits.
Fort Santiago, Intramuros, Manila. A fortress in historic Intramuros built in 1593 by Spanish navigator and governor Miguel López de Legazpi, explore old Manila as it was during the country’s Spanish colonial period.
San Agustin Church, General Luna St; +632 8527 2746. Walk the cobbled streets of Intramuros and visit the baroque San Agustin Church, a Unesco World Heritage Site and the country’s oldest stone church.
Pinto Art Museum, 1 Sierra Madre St, Grand Heights Subdivision, Antipolo, Rizal; +632 8697 1015. A contemporary museum and exhibition space in the city of Antipolo that chronicles the evolving society of the Philippines. View works by notable local artists such as Elmer Borlongan, Mark Justiniani, Emmanuel Garibay and more. With its whitewashed structures and multi-level gardens, it feels like an oasis just outside of Manila.
Malacañang Palace, JP Laurel St, San Miguel. Formerly the Spanish Governor-General’s residence, it now houses the country’s seat of power and a museum containing memorabilia from past Philippine presidents.
Museum of Contemporary Art and Design, Dominga, Malate; mcadmanila.org.ph. Housed within the College of Saint Benilde’s School of Design and Art, this museum is home to a large collection of work from both local and international artists.
National Museum of the Philippines, P. Burgos Dr., Rizal Park; nationalmuseum.gov.ph. Learn more about the Philippines and its rich heritage through the museum’s various cultural and natural history collections.
Pineapple Lab, 6071 R Palma St, Brgy Poblacion, Makati City; +63 998 957 1051; fb.com/pineapplelabph. This uber-cool photography gallery also hosts music, art and indie performances.
Rizal Park, Roxas Blvd Ermita, Brgy 666 Zone 72. Also known as Luneta Park, this historical urban park is home to the monument of national hero Jose Rizal.
Salcedo Community Market, Jaime C Velasquez Park, Salcedo Village, Makati City. Browse and buy fresh produce, ready-to-eat food and artisanal crafts at this pop-up market, which opens every Saturday from 7am to 2pm.
SM Mall of Asia, SM Central Business Park, 123 Seaside Blvd, Pasay City; +63 2 8856 0680. One of the biggest malls in the world, this massive shopping complex near Manila Bay (known to locals as SM MOA) houses hundreds of shops, an IMAX theater with one of the world’s biggest 3D screens and an Olympic-sized skating rink.
The Big Binondo Food Wok! Tour. Learn more about Tsinoy (Chinese-Filipino) culture while chomping through the streets of Binondo, also known as Manila’s Chinatown. Contact Old Manila Walks (+63 2 711 3823; oldmanilawalks.com) to register.
UP Film Institute, UPFI Film Center, 2/F Cine Adarna Bldg, Magsaysay and Osmena Ave, UP Diliman, Quezon City; +632 926 2722; filminstitute.upd.edu.ph. Head here on weekdays for screenings of local independent films.
Museum of Natural History, Agrifina Circle, Rizal Park, Ermita; nationalmuseum.gov.ph. Considering that the Philippines is one of only 17 mega biodiverse countries in the world, it’s no wonder that the Museum of Natural History is one of the most popular attractions for both tourists and locals. Learn about local flora and fauna, or wander around a recreation of the Nilad Mangrove. Don’t forget to step into the “Tree of Life” in the middle of the main atrium. It’s actually an elevator that brings guests all the way to the top, where you’ll enjoy an amazing view of the museum’s interior.
By Patricia Barcelon.
As of January 2020.