If someone tells you about the Philippines, you most probably associate it first with remote, white sandy beaches with coconut palms bending towards the turquoise ocean like El Nido. Indeed the country’s top destinations are the more than 7,000 tropical islands in Southeast Pacific, the capital, Manila, on the other hand, gained less popularity as a tourist spot in the Philippines.
Despite the low interest in tourism, in recent years Manila has become one of the most attractive relocation targets in Asia among expats. Thanks to the numerous multinational companies that outsource their activities or set up their regional HQ here due to the well qualified English speaking workforce. There are a ton of things to do in Manila and you should spend at least 2 days in Manila on your next trip.
Lying on the crossroad of cultures Manila has a unique combination of Filipino, Spanish, American and Chinese heritage and despite its sometimes unpredictable and crazy traffic the metropolis of 10 million inhabitants definitely has a lot to offer to its visitors.
Things To Do In Manila
Day 1 in Manila
1. Salcedo Market, Makati
Get up early and head to the bustling Saturday Market of Salcedo Village to find the finest local fruits and veggies as well as Philippine and international street foods. The market operates since 2005 in the heart of Makati, the Philippines`s financial center, with undiminished popularity. Come rain or snow (latter is less probably though) the vendors offer their delicacies every Saturday from 7 am to 2 pm.
Address: Jaime C. Velasquez Park, Salcedo Village, Makati, Metro Manila
2. Ayala Museum, Makati
A few minutes’ walk away you may drop by the Ayala Museum, an excellent collection of Philippine history and art. My personal favorite is the permanent display on the rich trading and crafting culture before the 16th century, “Gold of Ancestors”. You can pick good quality local products in the shop on the 3rd floor. The museum was founded by the Zóbel de Ayala family, one of Manila`s biggest historical business clans who were also responsible to develop Makati to a business, cultural and residential district. Strolling on the city`s broad, green avenues and shady parks one definitely can notice the touch of well-considered urban planning.
Address: Avenue corner De La Rosa Street, Greenbelt Park, Makati, Makati, Metro Manila
3. Intramuros, Manila
After the modern and expat-heavy Makati let`s get local and explore the metropolis` historical center, Intramuros, in Manila City. Intramuros literally means”inside the walls” as this was a fortified district and the actual city center during the Spanish colonial era. Although a majority of the buildings didn’t survive the siege led by US troops in WW II, thanks to some ongoing restoration work since the `50s there are still few streets carrying Manila`s old patina. The best way to discover the district heritage is joining the sightseeing tour organized by Bambike. Bambike is a socio-ecological enterprise with a mission to produce eco-friendly bamboo bikes while providing communities with sustainable labor and development. Though riding a bamboo bike on the bumpy set stones of Intramuros can be a real challenge, the tour is extremely insightful and well worth the three-hour exercise.
There are several Manila tours you can join that will visit a bunch of the best things to do in Manila, click here to book online with Viator.
4. Binondo and Quiapo, Manila
In case you’re still hungry for some authentic experience cross the Pasig River and get lost in Binondo, the world’s oldest China town. The area had its heydays during the Commonwealth times in the 30’s when the Americans turned Binondo into a commercial center with luxury shopping streets and beautiful art deco warehouses. Nowadays the streets give home to cheap clothing and not so cheap gold and jade stores as well as the best Chinese noodles according to locals.
Address: Bounded by the river | Claro M. Recto Avenue and Avenida Rizal, Manila
Outside of Binondo`s gate, crossing Plaza Lacson starts Quiapo, the old downtown of Manila. You can definitely taste the real Manila here and best to explore it with a local company as it tends to be extremely crowded offering hunting ground for pickpockets. Smokey Tours regularly arrange walking tours in the district.
The Quiapo church is stuffed with devotes all day praying to the famous Black Nazarene, a black wooden statue of the cross-bearing Jesus. According to the legend while the statue was being shipped from Mexico to the Philippines in 1606 fire broke out on the galleon and though the image survived the accident the smoke painted it black. Thanks to its fortunate rescue people consider the icon miraculous. Touching its foot during the January procession when the original statue is being carried over the streets of Quiapo is a great blessing thus millions crowd to reach it causing sometimes fatal accidents.
The square in front of the church, Miranda Plaza, is invaded by fortune tellers and herbal shops, some of them allegedly selling illegal abortifacients as well.
Address: Plaza Miranda & Quezon Blvd., Quiapo, Manila
5. Greenbelt, Makati
After the hustle and bustle of Quiapo might be nice to return to Makati and chill out under the lush tropical flowers of Greenbelt Park. Though Greenbelt is a lifestyle and luxury mall complex, it has a 3-hectare green area accommodating plenty of great bars and restaurants. An interesting attraction of the park is the open air chapel where holy masses are celebrated throughout the week. Consider staying in a hotel in Makati or renting an Airbnb apartment. There are several luxury condos for under $40 a night.
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Address: Legazpi Street, Legazpi Village, Makati, Kalakhang Maynila
Day 2 in Manila
1. Bonifacio Global City, Taguig
Bonifacio Global City, or BGC, is the newest and most hyped, thus easily the most expensive neighborhood of Manila. Being first and foremost a business center it tends to be pretty abandoned on weekends, which is good news for its residents who can enjoy a traffic-free Sunday brunch on a café terrace. My to go place is definitely Wildflour Café and Bakery.
With its numbered streets and avenues, skyscrapers and bagel stores BGC are just like a mini-Manhattan or as NYC must have been in the early 20th century – the economic boom the country has been enjoying for a couple of years now here is the most obvious. Office and residential buildings are growing rapidly out of the ground and stores of luxury car brands occupy the corners.
It’s worth to make a nice stroll after breakfast and explore the area paying special attention to BGC`s street art scenes. Since the first street art festival in 2015 many unique and colorful murals from well-known local and international artist decorate the firewalls.
For a hearty lunch head to Antipolo and discover a hidden gem just outside of Manila, circa an hour drive from BGC. This idyllic little eatery called Crescent Moon Cafe and Studio Pottery lies in a garden surrounded by a pond with koi fishes and turtles. The place is run by the family of Lanelle Abueva-Fernando, a famous local ceramist who supplies ceramic pieces to several restaurants inland and abroad. The café also houses the studio and a store too. Should you be interested in the art of pottery Lanelle also runs regular hands-on workshops.
The cozy restaurant itself doesn’t have an a la carte menu, there is a buffet style set up with 4-5 Asian inspired meals. Their homebrew beer is definitely a must try. Better to make a reservation in advance as the place is quite popular among the locals.
3. BGC by night
It would be a pity to skip Manila`s growing bar scene with some really fine examples of master mixology. For an exclusive experience let’s get back to the beginning, to BGC, to a classy speakeasy bar, namely The Bank Bar. Should you wonder where its name comes from, the secret reveals once you check the location: the place hides behind a convenience store on the ground floor of RCBC Savings Bank Corporate Center. Sipping one of their whiskey cocktails can be a proper finish off a two-day intense but insightful rush through the city.
Most trips to the Philippines start or end in Manila, as it is the gateway to the best islands in the Philippines. We hope we convinced you that there actually is a lot of fun things to do in Manila and to consider spending at least one or two days in Manila.
Emese (Meshi) Dobos was living the young HR professionals` everyday life in Budapest, Hungary when in 2014 due to an opportunity got relocated to Manila, Philippines and suddenly stepped out of her comfort zone. Since then she is trying to explore the region, soaking up the unique architecture, history, and people of this continent. Traveling, experiencing and understanding the places – this is what she is passionate about and would like to share this passion with others. Check out her blog: Travel with Care