You have read Manila, Gateway to Paradise, and are inspired to visit? You have read Manila – Getting There and Around and Where to stay in Manila? Now you want to find things to do and see in Manila! Check out my recommendations for the top tourist spots in Manila – and some not so touristy, but fun places to visit in Manila! And in the Philippines, having fun usually involves great food, so you can read about the best places to eat as well! That’s Travel Made Easy!
Things to See & Do: Manila has a pretty mixed reputation and many visitors move on to the beautiful islands quickly, but there are a number of sights worth visiting:
If you enjoy historic sights, Intramuros should be top of your list. Within walking distance of each other, you will find Fort Santiago, built by the Spanish more than 400 years ago, the Manila Cathedral and my favorite church San Agustin with its worthwhile museum! You can easily see those sights in a half-day and combine it with a leisurely, classic Filipino lunch at Barbara’s. Close by is also the National Museum with exhibits of local artists.
And, even if you are not a fan of shopping at home, you should plan on spending some time in one of the countless malls – that’s where life happens in Manila. They have replaced the public square and, in addition to shopping, dining and entertainment, you can spend your time people watching – from regular Filipinos on a family outing, to dating couples and or friends hanging out! One of the most popular mall areas is Greenbelt/Glorietta in Makati. You have several city blogs worth of department stores, shops and restaurants. The shops go from the large, low cost SM Mall to the global luxury brands like Rolex or Gucci at Greenbelt. On weekends, the mall operator organizes activities – from travel, car and electronic fairs to singing and dancing competitions! You also have another good museum in this mall, the Ayala Museum, with its Philippine history and gold exhibits.
Bonifacio HighStreet is and outdoor/indoor mall in the newest and most upscale part of town, Bonifacio Global City. HighStreet is a great place to hang out for a coffee and walk Manila walk by – great for people watching! You have the very local Market!Market! mall at one end and some more upscale, indoor malls at the other end! MegaMall in Ortigas or the Mall of Asia near the Manila Bay are the largest malls with lots of visitors, especially on weekends. You will get a little more of a local feel at these malls! If you want to see how a market-turned-to-mall looks like, head to Greenfields: you can find hundreds of little stands selling T-Shirts, watches and bags “inspired” by global brands as well as endless stores selling phones, electronics and accessories!
If you have a little extra time, you can plan a day trip to Corregidor, the fortress at the heart of two World War II battles. You’ll leave early by boat to the island and need all day! If you are staying longer in Manila and have time for an overnight escape, check out the nature around Taal Lake & Volcano, or the beaches at Punta Fuego or Anilao.
One thing you should take advantage off before leaving Manila are the great, inexpensive Spa’s – from a mani-pedi to full-body massages, you can indulge in some pampering for just a few dollars. My favorite spas are Touch & Heal in Makati and The Spa at Greenbelt or on Bonifacio High Street.
Eat & Drink: Filipinos love to eat, so you will never be more than a few feet away from good food! From bargain street food to luxurious restaurants with first-class service, you have endless choices. What sets Manila apart from other Asian capitals is the excellent foreign food you can find. I’ve had some of the best German, Italian or French food here in all of Asia, even compared to Singapore or Hong Kong! And all of that is available at prices much lower than elsewhere!
Many of the restaurants are located at the malls or nearby – that’s were most of the social life happens! The key areas to consider for visitors are Makati and Bonifacio Global City (BGC). Many of the restaurants that are successful in one part of town will open a second (or third) outlet in these neighborhoods, so you find the best of the best there!
Some of my favorite restaurants are Cafe Romulo for great Filipino food (Makati), Mango Tree for Thai (BGC) and Heaven for simple Filipino BBQ (BGC). Hooch (Makati) has the best cocktails in town and Spicy Fingers (Makati) has the best happy hour with drinks for just over $1! If you want to enjoy drinks with a view, you can check out 71 Gramercy (Makati) on the 71st floor, the Skye Lounge (BGC) or the Skydeck Viewbar at the Bayleaf Hotel.
I hope this overview gives you enough reason why you shouldn’t just pass by Manila – there is a lot to see and do. You can learn much about the Philippines in a few days – and all of it at much lower prices than in the US, Europe or other capitals in Asia!
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