A forest of skyscrapers wrapped around the crescent of Manila Bay, the capital of the Philippines is every inch the Asian megacity, but this is still a colonial capital at heart. The city’s iconic jeepneys zip past stone Spanish churches and cobbled squares, alongside whole city blocks devoted to nightlife, music and food.
Lavishly decorated jeepneys – stretched jeeps that function like public buses – connect every quarter of the city. Air-conditioned taxis offer a more relaxing way to explore, or you can jump onto the urban trains of the LRT and MRT. For short hops in the colonial centre, charter a pedicab or kalesa (horse-drawn carriage).
Manila has a reputation for being slightly overwhelming, but that’s just a sign of the contagious enthusiasm of the people who live there. Join the locals in the city’s teeming markets and boisterous music bars and you’ll soon get a feel for the pace of life in this energetic megacity.
Metro Manila is a conglomeration of sixteen cities, from Makati – the high-rise business district – to the old Spanish colonial capital of Intramuros, circling the ruins of Fort Santiago. Public memorials across the city celebrate the national heroes who fought for independence – most famous is Rizal Park, dedicated to the revolutionary writer José Rizal.
Outwardly modern and commercial, Manila has hidden cultural depths. Attend a Sunday service at Quiapo church, with its market of faith healers and herbalists, or visit the Chinese cemetery, with its palatial family mausoleums. The Casa Manila in Intramuros and the National Museum of the Philippines offer more fascinating insights in Filipino culture.
Watching the sunset over Manila Bay is an essential Manila experience, and after dark the action moves to the city’s restaurants, music bars and clubs. In Malate and Ermita, Filipino bands play note-perfect cover versions of every imaginable musical genre, while karaoke and cocktails are king in Makati and Quezon City.
Filipinos are enthusiastic followers of fads and fashion, ensuring a rapid turnover of nightspots and eateries in the city’s trendy quarters. At Quezon City’s Sip and Gogh, you can paint a canvas as you sip a cocktail, while social media lures diners to Maginhawa Street in University of the Philippines Village, and shoppers to the hip Future Market in Escolta. If the National Museum has piqued your interesting in Filipino history, follow the Chinese story in the Philippines at Bahay Tsinoy and see the 16th-century treasures of Augustinian monks in the museum at San Agustin church.
Filipino cuisine draws heavily on colonial influences, fusing elements of Spanish and American cooking, as well as cuisines closer to home, most notably from China and Malaysia. Some of the most imaginative cooking can be found on the streets of Malate, particularly at the Latin-Pinoy fusion restaurants around Remedios Circle, and at hipster hangouts such as Van Gogh is Bipolar on Maginhawa Street and Charlie’s Grind & Grill, with branches in Kapitolyo and Greenhills. For lavish banquets and Filipino gastronomy, head to the Greenbelt area in Makati; People’s Palace and Sala Bistro are top recommendations.