20 Best Things to Do in Manila: A Guide to the City’s Must-See Attractions

Dominique

Things to Do in Manila

Discover the best things to do in Manila, Philippines. Explore historic sites, vibrant markets, lush parks, and cultural hotspots in this dynamic city.

Welcome to Manila, the heart and soul of the Philippines! This bustling metropolis is a melting pot of cultures, histories, and experiences, offering an array of activities that cater to every kind of traveler.

From the remnants of its colonial past seen in the walled city of Intramuros to the bustling streets of Makati, Manila is a city that never sleeps.

Whether you’re looking to delve into the rich history of the Philippines, enjoy the local culinary delights, or simply immerse yourself in the vibrant city life, Manila has it all.

In this article, we’ll explore the top things to do in Manila, ensuring you make the most of your visit. So, let’s embark on this exciting journey and discover the best of what Manila has to offer!

Historical Landmarks

When it comes to historical landmarks, Manila is a city that’s rich with history at every turn. The city’s past is a tapestry of events that have shaped not only the Philippines but also the broader tapestry of Southeast Asian history. Here are some must-visit historical landmarks in Manila:

1. Intramuros: A Walk Through History

Intramuros
Photo: Google Maps/Khris Rackham

Intramuros, known as the “Walled City,” is the oldest district of Manila. Walking through its streets is like stepping back into the Spanish Colonial era.

Key attractions include the San Agustin Church, the oldest stone church in the country, and the Manila Cathedral, a magnificent architectural feat.

2. Rizal Park: A Tribute to a National Hero

Cultural and Recreational Highlights of Rizal Park
Photo: Google Maps/Peter Brann

Dedicated to Dr. Jose Rizal, the Philippines’ national hero, Rizal Park is a sprawling oasis in the heart of the city. It’s where Rizal was executed, sparking the Philippine Revolution against Spanish rule. The park is not only a place of historical significance but also a pleasant green space for relaxation and cultural events.

3. Fort Santiago: Echoes of the Past

Fort Santiago
Photo: Google Maps/Vuk Nikolić

Fort Santiago, initially constructed by the Spanish conquistador Miguel López de Legazpi, is a historic fortress. The fort is part of the structures of Intramuros and has a rich historical background, being a key defense fortress during the Spanish Colonial period. It also served as a prison for Rizal during the final days before his execution.

4. Casa Manila: A Glimpse into Colonial Elegance

Casa Manila
Photo: Google Maps/Chona Guernsey

Casa Manila is a beautifully restored Spanish colonial mansion in the heart of Intramuros. This museum offers a glimpse into the opulent lifestyle during the Spanish colonial era.

The house is furnished with antique furniture, artworks, and various fixtures that illustrate the luxury of the period. Strolling through Casa Manila is like stepping back in time, offering a unique perspective on Manila’s rich history.

5. Malacañang Palace: The Seat of Power

Malacañang Palace
Photo: Google Maps/Marc M

Malacañang Palace, the official residence of the President of the Philippines, is a historic site worth visiting. While the palace itself is not open to the public, the Malacañang Museum located within the palace complex provides an insight into the country’s political history.

The museum showcases the Philippines’ presidential history, including memorabilia, gifts, and personal belongings of the country’s past leaders.

6. Baluarte de San Diego: A Historic Fortress

Historical Landmarks
Photo: Unsplash/Aela Mataverde

Nestled within the famed walls of Intramuros, Baluarte de San Diego stands as a testament to Manila’s colonial past. This 16th-century fortress, originally designed as a bastion, is among the oldest stone fortifications in the city.

Today, it’s a popular site for its well-preserved structure and the beautifully manicured gardens that surround it. The Baluarte offers a picturesque view of the city and a glimpse into the historical military architecture of the Spanish era.

Cultural Experiences

Manila, with its diverse heritage, offers an array of cultural experiences that provide a deeper understanding of Filipino traditions, arts, and daily life. Here are some highlights for those seeking to immerse themselves in the city’s cultural scene:

7. National Museum of the Philippines: A Cultural Journey

National Museum of the Philippines
Photo: Google Maps/Валерий Беспалько

The National Museum of the Philippines is a treasure trove of historical and cultural artifacts. It houses an extensive collection of ethnographic, anthropological, and archaeological exhibits that tell the story of the Philippines from prehistoric times to the modern era.

Not to be missed are the stunning works of renowned Filipino artists, which showcase the rich artistic heritage of the country.

8. Cultural Performances at the Cultural Center of the Philippines

Cultural Center of the Philippines
Photo: Unsplash/Kevin Rein Bantang

For those interested in the performing arts, the Cultural Center of the Philippines is a must-visit. It’s the premiere venue for ballet, theater, music, and other performances, often featuring both local and international artists.

Watching a show here is a fantastic way to experience the vibrancy and talent of the Filipino performing arts scene.

9. Binondo: Exploring the Oldest Chinatown

Cultural Experiences
Photo: Unsplash/Michael Buillerey

A visit to Binondo, the world’s oldest Chinatown, is a journey through the Filipino-Chinese cultural landscape. This district offers a unique blend of cultures, evident in its architecture, religious sites, and, most importantly, its food.

A culinary tour through Binondo is a must, with stops at various eateries serving up everything from traditional Chinese fare to Filipino-Chinese fusion dishes.

10. Ayala Museum: A Modern Cultural Hub

Ayala Museum
Photo: Google Maps/Romeo Mahyous

The Ayala Museum, located in the heart of Makati, is a contemporary museum that showcases the rich cultural heritage of the Philippines. It features a wide array of exhibitions, including pre-colonial gold artifacts, indigenous textiles, and works by Filipino artists.

The museum is also known for its dioramas that vividly depict key moments in Philippine history. It’s a perfect spot for art enthusiasts and history buffs alike.

11. Manila Money Museum: A Journey through Economic History

Manila Money Museum
Photo: Google Maps/Dan Valencia

The Manila Money Museum, housed within the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas complex, offers an intriguing look into the Philippines’ monetary history.

The museum displays a fascinating collection of currencies used throughout the country’s history, from pre-colonial trade barter systems to modern banknotes and coins.

It’s an insightful place to learn about the evolution of the Philippine economy and the role of currency in shaping the nation’s history.

Shopping and Markets

Manila is a shopper’s paradise, offering everything from sprawling malls to bustling street markets. Here’s a guide to some of the best shopping experiences in the city:

12. SM Mall of Asia: A Mega Shopping Experience

SM Mall of Asia
Photo: Unsplash/Paolo Estrellado

The SM Mall of Asia is not just a shopping center; it’s a landmark in itself. One of the largest malls in the world, it offers a vast array of shops, from international brands to local boutiques.

Beyond shopping, it features an IMAX theater, an ice skating rink, and a variety of dining options. Whether you’re looking for fashion, gadgets, or souvenirs, SM Mall of Asia has something for everyone.

13. Divisoria Market: Bargain Hunter’s Paradise

Divisoria Market
Photo: Google Maps/Andre Saw

For those who love a good bargain, Divisoria Market is the place to be. Known as the shopping mecca of Manila, it’s where locals go for wholesale prices on clothes, accessories, toys, and household items.

Haggling is part of the experience, so be ready to negotiate for the best deals. It’s a vibrant and lively part of Manila that offers a glimpse into the local way of life.

14. Greenbelt: Luxury Shopping

Greenbelt
Photo: Google Maps/Dante Jarabelo

If you’re in the mood for luxury shopping, head to Greenbelt in Makati. This upscale shopping complex is known for its high-end boutiques, designer labels, and sophisticated ambiance.

It’s not just about shopping; Greenbelt also offers a range of fine dining restaurants and cafes, making it a perfect spot for a leisurely day out.

15. Robinsons Place Mall: A Shopper’s Delight

Robinsons Place Mall
Photo: Google Maps/Hikaru Tsuchiya

Robinsons Place Mall in Manila is a haven for shoppers. As one of the largest shopping malls in the city, it offers a wide range of retail stores, dining options, and entertainment facilities.

Whether you’re looking for international brands, local boutiques, or a vibrant food scene, Robinsons Place has it all. The mall is not just about shopping; it’s a place where families and friends can gather for a day of fun and relaxation.

Parks and Nature

Manila, a city often associated with bustling streets and towering skyscrapers, also offers serene parks and natural attractions for those seeking a green escape. Here’s a look at some of the best parks and nature spots in the city:

16. Manila Ocean Park: Marine Adventures

Manila Ocean Park
Photo: Google Maps/Jhonryll Bernaldez

For a unique experience, head to Manila Ocean Park, the country’s first world-class marine theme park and aquarium. It offers a fascinating glimpse into the aquatic world with its variety of sea creatures, interactive exhibits, and entertaining shows. It’s a perfect destination for families and anyone interested in marine life.

17. Arroceros Forest Park: Urban Greenery

Arroceros Forest Park
Photo: Google Maps/Patrick John Dizon

Arroceros Forest Park is often referred to as Manila’s “last lung,” providing much-needed greenery amidst the urban landscape. This hidden gem is a haven for nature lovers and bird watchers, offering a peaceful retreat from the city’s hustle and bustle. The park is home to several native trees and plants, making it a vital ecological spot in Manila.

18. Paco Park: A Serene Oasis

Paco Park
Photo: Google Maps/Cheng Lee

Once a cemetery during the Spanish colonial period, Paco Park has been transformed into a tranquil public park. It’s a place of both beauty and historical significance.

The park is known for its circular walls, lush gardens, and the chapel where the remains of national hero Dr. Jose Rizal were once interred. Paco Park serves as a serene escape from the city’s bustle and is often a venue for concerts and events.

19. Manila Zoo: A Family-Friendly Attraction

Manila Zoo
Photo: Google Maps/Or Ali Op

The Manila Zoo, a favored spot for families and wildlife enthusiasts, houses an array of animal species, ranging from indigenous to exotic.

The zoo aims to provide both an educational and entertaining experience, highlighting the importance of wildlife conservation and animal welfare. It’s a great place for children to learn about animals and their habitats.

20. Manila Baywalk: Scenic Views and Vibrant Evenings

Parks and Nature
Photo: Google Maps/Robert Piller

The Manila Baywalk is a picturesque promenade along the coast of Manila Bay. Known for its stunning sunsets, the Baywalk is a favorite spot for both locals and tourists.

In the evenings, the area comes alive with street performers, food vendors, and musicians. It’s the perfect place to enjoy a leisurely walk, savor local snacks, and take in the vibrant atmosphere of Manila.

Conclusion

In conclusion, Manila is not just a city; it’s a vibrant tapestry of experiences waiting to be discovered. Each corner of this city tells a story, and every experience leaves a lasting impression.

Whether you’re a history enthusiast, a culture buff, an avid shopper, or simply looking for new adventures, Manila has something to cater to your interests. The city’s warmth is not just in its weather but in the hospitality of its people, making visitors feel welcome and cherished.

As you leave Manila, you carry with you not just souvenirs but memories of a city that is constantly evolving yet deeply rooted in its heritage. The experiences you’ve had here are as diverse as the city itself, providing a deeper understanding of the Filipino spirit and the rich tapestry of its culture.

Manila is more than just a destination; it’s an experience that stays with you long after your journey has ended. It’s a city that invites you to return, promising new discoveries and endless adventures.

FAQs About Visiting Manila

FAQs About Visiting Manila
Photo: Unsplash/Michael Buillerey

1. What is the best time of year to visit Manila?

The best time to visit Manila is typically from December to February, when the weather is cooler and less humid. This period is outside of the rainy season, which runs from June to November, making it ideal for sightseeing and outdoor activities.

2. Is Manila safe for tourists?

Like any major city, Manila has areas that are safer than others. It’s generally safe for tourists, especially in well-traveled and tourist-friendly areas. However, it’s always advisable to take standard safety precautions like securing your belongings and being aware of your surroundings.

3. What are some must-try foods in Manila?

Manila offers a diverse culinary scene. Must-try dishes include Adobo (a savory stew), Sinigang (a sour soup), Lechon (roasted pig), and Halo-Halo (a mixed dessert with shaved ice, milk, and various sweet ingredients). Street food is also a big part of Manila’s food culture, offering delicious and affordable options.

4. How should I get around in Manila?

The most convenient ways to get around Manila are by taxi, ride-hailing services like Grab, and the Light Rail Transit (LRT) and Metro Rail Transit (MRT) systems. Jeepneys and buses are also available for a more local experience, though they can be crowded and less predictable in terms of schedule.

5. Can I speak English in Manila?

Yes, English is widely spoken in Manila. It’s one of the official languages of the Philippines and is commonly used in business, government, and education, as well as in everyday communication.

6. What are some unique souvenirs to bring back from Manila?

Popular souvenirs from Manila include traditional Filipino handicrafts like woven baskets and mats, wood carvings, capiz shell items, and locally made jewelry. You can also consider bringing home Filipino food products like dried mangoes, local coffee, and artisanal chocolates.

7. Are there any cultural customs I should be aware of when visiting Manila?

Filipinos are known for their hospitality and respect towards elders. A common custom is the “Mano Po,” where younger people take an elder’s hand and press it to their forehead as a sign of respect. It’s also customary to remove shoes when entering someone’s home.

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