It's a pity that Manila is often disparaged, as there's much here to like. For one, all the adjectives often used to describe the Philippines - jovial, laid back, casual, corrupt, shambolic, earnest and more are on display here more than anywhere else in the country. It's a truly teeming metropolis that gets bigger each day, both in population, with people pouring in from the hinterlands, and size, as new developments in all directions swallow up villages and rice fields.
Manila can be a very discombobulated place, for it is really just a collection of towns with no definable centre. The walled Intramuros area was the traditional centre of Manila, but was mostly wiped out in WWII and has never recovered. Binondo, Quiapo, Ermita and Malate have never been more than a supporting cast for a star that doesn't exist. Still, you may well find lots of fun in Ermita and Malate, while Binondo and Quiapo have a certain raw energy and unique markets. And Intramuros is a good place to explore, just to find the bones of its past.
Other parts of town are more lively. At the centre of modern Manila is Makati, the commercial centre for the country. Here, in almost orderly surroundings, you can shop, eat and drink to your heart's content. It transcends the generic-mall syndrome by having its own unique vibe that comes from the hordes of locals who come here to work, relax and play. As many will tell you, 'this is the Manila we wish we had'.
Rather than seeing Manila as an amorphous mass, focus instead on enjoying its individual areas, and you will start to get a feel for the greater Manila, which really is a sum of its parts.
Ready to go?
These tours & activities make it easy:
Best places to stay in Manila
Philippines - Manila (Chapter)
The ‘Pearl of the Orient’ reveals itself to those resolute enough to pry. Discover Manila’s tender soul among the leafy courtyards and cobbled streets of Intramuros, or in the generosity of the city’s 11 million residents.
Black Nazarene Procession: a guide to the Philippines' holy festival
'Preview' by denvie balidoy. Creative Commons Attribution This is an excerpt from Lonely Planet's A Year of Festivals...
Manila's best nightlife
Philippines - Around Manila (Chapter)
Outside of the capital you’ll find fresh air (really!), historic military sites and truly dramatic landscapes (volcanoes are the specialty), with some impressive seascapes thrown in.
Manila destination guides
The Philippines is an incredibly diverse mix of cultures, traditions and sights, each intended to entice and intrigue. With more than 7,000 islands packed to the brim with natural wonders, and unlike anywhere else in the world, this country is just waiting to be explored.
Sunset or Night Dinner Cruise on Manila Bay
Savor the flavors of Manila on this dinner cruise along beautiful Manila Bay. Relax on a sunset, mid-evening or night cruise and enjoy friendly service from your boat crew. Soak in stunning sights and feast on a Filipino dinner while being serenaded by a local band. End your day with a lovely cruise along the shores of Manila Bay.