Meet Cebu City, the Queen City of the South

Guide to Planning Your Trip to Cebu
Manila takes all the hype when it comes to being the “center” of the Philippines. However, there was a time when Manila was but a mangrove-rich land and the true center of commerce and economy was somewhere to the south. And while the Luzon city is the official capital, this southern gem still shines brightly at its heels. Meet Cebu city — the Queen City of the South and the country’s “Second City”.

Cebu is the fifth most populous city in the country, and the second when counting only metropolitan areas. It houses the main domestic ship port of the Philippines, with about 80% of the country’s own shipping companies. It stakes its place in history as the county’s very first city, and the very first Spanish settlement. For the religious, Cebu is the fountainhead of Christianity in the Far East.

Aside from its economic and historical significance, Cebu is well-renowned for its amazing tourist attractions. The Spanish imprint on the city’s history is unmistakeable. Wander through the ancient Basilica del Santo Niño, which was founded way back in 1565. It is considered the oldest church in the country, and a chapel beside it houses the famed Magellan’s Cross. Feel history surge through your veins as you trek through the Heritage of Cebu Monument, located in the original site of Plaza Parain. Even for those uninterested in history, the sheer magnificence of this artwork is a sight to behold.

For the walkaholic and shopaholic, trek through the upscale shops and modern buildings of Colon Street. It’s hard to believe that this is the oldest street in the country, and named after the famous Cristobal Colon — another name for Christopher Columbus. Hip shops that carry anything and everything can be found here.

For the foodie, try the famous Sutukil near the equally renowned Mactan Shrine. Sutukil is a portmanteau of the words “sugba” (grill), “tula” (stew), and “kil” (kilaw). Never mind the pun on the infamous police procedure — the food here is to die for. Add to that the famous delicacies of the place, such as otap and turones, and you have the perfect treat for the palate and the tummy. Don’t forget to drop by the Larsian barbecue station, too — it’s good food with good people all around you. What could be better?

For the active and the nature lover, try the pristine Kawasan falls. Bathe or raft in its crystal clear waters, or sit by the side while sipping some fresh buko juice. Then there’s the Badian beach and the Basdaku white beach where you can enjoy some sand and sun — and forget that you’re in the middle of one of the busiest cities in the country.

Top Attractions

Touring the Queen’s Jewels
Getting the moniker “The Queen City of the South” isn’t any easy feat. To gain that, the place must be good to the extreme. At first blush, Cebu City is not as well-endowed with natural resources as Palawan, nor is it as diverse as neighboring Bohol. However, it is a very important spoke in the country’s economy. It is also a pillar of the country’s history, and these two qualities translate to the top tourist attractions in the area.

The Basilica del Sto. Nino
Take a trip through the roots of Catholicism in the Philippines. The Basilica is located along Osmena Boulevard, and is one of the most famous tourist attractions in the city. Completed around 1740, this is considered as the oldest Church in the Philippines. The oldest religious image in the country -- the Sto. Nino -- is also housed here and commemorated every year.

There’s a curious “ritual” done by candle vendors outside the church. When you buy from them, they will ask you for your family name. Then, they will pray for your family -- while dancing. Nothing can beat that.

For an added historical high, head over to the Magellan’s Cross, just a few steps away from the Church itself. Inside a stone chapel is said to be the exact same cross planted by Ferdinand Magellan as he lay claim to the Philippine islands on behalf of Spain’s King Phillip.

Tabo-an Market
This place is famous for its top-notch danggit, pusit, dilis, and tuyo. There are also several other Cebu delicacies, such as otap and dried mangoes. It is located in downtown Cebu, and is a must-visit for anyone looking for good pasalubong.

Fort San Pedro
When we think of forts, we often think of large structures that can withstand the onslaught of the armies of old. Not this one -- this is the oldest and smallest Spanish fort in the country. It only has three bastions, and is located in Cebu’s Pier area. The general area is now called Plaza Independencia.

Sky Experience Adventure
A must-visit for adrenaline junkies, this place offers thrill activities like the Tower Walk, the Edge Coaster, the Vertical Climb, and the Urban Zipline. It is located atop the Crown Regency Hotel and Towers, around Fuente Osmena. Aside from being a good place to see the city’s daytime skyline, check it out at night for a magnificent view of twinkling Cebu lights.

Colon Street
For shopaholics, Colon street is the perfect place. It turns out to be the oldest street in the country, and is now home to upscale shops. While you’re here, check out the Heritage of Cebu monument -- a magnificent outdoor art installation that was done by National Artist Edgardo Castillo.

Cebu has a lot of other places to visit besides. Foodies can try the famous Larsian for a large variety of Cebu streetfood. Nightlife is also abundant in places like the Mango Square. There’s also the Provincial Capitol Building, which is like a museum in itself. No matter what your preferences may be, Cebu City has a way to satisfy it. Nothing short of what to expect from a “Queen City”.

Staying In

A Room at the Queen City - at a Pauper’s Budget

When tourists come to a new place, accommodations are always a nagging concern. This is especially true with a bustling metropolis like Cebu City. You can’t exactly take a tent and camp out in a grassy patch of land somewhere. The city is paved with lots of hotels, lodges, apartelles, inns, and the like to take that place.

But how much of your hard-earned money would you have to spend here just to have a comfortable stay? The good new is, not a lot. Take my hand and I will lead you to five of the best and most affordable accommodations around the Queen City.

Sugbutel
Manila has its slew of Hotel Sogos, while Cebu has its Sugbutel. But before you get funny ideas, Sugbutel is actually a family-oriented hotel that caters to the needs of even large groups of travellers. They have dorm-type rooms that can take in as much as 8 people. The beds in these rooms are like those in trains, each with its own curtain. The rooms are air-conditioned, and there is a common area with an LCD TV and WiFi access. This is a really good deal, considering the price for a stay starts at Php 250 per night!

Tr3ats
If location is a prime consideration for you, check out Tr3ats Guest House. This hostel is located at the heart of the city, at V. Rama Avenue. It is close to some restaurants and supermarkets, which is especially good for backpackers and everyone who travels light. There’s a little concern with the smallish beds, but if you can live with that, then you can make do -- especially with a price tag of just Php 300 per night’s stay.

Pacific Tourist Inn
For a little above Php 500 per night, tourists here can get single beds, cable TV, and a bathroom with showers. The inn can also provide a thermos with hot water, if you so wish. The pain point here is that it stands on the wrong side of a mall -- taxi drivers making their way to the front of the inn are usually already carrying passengers. The location is good, however, with groceries, eateries, and various shops around.

Villa de Mercedes
Despite the luxury-sounding name, this is an affordable accommodation that will cost you only a little above Php 600 per night. It is one of the older places around Capitol Site, but it is still clean and orderly. It is just a 10 minutes away from a supermarket, and there are several places to eat nearby.

Gran Tierra Suites
If you are willing to part with under Php 800 for a night’s stay, then this definitely provides some of the best bang for the buck. Aside from the standard accommodations, the hotel also offers free pastries (which are surprisingly good!) as well as a hot-and-cold water dispenser in the hallways. Not your five-star treatment, but definitely good enough for a relaxing stay.

This is just a very small sampling of the myriad of accommodations available in the Queen City of the South. Do you still find any reason not to stay in this wonderful place?

Dining

Dining On The Queen’s Table
Let’s face it. No matter where you are, if you have a hefty wallet, you can dine to your heart’s content. But that’s not how we do things here, and thankfully Cebu has a lot of amazing options for those who hold their coins and paper bills dear. Check out some of the Queen City’s finest dining stops, where you can splurge without going broke.

Larsian BBQ
One of the most famous spots in the city, especially at night. Have a good time with sumptuous barbecue and other grilled stuff! Located in Capitol Site, Larsian is a collection of more than 30 stalls that are open 24 hours a day. It is also a nice place to socialize - so long as you don’t mind the street setting.

Casa Verde
From street food-style grills, let’s move to another grill that can pass off as “fine dining” - without the over-the-top sophistication. Try Casa Verde’s baby back ribs, which is served with some buttered vegetables and the mandatory cup of rice. For less than Php 300, you can have a meal that can feed up to two people! Just head over to The Walk to visit this great food place.

Lechon Cebu
A trip to Cebu is incomplete without tasting their mouth-watering version of the country’s favorite hypertension lure. There are lots of great places to choose from, so just drop by whichever is nearest to you -- Zubuchon, Tatang’s, CnT, Rico’s, Ayer’s, and more!

La Vie Parisienne
Fancy a little French? Maybe a glass of wine? This French cafe offers all that, at an affordable price. An entire bottle of wine can cost as low as Php 300, and is best paired with the cafe’s freshly-baked goodies. This is a nice place to hang out after a day of touring the city, especially if you have a special someone. La Vie Parisienne is located at Gorordo Avenue.

Joed’s Lutong Hapon
How about a little Japanese food? Despite the local-sounding name, the place serves a nice bowl of authentic Japanese meals (they even use seaweeds!) at an affordable price. You can have a great-tasting, satisfying meal with less than Php 100. The place is located in Quirino Street, so it is easily accessible.

Kusina Uno
You know a food place is successful if it’s the only name that comes to mind when a dish is mentioned. For Cebuanos, this is the case when they talk of the sumptuous “pochero”, which is now interchangeable with “Kusina Uno”. Located in Cabahug, their large servings of the dish can feed up to 5 people! They’re also famous for their nilagang baka (beef stew).

Tuslob Buwa
I just had to include this, even though it’s located in the municipality of Catmon instead of Cebu City itself. If you are itching for some exotic gastronomic adventure, try this place. An order of the “tuslob buwa” gives you a deconstructed meal of pork brain, liver, garlic, soy sauce, and various spices.

Cebu is a wonderful place for the eyes, the mind, and the stomach. What more can you ask for? Head over here and dine like royalty - without breaking the bank!

Shopping

Cebu - a veritable shopping haven
Ah, it’s that perennial traveler’s problem again -- how to bring back as much goodies as possible without scraping your wallet’s bottom. Being a commercial district, Cebu City has a whole host of shops, from the grand and expensive to the cheap and commonplace. Then, between them are those that balance price and quality -- the perfect shopping havens. Let’s take a look at some of them here.

Colon Street
The country’s oldest street, this is located at the heart of the Queen City. It is also the commercial center of the area. Colon Street is famous for its bags, clothes, jewelry, shoes, and even electronic goods. Just have a little patience in wading through the shops here, and you will find items costing much lower than they do in other shops.

As a plus, Colon Street also has a lot of movie houses and restaurants -- literally a one-stop entertainment area. Just be careful of pickpockets and other miscreants.

Carbon Market
If you’re in town for some fresh produce, nothing beats Carbon Market. It is the largest farmer’s market in the city, and is also a must-see for tourists. Located on MC Briones Street, it can easily be accessed through jeepneys or buses.

The items sold here are many and varied, from the basket handicrafts of neighboring Bohol to chickens, fish, fruits, and vegetables.



Tabo sa Banay

For cheap apparel, nothing beats Tabo sa Banay. The place is a melting pot of goods from various places, both local and international. Items from Manila and Mindanao mingle with Hong Kong and Bangkok products. The layout is sort of a bazaar, within a three-storey building (only the first two of which are dedicated to selling).

Tabo sa Banay is located at Manalili Street, and is a short walk from the Colon branch of Metro Gaisano. With just a few hundred pesos, you can buy a lot of clothes -- provided you’re willing to sweat in its non-air conditioned environs.

Taboan Market
Cebu is famous for its trademark pasalubong, the danggit (dried fish). And when you mention danggit, locals only think of one place -- Taboan Market. Go here for top-notch salted and unsalted danggit, dried squid, and various fish products.

This danggit haven is easily accessible via jeepney, and there’s no mistaking you’re at the right place for the strong fishy smell that marks the end of your journey. Just be sure to bring some extra clothes if you’re going someplace else afterwards!

Malls
In other places, malls are often thought to contain overpriced goods. Not here in Cebu City, so long as you know where to look. Take time to browse around the famous malls in the area, such as SM City Cebu and the Ayala Center Cebu. The air conditioned environs makes for easy shopping, and you’re sure to bring home some good finds, too.

Cebu’s commercial nature endows it with a wide array of shopping options. What will you be bringing home? Chances are it’s more than what you planned to in the first place!

Nightlife

Cebu City’s Nighttime Oases
“Party ‘til you drop” is a common thing anywhere you are in the Philippines’ top tourist spots, but what makes Cebu so special? Being an economic stronghold, Cebu is a haven of posh party places. This is especially true on the main arteries of Osmena Boulevard and Colon Street, though these places tend to get overcrowded. Where will you go for some classy night out on your stay? Check out some of the best party spots the Queen City has to offer.

Harolds Hotel Roof Deck
Have an epic night out surrounded by Cebu’s bustling skyline. The Roof Deck -- officially named the “Highlights Lounge” -- is located at the hotel’s 12th floor overlooking Gorordo Avenue, and offers all manners of food and drink. The menu focuses on Asian Fusion, so prepare to have your taste buds tingled. It’s also a great place to relax in after a long day of work -- albeit costing more than most of the others in this list.

The Distillery
This bar is especially popular for those looking for an extremely wide variety of drinks. A perfect spot for the young and restless, the establishment offers premium spirits and beers that are hard to find anywhere else. The Cebu branch is located at the Crossroads at Cuenco Avenue, which is also famous for its restaurants.

Marshall’s Irish Pub and Restaurant
If you’re looking for great live music, drop by Marshall’s. Go here for an extended happy-hour, too -- it lasts from 4PM to 7PM. At this time, beers and appetizers only cost Php 50. Aside from serving good beers and good food, Marshall’s also serves great home-style breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The kitchen is presided over by Chef Larry Marshall, who also owns the place.He also happens to be of real Irish descent! The cozy establishment is located at General Maxilom Avenue.

Vudu
This fashionable bar offers different themes at different days of the week. Alternative on Wednesdays, rock on Thursdays, house and R&B over weekends -- everyone has their choice. The place is equally hip, with a raw and industrial vibe projected by its steel-and-concrete interior design. Also located at Crossroads, Vudu provides an upscale bar experience. Just prepare to shell out a little more than you normally would for a bar.

22nd Street
For those who want the traditional karaoke and comedy bar experience, 22nd Street is the place to go. Those with a flair for singing can take the mic and belt out their favorite tune. Those who prefer to stay at the tables can listen to their favorite songs over their drinks. Singers will take requests from the audience, so you can just sit back and soak in the tunes. The club is located at Maxilom Avenue.

On weekends, Cebu’s nighttime oases let you party until daybreak. The fun hits the brakes at around 2AM to 3AM on weekends, but that doesn’t make it any less awesome. In fact, Cebu City offers some of the best party spots in the whole region -- just perfect for its moniker as the Queen City of the South.

Like any great tourist destination, Cebu has something for everyone. It is a dynamic metropolitan area and a serene natural haven. It is both for the active and for the reflective. All you need is a backpack of your basic necessities, and a heart for adventure. Who knows where the Queen City of the South will take you?

Photo: Ed Belarmino

There was a time when Manila was but a mangrove-rich land and the true center of commerce and economy was somewhere to the south. And while the Luzon city is the official capital, this southern gem still shines brightly at its heels. Meet Cebu city — the Queen City of the South and the country’s “Second City”.