Philippines’ capital is a juxtaposition of mall mania, rich-poor divide, Spanish heritage and spirited fiestas. 

Consider the capital Manila as a pulsating vortex for everything that defines Filipinos: mall mania, rich-poor divide, Spanish heritage and spirited fiestas. Also in this northern metro area of 12 million people you will find some of the country’s top restaurants and most sophisticated arts and entertainment. The gleaming skyscrapers of international investment banks in upscale Makati share this massive metropolitan area with slums along creeks that drain through the flattish urban core into Manila Bay.

Highlights of the capital include Intramuros, the old Spanish citadel, the shopper-mad SM Mall of Asia and a review of political history at Rizal Park. Children get their own museum, Museo Pambata, and a hands-on marine experience at Manila Ocean Park. Nocturnal visitors may prefer Malate for its varied, sometimes naughty and often very late nightlife. Accommodation options are plentiful, from backpacker hostels to five-star towers run by multinational chains.

Many Filipinos from the central and southern islands move into Manila to find work and escape poverty. Sadly, not all of them succeed, which has given rise to a large beggar community, as well as slums so jaw-dropping that they've become a tourist attraction in their own right.


When to go

Manila is a year-round destination, but rain is least likely from December through April, which coincides with some of the city's most festive months.

Visa requirements

Singaporean nationals can visit any part of the Philippines visa-free for 30 days.


The peso (P) is the monetary unit and there are 100 centavos to one peso. Currency exchange kiosks at the airport and at major banks accept Singapore currency. ATMs are open 24 hours and international credit cards are widely accepted. 


Ninoy Aquino International Airport lies 7km (4 miles) from the city centre. Metered taxis queue up at the airport, with airport staffers forming lines of passengers and making notes on where they plan to go to cut down on cheating by drivers. Though most drivers are reliable, airport taxis are notorious for asking passengers to pay a higher-than-normal fixed rate. Taxis take about 30 minutes and charge P200-250 to reach most parts of Manila. Most Manila hotels offer free or inexpensive shuttles. Look for people at the curb holding up signs with the names of hotels.

Air-conditioned buses ply major thoroughfares, while Manila's elevated rail system consists of two Light Rail Transit lines and the Metro Rail Transit line covering a total of 31 stations.

White and yellow taxis cluster at hotels, shopping malls and tourist landmarks, or can be flagged down at curbsides. Fares range from P100 for a short hop around Ermita to P300 or more for a cross-town journey from one suburb to another.

Health and safety tips

Manila is safer than it feels to many travellers. Despite slums, beggars and shady-looking people hanging around abandoned buildings, passers-by can avoid crime by keeping valuables hidden and avoiding long conversation with strangers who may be scam artists. Sanitation is questionable anywhere in the Philippines, so appoach street food with caution, and stick with restaurants if you want to be extra-safe. For medical assistance, visit the Medical Center Manila (tel:  (632) 523 8131) on Taft Avenue.

Emergency details

No. 505, Rizal Drive Rizal Drive (corner of 5th Avenue),  Bonifacio Global City, 1634 Taguig City (, tel: (632) 856 9922).

In an emergency, call 117 or contact the local Philippine National Police office at Camp General Crame in Quezon City (tel: (632) 723 0401).

Basic greetings
English Filipino (Tagalog)
Hello Helló
How are you? Kumustá kayó?
Fine, thanks Mabúti namán, salámat
Goodbye Paálam
Excuse-me! (to get attention) Mawaláng gálang nga pô!
Thank you Salámat
Yes Óo
No Hindî
How much? Magkáno?
What's your name? Anó ang inyóng pangálan?
My name is… …ang pangálan ko
Nice to meet you Ikinagágalák kong makilála kayó
Are you on Facebook/Twitter? Nasa Facebook/Twitter ka ba?
Where’s an internet café? Saán may ínternet café?
Where can I get a taxi? Saán akó makákabilí ng tíket?
Where is the bus/train station? Saán ang estasyón ng bus/tren?
A one-way/return ticket to… Isáng óne-way/round-trip tíket sa…
Do you have a room for one/two? Méron ba kayóng kuwárto pára sa isá/dalawá?
When's check out? Kailán ang check-out?
Can you recommend a good restaurant/bar? Pwéde ba kayóng magrékomendá ng magandáng réstorán/bar?
A table for two, please Mésa pára sa isá/dalawá, please
A menu, please Menú, please
The bill, please Ang bill, please
Where's the toilet? Saán ang CR?
Help! Saklólo!

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Malate district

Roxas Boulevard, south of Remedios Circle

Malate is one of Manila’s chief culture, food and entertainment areas. Bars range from British-style pubs and Latin clubs to hostess bars. The district’s Nakpil and Orosa streets are home to a variety of drag shows, plus dance clubs for all persuasions. Many spots are open 24 hours.  Boutique hotels are scattered among the eats and drinks venues. For something a little more sophisticated, you can find swankier nightclubs, such as Club Enigma and Studio 69 on the Roxas Boulevard edge of Malate.

Museo Pambata (Children’s Museum)

Roxas Boulevard, corner of South Drive

The Museo Pambata offers entertainment to children of all ages. Themed rooms and hands-on displays include a tunnel maze through the body, a simulated rainforest and a trip into the past.  Children will also find a make-believe shopping experience and a chance to explore future careers through art.

Rizal Park

Roxas Boulevard, at the sea wall facing Manila Bay

Rich in political history, Rizal Park contains a memorial to Jose Rizal, a national hero who died for championing independence from Spain. Behind the monument is a series of plaques inscribed with Rizal’s poem My Last Farewell. A marble slab marks the spot where Rizal met his martyr’s death by firing squad. Here you can see the Lights and Sounds of Rizal (Wed–Sun, 8pm), a 30-minute, open-air audio-visual presentation on the great man’s final days. You can also take a relaxing stroll through the park’s Chinese Garden, Planetarium, Japanese Garden, and Orchidarium.

Metropolitan Museum of Manila

BSP Complex, Roxas Boulevard

The Metropolitan Museum of Manila features a collection of pre-Hispanic gold artefacts, as well as gold and pottery showpieces dating back to the eighth century. Moving up the timeline to the Spanish colonial years, paintings by the country's best known artist Juan Luna await in another gallery. The museum offers regular talks on photography, cartography and the secrets of the artists themselves.


Ermita district of Manila, along Pasig River

An old Spanish city that has bounced back from the scourges of war, Intramuros is a triangular district full of restored historic buildings buzzing with cafés, bars and handicraft stores. The Spanish built 18 churches, chapels, convents, schools and palaces for the governor-general. The key landmark for travellers is Fort Santiago (daily 8am–6pm). Visitors to the lavishly landscaped fort can climb on an old wall to see the grayish Pasig River and a stone chamber, a poignant reminder of where the Japanese jailed hundreds of Allied soldiers until they starved to death.

Manila Ocean Park

Behind Quirino Grandstand, Luneta

Highlights of the Manila Ocean Park include fish-viewing,  a pool for handling marine life and an Antarctica exhibit – right along tropical Manila Bay. Daily shows star seals, rays and a talking cartoon penguin. Those who want to linger can try the adjacent Liquid Pool & Lounge (tel: 632 567 4321 ext. 101) or stay at the bayside Hotel H2O (tel: 632 238 6100).


Balikbayan Plaza

1010 Antonio Arnaiz Avenue, Makati

Balikbayan Plaza sells traditional carved wooden statues, furniture and picture frames, plus much smaller items. Craft materials also include fibre, paper, bamboo, vines, resin, leaves and clay. Staff are on hand to help you with packing and international shipping by sea or air. There is also a branch at the HK Sun Plaza in Pasay.

Balikbayan Plaza sells traditional carved wooden statues, furniture and picture frames, plus much smaller items. Craft materials also include fibre, paper, bamboo, vines, resin, leaves and clay. Staff are on hand to help you with packing and international shipping by sea or air. There is also a branch at the HK Sun Plaza in Pasay.

Budget $


Between Tondo and San Nicolas

Divisoria refers to a cluster of semi-organised flea markets in one of Manila’s poorer areas. Shoppers of all economic levels go there for fruits, handicrafts and hardware sold from a thousand stalls. Specific markets include the 168 Mall and 999 Mall. Bargain freely with the vendors and beware of being ripped off.

Budget $

Greenhills Shopping Centre

Ortigas Avenue, North Western Street, San Juan

Visitors to Greenhills Shopping Centre, located near Ninoy Aquino International Airport, can choose from 2,000 stores, nearly 100 restaurants and a cinema. Among the highlights of this vast mall is the Music Museum (tel: 632 721 6726).

Budget $$

Resorts World Manila

Newport Boulevard, Newport City, Pasay

Try a hand of baccarat, blackjack or poker at one of Manila’s more upmarket casinos. The giant mall-like complex is also a who’s who of fashion brand shops. There’s a cinema and a range of restaurants, including Crisotomo’s for Filipino food and the CRU steakhouse. Located across international airport Terminal 3, Resorts World Manila is ideally positioned for transit passengers.

Budget $$$

SM Mall of Asia

Mall of Asia Complex, J.W. Diokno Boulevard, Pasay City

At SM Mall of Asia aisles of restaurants sit between indoor blocks hosting everything from high-end clothing stores to children’s DIY events. It has been ranked as the world’s 11th largest mall in terms of leasable area and welcomes an average of 200,000 people per day. The mall is refreshingly child-friendly, with ample places to rest, slurp ice cream, or make crafts with adult-guidance.

Budget $$$

Solidaridad Bookshop

531 Padre Faura St, Ermita

Solidaridad Bookshop sells a broad selection of English-language titles. Small but packed, the store owned by Filipino author F. Sionil Jose specialises in non-fiction and literature, much of it penned by local writers. Filipino paintings and tapestries line the walls to give the place an old, boutique feel. The store’s name means 'solidarity' in Spanish.

Budget $$


Andok’s Lechon Manok

Rizal Avenue, Barangay

Numerous Andok’s outlets are located throughout Manila and beyond. Look for the red-and-yellow cartoon chickens. True to its logo, Andok’s specialises in manok (roasted chicken), as well as lechon (roast pig). Look also for meaty kebabs and bangus fish, a Filipino food staple. Orders are take-away and must be paid for in cash.

Budget $

Casa Xocolat

B. Gonzales Street, off Katipunan, Quezon City

The colourful Casa Xocolat celebrates the country’s love for cacao and chocolate in their different forms, from churros (the Spanish version of doughnuts) to rich hot drinks and gooey fondues. As the website says, 'moderation is for monks'. Focaccia sandwiches and other creative dishes can be found on the same menu. Casa Xocolat offers free Wi-fi access and an outdoor patio.

Budget $

Chateau 1771

Greenbelt 5, Ayala Center, Makati

Located in a Metro Manila business hub, Chateau 1771 serves international and French cuisine, from seafood jambalaya and steaks to beef fondue and soufflés. Originally designed salads and elaborate desserts are among their specialities. Ask to be seated in the garden in fine weather or, for special occasions, in a private room.

Budget $$$


744 Calla Real del Palacio Intramuros

An ornate restaurant in the walled city of Intramuros, Ilustrado evokes the lifestyle of well-travelled Filipinos of the Spanish era. That class, the ilustrados, knew how to dine in style and this establishment features period cuisine that they might have eaten. Chefs specialise in oysters, scallops and baked aubergine.

Budget $$

North Park

1200 Makati Avenue

North Park makes well-priced Chinese food in clean, ambient surroundings. How about boneless honey chicken, prawn dumplings or Sichuan-style spicy noodles? A good choice for night owls: some branches stay open until 3am. Check the website to find the nearest branch of this ever-expanding chain.

Budget $$

Patio Guernica

1856 Jorge Bocobo Street, Remedios Circle, Malate

Patio Guernica is an old Spanish church that was turned into a cosy, stylish Spanish restaurant decades ago to keep part of the country’s colonial heritage intact. The restaurant opens every day for lunch and dinner. Try in particular the lengua (tongue), paella, leche flan and iced coffee frappe.

Budget $$


Aloha Hotel

2150 Roxas Boulevard, Malate

Rooms at the Aloha Hotel which overlook the bustling Manila Bay corridor of Roxas Boulevard offer memorable sunsets but can get noisy at night. An on-site restaurant serves Chinese food, and guests may proceed from dinner to the karaoke lounge or massage parlour. Room rates start around P2,500 per night.

Budget $

Bayview Park Hotel

1118 Roxas Boulevard, corner of UN Avenue, Malate

Bayview Park is one in a series of high-rise hotels along Roxas Boulevard in the Malate-Ermita district of Manila. Guests in higher rooms may get bay views, though new construction has unfortunately got in the way. Facilities include rooftop pool, bar, lobby restaurant, travel agency and a conference centre.

Budget $$

Discovery Suites Ortigas

25 ADB Avenue, Ortigas Center, Pasig City

Discovery Suites Ortigas sits in a prime location for Ortigas-based business travellers with one of Manila’s central business districts spread out right below. Some of the best malls in the city are nearby. Take the breakfast buffet on the 22nd floor whilst enjoying views of the city skyline.

Budget $$$

Hyatt Hotel and Casino Manila

1588 Pedro Gil, corner M.H. Del Pilar

This stylish Hyatt hotel has some of the most spacious and luxurious rooms in metro Manila. One of the country’s original casinos is also on site, along with a fitness centre, pool and restaurants that offer Chinese food and American-style steaks. It's child-friendly too: kids have their own special area and activities include mini theatre and pizza-making.

Budget $$$

Malate Pensionne

1771 Adriatico Street, Malate

Malate Pensionne is named after the district of Manila known for some of the best culture and nightlife. This hotel is a classic backpackers’ haunt and describes itself as capturing the 'romance of old Manila'. It features antique furniture, and the lobby has a European feel. Single rooms start at P950, but cheaper dormitory rooms are also available.

Budget $

Manila Airport Hotel

99 PAL Drive, Airlane Village, NAIA Terminal 1 Complex, Paranaque City

Visitors with an early-morning flight from Terminal 1 can get a full night’s sleep at the modest Manila Airport Hotel just across the maze of roads outside Ninoy Aquino International Airport. Room rates range from P2,800 to P5,000 per night. There are fast food outlets right outside in the hotel parking lot, and Casino Filipino isn’t far off.

Budget $$

Aliwan Fiesta

Date varies in April

Aliwan Fiesta brings dance, parade and float competitions to the Star City Complex in Pasay City (near the Manila airport). The event is organised in part by Manila Broadcasting Company and displays elements of Filipino heritage for local as well as international spectators.

Bamboo Organ Festival

17-23 February

Visitors to St. Joseph’s Parish Church in Las Pinas will hear music from Manila’s unique bamboo organ and see presentations to introduce the unusual instrument. The bamboo organ, housed in the church, has been played for 200 years for Mass and other services. For more information, visit

Feast of the Black Nazarene


Feast of the Black Nazarene brings crowds to Quiapo Church and Quezon Boulevard outside to make contact with a statue of religious significance. Thousands of devotees turn out to help move the cross-bearing Black Nazarene statue’s float in a parade around the city.

Liberation of Manila


This event commemorates U.S. General Douglas MacArthur’s decision to prioritise the liberation of Manila in World War II. Because of that mission, American forces freed Manila from Japan on February 3, 1945. This commemoration, being political rather than religious, is marked with relatively simple ceremonies.

Manila Day


Manila Day is a series of ceremonies and other events to Luneta Park and city hall to mark the capital city’s founding in the 1500s by Spanish colonists. Events of the day recall Manila’s religious, cultural and historical moments.

Marikina Christmas Festival


This festival brings a warm Christmas spirit to the bazaars, amusement parks, concerts and firework displays at the Riverbanks Center and Marikina River.


Filipinos thrive on mall culture. They buy, gawk, eat and hang out in shopping centres. Some malls have cinemas or sports arenas and they range from cheap and shady to glittery and exclusive.


Start the day in central Manila at Divisoria, a cluster of flea markets where working people look for fruit, handicrafts and hardware from a thousand stalls. Bargain at will with the vendors and beware of getting ripped off. Next, take a taxi down to the slightly more upmarket SM Mall of Asia. If you want a break from the endless shops, go bowling or scope out the SM Science Discovery Center. Grab some lunch in the food aisles which are home to just about every restaurant chain in the Philippines.


Finish the day in the swanky malls of Makati. The Makati Greenbelt Mall features ornate, high-ceilinged corridors and ample parking. Each of its five sections has a unique theme. The first is mainly smaller shops with a focus on electronics. Other sections are dedicated to dining and world fashion brands. Greenbelt 3 offers a selection of upmarket coffee shops. Greenbelt’s cross-town rival, Glorietta Mall is worth a whirl-through for its giant atrium that sometimes hosts concerts and trade shows for shoppers. Finish the day with a film at one of Glorietta’s six cinemas.



Places to visit:
Divisoria, SM Mall of Asia, Makati Greenbelt Mall, Glorietta Mall.


First stop on a cultural tour of Manila is Rizal Park, where you can explore a key element of Philippine history – its independence from Spain. See the place where independence advocate Jose Rizal, the park’s namesake, was executed. Then taxi over to Intramuros to discover the Spanish legacy, still much loved by locals despite the conquest and colonisation that it represents. The Catholic churches are icons of Spain’s past, as is the country’s dominant religion. Also take a trip to Fort Santiago for a glimpse of World War II history. Across from the fort and the Pasig River lies Chinatown, another clue to what makes Filipinos culturally unique.


Have lunch at a branch of the ubiquitous fried chicken restaurant chain Jollibee’s for a taste of modern glam fast-food culture, then stroll through the Metropolitan Museum of Manila on Roxas Boulevard to enjoy works of art by the best known Filipino artists. Next head to the nearby Malate district to browse the Solidaridad Book Shop for fiction or non-fiction titles by Filipino authors.


Culture takes on new forms after dark. Try dinner at Casa Armas, a Spanish/Filipino-style restaurant on Malate’s Nakpil Street (tel: 632 523 5763), which serves marinated sardines with garlic, garlic shrimp with olives and an unusual crab dish. For drinks in a clean, relaxed but still typically local place, wind down at any of three bars at the Solaire Resort and Casino (tel: 632 888 8888) in Pagcor Entertainment City.



Places to visit:
Rizal Park, Intramuros, Fort Santiago, Chinatown, Metropolitan Museum of Manila, Solidaridad Book Shop, Casa Armas, Solaire Resort and Casino.


It may be a cliché to say the Filipinos love children but the sheer amount of child-friendly venues and activities in the capital certainly testify to that. 


Start early at the Museo Pambata (Children’s Museum) on Roxas Boulevard. Kids will enjoy the virtual rainforest, the maze of the human body and the make-believe shopping adventure. The land of pretend segues into the next stop, a quick taxi ride to the SM Mall of Asia. On the mall’s first to fourth floors you’ll find Cosmic Kidz, a spacious and varied play area that charges 250 pesos per child per hour. There are things to do for toddlers as well as pre-schoolers keen on early education.


Grab a kids-friendly lunch – even if it’s just some colourful Filipino fast food – in the mall, then venture to the Ark Avilon Zoo, an interactive indoor zoo in Ortigas where children can meet rare species such as the Borneo orangutan and Palawan bearcat. Alternatively, head to the Manila Ocean Park in Luneta, where children and their parents can check out marine life, touch the gentler specimens and catch one of the daily shows where professional trainers interact with ocean creatures.



Places to visit:
Museo Pambata, SM Mall of Asia, Ark Avilon Zoo, Manila Ocean Park.