Top 20 Things to Do in Manila: Exploring the Vibrant Capital of the Philippines and attractions (2023)
A lot of visitors to the Philippines tend to ignore exploring Manila and just use the city as a transit spot to the tropical islands that draw tourists from around the world. For those that have a few days to explore and see something worthwhile, there are definitely some cool, historic and unique places worth exploring around the city and the key thing is to base yourself somewhere central so it is easier to avoid the traffic which is prevalent everywhere in the city. Following are the 20 top things to do in Manila that you should check out when you visit the capital of the Philippines.
Why Visit Manila?
Most visitors to the Philippines bypass Manila quickly as a hub to get to more of the tropical and lush islands that the country is known for. I find that exploring the ancient and modern combined around Manila gives you a real impression of the history, culture and pulse of the capital city.
Manila, the bustling capital of the Philippines, is an absolute gem of a destination that offers an unparalleled travel experience. Its unique blend of rich history, diverse culture, and stunning architecture make it a must-visit city for any traveler. The city’s Spanish colonial past is evident in its iconic landmarks such as Intramuros walled city, Fort Santiago, and the San Agustin Church, which provide an unforgettable glimpse into the country’s history. Manila’s thriving arts scene also caters to those seeking a taste of modern Filipino culture, with world-class galleries, museums, and performance venues showcasing the best of the country’s contemporary art and music.
The city’s food scene is another highlight, with countless street vendors, local eateries, and high-end restaurants offering a tantalizing array of Filipino cuisine that’s sure to satisfy even the most discerning palate. Whether you’re after a night out on the town or an adventure in the great outdoors, Manila’s warm and friendly locals, vibrant nightlife, and endless opportunities for fun and exploration make it an ideal destination for all. So why not make Manila your next travel destination and immerse yourself in everything this exciting city has to offer?
There’s a lot to see around the historic district of Manila, the many neighborhoods and newer parts of the city to explore. We share some of our favorite places and things for you to also do when you visit the city.
Top 20 things to do in Manila (historic sites, cool places and fun things to do)
1. National Museum of the Philippines and the Museum of the Filipino People
The joint museums of the National Museum of the Philippines and the Museum of the Filipino People located in Luneta Park are a great way to understand the history, culture and traditional to contemporary lifestyle and art of the country. With traditional art, displays and collectibles along with rotating shows, both historical museums offer a well crafted and educational experience to understand the many facets of Philippine art, history and the Filipino people who live around the various regions of the country
This world class museum is amazing and fun to explore, check out the highlights to visiting below
Exploring the national museum of the Philippines
2. Binondo or Chinatown
The historic Chinatown district is a hodgepodge of old historic buildings, decaying structures and delicious places to eat and explore in the area. It’s easy to walk the main streets, check out the ornate Binondo church, shopping in Ongpin street or Divisoria and the main square at Plaza San Lorenzo Ruiz while trying out some of the specialty dishes and restaurants serving them in the area.
Exploring the Chinatown district and Plaza San Lorenzo Ruiz
Food court area in Bitondo – Chinatown
Explore the best of the Binondo district below
3. Intramuros or the Old historic district
The Old historic district of Manila called Intramuros is a must visit spot to see the many Spanish colonial buildings and homes in the original settlement, fortress and old town. It’s easy to walk around the walled with but the best places to visit in Intramuros include: Manila Cathedral, St. Augustine church, San Diego gardens and Buluarte, Fort Santiago, Casa Manila home, Barbara’s restaurant with a Filipino dance performance
Take a guided tour in the historic district
There’s so much to see and do in Old Manila and taking a guided tour of this historic area will be easier to arrange and learn about the fascinating history, people and culture of the Filipinos.
Exploring the Intramuros district of Old Manila
Here’s a visit to the old Spanish area of Intramuros
4. Rizal Park and monument to Jose Rizal
The large park fronting Manila bay is a must visit to enjoy Rizal Park and the historic monument to Jose Rizal, the Filipino’s national hero who championed a national Filipino identity and national pride. The real monument was created and approved through the US president Theodore Roosevelt in 1901 with a national competition that choose the final landmark. At the monument, you will find honor guards standing around the monument 24 hours a day.
Check out the Changing of the Guard at the Rizal Monument
5. Manila bay front, dining and bar scene
The waterfront area of Manila around Roxas Boulevard is nice to spend a little time especially during the late afternoon with sunset views over Manila bay. Afterwards you can find some fantastic dining spots overlooking the bay or do some happy hour or bar crawl in many popular hangout spots in the waterfront area and try some local beer like San Miguel and snack food like Balut (immature egg fetus) , Sisig (fried pigs face) or chicharon (crunchy pork rinds).
If you are looking for something special to do on the waterfront area at night, why not take this sunset dinner cruise of Manila Bay which cruises the bay with views of sunset into night and the lights of the city appears while the band plays local and popular international music.
Check out the new waterfront areas of Manila Bay below
6. Kalesa ride through historic Manila
A fun way to explore the Intramurous historic district is by a horse drawn Kalesa with a guide that will show you the highlights to major monuments and historic buildings in the area and what they were used for during the colonial timeframe to its current use. The colorful Kalesas are fun to ride and take some selfies along with the driver – just make sure that you negotiate the price and tour activities before you get on the carriage.
Visiting the Old area of Manila on a Kalesa Ride
7. Manila Hotel for an elegant dining and bar scene
For a special treat to Manila’s grand old days as a colonial capital, a visit to the remodeled Manila Hotel is a must. It’s fun to check out beautiful lobby and interiors and have a delicious tropical drink in one of main bars just of the lobby area. Or if you feel like a real splurge how about their famous international buffet dinners that will leave you sampling some of the most amazing dishes with exceptional ingredients and menu.
If you’re looking to tour around the attractions in the area, why not stay for a night or two at the Manila hotel – check out the reviews here for more details and current prices.
Views from one of the suites at Manila Hotel
If you want to dine or stay at the Manila Hotel, check it out
8. Exploring downtown Makati and Greenbelt / Ayala center
The business district of Makati is also a great place to see the downtown area and enjoy the fine dining and shopping venues at Green Acres, international museums like the Ayala museum and the Makati light show.
For your convenience in planning a visit touring the city, museums and historic sites, consider this full day Manila tour to give you the highlights to visiting the city and enjoying important cultural and historic attractions of this tour.
Here’s a quick tour of Greenbelt in Ayala Center of Makati
9. Night light show in Makati
The night light show in Makati called Festival of Lights show is definitely one of a kind in the Philippines during the holidays. A free show that runs every night at the Ayala Triangle Gardens in Makati is fun, colorful and very cool – it is very popular with locals with shows running from 6 to 10 pm every night during the holiday season.
Check out the Festival of Lights in Makati below
10. Farmers market in downtown Makati
Lots of food venues to explore at Makati Sunday market
Popular local foods and specialty foods to try in Manila
Manila, Philippines, offers a vibrant culinary scene with a mix of local and specialty foods to tantalize your taste buds. Here are some popular and must-try dishes:
1. **Adobo**: A Filipino classic, adobo features meat (often chicken or pork) marinated in vinegar, soy sauce, garlic, and spices, then simmered to perfection.
2. **Sinigang**: A sour tamarind-based soup with various protein options like pork, shrimp, or fish, accompanied by vegetables.
3. **Lechon**: Roast pig, often served during celebrations, known for its crispy skin and tender meat.
4. **Pancit**: Filipino noodles, with variations like Pancit Canton (stir-fried egg noodles) and Pancit Malabon (thick rice noodles).
5. **Halo-Halo**: A delightful dessert with crushed ice, sweet beans, fruits, and leche flan, topped with purple yam and coconut.
6. **Balut**: A unique delicacy of fertilized duck egg, often eaten with a dash of salt and vinegar.
7. **Kare-Kare**: A rich oxtail stew with a peanut sauce, served with vegetables and bagoong (fermented shrimp paste).
8. **Sisig**: Sizzling chopped pork face and liver, often served with calamansi (citrus) and hot peppers.
9. **Laing**: A spicy dish made from dried taro leaves cooked in coconut milk.
10. **Puto**: Steamed rice cakes, often paired with savory or sweet toppings.
11. **Taho**: A popular street food consisting of silken tofu, syrup, and sago pearls.
12. **Bibingka**: A sweet rice cake made with coconut milk and topped with salted egg and cheese.
13. **Isaw**: Grilled chicken or pork intestines, often served on skewers with a savory sauce.
14. **Tapsilog**: A breakfast favorite, featuring marinated beef (tapa), fried rice (sinangag), and fried egg (itlog).
15. **Lumpia**: Filipino spring rolls, available in various styles, including fresh lumpia and fried lumpia Shanghai.
16. **Kakanin**: Assorted rice cakes with different flavors and toppings, perfect for dessert or merienda (snack time).
When in Manila, don’t miss the opportunity to explore the local eateries, street food stalls, and markets to savor these diverse and flavorful dishes. Each one offers a unique taste of Filipino cuisine.
Check out the foodie market a must visit in Makati for food enthusiasts
11. Travel tour the local way
This fun local way tour around Manila starts with local transportation as party of your journey starting with a ferry ride through the Pasig river in the historic district, a local jeepney ride and a three wheel tricycle motorcycle called a Kuliglig and capped with a tour of the historic Intramuros district in a Kalesa horse carriage ride. Walking through the Binondo district and stopping at a tea house and end with a local commuter train through many of Manila’s busy districts.
Taking a Jeepney through Chinatown
12. BCG district in Manila
The reclaimed industrial zone called BGC or Bonifacio Global City, just south of the airport has been re-purposed into a fun district filled with art venues, shopping center, hip food and bar scene along with fantastic cultural center and performance spaces. You can check out this website here to get more details to current shows and new activities happening around the BGC area
A cool bookstore at BGC High Street
Plenty of outdoor spots to hang out at BGC
Night-time is fun time in BGC
13. Exploring Corregidor island
Corregidor island has a significant history in defending the Philippines and the battles during World War 2 where the island played a significant role in defending the country. You can easily spend a day exploring all the historic ruins and or some beach time if the weather is good.
To visit Corregidor, it’s easier to schedule a guided tour of Corregidor here to take care of the logistics, lunch and a personal guide through the island and historic monuments. This full day war memorial tour highlights all the important sites on the island.
Here’s a fun tour exploring Corregidor Island below
14. Antipolo – art galleries and cultural sites
In the foot hills of the northeast section of Manila is the Antipolo district with a more cool and relaxed vibe. You’ll find a variety of art and culturally inspired venues, museums, galleries and places to enjoy the casual pace and creative scene in Antipolo. Some of the must visit art museums include: Pinto Art Museum, Casa Santa Museum, Casa Santa, Museum of Minatures, Mind Museum and Jorge B. Vargas Museum.
Check out the cool Pinto Art Museum in Antipolo
15. Looking for bargains at Divisoria
The largest public market in Manila, the Divisoria is a large and messy area to explore where locals shop for bargains, everyday bargains and also for tourists to absorb and get down and dirty shopping for good deals in this market. This is definitely where the locals shop so be aware of your surroundings while checking out the various shopping venues around this market.
Shop til you drop at the Divisoria
Hone your bargaining skills at the Divisoria
Looking for bargains – Check out the Divisoria mall and area
16. Historic churches of Manila
There are so many ornate and classic Spanish Colonial style churches in Manila that are a must visit when you are touring around the city. Some of the most significant ones to visit personally include: Manila Cathedral, St. Augustine Basilica, Binondo church and Quipo church.
Check out the oldest church in Manila
17. Dining and culture experience in Manila
You can experience a fantastic combination dance and dinner event highlighting the history, dance and culture of the Philippines with a delicious dinner buffet with local and exotic dishes to savor. This show and dinner experience is a fantastic way to really absorb Philippine culture, dance and music with a taste of the local food specialties.
Check out this dinner and show experience below
18. Shopping and dining fun in a shopping mall
Believe it or not, shopping centers are huge in the Philippines for entertainment, shopping and eating venues. There are many popular malls located around the city but the biggest and best shopping centers that cater to an international set include: BGC, Greenbelt Mall, Green Hills shopping center, Glorietta, Venice Grand Mall, SM Mall of Asia. These mega malls are where Filipinos go for good food and dining, entertainment venues, shopping and just window shopping fun.
Shopping fun at the BGC High street
Check out the fun BGC Metro area of Manila
19. A visit to Tagaytay
A favorite spot for local Filipinos to get away from the heat of Manila, Tagaytay is cooler with a volcano, a lake within the volcano an active volcano called Taal that you can climb up to. This is a fantastic trip with great views, historic sites and stunning scenery to enjoy and photograph. You can also schedule a full day tour here to see the main attractions, catered lunch and guide with a pick up and drop off from a Manila hotel location.
Colorful bancas at Tagaytay
Get out of Manila and explore cool Tagaytay area
20. Dinner cruise around Manila Harbor
End a day in Manila with a dinner cruise around the bay and watch sunset from a comfortable yacht with options for sunset, mid evening to night dinner cruises. This tour of the bay will visit many popular spots and attractions around the bay, local Filipino dishes will be served and a band will perform for entertainment. Check out the details here for the schedule, current prices and booking.
Here’s some highlights to the dinner cruise experience below
Weather and best time to visit Manila
Manila, the bustling capital of the Philippines, experiences a tropical climate with two distinct seasons: the dry season and the wet season. The best time to visit Manila is during the dry season, which typically lasts from November to April.
During the dry season, Manila enjoys warm and pleasant weather, with temperatures ranging from around 24°C (75°F) to 31°C (88°F). The skies are generally clear, making it ideal for outdoor activities and exploring the city’s attractions. It is worth noting that the months of December and January can be slightly cooler, so packing a light jacket or sweater is recommended for the evenings.
In contrast, the wet season in Manila occurs from May to October, characterized by frequent rainfall and occasional typhoons. The weather during this time can be hot and humid, with temperatures ranging from 26°C (79°F) to 34°C (93°F). While the wet season may offer lower hotel rates and fewer crowds, it is important to be prepared for heavy rains and the possibility of disrupted outdoor plans.
If you prefer to avoid the rainy season and experience more favorable weather conditions, it is advisable to plan your visit to Manila during the dry season, particularly between November and February. These months offer a pleasant climate and coincide with various festivals and events, providing an opportunity to immerse yourself in the local culture.
Ultimately, the best time to visit Manila depends on your personal preferences and activities you plan to engage in. Regardless of the season, Manila’s vibrant energy and rich cultural heritage are sure to leave you with lasting memories.
More inside tips to visiting Manila
More Inside Tips for Visiting Manila
- Embrace the Traffic: Manila is known for its notorious traffic congestion. Be prepared for potential delays and plan your itinerary accordingly. Consider using ride-hailing services or the city’s efficient public transportation system, such as the MRT or LRT, to navigate through the city more easily.
- Stay Hydrated: Manila’s tropical climate can be hot and humid, so it’s essential to stay hydrated. Carry a water bottle with you at all times and drink plenty of fluids, especially when exploring outdoor attractions or walking around the city.
- Explore Cultural Landmarks: Manila boasts a rich history and cultural heritage. Visit iconic landmarks like Intramuros, Rizal Park, and San Agustin Church to immerse yourself in the city’s past. Take guided tours to learn about Manila’s colonial history and the significant role it played in shaping the Philippines.
- Sample Filipino Cuisine: Manila is a food lover’s paradise, offering a wide array of Filipino delicacies. Don’t miss the chance to try local dishes like adobo (marinated meat), sinigang (sour soup), or halo-halo (a refreshing dessert). Explore food markets, such as Mercato Centrale or Salcedo Market, to savor various street food and regional specialties.
- Visit Intriguing Museums: Manila is home to numerous museums that provide insights into the country’s art, culture, and history. Check out the National Museum of the Philippines, Ayala Museum, or the Mind Museum for a deeper understanding of Filipino heritage.
- Experience the Nightlife: Manila comes alive at night, offering a vibrant nightlife scene. Head to areas like Makati, Bonifacio Global City, or Malate to find trendy bars, clubs, and live music venues. Enjoy the energetic atmosphere, dance the night away, or simply unwind with a refreshing drink.
- Shop Till You Drop: Manila is a shopper’s paradise, with a wide range of malls, markets, and boutiques to explore. From high-end luxury brands to local crafts and souvenirs, you’ll find something to suit every taste and budget. Check out popular shopping destinations like SM Mall of Asia, Greenbelt, or Divisoria for a unique retail experience.
- Stay Vigilant: Like any major city, it’s important to stay vigilant and take necessary precautions. Keep your belongings secure, be aware of your surroundings, and avoid displaying valuable items openly. It’s always advisable to use reliable transportation options and stick to well-lit areas, particularly at night.
By following these inside tips, you’ll be well-prepared to explore and enjoy the vibrant city of Manila. Immerse yourself in its rich culture, savor the local cuisine, and embrace the warmth and hospitality of the Filipino people. Manila is a city that offers a diverse range of experiences and is sure to leave a lasting impression on your travels.
Where to Stay in Manila
Manila is a large sprawling metropolis with a lot of traffic issues and congestion. Finding a location that is centrally located is the best way to see many of the attractions around the city and find ways to get around all the congestion. Here are my suggestions on where to stay in the best areas that are easy to get to and from the major attractions around the city.
Historic district or Ermita – The old historic district with government, businesses and entertainment areas that are easy to get to from this area. Check out the best rated hotels in the area here for reviews and availability.
Metro Manila – The main business downtown district is central to many locations and attractions around Manila, this includes Makati, BGC areas in the city. Check out the best rated hotels in the area here for reviews and availability.
Manila Bay and waterfront – Close to the old historic district and attractions, you will find plenty of places to visit and discover in this vibrant city without the major traffic hassles of being in the historic areas of the city. Check out the best rated hotels in the area here for reviews and availability.
For more hotels around Manila and the highest rated places to stay, check out these TripAdvisor reviews here for current prices and availability.
How to get around Manila
When visiting Manila, there are a few helpful tips to keep in mind to avoid the traffic and make the most out of your trip. First, consider using public transportation like the MRT or LRT trains, which can help you avoid the heavy traffic on the roads. If you do need to take a taxi, make sure to agree on the fare before getting in, and always use reputable taxi companies to avoid scams.
Getting around Manila, Philippines, can be an adventure in itself. Here are several ways to navigate this bustling metropolis:
– **Jeepneys**: Iconic and affordable, these colorful vehicles traverse most routes.
– **Buses**: Public buses and private bus companies connect different parts of the city.
– **LRT and MRT**: Light Rail Transit and Metro Rail Transit offer a faster way to move through Manila.
Taxis and Ride-Sharing Apps
– Hail a traditional taxi or use ride-sharing apps like Grab and Uber for convenience and comfort.
Tricycles and Pedicabs
– These are common for short trips within neighborhoods and are a unique way to explore.
– In some areas like Intramuros and Makati, walking can be a pleasant and practical way to get around.
Ferries and Water Taxis
– For destinations along Manila Bay or the Pasig River, consider using ferries and water taxis.
Renting a Car
– If you prefer more autonomy, rental cars are available, but traffic can be challenging.
– Some areas have bike lanes and bike-sharing programs for eco-friendly travel.
– The PNR (Philippine National Railways) serves some areas outside the city and is an option for longer trips.
Motorcycle Taxis (Angkas)
– A motorcycle taxi service that can navigate traffic quickly.
Airport Shuttle Services
– Special shuttle services connect the airports to various parts of the city.
Be Mindful of Traffic: Manila can have heavy traffic, especially during rush hours, so plan your journeys accordingly.
Use Navigation Apps: Apps like Waze and Google Maps can help you navigate the city and avoid traffic.
Another way to beat the traffic is to plan your itinerary carefully and strategically. Visit popular tourist destinations during off-peak hours to avoid crowds and traffic jams. It’s also a good idea to choose accommodations that are centrally located, so you can easily access the places you want to visit.
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Conclusion to the Top 20 things to do in Manila
Manila offers a captivating blend of history, culture, and vibrant energy that will leave visitors with a truly memorable experience. From exploring the historic sites of Intramuros to indulging in the diverse culinary delights, there is something for everyone in this bustling capital city. Whether it’s immersing oneself in the local art scene, shopping in the bustling markets, or simply enjoying the warmth and hospitality of the Filipino people, Manila promises to captivate and enchant. So, embark on an adventure through the streets of Manila, embrace its rich cultural heritage, and create cherished memories that will last a lifetime.
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