Whenever Manila is mentioned, the speaker actually refers--sometimes unknowingly--to a vast conglomeration of 12 cities and five municipalities. Each is an autonomous political entity, but together functioning as one city called Metro Manila. Exploring this sprawling metropolis can be quite a daunting prospect even for its residents, but as a visitor you may rest assured that your stay will be most likely confined to certain areas, as outlined in this guide.
The Historic City
Just outside Intramuros' walls lies
The Tourist Belt
Cutting through the western tip of Rizal Park is a broad boulevard stretching several kilometers past the US Embassy,
Around the boulevard are two districts traditionally known as Manila's tourist belt--Ermita and Malate. Both areas are packed with brand-new or renovated hotels, restaurants, cafés, antique shops, souvenir stores, travel agencies and the like.
The Inner City
Facing the northeastern fringe of Rizal Park, you will notice a building with a clock tower—the
Accessible from Rizal Park by
The Modern City
Going from the inner city to Makati is almost like a journey into another time.
Proceeding north from Makati on Epifanio de los Santos Avenue (EDSA), you will soon reach
The Commuter Belt
A large percentage of commuters reside in the districts south of Makati. The Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) and the Centennial Terminal for Philippine Airlines flights are located in the area, along with duty-free shops and
The Official City
A northbound drive on EDSA or a quick ride on the MRT (Metro Rail Transit) from Makati will take you to Cubao, the heart of Quezon City's commercial life.
Quezon Avenue stretches westward from the circle, joining with West Avenue and Timog Avenue to form yet another center of dining and nightlife. This long and almost straight road takes you all the way back to Quiapo in the inner city, though en route you may want to check out more landmarks such as
On the other hand, you may opt to go north to Marikina City, the Philippines' shoe-making capital, or Antipolo City, renowned as a place of religious pilgrimage and a hill resort interspersed with public swimming pools and sweeping views of Manila. Bars and eateries on Sumulong Highway, such as Cloud 9, stay open until the small hours of the morning, allowing you to enjoy the marvelous panorama both day and night.
Metro Manila abounds in accommodation options. Rates run from the high end to the incredibly modest and everything in between. Visitors can pick from international chain hotels displaying well-known logos, foreign or locally run properties for long-term stays, boutique hotels with character and history, or no-frills lodgings offering basic services.
As many hotels address the traveler's need for business and leisure facilities, your choice will depend on your budget, efficiency requirements, or penchant for the out-of-the-ordinary. But wherever you choose to stay, you will not feel lost or isolated: English is spoken everywhere, and Filipinos are warm, friendly, and hospitable.
The Modern City
Expensive international hotels thrive in Makati, the city's main business district. Makati Shangri-La, The Peninsula Manila and Mandarin Oriental are among the premier business/leisure hotels and lie within walking distance of many office buildings. Their location within a bustling commercial area offers excellent shopping and dining opportunities. These hotels extend a full range of business and convention facilities plus seasoned, responsive service. Hotel Inter-Continental, Dusit Hotel Nikko and New World Renaissance Hotel, all within Ayala Center, also address standard business and conference requirements.
Catering to long-staying travelers with generous budgets, Ascott Hotel Manila provides tastefully furnished and fully serviced deluxe apartments with business facilities. Along Pasong Tamo Street, the 60-room Herald Suites offers rooms with old-world charm at modest rates.
CEO Suites, a 29-room, all-suite accommodation on Jupiter Street supplies essential business needs plus limited in-room cooking facilities. Unique furniture and furnishings create an elegant yet homey atmosphere. The newly opened and inexpensive City Garden Hotel Makati, at the end of Makati Avenue, lies away from office buildings, amid small, interesting adult bars. Clean and functional, it offers straightforward accommodations and the added plus of a helicopter charter service.
The Tourist Belt
Along Roxas Boulevard, a tree-lined thoroughfare by Manila Bay, hotels alternate with museums, embassies, travel agencies, bars and evening entertainment spots. The Heritage Hotel and Hyatt Regency, situated across from the World Trade Center, stand nearest the airport. The Hyatt is an old but well-maintained medium-size property, while the newer and bigger Heritage functions as a busy convention hotel. Casual tourist-type accommodations can be found at Copacabana Apartment Hotel, also in the vicinity.
A 609-room "city resort," the Sofitel Philippine Plaza Manila sits on reclaimed land that encompasses the Philippine International Convention Center, Folk Arts Theater and Coconut Palace. The Philippine Plaza offers great sports and leisure facilities such as tennis courts, a driving range, 24-hour spa and fitness center, and outdoor pool. Opposite The Cultural Center of the Philippines and beside the Metropolitan Museum of Manila stands the four-star Traders Hotel. Bayview Park Hotel, another four-star property, fronts the American Embassy at the northern end of the boulevard, near Rizal Park and the Children's Museum (Museo Pambata).
For the budget-conscious who wish to get a feel of the Ermita/Malate area in the Tourist Belt, both Adriatico Arms Hotel and Malate Pensionne deliver good options. Century Park Hotel, next to Harrison Plaza, lures travelers seeking big hotel comfort. The Orchid Garden Suites, a boutique hotel, imparts a sense of history with its laid-back ambiance. Comfortable and orderly, the Palm Plaza is straightforward and inexpensive, while the 52-room Best Western La Corona Hotel offers another alternative for the budget-minded traveler.
The Historic City
Hotel Intramuros de Manila sits amid the rich-in-culture landmarks, churches, art galleries, arts and crafts shops, and native and Spanish restaurants in historic Intramuros. Managed by the Hotel and Tourism Institute of the Philippines, it delivers good value for money plus an ambiance evocative of 19th century Manila.
The Holiday Inn, along United Nations Avenue, is a popular leisure hotel, though many prefer to check into the Manila Hotel for historical reasons. For those wanting to stay near Paco Park, another historical site, the Park Hotel provides an address with character and business facilities, while the Garden Plaza Hotel & Suites offers fully equipped kitchenettes for longer sojourns.
Ortigas Center, north of Makati, is a business and commercial area with some good hotels. Edsa Shangri-La ensures top business and convention facilities, with guest and meeting rooms in either the tower wing or the sprawling garden wing. Nearby, the Richmonde Hotel offers advanced business equipment and a good fitness center. The Legend Hotel is an inexpensive choice, with well-appointed rooms spread out in low-rise buildings. The Manila Galleria Suites features very comfortable and spacious rooms, while the Discovery Suites offer deluxe apartments that meet both business needs and relaxation requirements.
Inexpensive accommodations can be found in Quezon City, an area of government offices, schools and residences with concentrated dining and entertainment spots. Hotel Rembrandt lies in one such spot teeming with bars and restaurants. The Camelot Hotel, with its mock castle façade, provides a regular venue for small private banquets, while the Century Imperial Palace Suites, along Timog Avenue, allows longer stays in furnished apartments.
Filipinos love eating—to the extent that many a foreign visitor has remarked: Don't Filipinos ever stop eating? Indeed, a Filipino's daily food intake comprises five meals: breakfast, morning merienda, lunch, afternoon merienda and dinner. And take note that a merienda is often more than just a snack, particularly the afternoon version. It can consist of goto (Filipino congee) and tokwa't baboy (crispy pork and bean curd dressed in vinegar and soy sauce) or Chinese mami (noodles in soup) and siopao (steamed bun with meat filling). In that context, it is no wonder Manila can call itself the D & D (dining and drinking) capital of Southeast Asia. In Manila one is not faced with a shortage of choices; the problem lies in selecting from the rather bewildering diversity.
Ermita and Malate
If you are in Ermita and Malate, start your search at the junction of Padre Faura Street and M. Adriatico Street with Kashmir Restaurant which serves delectable Indian curries. From here to Nakpil Street and Remedios Circle, the entire length of M. Adriatico is lined with eateries. On the corner of Pedro Gil Street stands Robinson's Place, which is packed with dining and drinking possibilities, including the mall's own Food Court where you can feast inexpensively in cool and comfortable surroundings.
Nakpil Street, formerly a wealthy residential neighborhood, abounds with houses and apartment buildings that have been converted into bars and restaurants. More than just purveyors of food, these act as trend setters of style. Bravo! mixes fashion with a full menu of Italian dishes. Matina, a restaurant cum art gallery, introduces you to imaginative fusion cuisine. Sala offers contemporary European food in a very stylish setting. People's Palace features tasty Thai food and tasteful minimalist décor. Casa Armas draws in discriminating diners with its black paella and other Spanish specialties. Episode Café and a dozen other places lure the young sophisticates with a thematic décor and the added attraction of live music, shows or dancing.
Another string of chic eateries can be found at the crossing of Nakpil and Maria Orosa Street: Pepe & Pilar (Filipino with a modern twist), Garlic Rose (everything is seasoned with the medicinal bulb), Café Breton (coffee and crepes) and Batavia (novel varieties of coffee, tea and cakes).
Around Remedios Circle, which is just a couple of blocks south of Nakpil, the creations of Larry Cruz, arguably Manila's most successful restaurateur, predominate, each with a theme of its own. Café Adriatico is known for Spanish-based Filipino food, while the other Café Adriatico 1900 is known for refined ambiance. Café Havana is notorious for its Cuban cooking and a Hemingway-inspired cigar room, In The Mood frequented for ballroom dancing, Bistro Remedios for regional Filipino delicacies, and Larry's Bar as a hip hangout.
Guernicas (traditional Spanish food), The Red Crab (crabs and steaks), and the delightfully naughty Kink Cakes (the concoctions will make some people's eyes pop out) are also in the vicinity, as are The Library (karaoke and stand-up comedy), and Portico (continental décor).
Around the corner, on A. Mabini Street, you will find a different set of places altogether, most notably the Hobbit House (a throwback to the '60s, featuring live music) and the Republic of Malate. The latter encompasses the popular Good Earth Tea Room (contemporary Chinese cuisine).
Not to be outdone by Ermita and Malate, Makati's Ayala Center is replete with its own array of dining and drinking places. Glorietta alone contains countless bars and restaurants, including globally known establishments like T.G.I. Friday's, Hard Rock Café and Fashion Café. Cibo delights patrons with pizza and pasta a la nouvelle cuisine. Furusato Japanese Restaurant is a dependable recommendation for those who fancy sushi, sashimi or sukiyaki.
Around Greenbelt Park and inside Greenbelt Mall, you will find, among others, Italianni's (American-Italian pasta, pizza, salads, etc.), Schwarzwalder German Restaurant (schnitzel, pork knuckles and the like), and Sugi (one of Manila's best Japanese restaurants).
Along Pasay Road, also known as Antonio S. Arnaiz Avenue, many international restaurants can be found, while around Jupiter Street and Makati Avenue lies a whole enclave where Japanese restaurants compete with Korean restaurants like Kaya Korean Restaurant. Casa Armas has a branch here and so do various Filipino restaurants. There is also a conspicuous Thai presence, as well as a plethora of girlie bars where many foreigners come to roost. Do not forget Grassi's at the nearby Rockwell Center—in some people's estimate, it serves the best food in Manila. And if you do not fancy any of the above, well, there is always fish and chips!
Dinner with a view? Try Top of the Citi on Paseo de Roxas. Something light and stylish? Wasabi Bistro and Bar on Makati Avenue. And even if you are dining on a budget, you can still do it with some style at the Glorietta 4 Food Court or the Food Park at the Enterprise Center.
Here the activity revolves around the giant malls. Some pubs await you at Shangri-La Plaza Mall like the popular Watering Hole Brewery (totally new innovation serving beer brewed in-house). In contrast, the Prince of Wales at Robinson's Galleria is terribly British, complete with dartboard and framed portraits of the royals. Here is a sampling of eateries at SM Megamall: Tong Yang Hot Pot (pick any or all of the meat and seafood items on display, then cook it at your table), Dad's (extensive buffet from California maki to roast turkey), Almon Marina (roast chicken and sandwiches, excellent for a quick lunch) and the cheap and cheerful SM Megamall Food Court.
At El Pueblo & St. Francis Square, just behind SM Megamall, you will find the likes of Flavors and Spices, a fine dining restaurant featuring a good-value Thai buffet. And if you are looking for somewhere just to have a round of drinks, there are such places as Strumm's. On the other hand, you might want to indulge in some French haute cuisine, in which case you could sample the inventive culinary preparations at Le Souffle.
Nearby Greenhills Shopping Center is dotted with all kinds of Chinese eateries. Bistro Lorenzo (another Larry Cruz restaurant) and Ciudad Fernandina Restaurant, both leaning toward Spanish food, are two alternatives to the predominantly Chinese selection. Café Ysabel, in an exquisite old house, is in a class of its own.
As the biggest of Metro Manila's 12 cities and five municipalities, Quezon City merits a D & D guide of its own.
The D & D row on E. Rodriguez Jr. Avenue, also known as C-5, ranges widely in theme and food: Grilla (Polynesian-style setting and flavorful reworkings of Filipino dishes), Aqua Zoo (European nouvelle cuisine served in an interior simulating a giant aquarium) and Outback Steakhouse (Down Under ambience and steaks).
On Katipunan Avenue, which is just around the corner from C-5, Dencio's and Katips stand out as two contrasting varieties of beer gardens. Likewise Cravings, with its intimate continental mood and modernized Western food, contrasts markedly with Kublai, which serves an eat-all-you-can Mongolian buffet in a large industrial-like hall.
From this guide you should get an idea of the tremendous variety of D & D options that Manila offers. But wait till you get here—you will find this guide barely scratches the surface.
In the free and open atmosphere of Manila, entertainment takes myriad forms. Sometimes you just need a little food for the soul, and here are some places to get your fill.
The Cultural Scene
Manila is distinguished by a strong theatrical tradition, possibly the most active and varied in East Asia after Tokyo. Because of the city's early westernization, Manilans have been exposed to English plays, Italian opera, American musicals and other forms of theater to a far greater degree than their regional neighbors.
Manila's cultural scene is mainly represented by venues like the Cultural Center of the Philippines, Meralco Theater, and William J. Shaw Theater. In addition, there are auditoriums in practically all of the city's schools and universities, and these are regularly used for a broad range of theatrical productions. Even shopping malls—for example, SM Megamall and Shangri-La Plaza Mall—lend themselves to concerts and cultural shows.
Each of the city's diverse drama companies mounts a season every year, with Tanghalang Pilipino, the Cultural Center's resident company, setting the pace with productions that blend the best of traditional and avant-garde theater. Repertory Philippines specializes in English-language productions and is devoted to fostering a love of the theater among the younger generation.
Ballet Philippines, also attached to the Cultural Center, leads the world of dance, though there are several dance companies and studios scattered throughout the city. Classical music finds an eminent interpreter in the Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra, again complemented by different symphonic orchestras and chamber music ensembles. Both companies have regular seasons every year.
Three long-running series which bring the classical arts to mass audiences are worthy of mention here: Intramuros Evenings, Paco Park Presents and Concert at the Park. The first takes place at historic venues in Intramuros, the second in equally evocative Paco Park and the third at Rizal Park.
In addition to the aforementioned homegrown dramatic and musical groups, Manilans are also regularly treated to shows by visiting companies. Sometimes these imports showcase local talent, as in the case of Miss Saigon, the Asian Debut. Several foreign cultural organizations, such as the British Council, Goethe Institut, Alliance Francaise, Instituto Cervantes and the Japan Foundation are regular sources of art shows and other cultural activities.
Live Music and Dance
Filipinos are known throughout the world for their musical flair. Expectedly, the whole of Manila is alive with the sound of music, though it sometimes borders on noise due to its high volume. Live music and entertainment is offered at most hotels, as well as in bars and cocktail lounges all over the city. Hard Rock Cafe and the Watering Hole Brewery are just some of the many places that mix live music with drinking and dining. Restaurants like Café Adriatico 1900 and Mario's Kitchen Tiendesitas employ the services of live musicians to enhance the mood of the restaurant. Other places such as Strumm's, Virgin Café, and the Music Museum operate almost like theaters and feature a constantly changing marquee of performers.
Music lovers that they are, Filipinos rarely suffer from stage fright and need not be coaxed or prevailed on to burst into song. Not surprisingly, that Japanese-originated global phenomenon called karaoke (later upgraded to videoke) has been wholeheartedly embraced by Manilans. The Library features stand-up comedy acts, but it is mainly for the chance to warble a melody that patrons pack its dark, smoky interiors. At times, the passionate nature of Filipinos comes into play: one reads and hears of brawls erupting over a song at the hundreds of karaoke bars (which are usually also beer gardens) found throughout the city.
Filipinos are equally adept at dancing and take to the dance floor at the drop of a hat. At one end of the spectrum are nightclubs set up for formal ballroom dancing, such as In The Mood, and at the other end are bar-cafés which often turn into scenes of wild, spontaneous parties. In between, you can find clubs such as Alchemy to dance until the wee hours of the morning. Even in public places like Rizal Park and the Quezon Memorial Circle, men and women of all ages can be seen doing the latest ballroom steps, often attended by suave DIs (Dance Instructors).
Billiards and Bingo
Billiard bars and halls are sweeping Manila like a hot new craze, fired no doubt by the Filipinos' undisputed dominance in international billiard championships. Many bars and cafes lure patrons with the added attraction of a billiard table or a billiard room. There are also a growing number of billiard halls, each equipped with a fully licensed bar, which stay open 24 hours and employ a tactical cut-price Happy Hour to entice their clientele.
If you are a bingo fan, you will, without doubt, find Manila your kind of town. In most of the shopping malls, there is a bingo hall where you can immerse yourself in the game from morning to night. You may even play bingo in the comfort of your hotel room by simply tuning in to the online bingo channel on TV.
But if you prefer a more upmarket form of gambling, Casino Filipino, which has outlets at Holiday Inn and The Heritage Hotel, is the place to be.
Daytime Leisure Activities
Resorts, spas, amusement centers and theme parks abound in and around Manila, offering a broad diversity of options. Splash Island, the country's biggest marine park, and The Enchanted Kingdom, the local answer to Disneyland, are situated close to each other and can be reached in an hour's drive toward the southern outskirts of the city. While in the area, you might want to drive further south for a relaxing soak in the hot springs of Pansol and Los Banos, a thrilling ride down the rapids in Pagsanjan, a leisurely picnic at Villa Escudero Plantation and Resort, a day of relaxation in the cool climate of Tagaytay or some energetic outdoor adventures around Taal Volcano and Lake. Another option is to combine your outing with a visit to the historic town of Calamba or to check in at Caylabne Bay Resort, a Mediterranean-style beach complex on the South China Sea.
On the northern fringes of the metropolis, the town of Malolos, Bulacan, offers a rich selection of historical and natural sites such as Barasoain Church, Barasoain Museum and Biak-na-Bato. The cathedral was where the Philippines'—and Asia's—first democratic constitution was drafted; the museum delights visitors with a light-and-sound presentation depicting key events in the Philippine Revolution. Trekkers and holiday-makers will discover numerous points of interest in Biak-na-Bato, a national park known for its caves and mountain streams. Conversely, a man-made network of pools and sports/leisure facilities awaits the visitor at Jed's Island Resort.
Within the city itself, the visitor faces the delectable dilemma of choosing from a plethora of cinemas, amusement centers and other interesting places such as the Ripley's Believe it or not Museum. Both Exploratorium 2000 and Missing Links Alive utilize sophisticated robotics in their informative and entertaining displays. Visitors from temperate zones will feel at home on the SM Ice Skating Rink. Culture buffs can sate their appetite for enlightened entertainment in diverse museums and galleries such as the Metropolitan Museum of Manila, Quest Center for Earth & Science Discovery, Lopez Memorial Museum, GSIS Museo ng Sining, Coconut Palace and Museo ng Banko Sentral ng Pilipinas.
Needless to say, all these places provide fun and entertainment for adults and children alike.
For Adults Only
Compared to Bangkok, Manila may strike the visitor as rather tame and disappointing in terms of adult entertainment. This is perhaps because Filipinos, though unfettered by rigid rules and regulations imposed by government or religion, follow Christian morals and make an effort to maintain a show of respectability. But throughout Manila there is an abundance of bars and cocktail lounges where comely hostesses, often euphemistically designated as GROs (Guest Relations Officers), enrapture customers with their looks and charm (Filipinas are counted among the world's most beautiful women). Since these places are entered at your own risk (or pleasure), recommendations shall not be made here. So as not to spoil your fun, here are three areas where you encounter heavy concentrations of strip joints and girlie bars: the western tip of Epifanio de los Santos Avenue in Pasay City, the side streets and alleys around Makati Avenue and Jupiter Street in Makati City, and the district around Quezon Avenue and West Avenue in Quezon City.