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Cheap Manila Flights


Manila’s joie de vivre doesn’t radiate from crusty cultural heritage or iconic landmarks but from pulsating 24/7 energy reflecting Manileños’s love of fun, food and shopping.

First impressions of this mad megalopolis can be daunting. Snarling bumper-to-bumper traffic, ear-bashing street sounds and crumbling concrete edifices alongside shiny skyscraper suburbs. It leaves one wondering how Manila functions as a city?

But Metro Manila cannot be straightjacketed into a single entity. It’s actually a confederation of 17 different cities and municipalities. And like the Philippines’s hotchpotch national dessert halo-halo (shaved ice, sweet beans, fruit and leche flan), the sum of the parts should be enjoyed to appreciate the whole.

History buffs will sense the ghosts of Manila’s turbulent Spanish past within Intramuros’s 16th-century walls. Shoppers and bar-hoppers will adore trendy Makati’s air-con malls. Foodies will delight in Chinatown’s dim sum heaven.

Yet what really knits everything together is the Manileños who ensure this is Asia’s most gregarious capital. Their openness and love of conversation, alongside never-say-die endeavour, is something to behold and enjoy.

Manila is not the easiest place to spend days sightseeing as many of key attractions are spread across a city slow to navigate nor easy to explore on foot. Better to divide the city’s sights into blocks and spend a day of slow travel around them: such as a day in Chinatown and the Chinese Cemetery.

Moments of calm, however, do exist. Rizal Park’s refreshing green expanse remembers nationalist martyr, Jose Rizal, executed by the Spanish in 1896. Then there are glorious sunsets along the Bay of Manila when Manileños take to the waterfront boulevard to promenade.


Things to see in Manila

Tourist information: 

Philippines Department of Tourism (DOT)
Department of Tourism Building
TM Kalaw Street, Rizal Park
(Tourist information on Ground Floor Room 106)
Tel: (02) 523 8411.
Opening hours: Mon-Fri 0700-1800, Sat-Sun 0830-1730.

Ayala Museum

Ayala Museum is known for its dioramas (3D miniatures) depicting vital points in Philippine history. Ayala’s stock has recently risen with the 4th-floor instillation of several permanent and spectacular exhibitions. The most magnificent is Gold of Ancestors – a glittering assemblage of golden pre-colonial artefacts and treasures, particularly intricately engraved jewellery fashioned by indigenous island tribes. Elsewhere, Embroidered Multiples displays 18th to 19th-century Philippine costumes.

Opening Times: Tues-Fri 0900-1800, Sat-Sun 1000-1900.
Admission Fees: Yes
Disabled Access: Yes
Unesco: No
Address: Makati Avenue corner of De la Rosa Street, Greenbelt Park, Makati City, Manila, Philippines
Telephone: (02) 757 7117.

Located around Binondo District, Manila’s Chinatown is a mazy district packed with the city’s Tsinoy heritage and cuisine. The Spanish colonial Governor first donated Binondo’s land to a growing influx of Chinese migrants in 1594. Besides hundreds of crowded food stands and fresh wet markets, the blackened Santa Cruz Church dates back to 1608. Key streets include Ongpin and Escolta.

Admission Fees: No
Disabled Access: Yes
Unesco: No
Address: Chinatown, Manila, Philippines
Chinese Cemetery

Founded in the 1850s, Manila’s Chinese Cemetery was designated as the resting place for Chinese citizens denied burial in Catholic cemeteries. The cemetery has an array of ostentatious tombs including some outfitted with air conditioning, flushing toilets, chandeliers and modern conveniences for the well-off corpses. Guards will offer impromptu tours to the pick of the tombs for a small consideration. On All Saints Day (1 November), lavish feasts honouring the dead take place here.

Opening Times: Daily 0630-1900.
Admission Fees: No (charge for vehicle entry)
Disabled Access: Yes
Unesco: No
Address: South Gate, Aurora Avenue, Manila, Philippines
Fort Santiago

One of the oldest and most dramatic colonial buildings in the Philippines, Fort Santiago was built to guard the entrance to the Pasig River around 1571. Its most famous prisoner was the national hero, José Rizal, who spent his last days at this site before his execution by the Spanish in 1896. Perhaps the height of architectural grandeur is the 1589 gate decorated by motifs of St James, the Slayer of Moors. The Japanese used Fort Santiago as their final redoubt against American forces and the fort was correspondingly damaged.

Opening Times: Daily 0800-1800.
Admission Fees: Yes
Disabled Access: Yes
Unesco: No
Address: General Luna Street, Intramuros, Manila, Philippines
Telephone: (02) 527 1572.

Lovely old walled colonial quarter founded in 1571 by the Spanish on the Pasig River’s southern bank. It survived 400 years before being devastated by the battle for Manila between the Japanese and Americans in 1945, in which over 100,000 locals died. Faithfully restored after the war, it possesses atmospheric streets of plazas, churches and monasteries. Tours by kalesa (horse-drawn carriages) are easy to arrange.

Admission Fees: No
Disabled Access: Yes
Unesco: No
Address: Intramuros, Manila, Philippines
Telephone: (02) 527 4084.
National Museum of the Philippines & National Museum of the Filipino People

In close proximity, these two monolithic museums can comfortably be seen together. The National Museum of the Philippines feels a little empty given its size but it hosts important artistic works by Filipino masters such as 19th-century painter Juan Luna. Meanwhile, the star turn of the National Museum of the Filipino People’s historical and anthropological exhibits is the preserved wreckage and treasures of the San Diego, a Spanish galleon sunk in Philippine waters in 1600.

Opening Times: Wed-Sun 1000-1630.
Admission Fees: Yes for the National Museum of the Filipino People; No for the National Museum of the Philippines
Disabled Access: Yes
Unesco: No
Address: Padre Burgos Street, Manila, Philippines
Telephone: (02) 527 0278.

This superb aquarium is the must-see attraction of the new Manila Ocean Park’s mall. Visitors are taken on a journey through a range of fishy habitats from freshwater tanks to oceanic exhibits featuring rays, sharks and iridescent reef fish. Don’t miss the 25m (82ft) underwater tunnel or the illuminated exhibition of ‘dancing’ jellyfish.

Opening Times: Mon-Fri 1000-2030, Sat-Sun 0900-2030.
Admission Fees: Yes
Disabled Access: Yes
Unesco: No
Address: Manila Ocean Park, Quirino Grandstand Luneta, Manila, Philippines
Telephone: (02) 567 7777.
Rizal Park

Known locally as ‘Luneta’, this 58-hectare (143-acre) park remains downtown Manila’s green lungs. The park is named after José Rizal who is remembered by an imposing obelisk-style memorial. The park hosts several themed gardens, a planetarium and an orchidarium (with a butterfly pavilion). Above all, Rizal Park is somewhere to picnic, people-watch, practice tai chi, or jog. The open-air auditorium hosts occasional free public concerts.

Admission Fees: No
Disabled Access: Yes
Unesco: No
Address: Between Bonifacio Drive and Taft Avenue, Manila, Philippines
San Agustin Church and Museum

Stunning baroque church dating from 1587 making this one of the oldest in the Philippines. It miraculously survived the wartime devastation and is now the standout highlight of Intramuros in Manila. Trompe l’oeil murals decorate its interior and a small museum in an attached monastery contains some exquisite ecclesiastical artefacts such as altarpieces and screens. Don’t miss Father Blanco’s garden.

Opening Times: Daily 0800-1200/1300-1800 (museum).
Admission Fees: Yes
Disabled Access: Yes
Unesco: Yes
Address: General Luna Street, Manila, Philippines
Telephone: (02) 527 4061.
SM Mall of Asia

You don’t have to be a shopaholic to be wowed by this mega-mall, which embodies the rise of indoors retail therapy in the Philippines. SM Mall of Asia is the country’s largest, and leaves visitors wide-eyed by its immensity and pizzazz. Besides myriad retail and food outlets, it boasts the largest IMAX screen in Asia, an Olympian ice-skating rink, 10-pin bowling and even a science museum. A sunny terrace overlooks the Bay of Manila.

Opening Times: Daily 1000-2200.
Admission Fees: No
Disabled Access: Yes
Unesco: No
Address: SM Central Business Park, Island A, Bay City, Pasay City, Manila, Philippines
Telephone: (02) 556 0680.