10 Must-Visit Spots to Experience Manila Like Never Before
1. Quiapo. It’s the soul of Manila. Makati and Ortigas Center may show what the Philippines aspires to be, but Quiapo shows what the Filipino is really all about. It’s crazy, gritty, wondrous, and relentless. Walk by the amulet vendors next to the Quiapo Church. Check out the discount cameras on Hidalgo Street, all the colors of Carriedo, or shop for the best handicrafts under the Quezon Bridge. If you have time, go all the way to San Sebastian Church—the only all-steel church in Asia. The entire area is mindblowing, but not for the faint of heart. Once you’ve been to Quiapo, you can truly say that you are a Manileño.
2. The Manila American Cemetery and Memorial in Fort Bonifacio. This is the largest U.S. military memorial outside the United States. Haunting and stunningly gracious, this is the final resting place of over 17,206 American and Allied personnel who died in the Pacific in the years 1941 to 1945. Set amid lush greenery and immaculate landscaping, the American Cemetery is also the largest green space in Metro Manila’s central business district.
3. Cubao. It’s a little city on its own and a microcosm of Manila itself. It’s upscale and downtown all at once. Take the LRT there and start your journey at Farmers Market. Wander among the fish and vegetables and see the best that Philippine land can produce. Head to Gateway for a bit of posh and airconditioning. End your day by catching a performance at the Araneta Coliseum and getting a drink at Fred’s Revolucion at the Cubao X, a collection of artsy establishments set in a former shoe depot on General Araneta Street.
4. Chinese Cemetery. A vast collection of baroque expressions of Chinese and Western afterlife architecture. You’ll see that you really can take it with you. A surreal yet serene way to spend an afternoon in Manila. Drop by the Dangwa Flower Depot nearby for wholesale flowers or La Loma if you are in the market for a whole roasted pig.
5. Corregidor. Just one hour out of Manila Bay by ferry, you’ll find a world full of spectacular jungles, bountiful wildlife, and historical ruins. I call it the American Angkor Wat. Wander through the remains of a World War II American military base or just hike through the jungle that always tries to reclaim its place. Corregidor is a hidden gem not only to tourists but to local Manila residents as well. Earn more credibility by staying overnight at the charming Corregidor Inn. Don’t mind the ghosts. They’re friendly.
6. Bayleaf Hotel Rooftop. The 360-degree view rooftop bar to end all rooftop bars in Manila. You’ll find the walled city of Intramuros and the ocean on one side, Chinatown and the Sierra Madre mountains on the other. It’s a perfect place to catch the sunset or have an ice-cold beer. The pica-picas aren’t bad either. Stay until late and booze up on martinis.
7. Luneta Park. The center of the Philippines. Literally. All roads emanate from the resting grounds of Jose Rizal. Because it was an admitted mess of pickpockets, broken fountains, and dead plants, the Department of Tourism spent millions in the last three years to refurbish the park into something worthy of our national hero and his countrymen. Wander around at dusk and enjoy the sunset. Watch a free Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra performance at the grandstand.
8. Intramuros. An obvious choice and my spiritual home. Start off at Fort Santiago and work your way down General Luna Street towards the Luneta Park. Places of interest, in no particular order, are: the Manila Cathedral, San Agustin Church, Casa Manila, Puerto Real Garden, Baluarte San Diego Gardens, and Silahis Handicraft Center. Stop by Ilustrado for some sampaguita ice cream before you go home.
9. Van Gogh is Bipolar and Purple Yam. For hearty and proper meals. Food can be the sweetest drug and legal mood enhancer. At Van Gogh, drink tea and try the chef ’s set courses based on his study on ingredients that induce happiness or calmness. He medicates his bipolar condition with food only. This is way better than a blue or red pill. As for Purple Yam, it’s pricey but philosophical. Expect the best, the purest, and the cleanest Philippine palate in town. Everything is seasonal and bespoke. Expect exotic fruit and seafood from the farthest stretches of the Philippine archipelago. Call in advance. The place seats only 20.
10. Adarna Food and Culture. My personal favorite. Tucked away on Kalayaan Street just down the road from the Quezon Elliptical Park, this homey restaurant serves the most authentic historical flavors of the Philippines. While waiting for your food, peruse its amazing collection of Philippine movie memorabilia and Rizaliana. I always order the bunuelos, light luscious brioche balls perfect for dipping into hot chocolate.