An Asian megacity and often the first port of call for many in the Philippines is the capital Manila. There are more than 13 million people living in the entire metro area! It’s a feast for the senses (although some may say assault) and an intense introduction to life in the Philippines.
When it comes to things to do, you’ll find some of the best sightseeing in the country. Not only are there spectacular colonial churches, fearsome fortresses, and world-class museums but it boasts an awesome music scene too. Top it off with a wide selection of places to eat and drink and you have an epic city break on your hands!
With so much to do in Manila, you might need a push in the right direction. After all, if you only have a couple of days here, you don’t want to waste time doing something that seems like a waste of time.
So, our expert travel writers have searched every nook and cranny to find the coolest things to do in Manila. There’s a wide mix, so you’re sure not to be bored. Let’s take a closer look at the top things to do in Manila!
Top Things to Do in Manila
Let’s begin our list of the best things to do in Manila with the oldest part of the city. In fact, it’s all that was there before the 20th century. The walled Old City of Manila was the capital of the Spanish East Indies from the 16th century until 1898. So, as you can imagine it’s full of important colonial architecture, including churches, palaces, and wide-open squares. If it’s too much to walk, there are several ways to see the Intramuros neighbourhood, including a calesa horse carriage, motorised tricycle, or a bamboo bike.
One of the most important sites of the Intramuros district, Fort Santiago deserves a section all to itself. Dating all the way back to 1571, it was the military base for the Spanish government. Check out the country’s coat of arms on the enormous main gate. See where national hero José Rizal (you’ll see his name a lot in Manila) was imprisoned before being executed during the Philippine Revolution. Fort Santiago is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
3. Manila Baywalk
While there’s lots of fascinating historic places in Manila, it’s nice to break them up with some relaxing activities. One such is walking along the waterside promenade of Manila Bay. It’s particularly popular around sunset, and a great place to bring your other half if you’re travelling as a couple. The baywalk is about 2km long, but don’t rush it. Make sure you stop to watch live music and street performers, and don’t miss your chance to pick up some authentic Filipino street food from the vendors here!
Another of Manila’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites in San Agustin Church. Built at a similar time to Fort Santiago, it’s the oldest stone built church in the Philippines and dates back to the end of the 16th century. You could almost trick yourself into thinking you’re in the historic centre of a Spanish town. The church has a museum attached which delves into the history of Catholicism in the Philippines. You’ll see religious artefacts, paintings, and statues from all around the country at this fascinating Manila landmark.
See if you’re braver than the current Filipino president by taking a trip to the Malacañang Palace. Rodrigo Duterte made the headlines in 2016, after refusing to move in because of ghosts. Don’t let those sneaky spirits put you off (mostly because there’s no proof they exist) and learn more about the country’s 21st century history. This beautiful whitewashed building has been home to every Spanish and American governor before the Philippines declared independence, and this is the best place to find out more about them.
6. The world’s oldest Chinatown
Also known as Bindondo, Manila is home to the oldest Chinatown district in the entire world. Pass through that traditional arch to see where there has been a Chinese trading presence since the 9th century. This is a favourite spot for foodies, who can enjoy authentic dim sum at its restaurants – or just fusion street food from the vendors who operate in this part of town. Once you’ve filled up on tasty food, there are two Buddhist temples well worth your time: Seng Guan and Kuan Kong.
7. Rizal Park
We told you earlier you’d hear the name Rizal again, and who are we to disappoint you! On the southern limits of the Intramuros District, this is another Manila landmark that is home to a lot of history. This is where José Rizal was executed at the end of the 19th century, an important event in the Philippine revolution. His remains are still here and guarded by soldiers 24 hours a day. Rizal Park also the location that the Philippines declared its independence in 1946.
8. SM Mall of Asia
Visiting a shopping mall might not seem like the most exciting thing to do on vacation, but that’s just because you haven’t heard of the SM Mall of Asia yet. In a city known for its malls, SM is the king of them all, with more than 800 stores across this complex. It’s the 4th largest mall in the world! It’s not just shops here though – there are two food courts, a multi-screen cinema, a bowling alley, skating rink, and a convention centre which hosts international events. Don’t miss it!
9. Quiapo Church
While San Agustin church and museum is undoubtedly a Manila must see, it’s not the only colonial church in town. Quiapo is one of the oldest Catholic churches in Manila, also known as the Minor Basilica of the Black Nazarene. It’s a great place to people-watch as there are always people milling around in the plaza outside. You can even buy fresh fruit, nuts, and artisan souvenirs here. Friday is the time when the church truly comes alive. Thousands of people pray for novena in the square – so it’s very busy.
10. Pasay Seafood Market
If you want to experience delicious Filipino street food, then you can’t miss Pasay Seafood Market off your Manila itinerary. Just a stone’s throw from the Mall of Asia, it’s the perfect place to quell your hunger after some retail therapy. Shelves are heaving with all sorts of seafood including lobster, mussels, and tuna. To make the most of your fresh catch, take it to one of the restaurants outside the market who can prepare it how you like. It can be pretty expensive, but if you’re travelling with family or friends it’s a no-brainer!
Unusual Things to Do in Manila
After Pasay Seafood Market, you’ll probably want a dessert. So, it’s good news that there’s a museum in Manila dedicated to the post dinner sweet treat! This quirky museum is a feast for the senses, made up of 8 different rooms celebrating desserts. There’s an Alice in Wonderland themed attraction, where you can follow candy rabbits down the donut hole, or you can just marvel at the Room of Ten Thousand Marshmallows. Of course, there are complimentary tasters on your way around the museum!
12. Yexel’s Toy House
Another of the more unusual things to do in Manila is visiting Yexel’s Toy House. Started by a hardcore collector, Yexel was originally just a man with a lot of superheroes and cartoon characters. It’s next to the Ayala Malls, and there are more than 50,000 collectables in the museum.
Okay, it’s not an unusual thing to do in Manila to Filipinos, but for Brits, Europeans, and Americans, getting up and singing on video probably won’t be part of your regular routine. There are videoke (and karaoke) bars across Manila, and the biggest venues mean you’ll be singing in front of hundreds of people. If that’s your idea of a nightmare, you’ll be pleased to know that most places offer group rooms where only your friends will see you… And your social media followers!
Safety in Manila
Manila is a great place to visit, but it does have its problems. With a population of more than 13 million people and some of the biggest slums in Asia, crime can cause a problem for tourists when they’re here. However, it’s possible to minimise the risk with some sensible behaviour. Petty theft is the most common risk to tourists, but it can be avoided. Stick to groups when you’re out at night, don’t go in unlit areas, and keep your valuables hidden. If you’d rather not walk, take a cab but make sure it’s a metered one. Although it may seem scary, most tourists have a safe trip to Manila – so don’t let petty crime put you off!
Taking safety measures and ensuring you have everything on your Philippines packing list can ensure you enjoy your time in paradise. Check out our roundup of the best travel insurance.
Things to Do in Manila at Night
14. Makati Pub Crawl
If you’re looking for something to do at night, why not try a Makati Pub Crawl. The city’s nightlife is legendary, and you’re sure to have an awesome evening… even if you don’t remember it the next day! You can get everything from craft beer, to Korean soju. For those who don’t know the best pubs to visit, you can always join a guided tour offered from many of Manila’s hostels.
15. Tutuban Night Market
Yes, Manila may be full of awesome malls, but when it comes to a mix of cheap souvenirs and eating street food till you burst, nothing can beat a night market. Tutuban Night Market is not only authentic and offers great goods, but it’s also safe, clean, and well-organised – making it a favourite of locals and tourists alike.
16. Watch the Amazing Show
For an insight into the LGBT community in Manila, there are few better nights out than the Amazing Show. The Amazing Show takes place in the Manila Film Centre and hosts a mixture of comedy acts, musical performances, and dances from different countries, with many of the performers being transgender. The building hides dark secrets – its conception was the wish of former dictator’s wife Imelda Marcos, and it was designed to look like the Greek Parthenon.
Where to Stay in Manila
Best Hostel in Manila – Manila Z Hostel
Want to get the best views of Manila’s skyline from the roof deck while sipping on a beer and making connections with fellow travellers? Then Manila Z Hostel might just be the best place to stay for you! Right in the heart of Makati, you’ll be able to take advantage of awesome social events and get to know some of the cool and creative establishments in the local area.View on HostelWorld
Best Airbnb in Manila – Cosy Condo in Makati
With space for up to four at this cosy condo in Makati, this is one of the top Airbnbs in Manila for a small group of friends or family. And it’s awfully kind on the pocket as well. For such a cheap price, you might not be expecting much. However, you’d be wrong. You’ll have access to the swimming pool and free parking too!View on Airbnb
Best Hotel in Manila – Hotel Merlo
One of the top rated hotels in Manila, Hotel Merlo offers awesome views from the heart of the Makati District. All rooms come with air-conditioning, a private bathroom, a desk, and a flat-screen TV. Rooms are spacious and some even come with a balcony, so you can admire epic views of Manila’s skyline.View on Booking.com
Romantic Things to Do in Manila
17. Sip & Gogh
One of the more unusual date ideas in Manila, but certainly one that will live long in the memory. Sip & Gogh has multiple branches in Manila, and you can really let your creativity flow… who knows, perhaps your painting will get better after a few drinks! If you want to take your artwork home, make sure you leave some space in your suitcase. It might be hanging above your bed when you get home!
18. Eat at a garden restaurant
For a break from Manila’s hustle and bustle, why not head to a garden restaurant?! While dining out on street food is a great way to surprise your pallet, sometimes it may lack a bit of romance. Garden restaurants will give you a chance to try more upmarket local food and it’s often very Instagrammable! The intimate atmosphere is perfect for those who are travelling with the one they love.
Best Free Things to Do in Manila
19. Bonifacio Global City
Bonifacio Global City in the Taguig neighbourhood is made up of lots of elements. There are clubs, restaurants, and bars aplenty. While you should definitely check that out, it’s another side of Bonifacio that’s home to one of the best free things in Manila. There’s lots of street art from local and international artists, with large murals painted on buildings as part of the city’s festival. You can do a DIY walking tour, but if you’re happy to splash out on a tour, a local expert can tell you more about the works.
20. Watch the sunset over Manila Bay
A favourite of couples and budget travellers around the world – finding the best spot to watch sunset (or sunrise) in a location is one of the best free things you can do. After all – the best things in life are free! For the most exquisite sunset, head to Manila Bay.
21. Philippines Cultural Centre
This one isn’t always free – but if you time your visit right it will be. The Cultural Centre of the Philippines has no entry fee between 8.00 and 18.00 on Tuesdays and Sundays. Here, you’ll find the top performing arts theatre in the country, as well as multiple changing exhibits by contemporary painters.
Manila Packing List
1. Travel Water Bottle: Always travel with a water bottle – it’ll save you money and reduce your plastic footprint on our planet. AR bottles are tough, lightweight, and maintain the temperature of your beverage – so you can enjoy a cold red bull, or a hot coffee, no matter where you are. For every AR bottle sold, we donate 10% to PlasticOceans.org – an initiative to reduce plastic in our oceans!
2. Microfibre Towel: It’s always worth packing a proper towel. Hostel towels are scummy and take forever to dry. Microfibre towels dry quickly, are compact, lightweight and can be used as a blanket or yoga mat if need be.
3. Security Belt with Hidden Pocket: I never hit the road without my security belt. This is a regular looking belt with a concealed pocket on the inside – you can hide up to twenty notes inside and wear it through airport scanners without it setting them off. This is hands down the best way to hide your cash.
4. Camera or Cell Phone Camera Accessories: One thing’s for sure – Japan is a picturesque destination! Get perfect shots from your phone using clip-on-lenses with wide-angle, close-up and optical zoom. With the ability to turn travel pictures from basic to professional, this universal lens sits neatly over any phone camera and comes with a durable, travel-friendly case!
5. International Adapter: Japanese outlets accommodate typical US two-pronged plugs, but for electronics that have three prongs, or if your plugs are of a different variety, you’ll need an adapter. Save yourself the hassle of trying to track down an adapter at your destination and paying twice as much than planning ahead by buying one online.
Books to Read in Manila
The Backpacker Bible – Get it for free! Learn how to ditch your desk and travel the world on just $10 a day whilst building a life of long-term travel with an online income. To inspire and help the next generation of Broke Backpackers, you can now grab ‘How to Travel the World on $10 a Day’ for free! Get your copy here.
Playing with Water: Passion and Solitude on a Philippine Island: Ever wondered what life on a deserted island would be like? Well, James experiments with this, spending months on uninhabited islands in the Philippines, going back to the basics of survival and diving into the ‘real Philippines’.
History of the Philippines: From Indios Bravos to Filipinos: For the history nerds, this is an awesome background of The Philippines, the culture and what went into making it the incredible country it is today. Seriously, well worth a read!
Best Things to Do in Manila with Kids
22. Star City Amusement Park
For those who are travelling with the family, there’s nowhere better than Star City Amusement Park. It can get crowded during weekends and school holidays in the peak season though. That’s hardly surprising, as there are several rides here, from kid-friendly attractions to huge and fearsome rollercoasters! Older kids will love the haunted ‘Night of Terror’ ride, while Snow World and Pirate Adventure will keep the younger ones entertained.
23. Manila Ocean Park
Another of the top family-friendly destinations in the Philippines is the Manila Ocean Park. There are thousands of marine animals on show here in the country’s largest public aquarium. For inquisitive who want to get up close and personal with the animals, there are animal interactions with sharks and rays and a sea-lion show. If you’re a little tired of Manila’s hustle and bustle, head to the jellyfish exhibit which is sure to soothe your tired mind.
Other Unmissable Things to Do in Manila
Filipino food has Spanish and Chinese influences made with fresh and local ingredients, so it’s no surprise that its central to many travellers’ Manila experiences. A food crawl or tour is a great way to get to know the best places to eat in the city and to try unique dishes that you might never get at home. You’ll be shown around by local foodies who are just as passionate about food as you are, and you might even get some ideas for what to cook when you return home.
25. Art in Island Museum
If you want to get more likes and follows on your Insta during your trip to Manila, then you best make space for a stop at Art in Island on your itinerary. It’s Asia’s largest 3D art museum, and you’ll have plenty of chances to stop and strike a pose. All of the paintings here have space which can be filled by just one thing – a person! So get yourself in there and get some shots for the gram.
26. Go paragliding
Just a hop, skip, and a jump (well actually, a car ride) from Manila, you’ll find Cavite. That’s where you’ll be able to tick an item off your bucket list – paragliding. You’ll be on a tandem flight with an instructor who will show you exactly how a glider works. Then, with their help you’ll fly through the skies and get an awesome view of Manila Metro’s skyline. This truly exhilarating activity will mean that you get lots of fresh air and some time away from the city too. Most tours mean you get photos, so you can prove to your friends how brave you were!
There is more than one side to Manila’s exciting and vibrant culinary scene. We’ve looked at food, but what about coffee? There are some awesome independent cafes doing wonderful things with coffee – so take a tour to find the most obscure and delightful cafes. You’ll not only get to taste the best coffees, but learn about the best beans and roasting techniques too. A must for caffeine junkies!
Day Trips from Manila
If you have some time to spare and want to enjoy an exhilarating day trip from Manila, a trekking adventure on Mount Pinatubo might just be right up your street. The 1991 eruption was the world’s largest volcanic eruption of the last 100 years, changing the course of weather across the globe. You’ll be pleased to know it’s a little more chill now. You’ll be whisked to the north of Luzon in a comfortable 4 x 4 before trekking to the crater of this active stratovolcano. From there, you can enjoy incredible views of the emerald lake before a return to Manila in time for dinner.
And now for something a little different. While a day trip to Mount Pinatubo will show you nature and history of the same time, Corregidor Island will inform you of the role of the Philippines in World War II. It may be small, but this island was significant in world history, where American and Filipino soldiers defended against the oncoming Japanese forces. As well as the enthralling historic experience of seeing the mile-long barracks, travellers can enjoy a Malinta Light and Sound Experience.
Final Thoughts on the Best Things to Do in Manila
So, that concludes our list of the best things to do in Manila. We hope you’ve found it helpful. Manila is full of excitement, nightlife, and it will give you an experience like no other city. Remember, we’ve not only shown you what to do but also where to stay and how to be safe.
Whether you’re a foodie looking to immerse yourself in Filipino cuisine, a history buff who wants to learn all about the country’s fascinating past, or a culture vulture on the hunt for art, there are so many things to do in Manila that will keep you entertained.
Now that our expert travel writers have helped you plan your trip to Manila, our work here is done. Wishing you an incredible (and safe) trip to the Phillippines. We hope you have a great time!
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