Manila City Guide
Bustling Manila, the capital and the commercial heart of the Philippines, is the first stop for anyone visiting the country. Manila draws travellers with plenty of attractions and amenities. Huge malls, diverse cuisines and a smattering of cultural sites are just some of the things that appeal to visitors. The best thing of all, however, is the outgoing, friendly disposition of locals and that's what makes a stay in Manila all that more memorable.
Along with several nearby cities, Manila forms a metropolitan area that is home to nearly 16 million people. There's plenty to explore in this sprawling agglomeration beyond the capital itself. Lively Pasay is home to the largest mall in the country and the residence of the vice president at Coconut Palace. Makati, the financial centre of the metro area, boasts shopping malls, modern parks and office towers. It is an attractive area for business travellers and for those who seek high-end services. Whichever part of Metro Manila you are heading to, have no doubts you will have plenty to explore.
One of the biggest historical attractions in Manila, Intramuros, is a walled city that was erected by the Spanish in the 16th century. Take a walk along the ramparts, lined with cannons, and you will be rewarded with beautiful views of modern Manila, as well as the well-preserved period buildings within the confines of this fortress. Intramuros is filled with colonial-era residences, administrative buildings, churches and half a dozen historical museums, all of which paint a vivid picture of local life in days gone-by. The impressive Manila Cathedral, the Light and Sound museum and the Fort Santiago citadel are some of the more important sites which you should check out first if you are pressed for time.
Given the variety of galleries and museums, culture vultures will feel right at home in Manila. The most impressive of all is the National Museum of the Philippines. With a stunning collection of more than one million objects, this mammoth venue is a great place to learn about many different arts and sciences. No less intriguing is the Bahay Tsinoy, which explores the life of the Chinese diaspora in the Philippines. Chinese immigrants have been coming to the country for centuries and at this museum you can learn how they have influenced Philippino society and culture.
Art lovers will feel right at home at the National Art Gallery or the Ayala Museum. The latter is a modern, four-storey venue that showcases the work of contemporary Phillipino artists, as well as gold artefacts and south-east Asian ceramics. Manila also boasts plenty of modern attractions. If you are after something a bit more entertaining, check out the events programme at the Asia Arena. This is the most popular music and sports venue in Manila, and it has hosted events as diverse as NBA basketball games and Justin Bieber concerts.
Shopping and dining
Shopping is a bit of a national obsession in the Philippines, and it's hardly surprising given the reasonable prices of goods and the fact that malls looks like entire villages offering a range of services. You can get a massage, a haircut, watch a film and do a bunch of other things at the mall, beside shopping. Manila alone is home to three of the largest malls in the world, the biggest of which, the SM Megamall of Asia, sports a huge ice-skating rink.
Glorietta, Greenbelt and Trinoma are some of the other popular shopping centres in the metro area but beside these elephantine malls, the city also offers other types of shopping. If you are after something more alternative check out Cubao X and the Collective. These venues are hubs of local artists and are perfect for shoppers who love all things vintage, retro and indie.
Manila's diverse range of cuisines and dining outlets befits a city of its status. From street food to fine dining restaurants in Makati and Pasay, there is a lot of culinary temptation in this vast city. Apart from Filipino food you can also sample many other Asian cuisines in places such as Japantown, Little India or Chinatown, which is the oldest expat Chinese quarter in the world.
Safety when travelling
Modern skyscrapers, huge malls and noble colonial churches give the capital an eclectic vibe. Yet, shanty suburbs, crime and motorways clogged with traffic are no strangers to Manila, either. This is a city of great contrasts and in order not to be overwhelmed by it, you might consider taking it all one step at a time. Safety is quite an important issue and any local would advise you to keep an eye on your valuables, use common sense about where you are going and ask for advice when uncertain. Keep that in mind and touring Manila can be as exciting and trouble-free as exploring any other big city.