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Manila Travel Guide

Posted by on Jun 5th, 2008
Filed Under: Festival, Manila


Manila is one of the Philippine’s oldest cities, and glimpses of cultures past and present blend together to give you an experience which is sometimes gritty, sometimes pleasant, but unmistakably authentic.

The City of Manila is a sprawling melting pot where you can sample the country’s best offerings, if you know where to look for them. Aside from the usual tourist magnets, there are plenty of offbeat destinations in and around the city to keep you occupied and interested during your stay. If time is not on your side, do check out our Manila in 24 hours guide.

Distinct from the other cities of Asia, Manila is best enjoyed in piecemeal trips. Authentic colonial churches withstand the test of time and are well worth the visit, and the city is at par with the best in Asia in shopping and entertainment. Intramuros and the 150-hectare sprawl around Rizal Park are also essential stops for casual tourists. The local fiestas and fetes are also something to look forward to, and the nightlife in areas like Malate, Pasig, Makati and Libis (within the metro) are an event of their own.

manila city

Of course the city has its downsides; as in many third-world countries, poverty is obvious within fifteen minutes from the airport, and the once-beautiful Pasig River has also outlived its best years. If you’re not accustomed to tropical weather, its best to postpone your trip until the months of October to January; the wet-dry climate of the country can be very fickle, humid, and balmy, or otherwise drenching wet. If you’re looking for a laidback experience, the city isn’t for you, but respite is within hours on the outskirts of the metropolis. The traffic problem is moderate compared to other cities, but the pollution is appalling, especially during rush hours; if you have a serious health condition, this relatively congested city can adversely affect your health.

manila sunset

If the weather isn’t a problem for you, anytime is the best time to go to Manila; fiestas of patron Saints are religiously observed around the country, and since each Saint has its own fiesta day, there is something going on in any barangay at any particular time. May is also Flores de Mayo month, and the evening processions of maidens in detailed gowns are a treat for foreigners and locals alike. Consumerism is at its peak during the Christmas season, and you’ll find bargains on practically every shop, but particularly in the infamous Quiapo and Divisoria markets, where many of the pirated (but cheap) buys can be had for a fraction of the cost of their original counterparts.

If you’re not staying with friends or relatives, the first to five-star hotels offer great service at a price, particularly the Manila Hotel located near Baywalk and Rizal Park. There are also plenty of other boarding options which accommodate all budgets: condotels, apartelles, motels, transients, bedspaces, and apartments. Condotels and apartelles are usually decent; just make sure you take a thorough look-see before you rent the place. As for motels, go for the franchised establishments, and with the others, if the terms and the neighborhood don’t feel right, you might as well rent at your own risk.

manila streets

There’s so much to see and do in Manila! You can sample the city’s bustling nightlife at the upscale Glorietta center in Makati, along bohemian Malate, at Eastwood, Libis, and the resto block on the SM Mall of Asia, a short ride from the Ninoy Aquino International Airport. The dress code is usually relaxed, and you’ll find the bars and restos packed even on weeknights, as night-shift call center employees tend to gravitate to these areas to wind down or prep up for work. Similar watering holes may also be found along Timog and West Avenue in Quezon City, and at the Ortigas Center in Mandaluyong.

Some things you have to try out during your stay: visit the old stone churches (especially UNESCO San Agustin church in Intramuros), view a stage performance at the Cultural Center of the Philippines (on Roxas Boulevard); sample Chinese culture and delicacy at Binondo, Manila’s Chinatown; find great bargains on anything at Divisoria (particularly on 168 mall), bulk fabrics at Baclaran, and at Tutuban mall; watch raucous cockfights at the Libertad cockpit in Pasay; view the superb sunset on Manila Bay along Baywalk, on the cultural grounds around San Isidro, or from the chartered ferry SV Carina which takes an hour-long cruise along the bay; the IMAX experience is also available at the SM Mall of Asia for three-dimensional film offerings.

manila children

If you are travelling to Manila, do ensure you are well covered with the right worldwide travel insurance policy. There are many vendors online including

Some things to remember during your stay: if you’re tempted to take a Kalesa (horse-drawn carriage) tour around the city’s hotspots, make sure that you and the driver are clear on the rate (250 pesos per hour is a good deal); even so, the latter will make excuses and try to increase the fare along the way. Don’t give in – they can be very persistent and even irritating. Also, don’t exchange your currency on the ‘money markets’ such as Santa Cruz; these usually have very appealing (dubious) rates, but the teller will try to scam you by shortchanging the exchange. Hiring cabs from hotels can cost you more than hailing metered ones from the street; insist that the driver turns on the meter before you tell him where to go. It is also normal for you to be frisked, and your belongings searched when entering any major establishment (malls, hotels, even restaurants) – security is a priority in the Philippines, and as discomfiting as it is, get used to it during your stay. Keep your belongings close to yourself in fairly crowded areas (flea markets, railway stations, and even on the sidewalks), and be wary of dubious offers or pleas for help; con men, pickpockets, and snatchers use varied methods of distraction and getaway to their advantage. And you might want to stay away from the city during the wet season (June to November); the traffic and flooded streets can be a gridlock of irate, stranded motorists and commuters.

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Grace is loving every minute she spend traveling around Philippines, meeting people and making new friends. Her travel mantra - “Live, breathe. It is never too late to feel alive.”

Tourism Philippines thrives on the knowledge of the community. Got a tip, photo or even a guide on a place you been to in Philippines? We will love to hear from you!

10 Responses to “Manila Travel Guide”

  1. shafiq says:

    is very beautyful place and wounderful page

  2. Grace says:

    Shafiq : Thank you for your kind comments. Yes. Manila definitely holds a special place in my heart.

    pktan : Will look forward for your next visit to Manila! But July can really be quite a “waterish” timing!

  3. Epi says:

    I think we should replace the third picture with the photo of the old man urinating on the wall in the left.

  4. Tyribe says:

    Been to The Philippine a few times, and my favourite place has always been Manila. Love your article on this wonderful place.

    • Ryan says:

      Hey Tyribe, if you are coming back you may want to check the top 10 best places to eat in Manila article as well. :)

  5. Federico Muir says:

    How about feature or include the cities that’s part of Metro Manila (e.g. Makati, Quezon City, San Juan, Navotas, Fort Bonifacio Global City, Mandaluyong, Pasay City, etc.) in the descriptions. I believe there’s several and more attractive and intriguing tourist things for visitors to see at those places. Include restaurant, theater, scenic places, attractive museum, schedule of festivals, etc.

  6. Brian Shipley says:

    I really enjoy the Philippines, even Manila, although it is crowded and dirty. I am used to city life, and I do not have to drive when in the Phils. But my advice, if it is important, leave very early!
    I really enjoyed the Taal Volcano and Corregidor I liked the Manila Zoo, and the WWII cemetery is very humbling and beautifully kept.

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