Manila’s Cultural Contrasts: Where to Eat, Pray and Stay

Manila, known as the “Pearl of the Orient,” is a growing metropolis. Because of its difficult colonial past, it offers a clash of different cultures, all in one city. Looking at Spanish colonial architecture overlapping with the modern skyscrapers rising above the cathedrals, can only leave you in awe. It’s sometimes represented as a gloomy, concrete jungle. But if you give it time, exploring Manila’s cultural contrasts can be a spiritual experience.

What to eat

Manila’s cultural contrasts are most obvious in its extremely diverse cuisine. Because of the various influences different cultures had on the Philippines, you can choose a different cuisine every day. The restaurant scene in Manila is very much alive and has a lot to offer. So let’s dig in.

If you’re in the mood for Spanish cuisine, then you’re in luck. With the strong Spanish influence, there are many places to get an amazing paella or jamón ibérico. One of the best is Terry’s Selection, where you can eat the best squid ink paella ever!

A dish of paella; Manila's cultural contrasts
Dish of Paella with Rice, Seafood and Chilli

You can get a Spanish-tasting meal even if you try some of the traditional Filipino dishes. For a truly Filipino dish, you should definitely try the famous seafood kare kare at the Kanin club. It’s is one of the hottest places to try modern Filipino cuisine.

Other cuisines you can try in Manila are the Chinese and Japanese. There are numerous places you can get dim sum or a tasty ramen soup. One of the most interesting meals you can try is the arroz caldo, a meal influenced by both Chinese and Spanish cuisines.

Where to pray

Did you know the Philippines is the only predominantly Christian nation in Asia? This is another way Manila’s cultural contrasts really stand out. If you didn’t already know about this, you would figure it out once you arrive there. Manila is filled with beautiful Roman Catholic churches, mainly originating from the 1600s.

Although the Philippines is officially a secular state, around 86% of the population profess Catholicism. The tradition of Christianity is strong among the Filipino people. One of the traditions they most cherish is the Visita Iglesia. For the Visita, you visit seven churches on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. 

As we have mentioned, there are a lot of churches to choose from. The oldest, San Agustin Church, was finished in 1607 and has survived World War II and many earthquakes. The Basilica of the Black Nazarene is believed to be miraculous. Be prepared for a long walk when visiting either. You can also choose the Bisikleta Iglesia tour, where you can visit numerous churches on your bike.  The experience will be spiritual, even if you’re not religious. 

Church in Manila; Manila's cultural contrasts
Manila Cathedral

Places to stay

Deciding among the places to stay in Manila is tricky; it really depends on what kind of Manila you wish to experience. For example, if you are a first-time visitor in Manila, Makati area should probably be your first choice. Among travelers, it is considered the safest area to experience Manila’s cultural contrasts. It’s where all the shops and restaurants are.

Apart from that, it offers different types of accommodation suitable for different budgets. If you’re on a tight budget, luckily for you, there are lots of hostels to choose from. This doesn’t mean you can’t have a luxurious experience. There are budget hostels, like Hostel Z, that offer a luxurious experience without draining your budget.

If you’re more into luxury travel and your budget allows it, there are numerous hotels to choose from. New World Makati Hotel offers amazing location, sauna, and spa, and it’s only 30 minutes from the airport.

People on walkway by water with hotels in background; Manila's cultural contrasts
Baywalk overlooking Manila Bay

If you wish to experience a more authentic Manila, Malate might be the area you are searching for. This is where the best of Manila’s nightlife happens. It offers a range of accommodation options, from the luxury Armada Hotel Manila to the reasonably priced Stay Malate Hostel.

Feeling the European vibe in the midst of Southeast Asia is a unique experience that shouldn’t be missed. Exploring all the different buildings, corners, cuisines, and cultures can be a lot to take in. But choose to explore Manila’s cultural contrasts, and you definitely won’t regret it.

About Hannah Belger


Food junkie. Professional writer. Web lover. Travel blogger!

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