Colorful jeepneys, street food for literal miles, a beautiful bay, and leafy historic walks. Don’t let its reputation for notorious traffic jams overshadow the fact that Manila is a dynamic, scenic city, packed with exciting cultural experiences. If you look beyond the city’s outer surface there’s a lot to discover and so much more than you can explore in one weekend — but we’re going to try. That’s because Manila is the perfect holiday destination for those in Southeast Asia who find themselves with a free weekend or a couple of extra vacation days.
A modern city with a history influenced by different cultures and a bright cosmopolitan future, Manila is anything but ordinary, especially for travelers. Come with us on a three-day city guide, and we guarantee it will not disappoint.
Tour the city within a city
Instead of rooftop bars and shopping centers, soak in some history and culture on a walk through Intramuros. A stroll through these old buildings will transport you somewhere else entirely — maybe an old European fort or a Spanish colonial town? Whatever vibe you get, it’s not something you would expect to find in Manila. In the past, Intramuros was occupied for military purposes by different forces, which explains the real canons that surround the exterior of this historic site.
Head deeper into the inner sanctuaries of Intramuros where partitions separate each unique section into surprisingly functional places including the respected Manila Cathedral (where you can get hitched there too!) and the Philippines’ oldest church, San Agustin Church. Just behind the walls of Intramuros, covering the total area of 0.67 sq km, you’ll find the National Museum of the Philippines, a walking-friendly Rizal Park, and educational institutions such LPU and University of the City of Manila.
For a great photo spot, we recommend standing around Casa Manila Patio to capture the Hispanic architecture and setting. If you want to explore even more of the area rent bikes and pedal your way around.
You’re in for a ride
There’s the tuk tuk in Thailand, the man-powered jinrikisha in Japan, the Bajaj in Indonesia, and in the Philippines, it’s the Jeepney. Jeepneys are the Philippines’ own iconic mode of transport, and you have to give it a try in Manila.
Here’s a little nugget of history for you: Jeepneys are basically leftover Jeep trucks that American troops didn’t want to bring home after the end of World War II. When life gives you lemons, make calamansi juice! So locals quickly made Jeepneys out of Jeeps, modifying them into the colorful bad boys you now see packed with commuters traveling all around the city. Make like a local and hang on the back of the Jeepney if you dare — just hold on tight!
Cruising through the city on a Jeepney, wind through your hair, is a neat (and local) way to travel in Manila. And lucky for you, as a visitor you can avoid peak rush hour times!
A treat after a long day
Even the most high-spirited travelers who have an incredible amount of energy and sense of adventure need to rest after an eventful day. (Come on, admit it!)
Letting your mind and body reconnect is one of the most luxurious experiences in Manila, especially once you set foot in Hilton Manila’s signature spa. Take in the soothing ambience and aromatic scents that calmly fill the air. Any massage therapy at Hilton Manila will alleviate any mild aches and pains from exploring and adventuring around the Pearl of the Orient.
Hilton Manila Spa features two couples rooms for duos in need of detoxing. So those looking for a romantic evening, or anyone looking to unwind and destress, are free to choose from the list of more than 15 signature treatments that restore bodily wellness — which range from improve circulation in the body to a traditional Filipino Hilot massage.
Tinikling on your feet
Filipinos often get stereotyped as good singers. Not such a bad stereotype to have though, right? Let’s add one more in there — at the risk of getting tweeted at — Filipino people are great dancers too! When you’re in Manila take an afternoon to check out a traditional dance class or performance called Tinikling.
This type of dance requires more than just happy beats and happy feet. It’s a form of folk dancing that’s derived from Spain. This artform imitates a movement of a tikling bird (also known as a ruff-banded rail if you’re an ornithophile) dodging bird traps on rice paddies.
To be fair, a keen sense of coordination is required, not just on the dancer’s part but from those who control the beats using hard bamboo wood. If not, you might expect a little mishap on your ankles (and another reason to visit the spa!). You’re dodging a solid contraption made of 6-12 foot bamboo pole, so watch out! Tinikling shows and dance studios are available in Manila at your pleasure.
Gastronomic pleasure and more at Hilton Manila
If your energy is depleted while in Manila, don’t worry, it’s perfectly normal, there’s just so much to cover with so little time. But it’s nothing a fabulous lunch at Hilton Manila can’t solve. Hilton Manila recently opened right beside Resorts World Manila. Take your pick of cuisines and restaurants. From Chinese to local Filipino dishes, to international cuisine, you can count on high-quality produce and innovative menus at Hilton.
The culinary experience at Hilton Manila is overseen by Chef Dennis Leslie. The newly appointed executive chef brings his Filipino-Australian background, and a little magic touch, to the food. We love his fancy yet bold-flavored approach. Don’t believe us? Just have a look at the deconstructed apple pie aptly named The Big Apple. Just don’t linger over your camera too long, or your dining partner will dig in before you!
Make room for desserts – or should we say rooms!
Do you have a sweet tooth? It’s going to be aching after this candy-coated experience. Even if you’re not a sugar-lover, stay with us because Manila’s Dessert Museum is like entering a real-life world of Candy Crush combined with Willie Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. And the best part is it’s all made for the ‘gram.
The museum, located near Seaside Boulevard, is home to life-size marshmallows, donuts, cotton candy, macarons, and many more sugary delights. Each room has a different dessert-laden theme where you can pose, snap pics, and sample some sweet treats. Don’t miss the chocolate room where you can dip marshmallows in a colorful chocolate fountain. Too bad you can’t light a fire though, because s’mores sound really good!
Typically, the entire experience lasts about an hour, but if you have an Instagram audience that’s hungry for cool pics, brace yourself for an extra 30 minutes of dessert (at the very least).
A little fun on the (sea)side
If you happen to be in Manila over a weekend (because why not), it’s worth checking out SM by the Bay Amusement Park. Spend a couple of hours indulging in snacks, rides, and family-friendly vibes. Look down at Manila from above on the ferris wheel as the sun sets. There’s no entry fee, which explains why it’s a hot spot for locals and tourists alike. Little traveler tip: the golden hour as the sun goes down will get you the best photos.
Bonus, it’s barely walking distance away from the chic Conrad Manila Hotel. In fact, if your room at Conrad faces the amusement park, you’re going to catch the best views of the ferris wheel overlooking the bay. No joke, this is a stunning way to close out the day.
Pop by the volcano
Take a day trip to Taal Volcano. But before you erupt with fear, rest assured that no major volcanic event has occurred here since 2011, and that was only a scale 1 warning. This is one of the best spots near Manila to take in the scenic view, and become one with nature. (Another thing you probably didn’t expect to do in Manila!)
You can hike or ride a horse up the mountain, and even go for a swim in the hot springs, which are safe and steamy. The good thing about visiting Taal Volcano (pronounced Ta’al) is that it can be done in one day, and that includes a boat ride to the volcanic island. It provides a real feeling of escapism from the city, but it’s still easy and convenient.
If your travel goal is to find new adventures, this is an excellent place to pop by, and it isn’t overcrowded by tourists at all. (Hopefully, this article doesn’t disrupt that serenity).
Relax at Hilton
Don’t forget to balance your adventurous nature with a high level of comfort, convenience and quality. What better accommodation combines all of those things than Hilton Manila? This luxurious, yet the understated hotel is located near Manila International Airport and adjacent to the electrifying Resorts World Manila. Not to mention that it’s far enough from the urban hustle for some peace, but close enough to enjoy every exceptional side of the Philippines’ capital city.
Even if you’re a travel junkie who’s been around the world twice, there are so many reasons to experience the charm of Manila; from the food culture to the entertainment venues. And if you’re looking to experience the Philippines for the first time, Manila is the best place to start exploring all the fascinating activities the country has to offer.
If you want to see more of Asia’s paradise destinations (of course you do!) visit Hilton Discover before your next trip for local tips and inspiring guides for cities around the region.