See remnants of the old walled Fort of Manila, built during the Spanish regime and played a critical part during World War II, a UNESCO heritage Baroque Church, or simply one of the most beautiful sunsets in the world. Board a ferry bound for Corregidor Island, the country’s strongest fortress during World War II.
The country’s capital is an absolute haven for history buffs, shopaholics and urban adventurists. Live the fast life and get lost among the crowd in countless flea markets to large shopping malls, join walking tours and soak in Manila culture, a melting pot of people from all over the Philippines.
Things to do and see
Take a tour around Intramuros
“The Walled City” is the oldest district of Manila, symbolic of Spain’s political and military influence and power during its reign in the country. The fort was heavily damaged during World War II but there are several structures which remained intact.
An interesting tour is Carlos Celdran’s Walk This Way, a guided walking tour of Intramuros where joiners get humorous yet knowledgeable information of Philippine history and culture. You may also opt to hire a horse-drawn carriage or calesa to take you for a tour of must see places such as the UNESCO Heritage Site’s San Agustin Church and Museum, Manila Cathedral, ruins of Intendencia, Casa Manila and Fort Santiago. Adjacent to Intramuros is Rizal Park named after the Philippine National Hero Jose Rizal who was executed here on charges of rebellion. His death kindled the beginning of Philippine revolution against Spain. Next to Rizal Park you will find The National Museum of the Philippines. This is worth a visit if you want to get a good glimpse of the Filipino pre-colonial lifestyle and local artists’ works.
Discover Chinese influence to Philippine culture
Filipinos have been trading with the Chinese alongside Arabs and Indians way before the Spanish colonization. However, the Chinese made a lasting impact to the Filipino culture to date. The legacy is especially evident in food and some local traditions. Visit Bahay Tsinoy, a museum that well depicts the centuries-long relationship of the Chinese in Philippine history.
Binondo is a district in Manila commonly identified as Chinatown. Areas known as “Chinatown” is scattered around the globe but did you know that the oldest Chinatown is in Manila? It dates back to 1594! Take a walking tour of Escolta Street, the country’s premier shopping mecca from the 1900’s to the 60’s and discover fine traces of Neo-Classical, Art Deco, Beaux Arts, Mesopotamian-inspired architecture.
Binondo is a haven for foodies. The best way to explore is on foot, as you restaurant-hop around the district. Don’t leave without trying lumpia rolls, tsinoy empanada, tokwa or tofu, freshly made dumplings, herbal tea drinks or if you have time, indulge in a full-course authentic meal in one of the large restaurants in Binondo.
Hike Taal Volcano
One of the most incredible touristic destinations in the Philippines, enjoy this geological wonder and one of the most scenic areas and It is only 50km from the capital city. There are number of travel operators that offer this unforgettable adventure! Book it early!
Shop till you drop
Manila never seems to sleep. It is always pumped up, lively and entertaining. So is the shopping experience. SM Mall of Asia, the 10th largest mall in the world, has a land area of 42 hectares and average foot traffic of 200,000 people daily. Even larger are SM North EDSA and SM Megamall, both developed by the same company. SM MOA features the first IMAX Theater in the country, several office towers, concert grounds, an esplanade where World Pyro Olympics are held, a 55-meter tall Ferris wheel, an arena, a convention center, Science Discovery Center, more than 1000 shops and about 360 dining establishments.
Greenhills Shopping Center located in San Juan City is another favorite among tourists. With more than 2000 petite stores to choose from, the shopping center is teeming with a myriad of jewelries, gadgets, fashion articles and clothing, antique and native products, shoes, watches, and much more.
More frequented by locals rather than tourists, Divisoria and Tutuban Markets offer ridiculously cheap bargains (Translation: You’ll go from“Seriously?” to “Seriously?!?!?!”). Beware of the maddening crowds, humidity and chaos though.
Spend a day in Makati City
Makati City is dubbed as the financial center of the Philippines due to having the highest density of multinational and local businesses in the entire country. Largely cosmopolitan and packed with skyscrapers, its main thoroughfare Ayala Avenue is nicknamed the Wall Street of the Philippines.
Makati’s Ayala Center is a vast complex of shopping malls comprising of Glorietta, Greenbelt, The Link and Park Square. Rockwell Center’s Powerplant Mall is also a high-end shopping hub. Weekend markets of Salcedo and Legazpi have gained popularity over recent years as they offer fresh organic products, gourmet items, specialty foods and antiques.
There are a couple of green spots amidst the towering buildings. Salcedo Park, Ayala Triangle Gardens and Washington Sycip Park are popular with families and kids on weekends.
For art enthusiasts, Ayala Museum is a must see. It features handcrafted dioramas portraying highlights of Philippine history, maritime vessels, art works by national artists, gold artifacts from pre-colonial era, rare embroidered clothing from ancient Philippines, and more than 500 ceramics which tell a story of the country’s social and commercial ties with its neighbors.
Learn WWII events in a day
The tadpole-shaped island of Corregidor is only an hour and 15 minutes away from Manila Bay by ferry. There are both daily and overnight excursions to this historical tourist destination. Noteworthy attractions here include Pacific War Memorial, Malinta Tunnel showcasing an audio-visual presentation of the highlights of WWII, Filipino Heroes Memorial, Japanese Garden of Peace, Corregidor Lighthouse, ruins of the mile-long barracks, coastal artilleries, ammunition magazines, and a number of military structures. Overnight guests may opt for a ghost-hunting experience, ziplining, kayaking, sunset and sunrise viewing, tunnel lateral tours and ATV rentals.
Admire the Manila Bay sunset
After spending a day in Intramuros, an ideal way to end the day would be to gaze about the sunset of Manila Bay, historically a buzzing port where foreigners traded with the Filipinos. Take a stroll along the 2-kilometer Baywalk and pass by the Manila Yacht Club for a more picturesque view.
Alternatively, you can watch the sunset and the Manila skyline aboard a yacht. There are daily cruises about the bay inclusive of dinner with a local artist performing acoustic songs for the guests.
Manila’s public transportation can get very crowded during rush hour so if you value personal space, it is best to take a taxi or rent a car with a driver. Do not attempt to drive yourself in Manila for it is the “toughest place to be a bus driver” per BBC. If however you intend to mingle with the locals and experience for yourself what it is like to commute in Manila, by all means take the jeepney, train, bus or rickshaw. It won’t be convenient but it can be quite an experience. You might even chance upon a dancing traffic enforcer because traffic apparently is more fun in the Philippines.