Manila – capital of the Philippines – is equal parts cool and captivating. When you are planning your next trip overseas, chances are that your agenda includes alluring places like Thailand, China, Japan, and Cambodia. It remains the case that for so many people, Philippines, and in particular Manila, remain a bit of a mystery.
There is an incredible cultural melting pot in Manila, including Malay, Spanish, American, Chinese, and Arabic influences. The resulting output is heavy, and at times overwhelming! The traffic here is startling, yes, and the poverty at times too much, but be sure to spend some time getting to know the incredible gift of Manila. Where some of the other capital cities in South East Asia reveal their treasures readily, Manila takes a little bit of time to get to know. Revealing this beautiful city piece-by-piece as you explore however, makes the reward much more worth while.
So, what are some of the top things to do in Manila?
This stone citadel was founded by the Spanish in 1571. The site itself has lived and stood through wars, natural disasters, and plenty of Colonial Invaders, and yet it still stands. This makes it a metaphor for Manila itself, a city that has undergone incredible change and much influence from the outside world. Be sure to visit here before 10 a.m. while the temperature outside is still manageable! After you have explored this 64-hectare stone citadel, check out the nearby breakfast places. The hot chocolate and savoury brioche are renowned in this area which is also the perfect backdrop for great pictures.
There is some incredible art that can be found in Manila, and none better than that on Chino Roces Avenue. The Manila Galleria is often home to world-class exhibitions from both the Philippines and further afield. You can explore superb photography, video and installation work at the gallery, and purchase gifts for the people at home from a nearby souvenir shop as well.
This stunning spot is as close to Filipino home cooking as you can get! Enjoy dishes like pork adobo, pasta with crab fat and deep fried whiting. The character-filled decor is a huge plus in my book and this makes a great spot to kick back and enjoy a day after a full day of sightseeing has you wanting to do nothing much at all. (Related: What to eat when traveling around the Philippines).
Manila is a predominantly Roman Catholic city. As such, you’re never going to be too far away from the Holy Spirit of some kind – even when you’re shopping! The spirit of the Roman Catholic church is very prominent in Greenbelt 3, a luxury shopping complex, and a spot where capitalism and Christianity make for intriguing bedfellows. Mass is heard here at least three times a day, so you can spend some time shopping up a storm, and then atone for the sins committed on your credit card in mass. After you’ve atoned, go out and sin some more why not, and then enjoy another mass. You’ve earned it, after all!
Yum. If there was one thing that I could take home from my trip to the Philippines it would be Halo-Halo. This is hugely confusing as a beverage, and yet entirely enticing as it stands. The name literally translates to mean ‘jumble-jumble’, and it is an incredible mixture of shaved ice and condensed milk, mixed up with any kind of combination of beans, fruit, coconut, dulce de leche, yams, and/or jelly. Don’t forget to top it all off with a scoop of ice cream, and stir it up for the ultimate sweet treat and ice cream headache in one!
Want to travel to the Philippines? Check out this great budget guide.
For more amazing things to do in the Philippines, check out the Highlights of the Philippines.