As the newly elected President Rodrigo Duterte is making headlines around the world to put the Philippines firmly on the global radar, the increased publicity is a perfect opportunity to highlight an alternative side to the country as a travel destination, where too often travelers only think of the Philippines for its pristine beaches, diving and surfing sites. Make note travelers: the capital city of Manila, often coined as the “Pearl of the Orient Seas” in Southeast Asia is a bustling energetic city fusing old colonial Spanish charm and modern infrastructure. Once recognized as the most modern cities in Asia during the 19th century and a very important trading route between Spanish America and Asia before the Spanish American War in 1898, Manila is slowly returning to its glamour with a current GDP recorded at 7% growth.

A relatively easy and affordable weekend escape from other neighboring Southeast Asian cities: flights are cheap and easily accessible and you’ll be pleasantly surprised by accommodation prices when you arrive. If you are a culturally curious traveler wanting to seek out an up and coming Asian city that is often ignored by travel books you should put Manila firmly on your list!

manila tondo

Photo credit: travel orientated

Over 1 million tourist travel to Manila each year, visiting destinations like Fort Santiago, San Agustin Church, Cuartel de Santa Lucia, Rizal Park and the University of Santo Tomas to name a few. The huge range of malls, bazaars, and markets carry local products as well as many luxury European and American brands. Like many of its neighboring cities, young Filipinos are catching on to the hipster craze with speakeasy bars, independent shops, bustling boutique cafe scene, as well as a growing foodie scene. With its culturally enriched heritage, Filipinos are known to be super friendly, service oriented and a whole lot of fun, they sure know how to strike a tune and dance till sunrise, in what could easily be described as one of the world’s cities that never sleep.

Use our Manila guide as a quick go-to for some tips and suggestions for a quick weekend getaway to Manila:

santo tomas university

University of Santo Tomas (photo credit: Ojie Paloma)

TOP ATTRACTIONS IN MANILA

Ayala Museum (Avenue corner De La Rosa Street, Greenbelt Park, Makati, Makati, Metro Manila) for art, culture and archeological artefacts from the Philippines

San Agustin Church + Museum (General Luna St, Manila, Metro Manila) for one of the few buildings left in tact after WWII, a must-see

Fort Santiago (Intramuros, Manila, Metro Manila) for an oasis of manicured gardens, fountains, ponds and history

Rizal Park (Roxas Blvd Ermita, Barangay 666 Zone 72, Manila, 1000 Metro Manila) for a quiet place to relax in an ornamental green space, where the Philippines’ national hero, José Rizal, was executed

University of Santo Tomas (Espana Avenue, Sampaloc, Manila) for one of the oldest Universities in Asia founded in 1611

manila mall of asia

Mall of Asia (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)

WHERE TO SHOP IN MANILA

Greenhills (Promenade Building, Greenhills Shopping Center, Ortigas Avenue, San Juan City, 1502 Metro Manila) for cute finds, great gadgets and a nice ambience

Greenbelt in Makati for everything

Mall of Asia (Seaside Blvd, Pasay) for its enormous size       

Salcedo Saturday Community Farmers Market (Jaime C. Velasquez Park, Salcedo Village, Makati, Metro Manila) for everything under the sun at this huge weekend market

168 Shopping Mall (3Fl, 168 Shopping Mall, Sta. Elena St, Binondo, Manila) for discount prices

Unit 27 Bar & Cafe Manila

Unit 27 Bar & Cafe (photo credit: mixofeverything.net)

BARS TO TRY IN MANILA

The Curator (Palanca Metro Ma, Makati, Metro Manila) for coffee and cocktails

Bank Bar (Ground Floor, RCBC Savings Bank Corporate Center, 26th and 25th Street, Bonifacio Global City, Taguig City) for a quaint and stylish evening at this speakeasy

Finders Keepers (Sabio St, Makati, Metro Manila) for cool vibes at this warehouse lounge

Unit 27 Bar + Cafe ( 26th Street Corner 7th Street Icon Plaza Building, Fort Bonifacio, Taguig, 1634 Metro Manila) for homely brunch by day, house party by night

El Chupacabra Manila

El Chupacabra Manila (photo credit: silverkris.com)

BEST RESTAURANTS IN MANILA

Blackbird (Ayala Triangle Walkways, Makati, Metro Manila) for fine dining and aviation themes at the only pre-WWII building in Makati

El Chupacabra ( 5782 Felipe, Makati, Metro Manila) for Mexican street food in a grungy, aztec setting

Your Local (106 Esteban, Legazpi Village, Makati, Kalakhang Maynila) for a hip local neighborhood bistro with a secret entrance

Locavore (10 Brixton St, Pasig, 1603 Metro Manila) for homely Filipino fare with a hipster setup

Caravan Black Manila

Caravan Black (photo credit: drinkmanila.com)

OUR FAVORITE CAFES IN MANILA

Caravan Black (Net Park, 1634, 4th Ave, Taguig, Metro Manila) for good value and unpretentious coffee

Maximus Athlete’s Shop Cafe (126 Pioneer St, Pasig, 1605 Metro Manila) for sports equipment-come-coffee-shop

Shutter Cafe (118 Scout Dr Lazcano, Quezon City, 1103 Metro Manila) for Instagrammable vintage vibes and great cool drinks

Tenant Shop & Cafe ( 9639 Kamagong, Makati, 1203 Kalakhang Maynila) for baked goods, their concept store and surfer vibes

Spoon Eat & Drink (319 Aguirre Ave, Parañaque, Metro Manila) for the food and the modern-industrial interior
Wildflour Cafe & Bakery ( Ground floor, Net Lima building, 26th St, Taguig, Metro Manila) for the baked goods and homely interior

The Henry Hotel Manila

The Henry Hotel (photo credit: The Henry Hotel Facebook Page)

WHERE TO STAY IN MANILA

While like any major metropolis city you can Airbnb your stay in Manila, the city does offer classic and large hotel chains as well as a variety of boutique properties:

Picasso Boutique Service Residence (Starting from PHP$6500++) for art aficionados looking for something a bit different

The Henry Hotel (Starting fromPHP$6300++) for luxury meets homeliness

Ameile Hotel (Starting from PHP$4200++) for bright and trendy interiors in bohemian Malate

Privato Hotel (Starting from PHP$1800++) for good value perfectly located for business or pleasure

TRANSPORTATION IN MANILA

Although the city does offer many public transportation options, to experience a hassle free commute from A to point B, we highly recommend using Uber. Taxi by the meter or buses and metro are viable options as well but make sure you know where you are going to avoid high rates and longer commutes than necessary.

…BUT KEEP IN MIND:

While it is exciting to see all that the city has to offer, like any traveler heading to a new place, one must be aware of safety as theft and crime is high, not to mention traffic can be a nightmare at times. So, plan your day accordingly, allocate commute time and don’t get frustrated if you’re stuck in traffic when navigating the city. This shouldn’t be a problem for those of you who are adventurous at heart as it’s just more to explore, experience and discover in the “pearl of the orient sea”!