Manila isn’t just the dense capital city of the Philippines, but rather a sprawling metropolis known as Metro Manila that’s comprised of a little over a dozen smaller cities that include Makati, Quezon City, Taguig, and Pasay. In 2017, a record 6.6 million tourists visited the Philippines, the majority of them entering through Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Metro Manila. Although Metro Manila may feel like an overwhelming and sometimes gritty urban sprawl, there are plenty of cosmopolitan areas filled with fine dining, design, art, and more.
Here's our guide to Manila.
When to Go and How to Get Around
The best time to go to the Philippines is during the dry season from November to April, but temperatures start to rise in March, so before that is ideal. The rainy season between May and October may bring in wet weather, but crowds will be smaller.
Manila's airport, Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA), is just 4.3 miles south of Manila and operates about 550 flights daily. Foreign travelers should avoid the chaotic Jeepney system used by locals to get around. The most reliable method of transportation in Manila is the taxi app Grab. Travelers are warned to stay away from conventional taxis.
Where to Eat
At Toyo, chef Jordy Navarra brings Filipino cuisine to new heights with dishes like burnt kalabaza (a Filipino squash) with sea urchin and orange kamote (a sweet potato), and tomato meringue with ginataang langka (coconut milk-soaked jackfruit).
Get all your Filipino comfort food at Mess Hall, from sisig to kare kare, made with fresh ingredients at this casual fast-food eatery.
After a visit to the Ayala Museum, head to M Café where you can find everything from congee to halo halo.
Where to Drink
Venture to Revel at the Palace for an upscale nightclub where the city’s cool crowd ventures out to see the world’s biggest DJs play sets regularly.
Home of the Engkanto Brewery, Polilya also offers cocktails by mixologist Priscilla Young.
Where to Shop
Discover the very best of Filipino design and unique souvenirs at Lanai, a flower and retail shop that features handmade bags by Tali, hand-beaded shoes by artisans from Great Women, embroidered napkins by Kassa, and Natalya Lagdameo’s Giniling bracelets inspired by adornments of the Ifugao women of Northern Luzon.
At Aphro, find home accessories and works of art by Filipino designers and artists, where you can bring home, like Rita Nazareno’s sculptural bags, rattan chairs and dog houses by E. Murio and chairs made from crutches by Christina Quisumbing Ramilo.
To get an idea of the chicest in Filipino fashion design, go to the Power Plant Mall for a virtual buffet of the country’s fashion, from retailers like Cura V—a multi-label concept shop with established and emerging designers from Harlan+Holden’s basics to feminine dresses from Comme Çi by Mark Bumgarner.
Where to Stay
Manila hotel is the grand dame of hotels in the city, opened in 1912, it was once the residence of General Douglas Macarthur, who lived in the penthouse from 1935 to 1941 when he was military advisor to the Philippine Commonwealth. Ernest Hemingway, Michael Jackson, and John F. Kennedy are among the other celebrities and dignitaries who have spent the night there.
Henry Hotel is in a compound with a number of colonial-style structures, this new hip boutique hotel feels like a serene oasis in the middle of a bustling city.
Sofitel Plaza Manila was designed by brutalist master Leandro Locsin and legendary landscape architect Ildefonso P. Santos, this luxury five-star hotel and resort was once a celebrity favorite and boasts the very best of Manila’s tropical vibrancy.
For over four decades The Peninsula Manilahas been known as “the Jewel in the Capital’s Crown” and for good reason. From its opulent lobby to its myriad services, the hotel has everything one could need in Metro Manila.
Things to Do
Pay a visit to Bellas Artes Outpost to see exhibitions by both local and international artists like Bruce Conner and Paul Pfeiffer. The outpost also offers programming that includes talks and workshops.
To learn about the very best in contemporary Filipino art, go to Silverlens, the gallery where names like Pio Abad and Maria Taniguchi show in Manila.
Find a member or apply for membership to get into Manila House, the city's exclusive, members-only club. There you’ll find the who’s who of Manila’s social scene hanging out in one of its common areas or dining at one of its five on-site eateries.
Stop by the Cultural Center of the Philippines—commissioned by Imelda Marcos during the Marcos era—to get a taste of Leandro Locsin’s tropical brutalism.