The Philippine islands of Boracay, El Nido and Palawan are some of the most beautiful and popular islands in the world, inviting millions of visitors to the white-sand beaches, warm waters and famous Filipino hospitality. And while most visitors fly through the country’s primary airport in Manila, few take the time to see the nation’s capital city – and that’s a shame, because there is much to see. To help you make the most of your trip to the Philippines, check out my two-day itinerary for a stop-over in Manila on your way to one of the more than 7,000 beautiful islands!
Why you should go: Manila is the (furiously) beating heart of the country. Much of the economic, political and cultural life of the Philippines happens here. The bustling city of 20 million people has a lot to offer and is a great introduction to the country, providing the background to understanding the country and people you are visiting! Find out more in my post Manila – Gateway to Paradise!
Perfect stop-over itinerary: The history of the Philippines has been summarized as “300 years in a convent and 50 years in Hollywood”. You can see the Spanish colonial history is the old town of Intramuros with its city walls, fortress and ancient churches! To make the most of your stop-over in Manila, you’ll station yourself in Intramuros, at a hotel like the Bayleaf Intramuros.
After getting settled, you’ll head to the SkyDeck rooftop bar for the sunset and enjoy some drinks and food with a view of the sunset over the Manila Bay and 360 degree views of the Manila skyline.
The next morning, you enjoy a filling breakfast at the hotel and head out to explore the old town of Manila. Right in front of the Bayleaf Hotel is a ramp that leads up to the Bastion of San Francisco de Dilao with its historic cannons. You can stroll atop the old city wall around the city with great views over the parks and skyline. You’ll exit the wall near the Bastion of San Andres and turn right on General Luna Street into the heart of the old town.
Your next stop is San Agustin church. It’s my favorite church in Manila and stunningly beautiful. You can take a look through the main portal. Next door is the excellent San Agustin Museum, allowing you to tour the old convent, get a view into the church from up high and learn about the history of the country, the city and the church in the Philippines.
After all that walking and history, you’ve earned yourself a relaxing lunch at Barbara’s across the street. you have the choice between simple drinks & snacks in the courtyard of the old villa or the indoor restaurant, serving a buffet lunch in a very traditional setting, including live music. The band might even be able to sing a song from your home country for you!
After lunch, you’ll continue your exploration of Spanish colonial Manila with a visit to the (huge) Manila cathedral. The city’s main cathedral has been in this spot for centuries and rebuilt many times after fires, earthquakes and wars, most recently after World War II.
Your final stop in Intramuros is Fort Santiago, that over the centuries served as a fortress to protect the city, as a prison and now as a museum, including a very worthwhile exhibit about the hero of Phlilippine independence, Jose Rizal.
If you are enjoying your trip back in time, you can catch a ride back to the hotel in a horse drwan kalesa. For more modern transport, you can catch an electric tricycle instead.
For a stark contrast, your evening includes a visit to the City of Dreams, a sparkling new entertainment complex, with several hotels, casinos, restaurants and a mall. You’ll certainly see the years of US influence here. If you want some more sunset views, I suggest Wave Restaurant on the rooftop with nice views!
If you have some more time after your second night in Manila and before your flight, catch a taxi or ride hail to the Mall of Asia, even if you have no plans to shop! It’s a great place to people watch: you’ll see family outings, couples on dates or friends hanging out. You can check out hundreds of stores and small shops, selling anything from global brands to decidedly local treats. And you’ll also have a chance to try Filipino’s favorite pastime – eating! Filipino food shares the rice and some ingredients with its Asian neighbors, but the Spanish and US influence have given Filipino a unique twist and you should absolutely give it a try!
How to get around? The first question for any visitor is how to get from the airport to the hotel and it can be overwhelming to arrive in Manila. The easiest (and most expensive) choice is to ask your hotel to arrange pick-up and have you met at the airport exit.
You can arrange transport yourself for a fraction of the cost and you have plenty of options. First ignore any touts approaching you for transport – most of them are overpriced scams. You can hail a ride with your smartphone, using grab Philippines. There are also metered, yellow airport taxis, regular, white metered taxis and fixed-fare coupon taxis as alternatives.
Neet more information – read How to get around Manila? If you are adventurous, you should try the iconic Jeepney – it’s neither comfortable nor very safe, but it is cheap and the way the majority of locals get around!
Where to stay? Manila is a huge city and for this itinerary, it’s best to stay either in Intramuros – the Bayleaf Intramuros is the best choice there. Alternatively, you can stay at one of the hotels listed below as near the airport or Manila Bay. You can find some of my favorite hotels in each area in the table below:
|Sofitel Philippine Plaza Manila||5*||Manila Bay||Accor LeClub||Location, Luxury, Rewards, Pool, Restaurant|
|Hyatt City of Dreams||5*||Manila Bay||World of Hyatt||Entertainment|
|Shangri-La at the Fort Manila||5*||Bonifacio Global City||Shangri La Golden Circle||Location, Luxury, Service|
|Fairmont Makati||5*||Makati City||Accor LeClub||Location, Service, Luxury|
|Holiday Inn & Suites Makati||4*||Makati City||IHG Rewards||Location, Value|
|Manila Marriott||5*||Airport||Marriott Bonvoy||Location, Entertainment, Rewards|
|Holiday Inn Express Manila||3*||Airport||IHG Rewards||Location, Entertainment, Value, Rewards|
|Mercure Ortigas||4*||Ortigas||Accor LeClub||Business|
|Ramada Manila Central||3*||Chinatown||Wyndham Rewards||Value|
|Microtel Mall of Asia||3*||Manila Bay||Wyndham Rewards||Shopping, Value|
I do receive a small fee, if you decide to book through the link, at no cost to you – thank you for supporting my blog!
When to go: The best time to visit the Philippines is during the dry season from December to March. The weather is pleasant and not too hot or humid. Summer is from April to July, with very high temperatures and humidity. The rainy season is from August to November and can bring torrential rain fall and catastrophic typhoons, making it the season to avoid. If your schedule limits you to the Northern summer months, I recommend to go to Siargao, my favorite island, which has the opposite seasons with July to October being dry months!
Explore More: To get a “lay of the land” and see where all the hotels, restaurants and sights are, check out my map below and plan your visit to Manila! Click on the box in the upper right corner for a full map! Where are you going to stay? What’s your number one thing to do? Or have questions – feel free to comment below and I’ll help with your trip!