Whether you are coming to Metro Manila from abroad or any city or town in the 7,107 islands of the country, air travel is the most convenient and practical way of reaching the megacity of the “Pearl of the Orient of Asia.”
Manila International Airport, more commonly known as the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA), is your primary gateway to Metro Manila. Located in between the cities of Pasay and Parañaque in the southern section of Metro Manila, the NAIA complex has four terminals that serve both local and international flights from over 30 airlines like Qatar Airways, Singapore Airlines, Cathay Pacific Airways, Emirates Airlines, and Philippine Airlines—the flag carrier of the country.
Metro Manila is also home to the premier shipping gateway of the country, the Port of Manila, located at the northern section of Metro Manila. Housing the North and the South Harbor, the Port of Manila serves mostly domestic sea travels. International sea travel services via the port are scarce, though international cruise ships from China and Japan dock occasionally at the South Harbor.
Bus services to Manila from almost any point in the country are also available and not hard to find. Whether you are going up north or down south of the Philippines, there are over a hundred bus companies that offer safe and efficient trips to your preferred destinations. Most of the bus terminals in Metro Manila are found in Cubao in Quezon City, Sampaloc in Manila, and in Pasay City.
How to Get Around
Metro Manila offers a variety of transportation modes that will get you from one place to the other. The most iconic of the lot would be the Public Utility Jeepneys, or simply called "jeeps." As of January 2016, a jeep ride costs PHP 7.00 for the first 4 kilometers.
By Bus and Train
City buses are also available and are the preferred option for longer intercity commutes. Trains such as the Philippine National Railway (PNR), the Light Rail Transit (LRT) Lines 1 and 2, and the Metro Rail Transit (MRT) bring you to various points from the northern, eastern, western, and southern sections of the metro.
The more convenient option to take would be the taxi with the flag down rate starting at PHP 30.00.
Ride-sharing services such as Grab and Uber are also available in the metro, giving taxi services a run for their money.
What to See
Metro Manila is a hodgepodge of everything that represents the Filipino culture and a bustling megacity where the old meets the new.
In the heart of Metro Manila is the city of Manila, the nation’s capital and home to numerous historic landmarks that will take you back in time to the colonial period. Intramuros, a walled fortress that occupies 67 hectares of land in the city, was built in 1571 and was once the seat of government of the Philippines during the Spanish period. Today, Manila’s oldest and historic district houses various institutions of higher learning such as the Colegio de San Juan de Letran, Mapua Institute of Technology, and the publicly funded Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila to name a few.
The San Agustin Church, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, features impressive Spanish Baroque architecture that will leave you breathless with its old-world splendor. The church also doubles as a museum, showcasing valuable artifacts that speak of the almost 500-year history of the church. Miguel Lopez de Legazpi, the first Spanish Governor General of the Philippines, is also interred in the church.
A couple of steps further from the San Agustin Church is the seat of power of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Manila—the Minor Basilica of the Immaculate Conception, also known as the Manila Cathedral. Built in the 19th century, the Manila Cathedral’s hallowed halls have been the site of many important milestones of Catholicism in the country.
Still in Intramuros, Fort Santiago is another must-see destination when in Manila. It served as the military headquarters of the Spanish government. It also served as the detention cell for Dr. Jose Rizal, the national hero of the Philippines, prior to his execution in 1896. Another distinct feature of Fort Santiago is the series of bronze footsteps that mark the last steps that Dr. Rizal took towards his execution in Bagumbayan, now known as Rizal Park.
More of the Philippines’ cultural heritage is preserved and showcased in the National Museum of the Philippines, also in Manila. The Spoliarium, the haunting masterpiece of the renowned painter Juan Luna, is perhaps the museum’s most notable attraction and a must-see for just about any traveler.
South of Intramuros and Luneta in Manila is Baywalk—a stretch of paved promenade along Roxas Boulevard that overlooks the Manila Bay. The stretch begins from the Embassy of the United States of America, spanning almost two kilometers and passing through the Manila Yacht Club and the Cultural Center of the Philippines. The Baywalk is the perfect setting to catch the golden sunset of Manila and a good venue to enjoy a leisurely stroll or to jog, especially in the morning. Other attractions in Manila include the Manila Ocean Park and the Museo Pambata which kids will love and will surely bring out the kid in you.
The Cultural Center of the Philippines is a 62-hour enclave in Pasay City that preserves, promotes, and cultivates arts and culture in the country. Various stage plays, concerts, festivals, and exhibits are held in its grand facilities which include the Tanghalang Pambansa, the Tanghalang Francisco Balagtas, and the Philippine International Convention Center. The Coconut Palace, also situated in the CCP complex, used to be the Office of the Vice President of the Philippines. Star City, the pioneer in amusement parks in the Philippines, is another major attraction in the area that is perfect for thrill-seekers and kids.
Also in Pasay City is the Mall of Asia (MOA) Arena and the SMX Convention Center. The MOA Arena is one of the country’s premier venues for live entertainment such as concerts and sporting events. Meanwhile, the SMX is the country’s largest private venue for trade events, conventions, and various corporate functions that has a seating capacity of 12,000.
Only minutes away from the SM MOA Complex is the Entertainment City, dubbed as the “Las Vegas” of Asia. It is home to various luxurious hotels and world-class casinos including the City of Dreams Manila, Solaire Resort & Casino, the up-and-coming Resorts World Bayshore, Westside City, and the Manila Bay Resorts.
Rounding up the list of attractions in the Pasay City area is Resorts World Manila (RWM)—the country’s first integrated tourist destination that houses a casino, hotels, shopping mall, cinema, and a performing arts theater. Conveniently, RWM is also right across NAIA Terminal 3, which makes it easily accessible to all tourists, both foreign and local.
For more art appreciation, a visit to the Ayala Museum in Makati City is also highly recommended as it is where contemporary Philippine art is displayed alongside other important and valuable artworks.
Where to Shop
A jeep ride north of Intramuros and Rizal Park in Manila will lead you to Binondo, Manila’s own Chinatown and the oldest in the world. Binondo is home to a multitude of shops and stalls that offer affordable goods like clothes, trinkets, jewelry, charms, and food products. The marketplace of Divisoria, a name synonymous with cheap finds and bargain shopping, is also located in the Binondo district. The 168 Shopping Mall is one of Divisoria’s popular attractions that houses hundreds of stalls that offer value-for-money products from food, clothes, to bags and accessories, even household appliances.
Pasay City is home to SM Mall of Asia, which currently holds the title of being the fourth largest shopping mall in the Philippines and 11th in the whole world, housing over 600 shops, including over 200 dining establishments. Other malls you should not miss when in Metro Manila are found in Makati City: Greenbelt Malls, Glorietta, and the Power Plant Mall in Rockwell Center.
ATMs and Money Changers
There are countless banks, ATMs, and money changers are available all over Metro Manila so withdrawing or exchanging won’t be a problem.
Where to Eat
When it comes to dining options, Metro Manila never runs of choices to offer you. Whether you crave for something Filipino, Asian, European, or American, there is bound to be a fast food joint, restaurant, or a hole-in-the-wall waiting to be discovered.
Fast Food Chains and Restaurants
Jollibee is the country’s iconic fast food chain and is present in just about every corner of the metropolis. Foreign fast food chains like McDonald’s, KFC, Burger King, and Wendy’s are also dime a dozen. Little Tokyo in Makati serves quality Japanese food, though restaurants like Yabu and Saboten don’t fall far behind in terms of taste.
The strip of restaurants and hole-in-the-walls in Maginhawa in Quezon City offers a variety of options that will surely tickle your palate and won’t burn a hole in your pockets—same goes for the food finds in Kapitolyo in Pasig and in Aguirre Avenue in Parañaque City.
Caffeine addicts will delight in the fact that Starbucks has over 164 branches throughout the Philippines, most of which are all over Metro Manila. Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf and Seattle’s Best Coffee also have a number of branches in Metro Manila. Third wave coffee is also taking Manila by storm, with Yardstick Coffee, Toby’s Estate, Restock Coffee, and Magnum Opus serving delightful cups to perk you up for the duration of your stay in the city.
Bars and Clubs
Metro Manila is home to perhaps the most vibrant nightlife in the Philippines. Bars and clubs are plenty in Timog Avenue in Quezon City, Bonifacio Global City in Taguig, Malate in Manila, and some commercial areas in Makati.
Fare: PHP 7.00++
A jeep ride costs PHP 7.00 for the first 4 kilometers. Fares for air conditioned buses, on the other hand, costs PHP 12.00 for the first 4 kilometers. The flat down rate for taxis is PHP 30.00.
Food: PHP 50.00 to PHP 500.00
Most fast food chains offer value meals starting at PHP 50.00, which already include a main course and a regular drink. Street-side food joints or carinderia as they are popularly called, also offer full meals for as low as PHP 50.00. A typical meal at an inexpensive restaurant costs an average of PHP 200.00, while fine dining may cost more than PHP 500.00 per dish.
Shopping: PHP 300.00 to PHP 2,000.00
Divisoria is a haven for budget shoppers, so your PHP 300.00 will already go a long way. On the other hand, upscale malls like the ones in Makati have designer brands, around PHP 2,000.00 or more per item.
Accommodation: PHP 700.00 to PHP 2,500.00
Some of the popular hotels all over Metro Manila offer rooms for as low as PHP 700 per night. Boutique hotels are around PHP 2,500.00 a night inclusive of breakfast and access to facilities. When booking, be sure to inquire about existing promos where you can score discounts and additional perks.
Activities: PHP 100.00++
Fees to most attractions in the city are very much affordable. Entrance fees in amusement parks are around PHP 100.00, while museum passes range from PHP 150.00 to PHP 350.00. Be on the lookout for promos and discounts so you can make your stay as economical and budget-friendly as possible.
There are various tour packages available that can take you to the different places in Metro Manila, but you can also DIY your itinerary. Here’s a sample guide to help you make the most out of your stay in the bustling metropolis. Considering the traffic situation in the metro, it is highly advisable to always start your tour of the city as early as 8:00 AM if possible.
||Arrive at Intramuros and start the day’s adventure with a tour of the San Agustin Church and its Museum.
||Walk a couple of steps further to the majestic Manila Cathedral.
||Head to Fort Santiago, at the north of Manila Cathedral, where you’ll find the remains of what once was the Spanish Government’s military headquarters in the Philippines. A small Rizal Shrine is also located here.
||Have early lunch in one of the fast food chains like Jollibee, McDonald’s, or Chowking found inside the walled city. If you’re craving for something more than just fast food, Barbara’s, Ilustrado, and Marso Café & Restaurant are highly recommended.
||Head over to Binondo to explore the world’s oldest Chinatown. You can choose to alight at the Arch of Goodwill, the entrance to the town, and start your tour of Binondo from there.
The street is lined with many stores offering various goods that come at pocket-friendly prices. A stop by Eng Bee Tin, a popular Chinese delicacy store, is a must where you can load up on delicious hopia, tikoy, and other snacks and tidbits that you can take home as pasalubong.
Visit the Temple of Kung Kong, the Chinese God of War, which continuously attracts a number of tourists every year. Equally popular is the Binondo Church, which is right in the heart of this ancient district.
Continue your bargain shopping in Divisoria where a hodgepodge of items is displayed. Name it, Divisoria probably has it. And if the streets of Divisoria overwhelm you a bit, the 168 Shopping Mall or the nearby Lucky Chinatown Mall has air conditioned shopping spaces.
||End the day with a hearty Chinese meal. There are lots of food places to try in Chinatown, but some of the highly recommended ones are Sincerity Café & Restaurant, Masuki, and the Po Heng Lumpia House.
||Visit Rizal Park and marvel at the Rizal Monument, the historic structure dedicated to Dr. Jose Rizal. Learn more about the last moments of the country’s National Hero by visiting the Diorama of Rizal’s Martyrdom, which stands just a few meters away from the monument.
The park is also home to other attractions including the Chinese Garden, the Japanese Garden, the Independence Flagpole (the highest flagpole in all of the Philippines), the Orchidarium and Butterfly Pavilion, and the Relief Map of the Philippines to name a few.
||Visit the National Museum of the Philippines, which is near Rizal Park.
||Hop on a quick ride to Robinson’s Place Manila to cool down and have lunch, or you can head to SM Mall of Asia in Pasay City—it has numerous restaurants where you can dine. Afterwards, you can check out their stores and boutiques.
You can also spend the afternoon at the Manila Ocean Park. If you are traveling with your kids, visiting Museo Pambata, a museum for kids, is also advisable.
||Find your way to Baywalk where you can sit by the ledge and wait for the stunning sunset of the Manila Bay.
Sunset times may vary depending on the season. The time of the sunset in Manila each day is available online.
||If you are in SM Mall of Asia, the mall has a number of dining establishments where you can have dinner.
If you are along Baywalk, you can dine at either Max’s or Aristocrat near the Malate Church. Another restaurant you can try is Café Adriatico near the Remedios Circle.
||Head to Makati City for a hearty breakfast in one of the restaurants at the Ayala Triangle Gardens. If it’s a Saturday, try to catch the Salcedo Community Market for some unique offerings like gourmet pasta, homemade ice cream, and pastries. You can also shop for fresh produce.
||Visit the Ayala Museum and to immerse yourself in Filipino art and culture.
||Have an early lunch in one the malls at Ayala Center, just a stone’s throw away from Ayala Museum. It has many restaurants that serve all sorts of cuisine like Filipino, Japanese, American, and Korean, even Spanish and Mexican.
||There are a couple of fun ways to spend your afternoon:
Try locking yourself in a room and finding a way to break free. Breakout Philippines in Mandaluyong City features three escape game rooms that will surely test your wit and problem solving skills. Mystery Manila and Escape Hunt, on the other hand, are located in Makati.
Another is by enjoying the thrilling rides and attractions available at Star City in Pasay. Be reminded though that Star City opens at 4:00 PM from Mondays to Thursdays and at 2:00 PM from Fridays to Sundays.
To sample more of the best that Metro Manila has to offer with dining, head to Kapitolyo in Pasig City for the ultimate epicurean adventure. This area is famous for unique and artisanal dishes that will make you fall in love even more with the local dining culture. Maginhawa in Quezon City and Aguirre Avenue in Paranaque are other hotspots for hole-in-the-wall eateries, but much farther.
||Try your luck at the casinos present in the metro. There’s Solaire Casino and Resort, Resorts World Manila, and City of Dreams Manila.
You can also choose to spend the night pampering yourself with a soothing spa and massage service. Ace Water Spa, The Spa, or the Aramesh Wellness Center are some of the metro’s trusted brands for relaxing treatments.
There are only two kinds of seasons in the Philippines:dry season which runs from December through May, and wet season from June to September. The temperature in the city averages at 26 degrees Celsius, but be prepared for heat as high as 32 degrees Celsius.
When visiting the cities in Metro Manila, it’s best to pack light and breathable clothes. Throw in a pair of cardigan or a light jacket in your suitcase if you feel cold easily. The best time to visit Metro Manila is around December to February when the weather is cool and just about right.
Metro Manila has an array of large and private hospitals within its cities so you need not worry if you require medical attention. Manila Doctors Hospital and Medical Center Manila are both along UN Avenue, just minutes away from the Manila City Hall.
If you are staying in the Makati area, the Makati Medical Center is near the Central Business District. St. Luke’s Medical Center is another well-known medical facility located in Quezon City. Another branch is in Bonifacio Global City in Taguig too.
The city also has a number of trusted drug stores. Mercury Drug Store is the biggest pharmacy chain in the country. Some of these drug stores are open 24/7, but just in case, it’s best to pack your own medication, especially if you have certain health conditions.
There is no set rule as to the amount you can leave as tip in service establishments in the city. This is because most restaurants already include a service charge in your bill, which is usually 10% of the amount. But if you do feel like giving tips, anywhere between PHP 20.00 to PHP 50.00 would already be enough.
Traffic in Metro Manila can be very frustrating, so you’ll need a lot of patience when visiting its cities. If you want to know the traffic situation when heading to a certain place, you can download the Waze app or the MMDA app as both show the conditions on the major roads in the city. Another app calledSakay.ph can help you commute around the metro by suggesting the best way to get to your destination.
If all else fails, there’s Uber or Grab available. Just be mindful of the surge pricing, which usually happens during rush hours.
Metro Manila is generally a safe place. But of course, crimes do happen every now and then. When traveling to the city, it’s best to be vigilant and be mindful of your surroundings especially in crowded places.