As one of the oldest settlements in the Philippines - an important node in the Spanish galleon trade for centuries, and a former American colony in the Pacific - Manila boasts plenty of history and culture in its streets that not even the bombs of World War II could wipe out. Formerly limited to the walled city of Intramuros, the greater Manila area has grown into a sprawling 246-square-mile metropolis that rivals Chicago in size.
For the adventurous traveler taking a few days off between trips to Boracay and El Nido, Manila offers plenty to see and do. Let's look at what the Philippines' capital can offer.
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Places to Visit in Metro Manila
Manila, confusingly, refers to two different political entities - the City of Manila founded by Spanish conquistadores in 1571, and Metro Manila - also known as the Greater Manila Area or the National Capital Region - that groups the City of Manila with fifteen other surrounding cities and one attached municipality. (More here: When is Manila NOT Manila?)
While most of the capital's most picturesque tourist areas are located within the City of Manila's boundaries, travelers shouldn't neglect the entirety of Metro Manila, a large conurbation that offers some of the world's biggest malls, some surprising dining destinations, and a few out-of-the-way tourist attractions that deserve travelers' attention.
- We've put Manila's most interesting in a single list here: Top 10 Places to Visit in Manila.
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Getting Around Metro Manila
Manila's challenging transport scenario is of a piece with transportation in the rest of the Philippines; a fragmented travel system makes getting from point A to point B a struggle if you're not familiar with the lay of the land.
Taxis are the easiest, if most expensive, way to get around. Manila's commuter train system gets large numbers of people around faster, assuming your point of origin and destination are both relatively close to train stations. Ask a local for the best way to get to your destination by bus, or even better, by jeepney, that iconic Filipino mini-bus.
- Read our overview of transportation in Manila.
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Shopping in Manila
The greater Manila metropolis holds some of the world's biggest malls... but also a few more rustic market experiences, too. Shoppers with a taste for the biggest and best can take the MRT train that connects to some of the metro's largest shopping centers, including from SM North EDSA in the north to Ayala Center in the south.
Wandering a little off the beaten track, travelers can visit one of Makati's weekend markets (Salcedo and Legazpi villages offer some organic, artisanal goodies worth taking home), or the more chaotic Divisoria market experience.
- For more on spending the local currency, read: Money in the Philippines.
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Accommodations in Manila
A key rule of thumb: stay close to your preferred place of business/pleasure when finding a place to stay in Manila. Travelers with business in Makati, for instance, shouldn't book a hotel along Manila Bay, not unless they have a thing for being stuck in traffic for a good hour or so. There's no need to worry - you'll find a hotel that suits any budget, wherever in Metro Manila you decide to spend the night.
This list of business hotels in the Philippines summarizes the choices available for working travelers in Manila, with a wide range of budgets and locations represented here. For scrimping travelers/backpackers, check out this list of hostels & budget hotels in Manila to review your low-cost options in the Philippines' capital.
We've written a number of first-hand accounts of stays in accommodations throughout Manila - check these out:
- MNL Boutique Hostel, Manila - boutique backpacker establishment in Makati
- Eastwood Richmonde Hotel, Manila - business hotel in... Quezon City
- Bayleaf Hotel, Intramuros - boutique hotel in Manila's oldest district