Mention Manila to a traveler, and you’ll probably be met with confusion. The Philippine capital doesn’t exactly come to mind as a top travel destination for those who don’t know much about the city. The ones who do, on the other hand, might prefer the more upscale neighborhoods of Makati City and BGC.
Chances are, if one does end up in Manila (different from Metro Manila), they’re more likely passing through the city without any real plans — in transit and itching to get to their next destination. Yet who says a layover isn’t enough to explore the district once touted as “Pearl of the Orient”? Rife with history and an unshakable soul, Manila is more than the slums, the red light district, and the ruins of a once-great city. Here’s a guide to cover Manila’s bases in under 24 hours, changing misconceptions one step at a time.
6. Look at the art at National Museum
Time: 2 hours
Photos for WhenInManila.com by Mark Tating
The National Museum is a must-stop for art enthusiasts, history buffs, and just about everyone, mainly because admission is free. A majestic structure, the grandiose hall was once the House of Representatives and is now home to the famous Spoliarium painting. Various artworks ranging from historical to contemporary are mounted in its galleries, offering something for everyone. Tip: Navigate through the museum’s halls counter-clockwise.
5. Check out the activity at HUB Make Lab
Time: 1 1/2 hours
Once a district of luxury, time has since left Escolta behind, leaving the remnants of neocolonial buildings in its wake. Yet amidst the chaotic bustle on its sidewalks is something of a cultural revival in the area. Hub has set up shop in the old First United building, a hipster enclave with stalls manned by young creatives peddling their artisanal wares. Check out The Den as well, a neighborhood coffee shop poised to rival Makati’s third wave cafés.
First United Building, 413 Escolta St, Binondo, Manila, Metro Manila
4. Explore Binondo
Time: 2 hours
Our Chinoy feast at Quik Snack
Lined with eclectic shops, imported produce and Hokkien food, Binondo is a neighborhood beckoning to be explored. Take in the sights, smells and sounds of the world’s oldest Chinatown teeming with rich and vibrant history. Various eateries offer their own special dishes, but for a quick introduction to the cuisine, grab a bite at the hole-in-the-wall Quik-Snack. Tip: You can also go on a food tour with Ivan Man Dy, to sample different tastes of Binondo.
3. Go on the Walk This Way tour
Time: 2-3 hours
A trip to Manila is not complete without going on Carlos Celdran’s Walk This Way tour, the best way to go around Intramuros. The actual walking is very short with lots of sitting, yet the time should be more than enough to fill you with knowledge on how the Philippines was and why it is the way it is today. You walk away from the tour with a memorable impression, but take note: this isn’t your typical history class.
2. Indulge in halo-halo
Time: 30 minutes
Our friend enjoying her first halo-halo!
After spending a day walking around under the Manila sun, cool off with a classic glass of halo-halo. Shaved ice, ube halaya, milk and more — do I even need to tell you why you need to try this?
Try: Barbara’s in Intramuros
1. Eat and drink in Malate
Time: 4-5 hours
Don’t be misled by its red district image — Malate was once a bohemian quarter offering Manila’s best art, music and food. Some of its oldest establishments live on today, such as the Café Adriatico. Now it’s a multicultural area with shawarma, ramen, an English pub, and more. Having gone through many different phases through the years, Malate is bursting with character and stories to tell.
Try: Café Adriatico, Al-Sham, Erra’s Ramen, The Oarhouse
Got more time to explore Manila? Check out more things to do in Manila!
Did we miss anything? Let us know other hidden gems in the city!