Break out of the rut with a trip to Cebu City, a fast-paced coastal city in the Central Visayas, Philippines. There’s more to this ‘Queen City of the South’ than its dazzling beaches. A quick recce around the city will reveal a bustling, developed metropolis with historic architecture, splendid temples and an abundance of street art.

The old, the sacred and the natural

The neo-classical façade of the 16th century Basilica Minore del Santo Nino in Cebu

The magnificent Basilica Minore del Santo Nino is the oldest Catholic Church in the Philippines

The most visited attraction in Cebu City is the 16th century Basilica Minore del Santo Nino, a national landmark that contains a jewel-studded statue of the Santo Nino (Holy Child). The nearby pint-sized Fort San Pedro marks the colonial outpost with a museum that includes the treasures from the San Diego galleon. Enjoy the peaceful grounds and sea views.

A unique sight is the gleaming 20-metre-high Lapu-Lapu Shrine of the local chieftain who fatally wounded Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan during the Mactan Landing in 1521. Pay your respects to this early traveller by visiting Magellan’s Cross in the mural-covered building near the Basilica.

You’ll find interesting Filipino history at Museo Sugbo, which has six galleries of exhibits in a former jail. You can also take in the Cebu Heritage Monument, which portrays local history in a series of brass, steel, bronze and concrete artworks.

For more fun activities, enjoy the best views of Cebu City while participating in adrenaline-pumping activities at Mountain View Nature’s Park.

Wet and wild fun in the sun

Clear waters and wooden piers at Mactan Island

Mactan Island is a paradise for beach lovers

Free sandy beaches near Cebu City include the grey-sand beach at Talisay and the golden beach at Consolacion. For stunning white sand, venture to the nearby island of Mactan, a 30-minute taxi or bus ride away. You can pay a daily rate to access private resort beaches such as the Shangri-La for parasailing, snorkelling and sunbathing.

Take a day trip to Nalusuan Island Resort and Marine Sanctuary, 15 minutes by boat from Cebu. Enjoy jet skis, banana boats, kayaking, snorkelling and diving on the Olango Reef, or chill with a beach massage. Alternatively, rent a self-drive pump boat from Mactan and indulge in some island-shopping adventures at your own pace.

Rent a self-drive pump boat from Mactan and indulge in some island-shopping adventures at your own pace

Where to spend your pesos

Sprawling Carbon Market is a clamorous farmers’ market selling everything from baskets to beachwear. Over 100 years old, the market took its name from the coal and cinder heaps stored here by the Cebu Railroad.

Browse for perfume, sportswear and books, or treat yourself to a pedicure at SM City Mall, a Filipino SuperMall (SM) in Cebu Port Centre. It’s so large that there are over 200 food outlets, from American Auntie Annie’s Pretzels to local Crazy Crepes. If you’re homesick for Orchard Road, the upscale Ayala Mall in Downtown Cebu is the perfect antidote. This premier mall averages over 85,000 visitors per day.

Filling up and chilling out

Suckling pig (lechon) is a local delicacy in Cebu

When in the Philippines, sample melt-in-the-mouth Lechon

Mr. A Bar & Restaurant is a friendly place to head to at dusk. Enjoy stunning city views while sipping cocktails on the terrace. For art on a plate, Canvas Bistro is a smart-casual restaurant serving awesome Aussie-inspired food. Delectable dishes include a burger topped with crispy onion rings, fried egg and beetroot. Or eat like a local in Cebu City at Su-Tu-Kil, which is more a dining experience than a restaurant. Named after three different cooking methods, it specialises in local seafood.

According to TV chef Anthony Bourdain, the best place to sample the national dish of lechon (suckling pig) is at Rico’s at Mabolo. Watch it being prepared, then enjoy the spicy version with a cooling Cucumansi Quencher (made from cucumber and limes) for a memorable Filipino feast.

The best places for selfies

The cascading Tumalog Falls surrounded by lush jungle in Cebu

Experience the white-water cascade of the beautiful Tumalog Falls

The Ruins Talisay is the shell of a once-glorious Italianate mansion. Gutted by fire, the skeletal remains and fountains are a magnificent backdrop for a selfie. Or visit the romantic Temple of Leah for wonderful city views. Pose on the Impressive Angel Staircase before heading out to the terrace to drink in the panoramic city views.

Another popular selfie location is Tumalog Falls, well worth the 137km road trip to capture this gushing umbrella-shaped cascade tumbling through the tropical greenery.

Book a flight to Cebu today and enjoy this vibrant destination that offers both beaches and a rich cultural experience.

Best time to visit

The best time to visit Cebu is during the dry season, which runs from November to May. Summer months can be hot and humid, but that’s a good reason to head for the hotel pool, or the waterfalls and the turquoise waters bordering Cebu’s white sandy beaches. For a cultural treat, visit in the third week of January to attend the Sinulog celebrations at the Basilica.

Transportation

Getting around Cebu City using colourful local jeepneys (buses) is part of the fun. All the main historic attractions are within easy walking distance of the Basilica del Santo Nino. A horse-drawn carriage ride (tartanilla) is a traditional form of local transport operating in the downtown and market areas. Taxis and buses are cheap and plentiful, and a boat trip is a must-do.

Currency

Philippine peso (PHP). Malls and major hotels will accept credit cards, but you will need cash for smaller shops, admission to local attractions, street vendors and local transport. ATMs are available at the airport and banks. Tipping is not expected, but rounding up a taxi fare or restaurant bill is appreciated.

Book now

There are regular flights from Changi Airport to Mactan-Cebu Airport with AirAsia, Tigerair, Cebu Pacific and SilkAir.

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