Manila probably isn’t at the top of many tourists’ Philippines bucket list. And I’ll admit, it wasn’t really on our radar either. Manila is a heaving and dense metropolis which has not always had the best reputation. Years of overpopulation, corruption, and poverty have plagued the city. However, if you give Manila a chance on your travels, you will find a city rich in history, stories, and life.
We ended up spending almost three days in Manila in total and explored many corners of the capital. Although I wouldn’t fly to the Philippines solely to explore Manila, I would recommend adding a Manila stopover to your trip if you have the time.
STROLL THROUGH RIZAL PARK
Rizal Park takes prime position along Roxas Boulevard and Manila Bay, just before Intramuros. This extensive urban park has significant historical importance and it was where the Declaration of Philippine Independence was signed in 1946. The park is a relaxing oasis in the middle of bustling Manila. It’s a place where people locals gather to meet, stroll and escape the busyness.
Rizal Park has some bells and whistles, too. There’s a Musical Dancing Fountain (I can’t tell you why, but there is!), a flower clock, several statues, and the Rizal Monument.
HEAD TO INTRAMUROS
Intramuros, the old ‘Walled City’ of Manila, feels like walking into another world. The Spanish began building Intramuros in the 1500s as a military and political base. Within the robust old city walls, there are churches, government buildings, forts, and more. A visit to Intramuros is a looking glass into the Philippine’s colonial past.
As soon as you step under the archways and into the walled city, you can sense the different atmosphere to the rest of Manila. With only a few small streets, the notorious Manila traffic does not make its way in here, and you can spend an hour or so without honking.
For us, we loved wandering the historical streets of Intramuros and soaking up the architecture. Whenever we came across a church or building of interest, we strolled inside and were usually pleasantly surprised. If you have 24 hours in Manila and only do one thing, I would recommend that it be exploring Intramuros.
TAKE A RIDE IN A JEEPNEY
There are few things as iconically Filipino as the Jeepney. These brightly coloured and dramatically decorated jeeps are a popular form of public transportation in Manila. The Jeepney’s have face-to-face seating and an opening at the back to let passengers on and off. They grumble vibrantly from stop to stop along their pre-determined route, and you pay for whatever length of the route you take. It’s the cheapest way to get around Manila and certainly the most entertaining.
WANDER AROUND FORT SANTIAGO
At the very end of the Intramuros complex lies the citadel of Fort Santiago. The Fort looks out upon Manila Bay and the city, and has been through its fair share of difficulties with occupation and wars since being built in 1571. It was the site where Jose Rizal was held before his execution and also where many were kept imprisoned and tortured during the Japanese occupation.
Today, the prison dungeons, bastions, walls, and park, are open for travellers to learn about the history that has happened here. There is an entrance fee of 100PHP for foreigners, but I think it is a worthwhile place to visit in Manila. There is a lot of opportunity to learn about key moments of Filipino history here.
MARVEL AT SAN AGUSTIN CHURCH
The Roman Catholic San Agustin Church sits proudly within the walls of Intramuros. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is baroque and has lavish interiors. As with a lot of heritage buildings in Manila, San Agustin Church has also had some difficult history. The church has endured earthquakes, fires, wars, and occupations, but still stands today and is worthy of your time.
STROLL THROUGH THE WORLD’S OLDEST CHINATOWN
Binondo is a suburb in Manila which is dubbed ‘Chinatown’, and it is recognised as being the oldest Chinatown in the world. It was established in the late 1500s during Spanish rule but was already a popular Chinese area before this.
As you can imagine, Binondo is not only an interesting place to walk around, but heaven for those looking for a food crawl. Complete with Chinese architecture, lanterns, and the best of Chinese cooking, you can spend hours getting lost in Binondo.
TAKE A SUNSET STROLL ON THE BAY WALK
Running alongside Manila Bay is the BayWalk. This paved walkway extends for several kilometres along the waterfront. It is a hub for locals to stroll and cycle, as well as food and trinket vendors to gather. Lined with palm trees, we highly recommend taking a sunset stroll after eating a satisfying Filipino meal to round off your 24 hours in Manila.
EAT PLENTY OF FILIPINO FOOD
To say that food is loved in the Philippines is an understatement. Food here is a way of life and is something that needs to be well-experienced during a trip to the Philippines.
HANDY HINTS FOR 24 HOURS IN MANILA
- Plan for your journeys to take a lot longer than expected. The traffic here is notoriously congested! It’s best to leave enough time so you can see what you need to see and not be stressed out.
- Leave plenty of time to navigate Manila Airport, it was one of the most chaotic airports I’ve visited!
- Make sure you stay hydrated! The humidity and chaos of Manila can wear you down pretty easily.
- Download the Grab App (like Uber but in many South East Asian countries), it is a lot safer and cheaper than trying to negotiate rates in taxis and tricycles
WHERE TO STAY FOR 24 HOURS IN MANILA
Accommodation in Manila is, thankfully, very affordable and accessible. There are two main areas where travellers tend to stay in the city: close to Intramuros and the touristic attractions, or out in the modern business district around Makati and Greenbelt.
We booked late (as in, four hours before we arrived) so our choice accommodation in Intramuros was sold out, so we ended up staying in the business district. This ended up being a great choice because there were plenty of facilities, good quality accommodation options, and it was a lot closer to the airport than Intramuros.
Our stay was at Citadines Salcedo Makati where we had a beautiful apartment with kitchenette. The service was great and we both recommend staying here!
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