Manila, the capital of the Philippines, is also the most common gateway to the archipelago of 7,641 islands. It is a highly urbanized city – composed of high-rises one minute and then rugged houses on the next. Virtually unappealing, Manila often turns off travellers who stay only for a day, if they even leave the airport at all, before catching their connecting flight to the country’s many beautiful islands like El Nido and Siargao.
Manila is often confused with Metro Manila, the national capital region which is composed of the old Manila and 15 other cities. These include the common business destinations (Makati and Taguig) and jump-off points for bus travels (Pasay City and Quezon City).
Metro Manila is a maze of modern buildings, old houses, luxury malls, wholesale markets, bustling streets often dotted with illegal vendors, and a vibrant mix of people often in a hurry to get to their next destination.
When you say “Manila” to a local, they will most probably point you to the old bayside city that boasts of historic churches, colonial-style museums, iconic streets, and walled towns. Manila is the actual capital and seat of power. This city is located some 10km from the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (Manila Airport) and is about 30mins away considering the normal traffic.
Where to Stay in Metro Manila
If you’re planning to stay a day or two in Metro Manila, we recommend picking a city that suits your taste. Our top 3 picks are Makati, Taguig, and old Manila.
Makati is the region’s central business district and was named the 4th safest city in Southeast Asia according to an online survey. It is also a food haven, particularly the trendy areas of Poblacion, Legaspi Village, and Jupiter St., all offering international cuisine for affordable prices. A warning: visiting them might ruin your diet! Our top picks are Nikkei Nama Bar (Japanese), El Chupacabra (Mexican), and Sweet Ecstasy (American).
Taguig, particularly the Bonifacio Global City (BGC), is the lifestyle district. It offers a totally different feel with its luxury hotels and premium malls. As the upscale part of the metro, don’t be surprised if everything is more expensive here. Its heart is in Bonifacio High Street, from where any shop or restaurant you want to visit is within walking distance. The only downside is the bottleneck traffic when going in and out of BGC. Makati and BGC are both located some 20mins from Manila Airport.
If you want a taste of the country’s history, we recommend the old Manila. It used to be marred with traffic and pollution, but is now undergoing revival to show at least a glimpse of its former glory. Big thanks to a recent change in governance, Manila is being cleaned up big time. Walls and streets covered in dirt and grease for years are finally showing intricate details that locals didn’t know were there. Also, illegal vendors have been relocated to ease traffic and make roads safer for passersby.
Manila actually played a huge part in Philippine independence. And because of these recent changes, tourists can now comfortably explore the city even on a very exposed ride like the traditional kalesa (local horse-drawn carriage). The walled city of Intramuros should be a great starter!
Many travellers think Metro Manila is not a very safe place to visit. But we beg to disagree. Particularly in Makati, you can walk the streets at night without any worries. If you’re willing to take the risk, you’ll see that there is so much more to the metro than what is usually said in guidebooks.