Manila for a Day | Layover Guide in Manila
“What can we do in Manila for a day?” asked Marina & Tatiana, my German friends whom I met on a vacation in Palawan.
Honestly, I haven’t really done a full-day tour of Manila that captures all of its character in just one sweep.
I admit that I may have just aimed a bullet on my temple when I replied “a lot”. And surely, I pulled the trigger when they said, “see you tomorrow”.
Since I was already happily wet on this commitment, I dragged my other friends to join us. Jen is Filipino-Croatian who lives in Zagreb & Lao, a Filipino who has spent most of his years in Italy. Both have never been around Manila.
Where will Manila for a day bring you?
Choosing the best places is not a problem as Manila is an ensemble of cultural treasures. But the traffic is maddening, let alone the terrible mode of public transport. I had to develop an itinerary that is within contiguous range yet without missing our goal.
Here are the spots in Manila that show the capital city’s vibrant character—all doable in one full day.
Philippines at a Glance at the National Museum
Nothing comes closer to a perfect start than being the first ones to get inside the National Museum. We had the galleries all to ourselves.
The National Museum holds the most extensive collection of Philippine artefacts, from pre-colonial to the modern times. It curates precious pieces of fine art such as paintings & sculptures. Archeological finds from the Paleolithic period to early trading times are exhibited in a clean timeline.
But what really held most of our interest was the vast ethnographic collection of tapestries, metal plates, indigenous clothes, stonewares & syllabic writings.
Architectural Walk in Intramuros
From the museum, we took the calesa to the walled city of Manila, the famed Intramuros.
This 16th century fortress still amazes me even if I have been here many times in my life. Its cobblestone pathways, thick walls & historic buildings remind us of Philippines during the Spanish era.
Chinese Lunch in Binondo
Riding the jeepney from Intramuros to Sta. Cruz was fun for Marina & Tatiana. But they had it double the excitement on a trike going inside Binondo.
Chinese traders came to the Philippines way before Spanish conquistadores colonized us. They influenced our ways of living—-from art & culture to business & food!
One of the best places to sample authentic Chinese cuisine in Binondo is in New Toho Food Center. Originally called Toho Antigua Panciteria, this restaurant has been in business since 1888. Unanimously, we loved the sautéed liver with cashew nuts.
Munching on Eng Bee Tin’s famous hopia, we squeezed ourselves in the unimaginable chaos of Quiapo.
It is unlikely that you would bring foreign tourists to Quiapo. But yes I did because I want to show them how Filipinos thrive in a circus of faith & mysticism, daily grind & survival.
Surprisingly, they adored it especially the quick shopping part!
Monuments & Urban Greens
The cramped LRT ride from Carriedo Station to Central Terminal gave them a rehearsal of their onward destination to India. We walked along Taft Avenue all the way to Luneta. Of course, I had to introduce them to our National Hero, Jose Rizal & the national photobomber, the Torre de Manila.
We took a quiet walk on the park over dirty ice cream & lazed under the trees. It was fun watching children chasing doves, oldies playing chess & lovers in heat (both the literal & the figurative).
Sunset at Manila Bay
If there’s one thing that Manila is so famous for, it’s the sunset at Manila Bay along Roxas Boulevard.
This fleeting beauty is what drives people to come here every afternoon. It’s a perfect place to stroll around, replete with picture-perfect elements of a dramatic day-ender.
Dinner & Party in Malate
Malate used to be the party capital in the heydays of disco. It was THE place to be seen. But as the rest of the Greater Manila Area developed more entertainment hubs, Malate drowned into becoming a red light district.
Still, there are few good old names standing. Among them is Aristrocrat where we had dinner. After a good chow, we walked towards Remedios Circle for a bit of Manila’s wild side. It may come odd to many to find so many fakes here—fake boobs & fake men. But one thing is true—cold beer by the street.
On a quick layover in Kuala Lumpur, Marina & Tatiana sent me a Viber message. It said, “we surely had a blast end to our journey in the Philippines, we wonder why Manila is often missed by tourists”.
Then I realized that after all the bullet through my head, Manila for a day is really possible. We captured glimpses of history & architecture, art & culture, food & party, business & everyday life, people & landscape.