Just before jumping into the best things to do in Manila, let me give you some general information about this city. Manila is the Philippines’ capital and is located on the eastern shore of Manila Bay at the mouth of the Pasig River on Luzon Island.
It is the commercial hub of the Philippines because of its population, the city also accommodates the headquarters of the Central Bank of the Philippines.
Manila is a favorite tourist spot because of its strategic location, cultural richness, and bubbly tendency with lots of fun things to do and places to visit during your stay in Manila.
See also: 7 Tips for Finding Cheap Flights to Asia
Best Things To Do In Manila
Manila was founded by the Spanish in the 16th century, conquered by the USA in the 19th century, and occupied during WWII by the Japanese.
During the reign of Spanish colonial masters, they established the Binondo district for Chinese immigrants who converted to Catholicism. This place is now known as the world’s oldest Chinatown in history.
You can further explore the city in a horse-drawn carriage called calesa, the drivers often take tourists to marvel sites around – one of which is the Filipino-Chinese Friendship Arch.
Another thing Binondo is well-known for is the commercial and culinary liveliness. There is extensive shopping activity in Escolta, Commercio, and Ongpin Street in Chinatown with almost everything available at an affordable cost.
Steaming dumplings, fried duck and siopao, fresh noodles, dim sum, freshwater turtles, hopia, lumpiang, halo-halo, tofu and many more are available to try out. They are not pocket-tearing at all.
Manila Ocean Park
Manila Ocean Park is one of the best things to do in Manila as it stands out as one of a kind tourist attraction in Manila since it was opened in 2008.
The greatest visitor’s magnet here is the popular oceanarium that contains more than 13,000 amazing sea wildlife that are indigenous to the Philippines and Southeast Asia.
The oceanarium has a transparent underwater curved walkway that gives a view of the sea creatures in their natural habitat.
Asides from seeing and learning about oceanic creatures in the oceanarium, there are many other exciting things for your friends and family to delight in.
You can have a great deal of playful time in the ball pit and super toy collection room, have a close-range and photo op with different amazing birds, get a fascinating augmented reality encounter with a whale, dolphin, Philippine Eagle, and Manila ocean park mermaid.
Penguin, sea lion, birdhouse, and the barnyard show is other awesome audiovisual way of learning about different wild animals. More fun activities at the park include jelly exhibitions and trails to cold Antarctica.
If it happens to be in the park at sunset, then the fun has just begun with the neon rides! Hop into the colorful pedal cars radiated with led lights of different patterns.
A nice day tour from Manila is the historic walled city of Intramuros that takes you back in time. Intramuros is a point of interest in Manila as it was the capital of the Spanish East Indies between 1600 and 1898 during the colonial era.
The colonial settlements and architectural structures were still preserved to date.
The rugged city walls were built in the 16th century by the Spanish colonial masters to protect the city from foreign invasion. If you decide to visit the Intramuros, do the following things to get a comprehensive glimpse of the ancient city.
- Getting on a Bamboo Bike for your tour adds a special feel to the experience.
- Start wetting your history appetite at Fort Santiago, it brings you closer to past colonial life in the Philippines. Inside Fort Santiago, you will also get to see the Rizal Shrine of the Philippines’ hero, Jose Rizal who was held and executed in Fort Santiago.
- Visit one of the UNESCO World Heritage Site inside Intramuros, San Agustin Church and Museum. It is the first church built with stone in the Philippines.
- Other amazing sites include the Manila Cathedral, Casa Manila, Baluarte de San Diego and Bahay Tsinoy.
Divisoria is the perfect place to shop for personal and gift items for friends and families back at home.
Divisoria is the go-to place for locals looking for anything at an affordable cost. Though the market is often noisy, jam-packed, dirty, and chaotic, it is a good way to escape from the quiet comfort of your hotel rooms and explore life on the street of Manila.
Go on an endless shopping spree from shoes, bags, clothing, accessories, handicrafts, fresh farm products, electronics, souvenirs, supplies, bazaars, antiques, you name it! You must improve your negotiation and contention skills to get good bargains.
Is better to avoid pickpockets, thronging, and getting lost, by visiting Divisoria in the morning of weekdays.
See also: Best Hotels for Staycation in Manila
Golden Hour at Manila Bay
Manila Bay is one of the best places to visit in Manila and it comes with its own unique history.
The bay gives you an imaginary view of the scene of the Manila Bay Battle in 1898 between the U.S. Navy and Spanish Navy. The fight ended the reign of the Spaniards and the Americans took over the city.
At the bay, you can walk around to see the American embassy, the Philippines cultural center, and the busy Roxas Boulevard with many skyscrapers across the road.
Many athletes, joggers, and walkers use the bay frequently for a workout because of the sightseeing that engages their mind and build their strength.
There are restaurants, bars, dance spots, cafes and live bands around the bay to entertain the tourists. Manila Bay is an important tourist spot for sunset chasers so make sure you will arrive there before the Golden Hour to catch a better spot.
Experience the Nightlife
The city of Manila is quite different from other cities because it does not go to sleep at night, the people pursue pleasure as an ethical principle.
Based on your taste, you can have a good night out in some of their bars or nightclubs.
Go ahead and check Chaos, Valkyrie, 71 Gramercy, Palace Pool Club, and Exklusiv, which are great nightclubs to spend a night out. You can check my full travel guide for Manila Nightlife.
Explore the art and the history in the biggest museum in the Philippines.
Located in Makati City, Metro Manila, it features very rare and priceless objects and also exhibitions like “The Diorama Experience”, “Maritime Vessels”, “Pioneers of Philippine Art: Fernando Zobel”, “Gold of Ancestors Embroidered Multiples” and “A Millennium of Contact”.
Ayala Museum is the best place to visit in Manila for travelers who are looking to explore the culture and the history of the Philippines.
Greenbelt Chapel Manila, aka Sto. Nino de Paz Greenbelt Chapel is located in the Greenbelt Park in the Makati district of Metro Manila.
The chapel is built in the shape of a dome and presents beautiful and lavish architecture with fresh flowers, ceiling lights, and ample seating.
Malacanang Palace, officially known as Malacañan Palace, has been built by Luis Rocha in 1750 and today is the official residence of the president of the Philippines.
Malacañang Palace tours are great for those who visit Manila on a budget because are free of charge.
Go for a walk in the Rizal Park in Manila for a morning or evening walk when the dancing fountains are switched on.
Once Manila Municipal Cemetery, the Paco Park is a recreational park located on General Luna Street.
Aka Minor Basilica of the Black Nazarene was first built in 1767. Quiapo Church has been replaced in 1933 after being burned from the grounds.
Start your adventure by visiting the ancient Quaipo Catholic church, the home of the famous and miraculous Black Nazarene statue of Jesus Christ. Thousands of residents will usually carry this statue on their shoulders during big religious festivals.
Manila Chinese Cemetery was built as a resting site for the Chinese residents who were refused burial in Catholic cemeteries during the Spanish colonial period.
Manila Travel Tips
- Filipinos marvel at foreigners, be prepared to cope with the constant glare from old and young.
- Some stores and shops accept credit cards, it will be helpful to have prior knowledge of the current exchange rate and have some money in your pocket for quick transactions.
- Filipinos have a way of identifying newbies to scrunch up, it is better to arrange your hotel and airport transfer well ahead of your flight.
- Plan to get a tourist sim card on arrival at the airport.
- Pack light clothes, a jacket, a water bottle, tight bags, and an umbrella because of the weather and rain.
- Filipinos are very friendly, but some of them tend to steal from foreigners who let their guard loose. Be mindful when you visit crowded places like Binondo, Cubao, and Divisoria. Avoid walking alone at night.
- Just be patient and slow when communicating in English with locals, be ready for and expect gesticulation too.
- Avoid moving around during peak traffic hours during your stay. Peak traffic hours are 7:30 – 9:30 and 17:00 – 22:00.
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