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Manila Travel Guide

About Manila

A curious cocktail of Asia, Europe and America, the capital of the Philippines is fast-paced and frenetic, but far from boring. This is a city where sophistication and spirituality go hand in hand with seediness and consumerism, against a constant backdrop of karaoke and traffic noise.

Metro Manila is difficult to pigeonhole. The Filipino capital is actually a confederation of 17 different cities and municipalities, stretching for miles beside Manila Bay and linked by a bewildering network of train, bus and jeepney routes.

First impressions of this mad metropolis can be daunting. Looming concrete flyovers, snarling bumper-to-bumper traffic, deafening music blasting out of windows and doorways, stifling heat and choking pollution, and extreme wealth juxtaposed with desperate poverty.

However, give Manila time and its joie de vivre will grow on you. Despite the lack of obvious historic sights (a legacy of the devastating battle for Manila in WWII), the city has some of the best nightlife and shopping in Asia, and some impressive museums that provide a fascinating overview of Manila’s melting pot of cultures.

History buffs can walk with the ghosts of Spanish settlers, Japanese invaders and American generals within the crumbling 16th-century walls of Intramuros. Shoppers will adore the air-conditioned malls of Makati, and foodies will delight in Manila’s seafood restaurants and Chinatown’s dim sum heaven.

After dark, Manila moves things up a gear. The bars and nightclubs of Makati, Quezon City, Malate and Ermita pulse through the night to big name DJs, astonishingly talented Filipino bands and ceaseless karaoke, while the sex industry, although obvious, is easily avoided.

What really knits everything together is the Filipino people, who ensure that this is Asia’s most gregarious capital. Their openness and love of conversation, and willingness to keep on going despite the odds, is highly contagious.

Manila is not the easiest place to explore, not least because of the road congestion, but a ride on one of the city’s outrageously decorated jeepneys is a tourist attraction all by itself. And if it all gets too much, buses, flights and ferries connect Manila to every corner of the Philippines.

Key facts

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Featured Hotels


Pan Pacific Manila

This luxurious skyscraper hotel in Manila is justifiably popular because of its top-drawer location in Malate's tourist quarter. It's worth the extra splurge to access the top-floor, glass-surrounded Pacific Lounge – lovely in the evening for sipping cocktails and listening to the pianist. The Manila hotel also offers 24-hour butler service and Japanese, Chinese and international restaurants. Early-bird bookings on Pan Pacific's website push prices down into the moderate bracket.

Sonya’s Garden

This divine slice of tranquillity is located two hours' drive from downtown Manila's hullabaloo. County vogue furnished cottages replete with lace curtains, iron bedsteads and polished wooden floors, all surrounded by herb gardens and sumptuous countryside. Sonya's organic farm ensures guests enjoy tasty and healthy food. The bread is baked on site while the garden spa offers a full range of holistic treatments.

The A.Venue Hotel Suites

Swish and trendy, this is affordable chic amid Makati's skyscrapers. Set in three towers, the suites have Asian-styled contemporary interiors and minimalist décor and feature kitchenettes and free Wi-Fi. Amenities include a gym, a spa, a swimming pool, a Mediterranean restaurant and a cafe.

Hostel 1632

Penny pinchers and night owls will find succour in this budget hostel. Its 106 air-conditioned, en-suite rooms are boxy and cramped and almost have a capsule feel. But Hostel 1632's position on M Adriatico Street is plum in the heart of Malate. There's a café in the lobby serving local and international food for those craving pasta or pizzas.

ZEN Rooms Peñafrancia

Set in a quiet residential area, this small hotel offers light, simply furnished rooms in Japanese style at a good price. Amenities include flat-screen TVs, free Wi-Fi and tea and coffee-making facilities.

Henry Hotel

Conveniently located in the heart of the city, within walking distance of the Mall of Asia and close to the airport, this boutique hotel is a tranquil escape from the city and features landscaped gardens and a swimming pool. The hotel itself is comprised of a number of buildings and includes a small museum and art gallery. Rooms are chic and spacious. Breakfast is included, and there's also a cafe.