You can't really say you know the spirit of a place until you've seen the locals at leisure. And the city of Manila is no exception: the Philippine capital is at her most authentic when she lets her hair down.
On weekends, most of Manila’s diversions can be cheap and colourful: young families spread a banig (traditional handwoven mat) on a park, friends meet up for a morning run along the Manila bay, and early birds wander through a maze of stalls in one of the weekend markets in the city.
If you're up for a spot of people-watching, then go see these Manila destinations on a weekend. They may be more crowded than most public spots you'll see elsewhere in the world, but you'll see Manila's residents at their friendliest and most real. While you're at it, you'll get to see Manila's most scenic public spots in a new light, too!
Sunday Running Routes: Manila gets a move on
Who benefits from the sudden paucity of Manila traffic on Sundays? Runners, that's who: thousands of them descend on the city's roads and get some cardio in while enjoying the scenery and company of like-minded exercisers. Food sellers set up shop along popular running routes, hawking energy drinks, bottled water, and snacks.
The Baywalk stretch along Roxas Boulevard—between Rizal Park and the CCP Compound—offers a straight, evenly-paved running path with extended views of Manila Bay. If you find yourself further north of the metropolis, head over to the University of the Philippines in Diliman, Quezon City; the campus' tree-shaded academic oval is barricaded to auto traffic during Sundays, allowing runners and bicyclists free rein to complete the 2-plus-K circuit.
Manila's Weekend Markets: Organic and authentic
Got an itch in your wallet that only authentic Filipino food and handicrafts can scratch? The weekend markets that proliferate across Metro Manila provide your best hope for relief.
Buy into upscale organic chic at the Makati-based weekend markets: Salcedo Market at Salcedo Park (between Leviste and Tordesillas Streets; Facebook page) on Saturdays, and Legazpi Sunday Market (http://legazpisundaymarket.com/about-us) at the corner of Rufino and Legazpi Streets on Sundays, sell fresh artisanal food, Filipino snacks, and funky souvenirs in a communal, sociable setting. Mercato Centrale at Bonifacio Global City (www.mercatocentrale.ph) rules weekend mornings with produce and freshly-cooked food from home chefs, while up north, Sidcor Market at Eton Centris along EDSA attracts organic farmers and fans of the former's wholesome produce on Sundays.
Park Performances: Manila revisits the classics
Rizal Park—the sprawling public park in Manila known colloquially as "Luneta"—draws huge family crowds on weekends, along with all the vendors, rides, and other businesses that cater to families enjoying their weekend off.
Luneta visitors will find plenty to do: learn the Filipino martial art of arnis under the watchful eye of a gigantic statue of Lapu-Lapu at Agrifina Circle, fly kites on the meadow in front of Quirino Grandstand; or watch a re-enactment of national hero Jose Rizal's execution (complete with impeccably-timed pyrotechnics) at the park's sound-and-light show.
The Park's Open-Air Auditorium hosts the weekends-only Concert at the Park, an ongoing series of classical and cultural performances curated by the Philippines' Department of Tourism. The acts headlining the Concert at the Park are exceedingly varied in scope: one weekend you get a troupe of Maranao dancers, the next you get a Philharmonic orchestra blasting Beethoven at full volume.
Free Museum Visits: Art and culture attack
While roaming Luneta, don't miss your chance to visit two large museums nearby. Both the National Museum of the Philippines and the Museum of the Filipino People charge PHP 150 per head on most days, but Sunday visitors get to enter both museums free of charge.
At the Museum of the Filipino People (the former Finance Building north of Rizal Park's Agrifina Circle) this means you can look at ethnographic relics of the Filipino people and their culture at your leisure. (The display of the wreck of the Manila galleon San Diego is this Museum's most impressive display.)
At the National Museum, a priceless collection of Filipino art stands on display. Wander through the galleries to view finely-painted Amorsolos, pastel-tinted Botongs, and gaze upon the museum's piece de resistance, the massive Spoliarium by Juan Luna.
All photos by Mike Aquino