It’s easy to see how even seasoned travelers can find Manila a somewhat intimidating city to tackle. With a population exceeding 16 million and a greater metropolitan area comprised of 16 different cities, the Philippines’ capital can seem chaotic and complicated at first blush — and, really, it is, but a little digging and direction also yields some fun, fascinating sightseeing opportunities. Shape your visit around our Forbes Travel Guide editors’ picks for five of the best things to do and see in Manila:
1. City Tour. Whether private or with a group, organized tours with a local guide are the best and easiest way to hit the highlights of specific neighborhoods or of Manila at large. Your hotel concierge can make recommendations for and help book a tour guide, but the city’s most well-known (and entertaining) guide might be Carlos Celdran, who’s something of a local celebrity and offers excellent tours of Imelda and Intramuros in particular.
2. SM Mall of Asia. We know: You didn’t come halfway around the world to walk around a mall, but you’ve likely never seen one quite like this. The SM Mall of Asia is currently the fourth largest of its kind in the world and is essentially a small air-conditioned city. In addition to shopping and dining galore, you can also go bowling, take the kids to an indoor theme park, catch an IMAX or 3-D movie, see live music performances and, yes, even go ice-skating.
3. Intramuros. Whether you join a tour (recommended) or go it alone, make sure to visit Manila’s old walled city. Here you can explore the ruins of Fort Santiago, which today houses a wonderful memorial to national hero Jose Rizal, see a fantastic collection of religious art and relics at San Agustin Church and tour the imposing Manila Cathedral.
4. Rizal Park. Another destination ideal for families with kids, Rizal Park is home to the National Museum of the Philippines, Manila Planetarium, beautiful Japanese and Chinese gardens and the famous Rizal Monument. If you’re in Manila over the weekend, plan to visit the park during the early evening on Sunday, when live concert performances are held regularly.
5. Binondo. The oldest Chinatown district in the world, Binondo is a wonderful area for strolling colorful streets lined with Chinese shophouses, browsing massive markets and snacking on authentic Chinese cuisine at one of many excellent restaurants.