THE BEST 15 PLACES TO VISIT IN MANILA
With its heady concoction of traffic, sky rise, prevalent poverty and extensive urban sprawl Manila is a tricky balance of chic and trash, and for this reason often remains a place untraveled. As the Philippine capital, it has influences from Malay, Spanish, American, Chinese and Arabic cultures. If you are willing to remove the blinkers and move beyond clouded assumptions, you will discover a Manila rich in history and with vitality to spark even the most seasoned traveller. Now it may not hold the beauty of Sabang Beach, or Banaue Rice terraces, but Manila has its own charm, so check out these places to visit in Manila and make the most of your time here. Get yourself to Manila, take a couple of nights, and learn what the capital means to the Philippines.
Literally translates to “within the walls”, and so this walled city is the historical centre of Manila. The enormous stone citadel was founded by the Spanish 1571, and was the seat of government when the Philippines were part of the Spanish Realm. It has withstood natural disasters and wars with solid determination. While you are there, be sure to also visit the San Augustin Church. Due to the size and time taken to really appreciate visiting the oldest district, it is advisable to go in the morning to avoid the sweltering heat
Hit the Mall (Greenbelt, Mall of Asia, or SM Mega Mall)
Greenbelt is not just any shopping mall, it is a super-sized mall with a maze of 5 buildings and beautiful grounds of trees, grass, flowers, water and walkways. If you are looking for some air-conditioned comfort and some retail therapy, then you will find it in the Makati area. Also a fantastic place for restaurants, cafes and bars – try Spicy fingers or Club Cuba. If you have time, just outside the Greenbelt shopping mall is the Ayala Museum which houses a collection of 400-year-old gold jewellery from before and during Spanish times. Do not miss the diorama display capturing the culture and history of the Philippines. The Salsedo and Legaspi markets near Greenbelt are also quite good but the operating dates vary, so best to ask around. If pearls and wholesale jewellery markets are your cup of tea, then Greenhills is the place.
The Mall of Asia has a Manila’s IMAX movie theatre, and behind the mall is a great sunset spot. SM Megamall is the 4 largest in the world, you get the picture!
Barter in Chinatown/Binondo
The world’s OLDEST China town! After soaking up enough of the Spanish history of Manila, between Santa Cruz and Binondo you will find the bustling community of Chinatown. After centuries of suppression by the Spanish, Chinatown is full of life and a walk down the main street Ongpin st is essential. Mooncakes can be found aplenty here – these sweet treats were used to disguise messages during the war against the Mongols.
Chill at Rizal Park
Originally named “Luneta”, this park was the site of José Rizal’s execution in 1896 by the Spanish authorities, and in the 1950s the name was changed in his honour. With its sprawling open lawns and ornamental gardens, it is a fantastic place to stretch out and escape the chaos of the city. If you are there on a Sunday you can relax at a free concert in the park at 5.30 pm.
Learn Your History in Fort Santiago
Built at the turn of the 17th century, this fortress stands guard to the entrance of the Pasig River. Visit the Rizal Shrine within the Fort to view various memorabilia. Rizal spent his last night in one of the barracks at the end of the fort, and you can see brass footprints set into the pavement to mark the last steps of this hero before his execution in Rizal Park. For the traveller, there are many attractions worth seeing during the day – but a word of warning if you want to explore the night scene; It helps to know someone as many good bars and clubs are hidden.
Stroll Down Manila Baywalk
When you choose your shopping mall fix, if you’re keen to check ou the Manila Baywalk, then make the Mall of Asia your choice, as it’s right behind the mall. Manila Baywalk is a beautiful waterside promenade, perfect for sunset. It overlooks Manila Bat, the spot where the US navy and Spain fought, ending Spanish rule over the Philippines back in 1898. Expect street food, vendors and some pretty cool street performances.
Chase Muhammed Ali in the Thrilla in Manila Stadium
One for the sports geeks. The Araneta Coliseum is one of the largest indoor stadiums on all of Asia. Made famous by Muhammed Ali and Joe Fraziers ‘Thrilla in Manila’, boxing fans (like me) pop in for the sake of nostalgia. These days it’s primarily used for basketball, but also for boxing, concerts and even cockfighting (booooo!). Time your visit to catch a basketball match though, super cheap and great atmosphere.
Buy Your Gifts At Divisoria Market
Found slap bang in the middle of Chinatown, Divisoria market is the kind of markets you dream of on your first trip to Asia! Loads of food stalls, a very lively vibe and a place to go hunting for bargains (just don’t forget to barter a little).
The Presidential Palace of the Philippines. You may have heard of it when their controversial new leader, Duterte, flatly refused to move in as it was haunted! You can actually book a tour (do so in advance though) and see if the haunting rumours are true.
Picnic in Arroceros Forest Park
Manila can be a pretty hectic place, and for me, it has the worst traffic in the world! If you need some downtime then Arroceros Forest Park is for yu. 5 acres of rare fresh air! It’s popular 365 days in the year, and it has a nice friendly vibe, so bring some food and drinks, and a book, and you’ll be set for an hour or two. It closes at 6pm though, don’t be late!
Marvel at the Manila Cathedral Architecture
Since 1571, Manila Cathedral has stood proudly (albeit with its 8th rebuild!) and its seen the lot – war, natural disaster, coups! Pope Francis was here giving mass just in 2015, so for the religious country of the Philippines, the Cathedral is a pretty big deal.
Ride the Ferris Wheel at Star City
I’m a sucker for theme parks, so this had to make the list! Over 30 attractions, and with an entrance fee of about $1.70USD, if you’re keen to ride a Ferris wheel or rollercoaster, Star City is Philippine’s answer. It’s a fun day out.
San Agustin Church
One of the Philippine’s most religious sites, San Agustin Church was built way back in 1600, making it the oldest church in the whole country! It’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and the ornate ceiling is a sight to behold.
Day trip to Tagaytay
Not in Manila, so I’m cheating a little putting this in here, but Tagaytay is one of the country’s most popular destinations. The higher altitude means cooler weather, and it’s just an hour or so from Manila. Taal Lake and the volcano views are spectacular, it’s hard to believe it’s so close to the city, to be honest.
THOUGHTS ON PLACES TO VISIT IN MANILA?
It’s not my favourite city in the world, but that being said, I LOVE to see the Capital city of the country I’m in, so for that reason I’d say give yourself 2 nights in Manila. You can’t understand a destination without seeing the capital, and for just $50 or so, you can take a 4 hour tour and see the main sights.
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