Busy as you are when traveling for business, you sometimes find yourself alone in a strange city with a few hours to spare. If you one day find yourself in Manila on a solo business trip, you’re in luck! The weather in the Philippines usually allows for a pleasant walk, and the city of Manila is chock full of surprises. Here’s how to make the most of a few golden hours.
Go for a Stroll
One of Manila’s most famous attractions, if not the most famous, is Manila Bay. It’s unlikely that you would find yourself in the Philippine capital without at least catching a glimpse of the bay’s silvery waters. Stroll down the Manila Baywalk in the late afternoon to watch the sunset dip into the river.
Or, if you would rather sit with a cup of coffee or a glass of wine while waiting for the sunset, one fine place to do so would be at the Harbour Square, a charming little promenade located at the CCP Complex.
Expressions of Faith
The Philippines is a mostly Catholic country, so it comes as no surprise that Manila has some of the oldest and most beautiful churches in the world. Maybe you’re of the same faith, or maybe you just enjoy architecture, either way these timeless, historical, grand structures will not disappoint. The most famous church in the city is the Minor Basilica and Metropolitan Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, more popularly known as the Manila Cathedral. The structure, built in 1571, is a majestic expression of faith, and a favorite for weddings.
Other churches worth seeing are the San Agustin Church and the San Sebastian Church, built in the sixteenth and the nineteenth century respectively. Catch any of these churches all lit up in the evening and it will be a Manila memory worth keeping.
Leap into the Past
To love Manila is to know Manila, and what better way to do that than to visit Intramuros. Intramuros, Spanish for “within the walls,” is as its name suggests: it’s a walled area within the Philippine capital. It used to be the seat of government back when the Philippines was under Spanish rule, as well as the center of religion, education, and economy.
Today, Intramuros is a favorite for walking tours of Manila for its quaint appeal and historical value. One of the most popular stops is Fort Santiago, the oldest Spanish stone fortress in the Philippines. The fort’s old dungeons, old theaters, and horse carriages (kalesas) have a way of transporting one back to gone-by years.
Another must-see is the Rizal Shrine, dedicated to the life work of Philippine National Hero Jose Rizal. Here you will see where Rizal spent his final night before his execution, and also where he penned his final poem “Mi Ultimo Adios” (“My Last Farewell”). One moving experience is walking in the footsteps stamped on the ground as these steps mark Rizal’s final march to execution and martyrdom.
A Pop of Culture
In the Philippines, fun and food are synonymous to one another, and you will never have to travel far to find it. Manila’s Chinatown, known to locals as Binondo, is the world’s oldest Chinatown.
Today, the lively streets are famous for authentic Chinese cuisine. Experience Dong Bei Dumplings, located on Yuchengco Street, where dumplings are made fresh daily. Go to James Grocery on Nueva St. for pickled fruit with that distinctly Asian taste. If you’re looking for food to bring home, stop by Eng Bee Tin on Ong Pin Street for a variety of hopia—a flaky pastry filled with sweet mung bean paste—and other goodies.
Quiet intellectual types will be happy to find that Manila is also host to some interesting museums. Drop by the National Museum of Fine Arts, or simply the National Museum in local speak. And, remember to allocate a few minutes simply to bask in the awesomeness of the 4-by-7-meter Spoliarium, a masterpiece of Filipino painter Juan Luna. If you have more time, visit the San Agustin Museum, which is connected to the aforementioned San Agustin Church. The collection here is a treasury of religious art pieces, with hallways lined with large paintings of saints and the sleeping quarters of friars with various statues and art pieces on display. Take a minute to enjoy the church ceiling from the second floor of the museum. From below it looks carved, but it is actually a trompe l’oeil—a painting style in which objects are depicted in startling detail.
These places are all within a few minutes from hotels in the central business district, such as St Giles Makati which feels like a home away from home. Whatever you decide to do, your few non-working hours in Manila will be unforgettable!
Ched is a writer and a mother of two young children. She enjoys reading, home decorating, and the occasional glass of wine.