Planning to travel to Manila, Philippines? Looking for the best things to do in Manila?
Manila tourist attractions are endless as you roam around the city. You will witness a unique combination of east and west world. Notice how the Spanish era immensely influenced not only this city but the whole country.
The Americans, Japanese and Chinese also contributed greatly to it.
Read More: 10 Best Places to Visit in the Philippines
Where is Manila?
Manila is located in Luzon, the largest island and northern part of the Philippines. Manila is the world’s most densely populated city with a 40,000+ people per square kilometre. The principal city for more than four centuries, it is the country’s economic, social, political and cultural hub. Home of one of the finest harbours in the Pacific region.
How to travel to Manila?
Booking a cheap flight to Manila is like having a piece of your favourite pie in any season! Many western countries (the USA, UK and EU) may enter, visa-free for no more than 30 days, yet must have a passport that is valid at least six months after arrival.
If you wish to stay longer (which I assume you will!), you should obtain a visa extension before your trip from a Philippine consulate/embassy. If you are a former Filipino and wish to stay in the Philippines for more than 30 days, you can avail the Balikbayan Visa which will be given on your arrival.
Manila is one of the cities that is referred more commonly as “Metro Manila”, technically known as the National Capital Region, with 16 cities and 1 municipality (now, that is a “big city”). From the walled citadel, a breathtaking sunset, down to the city street lights and many more. The architecture, the food, the ambience and the locals itself, are rich in character and full of incredible versatility (mind you, locals very conversational in the English language). Tourist spots in Manila will always be in your bucket list to fulfil.
Heads up, sash around your passport and have a great adventure at this beautiful city capital of the Philippines- Manila! My hometown!
Read More: I Shall Return: An Ode to Manila
Looking for where to go in Manila? Here are the best 11 things to do in Manila:
1. Food trip in Manila
Ongpin one of the many streets of Binondo (world’s oldest Chinatown, established in 1594). It is well known as the mecca of Chinese dishes in Manila. Over 100 hole-in-the-wall type of restaurants (you need a Manila guide for this).
Homemade dumplings (the century-egg flavour is a must-try!), Kiampong (cooked rice with pork, veggies and soy sauce, topped with peanuts), Lo Tau Hu (stir-fried tofu), Pansit Canton (Chinese wok noodles), Hopia, Siopao, Siomai and Cold Kundol (wintermelon tea) are just the few Chinese food you can devour around Ongpin street.
One of the typical Filipino hobbies is “Eating”, proven with all the fast-rising food parks, “hipster” style street food central and speciality restaurants. Filipino restaurants in Manila are everywhere, so paying a visit or restaurant hopping is one of the best things to do in Manila.
Here are the top 3 restaurants that serve classic Filipino dishes are:
Aristocrat, you will find here most of the Filipino favourites at reasonable prices, and I recommend you to try their honey-cured chicken barbecue.
Romulo Cafe, named after the famous diplomat Carlos P. Romulo. Their dishes are cooked using the family’s heirloom recipes, wherein I will let you indulge in Lola Virginia’s Chicken Relleno (roasted chicken stuffed with chorizo, ground pork, raisins, boiled egg and peas).
The last but not the least, The Singing Cook & Waiters, authentic Filipino dishes are served with singing staff, in addition to what they offer, is not your typical dining experience yet it is a fun one to be kept. The owner, Mr Ongpauco, who created the famous “Crispy Pata” (a deep-fried pork leg match with chilli-soy sauce as a dip) is highly recommended upon your visit.
Seaside Dampa Macapagal, is the largest seafood place in Manila that can fulfil your seafood gastronomic adventures. Fresh fish, shrimps, lobster, small shells and crabs are being sold in the stalls.
You are highly advised to shop for fresh seafood in the nearby wet market enable for the restaurant of your choice to cook it in your desire, this depends on the available menu. Around 2500 pesos (less than 50 USD, as of 2019), for a sumptuous seafood meal that is good for 4-6 persons, the beverage is also included.
Jollibee, it is “the wackiest, jolliest place on earth,” according to the late Anthony Bourdain in his Manila episode of “Parts Unknown”. Late 70’s when Jollibee withstand McDonald’s from ice cream parlour to fast food chain, Jollibee continually grow all over the country.
My personal favourite? 2-piece Chickenjoy (you might save the skin later, as the skin gives off an irresistible crunch in every bite. In contrast to it is the flavourful, tender, juicy meat on the inside), Jolly Spaghetti (sweet-styled sauce loaded with savoury ham and sliced hotdogs), burger steaks and the handful peach mango pie (those crispy, toasted sides!). Jollibee meals are not just scrumptious, it is also affordable for every local and tourist.
Consider this foodventure one of the most beautiful spots and best things to do in Manila. Be ready to gain some extra pounds after your Manila tour!
2. Travel back in time in the historical places in Manila
Intramuros in Spanish means “within the walls”, is considered one of the most historical places in Manila. Entering the walled city feels like you were taken back in time.
The old style architecture will surely make you fall in love with it. Several museums, historical building and some university are inside it. Built 300 years ago by the Spaniards, to protect the city from foreign invasion. It is also the home of the Manila Cathedral the heart of the Catholic faith in the Philippines.
With an entrance fee of 75 PHP (1.45 USD as of 2019, do not forget to bring your valid ID as well) at Fort Santiago, you will be able to see a lot inside of it, like the Baluarte de Santa Barbara, Rizal Shrine Museum and Rajah Sulayman theatre.
Also, the main highlight is the dungeons where hundreds of guerrillas and civilians were imprisoned, executed during World War II. The ruins of Fort Santiago (due to natural causes and war) are well restored by the government.
Neighbouring on Intramuros is one of the largest, historical urban park in the Asia- Luneta (Rizal Park). The place has witnessed several events in Philippine history, most notable would be the execution of Dr Jose Rizal (Philippine’s national hero). Due to its huge historical significance, walking down the memory lane will give you chills of its yesteryears. Luneta is observed as one of the best places to visit in Manila if you want to witness the patriotism of this country.
Do you want to see a security personnel dressed in a style of Spanish-era civil guard (take a selfie), ride a kalesa (it is a carriage drawn by a horse) or eat dirty ice cream (local ice cream, not literally dirty at all!) and absorb the Filipino culture? Bring your camera and head to this wonderful attraction in Manila!
3. Shop till you drop in Divisoria
Divisoria or Divi for short where everything is on sale, also known as the “mother of cheap shopping” and one of the many places in Manila to purchase local items.
The market offers a wide array of shops and merchandise. When you walk through this area, an on-repeat-recording announces “ALL products, EVERYTHING that you can see here in our booth are now 10 PHP (less than 2 USD as of 2019)” which means they dropped to the cheapest price whatever they could offer.
Haggle in the most possible way you can. Divisoria is worth a stroll only if you are not discouraged by the chaos of street markets and mass shoppers. This is indeed a haven for home starters, the costs of kitchen tools to fabrics are unbeatable. Shop ’til you drop should be your motto when you visit Divisoria, it’s a great place to grab a bargain and one of the best things to do in Manila.
Splurging for souvenirs in Divisoria or dining on the isles of it are only a few of the activities in Manila that you can enjoy over the weekend!
4. Museum Hopping
National Museum of the Philippines, it exhibits the country’s most historical works, national heritage and cultural entities. It is the lead agency of national museums in the Philippines.
A rewarding experience for both locals and tourists, seeing up close the work of Filipino artists from the Spanish era to contemporary ones. Philippines’ finest national artists artworks are displayed in highlight at each part of this museum and it will amaze the artist in you.
National Museum of Fine Arts is owned and operated by the National Museum of the Philippines, it houses the classical Filipino Artists’s sculptures and paintings from 17th to 20th centuries. This art museum is formerly known as the Nation Art Gallery, where the famous Spolarium by Juan Luna resides. This museum will give you a squeeze on how Philippine art comes into bloom.
Also, free admission is the most amazing part of this tour. Museum hopping is one of the top advisable things to do in Manila for couples, who loves art and culture, a little romantic getaway from the busy streets of Manila.
5. Visit Old Churches in Manila
San Agustin Church is equipped with a lot of interesting history. In 1993, UNESCO designated it as a World Heritage Site. It is the oldest church of the Philippines. There are burial crypts which hold the remains of former priests, bishops and other religious leaders. The church itself is a well presented religious cultural site.
Basílica Menor y Catedral Metropolitana de la Immaculada Concepción also known as Manila Cathedral, has been renovated many times, despite its rise-fall scenario, the church stood still until this very day. The lovely interior of Manila Cathedral strongly shows the influence of the Spaniards. This is also the burial site of Corazon Aquino, the first female Philippine president.
It is such a contemplative sanctuary site in the inside muting the strenuous ambience of the outside
Quiapo Church is the home of Black Nazarene, a dark coloured statue of Jesus Christ famously known, for the locals, to be miraculous. In honour of the Black Nazarene, thousands of devotees from all walks of life gather every Friday for the mass. The architecture of it (inside and outside) is in Baroque style with distinctive twisted columns and flawless facade. This church is surrounded by a lot of vendors selling religious crafts and medicinal plants.
Paco Park Church (St. Pancratius Chapel) situated in the middle of Paco Park, a small and domed Catholic chapel inside the walls of the park. This church is walled in circular form with the repositories for Spanish officials and bishops. With its old charm, it is a romantic spot amid the bustling noise of the city, serves as a reminder of Manila’s rich past. A favourite venue for photoshoots, weddings and musical fairs.
Malate Church, this stone church facing the beautiful Manila Bay is one of the oldest church in the city of Manila. Was built during the 16th century by the Augustinian missionaries. The religious edifice always hunts the imagination of each visitors, both local and tourists. Its beautiful architecture and Baroque style are amplified more by its surrounding attraction, the Manila Bay, famous for its gorgeous sunset.
Some beautiful places in Manila are composed of courtyards and old religious sites. Part of Manila trip is paying a visit in different old churches.
6. Enjoy Manila Ocean Park
If you are challenged for what to do in Manila with your kids, Manila Ocean Park has an answer for it. This theme park in Manila has an array of thrilling attractions, housing life forms both under and over the marine life.
For 600 PHP (less than 12 USD as of 2019), you can see 5-6 attractions of the park. Some few interesting parts are the Oceanarium (you walk through tunnels with rays, large fishes and shark), Sea Lion Show (don’t forget to bring your hats!), and the Symphony Evening Show (a light, sound, water and fire fountain show).
Spending your one whole day, spontaneously being an aquanaut or talking with barn animals, Manila Ocean Park is one of the best things to do in Manila for families.
7. Malacañang Palace
The official and principal workplace of the president of the Philippines is Malacañang Palace. Many government officials reside in the palace from the Spanish era up to this very day.
The woodwork, furniture, art pieces and other interiors/exterior decors are made of local products, gathered from different islands of the country. Malacañang Palace continued to be a jewel in terms of infrastructure, despite its numerous renovations, it stands still as what it is today. This is one of the best attractions in Manila as well.
Visiting this historical building when in Manila is highly recommended, especially when you are a fan of a modern twist, deep history of Philippine government.
8. Party all night long with Manila’s nightlife
Many tourists, who visit the country wants to experience a “Manila Nightlife” as it is notable exhilarating according to all the travel bugs, including me, who have been there several times.
Malate is such a lively quarter, with KTV bars, discos, live entertainers, shops and almost 24-hour restaurants. Be prepared to spend 2000+ PHP (50 USD as of 2019) for a bucket of beer and scrumptious Filipino food. Malate is part of the Manila red light districts, others are P Burgos Street, Ermita and EDSA entertainment complex. Malate is a paradise for you if you are the type who loves nightlife and clubbing. A visit to Malate and other party districts are definitely one of the fun things to do in Manila.
Makati’s buzzing nightlife is intriguing that you might want to check out, once you set foot in Manila. Makati is your weekend saviour for your mood to go out, there is an impressive range of particular bars you want to hang out. There are bars where sporty type goes, cheering for their team, awesome DJs dropping their latest mix, some grungy vibe bars that offer zesty yet refreshing cocktails and hushed, laid back bars that includes local-home-grown beers.
Manila’s nightlife is greatly experienced in the open area, where locals and tourists blend perfectly even just for an overnight. Your best nightlife in Manila can be fulfilled when you start drinking a couple of local beer in the street!
9. Stay in luxury hotels and try your luck in a casino
Resorts World Manila (RWM), is strategically located across the Manila Airport, has a varied array of activities for visitors; shopping malls, entertainments, restaurants and casino. Resorts World Manila is the glorious abode of Maxims hotel, 5-Star Marriott Hotel, Belmont Hotel, Sheraton Hotel, Hilton Hotel, Holiday Inn Express and more are about to rise.
With its Vegas-type casino, many guests are thrilled to try all the gaming facilities that offer a wide range of ETGs, table games and slot machines. There are VIP and Mass Market areas that conveniently meet your gaming desire. Casinos are so on fleek any time of the year. Resorts World Manila’s world-class entertainment is definitely one of the top places to go in Manila.
The Resorts World Manila can provide you with the luxury to pocket-friendly hotels, and all are at reasonable prices. Come, book a flight, splurge sagaciously in this one-stop, non-stop entertainment and leisure destination.
10. Enjoy the Manila Bay’s Sunset
Witnessing the sun settle down at Manila Bay is, without doubt, one of the Instagram-worthy places to visit in Manila. The long stretch of the coastline embodies a lot of establishments, the walkway is a good place to catch the sunset and one of the must things to do in Manila.
A massive clean-up drive was imposed by the government in Manila Bay, to ensure the safety of the residents and marine life. There is a saying, that a picture is worth a thousand words and in this case, the Manila Bay sunset show how exquisite it is, but to really see how impressive the Manila sunset is, you truly need to be here and see it for yourself.
Tip advisory: Head to the Harbour view restaurant right behind the US embassy, the pier has a good spot for city fresh air and a captivating skyline of Manila so as the gorgeous sunset.
11. Jones Bridge
Originally built during the Spanish occupation linking the center of political and religious centre of Intramuros and the business district of Binondo. The bridge’s first name during the Spanish era back in the 17th century was “Puente de España”. A beautiful intricately designed bridge showing the grandeur of Spanish design.
The bridge has witnessed various flood and earthquakes and was then re-built to a more simple yet sturdy. In 1919, the new bridge was then given a new name – “Jones Bridge” in honour of the American legislator William Atkinson Jones, that authored “the Jones Law of 1916” that gives the autonomy of the Philippines in 1916 from the American occupation.
The bridge was badly affected during the destruction of Manila during the World War II. Over the decades of rehabilitation of the Manila after the war, Jones Bridge has recently been undergone a major rehabilitation to bring it back to its previous glory just like the Spanish times. Paying a visit to Jones Bridge is now one of the best things to do in Manila.
More posts about the Philippines
I hope that these suggestions of where to go and things to do in Manila will help you plan your Philippine trip soon!
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Everything Zany is a Dual Citizen Travel blog: where East meets West, showing the best of both worlds. Our travel media brand is founded by travel and hotel industry expert – Ryazan Tristram, a Dual Citizen (British – Filipina) based in Worcestershire, UK. Everything Zany is a reputable and award-winning travel blog. Our work and contributions have been featured in Huffington Post, CNBC, Discovery Channel, GMA, Readers Digest, and Lonely Planet. Our missions are to build a great travel community and resource of travel tips, visa and travel guides for travellers. Join us as we travel around the globe with a mission to share the best of the world.