Places to visit in Manila — 6 suggestions, 1 easy guide
Places to visit in Manila
During a visit to the Philippines, I spent a few days in the country’s capital, Manila.
The city gets little attention in the western media, and when it does, it’s usually for the wrong reasons. High levels of pollution, overcrowding and horrendous traffic, it seems the city just can’t get a break.
Signs of improvement
However, on closer inspection, the city has more to offer travelers than just smog and traffic jams.
Development in roads and infrastructure is happening everywhere. And with a boost in foreign tourism, the capital’s gearing itself up for more visitors to visit Manila.
I’ll be the first to say that Manila is overcrowded. Its heavy traffic is enough to make anyone want to jump out the car window and walk the rest of the way.
Still, what the city lacks in its dreadful traffic system, it absolutely makes up for in its character. This is not forgetting the exceptional warmth, friendliness and hospitality of the Filipino people.
Here are 5 places in Manila that make the city worth taking a second look.
1. Stroll through the historic walled city
The mark of the Spanish colonial rule that lasted for over 300 years is still very prevalent around Manila.
You only have to look at the architectural style of churches like San Agustin but also in the street names. Paseo de Roxas in the Makati district area and Villalobos Street in Quiapo are 2 such examples.
However, there’s no more compelling architectural symbol of the Spanish rule in Manila, than the walled city of Intramuros.
The city’s Spanish roots — places to visit in Manila
Intramuros, meaning ‘within the walls’ was the seat of government and political power during the time of the Spanish Empire.
The Manila Galleons that sailed for 250 years, brought goods from Intramuros in the Philippines to Acapulco, Mexico.
The walls were built to ward off foreign invasions. Any other towns outside the structure were known as extramuros.
Towards the river is the grand Fort Santiago, the fortress protecting the city. Within the compound, you’ll also come across the beautiful Baroque church of San Agustin.
La Iglesia de la Inmaculada Concepción de María de San Agustín dates back to the 14th century and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The beautifully historic San Agustin church — places to visit in Manila
“…what the city lacks in its dreadful traffic system, it absolutely makes up for in its character.”
Map: 6 top places to visit in Manila
2. Manila Cathedral
I can’t write a post about Manila, and not mention Manila Cathedral. Built in 1581, it was originally a parish church under the Archdiocese of Mexico.
It’s undergone a few renovations, and draws in worshipers and visitors alike. The cathedral’s also been the site of 3 Papal visits to the capital.
To see the best of Manila, consider booking a local tour. The people are incredibly friendly, warm and welcoming. It’s a good way to spend a few hours.
A place where all Filipinos come to pray, Manila Cathedral
3. Head to the bay
The bay area of Manila gives you an idea of life in the city. Different types of industry, like shipping, tourism and commercial, co-exist in one space.
Manila Bay is mainly known for being an area of economic activity, but it offers visitors so much more. For one, its promenade makes it a popular spot for couples passing by to watch the sun set over the sea.
Look out for the locals who arrive early in the morning to set up their stalls along the promenade. They sell everything from freshly cut mangoes to sodas and potato chips. Many are friendly, helpful, and make the atmosphere that bit more welcoming.
Manila Bay is great for commerce and colorful sunsets
4. Hit the local food scene
Manila is one city that’s also cottoned on to the trend of fusion-style restaurants.
Filipino cuisine isn’t as well known as neighboring countries in the region, so curious foodies will really have a taste experience.
The cuisine has Filipino, Spanish, and American influences, which is evident from the dishes. Take the dish Embutido. It’s Spanish in heritage, and is essentially a pork meatloaf with a boiled egg in the middle.
Must-try Manila picks — places to visit in Manila
Mesa Filipino Moderne is one choice that offers fusion dining.
Try their delicious appetizers, like Tawilis with mangga on a spoon (fried fish with mango). You may also want to sample the pomelo salad with latik (coconut milk residue) and salt crusted sea bass.
Abe Restaurant also offers distinctive dishes like mutton adobo (a soy sauce, vinegar and garlic-based sauce) with popped garlic.
For dessert, try the Chocolate Eh Fondue with fried suman. It’s glutinous rice wrapped in palm leaves, and is something different from the standard. Filipino desserts are plentiful and with an immense variety that’ll satisfy any sweet tooth.
For carnivores only: Lechon is a must try in Manila, and in the Philippines
5. Visit the 2 ‘M’s: the malls and the markets
The majority of Filipinos share a fondness for 2 things: food and shopping.
Filipinos may not have the deepest pockets, but this has little bearing on their fondness for the malls.
Shopping malls rule the Manila landscape. From the monstrous Mall of Asia, to the upmarket Greenbelt in the business district of Makati, malls are everywhere.
A little more authentic — places to visit in Manila
I really enjoyed visiting a mall called Market! Market!
Technically it’s a shopping mall, but it also has a market stall area which sells regional Filipino produce. It’s less garish than the other malls and is also close to Serendra in Bonifacio Global City.
This developed green area is popular with expat professionals living in Manila. It combines residential living with plenty of bars, restaurants and of course shopping.
Market! Market! is one of many shopping malls in Manila
6. Open all night bars and clubs
I had the best time partying in Manila. For someone who’s not big on nightclubs, nightlife in the capital is seriously good fun, and reasonably priced too.
If nightclubs really aren’t your thing, the capital’s bar scene is just as lively. The drinks are flowing, the cocktails are potent, and the prices are low.
Manila hotspots — places to visit in Manila
The main areas people tend to flock to include Makati, Bonifacio Global City and Pasay City.
Here, you’ll find the Hard Rock Café and nightclub Black Market. Close by in neighboring Malate is another popular hotspot, Club ZZYZX .
Even if you don’t drink alcohol, the bar scene’s worth checking out, and the mocktails are also pretty tasty.
Stay up until sunrise in one of Manila’s many nightclubs
Stay at an affordable luxury hotel
Coming from Europe, I love staying in luxury hotels in South-east Asia.
As well as being ridiculously affordable, the quality of a 3-star hotel is closer to 5.
The 5-star Peninsula offers guests old-school charm in an incredibly comfortable setting.
With rooms ranging from Deluxe to Suites, you won’t be disappointed with a few nights here. Be sure to swing by The Peninsula Boutique to try some of the capital’s finest patisserie and handmade chocolates.
Nobu Hotel Manila — places to visit in Manila
Following in the footsteps of its range of excellent Japanese restaurants, Nobu Hotel Manila is a dream to step into. Which is fitting, seeing as the hotel’s full name is ‘City of Dreams.’
Naturally, you can expect the same elegance and understated design you associate with the Nobu brand, along with plenty of fine dining.
Ride some unique transport in Manila
While the traffic’s a nightmare, getting around the city costs very little.
If you want to experience life as a local, hop on board a jeepney. These colorful open-door jeeps are cheap and a unique form of transport you can only find in the Philippines.
The meaning — places to visit in Manila
Some designs reflect the family name, or more commonly, that of a religious nature.
A cross between a jeep and minibus, a short ride will set you around price of PHP7 (£0.10p; $0.02)*.
The big downside to jeepneys for me, is the pollution. With no doors or windows on the vehicle, you get the full force of the Manila fumes.
Try a tricycle
Off the main roads, you’ll also see small motorbikes with carriages attached.
These are tricycles, and they take passengers on short distances only — motorway rides are off limits. It costs even less to ride in one, and you’re sure to have an authentic experience.
Other alternatives include the bus and the Light Rail Transit System, which only services the Metro Manila area. There are also FX cabs (an air-conditioned less brash version of the jeepney) and the yellow taxi cab.
I left Manila for Boracay with the feeling I’d really enjoyed my time in the city. If the government can clean up the traffic problem, I can see more visitors coming in the future.
What do you think of Manila? Is it somewhere you’d be interested to visit, if just for a few nights? Let me know in the comments.
This article was first published on 18 July 2013 on Live Share Travel
Till next time, happy boutique travels x
Disclosure: This post was written in collaboration with Bookings For You. It may contain affiliate links, which means I may receive a commission if you click a link and purchase something that I’ve recommended. Thank you for your support.
Welcome to my site! I'm Lisa, founder of Following the Rivera. I write primarily for a ‘flashpacker’ audience, a demographic (late 20s onward) that enjoys glamping over camping and staying at boutique/luxury boutique hotels. Flashpackers also like to indulge in the local food and wine, cultural activities, as well as a spot of wellness on their travels. Want to know more? Read on....