48 Hours In: Manila, Phillippines

Shop 'til you drop in designer stores or just appreciate the colonial architecture in the Philippines' bustling and exotic capital, says Joe Bindloss

WHY GO NOW?

Because most travellers miss Manila in the headlong rush to visit Bangkok, Hong Kong and Singapore. Manila is one of Asia's least-known capitals, but it is one of the most high-spirited ­ and it has a fascinating colonial history. Try to be here for Todos los Santos (All Saints) on 1 November, when families flock to Manila's cemeteries to feast all night and swap spooky ghost stories.

TOUCH DOWN

No airline flies direct from the UK to Manila, so you have to change planes. KLM Royal Dutch Airlines (0870 507 4074; www.klm.com) flies via Amsterdam from 16 UK airports. Emirates (0870 243 2222; www.emirates.com) flies via Dubai from Heathrow, Gatwick, Birmingham, Glasgow and Manchester. You can also fly via Singapore, Hong Kong or Kuala Lumpur. Ninoy Aquino airport is 8km south, near the city of Parañaque. A pre-paid taxi from the airport to the city costs from 345-400 Pesos (£3.45-£4), depending on destination, and takes around 40 minutes.

GET YOUR BEARINGS

Manila sprawls along the eastern shore of Manila Bay. In the centre, overlooking the Pasig River, is the walled city of Intramuros, divided from the popular entertainment districts of Ermita and Malate by Rizal Park. The main business district, Makati, is south-east on Epifanio de Los Santos Avenue (known locally as Edsa). Manila has two elevated train lines: the LRT (Light Rail Transit) runs north-south, while the MRT (Metro Rail Transit) links the suburbs along Edsa, connecting with both ends of the LRT.

For tourist information, head to Room 106 in the huge Department of Tourism Building (1) in Rizal Park (00 63 2 525 2000; www.tourism. gov.ph); it's open 7am-6pm daily (until 5pm at weekends).

TAKE A RIDE

The main form of transport in downtown Manila is the jeepney, jazzed-up jeeps decorated with a bewildering array of lights, mirrors, horns, hood ornaments and go-faster stripes. Fares start at a mere P4 (4p) and destinations are displayed in the front windscreen. Alternatively, ride the elevated railway for P12 (12p) or take an air-conditioned cab (make sure you insist that the driver uses the meter).

CHECK IN

Right in the heart of the business district, the Makati Shangri-La (2) , on the corner of Ayala and Makati Avenues (00 63 2 813 8888; www.shangri-la.com), is widely regarded as the best hotel in Manila. Rooms have real style and rates start at US$150 (£85) for a double, including buffet breakfast. In the old part of town, the Bayview Park Hotel (3) at 1118 Roxas Boulevard in Ermita (00 63 2 526 1555; www.bayviewparkhotel.com) has a delightful rooftop pool and a handy location close to Rizal Park; doubles start at US$84 (£48) with breakfast. Further south in Malate, Bianca's Garden Hotel (4) at 2139 M Adriatico Street (00 63 2 526 0351) is a glorious Spanish-style villa with a pool and patio bar, a gifted cook and traditional Filipino furniture in the rooms; doubles cost from P1600 (£16).

TAKE A VIEW

There are pleasing views over the old Spanish quarter from the walls of Intramuros; a 4.5km walkway runs along the ramparts, starting at Fort Santiago (5), which opens 8am-6pm daily; entry P40 (40p). This was the former headquarters of the Spanish colonial administration and served as a notorious prison during the American and Japanese eras.

TAKE A HIKE

From Fort Santiago (5), walk south-east along General Luna Street past Manila Cathedral (6), which was built in 1951 to replace the bomb-damaged 16th-century cathedral, to San Agustin church (7). Across the road, you can tour a reconstructed Spanish mansion at Casa Manila (8); open 9am-6pm daily except Monday, admission P40 (40p). Leave Intramuros on the same road and stroll through the ornamental gardens of Rizal Park to Roxas Boulevard, for views across Manila Bay. Dotted around the park are the stately administrative buildings of the American colonial government, now housing the National Museum of the Philippines (9), the Department of Tourism (1) and the General Post Office (10) .

LUNCH ON THE RUN

Manila's shopping malls are packed with food stalls serving everything from inihaw na bangus (grilled milkfish, a Filipino speciality) and halo halo (crushed ice with sweet syrup) to stir-fried noodles and Chinese century eggs. The best downtown choice is Robinson's Place (11) on M Adriatico Street in Ermita, open 10am-9pm daily.

WINDOW SHOPPING

Manila offers some of the best retail therapy in Asia. You can find almost anything in the city's super-sized shopping malls, from Armani suits and Nike trainers to iPods and Uzis (seriously). For the ultimate shopping experience, visit SM Megamall (12) on Epifanio de Los Santos Avenue. This air-conditioned cathedral to consumerism is open 10am-9pm daily.

AN APERITIF

For a flashback to the Spanish colonial era, hit the bars and restaurants of Malate. Well-heeled thirtysomethings gather in Cafe Havana (13) at 1903 M Adriatico Street (00 63 2 521 8097) to sip Cuban rum, puff on Havana cigars and dance to pulsating salsa beats.

DINING WITH THE LOCALS

Set in a restored Spanish mansion in Intramuros, the exuberant Ilustrado (14) on General Luna Street (00 63 2 527 3674) serves modern interpretations of traditional Filipino food; the house speciality is adobong usa, a rich stew of venison, soy sauce and vinegar. For hearty Spanish fare, try Casa Armas (15) at 573 J Nakpil Street in Malate (00 63 2 523 5763); the chef prepares a legendary paella negra (with saffron rice and squid ink). Imelda Marcos is a periodic visitor.

SUNDAY MORNING: GO TO CHURCH

The Philippines has the largest Catholic population in Asia, so there are plenty of choices for church-goers. San Agustin Church (7) in Intramuros is the oldest church in the Philippines and one of the few Spanish-era buildings to survive the American bombardment during the Second World War. Mass takes place daily at 6.30am and 5pm. The attached museum is open 9am-noon and 1-5pm, admission P65 (65p).

OUT TO BRUNCH

Munch on freshly grilled tiger prawns on a pontoon overlooking Manila Bay at Seafood Wharf (16) on South Boulevard (00 63 2 536 3522). Choose your seafood from the ice counter at the front of the restaurant; chefs will cook it up on the spot. It opens at 7am daily, and there's a buffet breakfast every Sunday for P190 (£1.90).

A WALK IN THE PARK

At weekends, thousands of Filipinos promenade through Rizal Park, just south of the old city walls. Dotted around this green expanse are ornamental gardens, a three-dimensional model of the Philippines (17), an open-air chess pavilion (18) and the execution site of the national hero José Rizal (19). Look out for locals practising arnis de mano, the national martial art.

CULTURAL AFTERNOON

Manila's main cultural offering is the huge National Museum of the Philippines (9) in Rizal Park (00 63 2 527 1215). Housed in the former finance ministry, the museum has some impressive displays on Filipino culture and history, including a life-sized model of the islands' most famous shipwreck, the San Diego. It's open 10am-4pm Wednesday to Sunday and admission is P100 (£1), but free on Thursdays.

WRITE A POSTCARD

The best selection of postcards is at the National Bookstore in the Robinson's Place mall (11) on M Adriatico Street. Scribble home from the peaceful gardens of Fort Santiago (5).

THE ICING ON THE CAKE

Head north to the enormous Chinese Cemetery (20) on F Huertes St (open 7.30am-7pm daily), where Manila's wealthiest ex-citizens reside in extravagant "houses for the dead" with marble bathrooms, fitted kitchens and crystal chandeliers.

The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations

News
Susan Sarandon described David Bowie as
peopleSusan Sarandon reveals more on her David Bowie romance
Sport
Arsenal supporters gather for a recent ‘fan party’ in New Jersey
football
Sport
sportDidier Drogba returns to Chelsea on one-year deal
Arts and Entertainment
The Secret Cinema performance of Back to the Future has been cancelled again
film
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
Balmain's autumn/winter 2014 campaign, shot by Mario Sorrenti and featuring Binx Walton, Cara Delevingne, Jourdan Dunn, Ysaunny Brito, Issa Lish and Kayla Scott
fashionHow Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film
filmFifty Shades of Grey trailer provokes moral outrage in US
News
BBC broadcaster and presenter Evan Davis, who will be taking over from Jeremy Paxman on Newsnight
peopleForget Paxman - what will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Life and Style
fashionCustomer complained about the visibly protruding ribs
Voices
The new dawn heralded by George Osborne has yet to rise
voicesJames Moore: As the Tories rub their hands together, the average voter will be asking why they're not getting a piece of the action
Sport
Dejan Lovren celebrates scoring for Southampton although the goal was later credited to Adam Lallana
sport
News
newsComedy club forced to apologise as maggots eating a dead pigeon fall out of air-conditioning
Arts and Entertainment
Jo Brand says she's mellowed a lot
tvJo Brand says shows encourage people to laugh at the vulnerable
Life and Style
People may feel that they're procrastinating by watching TV in the evening
life
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    C++ Software Engineer - Hounslow, West London - C++ - to £60K +

    £40000 - £60000 per annum + Pension, Healthcare : Deerfoot IT Resources Limite...

    VB.NET and C# developer (VB.NET,C#,ASP.NET)

    £30000 - £45000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: VB.NET a...

    Visitor Experience volunteer

    Unpaid voluntary role: Old Royal Naval College: To assist the Visitor Experien...

    Telesales Manager. Paddington, London

    £45-£55k OTE £75k : Charter Selection: Major London International Fashion and ...

    Day In a Page

    Evan Davis: The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing to take over at Newsnight

    The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing

    What will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
    Finding the names for America’s shame: What happens to the immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert?

    Finding the names for America’s shame

    The immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert
    Inside a church for Born Again Christians: Speaking to God in a Manchester multiplex

    Inside a church for Born Again Christians

    As Britain's Anglican church struggles to establish its modern identity, one branch of Christianity is booming
    Rihanna, Kim Kardashian and me: How Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

    Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

    Parisian couturier Pierre Balmain made his name dressing the mid-century jet set. Today, Olivier Rousteing – heir to the house Pierre built – is celebrating their 21st-century equivalents. The result? Nothing short of Balmania
    Cancer, cardiac arrest, HIV and homelessness - and he's only 39

    Incredible survival story of David Tovey

    Tovey went from cooking for the Queen to rifling through bins for his supper. His is a startling story of endurance against the odds – and of a social safety net failing at every turn
    Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

    Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

    The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

    Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

    Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
    German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

    Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

    Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
    BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

    BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

    The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
    Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

    Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

    Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
    How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

    Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

    Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
    Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

    Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

    Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
    10 best reed diffusers

    Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

    Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

    Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

    There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
    Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

    Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

    It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little