manila tourism

Visit the capital of the Philippines, Manila! What can you do in Manila? How do you go around the city? Where is the best place to stay? What gastronomic adventures await you? This guide to Manila is a must-read especially for first-time visitors. 

Manila, the capital of the Philippines, serves as the center of culture, economy, education, and government in the country. It is the most populous region of the country and one of the most densely populated cities in the world. Manila is also the main gateway for international tourists traveling to the Philippines by air. 


What "Manila" Really Means      

When people say “Manila,” they can mean two things. They can refer to the City of Manila, which is where you can find the capital’s most recognized attractions like Intramuros and Fort Santiago

The term can also refer to the greater metropolitan area known as Metro Manila, which includes the much larger Quezon City, the Makati Central Business District and Pasay City. 

It can be a bit confusing, so make sure to do your research beforehand when booking hotels so you don’t end up staying in an area far from the main tourist spots.

Your Ultimate Manila Travel Guide 2019

The City of Manila itself is actually made up of 16 administrative districts, which include Binondo, Ermita, Intramuros, Malate, and Quiapo, among others. 

Meanwhile, the greater Metropolitan Manila area, which is officially known as the National Capital Region (NCR) or Metro Manila, is made up of the City of Manila, Makati, Quezon City, Parañaque, Pasay, and Taguig, to name a few. See map above.

Getting Around Manila from the Airport      

The Ninoy Aquino International Airport Terminal 1 is located in Parañaque City while Terminals 2, 3, and 4 are in the neighboring Pasay City. 

None of these terminals are connected by metro or subway system as of the moment, so the only way to get there and out is via private transport, shuttle buses, or taxicabs. Check out this Philippine Airlines Complete Airport Transfer Guide.

Buses from Manila airport

Your Ultimate Manila Travel Guide 2019

There is a free shuttle bus going to all terminals that runs every 15 minutes, depending on traffic. Given the heavy traffic in Manila during the day and early evening, however, it may not be the best idea if you are pressed for time (e.g., if you have a connecting flight with a layover less than 4 hours).

Philippine Airlines has a free airside shuttle service between Terminals 2 and 3 for passengers with connecting flights to PAL Express. If either of your flight is with another airline, you can use the other airside shuttle bus that operates for 24 hours in all terminals. Note that it is for transfer passengers only.

When leaving the airport, you can also take the Airport Loop from all terminals. Costing Php 20, it will take you from the airport to Baclaran, Pasay Rotonda, EDSA/Taft Avenue, and MRT/LRT Taft Stations. It is recommended for those who want to take the metro and don't have a big luggage.

A better option would be the P2P (Point-to-Point) buses called the UBE Express. Fares vary depending on your destination, and these run on four fixed routes, some stopping at selected hotels and shopping malls, while others ending up at big bus terminals. 

You need to book online in advance; they accept credit card, Paypal, and Dragon card payments.

Taxicabs from Manila airport

All Manila airports have taxi stands. You can get a coupon taxi (white) that’s dispatched by an airport personnel and charged a fixed price, or a yellow airport taxi that’s metered. Both are more expensive than regular taxis, but relatively safer to use.

Taxi scams in the airport is common. Either the driver shows you a printed list of destinations and their corresponding prices (which is way overpriced) or don't use a meter and just charge you ridiculous prices. To avoid the headache of getting scammed, just use the official taxis (coupon taxi and yellow airport taxi).

When someone outside the arrival area offers you a ride, just say no. Oftentimes, these drivers (or their middlemen) will overcharge you. They might offer to help you with your bags; just hold tight to your belongings and say no, or ignore them.  

Grab App

Another recommended way to get out of the airport and into the city is through Grab, a ride-hailing app similar to Uber (Uber is no longer operating in the Philippines). When you can't get a Grab Car (private ride), choose Grab Share (carpooling) for more flexibility. Download the Grab App prior to arriving in the Philippines, in case the airport Wi-Fi fails.

Car Rentals

There are car rental services as well in all Manila airports (except Terminal 4). These companies include Avis, Budget, Europcar, Hertz, Nissan, and National. Alternatively, you can book a car rental online or through your hotel.

Tips in Going around Manila      

Your Ultimate Manila Travel Guide 2019

For first-time travelers, Manila can be a bit overwhelming to explore via public transportation. The Manila Metro Rail Transit (MRT) and Light Rail Transit (LRT) run across the two main avenues in Manila.

The LRT, which runs from Baclaran to Monumento, is connected to Roxas Boulevard or Pasay area, Makati, Manila, and Caloocan. Beyond Caloocan are mainly residential areas, not frequented by tourists. 

On the other hand, the MRT, which runs along EDSA (Epifanio Delos Santos Ave.) runs from Taft Avenue to North Avenue in Quezon City, which gives tourists access to Roxas Blvd., Makati, Mandaluyong, San Juan, and Quezon City.

Usually crowded during rush hour (avoid at all cost!), these two offer the quickest way to slice through Manila’s notorious traffic jams. 

Your Ultimate Manila Travel Guide 2019

Jeepneys or jeeps are the most popular means of public transportation in the Philippines along smaller roads. Originally made from U.S. military jeeps left over from World War II, jeepneys have become an iconic symbol of Philippine culture and art. Riding these open-aired vehicles in congested streets offers an interesting experience for first-time visitors. 

Motorized tricycles, or simply tricycles, are the local form of the auto rickshaw similar to Thailand’s tuktuk. These public utility vehicles ply a set route or can be hired like taxis in many areas. Built in a variety of styles which differ from city to city, these are usually made locally by building a sidecar affixed to a motorcycle. 

For those who only have a short time in the city and want a hassle-free journey, the best option is just take a taxi or book Grab.

While Grab is usually more expensive than riding jeepneys or buses, these can ensure you can get around safely and in comfort and don’t have to do multiple transfers, which is convenient for travelers coming from and going to the airport.

More adventurous travelers can choose to book the Angkas app, which is similar to Grab Motorbike in other countries like Vietnam.

The weather in Manila can get quite hot and humid, so be sure to bring drinking water while going around. Although there are vendors selling bottled water everywhere, it is best to bring your own water bottle to stay hydrated and minimize plastic waste.

Your Ultimate Manila Travel Guide 2019

Like in most big cities, it’s best not to wear fancy jewelry and carry all your valuables with you while sightseeing. Secure all your important items and money in anti-theft bags and always carry loose change and bills in small denominations.

Tourists may find it hard to get exact change when riding public transportation or when they have to buy food and small items from vendors along the road if they offer to pay in large bills. 

Make sure to do some research as well on standard costs of fares and other items. Most Filipinos can speak English, so don’t be afraid to ask for help from locals if you need information on the amount that should be paid for jeepney fares, directions if you get lost, and so on.

Where to Stay in Manila      

Makati CityMakati City Business District. Photo by lifelines via Pixabay.

For business and leisure travelers who want modern conveniences, creature comforts, and luxury hotels, the best place to stay would be in the central business districts or CBDs. Metro Manila has several central business districts to choose from, including Makati, Bonifacio Global City, and Ortigas Center.

However, many travelers who have been to the Philippines agree that Makati is one of the best, cleanest, and safest areas to stay when traveling in Manila. It is one of the sixteen cities that make up Metro Manila and represents the country’s financial and business hub with all the skyscrapers and big shopping malls. 

Makati serves as the headquarters to most of the multinational corporations residing in the Philippines as well as the country's biggest commercial firms and BPO companies. 

It is reputed to be the best area in Manila for first-time visitors, since shops, nightlife, and sights are easily accessible. It also offers a wide range of accommodation options from upscale hotels and AirBnBs to budget hostels.

Budget Hotels

Lub D Hostel (Makati City)

Lub D Hostel MakatiPhoto by Solitary Wanderer

  • 7820 Makati Avenue, Makati City
  • Dorm beds: Php 570+
  • Private rooms: Php 1,800+
  • 24-hr front desk, bar and restaurant, co-working space, tour packages, laundry facilities, TV room, meeting rooms, free luggage storage

Red Planet Binondo (Manila)

Red Planet Binondo

  • 251-61 Juan Luna Street, Binondo, Manila
  • Private rooms: Php 1,034+
  • 24-hour front desk, luggage storage, wheelchair accessible, free parking 

Best Value Business Hotels

Makati Shangri-La Hotel (Makati City)

Makati Shangri-La

  • Ayala Avenue cor. Makati Avenue, Makati
  • Modern 5-star hotel with 696 rooms (Php 7,200+) and suites (Php 13,700+)
  • Centrally located in the shopping and entertainment hub of Makati, with a business center, outdoor pool, 24-hour aromatherapy and massage, fitness center, sauna, tour desk

The Manila Hotel (Manila)

Manila Hotel

  • One Rizal Park, Manila
  • Historic 5-star hotel built in 1912
  • 570 rooms (Php 5,600+) and suites (Php 14,250+)
  • Business center, in-house dining, outdoor swimming pool, gym, spa, sauna, steam room, yoga/Pilates

Luxury Hotels

The Entertainment City, a part of Parañaque, is a gaming and entertainment complex in the Bay City. It is another top choice for business or luxury travelers as it is also near the airports. Here are two highly-recommended hotels in the area.

Okada Manila (Parañaque City)

Okada Hotel

  • New Seaside Drive, Parañaque
  • Rooms/suites range from Php 12,000 to Php 31,800+
  • A 5-star city resort with an outdoor swimming pool, in-house casino, spa and wellness center, restaurants, indoor beach club, day-to-night club, art galleries, currency exchange, laundry, and meeting facilities, and retail shops

City of Dreams - Nobu Hotel Manila (Parañaque City)

City of Dreams - Nobu Hotel Manila

  • Asean Avenue cor. Roxas Boulevard, Brgy. Tambo, Parañaque
  • Rooms/suites range from Php 11,600 to Php 20,300+
  • Luxury hotel with in-house restaurants, business center, spa/massage, fitness center, outdoor pool, 24-hour room service, and in-house casino

Where To Eat in Manila      

Your Ultimate Manila Travel Guide 2019

One of the best things for first-time travelers in Manila is to enjoy traditional Filipino cuisine and culture by patronizing dining establishments that offer a cultural experience.

Barbara’s Restaurant in Intramuros is a must for tourists who want a taste of Filipino heritage. Located within the walled city of Intramuros, this restaurant offers live entertainment and music, featuring Filipino folk dances and songs. 

Guests can enjoy Filipino classic dishes like kare-kare, caldereta, adobo, lechon, gulaman, and palitaw in a beautifully restored 18th-century building that reflects the best architectural design of the Spanish colonial period. 


While dining, visitors are treated to dance performances from the Spanish era up to the folkloric Philippines, including singkil dance and tinikling. The live music makes use of all local Filipino Instruments like rondalla and guitars playing even Beatles songs. 

For those who want a more modern take on traditional Filipino dishes, Locavore serves locally grown and produced Filipino dishes with a unique twist.

Your Ultimate Manila Travel Guide 2019

Photo from Locavore

With bestsellers like sizzling sinigang, lechon oyster sisig, and kare-kare wings, this modern and innovative restaurant is a great choice for adventurous foodies. Locavore has several branches around Manila including in Kapitolyo, Pasig, Taguig, Makati, and SM Mall of Asia in Pasay City.

Another new place to check out is Islas Pinas, a fiesta-inspired Food Hall in the Double Dragon Plaza in Pasay City near Mall of Asia that features dishes from all over the Philippines.

This establishment, which was just launched in 2018, aims to bring Filipino cuisine to global prominence by showcasing regional specialties, local home-cooked dishes, and elevated street food in a unique cultural setting.

Explore the Bustling City of Manila 

While many travelers opt to skip Manila on their way to island-hopping in the Philippines, there are a lot of things you do in the city should you wish to stay longer. Hopefully, this travel guide will give you an overview of how to make the most of your trip.

Discover the many tourist attractions and activities in store for you in Manila. Start planning your trip by looking into Manila tours and activities that you can add to your itinerary.