Manila, also known as the “Pearl of the Orient”, has become a popular destination for those traveling to the Philippines. And although it tends to be a stopover for those heading to a luxurious resort on one of the many Philippine islands such as Boracay, Palawan, Cagraray or Panglao, Manila is still a city that’s worth exploring for more days than one.
The first settlement in the city goes back 65,000 years according to fossil findings, whereas Manila’s recorded history only goes back to 900 AD. After being ruled by Spain for more than 300 years, then by the US for a brief period in the 20th century, then by the Japanese for a few years during WWII, it wasn’t until 1946 did the country finally gain its independence. Although much of Manila was destroyed during The Battle of Manila in 1945, the city was able to rebuild itself into the fast-paced, metropolitan and enigmatic place with highrises, luxurious malls and hotels, and some of the best eateries in the country.
To make sure you’re getting the best out of Manila, here are our top go-to places selected just for you for your next trip to this lively city.
Looking for some food that’s not only inexpensive but also delicious? Then make your way to Maginhawa Street, located in Quezon City, Metro Manila. This area is full of different vendors selling all types of cuisines, from pizza and pasta at Friuli Trattoria, chicken wings or steak at Griddle: Steak x Wings, to Chinese noodles at CAUTION HOT! Spicy Noodle House, and traditional Filipino food at Pino Resto Bar. Make sure to come here hungry because there are too many cuisines for you to just try one—you need several.
Calle de la Escolta
Calle de la Escolta is a great alternative outside of the city center where you can learn a bit more about Manila’s past. This historical street was first established in 1594 and was home to many Chinese immigrants who opened up shop, selling goods from all over the world. In the 19th century, Calle de la Escolta became Manila’s financial district for decades until 1960 when the majority of financial businesses moved to Makati.
Now, the street is lined with stores, art exhibitions, museums, an art-deco theater from the 1930s, and other historical buildings that are more than 100 years old. It’s a cool place to stop by, even for just a bit, to get a sense of what Manila life was like in the 19th century.
Nuestra Señora de Gracia Church
We love old churches, which is why our favorite is Nuestra Señora de Gracia Church, also referred to as Guadalupe Church. Constructed in 1630, the church is a wonderful display of various styles of architecture—from its Renaissance exterior and Baroque and Romanesque interior. Due to its age, appearance, history and location, Nuestra Señora de Gracia Church is used by many couples who seek to get married here.
The church looks rather large from the outside, but the moment you step inside, it’s quite small. Inside you’ll find beautiful stained glass windows and an altar, old-style chandeliers hanging from the ceiling, all surrounded by old brick. The entire place will transport you back in time.
Located on top of a hill, Nuestra Señora de Gracia Church is a peaceful escape from the business of the city. We recommend going on a weekday, or when mass is not in session, in order to walk around and capture a few good photos.
Speakeasies are all over the world, and they are fun to find and spend time in. After you’ve done your shopping, exploring and eating for the day, we recommend you make your way to Mandalay, a speakeasy bar located in Makati, Manila. To get inside you have to go through a door that resembles more of a closet than a business door, then walk through hanging coats, and then between some curtains made out of red velvet. The bar’s interior is designed in an old-British style with dark wood and black/brown leather. You can smoke Cuban cigars, sip on high-quality whiskeys from around the world while munching on delicious bites. Take a friend or your partner and you can enjoy a nice, peaceful night out at Mandalay, a great alternative to the more rowdy spots around the city.
Philippine’s capital is a fun city to explore for those visiting the main island, even if it’s a stopover to a resort on another luxury island. From Asian-fusion cuisines and ones that are more traditional to luxury shopping malls, outdoor markets and museums to explore, Manila is full of activities, sites, and must-sees that can keep you busy for days on end. But don’t forget to stop by the city’s hidden gems because they can make your trip even more memorable.
If this or any other destination speaks to you, we’d love to help you get there in comfort and save you up to 70% off. Submit a flight request or contact your agent and we’ll find the best dates to travel there!