horse an buggy in manila promenade

Plan a sunset stroll along Manila Bay. (Photo: Getty Images)

Tips + Trends

From Architecture to Pub Crawls, Don’t Miss 8 Must-Do Manila, Philippines Experiences

Take some of Asia’s best bars. Add a culinary scene that’s grabbing global attention. Combine with 16th-century architecture, groovy galleries and a cultural heritage mixing Filipino, Spanish, American and Chinese influences. What you get is the recipe for Manila, the Philippines’s razzle-dazzle circus of 12 million hipsters, hard workers, artists and entrepreneurs.

But if you’re stuck in traffic behind one of the Philippine capital’s wildly colored jeepneys (public minivans), you’ll miss out on its coolest offerings. So we’ve got you covered. Here’s what to do in Manila.

As always, check for travel restrictions and closures before planning your trip.

Cruise Through Chinatown

Binondo, Manila’s packed, walkable and vibrant Chinatown, dates to the 16th century and is a haven for local foodies. Don’t miss the noodles at Cafe Mezzanine or the dumplings at Dong Bei.

Then step into another era on nearby Escolta Street and see dozens of magnificent examples of art deco and Beaux Arts architecture, like the First United Building, which hosts a Community Museum, a flea market and some quirky café hangouts.

From Farm and Fish to Fork

Can’t decide between organic, artisanal, traditional or fusion eats for brunch? The Legazpi Sunday Market has you covered. Legazpi is an absolute local fave, mixing a farmers market (look for the fresh rambutan) with foodie-friendly pop-up dining and locally made handicrafts.

Feeling more adventurous? Head to Seaside Dampa Macapagal, a traditional wet market where you can buy fresh lobsters, oysters and more. Inside is a restaurant that will cook your catch to order so you can eat it on the spot.

Weaving Through the Markets

Bazaar-style shopping is on offer at Quiapo Market, where you can swoop between stalls to negotiate with thousands of vendors who are hawking everything from pearls to street food to replica watches. Or opt for an upscale — and far more sedate — consumer experience at Bonifacio High Street, a long stretch of tony shops and boutiques on a tree-lined, pet-friendly promenade.

manila street food vendor
Manila’s street food is a must try. (Photo: Getty Images)

Pub Crawling in Poblacion

Manila’s current cool-kid favorite neighborhood, Poblacion, is famed for hipster-friendly restaurants, like Alamat Filipino Pub, that serve local microbrews; artisanal spaces, like Pineapple Lab, that run film screenings and art shows; and speakeasies like OTO, one of three local watering holes on the list of Asia’s 50 Best Bars (The Back Room in Makati and The Curator in Bonifacio Global City also made the list).

Poblacion is compact, making it easy to stumble from sidewalk beers and yakitori at Tambai to rooftop Tex-Mex dining at Encima.

A Day at the Museum(s)

Arguably the Philippines’ most potent (and political) painting, “The Spoliarium” (1884), which shows a gruesome gladiator fight, is known to every Filipino and anchors the excellent collections at the National Museum of Fine Arts.

The National Museum of Anthropology and National Museum of Natural History are across the street, making museum hopping easy. Meanwhile, the Museum of Contemporary Art and Design mixes conceptual avant-garde pieces with digital exhibitions.

Explore the Imeldific

woman looks at shoes in museum
Take your feet on a stroll through the shoe museum. (Photo: Getty Images)

Imeldific! It’s the word Manileños use to describe the Philippines’ most flamboyant former first lady, Imelda Marcos. Experience some of her glamour at the Marikina Shoe Museum, which showcases more than 3,000 pairs of Imelda’ shoes, from glittering Ferragamos to custom Pradas.

Later, check out Imelda’s over-the-top edifice complex at Manila Film Center by Roxas Boulevard. The huge concrete Brutalist version of the Parthenon, which Imelda ordered built for a film festival, now hosts a nightly drag queen revue.

Into Intramuros

Surrounded by stone walls, Intramuros is an old-school Spanish colonial fort and Manila’s best-known slice of living history. Inside its walls are horse-drawn carriages, cobblestone streets and the medieval San Agustin Church and its must-see museum.

Pro-tip: In the courtyard of Plaza San Luis, you’ll find handmade, unique and beautiful souvenirs in the delightful Papier Tole Shop, which has an offbeat decor that’s worth the visit.

Stroll into the Sunset

Plan a late-afternoon escape from Intramuros and head east, passing the Sheraton Manila Bay, to find the picturesque statue of Rajah Sulayman, the last king of Manila. The statue faces Roxas Boulevard, which runs for kilometers along Manila Bay. Stroll under the palm trees while watching the skies turn crimson.