Visiting Manila soon? Here’s a quick guide to the capital city’s must-sees, plus a few scenic side trips.
There’s more to the Philippines than the pristine beaches of Palawan and Boracay. If you like to experience a bit of everything – arts and culture, shopping and fabulous food – the capital city of Manila is a good place to start. And just because it’s always nice to get out of the concrete jungle (and the horrendous traffic), we added scenic side trips for good measure. Ready?
Day 1 in the Manila
Fly into Manila, which will be your home base. Start off on a posh note with a stroll through Greenbelt Mall, at the heart of Makati, the central business district.
What’s good to eat in Manila? Get a taste of delectable Filipino cuisine at Mesa Filipino Moderne or check out the no-frills but delish Recipes – try the Gising Gising (ground pork and green bean cooked in coconut milk), General’s Chicken and Lechon Kawali (deep-fried pork belly), at less than US$5 per dish.
Walk off your meal in the lovely central garden and keep an eye out for the sculptures by Filipino artists. Visit the Ayala Museum for a peek at contemporary art and a glam history lesson on Philippine gold, then check out the local designer boutiques at the Filipino row (2/F, Greenbelt 5).
For merienda (mid-afternoon snack), walk across the garden to the quaint Cafe Mary Grace at Greenbelt 2 to indulge in its famous ensaymada (spiral-shaped bread sprinkled with sugar) paired with a comforting cup of hot chocolate (about US$10).
Still at Greenbelt? Great dinner choices include People’s Palace for excellent Thai, Sala (around the corner at the PLDT Building) for sophisticated European cuisine or walk over to Cirkulo in the Milky Way Building along Arnaiz Avenue for the chance to savour sumptuous Spanish food in Philippines.
For a glimpse of who’s hot in the local band scene head to 12 Monkeys at Century City Mall, Kalayaan Avenue, Makati.
Day 2 in Manila
Hail a taxi (ask them to turn on the meter before beginning your trip) and make your way to Intramuros.
A walking tour by irreverent guide/performance artist Carlos Celdran (celdrantours.blogspot.com) is arguably the most fun way to explore the walled city, kalesa (horse-drawn calash) rides included. Or you could DIY and visit the key historical sights like San Agustin Church and Plaza San Luis on your own.
When your tummy rumbles, cross the tree-shaded courtyard and step back in time at the classic Ilustrado restaurant for more delicious Filipino food.
Beyond the walled city, explore the Rizal Park (Luneta) dedicated to the national hero, then venture into the National Museum, a lovely neoclassical building which houses iconic works of art such as Juan Luna’s Spoliarium.
For something fun and educational, families with young kids travelling in Philippines will enjoy a fun active day at Manila Ocean Park.
Catch the mythical Manila Bay sunset from the Sky Deck at the The Bayleaf Intramuros while digging into the famed Bayleaf Bagnet and ice-cold San Miguel Beer.
For an authentic local vibe, drop by Oarhouse, a Malate institution.
Day 3 in Mount Pinatubo
Raring for adventure? Take a day tour to Mt Pinatuboup north, which offers you lots of Instagram photo ops of the other-worldly ash-covered terrain and eerily beautiful lake.
Plenus DMC & Travel (email: firstname.lastname@example.org) conveniently offers transfers, a guided mountain trek and thrilling 4 x 4 ride — not for the physically challenged or faint-hearted — and a hearty Kapampangan picnic provided by the popular Everybody’s Cafe, all for about US$75.
Head back to Manila and collapse into bed.
Day 4 in Batangas
This time, head south to Lilom Resort in Anilao, Batangas, for a rustic seaside hideaway.
Public transport is quite challenging, so it’s best to rent a private car (or van and driver) and remember: Waze is your friend.
The agenda for today will be to just snorkel or lie on the sand, take a boat ride to a nearby island if you wish, enjoy each other’s company, relish hearty meals (included in the package) and fall asleep to the sound of the waves.
Day 5 in Batangas
For a livelier, kid-friendly adventure in Philippines, drive about 1 hour 45 minutes to Aquaria Waterpark in Playa Calatagan, Batangas, for the day (open for walk-ins from 8am–6pm). This leisure resort belonging to the group that runs the premiere Club Punta Fuego boasts fun watersports, a giant pool slide, a multitude of pools, a white-sand beach, a restaurant and pool bar – take your pick!
Note: Entrance fee is about US$10 per adult and US$5 per child; meals not included.
On the way back to Manila, make an overnight stop at Tagaytay and check in at the chic Domicillo, the classy Discovery Country Suites or the quaint Sonya’s Garden Bed & Breakfast.
Cool and laidback, Tagaytay is a mere two hours from Manila, the quick getaway of choice from the stifling heat of the city.
Day 6 in Tagaytay City
Rise and shine and head to Breakfast at Antonio’s for classic pancakes or Eggs Benedict with a view of Taal Volcano, a unique volcano ‘within a lake within a volcano’.
For lunch, head to the main Antonio’s restaurant, celebrated across Asia for its superb gastronomic offerings (and it’s really elegant, too), or feast on a Filipino and continental buffet lunch with a view at Taal Vista Hotel’s Cafe Veranda (about US$15–22). Head back to your hotel to take a leisurely siesta (are you in the habit by now?) or enjoy a massage.
For an early dinner, we suggest a romantic Mediterranean meal at the rambling property of Marcia Adams.
On the way back to Manila, you’ll see fruit and flower stands lining the roadside – a nice thank-you gift if you have local hosts!
Day 7 in Manila
Chill at the booming Bonifacio Global City and watch people parade their pets along Bonifacio High Street.
Enjoy a comforting Filipino brunch at Abe, or delish organic eats at The Wholesome Table.
Deposit the kids at Active Fun or The Mind Museum, while you stroll down the shop-lined avenue. Book lovers should make a beeline for bookstore Fully Booked. Women who love their beauty products shouldn’t miss out cult favourite skincare source Vmv Hypoallergenics, as well as lovely souvenirs at Kultura over at SM Aura Premier.
Do try to book a reservation for rock-star Chef Bruce Ricketts’ inventive Japanese-inspired tasting menu at Mecha Uma (‘absurdly delicious’ in Japanese).
Party animals must check out the scene at The Palace Pool Club or Valkyrie for one last hurrah before heading home.
How to Get There
Philippine Airlines and Singapore Airlines offer direct flights from Singapore to Manila (MNL).
Where To Stay
Hotels in cosmopolitan Makati are a popular and accessible choice. Manila Peninsula is a classic, while budget backpackers without kids might want to check out options in the red-light P. Burgos area. Culture vultures will appreciate being in the historical Manila quarter housing the iconic Manila Hotel, the swanky Sofitel Philippine Plaza and the charming The Henry boutique hotel.