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Blog - My Favourite Places in Metro Manila: 10 Classic and Alternative Destinations
I’ve spent about 2 and a half years travelling around the Philippines and living in different parts of Metro Manila. By now I can say that I more or less know the city. You do really need a lot of time and cultural immersion before having a grasp of a 13 million inhabitants’ city . This list below will most probably change after a couple of years and will continuously do, as this city sure does change fast too! Complicated – this was my impression of the city the first time I visited the Philippines 4 years ago. Many parts of the city are very chaotic, but then you can surprisingly find an entirely different world within the walls of perfectly-maintained malls scattered around. Upto now, I think discovering this city is not that easy for a foreigner like me.
On a Jeepney, the most used mean of transportation. Photo: Tropical Experience Travel Services.
And so, little by little, I discovered some places in the “Metro” and came up with some that I really like. Such places where I like to go back to from time to time and re-discover them. I’m aware that this list is not some would think to be very complete and is quite subjective, but these are actually the places that are my personal favorites and so they easily came to my mind. Compared to other published lists on “best things to do in Manila”, you won’t find here items about nightlife or malls. The places I am more fond of are mostly out-door and may have some cultural reflection of the place. Though some are, most are not necessarily touristic places, but interesting (for me) and can even be the usual everyday thing – customary and authentic.
While others say that the name “Island of Fire” was to describe the intense red colour of the sunsets that you can see and admire from the quiet beaches that decorate the coastline of the island.
For a long time Siquijor, which has 90,000 inhabitants, was not in the usual routes of the local and foreign traveler. That’s because the most famous local traditions of “magic” and “healing” kept many visitors – worried of spells – away. At the same time, shamans with their healing powers attracted visitors in the search of a special consult. The locals are known for their kindness and calmness, some still wear their amulets and share some stories about their tradition and medicine.
From a naturalistic point of view, this island is made of rocks originated from the sea and their limestone created spectacular caves and beautiful waterfalls. It is common to find fossils of marine origin, even in the higher elevated parts of Siquijor.
A Pedicab (a very affordable mean of transportation).
Metro Manila is composed of different municipalities, Manila being one of them. I have indicated the municipalities here with the name of the place. This list was written in random order, enjoy!
1. Rizal Park, Manila
Rizal Park on a sunday. Photo: Tropical Experience Travel Services.
This park is dedicated to Jose Rizal, a revolutionary hero against the Spaniards. The square also features a memorial dedicated to him. It is a huge patch of grass, surrounded by small gardens and some small structures. Rizal Park has no entrance fee while the small gardens and attractions are accessible at low prices. Especially on week-ends, you can see big crowds of people of all ages having picnics, playing and oftenly youngsters rehearsing songs or dances. A classic activity of the park, known also as Luneta, is strolling with a coned ice-cream bought from a “sorbetero” with his hand-carried cart. I especially like the atmosphere of the place and the fact that you can stroll outdoor in such an important place for the Philippine history.
My wife Candice witha Sorbetero.
2. Intramuros, Manila
Intramuros is the most popular cultural destination for tourists in Manila. It is a walled-city which is a former headquarters of the Spanish army, then, for a short time after, of the American and Japanese military forces. Aside from these, it actually also has a pre-colonial history. Since my first visit 4 years ago, I noticed some improvements in the area that is made to be more and more pleasant for strolling. Intramuros also has a quite large cultural offer, with several museums and shops offering good-quality Filipino handcrafts.
3. Ortigas Center, Pasig City
A stunning night view on Ortigas. Foto: Tropical Experience Travel Services.
During last decades, many Central Business Districts were developed in Manila. The most famous are probably Makati Central Business District, Bonifacio Global City and Ortigas Center. My favourite among these is the Ortigas Center, relatively because it is the closest to my home. The business district has parts divided in Pasig, Mandaluyong and some small parts in Quezon City. Ortigas is the less recent development of the 3 above-mentioned business centers and, for this reason, I find it is the most authentic one. As with other things, I usually prefer seasoned or used things instead of those brand-new-freshly-unwrapped-from-plastic stuff. I particularly love it when traffic is closed every Sunday in one of its main streets, and you can walk along its quiet and fresh lane, thanks to the cooling shadows made by the skyscrapers.
4. Quiapo Market, Manila
Quiapo Church. Foto: Tropical Experience Travel Services.
Quiapo is the pulse of Manila, it’s where all the action is! And the Quiapo Market is the most famous and chaotic market of the city. Here you can experience spontaneous and genuine Filipino commerce, in a temporal dimension of its own. You can find everything here: fruits and vegetables, mattresses, tarots, herbal medicines, t-shirts, meat, fish, karaoke, stereo, uniforms and more, more and more. If you are a tourist, it is better to be accompanied by a local in order not to feel “lost”.
5. Greenfield District, Mandaluyong City
Greenfield on a saturday night. Foto: Stefania Miravalle.
Recently, several mall establishments started to offer out-door options similar to small parks with shops. It is the ideal way to be in a mall setting and yet escape from the usual super freezing South-East Asia’s indoor air-conditioning. Recent trends are weekend outdoor bazaars being organized to gather small entrepreneurs, food connoisseurs and chefs, artists and hobbyist to showcase, share and sell. I especially appreciate the Greenfield District, which I believe started to develop only about 2 years ago, on Saturday nights: they have a bazaar for entrepreneurs in small booths selling handcrafts, unique knick-knacks, arts, organic vegetables and fruits, potted plants, food of all kinds (Filipino or not), that you can eat for your small pic-nic on the surrounding grassy areas while live music plays on your background.
6. Roxas Boulevard’s Bay Walk, Manila
Baywalk, Roxas Boulevard. Photo: Tropical Experience Travel Services.
Nearby the already-mentioned Rizal Park, you can proceed on and have a walk along the bay of Manila. It can be especially pleasant during late afternoon with the sunset majestically displayed on the bay. Sometimes on week-ends, small temporary restaurant and bars (with no frills) are opened along the bay walk. It is common to observe locals playing chess or cards or dozing on benches. If you fancy sailing, many boats offer sunset cruises.
Roxas Boulevard seen from another side of the bay. Photo: Tropical Experience Travel Services.
7. National Museum, Manila
Baybayin writings on a window of National Museum in Manila.
Even though there are several very good private museums around the Metro, I choose to put on this link this public one. There are many sections that you can choose from depending on your interests. I particularly like the installations dedicated to local handcrafting, ethnographic geography of the Philippines and food habits and traditions. Other remarkable sections in my opinion are those dedicated to Baybayin which is the pre-colonial Filipino handwriting and the feature on funeral traditions. The contemporary art section deserves to be visited even only to see some of the works of Juan Luna, a painter, who became one of the first globally recognized Philippine artists.
8. San Juan Cemetery, San Juan City
A view on San Juan (the cemetery is visible down on the right). Foto: Tropical Experience Travel Services.
I visited this small cemetery during the November 1st celebrations and it got me really intrigued. Filipino cemeteries are like tiny cities, with small houses often equipped with bathroom, benches, cooling system and other amenities. During November 1, vendors sell candles, flowers, phone credit, fans and all sorts of food (you could even find pizza!). Funerals, even if they obviously are touching moments, are generally less sad than how we are used to in Europe. People like to visit the dead loved ones all together in other occasions like the death anniversary. They gather and organize a small party remembering the time spent together, playing his/her favorite music, feasting on his/her favorite food, even decorating the place with coloured balloons. I personally appreciate this kind of approach to the passage from life to death.
9. Barangay Wack Wack, Mandaluyong City
A walk in Wack Wack road. Foto: Tropical Experience Travel Services.
Wack Wack is one of the old “wealthy” neighborhoods of the city, located in Mandaluyong City. It is not really a tourist attraction, being basically a residential area. Anyway, I like to stroll along the streets of the residential area that are open to everyone. Houses are nice and some gardens are really well-maintained. I really like the idea that these very quiet streets are open to everyone. It’s not that obvious though, since Metro Manila’s trend is to privilege private villages where only residents can access. I especially like to stroll around Wack Wack in the afternoon with some music in my ears.
10. University of the Philippines, Quezon City
Inside the campus of University of the Philippines, Quezon City. Photo: Tropical Experience Travel Services.
University of the Philippines, known also as UP, is one of the most prestigious universities in the country. This public institution is very important , since it gives an outstanding university education also to underprivileged students, with access based on abilities and providing scholarships. It is something that could appear not so special to European eyes, but this is very important in a country like the Philippines where many smart students could hardly afford a private university of high level. This campus located in Quezon City is a very pleasant place, very green and open to everyone. The buildings are not modern, but clean and functional. The park is one of the few places of the city that you could actually compare to a public park as we define one in Europe. While strolling you can see many young people socializing without barriers of social classes: something very important in a country where differences created by income and wealth are still very distinct. In UP you can also find and join many cultural events like shows, cine-forums and concerts, often free and even open also to non-students.
Me and Candice on the grass of the campus. From our Instagram account “tropicalexperience“.
This was a list of some of my favourite places of the “Metro” seen with “Italian eyes”. I’m sure that there are many others that I will be looking forward to discover during my next months and years of living here in Metro Manila. Hope you liked it! You can visit our website at www.tropicalexperiencephilippines.com and follow us on Facebook (www.facebook.com/TropicalExperiencePhilippines) and Instagram (www.instagram.com/tropicalexperience)!
You can also check this video of Manila, taken from my balcony!
(written on February 2015)