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While Manila may be infamously tagged for being one of the worst cities for rush hour traffic, there’s definitely no shortage of travelers because of its breathtaking spots, historical destinations, and spontaneous experiences that make it unique and worth exploring. So if you’ve only got 24 hours to explore the Philippines’ capital city, read Culture Trip’s guide to get the most out of your trip to Manila!
Jump start your adventure by having a big breakfast meal in the city. Luckily there are a bunch of breakfast and brunch places around Manila where you can order your favorite feast of toast, pancakes, and bacon and eggs! Of course, if you’d like to skip your traditional meals and try the local flavors, you might want to drop by at these restaurants. How about ordering the Filipino-style sausages called longganisa?
No first-time traveler would dare miss the remnants of the Spanish colonial era in Manila, which can be found in the walled city of the Philippine capital – Intramuros. This historic area is the heart of the old Manila that houses Fort Santiago, which was witness to numerous lives lost during the Spanish occupation. The country’s national hero, Dr. José Rizal, spent his last days and wrote his famous literary work, Mi ultimo adios, in Fort Santiago. Within the area, there are old churches such as the Manila Cathedral and San Agustin Church, colonial houses, and defense structures being preserved by the government today.
Within walking distance from Intramuros is a chance to immerse yourself further in Filipino culture and history as you visit the National Museum. This museum, which houses the country’s famous works of art and preserves historical artifacts, has two great divisions: The National Museum of Fine Arts and the National Museum of Anthropology. Be amazed by the innate talent and creativity of both young and old artists in the country at the National Museum of Fine Arts. But you’ll also appreciate the Philippines more as you navigate through the historical and contemporary galleries of the National Museum of Anthropology. You’ll spend a good two hours going through the halls of the buildings.
After taking a trip down memory lane within the historical buildings, it’s finally time to discover Binondo – the oldest Chinatown in the world, which is fortunately found in the Philippines’ capital city. Go beyond your usual food escapades and experience going through the long and busy streets of Escolta. Take in the sights of hundreds of food shops and let the delicious smell from their kitchens invite you to grab a bite of authentic Chinese cuisine. Try the best dumpling in the country that’s being served at Lan Zhou La Mien, or dine-in at the hole-in-the-wall Quick Snack. Waiting in line is surely worth the delicious and cheap meals!
Towards late in the afternoon, take some time further exploring Manila by having a pleasant stroll in Rizal Park. This historical urban park, named after the country’s national hero, has also become a favorite leisure spot among families in the metropolitan area. Within this iconic park with over 60 hectares of open lawns and ornamental gardens, one may also find artworks, the Chess Plaza, dancing magical fountains, and statues of other Philippine heroes. The city’s largest public park has indeed become a favorite place to stroll because of its relaxing ambiance during the late afternoon.
Most foreign travelers would agree that Manila has one of the picture-perfect spots in the world to catch the sunset, especially during summertime in the country. You’d be happy to know that after visiting Rizal Park, you don’t have to travel far to get the best sunset views in the metro. Just continue walking along Roxas Boulevard and you’ll find the Manila Baywalk, where tourists and onlookers jog or stroll before dawn just so they could get a good, full view of the sunset. Apart from that, this two-kilometer stretch has also become a popular venue for art performances.
If you’re curious as to why foreigners keep coming back to Manila in spite of the horrendous traffic situation, one of their many reasons for going is food! There’s really a ton of Filipino dishes you have to try and the specialty varies from one city to another. In Manila, there’s the famous seafood dampa experience that will bring you a unique dining experience. Dampa style of cooking works like this: purchase kilos of seafood you like, head over to the restaurant door, and have it cooked according to your liking! Don’t worry about being unsure of what to order because there are numerous seafood stalls to choose from!
Want to experience the nightlife in the city? While Old Manila has seen better days of Malate by offering the best art, music, and food, it’s a misconception to think that its vibrancy has died down. In fact, some of its well-known establishments still exist today, such as Cafe Adriatico and Barbara’s. Plus, there’s a new wave of restaurants (find shawarma, ramen, and drinking holes) ready to bring back the once collapsed nightlife scene of Malate and change its red-light district image.
To maximize your 24-hour trip and guarantee convenience, it’s best to join guided tours organized by local tour guides or travel agencies. If you’re visiting Intramuros, take the ‘Walk This Way’ tour of Carlos Celdran and he will tour you around Manila’s walled city. You’ll definitely learn more about Manila’s history as this wacky and humorous guide levels up his excursion by calling it a “one-man performance tour”. Meanwhile, when going for a food crawl in Binondo, look no further and take the tour of Ivan Man Dy. You’ll go to several food stops and pass through narrow alleys to experience the best-tasting treats of Manila’s Chinatown.
These days, you can only find both the jeepney and calesa (horse-drawn calash) in the Philippines. Don’t skip the chance to hop onto these rides and get that one-of-a-kind travel experience you’ve been longing for! Plus, it’s only a matter of time before the Philippines gets rid of the traditional jeepneys and replaces them with modern, eco-friendly public utility vehicles.