Noted for its melting pot of Filipino, Spanish, American, Chinese, Malay, and other cultural influences, Manila is a boisterous city offering visitors unbeatable value by virtue of its heritage and entertainment.
By many accounts, Manila is teeming with extroverts—during your Manila holidays, you are almost certain to gain instant friends, capable of disarming you with their legendary Filipino sincerity and a winsome smile.
Manila the city, however, is less of an open book.
Like other cities in transition, the stories that define Manila’s identity are diverse and often show contrasting sides to city life. But take the time to get better acquainted with this up-and-coming metropolis and you will be richly rewarded—here are five unique activities in Manila to try.
1. Join The Intramuros Walking Tour
For an overview of Manila’s Spanish colonial history, let inveterate performer Carlos Celdran walk you through the ancient walled city known as Intramuros. The fortified region within the city of Manila was established by its Spanish conquistadors back in the late 16th century.
A straight-talking showman, Celdran promises “humour, drama, candy, and carriages” for any curious traveller, with a caveat: he does discriminate—against “bigots, humourless characters, political criminals, and governments who try to steal [his] fish.” Entertainment guaranteed.
2. Hunt Down a Hidden Bar
Never doubt the allure of a clandestine entrance. The speakeasy phenomenon (a throwback to 1920s/30s illicit drinking houses in the US) is still alive and kicking, and Manila has its fair share of bars that will require a little detective work to uncover.
Purists have claimed that no authentic speakeasy should reveal its whereabouts or keep a social media page, but Bank Bar Manila will be forgiven for its transgressions: the only way in is through a 7-Eleven storage room. Or head to ABV, where a cocktail and drinks menu is only proffered upon a request for “the Bible.”
If you would rather spend more time drinking and less time searching during your Manila holiday, the best-rated bar in Manila—according to the Asia’s 50 Best Bars 2017 list—is The Curator Coffee & Cocktails.
3. Sample Manila’s “Live” Music
Manila’s music is one of its pride and joys, but to appreciate the local flavour, steer clear of ‘80s covers bands and look for establishments that support musicians with an original setlist.
A name that is inseparable from Manila’s independent music scene is saGuijo. Playing at saGuijo is a rite of passage—and badge of honour—for Manila’s up-and-coming bands. Its humble (some might say “decrepit”) interior swiftly breeds a sense of acceptance and familiarity, and the message is clear: only the music matters.
4. Visit Pinto Art Museum
Hailed as Manila’s best private art collection, Pinto consists of two museums for contemporary and indigenous art, as well as an art academy and an arboretum. It was founded by renowned Filipino neurologist and medical educator Joven Cuanang, who began collecting art from the early 1990s.
The word “pinto” means “door” in Tagalog; the name represents the museum’s function of providing an entryway to another world—that of Filipino social and political consciousness, as represented through artistic forms.
“If you can build a place where people can relate to an idea, things start to happen,” said Cuanang in an interview with the Philippine Daily Inquirer. “I feel that with the state society is in, we need something like this where people can ask themselves: what constitutes a well-lived life? That’s a philosophical question you can answer only if you explore art, science, and the humanities.”
5. End Your Day with a Sunset or Rooftop View
Pan Pacific Manila’s Sunset Lounge offers alfresco dining on a breezy terrace with a spectacular view of Manila Bay at dusk.
A local tip: enjoy a stunning sunset view by heading to chain restaurant Padi’s Point (the Antipolo City branch) for a casual dinner.
For an area brimming with dining, shopping, and entertainment options, stroll along San Miguel by the Bay, a 1.5km promenade beside the SM Mall of Asia at Pasay City.
To round up your night, read our guide to the best rooftop bars in town.