Manila City Guide: Top 10 Things to Do
Philippines’ underrated capital Manila, is an eclectic mixture of old and new, rich and poor. A conglomeration of 12 cities and five municipalities creates what is known as Metro Manila. In this often overlooked gem, you will find one of the world’s most contradicting cities. Shopping malls featuring brand name stores will stand next to slums with homeless people on the streets. Yet, as a city that survived the bombing offensive of World War II, you won’t want to miss the historical beauty and exotic flavors that Manila has to offer.
In this guide I share some of the best things to do in Manila, highlight some of the cities main points of interest, as well as offer recommendations of where to stay in Manila.
WHAT TO DO IN MANILA
1) RIDE A JEEPNEY
Riding a jeepney through Manila is probably the coolest way to see the city. Originally, this flamboyant means of transportation was made from US military jeeps left over from World War II. Since they are a popular source of transportation for Filipinos, you can simply hop on and off as you desire. When you are ready to depart the jeepney, simply say “para” and the driver will stop the ride. Before departing, you will send your payment down the chain of people in the jeepney until the driver receives it. The driver will then send your change back to you via the human chain.
2) EXPLORE INTRAMUROS
Intramuros, also known as the “Walled City” features a series of different sights that are all within five-to-ten minutes walking distance of each other. Personally, I chose to hire a tour guide to take me around on a Malabon Tricycle since the weather was hot and I wanted to see as much as possible within my small time frame. One of the most popular stops in Intramuros is Rizal Park, the place where the hundred-year-old Monument of Dr. Jose Rizal, Philippines’ most celebrated national hero, is located. Here are a few of the other sites you can visit while in Intramuros.
3) TRY A BRAZO CUP!
At Cioccolata Churros Café, you can find Manila’s famous brazo cup, a decadent dessert filled with meringue custard and topped with confectioners sugar. The dessert is so light and airy that it melts in your mouth the moment you pop it in, similar to that of a roasted marshmallow.
Other unique treats at Cioccolata include churros with various dipping sauces, the peanut butter and jelly cupcake, caramel pretzel, and red velvet cream frappe.
4) WATCH THE SUNSET AT MANILA BAY
I’ve seen a lot of sunsets in my life, but this one was like a real-life painting. The layers of pink, orange and blue in the sky and the sparkling reflection of the ocean made me grateful to be in that place at that moment. Manila Bay is a favorite for locals and will allow you to be among the happy families and children.
Side note: For 12 pesos, you can buy a cup of buko juice (fresh coconut juice) from a street vendor at Manila Bay and enjoy it while watching the sunset.
5) PASAY SEAFOOD MARKET
Also known as Manila’s “Seafood Village,” this was personally one of my favorite places in Manila. Shrimp, crab, lobster, you name it, you will find all the freshest seafoods at an affordable price. Choose your favorite seafoods at the market, then bring it to your choice of restaurant to be cooked to your liking. This market is a must for seafood lovers!
6) TRY TURO TURO AT PATIO DE CONCHITA
Turo-turo style is where customers can point with their fingers at which food they want on their plate. The idea of Turo-Turo is similar to an American style buffet except the prices are far lower. Since Chicken Adobo is a Philippine favorite, I made sure to add that to my tray. I also suggest trying Giniling na Baboy, a hearty stew made of ground pork, tomato, peas, potatoes, and eggs.
Try it at: Patio de Conchita
7) VISIT SAN AGUSTIN CHURCH
Located in the middle of Intramuros, the 400-year-old San Agustin Church is a must-see historical treasure. Having survived World War II, two fires and seven earthquakes, the church is the only structure in Intramuros to survive relatively intact. The church itself is recognized as a National Culture Treasure and a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its Baroque architecture and historical artwork.
The church's former monastery now houses the San Agustin Museum: a collection of religious artwork, relics and ecclesiastical props used throughout the church's history, the oldest pieces dating back to the founding of Intramuros itself.
8) VISIT THE MANILA CHINESE CEMETERY
As the second oldest cemetery in Manila, you will discover the resting place where Chinese citizens were denied burial during the Spanish colonial period. The mausoleums show the lifestyles that the Chinese lived in Manila while they were still alive. A walk along “Millionaires Road” will expose you to large mausoleums with various amenities such as fridges, air conditioning and well-maintained bathrooms for when the family members of the Chinese who were buried come to visit.
9) TRY HALO HALO!
What may look like an ice cream sundae is actually Filipino’s classic shaved ice dessert known as halo-halo. The summertime treat features layers and layers of shaved ice drizzled with fruit, sweetened beans, evaporated milk and ice cream. Halo-halo in Tagalog translates to “mix-mix.” Depending on where you order your halo from, it may have red beans, sweetened white beans, coconut strings, jackfruit, lychees, or other varied fruits.
Get it at: Barbara’s Heritage Restaurant in Intramuros.
10) SHOP AT DIVISORIA NIGHT MARKET
Also known as “shopper’s heaven,” you will find everything from local food to clothing and shoes at exceptional bargain prices. Besides from finding your favorite items at remarkable prices, you can experience firsthand how locals shop and sell their products on the street. Divisoria is a remarkable opportunity to immerse yourself into Filipino culture at Manila’s largest night market.
WHERE TO STAY IN MANILA
Depending on your budget and style of travel there are plenty of places to choose from to stay in Manila. Personally, when I traveled to Manila I chose to stay near Manila Bay so that I could relax and watch the sunset as much as I pleased. Next time I go back to Manila; however, I will most likely stay in Intramuros so that I can be within walking distance of the city’s cultural highlights. In Manila there are several areas to stay and I have highlighted some of my top picks by location below:
Near Manila Bay
The Red Planet Manila Bay is a stylish hotel that won’t break the bank. Located just 5 minutes away from Manila Bay, you will be able to watch the sunset at your convenience
Golden Phoenix Hotel - Manila offers sweeping views of the city as well as a pampering experience that entails massages and a spa. Solo travelers in particular like this location.
White Knight Intramuros a great choice for travelers interested in sightseeing, culture and culturally diverse food, with an excellent location since it is located inside Intramuros and across the street from San Agustin Church.
The Bayleaf Intramuros is located inside the historic walled city of Intramuros, while the skydeck features panoramic views of the city’s skyline. Inside the hotel you will find the Cioccolata Churros Cafe.
The Peninsula Manila is perfectly located in Makati so you can experience nightlife, meet friendly locals and shop and dine as you please.
Fairmont Makati is in the heart of Makati Central Business District, conveniently located so that you are within walking distance of the city’s best malls and museums.
Near The Airport
City Of Dreams - Nüwa Manila is a great luxury option if you want a hotel close to the airport for an early morning flight that features an outdoor pool, restaurant and bar.