Manila in the Philippines is a sprawling city. It’s so separate and distinctive from one area to the next. And, just spending 24 hours in Manila is enough to still experience the diversity that the city holds.

The traffic is utterly crazy. Cars pull out in front of each other constantly and traffic lights are a suggestion. In this game of friendly on road co-operation – I didn’t see one accident – it can take 45 minutes to get from an adjacent suburb to the next.

No wonder there are hawkers weaving in and out of cars selling everything from bottled water to fishing rods.

Makati Skyline at night. Makati is a city in the Philippines` Metro Manila region and the country`s financial hub. It`s known for the skyscrapers and shopping malls.

How to spend 24 hours in Manila

If you only had 24 hours in Manila, I recommend doing the following three things:

1. Eat a buffet dinner

Filipinos love to “eat and talk” at the same time. Buffets let you socialise and, of course, eat as much as you want. At the Lola Maria Restaurant the buffet featured traditional Filipino foods like chicken adobo, deep-fried seaweed, barbecued seafood, smoked tuna belly and DIY halo-halo for dessert. I was intrigued by the seaweed with little “grapes” which were salty and burst in your mouth as you crunched through the leaves.

2. Shop in at least one mega mall

Pace yourself in Manila, shopaholics. There are a lot of shopping centres in Manila like Greenbelt, Rockwell and the infamous Mall of Asia – the biggest mall in the southern hemisphere. If you’re pressed for time and on a tight budget, I’d head over to the department store Landmark for its crazily cheap prices. I picked up a bikini for $15, a headband for $2 and socks for 50c AUD.

Metro Manila is known to host three out of the 10 biggest shopping malls in the world.

Shopping malls may not be an ideal destination for any travellers to the Philippines, but it doesn’t mean that you have to miss it. Aside from shopping of course, here are 5 things that you can do to make your trip to the Philippine mall more interesting.

Go on a gastronomic trip

Philippine shopping malls hosts a number of restaurants – with lots of food variants. You can sample Filipino, Brazilian, Chinese, Japanese, British, Spanish, Ethiopian, Jamaican, Thai, Indonesian, French food  (the list goes on…) from one shopping mall alone. Prices are quite cheap with food choice starting at 100 PHP (1,5€).  

Insider travel tip: If you want to sample some cheaper Filipino snacks, head down to the supermarket  and sample some cheap food that can go as low as 15PHP (0,25€). These stalls can be found usually on SM shopping malls.

Enjoy some local music

Head down to a mall’s activity centre or food court and there’s a good chance that you’ll catch a performance from a local (or sometimes foreign) music band. Watching the performances are free of charge.

Insider travel tip: Performances are usually done in the late afternoon from 4-6PM

Watch the famous Manila sunset

Head down to SM Mall of Asia (the largest mall in the Philippines spanning 4.2 million square feet) and get a table with the view of the coast. On a clear day, it’s one of the best place to catch the sunset and enjoy a good dinner as well.

Do your souvenir shopping

The malls’ department stores & some specialty shops offer great choices for souvenirs – from wardrobes, postcards, shirts, food & liquor. I admit the price can be a bit higher than a local seller but lower than airport sellers, but if you are ever on a rush – the malls are the most reliable place to get them (Malls open usually from 10h00 – 22h00 – Monday to Sundays).

People watching

I admit this is my favourite activity from the list. Going to malls is one of the favourite past-times of Filipinos (instead of going to parks for example). So, malls are a good place to people-watch as you can see facets of people’s everyday activities. Be mindful though that the malls gets very crowded in the afternoon to the night – especially during Fridays, the weekend, and on the 15th or 30th of the month. So if you want a more tranquil people watching, avoid these periods and go in the morning

24 Hours in Manila, Philippines - SM Mall of Asia
SM Mall of Asia –

3. Have a night out at The Fort

If your 24 hours in Manila falls over a Saturday night…you’re in a for fun party night!

A Saturday night must start, though not necessarily end, at the Fort in Bonifacio. A hub of nightlife, the area is buzzing with busy restaurants, bars and nightclubs.

Pier One is a themed bar set on the high seas. Wait staff are dressed in sailor outfits, signal them with an ahoy there if you dare and order cocktails. Bar foods like sisig (of the non-mystery meat variety) are a great accompaniment if on the off chance you’re still hungry after a buffet dinner!

Once you’re ready to hit the dance floor head to Encore. Chandeliers hang down over the stairwell as you strut upstairs into the main third floor party area. The DJ pumps out a heady mix of old school RnB and new hits whilst the dancefloor is shoulder-to-shoulder with the trendy 20-something set.

When you’re all danced out, jump into a cab back to your hotel. If the song playing on the radio is “It’s Time To Go Home Now” you know you’ve had a great night.

After spending your 24 hours in Manila, here’s what else to do during your time in the Philippines: