19 Things to do in Manila

Manila is often thought of as only a stopover on the way to the Philippines’ many island destinations like Boracay and Palawan. Little do people know that this dirty, smelly, hot, and overcrowded city has a lot of things to offer.

As with anything, it is impossible to enjoy Manila with prejudices in mind, and so I ask you to approach and tackle Manila as you would a profound book with abstract ideas. It is also imperative that the traveler to Manila acquaints himself of its long history for him to appreciate historical sites (of which Manila is very rich of).

In general, capital cities and metropolises (which Manila is) are not very attractive as tourist attractions. These cities are normally the dominion of businessmen and not the casual tourist looking for amusement. I will, however, do my best to present a wide selection of enjoyable things to do in Manila based on my previous experiences in this city.

This guide on things to do in Manila covers metropolitan Manila. Metropolitan Manila consists of the cities of Manila City, Caloocan, Las Piñas, Makati, Malabon, Mandaluyong, Marikina, Muntinlupa, Navotas, Parañaque, Pasay, Pasig, Quezon City, San Juan, Taguig, Valenzuela, and the municipality of Pateros. Mostly, we will be talking about the things to do in places that are near the airport or are accessible to the airport. This guide was written with Metro Manila residents, Filipinos (living in the provinces and other countries), and foreigners contemplating on visiting Manila in mind. This, however, is by no means a comprehensive guide and will only touch on the possible things that one might do in Manila.

To enlarge the photos, just click on them. Photos were sourced from different websites. If you own any of the photos below and wish for me to remove them, just contact me.

Let’s begin this guide on things to do in Manila with historical places.

Things to Do in Manila #1- Visit the oldest stone church in the Philippines

The San Agustin Church is one of the oldest churches (and the oldest stone church) in the Philippines). It is where the conquistador Miguel Lopez de Legaspi (founder of Manila) was buried. The church is a favorite for weddings. While its exteriors are not that impressive, its interiors definitely are. The San Agustin Church is located in Intramuros. Intramuros is the old walled city of Manila. The church, by the way, is also a museum.

Photo from: www.trekearth.com

Photo from: onceabrideweddings.blogspot.com

Things to Do in Manila #2- Visit the only All-Steel Gothic Church in Asia.

The San Sebastian church is one of the most impressive looking churches in the Philippines not just from the outside but also from the inside. It looks like one of those grand churches in Europe probably because it was designed by the same engineer behind the Eiffel Tower and the Statue of Liberty.

Photo from: godfreycua.blogspot.com

 Photo from: http://www.vintagephilippines.com/

Things to Do in Manila #3- Visit the Magnificent Manila Cathedral

Located at Plaza de Roma, the Manila Cathedral is the only church in the Philippine with a dome (as far as I know). This church should never be missed by anyone visiting Manila. The grandeur of this cathedral is a testament to the colonial past and former glory of the city of Manila. The Manila Cathedral is located inside of Intramuros.

Photo from: www.splendorofthechurch.com.ph

Things to Do in Manila #4- Visit the Site of Jose Rizal’s Execution

If you’re a Filipino (or have read Philippine history), you probably know who Jose Rizal is. While visiting Luneta Park may not be an interesting thing to do in Manila for everyone, it still definitely should be on your itinerary as this park is not just an ordinary park. Within the Park are several attractions such as several gardens, a museum, and several monuments. A lot of these attractions are, unfortunately, not well maintained. Luneta Park is located adjacent to Intramuros.

Photo from: travelogwithjem.com

Now let’s move on to museums, my favorite part in this guide.

Things to Do in Manila #5- Reflect on history at the National Museum of the Philippines

The National Museum of the Philippines is a complex of museums located adjacent to the Luneta Park; one of its buildings is in fact inside the Luneta Park. The National Museum consists of the National Art Gallery, a Planetarium, apart from the museum itself. In truth, what I love about the National Museum is really the buildings with magnificent architecture and not so much its exhibits.

Photo from: www.gov.ph

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Things to Do in Manila #5- Marvel at the Gold Exhibit of Ayala Museum

The Ayala Museum is located along Ayala Avenue in Makati City. One of its unique exhibits is called the Gold of Ancestors exhibit wherein one thousand gold objects from the prehispanic era can be seen. The museum also houses important paintings and watercrafts from different periods of times.

 Photo from: www.manilagateway.com

Photo from: healingeye.wordpress.com

Things to Do in Manila #5- Discover Filipino-Chinese History at Bahay Tsinoy

The Bahay tsinoy is a museum that will certainly be appreciated by Filipinos. It features the contributions and history of the Filipino-Chinese. This museum is located in Intramuros.

Things to Do in Manila #6- See how Filipinos lived in the 19th century

Also located in Intramuros is the Casa Manila Museum, it shows how a typical house was in the 19th century. It is a perfect way to travel back in time and see how our ancestors used to live.

 Photo from: myweddingph.com

Now let’s go to my second favorite thing on the list, dining.

Things to Do in Manila #7- Dine in Dampa Style…

Dampa is a dining concept wherein you get to choose seafood fresh from a wet market and have it cooked in cooking stations near the market. The good thing about Dampa is being able to see your meal when it was still living and eating it very fresh. The best thing with Dampa however is the super low cost of dining! The closest Dampa to the airport is the one in Pasay City. Don’t expect nice ambiance though, when eating Dampa style.

Photo from: my3rdand7thsense.blogspot.com
Photo from: thetheoreticalcook.blogspot.com

Things to Do in Manila #8 Eat Street Food

I know what you’re thinking: Balut. Balut is one of those very popular street foods in Manila made even more popular as TV shows always feature it when talking about the Philippines. Another street food that you might want to try though is the Buko Juice. This is coconut water for all you Americans out there. A piece of fresh coconut, sold for its water, costs 25 pesos (or 55 cents) in Manila. Other notably delicious street foods are Bananacue (this is barbecued banana drenched in caramelized sugar), Turon (banana wrapped in spring roll wrapper and deep fried), Adidas (this is barbecued chicken feet, very flavorful), Taho (a drink made of tofu, and syrup), and Fish ball (like meat balls but made of fish). These street foods are often ubiquitous in Manila and can be found in busy residential areas.

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Things to Do in Manila #9- Try Filipino Favorites: Adobo and Halo-Halo

Some of my favorite Filipino comfort foods are adobo and halo-halo. You can get a cheap glass of halo-halo at Chowking, a Chinese fast food chain which is ubiquitous in Manila. This Filipino dessert is made of shaved ice, milk, ice cream, jello, fruits, and beans. Different Adobo variations meanwhile can be sampled at Adobo Connections, a restaurant featuring different adobo dishes.

Photo from: chowkingdelivery.com

Things to Do in Manila #10- Eat Lechon

Dubbed by Anthony Bourdain as the best pig ever, the Lechon is ever present in Filipino celebrations.

Photo from: http://chic-boy.com.ph

Things to Do in Manila #11- Dine on Fine Filipino Food at Elias

Elias is located at Bonifacio Global City in Taguig, an urban development filled with high-rise condominiums and skyscrapers. It is an upscale restaurant offering Filipino cuisine often, with a twist. It will surely be appreciated by foreigners.

We’re now nearing the end of this list of Things to Do in Manila and we will now touch on malls and theme parks.

Things to Do in Manila #12- Walk underneath schools of fishes at Ocean Park Manila

For visitors to Manila, the new Ocean Park is definitely a must see. Being an archipelago, the Philippines has one of the most biodiverse marine ecosystems in the world, and you will surely be surprised at the wide variety of marine life found in the Manila Ocean Park.  The Manila Ocean Park is located behind Luneta Park.

Photo from: www.bubblews.com

Photo from: faithsedico.blogspot.com

Things to Do in Manila #13- Shop ‘till you drop at the Glorietta and Greenbelt Malls

The Glorietta and Greenbelt malls are located adjacent to each other. These malls feature international brands like Louis Vuitton, Bulgari, Emporio Armani, Gucci, Topman, Prada, etc. They are located along Ayala Ave in Makati City.

Photo from: becausecandysaysso.blogspot.com

Photo from: www.tripadvisor.com

Things to Do in Manila #13- Play some Poker at Resorts World Manila

Resorts World Manila is located in front of the airport terminal 3. It has a casino, cinemas, a theater, upscale hotels, boutiques and restaurants, and a Marriott hotel.

Photo from: http://vigattintourism.com/

Things to Do in Manila #14- Roll the Dice at Solaire Resort and Casino

Solaire is one of the best-looking casinos in Manila and is seen as Manila’s attempt to rival Macau as the gaming capital of Asia. It’s definitely a place to be for high rollers and wannabe high rollers alike. It is located near the Mall of Asia.

Photo from: lifestyle.inquirer.net

Things to Do in Manila #15- Watch fireworks at the Mall of Asia

The Mall of Asia is one of the malls frequented by domestic and foreign tourists. It features an IMAX theater, an Olympic sized ice skating rink, an open air music hall facing the bay, an esplanade, a Ferris wheel, and a convention center, aside from several stores and restaurants. Every year, the Mall of Asia plays host to the World Pyrolympics event which is a fireworks display (synchronized to music) competition among fireworks manufacturers from different parts of the world. A large steel framed globe, found at the entrance, has been iconic of the Mall of Asia, one of the biggest malls in the world.

 Photo from: www.whereinmanila.com

We will wind down this list of things to do in Manila with of my favorite places in Manila.

Things to Do in Manila #16- Eat Dumplings at Chinatown

The Chinatown in Manila is the oldest in the world. There are lots of interesting restaurants, and shops to visit here. Filipinos often go to Chinatown to have a taste of authentic Chinese food. You may also visit the Binondo church which has an octagonal bell tower that is very suggestive of the Chinese culture of its parishioners.

 Photo from: themetropromdi.com
Photo from: commons.wikimedia.org

Things to Do in Manila #17- Go Pearl Shopping at Greenhills Shopping Center

Foreigners like Greenhills for the same thing, pearls, pearls, and pearls. Greenhills has rows of booths selling Philippine pearls at very low prices. One can also find cheap electronics at Greenhills. Greenhills is located in San Juan city, a bit far from the airport.

Photo from: northbysouthblog.wordpress.com

Let us now cap off this list on Things to Do in Manila by the most relaxing thing you could probably do in Manila.

Things to Do in Manila #18- Visit the Manila Post office

Dubbed as the most beautiful building in the country, the Manila Post Office is a neo-classical building constructed during the American colonial period. From the Manila Post Office, one can also view the clock tower of the Manila city hall which is another neo-classical building.

Photo from: manila.cityseekr.com

Things to Do in Manila #19- Relax on a Sunset Cruise

One of the best sunsets in the world; that is what Manila Bay is famous for among tourists. You can actually get on a cruise by Sun Cruises and watch the sunset over Manila Bay. I promise you, this will take all of your stress away! Click here to view the rates and schedule of Sun Cruises' Manila Bay cruise.

Photo from: katrinket.blogspot.com

 Photo from: www.viator.com

There you go, 19 Things to Do in Manila. So the next time you visit Manila, don’t just hop on the next plane to get to Boracay, try to eat some Halo-Halo, or do some shopping at Greenhills.

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