The capital city of the Philippines is a huge city. It’s a place that people either learn to love, or end up hating never wanting to return. Either way, it’s a must visit and not just because it’s the starting point to get to the country’s famous beach destinations and islands such as Palawan, Cebu, and Bohol.
Manila can be hectic, with some of the craziest traffic you will ever see. But there are lots of hidden gems if you take the time to look and some great day trip options. So whether you are interested in history, culture, or nightlife, you’ll have plenty of options in Manila.
40 Fun Things to do in Manila
Intramuros is the oldest part of the city and a huge contrast to the skyscrapers and modern Manila of today. It’s an old colonial settlement that has a European feel and is home to a number of attractions worth checking out. It’s best explored by foot.
2. Manila Baywalk
Once a battle scene, today the waters of the Manila Baywalk are one of the best spots to catch the sunset. There are a number of cafes, food vendors, and live performers in the area as well.
3. Fort Santiago
Fort Santiago was the military base for the Spanish. It was built in 1571 and while it was heavily damaged during WWII, it has since been restored. It’s one of the most important historical buildings in the city as it also played a part in the Philippine revolution.
4. Manila Cathedral
Built in 1571 the Manila Cathedral is one of the most beautiful churches in the city. It’s been through quite a bit over the centuries; wars, fire, earthquakes, and more yet remains an important and impressive building.
5. Quiapo Church
Another beautiful church in Manila. Inside normally surprises people though as it is very shiny, white, and modern. The highlight here is the Black Nazarene at the altar; a full size figure of Christ carrying a cross which was made in Mexico but ended up in Manila in 1606.
6. San Agustin Church
This UNESCO World Heritage site is the oldest stone-built church in the Philippines. It dates back to the 16th century and is designed in the Baroque style. It’s best to visit mornings or evenings as its popular for weddings and closed to visitors then.
7. San Agustin Museum
Once a monastery attached to the church, it was destroyed in WWII but rebuilt and turned into a museum where visitors can gain some insight into the Catholic faith in the Philippines as well as the colonial era of Manila.
8. Ayala Museum
Housed in a former stock exchange building, the Ayala Museum is dedicated to the art, ethnology, and archaeology of Manila and the Philippines. There are six permanent exhibitions to visit including a gallery with Filipino gold items created before colonization.
9. National Museum of Fine Arts
If you are an art enthusiast, then head to the National Museum of Fine Arts. This is where you can find sculptures and paintings by well-known Filipino artists.
10. Malacañang Palace
The presidential palace of the Philippines. It became known around the world in 2016 after Rodrigo Duterte refused to move in because he claimed it is haunted by ghosts. If you are brave enough, you can book a tour to see for yourself.
Manila’s Chinatown may not be as impressive as the Chinatowns in other cities, but it is worth a visit. If you are hungry you can find some amazing dim sum in this area and take the time to visit some of the herbal stores and Buddhist temples.
12. Bahay Tsinoy
There has been a Chinese community in Manila for hundreds of years, long before the Spanish Colonial period. Bahay Tsinoy is a museum that records the history and culture of the Chinese in Manila with information dating back as far as the 9th century.
13. Chinese Cemetery
During the colonial period, Chinese residents were not allowed to be buried I the Catholic cemeteries so were buried here instead. It was also the site of many Japanese executions during WWII. It’s a quiet, peaceful area with a beautiful temple.
14. Paco Park
Paco Park is also important for its history with Jose Rizal. This was where he was first interred after his execution in 1896.
15. Rizal Park
One of the rare green spaces in the city, Rizal Park is more than just a place to enjoy some open space, but rather is an important historical part of the city. It is here that Independence was officially declared in 1946. It is also where Philippine nationalist, Jose Rizal, was executed. Today, there is a monument that holds his remains and is guarded day and night.
16. Casa Manila
Casa Manila is a museum that shines some light on life during the Spanish Colonial period in Manila. The house, which looks like it dates back to the mid 19th century, was actually built in the 1980s. Inside you can make your way through a series of rooms filled with artefacts.
17. Pasay Seafood Market
Love seafood? Then you have to visit Pasay Seafood market near the Mall of Asia. Lobster, crab, shrimp, mussels, and tons of varieties of fresh fish are for sale here. You can buy what you want then take it to the restaurants nearby to prepare it for you for dinner.
18. Divisoria Market
A street market where you can find everything from clothing to food to handicrafts. It’s more local than the shopping malls but keep an eye out for pick-pockets and make sure to barter.
19. Greenbelt Mall
Manila has no shortage of shopping malls but the Greenbelt Mall is a must-see. There are more than 300 shops and restaurants here in a park-type setting all connected by raised walkways.
20. Corregidor Island
An island in Manila Bay, Corregidaor Island played an important role in WWII. It was heavily bombed and the ruins serve as a national military memorial to all of the soldiers, Filipino, American, and Japanese, who lost their lives.
21. SM Megamall
The fourth largest shopping mall in the world, SM Megamall has tons to offer aside from its 800+ shops and restaurants. You can also find a skating rink, bowling alley, movie theatre, and more.
22. Grab a Meal at Jollibee
We have McDonalds and Burger King and the Philippines has Jollibee. It’s the go-to spot for fast food and is best known for the chicken and, oddly enough, spaghetti which is strangely sweet. It’s a must try and a good pick for a snack after a night out.
23. Eat Halo Halo
Halo Halo is one of the weirdest desserts you will ever try. Evaporated mile with sweet beans, jellies, yam, cereals, and more. It’s definitely an acquired taste but it is worth a try.
24. Eat at the Hobbit House
The Hobbit House in Manilla is a restaurant that employs little people as serves, cooks, and bar staff. The theme is Lord of The Rings and the staff are meant to be the Hobbits. Hobbit House was listed as one of the weirdest themed restaurants in the world by CNNgo.
25. Try Balut
If you are an incredibly brave foodie then add balut to your must try list. It’s a street food that is essentially a day old fermented egg with the duck still inside. Peel the shell and eat it whole…and yes, you may find beak or feathers.
26. Manila Ocean Park
The Manila Ocean Park is the largest Oceanarium in the country. There are over 14000 sea creatures here including penguins. It’s a great place to come with kids.
Manila has a great nightlife scene with options for everyone. Whether you are looking for the full on club scene or a casual cocktail at a bar. Maybe a pool party or even a karaoke bar. Ask the locals where they recommend to find the hottest spots in the city.
28. City of Dreams
The City of Dreams is a massive entertainment centre that houses restaurants, casinos, entertainment options such as clubs, and a hotel. If you are looking for luxury and a party scene, this is the spot.
29. The Cultural Center of the Philippines
If your idea of nightlife is more along the lines of local arts and performances rather than clubs and gambling, then check to see what’s on at the Cultural Center of the Philippines. From orchestras to ballets to theatre, this is where you will find Manila’s major performers and artists. Note that the performances are not usually in English.
30. Taal Lake
If you’d rather play on the water than hike a volcano, plan to spend the day at Taal Lake in the Tagatay Highlands. Beautiful views of Taal Volcano and cool waters makes a fun way to spend the day. Rent a SUP and paddle by islands, coves, and the local fishermen.
31. Ride a Jeepney
Jeepneys are iconic in Manila. These old, colorful buses are a cheap and local way of getting around the city. There were talks in 2017 of getting them off the streets but a lot of pushback from locals who see them as part of the local culture.
VivaManila is a local nonprofit group who are dedicated to restoring downtown Manila to its pre-war glory. They put on monthly performances, normally on weekends, in the Intramuros, so check ahead and see is there is anything going on during the time of your visit.
33. Subic Bay
Subic Bay is a great pick for a day trip because it offers a little bit of everything. Navy ships, bars and restaurants, and even an animal safari can all be found in this area. Subic Bay is about 3 hours from Manila.
34. Enchanted Kingdom
Enchanted Kingdom is a small theme park about 45 minutes outside of Manila. It’s a great spot for families with young children (including toddlers). There are small child friendly activities as well as more exciting rides and things to do, such as roller coasters, for older kids.
35. Daranak Falls
Love chasing waterfalls? Head to Daranak Falls where you can swim in the pool beneath these 14m falls. It’s a fun escape on a hot day. Daranak falls are about 2.5 hours from Manila.
36. Republ1c Wake Park
Not feeling a waterpark but still looking for a fun way to cool down? Head to Republ1c Wake Park. Perfect for those looking to learn or those who already know how to wakeboard, there are different levels of difficulty and ramps available. Republ1c Wake Park is about 1.5 hours from Manila.
37. Climb a Volcano in Tagatay Highlands
If you are looking to truly escape the city for a day trip then head about two hours outside of Manila to Tagatay Highlands and Sky Ranch. It’s a stunning area best known for the Volcano on the island in the middle of the lake. Taal Volcano is the second most active volcano in the Philippines but, assuming conditions are fine, you can hike it.
38. See the Slums
Like all cities, Manila has a bright, flashy side but also a poor side. See the hidden side of Manila by taking a slums tour with a local guide. They will show you how many of Manila’s residents live and the reality of their everyday lives.
39. Island Cove
Island cove is a combination of a water park and a fishing village. It’s the perfect place to go for families and friends on a hot day. Waterslides, swimming pools, and a wildlife park are some of the things you can find here. Island cove is about 45 minutes outside of Manila.
40. Mount Pinatubo
If you are up for an adventure, why not trek Mount Pinatubo? This stratovolcano last erupted in 1991 but today is a popular hiking destination. At the top, hikers will be rewarded with views of a gorgeous crater lake. Mount Pinatubo is about 3 hours from Manila so know that you are in for an early start!
Manila is a busy city with a rich history, while it may seem a little rough on the outside it’s worth taking a few days to really explore it and get to know it because there are plenty of things to do in Manila, much of which are hidden gems.