Endless streams of jeepneys and buses, skyscrapers growing in competition like trees in a jungle, quotidian mad dashes, and forced intimacy… this is Manila. A lively bursting metropolitan that neither stops nor sleeps.
To travelers, the Philippine capital can be overwhelming, at least at first. Yet it’s worth toughing it out to experience the unforgettable gastronomy, excellent shopping opportunities, and effervescing nightlife.
In Manila, you have access to modern comforts and luxuries while still staying firmly off the tourist trail. And traveling solo here is an incredible adventure of the affordable and no-brainer variety.
How to Get Around as a Solo Traveler in Manila
It’s well worth taking a jeepney to your next destination at least once if only to experience this uniquely Filipino way of getting around. However, know that traffic in Manila is one of the most congested in the world, and you’re better off shelling out a few more pesos for a more private mode of transportation.
Taxis in the city are expensive and notorious for overcharging passengers. Luckily, two ride-hailing apps are on hand for savvy travelers: Uber and its local competitor, Grab. These ride services will not only get you to your destination fast, they will also get you there safely and with little effort on your part. They’re a solo traveler’s best friends in Manila.
What to Do on Your Own in Manila
Carve out time to visit a few shopping malls and take a respite from the simmering heat. This is the Filipinos’ favorite pastime, so by ticking this off your list, you’ll be making like a local.
Some of the best malls include the world-famous SM Mall of Asia or MOA, home to one of the largest IMAX theaters in the world, an Olympic-size skating rink and a science center; SM Megamall, the fourth biggest mall in the entire world; and the partially open-air Greenbelt, which has both high-end and mid-range shops on hand.
Of course, you would be remiss to circumvent Intramuros, the city’s historic Spanish colonial core and one of the country’s best-preserved remnants from the Spanish occupation.
Whether visiting solo or alongside other travelers, you will marvel at its tangle of cobblestone streets and alleys, which are imbued with history. Stop at its oldest structures that include Fort Santiago, the Manila Cathedral, and San Agustin Church.
Later, meander over to nearby Rizal Park, and slip into a lazy rhythm along Manila Baywalk, which offers beautiful sunsets, street performances, roadside dining, and a sort of cathartic relief from the city’s constant hustle and bustle. Ride a kalesa (horse-drawn carriage) along the strip, and then pick a good spot to people-watch, stare at the passing boats and see the setting sun.
If you’ve got the time, blaze your own trails in the immense grounds of the University of Santo Tomas. It is, after all, Asia’s oldest university and one of the Philippines’ best higher learning institutions.
Finally, to really get to know the city, you must visit its best neighborhoods. Take in the hip spots of Bonifacio Global City, see a show (or maybe gamble) in Entertainment City and immerse in the upscale vibe of Eastwood Libis.
Where to Eat Solo in Manila
Though Filipino food is fast becoming the next big thing in gastronomy, nothing beats Filipino food in Manila. Head to Early Bird Breakfast Club, a charming BGC spot that serves delicious Filipino breakfast fare all day, for your morning refueling.
For lunch, let your shoulders drop a few centimeters at Contis Bakeshop and Restaurant, whose Mango Bravo cake (a frozen layer cake filled with cashew-meringue wafers, chocolate mousse, and mango) is the definition of heaven. And top off your day with a hearty dinner feast at Elias, which boasts its amazing traditional Filipino dishes.
See more of our favorite places to eat in Solo Food Tripping in Metro Manila
Practical Tips for Traveling Solo in Manila
- Have cash on hand at all times as many establishments—from shops to restaurants—are cash only.
- Many Filipinos understand and speak English, so don’t hesitate to ask for assistance.
- Slather on plenty of sunscreens as the sun can be overbearing, even on cloudy days.
- Keep your belongings secure, even in safer areas.
- Account for heavy traffic as Manila is one of the most congested cities in the world, and your commute might last as long as two hours.
Michelle Rae Uy is Los Angeles-based writer, editor, and photographer with a bad case of wanderlust. Her dream, next to traveling the world, is to own her own funky, boutique hotel with a small animal sanctuary so she can spend the rest of her days chilling with cats and hedgehogs. Follow her on Instagram.