What looks like the Orient, sounds Spanish and effortlessly mixes the new with the traditional? If you answered Manila, the capital of the gorgeous country of the Philippines then you’d be correct! Manila is considered the gateway to paradise but it’s so much more than a brief place to stop. It’s a buzzing metropolis that begs to be explored.
The Spanish city of Manila was officially founded on 24 June 1571 when the conquistador, Miguel Lopez de Legazpi, claimed the city for the crown.
In 1898, Manila came under control of the USA as a result of the Spanish-American War. In fact, the future President of the USA, William Howard Taft, was the Governor General of the Philippines before being made Vice President to Theodore Roosevelt. Nowadays, the Philippines are a top tourist destination, with Manila being the most populated city and a gateway to the fabulous islands of the archipelago. When people say ‘Manila’, they can be referring to the actual city of Manila, which houses most of the popular and historical attractions, or they may be referred to the entire metropolitan area. This consists of several cities like Makati, Pasay, and Quezon City. Manila is a friendly and exciting metropolis that is well worth exploring.
Most travellers fly into Ninoy Aquino International Airport which enjoys services from almost every large hub in the world. Travelling into the city isn’t difficult and you can opt to take a taxi, bus or classic crowded Jeepney. A Jeepney is a colourful, noisy, and iconic bus that is the Philippines equivalent of a Tuk-Tuk. If it’s your first time in Manila, I recommend a taxi because buses and Jeepneys can be very crowded and chaotic for new arrivals. The trip to the city centre will require 20-60 minutes, depending on the traffic, and costs between £3 -£10 depending on your destination. My friend Moyça, however, says that taxis can be expensive because they increase the fares for visitors. She recommends ride-shares as a more economical alternative. Both Uber and the regional Grab are good apps to use in Manila.
Here’s a pro-tip: The currency used in the Philippines is the Philippine Peso (PHP), the exchange rate fluctuates but £1 is around 67 PHP.
When visiting the country’s capital, you can expect to find amazing historic spots, plenty of shopping opportunities and incredible street food. Here are my favourite things to do:
- Intramuros – The historic walled old town dates to the Spanish era and is the perfect place to explore. Under Spanish rule, only the wealthiest of citizens lived within these fortified walls, but today anyone can experience this old-world charm. Intramuros feels like a Medieval European city in a tropical paradise. Don’t miss these sites inside Intramuros:
- Manila Bay Walk – Don’t miss the stunning sunsets and Instagram-worthy photos you can snap here. Two kilometres of palm tree-lined street vendors, performers and an exciting seafront promenade await you. It’s a lovely area to enjoy some time away from the bustle of the city.
- Greenbelt Mall – A far cry from Intramuros, in the city of Makati with its glittering skyscrapers and modern global companies, this is a mall of mammoth scale. Here you’ll find excellent shopping on Ayala Avenue, a collection of stores based around a park that houses over 300 shops and restaurants. You can find all the popular designer brands and can take your pick of international cuisine.
- National Museum Complex – Made up of the National Museums of Fine Arts, Natural History, Anthropology and the National Planetarium, this complex is a treasure trove of culture and history. Give yourself several hours to enjoy this complex properly.
- Island Hopping – Manila is the entry point for the thousands of breath-taking islands that are dotted around the Pacific Ocean in the Philippines. No Philippines itinerary is complete without viewing some of the most beautiful beaches in the world. That’s not all, magical rainforest landscapes, swimming with whale sharks and cascading waterfalls are just some of the activities to expect. I recommend you visit at least some of the following; Boracay, El Nido, Oslob, Cebu, Coron and Siquijor.
All the exploring will surely make you hungry. Being such a large city, Manila has a wide variety of places to eat. Here are my recommendations of where to eat when you’re visiting:
- Salcedo Saturday Market – This weekend market in Makati city is the perfect spot for some typical Filipino delicacies as well as gourmet street foods. They have everything from the barbecued meat on a stick to lobster rolls, sisig and pigeon stew. Foodies will be spoilt for choice with many of the vendors specialising in heirloom and traditional recipes.
- Toyo Eatery – Voted by “Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants” as ‘One to Watch’, this restaurant transforms typical Filipino food into award-winning fine dishes. Located in Makati city, it’s casual and homey atmosphere and impeccable food make for an unrivalled dining experience.
- Barbara’s Heritage Restaurant – Based in Intramuros, this authentic Filipino restaurant is beautiful and serene and makes for the perfect date spot. The restaurant hosts cultural dinner shows and offers up a mix of Filipino and Spanish cuisine with a gourmet twist.
Manila has an exciting and varied nightlife, whether you’re after a quiet night or a wild night of partying. The areas of Poblacion and Bonifacio Global City are the busiest districts to visit, but Greenbelt also comes alive at night. Here are some spots not to miss:
- The Coconut Club – For delicious fruity cocktails, good vibes and dancing visit the Coconut Club in Bonifacio Global City. Their drinks won’t break the bank and they often have themed event nights.
- Sip & Gogh – For a relaxed evening, visit one of their paint and sip studios and take an evening painting class over wine, cheese and nibbles. Even if you’re not artistic, it’s still great fun.
- 121 Grille & Restaurant – Filipinos love music and love to sing. So, it’s no surprise that karaoke bars are huge draws. Known for being an innovator in the Manila nightlife scene, 121 Grille & Restaurant coined ‘drinkeoke’ (drinks + karaoke) and introduced the beer bong and quiz nights to their venue. It’s great fun.
When it comes to accommodation Manila offers excellent value with outstanding Asian service standards. These are my favourite places to stay when visiting:
- The Manila Hotel – This building is iconic to the city, built over 108 years ago and has seen the likes of royalty, celebrities and heads of state. John F Kennedy, The Beatles and Ernest Hemmingway all enjoyed this property, and it’s easy to see why. From its opulent restaurant to it’s timeless and elegant charm, you will be mesmerised by this luxurious hotel.
- La Casita Mercedes – This bed and breakfast style accommodation in Makati is a 7-bedroom Colonial-era house that is beautifully decorated. It is the perfect place to escape the city noises and enjoy some peace and quiet while still offering a luxury stay
- City Garden Grand Hotel – This affordable hotel, also in Makati, offers up some of the most incredible views in Manila from its rooftop terrace and swimming pool.
Manila is so much more than a brief stop-over destination. It is a glittering metropolis full of fun and excitement with some of the nicest residents in the world!