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What To Know Before You Go To Manila


Modified: December 28, 2023

by Lani Jaffe



Welcome to Manila, the vibrant capital city of the Philippines! Situated on the eastern shore of Manila Bay, this bustling metropolis offers a fascinating blend of rich history, cultural diversity, and modern development. Whether you’re a first-time traveler or a seasoned explorer, Manila has something to offer for everyone.


Manila is a city of contrasts, where towering skyscrapers stand side by side with centuries-old Spanish colonial architecture. Its lively streets are filled with a melting pot of cultures, reflecting the country’s diverse heritage. From historic landmarks to sprawling shopping malls and vibrant markets, there is always something exciting to explore in this dynamic city.


As you plan your trip to Manila, it’s important to be armed with some essential information to make your visit as smooth and enjoyable as possible. In this article, we will provide you with the travel tips and insights you need to know before you go. From transportation options to local cuisine, we’ve got you covered.


So, let’s dive into this enchanting city and discover what Manila has to offer!


Getting to Manila

Manila is served by Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA), the country’s primary airport, which is located about 7 kilometers south of the city center. As a major transportation hub in Southeast Asia, Manila has excellent connectivity with numerous international and domestic flights.


To reach Manila by air, you can book a direct flight from major cities around the world. International airlines such as Philippine Airlines, Cebu Pacific, and AirAsia operate regular flights to Manila from destinations in Asia, North America, Europe, and Australia.


If you are already in the Philippines, you can also reach Manila by domestic flights. There are several airlines that provide regular connections from popular tourist destinations such as Cebu, Boracay, and Palawan to Manila.


Alternatively, if you prefer to travel overland, you can reach Manila by bus or car from other parts of Luzon, the main island of the Philippines. There are bus terminals in major cities and towns that offer routes to Manila. Just be prepared for traffic congestion, especially during peak hours.


Once you arrive at NAIA, you have various options to reach the city center. The most convenient and hassle-free option is to take a taxi or rideshare service from the designated airport taxi stands. Official metered taxis are available, and it is advisable to choose those with a reputable company name.


If you are on a budget, another option is to take the airport shuttle bus or the public utility jeepneys (local buses) that serve routes to different parts of the city. These options may take longer due to multiple stops, but they offer a more affordable way to reach your destination.


Overall, getting to Manila is relatively easy with its well-connected airport and transportation options. Just plan your journey ahead and choose the option that suits your preferences and budget.


Weather and Best Time to Visit

Manila experiences a tropical monsoon climate, which means it has two distinct seasons: the dry season and the wet season. The dry season typically runs from November to April, while the wet season lasts from May to October.


The best time to visit Manila is during the dry season, specifically from December to February, when the weather is generally pleasant and rainfall is minimal. The temperatures during this time range from around 24°C (75°F) to 31°C (88°F), making it perfect for exploring the city’s attractions and enjoying outdoor activities.


However, it’s worth noting that the months of December and January are also peak tourist season in Manila due to the holiday season. This means that popular tourist spots may be crowded, and accommodation prices may be higher than usual. If you prefer a quieter and more budget-friendly experience, consider visiting Manila in the shoulder months of November or February.


On the other hand, if you don’t mind occasional rain showers and prefer a less crowded visit, the wet season can still be a good time to explore Manila. The temperatures during this time range from around 25°C (77°F) to 33°C (91°F), and you can take advantage of lower hotel rates and fewer tourists.


It’s important to keep in mind that Manila is prone to typhoons, especially during the wet season. Therefore, it is advisable to stay updated on weather forecasts and take necessary precautions in case of severe weather conditions.


Overall, the best time to visit Manila is during the dry season, from December to February, when the weather is most favorable. However, if you’re a budget traveler or don’t mind occasional rain showers, visiting during the shoulder months of November or February can also provide a rewarding experience. Just remember to plan accordingly and stay informed about any potential weather hazards.


Currency and Money Exchange

The official currency of the Philippines is the Philippine Peso (PHP). It is the only currency accepted in most establishments throughout Manila. It is advisable to carry some cash in local currency for small purchases, as not all places accept credit cards, especially in more local and traditional areas.


To exchange your currency to Philippine Pesos, you can do so at banks, money exchange counters, or authorized money changers. These can be found in major shopping malls, tourist areas, and at the airport. It is recommended to compare rates and fees before making the exchange to ensure you get the best deal.


Major credit cards such as Visa, MasterCard, and American Express are widely accepted in hotels, upscale restaurants, and shopping centers in Manila. However, it’s always a good idea to have some cash on hand for smaller establishments, street vendors, and transportation options that may not accept credit cards.


ATMs are abundant in Manila, and most of them accept international debit and credit cards. This is a convenient way to withdraw cash in local currency. Just be aware that some ATMs may charge fees for international transactions, so it’s advisable to check with your bank regarding any fees or limits before traveling.


It’s also worth mentioning that US dollars are widely accepted in some tourist areas, especially for high-value purchases and in luxury establishments. However, it is still recommended to have Philippine Pesos for day-to-day expenses and smaller transactions.


When it comes to tipping, it is not mandatory in Manila but is appreciated for good service. It is common to leave around 10% of the total bill as a tip in restaurants. Tipping taxi drivers is not expected, but rounding up to the nearest whole amount is a common practice.


Overall, it’s important to have a combination of cash and credit cards when visiting Manila. Carry enough local currency for daily expenses and utilize your credit card for larger transactions. Remember to plan ahead and consider currency exchange options and any associated fees to make the most of your money during your stay in Manila.



The official language of the Philippines is Filipino, which is based on the Tagalog language. English is also widely spoken and understood, especially in urban areas such as Manila. This makes communication relatively easy for English-speaking travelers.


In Manila, you will find that most signs, menus, and public announcements are in both English and Filipino. The proficiency in English among the locals is high, particularly in tourist-oriented establishments such as hotels, restaurants, and shops.


However, it can still be helpful to learn a few basic Filipino phrases to navigate your way around and interact with the locals. Simple greetings like “Magandang araw!” (Good day!) or “Salamat” (Thank you) can go a long way in breaking the ice and showing respect for the local culture.


If you encounter any language barriers or have difficulty communicating, don’t hesitate to use gestures, pointing, or even using translation apps on your smartphone to facilitate understanding.


It’s also important to note that the Philippines is a diverse country with numerous regional languages and dialects. While English and Filipino are widely understood, you may come across locals who primarily speak their local language or dialect. Embrace the linguistic diversity and take the opportunity to learn and appreciate different language nuances.


Overall, language should not be a major barrier when visiting Manila. English is widely spoken, and most locals are accustomed to interacting with foreign visitors. However, learning a few basic Filipino phrases can enhance your experience and show respect for the local culture.


Safety and Health

Manila, like any other major city, has its own safety considerations. While it is generally a safe destination for travelers, it is important to exercise caution and be mindful of your surroundings. Here are some tips to ensure a safe and healthy trip to Manila:


1. Stay aware of your belongings: As in any crowded city, be mindful of your personal belongings and keep them secure at all times. It is advisable to use a money belt or a secure bag to protect your valuables, especially in crowded areas and public transportation.


2. Use reliable transportation: When using public transportation, opt for reputable taxi companies or ride-sharing services like Grab. Avoid hailing taxis from the street, and if possible, have the driver use the meter or agree upon a fare before the journey to avoid any potential scams.


3. Be cautious of scams: Be wary of strangers offering unsolicited help, as they may have ulterior motives. Avoid accepting food or drinks from strangers, and be cautious of scams involving overcharging or fake products.


4. Stay updated on health advisories: Before traveling to Manila, it is advisable to check for any health advisories or vaccinations recommended by your home country. Carry a small medical kit with basic medications such as painkillers, anti-diarrheal medication, and any necessary prescription medications.


5. Practice good hygiene: Maintain good hygiene practices during your stay in Manila. Wash your hands regularly, carry hand sanitizer, and drink bottled or purified water to prevent any potential stomach issues.


6. Be mindful of street food: Manila is renowned for its delicious street food scene, but exercise caution when indulging. Choose food stalls that have a high turnover, ensuring the food is freshly prepared and cooked thoroughly to minimize the risk of foodborne illnesses.


7. Stay informed about local laws and customs: Familiarize yourself with local laws and customs to ensure you have a respectful and smooth experience in Manila. For example, it is illegal to smoke in public places, and certain cultural sites and places of worship may have specific dress codes.


Remember, taking common-sense precautions and being aware of your surroundings will go a long way in ensuring a safe and enjoyable trip to Manila. By staying informed and exercising caution, you can fully immerse yourself in the vibrant atmosphere of the city without any major concerns.


Transportation in Manila

Getting around Manila can be an adventure in itself, with several transportation options available to explore the city. Here are some of the common modes of transportation in Manila:


1. Jeepneys: These colorful and iconic Filipino vehicles are a popular means of transportation in Manila. Jeepneys follow specific routes, and you can hop on and off at designated stops along the way. They can be crowded, but they are a fun and affordable way to travel short distances within the city.


2. Taxis: Metered taxis are widely available in Manila. Look for taxis with functional meters, or negotiate and agree upon a fare before starting your journey. It is advisable to choose reputable taxi companies or use ride-hailing services like Grab for convenience and safety.


3. Light Rail Transit (LRT) and Metro Rail Transit (MRT): The LRT and MRT systems in Manila offer a convenient way to navigate the city quickly. These elevated trains connect various parts of Manila, making it easier to reach important landmarks and attractions. Be prepared for crowds during peak hours and have exact change or a stored value card for fare payment.


4. Buses: Manila has a comprehensive bus network that covers different parts of the city. These buses can get crowded and have varying levels of comfort. They are a budget-friendly option, but be prepared for heavy traffic during peak hours.


5. Tricycles: Commonly found in residential areas and smaller roads, tricycles are a popular mode of transportation for short distances. These are motorcycles with sidecars attached, accommodating one or two passengers. Prices are usually negotiated with the driver.


6. Ride-hailing services: Services like Grab, Uber, and local ride-hailing apps are widely used in Manila. They provide a convenient and reliable way to book private cars or taxis for transportation. Just ensure you have a working internet connection to use these services.


When traveling around Manila, it’s important to consider the traffic conditions. Manila can experience heavy traffic congestion, particularly during peak hours. Allow extra time for your journeys, especially when traveling to the airport or important appointments.


Overall, the transportation options in Manila offer a variety of choices to suit different preferences and budgets. Familiarize yourself with the different modes of transportation, plan your routes accordingly, and be prepared for the occasional traffic jam.


Accommodation Options

Manila offers a wide range of accommodation options to suit every budget and preference. From luxurious hotels to budget-friendly hostels, there are plenty of choices for travelers. Here are some popular accommodation options in Manila:


1. Hotels: Manila has a plethora of hotels, ranging from international chains to boutique hotels. These hotels offer a variety of amenities, including swimming pools, fitness centers, and restaurants. They are a great option for those seeking comfort, convenience, and full-service facilities.


2. Serviced Apartments: If you prefer a more home-like experience, serviced apartments are an excellent choice. These apartments come fully furnished with kitchen facilities and additional living space. They are perfect for families or travelers on longer stays who appreciate the flexibility and convenience of having their own space.


3. Budget Accommodations: For budget-conscious travelers, there are numerous budget hotels and hostels in Manila. These accommodations offer basic amenities and are a great option for those looking for affordable lodging options. Hostels are also a popular choice for solo travelers or backpackers who are looking to meet fellow travelers.


4. Bed and Breakfasts: Manila has a selection of charming bed and breakfast establishments. These are usually smaller, family-run accommodations that offer personalized service and a cozy atmosphere. They often serve home-cooked breakfast and provide a more intimate experience for guests.


5. Vacation Rentals: With the rise of platforms like Airbnb, vacation rentals have become increasingly popular in Manila. These rentals range from private rooms in shared homes to entire apartments or houses. They can be a great option for those seeking a more immersive and local experience during their stay.


When choosing your accommodation, it’s important to consider factors such as location, proximity to attractions, safety, and reviews from previous guests. Manila is a sprawling city, so selecting a central location or a neighborhood close to your intended activities can save you time and transportation costs.


Lastly, it’s advisable to book your accommodation in advance, especially during peak tourist seasons. This ensures you have a wider selection of options and better rates.


Overall, Manila offers a diverse range of accommodation options to suit every traveler’s needs. Whether you’re looking for luxury, affordability, or a home-away-from-home experience, you are sure to find the perfect place to stay in this vibrant city.


Must-visit Attractions in Manila

Manila is a city filled with fascinating attractions that showcase its rich history, vibrant culture, and modern developments. Here are some must-visit attractions in Manila:


1. Intramuros: Step back in time and explore the historic walled city of Intramuros. Visit Fort Santiago, walk along the cobblestone streets, and admire the Spanish colonial architecture. Don’t miss the beautiful San Agustin Church, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.


2. Rizal Park: Located in the heart of Manila, Rizal Park is a vast urban park dedicated to national hero Dr. José Rizal. Stroll through its gardens, visit the Rizal Monument, and learn about the country’s history at the National Museum of Anthropology.


3. Manila Ocean Park: Perfect for families and animal lovers, Manila Ocean Park offers an immersive experience with various marine life. Explore the underwater tunnel, watch entertaining shows, and even experience swimming with the marine creatures.


4. National Museum of the Philippines: Immerse yourself in Filipino art, history, and culture at the National Museum. View a wide range of exhibits, including important artworks, archaeological finds, and historical artifacts that highlight the country’s heritage.


5. Binondo: Discover the vibrant Chinatown district of Manila in Binondo. Explore the bustling streets, indulge in authentic Chinese cuisine, and visit historical landmarks like Binondo Church and the famous Ongpin Street.


6. Manila Baywalk: Enjoy a leisurely stroll along the Manila Baywalk and soak in the beautiful sunset views. This waterfront promenade is lined with restaurants, cafes, and entertainment options, making it a popular spot for locals and tourists alike.


7. Cultural Center of the Philippines: If you’re interested in the arts, a visit to the Cultural Center of the Philippines is a must. It showcases Filipino talent through various performances, exhibits, and cultural events.


8. Bonifacio Global City (BGC): Experience the modern side of Manila in Bonifacio Global City. This bustling district is known for its skyscrapers, shopping malls, trendy restaurants, and vibrant nightlife.


9. Ayala Museum: Get a deeper understanding of Filipino culture and history at the Ayala Museum. It features interactive exhibits that showcase art, archaeology, and ethnography, providing a comprehensive glimpse into the country’s diverse heritage.


10. Shopping at Greenbelt and SM Mall of Asia: Manila is a shopper’s paradise, and two popular destinations are Greenbelt in Makati and SM Mall of Asia in Pasay. These massive shopping complexes offer a wide range of local and international brands, as well as entertainment options.


These are just a few of the many attractions that Manila has to offer. Whether you’re interested in history, art, nature, or shopping, you’ll find something to captivate your interest in this vibrant city.


Local Cuisine and Dining Options

Manila is a haven for food lovers, offering a diverse culinary scene that showcases both local Filipino dishes and international flavors. Here are some must-try local cuisine and dining options in Manila:


1. Adobo: Considered the national dish of the Philippines, Adobo is a savory and tangy stew made with meat (usually chicken or pork), soy sauce, vinegar, garlic, and spices. It is a delicious and iconic Filipino dish that you must try during your visit to Manila.


2. Halo-Halo: Beat the heat with a refreshing dessert called Halo-Halo. This colorful concoction consists of mixed fruits, sweet beans, jellies, shaved ice, and topped with evaporated milk and leche flan. It’s the perfect treat to cool off on a hot day.


3. Sisig: Sisig is a popular and flavorful Filipino dish made from chopped pig’s head and liver, seasoned with soy sauce, calamansi, and chili peppers. It is often served sizzling hot and accompanied by rice. Sisig is a must-try for those who enjoy bold and savory flavors.


4. Lechon: A Filipino fiesta staple, Lechon is a whole roasted pig that is crispy on the outside and succulent on the inside. The meat is seasoned with herbs and spices, and the skin becomes irresistibly crunchy. It is often served at special occasions and is a must-try when in Manila.


5. Street Food: Manila is famous for its vibrant street food scene. From skewered meat (isaw) and grilled fish (inihaw na isda) to local snacks like fish balls and kwek-kwek (fried quail eggs), you will find an array of street food options that offer a glimpse into Manila’s culinary culture.


6. Seafood: Being surrounded by water, Manila offers an abundance of fresh seafood. From grilled squid and shrimp to flavorful fish dishes, seafood lovers will delight in the variety and freshness of options available.


7. Fine Dining Restaurants: Manila boasts a flourishing gourmet scene, with numerous upscale restaurants offering a wide range of international cuisines. From Michelin-starred establishments to celebrity chef-owned restaurants, you can embark on a culinary journey and indulge in exquisite dining experiences.


8. Food Markets and Food Halls: Manila has a thriving food market and food hall culture, where you can sample a variety of local and international cuisines in a vibrant and casual setting. Mercato Centrale, Salcedo Saturday Market, and The Grid Food Market are some popular options to explore.


9. Filipino Pastries and Sweets: Don’t forget to satisfy your sweet tooth with Filipino pastries and sweets. Try the fluffy and colorful puto bumbong, the coconut-filled bibingka, or the creamy and caramelized leche flan.


10. Fusion and International Cuisine: Manila is also home to a diverse range of international restaurants offering cuisines from around the world. From Japanese sushi bars to Korean barbecue joints and Italian trattorias, you can embark on a global culinary adventure without leaving the city.


When dining in Manila, don’t hesitate to explore the local food scene and try something new. Whether it’s street food or fine dining, you’ll find a wide range of delicious options that will satisfy your taste buds during your visit to the city.


Shopping in Manila

Manila is a shopper’s paradise, offering a wide array of shopping options for every budget and taste. From luxury brands to local handicrafts, here are some must-visit shopping destinations in Manila:


1. SM Mall of Asia: Boasting the title of one of the largest shopping malls in Asia, SM Mall of Asia offers a vast selection of local and international retail brands. With its diverse range of shops, restaurants, and entertainment options, it’s a one-stop destination for all your shopping needs.


2. Greenbelt: Located in the upscale district of Makati, Greenbelt presents a luxurious shopping experience. This beautifully landscaped mall offers high-end fashion brands, designer boutiques, as well as a mix of local and international dining options.


3. Divisoria: For bargain hunters and those seeking great deals, Divisoria is the go-to shopping destination. This bustling market district is known for its wholesale merchandise, including clothing, accessories, home goods, and more. Be prepared for a lively atmosphere, haggling, and crowded streets.


4. Bonifacio High Street: Situated in Bonifacio Global City, Bonifacio High Street offers a trendy and modern shopping experience. With a mix of fashion boutiques, specialty stores, and hip restaurants, it’s a popular spot for locals and expats alike.


5. Market! Market!: Located in Taguig, Market! Market! is a lively and colorful shopping complex that features a traditional “tiangge” (outdoor market) as well as retail stores. Here, you can find a wide variety of products, including fashion items, accessories, local handicrafts, and more.


6. Tiendesitas: Offering a taste of Filipino culture, Tiendesitas showcases local products and crafts from different regions of the country. It’s a great place to shop for unique souvenirs, handicrafts, home decor, and local delicacies.


7. Ayala Malls: Manila is dotted with various Ayala Malls, known for their upscale shopping experience and premium brands. Ayala Malls are known for their elegant design, spacious layouts, and a mix of international and local stores.


8. Street Markets and Night Markets: Manila is also famous for its street markets and night markets, where you can find a wide variety of products at affordable prices. Roxas Boulevard and Quiapo Market are popular options for street shopping and experiencing the local market scene.


9. Luxury Brands in Makati: Makati is home to high-end shopping destinations like Glorietta, Power Plant Mall, and The Peninsula Manila’s shopping arcade, which feature luxury brands and upscale boutiques.


10. Artisanal Markets and Crafts Fairs: Keep an eye out for artisanal markets and crafts fairs held in various locations around Manila. These events feature local artisans, designers, and craftsmen showcasing their unique creations, including handmade jewelry, clothing, home decor, and more.


As you shop in Manila, don’t forget to haggle in markets and be aware of your surroundings. Keep an eye on your belongings, especially in crowded areas. Have fun exploring the vibrant shopping scene and take home some memorable finds from your Manila visit!


Etiquette and Cultural Tips

When visiting Manila, it’s important to be mindful of local customs and etiquette to ensure a respectful and enjoyable experience. Here are some cultural tips to keep in mind:


1. Respect for Elders: Filipino culture places a great emphasis on respect for elders. Show proper respect by using “po” or “opo” when speaking to older individuals and addressing them with their titles like “Kuya” (brother) or “Ate” (sister) followed by their first name.


2. Modesty in Dressing: While Manila is a modern and cosmopolitan city, it is still advisable to dress modestly, especially when visiting religious sites. Avoid wearing revealing clothing in public areas to show respect for the local culture and customs.


3. Punctuality: Filipinos appreciate punctuality, so it is polite to arrive on time for appointments, meetings, or scheduled activities. Being late without prior notice is considered disrespectful, so make sure to plan your time accordingly.


4. Public Displays of Affection: While holding hands or light affectionate gestures are generally accepted in public, overt displays of affection may be frowned upon in more conservative areas. It’s best to be mindful of your behavior and observe the locals’ conduct.


5. Removing Shoes: When entering someone’s home, it is customary to remove your shoes as a sign of respect. Look for cues such as a line of shoes near the entrance or simply ask if it’s necessary to take them off before entering.


6. Dining Etiquette: Filipino meals are often communal, with dishes placed in the center of the table for sharing. It is polite to wait for the host or oldest person to start eating before you begin. Always use utensils when dining, and refrain from putting elbows or forearms on the table.


7. Language and Gestures: English is widely spoken in Manila, but learning a few basic Filipino phrases goes a long way in making a positive impression. Avoid using hand gestures that may be offensive or disrespectful in the local culture.


8. Respect for Religious Practices: The Philippines is predominantly Catholic, and there are various religious practices and customs observed. When visiting churches or religious sites, dress modestly and observe silence and respect for those who are praying.


9. Tipping: Tipping is appreciated for good service, especially in restaurants. A typical practice is to leave around 10% of the total bill as a tip. However, check your bill first, as some establishments may already include a service charge. Tipping taxi drivers is not expected but rounding up the fare is a common practice.


10. Smiling and Politeness: Filipinos are known for their warm and friendly nature. A simple smile and polite demeanor go a long way in interacting with locals and creating a positive connection.


By following these cultural tips and showing respect for local customs, you can create meaningful interactions and foster a positive experience during your stay in Manila.



Manila, the vibrant capital city of the Philippines, offers a captivating fusion of rich history, diverse cultures, and modern developments. From exploring historic landmarks in Intramuros to indulging in delicious local cuisine, Manila has something to offer for every traveler.


In this guide, we covered important aspects to consider before visiting Manila. We discussed transportation options for getting around the city, the best time to visit based on the weather, currency exchange tips, and essential information about safety and health. We also highlighted popular attractions that should be on every visitor’s itinerary, as well as the diverse culinary scene and shopping options.


Understanding the local customs and etiquette is crucial to ensure a respectful and enjoyable experience. Showing respect for elders, dressing modestly, and being punctual are just a few cultural tips that can enhance your interactions with the locals and leave a positive impression.


As you plan your trip to Manila, remember to do some research, take necessary precautions, and immerse yourself in the vibrant culture of the city. Explore the historical sites, savor the flavors of Filipino cuisine, and embrace the warmth and hospitality of the locals.


Whether you’re a history buff, a food lover, or an adventure seeker, Manila has something to offer everyone. So pack your bags, be open to new experiences, and get ready to create unforgettable memories in this captivating city!