With over 7,000 islands in the Philippines, it’s without question the country is largely visited for its island life. With sparkling white sands and pellucid waters in paradise, it can be easy to forgotten what else the Philippines has on offer.
Whatever trip you take in the Philippines, you’ll more than likely have to pass through its rustling capital, Manila. Not for the faint hearted, Manila is easily dismissed as a doormat destination by many, but if you do have some time to spare, why not make the most of it?
Manila has historic attractions, stunning churches, shopping malls and a growing vibrant nightlife waiting to be experienced. If you give Manila chance, minus all the chaos, you might come to love this manic city when others don’t.
Rizal Park & Paco Park
Rizal Park is dedicated to Jose Rizal, who was one of the Philippines most loved heroes. His contribution and relentlessness to reforming the country from the control of Spain eventually led to the nations independence. The most prominent landmark in Rizal Park is the Rizal Monument, depicting Rizal in a bronze sculpture. This is where he is buried today.
There are museums, fountains, statues and artworks to also enjoy whilst strolling through Rizal Park.
Paco Park has a long history too. Used during the colonial period as a large cemetery, Jose Rizal was initially secretly buried here. Japan, during WW2 also used Paco Park as an ammunition depot centre. With old walls and a small domed cathedral, Paco Park will be forever part of Manila’s history.
Within Intramuros, ‘The Walled City’ lays the 15th century fortress that is Fort Santiago. It is arguably the city’s most historic attraction today. Jose Rizal was imprisoned and executed here. Today the Rizal Shrine provides visitors with the telling of his exploits and various memorabilia.
The Gate of Fort Santiago is the postcard of citadel and by appearance strongly signifies this part of Manila’s history. Plaza Moriones and Plaza de Armas are also within Fort Santiago for you to explore.
Are you curios?
Poblacion, Makati is arguably the best place to be for nightlife in Manila. If you plan it right, you can avoid the blasé bars and have a really good night. Don’t get lured into the over-the-top P.Burgos Street strip.
Start your night down the Caceres Street, a side street to Burgos, in Café Curieux, a French bar home to good rums and delicious French food. In a dimmed-light setting, this is one either for some fuel for the night ahead or a nightcap to see the night away.
The Social on Ebro
Make your way to the Social at Ebro, situated off Mercedes Avenue that is in parallel with Kalayaan Avenue which has a late-night outdoor container park situated with a couple of restaurants and bars. Colourful yet clever in its design you can snack on things such as pizza or Indian cuisine here. People come here for pre-drinks and you’ll likely bump into working professionals, travellers or nomads.
A road across from Ebro is Felipe Street is home to a handful of the same and is arguably the coolest pick of the lost. El Chupacabra is a tasty Mexican joint whilst Brooklyn Chicken is a decent spot too. Heckle and Jeckle suits your sports bar needs whilst Tambai, a street food corner restaurant and bar, has some great snacks and outdoor seating. The vibe here sets the quirky and alternative tone that Felipe Street possesses.
Don Pedro Street
Don Pedro Street, across Kalayaan Avenue has also a selection of bars and restaurants to enjoy your night in. Z Hostel feels like the vocal point here, especially for travellers, but you can also enjoy stylish spots like the Alamat Filipino Pub & Deli and Pure Vida.
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Philippines may have thousands of islands but it’s also got a whole lot of something else too; churches. And there’s nowhere more full of stunning, catholic churches than there is in Manila; you could call it ‘church city’!
San Agustin is the most popular church for visitors and is the oldest in Manila. Reconstructed several times, today it has high ceilings, intricate artwork and a pristine persona.
It was built by the Spanish to add to their spread of Catholicism and despite many attempts during wars and natural disasters throughout the years, it still stands.
Quiapo Church, aka Minor Basilica of Black Nazarene is also a stunning church within Manila.
It is famous for it’s Black Nazarene Procession, a twice a year event where thousands of worshippers come to feast, once on 9th January and also on Good Friday at Easter time. This is because it is home to Nazarane, thought to be the miraculous image of Christ. It’s quite the event – and if you’re in Manila at this time, you definitely should attend!
You want to see this yourself?
Malate wouldn’t be Malate without Robinsons Mall, the vocal point of this popular district. From food courts to cinemas to clothes and electronic shops, Robinsons is worth a punt when in Manila.
With several floors to wander around, the design of the place aims for it to be difficult to leave. Still, for any shopping enthusiasts, Robinsons is a good budget to midrange option in Manila.
Bonifacio High Street
Clean, peaceful and modern, Bonifacio High Street is also another welcome escape from the chaotic nature of Manila. With an abundance of things to do such eating out, admiring artwork, museums, theatres, bars and shopping there’s plenty to do in the morning, afternoon and at night.
Perfect for starting the day with breakfast, head to Luna Breakfast & Coffee, with some local Filipino delights you must try. Stroll around Bonifacio and revel in its green-lung fresh air thereafter, go for a shop and maybe catch a movie at the BGC Cinema!
Binondo: The World’s Oldest Chinatown
Fascinatingly, Binondo was originally supposed to be for Chinese immigrants and well after a while, it became a Chinatown, as we know them today.
Binondo Church, aka Minor Basilica of St. Lorenzo Ruiz, is the centrepiece attraction. A magnificent ancient place of Catholics worship, it is one of Manila’s major attractions. Other religious places include a couple of Buddhist temples such as Seng Guen and Kuang Kong respectively.
Also visit Escolta Street, a bustling place for shopping houses top of the range items but intriguingly in old buildings.
Although typically a thing in places in Japan and other parts of Northeast Asia, the capsule hostel trend seems to be coming to the Philippines. One place you might want to consider is Tambayan, right next to Robinsons Mall in Malate. If you’re travelling on a budget then having your own privacy whilst sleeping is often unheard of. But at Tambayan they provide your own blind shutters to provide you with some personal space.
Also, Tambayan has it’s own bar and restro area that is popular for guests and locals alike. With great food, drinks and the occasional live band, it’s a great spot to stay in.
Remember to do the Filipino things!
Ride in a Jeepney, drink Red Horse beer and if you dare, try balut, a duck foetus that the locals love to eat!