Everything you need to know about Manila

Everything you need to know about Manila

Destinations

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Let our travel guide help you plan your trip to Manila. How long to go for, what to see and do, the best time to visit, getting around, and how much to budget — all your questions answered

Manila is the capital of the Philippines, a densely populated metropolis mixing the ultra-modern with 16th-century colonial history. Located on a bay on the island of Luzon (one of over 7,000 islands that make up the country) and home to an airport that’s one of Asia’s major hubs, it’s a great spot to visit on a trip through the region. Here’s everything you need to know about Manila.

When’s the best time to visit Manila?

Manila is a fusion of different styles and influences, including American wide boulevards and skyscrappers — MarceloMayoPH / ShutterstockFor the best weather, visit Manila at the start of the year — Shutterstock

December to May is the dry season in the Philippines, but tourism hits its height between January and April. Temperatures generally range from the mid-20s to the mid-30s°C, and the drier air in this window means it’s the best time to explore both Manila and the rest of the country.

Visiting during the rainy season means lower prices on flights and accommodation, but also means hot, muggy weather, and possible disruption to any travel plans you may have due to storms.   

Top sights and attractions

Metropolitan Manila is actually made up of 16 cities, all now one gigantic web of roads, buildings and people. We’ll try and give you a mix of things to do and see across a number of the areas.

Intramuros

Manila Cathedral — ShutterstockThe Manila Cathedral stands inside the walled settlement of Intramuros — Shutterstock

Intramuros is the old Spanish area of the city, dating from the 15th century. There are a number of guided walking tours to join, or download one of the excellent maps to get to know the area by yourself.

Binondo

Bowls of Chinese food on table surrounding large pot — Getty ImagesBinondo is said to be the oldest Chinatown in the world, and a place brimming in good stuff to eat — Getty Images

Supposedly the oldest Chinatown in the world, Binondo is where the Chinese population was moved to when the Spanish arrived and decided they needed to assert their authority. Today, the area is a great place to learn about the successful integration of Filipino and Chinese cultures and to taste some amazing food. Try the Big Binondo Food Wok, a “wok-ing” tour that’ll let you try a wide variety of dishes and, especially as a solo traveler, meet other visitors to the city.

Rizal Park and the National Museum Complex

Four museums, all built around the huge, sculpted grounds of Rizal Park, explore various facets of Filipino history and culture — namely art, anthropology, natural history, and — slightly oddly — a Planetarium. The park itself contains monuments, lakes, Chinese and Japanese gardens, a golf course, cafés and concert venues, and is well worth your time.

Tiendesitas

A shopping experience with a difference, Tiendesitas is a 30,000-square-meter shopping complex styled to look like Filipino villages, each one holding a number of stalls specializing in different things. Handicrafts, art, clothing, furniture, food, cosmetics, antiques and more are all available in what is a slightly surreal way of finding souvenirs.

Roxas Boulevard

Running through Rizal Park along the bayfront, Roxas Boulevard is the best place to get to know the modern face of Manila. Restaurants, bars, a boardwalk, a yacht club, theaters and arts centers, and the BSP Money Museum (there is such a thing!) are all here.

Poblacion

A lively area filled with bars, clubs and hostels, this is where you might very well come for a night out. There are a few fancier shops and office buildings, but don’t let that fool you; they’re more than outnumbered by the dive bars, underground clubs and late-night eateries that’ll keep you going ‘til dawn.

Getting around

The famous Jeepneys were originally made out of old US military jeeps left over after World War II — ARTYOORAN / ShutterstockThis is a jeepney — not to be relied upon if you need to be somewhere at a certain time — Shutterstock

Traffic in Manila is famously awful, with congestion everywhere and dreadful traffic jams commonplace. With this in mind, you might want to avoid using jeepneys — the colorful, kitschy minibusses modeled on US army Jeeps — if you need to get anywhere in a hurry.

Other forms of transport around the city include tricycles (motorbikes with a sidecar), trisikads (the same, but pedal-powered), and trolleys — handmade, human-powered hand carts operated by ‘trolley boys’ on ‘borrowed’ local railway lines. Locals use these a lot because they’re cheap, but collisions with trains are not unusual. Not recommended.

What we would recommend is the LRT: Light Rail Transit. Trains run every three minutes at peak times, and journeys cost between ₱15 and ₱30 (€0.25 — €0.50) depending on the number of stations you pass. Get yourself one of the contactless travel cards called BEEP, available from ticket kiosks.

Is Manila safe?

Manila can feel intimidating, but it’s generally a safe place to visit. The risk of violent crime is pretty low, even as a solo traveler. However, there are a couple of scams you might need to be aware of.

  • If you’re using a taxi, agree on an approximate price beforehand and make sure the meter is working.
  • Changing money can be risky — money changers know that tourists are unfamiliar with the currency, and some may try to short-change you. For the record, one euro is worth about ₱60 (Philippine pesos).
  • In the unlikely event that someone approaches you on the street and says they know you (that they work at your hotel, for example), and offers a “tour”, another spurious charge might be coming your way. Just ignore them and walk away.

If you need to get home late at night, the local, trusted ride-hailing service is Grab. Otherwise, it’s general precautions like any other big city: watch out for pickpockets in crowded areas, that sort of thing. Oh, and don’t drink the tap water. You’ll see locals doing it, but if you’re not used to it, stick to bottled.

How many days do I need to see Manila?

Evening view over Makati City — Getty ImagesEvening view over Makati City — Getty Images

Spending three or four days in Manila is probably about right before you start to get worn down by the constant movement and the endless traffic. It’s enough time to get your bearings and see the major sights before moving on and seeing the rest of the country.

If you’re staying in a central area like Makati, for example, it means you’re close enough to transport links and junction points to see both the new city and the colonial Old Town with relative ease. One or two days is eminently possible, but it means you’ll be constantly running about. Three to four gives you the chance to slow down a bit, spend more time eating or chilling out, and generally get to know the place.

Typical budget for Manila

Let’s look at some typical prices for Manila — that way, you can budget how much you think you might need while you’re there.

Local currency: Philippine peso; €1 = ₱60

Coffee: €2.80

0.5l local beer: €1.25

Lunch: €4.20

Dinner in a mid-range restaurant: €13.50

Hostel for one night: €10 — €40

3-star hotel for one night: €40 — €60 with breakfast

DAILY BUDGET: €35 — €60

Day trips from Manila

While Metropolitan Manila is all about urban excitement, there are plenty of places within easy reach of the city, should you need a change of pace. Here’s our selection.

Minalungao National Park

River raft in Munalungao National Park — EdseastresD600, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia CommonsMinalungao National Park is ideal for active, outdoorsy types — EdseastresD600, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

A spectacular landscape of rivers, streams, karsts and cave systems, Minalungao is one of the more popular day trip options. It caters to both adventurous and relaxing trips, with cliff jumping and bouldering opportunities available, as well as those for river cruises, swimming, and picnicking.

Mount Sawi

View over cliffs from Dingalan Lighthouse — Getty ImagesOcean view from Dingalan Lighthouse near Mount Sawi — Getty Images

If you’re up for a spot of hiking, a couple of hours of moderate effort will see you atop a hill affording wonderful views of the Pampanga river and the Pacific coast. Descend to Dingalan Port to reach the beautiful White Beach and the clifftop point at Dingalan Lighthouse.

Villa Escudero

A working coconut plantation founded in the 1880s, Villa Escudero is now a showcase of rural Filipino culture. The museum includes one of the largest private collections of local antiquities in the country, and also offers bamboo rafting, swimming, fishing, and the one-of-a-kind Waterfall Restaurant — a buffet at the foot of a waterfall. Sit with your shoes off and cool your feet in the water while you sample local specialties.

Angono

Angono petroglyphs — Raffy-ish, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia CommonsAngono, known as the “art capital of the Philippines”, is home to some seriously old cave graffiti — Raffy-ish, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Angono, on the southeastern edge of Manila, is home to artists and craftspeople, their work displayed in galleries and workshops or as street art and murals. The nearby Angono petroglyphs will take you back thousands of years, artistically, as this cave system contains carvings and rock graffiti dating back to 2,000 BC.

That’s Kiwi.com’s ultimate guide to Manila!

Whether you’re coming for a whistle-stop look around the city, spending a couple of days here, or using it as a base to explore the country further, Manila has so much going on. Find flights to and from Manila on Kiwi.com, and start planning your trip today.

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