Bustling with activity around the clock, Manila is a kinetic blend of commercial hub, heritage centre, and cultural and culinary wonderland

The ceaseless crowds are part of the city’s personality: it’s lively, it’s pulsing, it’s on all hours, and it can be a lot to take in. But innovative and self-styled spokespersons for the city have found and organised ways to better appreciate pockets of the city: on foot.

Lively tour hosts like Carlos Celdran, who takes visitors around the walled city of Intramuros, and Ivan Man Dy, whose expertise is on his home turf of Binondo, offer great insights into how this dense city evolved – from an important port town during the years of the Galleon Trade, to an American project paved with wide boulevards, and finally, to its present sprawl of dining, entertainment and cultural hubs.

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Things to do: Manila

  • Art to remember

    Art to remember

    Contemporary art has been experiencing a rebirth in Metro Manila, and you can view some of the most exciting works by new and established visual artists in large art galleries along Pasong Tamo Road in Makati. Some of the most exciting ones on the strip include Silverlens opens in new windowManila Contemporary opens in new window and Finale Art File opens in new window.

  • Chinatown eats

    Chinatown eats

    Just next door to Intramuros, Binondo grew and prospered as the main trading hub for intrepid merchants, many of them Chinese or of Chinese descent. This is Manila’s Chinatown, and you can get inside it with a culinary walking tour by Old Manila Walks opens in new window – just one of the walks offered by this fantastic outfit. Eat your way around this interesting enclave, sampling specialities based on recipes handed from one generation to the next, while getting a history lesson at the same time.

  • Feed your mind

    Feed your mind

    Travelling with kids? Geek out and spend the afternoon in the Mind Museum opens in new window at the Bonifacio Global City in Taguig. Science and technology take the spotlight in this state-of-the-art museum where exhibits are designed by Filipino artists and fabricators.

  • Shop the markets

    Weekends in the central business district of Makati City bustle with a different kind of trade. The Salcedo Weekend Market in Salcedo Village on Saturdays and the Legazpi Weekend Market on Sundays are a showcase of gourmet cuisine, homemade treats, organic produce and artisan crafts.

  • Step back in time

    Step back in time

    The old walled city of Intramuros was a Spanish fort that once kept everyone not a member of the elite outside its gates. Take a tour of it with personality and performance artist Carlos Celdran opens in new window, who’ll show you around its cobblestoned lanes with insightful and witty anecdotes that make the history lesson as exciting as gossip. The tours are popular and often booked out, so it’s best to secure a spot well in advance.

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Airport information

CBD 7km

Travel time 20-60 minutes

Taxi Approx PHP 40-200

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When to go

The best beach weather comes to most of the Philippines in late November until February, when the temperature is mild during the day and can get nippy at night (you might need a light sweater), as well as the summer months of March to April. It can and does get scorching hot in the summer, as high as 38°C, so pack along a hat and sunnies, drink lots of water and use high-SPF sunscreen.

All year round there are fiestas that take place across the country, come rain or shine. Among the biggest festivals to catch are the Ati-Atihan Festival in Kalibo City and Sinulog Festival in Cebu City (January), the Panagbenga Festival in Baguio City (February), the Kadayawan Festival in Davao City (August), and the Masskara Festival in Bacolod City (October).

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Getting around

In the big cities, the best way to get around is by metered taxi. Metro Manila, which has an overhead train system, offers the option of moving around by MRT and LRT. There’s also the jeepney, a colourful, repurposed relic from World War II, which takes approximately 16 passengers on short distance routes. It can stop anywhere.

Away from the big and busy cities, there’s the option of the tricycle, similar to the tuk-tuk, for short distance rides. On all these transport systems, fares vary depending on distance travelled.

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