If you’re heading to the Philippines, chances are that you’ll go via Manila. Many people travel straight on to a coastal destination such as Sabang Beach yet Manila has some interesting attractions worth exploring if you’re there on business or doing a stopover. Here are some fun things to do in Manila which we hope you’ll find useful.
Fun Things to Do in Manila
The business district of Makati is where some of the top international hotels are located. Manila is actually quite safe and Makati in particular feels very secure. There are guards who keep an eye on what’s happening and the area has a relaxed atmosphere. One of the best Makati attractions is the Ayala Museum. Also located in Greenbelt, this exhibition space houses the Filipinas Heritage Library and focuses on the craftworks of the Philippines. Another popular cultural attraction is Yuchengco Museum at the RBC Plaza which exhibits contemporary and historic fine art.
One of the top things to do in Makati is to shop at Greenbelt Mall, located on Legazpi Street, with its huge selection of designer stores. There’s a pleasant park with koi carp ponds and a Catholic chapel.
Get your coffee fix at Single Origin. This local specialty coffee chain has several branches in Manila but the one in Makati has a great location in Greenbelt Mall. You can sit outdoors and admire the vegetation or in the comfy air-conditioned interior. They have a huge selection of coffees and also have a fine line in cakes.
There are lots of great restaurants in Makati including Benjarong, a fantastic Thai restaurant within the Dusit Thani Manila hotel. This brand new eatery has got everything right – delicious and authentic food, excellent service and stylish decor. Sit at the counter if you want to watch the chefs at work. Prices are surprisingly reasonable for the quality of the experience.
For Filippino street food, head to Buendia at the Court. With 30 street food stalls located next to a basketball court, you can watch the locals play while sampling tasty dishes in a no frills setting. Open daily from 5 pm to midnight, it’s situated quite a way from the centre of Makati so it’s best to take a can there and back.
Take afternoon tea in the Lobby Lounge at Shangri-La Manila Makati for a special treat. One of the best luxury hotels in Manila, it has a magnificent lobby overlooking lush vegetation. Every day from 3 to 6 pm, afternoon tea is served to the accompaniment of live music.
Head to Blackbird at the Nielson Tower for drinks or dinner in stylish surroundings. Formerly the first commercial airport in Manila, it is one of the most distinctive landmarks in Manila and an Art Deco masterpiece. You can dine in what was the passenger terminal, enjoy cocktails in the original check in area or in the outside bar overlooking Ayala Triangle Gardens.
Bonifacio Global City
Another booming financial district in Manila is Bonifacio Global City. There are quite a few trendy cafes here too. Little Flour Cafe is a cool place to meet with friends, having a collection of chairs suspended from the ceiling. They do a nice selection of snacks, light meals and matcha lattes. There’s some cool street art dotted around BGC, including this colourful mural.
If you’re keen to try authentic Filippino food, then a good option in BGC is 7107 Culture + Cuisine. Hidden away inside Treston International College, the cooking is as vibrant as the decor. Open from Sunday to Friday from 10 am to 8 pm, it’s mission is to promote the diversity of local cuisine.
Named after José Rizal, a national hero who advocated independence from Spanish colonial rule, Rizal Park houses several interesting museums. The first of these is the National Museum of Anthropology, which is free to enter and has an extensive collection of archaeological and anthropological exhibits. The typical Philippine costumes on display are particularly striking.
The newly renovated National Museum of Natural History is set to reopen in May 2018. It has 10 galleries focusing on animals, fungi and plants as well as an impressive centrepiece named the Tree of Life, inspired by a double-helix deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA),
To the east of Rizal Park, check out the 3D map of the Philippines, created by sculptor Jose M. Mendoza.
The historic walled city of Manila is known as Intramuros or ‘within the walls’. At just 0.67 square kilometers, it’s easy to explore. There are some colourful buildings dating from the colonial era and San Agustin Church, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. A fun way to explore Intramuros is by bike – however this isn’t any old cycle, it’s a bamboo bike! Handmade by Gawad Kalinga villagers in the Philippines, the Bambike is lightweight but strong. The tours take place at 10 am and 3 pm from Tuesday to Sunday – you might see a celebrity such as Brooklyn Beckham on yours or you could always order a Bambike for home as Barack Obama did. Thanks to Manila resident, Jenny, who gave us this tip and whom we met up with at Little Flour Cafe.
Manila Cathedral or The Minor Basilica and Metropolitan Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception to give its full name is situated at the far end of Intramuros. Originally dating from 1571, it has been damaged over the years and the current version dates from 1958.
Built by the Spanish conquistador Miguel López de Legazpi, Fort Santiago is a 16th century citadel. Designed to defend the city of Manila, it was the Spanish military headquarters during the colonial period before becoming a prison. Jose Rizal was incarcerated here but nowadays, it’s a tranquil place with a cafe and souvenir shops in the grounds. Opening hours are from 8 am to 9 pm and there’s a nominal entrance fee.
Getting to Manila
There are regular international flights to Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Manila. We flew from London Heathrow with Malaysia Airlines, transiting via Kuala Lumpur and it was a comfortable journey with friendly flight attendants. The food on board was of a high standard and there were handy phone recharging sockets too.
Getting Around Manila
You’ll notice colourful buses on the roads in Manila – known as jeepneys, they are very reasonably priced and popular with locals. However, passengers are squashed up against each other and there are reports that pickpockets operate on some of these. We opted instead for cabs to get around. Uber are readily available, as are cabs from the Grab app which is present across Asia.
Where to Stay in Manila
There are some excellent Manila luxury hotels, including Dusit Thani Manila, a five star hotel located in the heart of Makati. From the moment you step into the stunning lobby you’ll be wowed by the decor. A quirky tuk-tuk makes a great backdrop for photos. The bedrooms are spacious and well appointed with all mod cons. There’s a large swimming pool and bar as well as a spa and gym.
Makati Shangri-La Manila has one of the best hotel gyms in the City and there’s a luxurious pool and spa too. The suites are particularly impressive, with Art Deco styling and a spacious separate living area. They include access to the Horizon Club Executive Lounge, open 24 hours a day.
So as you can see, there are quite a few fun things to do in Manila. It’s also the point of departure to places such as the UNESCO World Heritage Palawan Underground River. Have you ever been to the Philippines or Asia?
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