Manila’s moniker, the ‘Pearl of the Orient’, couldn’t be more apt – its cantankerous shell reveals its jewel only to those resolute enough to pry. No stranger to hardship, the city has endured every disaster man and nature could throw at it, and yet today the chaotic metropolis thrives as a true Asian megacity. Gleaming skyscrapers pierce the hazy sky, mushrooming from the grinding poverty of expansive shantytowns. The congested roads snarl with traffic, but like the overworked arteries of a sweating giant, they are what keep the city alive. The tourist belt of Ermita and Malate flaunts an uninhibited nightlife that would make Bangkok’s go-go bars blush, and the gleaming malls of Makati foreshadow Manila’s brave new air-conditioned world. The determined will discover Manila’s tender soul, perhaps among the leafy courtyards and cobbled streets of serene Intramuros, where little has changed since the Spanish left.
Recommended things to do & see
Our top picks for Manila
When Miguel Lopez de Legazpi wrested control of Manila, he chose to erect his fortress on the remnants of the Islamic settlement by the mouth of the Pasig River. Intramuros, as Legazpi's walled city came to be called, was invaded by Chinese pirates, threatened by Dutch forces, and held by the British, Americans and Japanese at various times, yet it survived until the closing days of WWII, when it was finally destroyed by US bombing during the Battle of Manila.
National Gallery of Art
This proud museum, which reopened in 2008 after being closed for four years of renovations, contains many of the Philippines’ signature works of art, including Juan Luna’s stunning Spoliarium, which provides harsh commentary on Spanish rule. It’s in the old Congress building designed by Daniel Burnham, across the street from its sister National Museum of the Filipino People.
Possibly Manila’s finest restaurant (with the prices to match), this refined European bistro defected from Malate in 2007. Its A-level service and ever-changing selection of fusion dishes and creative desserts haven’t missed a beat. If you can’t get a rezzie here try nearby Sala Bistro, next to People’s Palace in Greenbelt 3.
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