12 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions & Things to Do in Manila
Author Anietra Hamper has traveled throughout Manila and the Philippines experiencing many of the top attractions and things to do off the beaten path.
The busy city of Manila, the capital of the Philippines, is an exciting and energetic metropolis. Hop on board any of the colorful and kitschy jeepneys to get around town. The iconic buses that usually pack in more people than they can hold are the main form of transportation and worth at least one ride during your visit, just for the experience.
Manila has an eclectic mix of modern attractions and rich history, as evidenced by the many cathedrals and tributes to the city's 16th-century establishment alongside modern-day malls and amenities.
Some of the best places to visit in Manila are the churches, monuments, and impeccably landscaped public parks. Manila is full of restaurants that serve up local fare, including fresh seafood.
The city is a regular target for typhoons, so the best time to visit the Philippines is outside of the rainy season, which is May through November.
For other sightseeing ideas, read our list of the top attractions and things to do in Manila.
1. Experience Manila's Oldest Section in Intramuros
You will likely pass through the Intramuros whether you know it or not as you explore Manila. It is the oldest section of the city and characterized by its walled fortress. This section of Manila was once a walled city during Spanish Colonial times in the 1500s to the 1800s.
Walk around inside the three-mile-long stone wall that surrounds the district. While you can walk the grounds on your own, you might want to take a guided walking tour to learn more about the walled city and its significance to Manila.
Address: Bonifacio Drive & Padre Burgos Street, Manila, Luzon
2. Dive Deep at Manila Ocean Park
The Manila Ocean Park is one of the most unique adventures in the city and one of the top things to do for families visiting Manila. Get interactive with marine life with the Sharks and Rays Encounter; Trails to Antarctica exhibit; or the fish spa, where fish clean your feet in a small pool of water.
The park easily fills several hours depending on how many encounters you try. In addition to the state-of-the-art aquatic facility, you will see exhibits of birds and other animals.
The Manila Ocean Park is billed as a marine theme park. Besides the educational aquatic attractions, there is shopping, dining, and HOTEL H20, where you can sleep surrounded by an aquarium.
Address: Manila Ocean Park Luneta, Manila
3. San Agustin Church and Museum
As a designated UNESCO World Heritage site, the San Agustin Church is a national treasure and one of the most popular places to visit in the Philippines.
This Catholic church has a unique history that is reflected in the details of the building. If you look closely, you will see both Chinese and Spanish influences in the design. The church has been rebuilt several times after battles and natural disasters.
Pay close attention to the carvings on the large wooden doors that open to the chapel. If you have an interest in history or architecture, it would be worth your time to hire a local guide who can take you on a walking tour of the area and describe intricate details of the church that you may not notice on your own.
Address: Gen Luna & Real Streets, Intramuros, Manila, Luzon 1002
4. Stroll through Rizal Park
One of your first stops in Manila should be Rizal Park. Sometimes referred to as Luneta Park, this is a peaceful and manicured outdoor garden located in the heart of the city. The park is a social gathering place in Manila known for its open-air concerts and chess plaza.
The paved pathways through the park guide you through a lush landscape of blooming flowers, ponds, and more than 40 points of interest that range from statues to historical dedications. Of note is the century-old Monument of Rizal, which houses the remains of one of the Philippines' most celebrated heroes, Dr. Jose Rizal.
Be sure to stroll through the park to learn about the local flora and fauna. Keep your eyes open for the Narra tree, the national tree of the Philippines, and the small lake with an artistically raised archipelago structure in the middle.
5. Walk the Grounds at Fort Santiago
The site of Fort Santiago is an impressive stop if you are visiting the city and it is one of the most important historical sites in Manila. This 16th-century fortress was key in protecting the Intramuros, which is the oldest district in Manila, known historically as the Walled City.
You can explore the grounds at a leisurely pace. Be sure to take note of bullet markings that are still visible in the fortress walls and stop by the visitor center for more detailed information about the fort.
Address: Gen Luna Street, Intramuros, Manila, Luzon
6. Admire Quiapo Church and Public Square
The Quiapo Church is one of the oldest and most admired Catholic churches in Manila. The more formal name of the church is the Minor Basilica of the Black Nazarene.
Depending on the time of day, the plaza surrounding the century-old church can be quite congested, which makes it an interesting place to visit to admire the devotion of the Filipino people.
Fridays are the busiest days, when thousands of people pile into the square and pray at the church for novena. Despite the large gatherings of church devotees, this is one of the top attractions in the city.
Take time to see the inside of the church, and stroll through the market stands outside to buy fresh peanuts, mangoes, or necklaces from local vendors.
Address: Plaza Miranda & Quezon Blvd., Quiapo, Manila, Luzon
7. View the Skyline from Manila Bay
Strolling along the Manila Bay waterfront is one of the most enjoyable and scenic things to do in the city, and it does not cost anything to enjoy. The natural harbor is always bustling with activity. Take a walk along the Manila Baywalk at sunset for a great view of the city skyline.
The bayfront is accented by yachts and smaller boats anchored in the harbor, and open-air cafés where you can stop for a bite to eat. The bay front is also a popular place for locals taking in a morning jog.
Another relaxing way to enjoy Manila Bay is to book a sunset dinner cruise that will take you past local landmarks and includes dinner and live entertainment for an evening.
8. Discover Filipino History at the National Museum of the Philippines
For a true exploration into the culture of the country, the National Museum of the Philippines is one of the best places to visit.
This museum has four main complexes including extensive collections and artifacts relating to art, archaeology, anthropology, zoology, biology, and natural history. The museum galleries help offer a sense of place, telling the cultural story beyond what you will find on your own visiting the city's many historical attractions.
Address: Padre Burgos Street, Manila, Luzon 2004
9. Robinsons Place Mall
While a mall might not be on the top of your list for exploring the culture of Manila, Robinsons Place Mall has a surprising number of unique stores where you can find local items. While locals shop here, it's also a popular spot for tourists.
Be on the lookout for clothing, cosmetics, bags, and food that are unique to the Philippines. The mall is extensive, so plan time to walk the interior and explore the stores.
The mall's modern building is a stark contrast to the rustic and historic landmarks that surround it.
Address: Pedro Gil Corner Adriatico Street, Manila, Luzon
10. Tour Manila on Bambike Ecotours
Manila is a pedestrian-friendly city, but if you want to explore the culture and history more efficiently, consider the Intramuros Bamboo Bicycle Ecotours.
These tours provide a unique, eco-friendly way to see urban Manila. By taking an ecotour, you are also supporting environmental sustainability efforts of local businesses.
Bambikes are locally hand-made bicycles custom-built from bamboo. The company has a social welfare initiative that employs villagers for the production of the bikes.
Address: Real Street, corner General Luna Street, Intramuros, Manila
11. Shop for Bargains at Divisoria Market
If you are in the mood to shop for a bargain, head to the lively Divisoria Market in Manila. It is located in the heart of Chinatown, where you will discover overflowing vendor stalls selling everything from fruit and spices to flip-flops and beads.
This is the best place to people-watch and take in the local flavor. The bustling atmosphere is like a flea market, and bargaining is the name of the game. You should only pay about 50 percent of the price of an item, and often you can get souvenirs for much lower.
Address: Claro M. Recto Avenue, Divisoria, Manila, Luzon
12. Spend a Day at the SM City Manila Super Mall
There's no shortage of places to shop in Manila, so if you want to fill your suitcase with treasures, plan a half day or full day at the SM City Manila Super Mall. It is like one-stop shopping for something to do in the city because the huge complex has retail stores, restaurants, and entertainment.
The SM City Manila is easy to spot. It has a mega globe structure on the grounds, which makes for a great selfie spot. This retail complex is popular with the locals, so it can get quite crowded.
If you are looking for more unique souvenirs, you might want to hit the smaller local markets but if you are after mainstream items, you are sure to find them at the super mall.
Where to Stay for Sightseeing in Manila
Manila hotels are quite affordable, even the high-end hotels. You will have no problem finding something in your budget on any side of town.
- One of the top luxury hotels in Manila is the Sheraton Manila Bay, which even provides all guests with butler service. It is a preferred choice for business travelers, but if you want a little extra pampering during your visit, the hotel offers top-of-the-line amenities.
- The luxury New Coast Hotel Manila sits on Manila Bay, so you have some of the best views in the city, and it is centrally located for easy walking downtown and to local restaurants.
- One of the most unique lodging experiences in Manila is Hotel H20 located at the Manila Ocean Park. Go to sleep in an aquarium-walled room and wake up next to marine life.
- The historic Manila Hotel is another mid-range lodging situated on Manila Bay close to many of Manila's attractions.
- The affordable Red Planet Manila Binondo is highly rated and located close to Chinatown in Manila. The hotel is just a few blocks from several historic churches and the Divisoria Market.
- For a centrally located budget hotel the Ramada by Wyndham Manila Central is a good option. The Ramada is located close to many of the cultural sites and local transportation access points.
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