Top Tourist Attractions and Things to do in Manila (The Philippines)
When it comes to the Philippines, you may positively associate it with white, remote sandy beaches loaded with coconut trees and lush nature overlooking the beautiful clear blue waters of the Pacific. Well, you’re not far off! This surely defines what this beautiful island but we’re here to speak about its capital city, Manila. A buzzing city filled with life, traffic, and tall buildings – a perfect definition of a busy capital that is home to more than 10 million residents.
Located in its northern island of Luzon, Manila is not a large city by area compare to other big cities around the world but it is certainly a concentrated form in a tiny space.
Even with low tourist interest, Manila has become one of the most appealing relocation targets among expats in Asia in recent years. Because of well-qualified and talented English-speaking professionals living here, many multinational companies set up their regional offices and even outsource their work here.
However, when it comes to touristy things for those who would like to visit this busy city, there are lots of things to do in Manila that may interest you!
Manila lies majestically on the crossroads of cultures having the different combination of Spanish, Filipino, Chinese and American heritage. Even though it sometimes (or almost all the time) has crazy and unpredictable traffic with over 10 million road users, the metropolis has a lot to offer to the tourists.
So, without going any further, let’s explore some of the fascinating places to visit in Manila.
Table of Contents
- 1 Experiences and top things to do in Manila
- 2 Top Landmarks and attractions in Manila
- 3 Practical information and Manila travel tips
- 4 Where to stay in Manila?
- 5 Short in time? Go sightseeing in Manila on tour!
- 6 Are you on Pinterest? Pin these for later read!
Experiences and top things to do in Manila
Go on a Food Trip in Binondo and Quiapo!
If you are still crazy for some authentic feel around the Pasig River, you can head to Binondo, the oldest Chinatown in the world. During the era of Commonwealth games in the ’30s, the area faced its heydays, when the Americans had turned Binondo in the commercial center with serene art deco warehouses and luxurious high-street retail. These days, streets house cheap clothing, jade and gold stores, along with the best Chinese noodles according to the locals.
The Chinese people have an extensive culture here in the Philippines, and hence, Chinese-based foods and Chinese items are also well-known in the nation. You might want to enjoy the famous Soup No. 5 in all stalls of China Town here in Binondo. Even the world praises its umami-rich ingredients and soup. However, watch out! The Soup No. 5 is not just another soup. Its main component is nothing but a bull’s testicle. But, enjoying this soup is undoubtedly one of the best things to do in Manila, if you have got a strong stomach.
Read more about the Philippines:
Indulge in Seafood in Dampa
If you want to enjoy buffets or are just crazy about enjoying the best of fresh food from the ocean, the famous seafood extravaganza in Dampa, Manila is a gig you should never miss. The seafood in Dampa is one of the best things to do in Manila. You can buy kilos of seafood at the market from the huge catch selection, walk around the restaurant next door, and see them turn everything into the tasteful art form you like. Some of the tasty dishes you must try are stir-fried prawns, cheesy mussels, ginger fish and chili crab. So, don’t forget to eat some amazingly fresh produce and cooked fresh just for you!
Read more about cuisines from around the world:
Commute using the Jeepney and Tricycle!
Since 2017 when legislation has been passed to get rid of these old hulks off the road, you can commute by the Jeep here. Special buses called “Jeepneys” were modified from the American jeeps in the 20th century and painted in bright, garish hues. They have become Manila’s specialty, just like New York’s yellow cab or London’s double-decker bus. They are also the cheapest modes of transport in Manila, and they are almost overloaded and full of passengers. When you hop on the jeeps, you sometimes have to ask fellow passengers to pass your fare to the driver, and you need to shout when it comes to getting off.
Tuk-tuks are another most popular means of transport in Southeast Asia. But you must leave the thought of riding tuk-tuks off if you are in the Philippines and enjoy the tricycle rides. Usually, tricycles bring you to the actual location in short distances. It’s just like hopping on a taxi. The designs of tricycles vary by city or town in the Philippines. Capacities also range from 3 to 10 passengers.
If you want some thrill, try sitting on a roof ‘top loading’ of a jeepney along with the baskets of fruits, vegetables, and other goods. Risky? No, Crazy and Exciting? The best part of doing this is that you can get the memorable and breathtaking views from the top. If you are worried about the fare, fret not! It is as same as when you sit inside.
Habal-Habal is another favorite mode of transport. It is nothing but a motorcycle with a capacity of 2-3 passengers. It is usually preferred to reach narrow, rough roads, and close terrains in the provinces. You can spot different types of habal-habals with planks which extend along the sides from the backseat to serve more riders.
To cover long distances across the islands, it is better to take a big ferry rather than domestic flights if you have enough time and want to save more on your budget. You can also use small ferries for shorter distances. You can take RORO or Roll-on/Roll-off designed to bring wheeled vehicles on the ship. It can be a large cargo vessel or smaller for the ones operating in short distances.
Read more about the Philippines:
Try your haggling skill at Divisoria
Divisoria is the one-stop destination as the central market as an ideal tourist spot in Manila. Located at the heart of Manila, Divisoria has been well regarded for its wholesale and retail stores. That said, it is a chaotic and big tourist spot in Manila, but it is unmatched for prices and goodies.
The roots of Divisoria can be traced back to the period of Spain as a commercial hub, during which Chinese people who were not Christianized were barred from trading or living in the nearest Intramuros. Eventually, Chinese merchants had established own community in Binondo and set up their shops there and in nearby areas, which ultimately included Divisoria.
The district continually has grown as a commercial hub in the 1900s as Tutuban Central Station became a leading drop-off center for trading goods passing in from several provinces, which was the major train station which is located in the Philippine National Railways. Also known as the mother of all markets, Divisoria is a market district in the center of the City of Manila known for different affordable goods for a bargain and wholesale shopping.
Top Landmarks and attractions in Manila
Visit China Town
Chinatown is one of the top Manila attractions both for locals and foreigners and although it doesn’t appear like a tourist spot is a bit run down, noisy and full of traffic. This spot still has the presence of Chinese trading since the 800’s and Binondo grew as the nearest town for the oppressed immigrants of Hokkien Chinese origin and their descendants across the Spanish colonial period.
The best way to get around is by a calesa or jeepney. It is still worth to visit the Seng Guan and Kuang Kong Buddhist temples, local vendors, herbal stores and amazing food stalls along Carvajal and Ongpin streets.
The oldest part of the city, Intramuros was still there before the 20th century in Manila. The sturdy walls were built in the 16th and 17th century hold the tight grid system, and it is an excellent contrast to the sky-high cityscape surrounding it.
From the 16th century to 1898 it belonged to the Spanish East Indies and it has courtyard palaces, medieval churches, and administrative centers in serene colonial architecture. Like several old colonial settlements, Intramuros will give you a feeling as if you’re strolling in European cities like Madrid or Barcelona.
In this list, Intramuros houses a few of the best Manila attractions and amongst that you must visit the recently restored Ayuntamiento building, King Carlos IV on Plaza de Roma and the gate of Puerto de Isabel II.
San Agustin Church
Started at the end of the 16th century, this quiet complex is declared UNESCO World Heritage Site and the oldest stone church in the country. This Baroque-style church is one of the best places to visit in Manila and you should attend the church for its world-class interior where Trompe I’oeil paintings on pilasters and barrel vault resemble reliefs, pediments, laurels, rosettes, and various intricate moldings.
There is a crucifix built in the 1500s in the chapel where the stalls from the 17th century in the choir are hewn from beautiful molave wood. You may also visit the spectacular and magical Quiapo Church which houses the Black Nazarene. The church holds one of the most significant cultural events of the country every year named ‘the Feast of the Black Nazarene.’ Millions of parishioners and devotees head to join the procession during this event and aim to touch or kiss the status as, according to them, doing so would fulfill their wishes.
Check out Fort Santiago
Built in the year 1571, the Spanish government’s military base was located in the northwest side of Intramuros, near the cathedral. The compound was affected by the Battle of Manila in the World War II, but most of it was restored over time. The monumental main gate features the Spanish coat of arms under the relief of Santiago Matamoros, the Spanish patron saint.
The fort is located somewhere to meet with the independence movement of the Philippines. In 1896-1898 at the beginning of the Philippine Revolution, Jose Rizal, the national hero of the Philippines, was incarcerated before the execution. You can explore and learn where he was imprisoned and a shrine was also built in his honor, which replicates his ancestral home.
Walk Around Rizal Park
There are a plaza and a park integral to the history of the Philippines at the southern limit of Intramuros. In 1946, independence was declared here officially, and it is where Jose Rizal, the famous patriot, was executed in 1896 and brought the Philippine Revolution. At this spot, the monument where he was killed was built in the year 1913 on the 17th anniversary of his death.
It is guarded day and night, and it holds his remains and is protected by Marine Corps soldiers. With a capacity of 10000 people at the western side, the Quirino Grandstand was established in 1946 primarily for the independence proclamation. Along with all such historical significance, the park is open space as a green island rather than being a crowded street.
Visit the National Museum of Fine Arts
Formerly called as the National Art Gallery, the National Museum of Fine Arts is an art museum in Manila, Philippines. The museum is positioned on Padre Burgos Avenue from National Museum of Anthropology in the east of Rizal Park. Owned by National Museum of the Philippines, the museum was founded in the year 1998 and exhibits the collection of sculptures and paintings by the famous Filipino artists, including Félix Resurrección Hidalgo, Juan Luna, and Guillermo Tolentino.
In 1921, the neoclassical building was mainly served to have several legislative assemblies of the Philippine government. Also known as the Old Congress Building or Old Legislative Building, the museum was the seating of the bicameral congress (1926-1972) and Philippine Senate (1987-1997). Originally, the building was designed by the precursor of the Department of Public Works and Highways, the Bureau of Public Works, Antonio Toledo, and Consulting Architect Ralph Harrington Doane in the year 1918, and was all set to be the future house to the National Library of the Philippines, according to Daniel H. Burnham’s Plan of Manila.
Established on the 16th October 1916, the Philippine Legislature’s Capitol building was on the rise at the same time on Wallace Field, located south of the library (now at Rizal Park on Maria Y. Orosa Street). The Philippine Legislature chose to move in 1926 in the Library building and slightly changes the layout according to Juan M, Arellano, the famous architect. It was created under the supervision of Pedro Siochi, the renowned construction firm and the structure called as Legislative Building.
Practical information and Manila travel tips
Why should you visit Manila?
This busy capital of the Philippines is not just a place where you transit for your flight to the south of the country. In fact, there are a lot of things to do in Manila that is still worth a visit! For instance, there are tons of hip restaurants and lively street food street in the heart of the city that you will truly enjoy. Apart from that, head over to its old district (Intramuros) to learn about the city’s history and head over to Makati for some classy vibes. Other than that, there are also tons of day trips from Manila that are worth taking while making the city you hub during your stay!
When is the best time to visit Manila?
The most recommended time to visit Manila is after the monsoon season between October to February and this is also the low season for most places as the weather starts to be colder (for locals) and there are few family-oriented holidays in this season such as All-saints day and Christmas so most locals tend to stay put and do not travel as much. That said, the highest season for both local and foreign travelers are the summer months between March to May, during this time you can enjoy the heat and maybe meet friendly locals in many tourist destinations in the Philippines.
Do you need a visa for Manila?
Most European, USA, Canada passport holders get between 20-30 days of visa-free visits but if you are unsure, you can check here if you need an ASEAN visa.
Where to book your flights to Manila?
Check our handy-dandy guide on how to find the cheapest flights around the world – read it here.
Do you need an insurance?
Remember this: anything can happen! Read our take on why you need a travel insurance and how it can save you money when things go unplanned – read it here.
Where to stay in Manila?
There are loads of fancy hotels in Manila but here are our top three recommendations: Shangri-La at the Fort, The Henry Hotel Manila, and Azumi Boutique Hotel. A stay at these hotels will cost you about €60 per night.
Short in time? Go sightseeing in Manila on tour!
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