4 design-led hotels redefining the Filipino capital

This article was produced by National Geographic Traveler (UK).

Gateway to the islands of the Philippines, Manila ranks as one of the most densely populated cities on the planet. The Filipino capital supports 2 million inhabitants in a bayside location on the island of Luzon, framed by the glitzy skyscrapers and malls that have become a defining feature of the city. But there’s far more to it than that. Often touted as one of Asia’s most underrated megacities, it’s also a haven for coffee shops and dive bars, galleries and food stalls. And the legacy of Spanish colonial rule from the 16th to 19th centuries means the urban landscape has a unique mix of shrines, church spires and fortifications to explore. There’s no shortage of hotels in Manila, but the accommodation scene has received a shot in the arm in recent years, with a keener eye on design — here are four of the best.

Manila’s hotels are throwing off the architectural shackles of their Spanish colonists, replacing the florid with the fashionable — and the Filipino. Chief among them is the revamped Admiral Hotel, which reopened in July 2022 as the first MGallery property in the country and pays homage to the local culture and customs.

This can be seen in the atrium, dominated by a ceiling fresco of shadowthe Filipino practice of bringing the community together to move a house from one plot to another, and folk dances such as the tinikling. Here, you’ll also find El Atrio, a cafe where patissier Kevin Ong doesn’t disappoint. His bonbons burst with local flavours, such as purple yam and Mount Matutum coffee.

The rooms, meanwhile, are more typical of MGallery’s signature art deco style, with hard angles and brass fixtures in abundance. Executives come with views of Manila Bay, but for the best panorama, head upstairs to Admiral Club. At this rooftop restaurant, a stepped table doubles as a catwalk for events, while overhead projectors beam images of swimming koi as you dine.

The heat on the adjacent open-air deck is ferocious: counter it with a dip in the pool or a Don Papa rum punch from the Coconut Grove bar. If it all gets too much, head downstairs to the not-so-secret basement speakeasy Ruby Wong’s for more cocktails and Filipino-Chinese cuisine. It’s the ideal warm-up for a night of boulevard bar-hopping or — dare we say it — karaoke. From 7,600PHP, B&B (£137).

A bridge takes guests from the international airport straight to Okura’s local outpost. New as of 2022, Hotel Okura has all the features you’d expect from the Tokyo-based brand, including Hinoki wood tubs. Not all rooms face outdoors, but the atrium-front options still have an interesting outlook: the space is a glass-panelled marvel, with rain-inspired chandeliers and tree sculptures. From 12,700PHP (£229).

With its garden pool and clapboard cladding, ‘The Henry’ has the hallmarks of a suburban escape — except it’s in Pasay City, a 10-minute drive from the SM Mall of Asia. Grab a book from the library, relax outdoors on wrought-iron chairs or try a classic Filipino breakfast: longganisa sausages or milkfish with fried eggs and garlic rice. From 7,500PHP, B&B (£99).

It’s all glitz and glamor at the Shangri-La, with marble-lashed corridors, lifts with chandeliers and a mall’s worth of in-room lights. Yet, it all fades in comparison to what’s outside: the hotel’s 576 guest rooms occupy floors 18-40 of a 755ft-high skyscraper, giving visitors an unobstructed view over the Bonifacio Global City district. From 15,500PHP (£270).

All rates quoted are for standard doubles, room only, unless otherwise stated.

This story was created with the support of the Philippines Department of Tourism.

Published in the June 2023 issue of National Geographic Traveler (UK)

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