As soon as you get past the painfully slow traffic, Manila is a fast-paced city that’s brimming with historical streets, churches, museums, outdoor eateries, street food and energetic nightlife. Be sure to pack light, and dress lighter, as it feels like summer all year round in The Philippines.
Intramuros, also known as the Walled City, is one of the oldest districts in Manila and dates back to the 16th century. One of the best ways to explore this district and enjoy a little sightseeing is to ride a horse carriage, also known as kalesa in Filipino. You’ll trot around all the scenic spots, such as Fort Santiago, which is the most visited place in Intramuros as it was where the Spaniards imprisoned Rizal prior to his execution. If you can stand the heat, you can easily walk through the cobbled streets instead to get a feel for what life might have been like in Manila during the Spanish empire.
Stop into some churches
The Philippines is known for its beautiful, ancient churches for good reason — there are over 600,000 churches peppered across the entire country. Before journeying further afield, make your way to Manila Cathedral (Sto. Tomas, Intramuros, Manila,1002 Metro Manila), which is located at the heart of Intramuros. Manila Cathedral is over 400 years old and its walls and facade even managed to survive World War II.
Another church that’s worth checking out is the Basilica Menor de San Sebastian (Pasaje del Carmen St., Quiapo, Manila, Metro Manila). Also known as San Sebastian Church, Basilica Menor is the only church in the country that has an all-steel structure and has been declared as a national historical landmark.
Pay homage to a national hero
Rizal Park is a must-visit when you’re in Manila as it’s a great place to unwind, take an afternoon stroll and learn a bit about the history of The Philippines. The park also is home to a lot of history: It’s where Spaniards executed Dr. Jose Rizal, a national hero of the Philippines, during the Spanish era. You will also find the Monument of Rizal, which houses Dr. Jose Rizal’s remains.
Roxas Blvd Ermita, Baragay 666 Zone 72, Manila, 1000 Metro Manila.
Check out the shopping scene
Manila has a vibrant shopping scene with lots of cool stores that you wouldn’t find in Hong Kong. Whether you’re shopping for clothes, shoes, make up and even gadgets, SM Megamall (Edsa Corner J. Vargas Avenue, Mandaluyong City, (+63) 2-633-5042) and SM Mall of Asia (Seaside Blvd, Pasay, (+63) 2-556-0680) are two of the best fashion hubs if you’re ready to do some real damage. There are also plenty of dining choices and cinemas or ice skating rinks for entertainment if you need a break between shopping sprees.
Pamper yourself silly
After all that time on your feet, treat yourself to a full day of relaxation at Wensha Spa. At this urban retreat you can buy a body massage, facial or foot spa package (from P700 ($115)) that comes with an unlimited use of the facilities, including the Jacuzzi, sauna and steam bath. What makes it an even better deal is the all-you-can-eat buffet that offers Filipino and Chinese cuisine. Eat, sleep, repeat!
CCP Complex, Roxas Blvd cor. Sen. Gil Puyat Ave., Pasay City, Metro Manila, (+61) 06-832-5877.
Get lucky at the casinos
This is not your typical depressing Macau casino: Try your luck at Resorts World Manila where you’ll find plenty of table games to choose from. Just don’t spend all your vacation money! Afterwards, you can head to Bar 180 for some cocktails and live music, or take a break at Bar 360 where you an also catch entertaining live performances such as acrobatic acts from Russia, Belarus and Ukraine.
Newport Boulevard, Newport City, Pasay 1309, Metro Manila, (+63) 2-908-8833.
Tons of street food
Wherever you roam around Manila, you will find street vendors hawking the city’s delicious street food. There are plenty of staple dishes to choose from, including balut (a duck egg that’s not fully developed), kwek-kwek (orange flour-coated quail egg), isaw (pig or chicken intestines), sweet banana cues (deep-fried bananas coated in caramelized brown sugar), turon (bananas covered in brown sugar, rolled in a spring roll wrapper and fried) and taho (fresh tofu mixed with sago and sweetened with caramelized brown sugar) to name a few. You can find most of these foods along Singalong Street in Malate or Zobel Roxas Street during the afternoon.
If you’re looking for one of the best burgers in Manila, you can’t go wrong with Zark’s Burgers. The ambience is pretty casual, and the stream of students coming and out augurs well for the awesome value. Zark’s Burgers is known for its huge and greasy burgers, and tends to attract ambitious eaters. There is a popular food challenge where you get a free burger if you can finish one of two items: “The Jawbreaker” (P250 ($41)), a triple cheeseburger with spam, bacon and overflowing cheese sauce on top, or “The Tombstone” (P500 ($82)) an epic 2-pound cheeseburger covered with cheese sauce and served with 200g of fries. Sorry, there’s a strict no-sharing rule!
2464 Archer S Nook, Taft Avenue, Manila, 1000 Metro Manila, (+63) 2-392-1211.
We wouldn’t normally recommend that you go to a buffet restaurant, but Vikings is simply mind-blowing. The heaving buffet offers upscale lunches and dinners from all over the world — Japanese, Chinese, Western, Italian and Filipino food. If you think the savory dishes are tasty, wait until you get to the dessert buffet. You can load up on cakes, ice cream, crepes, frozen yogurt, halo-halo (a popular Filipino dessert) and dip all your treats in the chocolate fountain. Sounds tempting, doesn’t it? Remember to make reservations ahead of time, as the wait list tends to be as long as the buffet line.
Several locations, including SM Megamall, Building D Fashion Hall, SM Mega Mall, EDSA Corner Julia Vargas Ave, Mandaluyong, 1550 Metro Manila, (+63) 2-656-3888).
If you’ve been around The Philippines at all, you’ll know that Max’s Restaurant can be found almost everywhere! Max’s Restaurant is famous for its fried chicken and is a great place to enjoy authentic Filipino dishes. A few of our top picks are the crispy pata (deep-fried pork served with vinegar sauce), chicken sisig (a sizzling dish with chicken breast, chicken liver, and egg), lechon kawali (crispy fried pork belly served with vinegar or a Filipino pork liver sauce), kare-kare and lumpiang Shanghai (Filipino-style spring rolls). The restaurant tends to serve good-sized portions, so it’s best to enjoy your meal with a few friends..
Greenbelt Park, Ayala Center, Makati City, Metro Manila. Hotline: 7-9000.
Barkin’ Blends is a popular dog cafe in Manila that adds a side order of adorable with your lunch. The food is named after dogs that make regular appearances at the cafe — think Bonnie Burrito, Smile’s Tuna Sandwich and Marley ‘n’ Cheese. It’s a quirky cafe with cute pups to keep you entertained, so it’s definitely worth the visit especially if you’re a dog lover.
Closed Tuesdays. 91 Rosa Alvero Street, J&R Concon Centre, Loyola Heights, Quezon City.
If you want to stay close to the city’s main attractions then consider the Makati Shangri-La Manila or the iconic Peninsula Manila — both offer reasonable rates considering the five-star standards. Sofitel Philippine Plaza Manila is also a beautiful choice with an epic buffet brunch, but note that it’s a little farther afield by the bay.
Manila is just two hours away from Hong Kong and you can book flights from Cathay Pacific, Philippine Airlines, Cebu Pacific or Philippines AirAsia.
Getting around Manila can be pretty sluggish at times, especially during rush hour when it’s gridlock traffic on the main corridors. Try to avoid taking the MRT during those times too, otherwise you’ll have to wait for about an hour just to get on the train! Just plan to be sitting at a bar between the hours of 5-7pm so you don’t have to deal with the mad rush.
For trips at other times, you can also use the local mode of transportation such as tricycles or “jeepneys,” which are hard to miss thanks to their outrageous decorations!
A typical fare for jeepneys is 8 pesos ($1.15), depending on how far you’ll go. Passengers usually ask how much it costs to reach to a certain place and the driver will tell you the exact price. When paying, passengers pass their fare to passengers in the front, who will then pass it to the driver and you say “Bayad po” which means “payment” in Filipino.
If you want to know where the jeepney is heading, check the sign at the front or you can simply ask the driver where the jeep goes. Do be warned that the cars don’t have exact stops so if you’d like to hop out, just say “Para po” which means “Stop.”