The Philippines' capital is one chaotic concrete jungle. The heaving traffic can be a shock to the system, for sure, but for all its traffic jams and labyrinthine streets, Manila is a city that shines bright with new-world fervour once you peel back each layer. Thanks to its heady blend of cultural influences and historical significance, there's more than meets the eye here. This is how to spend 48 hours in Manila.
Gaze, then graze
There's no better way to kick off your Manila immersion than with a food tour. After all, eating is practically the national pastime in the Philippines – next to karaoke, of course. The Chinatown Food Walk isn't your average tour; while you're wandering the laneways of Binondo in search of Chinese-Filipino eats, you'll also check out historic sites and sky-high views. Your expert guide is equal parts historian/foodie and will weave detailed insights about the area and its culinary influences while presenting you with flavour-packed mouthfuls of lumpia, pork asada, hopia and more!
Delve into the past
Once the epicentre of Spanish Manila, Intramuros is a 64-hectare citadel of cobblestoned streets, leafy plazas and charming colonial houses. Today, it's one of Manila's most iconic attractions; a must-visit no matter how short your city stint.
Start with Fort Santiago. Today, it's renowned for its manicured gardens, but its past was much darker. Jose Rizal, a writer, polymath and the national hero of the Philippines, was imprisoned here before his execution in 1896. The Rizal Shrine is dedicated to its life and work.
Within Intramuros, you'll also stumble upon many Roman Catholic churches, including the Baroque-style San Agustin Church. Truly magnificent with its trompe-l'œil ceiling, the church survived WWII (mostly) and was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1993.
Casa Manila also offers another perspective of the past. The museum is a recreation of a typical upper-class colonial home and is filled with antique artefacts from the Spanish era.
Calle Real del Palacio, or General Luna, is Intramuros' main street and one that will take you straight to Rizal Park. Located in the Ermita district, Rizal Park is a green oasis in a civic hub of commerce and culture. The park bears significance as it was the site where Jose Rizal was executed by authorities for his apparent crimes of rebellion against the Spanish. Admire the monument (which is guarded 24/7) and wander the 60 hectares of lawns and park.
Shop 'til you drop
Now that your history lesson is over for the day, it's time to indulge in another Philippine favourite: shopping. In Makati, you've got a spread of malls to choose from, but Greenbelt Mall is one of the best. Five contemporary structures join to create a retail experience of grand proportions. If you can't find what you're looking for here, it probably doesn't exist!
Bright lights and nightlife
Manila is primed for its after-dark delights. Hopefully you've recovered from your marathon eating efforts in Binondo for a decadent dinner at The Peninsula. The hotel's signature restaurant, Old Manila, fuses modern flavours with classic European techniques. The pan-seared foie gras with yellowfin tuna, caramelised apple and pickled ginger is a heavenly way to start the evening. Then, swap the romantic ambience of Old Manila for the brash, larger-than-life vibe of Burgos Street and its sprawl of nightclubs, bars and karaoke haunts.
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Recover from last night's efforts with a Filipino breakfast. The Early Bird Breakfast Club in Bonificao Global City (BGC) serves an all-day line-up of dishes like the Arroz Caldo Crunch, a rice porridge with tender chicken and crispy adobo flakes. Bonificao Global City is like another world. A relatively new district in Metro Manila, this financial enclave is without the ever-present traffic that infiltrates the rest of the megalopolis.
Bend your brain
Shake off any sightseeing fatigue with a mind-bending morning at the Mind Museum, the Philippines' world-class science centre. Its exhibitions span from the smallest 'things', to the largest across the Atom, Earth, Life, Universe and Technology zones where you can touch, watch, play and experience over 250 interactive exhibits. The fun doesn't end there. There's an outdoor playground which includes educational, yet fun equipment suitable for the young and young at heart!
Check out the art
Don't leave BGC without touring the large-scale public artworks scattered around the district. Both local and international artists have left their mark on Manila with these larger-than-life masterpieces. Check out Faile's creation at One Global Place, 26th Street corner 5th Ave, BGC.
Time for dampa (lunch)
Leave the pristine surrounds of BGC behind for the bustling wet markets by the sea on Macapagal Boulevard. Here, you take your pick of the day's freshest catch and deliver your choices to one of the many adjacent restaurants. The chefs will whip up your 'catch' to your choosing. Think garlic prawns, grilled scallops and everything in between. My favourite: kinilaw, the Philippines' answer to ceviche.
Shop 'til you can't shop anymore
I may have lied earlier about Greenbelt. If you couldn't find what you were looking for there, there's no doubt you can't find it at SM Mall of Asia. If it's your last day in Manila, head to this gigantic sprawl of shops to pick up last minute souvenirs. Made up of over 1,000 stores, SM Mall of Asia is one of the biggest shopping centres in the world and includes everything from department stores to high street fashion brands and Filipino chains.