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Interesting facts about Manila

The sprawling city of Manila is the capital of the Southeast Asian island nation of the Philippines. A major starting point for people planning to hop around the country’s various islands, the large city also has numerous attractions and activities to keep visitors busy for a few days or longer. Modern skyscrapers sit alongside beautiful architecture from the Spanish colonial era. Churches are peppered across the city and there are plentiful cultural sites throughout the diverse districts. The nightlife is lively and the city hosts many festivals throughout the year. Find out how to enjoy a stay in the Filipino capital with this Finnair travel guide to Manila.

Sights in Manila

Take a stroll around Intramuros, the oldest part of the city. The walled historic centre dates back to the times of Spanish rule. The walls once protected stone palaces, splendid houses, churches, convents, monasteries, schools and other important buildings. Today’s visitors can admire the country’s most revered church, Manila Cathedral, and explore diverse museums and ruins. Highlights include Fort Santiago, Ayuntamiento, San Agustín Church, San Ignacio Church, Casa Manila and the museum of Bahay Tsinoy. Discover a different side of the city with a walk around Chinatown - one of the biggest Chinatowns in the world. Museums around Manila include the National Museum of the Philippines, the Metropolitan Museum of Manila and the National Art Gallery. Interesting architecture includes Malacañán Palace, Coconut Palace, Mabini Shrine and Bonifacio Shrine. Don’t miss seeing the Basilica of San Sebastián, the only church in Asia to have been built completely from steel. A further claim to fame is that it was designed by Gustav Eiffel, the architect responsible for the iconic Eiffel Tower in Paris. If the city’s chaos becomes too much, head to one of the green and leafy parks to relax for a while; Paco Park  and Rizal Park both offer open spaces and leisure options, while Arroceros Forest Park is a beautiful place to immerse yourself in nature. The large aquarium of Manila Ocean Park is a favourite attraction for families. Visit Baywalk in the late afternoon to watch a beautiful sunset over the ocean.    

Things to See and Do Near Manila

  • Tagaytay – A popular weekend retreat from the capital, this city overlooks the volcano in Lake Taal. There are plenty of cute restaurants around the lake from where you can admire the views and relax. The historic People's Park In The Sky is another local attraction.
  • Mount Batulao – A top place for hikers and outdoor enthusiasts, this mountain has several scenic walking trails, each providing great views.
  • Antipolo – A hilltop town around an hour and a half from central Manila, many Catholic pilgrims travel here to worship and pay their respects at the Shrine of Our Lady of Peace and Good Voyage. Natural attractions include the national park and waterfall of Hinulugang Taktak and the pretty Miramar Gardens. Art lovers should add the Pinto Art Museum to their itinerary.

Shopping in Manila

As would normally be expected from a large capital city, Manila has a diverse shopping scene. Various cultural influences can be seen in the array of goods available at the markets, shopping centres, boutiques and handicraft shops. Do remember that haggling is commonplace in the Philippines, except for high-class outlets where prices are marked.

  • SM Mall of Asia – One of the biggest shopping centres on the planet, this western-style mall sells a range of fashions from international names, electronics, books, toys, furnishings, homewares and almost anything else that you could imagine.
  • Divisoria Market and 168 – The 168 shopping area and Divisoria are great for budget shopping. There are fake goods as well as authentic finds, so do be sure to check properly before making a purchase. Shops sell everything from clothing and accessories to cookware and household items.
  • TriNoma – Located in the wider Manila area, this is another large mall with numerous products at often reasonable prices.
  • Francis Square – The plentiful shops in this area are ideal for hunting for unusual souvenirs, handicrafts and antiques.
  • Robinsons Magnolia – A fairly new and high-end shopping centre, this is a great place to find international designer fashions.
  • Legazpi Market – A huge weekend market, mainly selling food products, ingredients and ready-made meals. Additionally, you’ll find unique goods, including clothes, accessories, souvenirs and handicrafts, that can’t be found in other places around the city.

Food and Drink

  • Balut – A well-known Filipino speciality, this is a duck embryo, still in the egg shell, that has been boiled.
  • Bola Bola – These deep fried dough balls have various flavours, including chicken, beef, pork, fish and squid.
  • Kare-kare – A chunky and hearty stew, this filling dish contains aubergine, cabbage and other vegetables along with oxtail in a peanut sauce. It is commonly served with plain boiled rice and topped with pungent shrimp paste.
  • Pata – Crispy pata is a deep fried knuckle or leg of pork, accompanied by chilli and various sauces.
  • Kinilaw – With a very unique and somewhat sour taste, this dish consists of raw fish that has been marinated in vinegar and lemon juice before being flavoured with chilli, tomato, peppers and spring onion.

Transport in Manila

Manila is a very large and sprawling city, so feeling confident with the local transportation systems is something of a must for fully exploring the area.

  • By foot – While Manila is too big in itself to cover on foot, certain areas are perfect for walking around and exploring. Intramuros, for example, is an ideal place to walk. The winding streets lead through the walls and it’s difficult to get lost thanks to the orderly street plan.
  • Calesa– These traditional horse-drawn carriages are primarily used today in the historic parts of the city. Be sure to negotiate the price before a ride and ensure that both parties are referring to the same currency to avoid costly scams.
  • Buses – Several bus services serve Manila, with route names (as opposed to numbers) displayed on the sides of the vehicles. Fares are cheap and you can pay the conductor.
  • Jeepneys – One of the most iconic forms of transportation in the Philippines, jeepneys stem from the practical conversion of jeeps left in the nation when the US army departed. Colourful and often crowded, they operate on set city routes.
  • Trains – Three train lines cross the city. Tickets can be obtained from stations. Multi-journey tickets can be more cost effective than purchasing several single-journey tickets if you will be using the rail network regularly.
  • Taxis – There are plentiful taxis in Manila. While taxis should charge according to the meter, many drivers will try and negotiate a fare in advance. Having a rough idea of journey costs will help immensely in such situations.

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