15 Awesome Things to do in Manila (Itinerary for First Time Visitors)

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At first glance it may seem that there aren’t many interesting things to do in Manila, but that couldn’t be further from the truth.

Manila is a huge megacity that’s home to millions of people, a sprawling metropolis that few travelers hang around in for long.

For many visitors, the Filipino capital is just a transit point on their way to tropical islands, but give any Manila itinerary a chance and you’ll realize that there’s more to this city than just traffic jams and chaos.

To understand the Philippines as a whole, then you have to visit the capital. This is where you’ll find the best museums in the country, alongside the walled city of Intramuros that’s full of historic, colonial relics.

The city is incredibly diverse too, and you can explore the culinary delights of Chinatown, shop at the seemingly endless Divisoria Market and experience the late-night delights of the up and coming Makati district.

There are a lot of great things to do in Manila, and here are our favorites!

Don’t leave home without: Lonely Planet Philippines (Travel Guide)

15 Things to Do in Manila (Itinerary for First Time Visitors)

1. Explore the Intramuros

Intramuros -Things to do in Manila

Intramuros is the most historic area in Manila. The name means ‘Within the Walls’, a Spanish reference to the fact that this was the walled city built to defend the city’s colonial elite from outside revolt or attack.

This was the capital of the Spanish Philippines for 300 years, from the 16th century onwards and it was around Intramuros that the modern metropolis you find today grew.

You can walk along the tall walls that still stand around Intramuros, strolling past Spanish cannon and reading the intriguing historical plaques on the way.

There are countless heritage-listed buildings, you can visit Manila Cathedral and explore the ever imposing Fort Santiago.

Our top recommended tours of Intramuros:

2. See the Manila Cathedral

Manila Cathedral

Visiting Manila Cathedral – or The Minor Basilica and Metropolitan Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, as it’s officially known – is one of the best things to do in Manila.

The cathedral dates back to 1571, but it’s gone through many changes since the Spanish first founded it as they attempted to spread Christianity across the Philippines.

The church has been destroyed on at least 7 occasions and the structure you see today is the 8th reincarnation, with war and natural disasters have taken their toll.

Our top recommended tours of Manila Cathedral:

3. Fort Santiago

Fort Santiago in Manila

Fort Santiago is an impressive colonial relic that forms part of the walled city, and it’s one of the best things to do in Manila if you’re interested in history.

The fort was built when Manila was declared the capital of the Spanish Philippines and it would quickly become a symbol of Spanish power in the city.

When the Spanish left, the Americans took over, followed by the Japanese during World War II, until Filipino independence saw it turned into a museum.

Many Filipino heroes have been held in the prison cells within the fort, including Jose Rizal, the famed writer who lost his life to the Spanish. You can see a shrine dedicated to his life and death within the fort.

Our top recommended tours of Fort Santiago:

4. Rizal Park

Rizal Park in Manila

One of the best things to do in Manila is to stroll through Rizal Park. This is the city’s most famous park, and it’s dedicated to the hero of the Filipino Revolution, Jose Rizal, who was executed here by the Spanish in 1898.

It’s an important place, flanked by museums and full of statues and busts of historical characters from Filipino history.

In the late afternoon as the sun begins to set and the temperature lowers, then all of Manila seems to visit Rizal Park to enjoy the laid back atmosphere and cool evening breeze.

Our top recommended tours of Rizal Park:

5. The National Museum Complex

National Museum Complex in Manila

One of the best things to do in Manila if you’re looking to delve into the country’s history is to visit the National Museum Complex.

The complex comprises several individual museums that are found in grand, neoclassical buildings in Rizal Park.

You can easily spend the day exploring all the different exhibits and departments, which include the National Museum of Fine Arts, the National Museum of Anthropology and the National Museum of Natural History.

6. Manila Bay

Manila Bay - Things to do in Manila

Manila Bay is the large, natural harbor that the city is built around, and it’s perhaps the most important feature of the capital.

The wide bay has been the site of naval battles through history, many of which have decided who ruled over the Philippines.

These days though, the bay is best known for its beautiful sunsets and long boardwalks.

You can stroll along the edge of the bay at the forefront of the city, and it’s a favorite spot amongst locals for exercising or just getting out and about, while you can also enjoy evening dinner and sunset cruises across the water for spectacular views of the city skyline.

Our top recommended tour of Manila Bay: Shared Manila Sunset Cruise by the Bay

7. Corregidor Island

Corregidor Island in Manila

One of the best things to do in Manila is to take a boat tour across to Corregidor Island.

This is one of the largest islands that’s found in Manila Bay, and due to its strategic position at the entrance to the bay itself, in the past, it was always one of the most heavily fortified parts of the city.

Today, much of the island is still the site of bunkers, barracks and gun emplacements, and it makes for a great day out from the city.

World War II saw fierce fighting on Corregidor Island when the Japanese invaded, and many of the fortifications are now in ruins.

You can find a memorial to those who died on all sides, while many of the siege tunnels can be explored.

Our top recommended tours of Corregidor Island:

8. Binondo

Binondo Chinatown in Manila

Exploring Binondo, otherwise known as Chinatown, is one of the best things to do in Manila to learn more about the city’s mixed heritage and culture.

For centuries, Chinese immigrants have shaped Manila, but while the Spanish colonizers lived in Intramuros, the Chinese were forced to live outside the walls, in what became the Binondo district.

Binondo Church is one of the oldest in the country, but the real highlight of a trip to Binondo is the food.

This is one of the best places in the city to delve into the culinary scene, as the mixed Filipino-Chinese history has given Binondo some of the best restaurants and dishes in Manila.

Our top recommended tours of Binondo:

9. Makati

Makati district in Manila

Makati is Manila’s most up and coming district, a relatively new part of the city that is home to big business and finance. This is where you’ll find skyscrapers and shopping malls, as well as the lovely Ayala Triangle Gardens.

Makati is also renowned for its nightlife, and if you are looking for a few drinks then the many upmarket bars and clubs that are found here are the place to go.

10. Ayala Museum

The Ayala Museum is found in the Makati district, and it’s one of the best things to do in Manila to learn more about Filipino history.

The modern museum houses a wonderful collection of historic artifacts collected from around the Philippines ranging from ancient pottery to prehistoric excavations.

It’s a great place to learn more about the country’s vast number of different ethnic groups too, and their unique history, culture and heritage.

11. Villa Escudero

Villa Escudero in Manila

Just outside of Manila, you can find Villa Escudero, a coconut plantation that offers you the chance to visit the countryside and to experience the local culture.

You can visit an onsite museum, enjoy entertainment shows, ride a bamboo raft across the lake and best of all, enjoy a gourmet dining experience beneath a waterfall.

Our top recommended tours of Villa Escudero:

12. Pagsanjan Falls

Pagsanjan Falls in Manila

One of the best day trips from Manila is to Pagsanjan Falls, a spectacular waterfall that will blow you away with its size and location.

It’s a great way to escape the bustling streets of the city and to get back to nature, as you’ll be immersed in the forest on your way to the waterfall.

The only way to reach the falls is by hiking from the nearest town or by taking the popular local dugout canoes along the river, to see the triple cascades from below.

Our top recommended tours of Pagsanjan Falls:

13. Taal Volcano

Lina Stock at Taal Volcano in the Philippines

Despite being a huge mega-city, Manila makes for a surprisingly good base to reach nearby natural attractions, and one of the best places to visit is the Taal Volcano.

The Philippines is rife with volcanic activity, and the Taal Volcano is one of the second most active in the country.

It’s also one of the most beautiful volcanoes, as here you can find a volcano within a volcano, as a large water-filled crater on an even larger lake surrounds the active cone. It’s a spectacular sight, and perfect for outdoor activities.

Our top recommended tours of Taal Volcano:

14. Tagaytay

Tagaytay near Manila

Taal Volcano is found in the Tagaytay region to the south of Manila, but there’s plenty more to do here on your day out, and it makes for a popular trip from the city for a variety of reasons.

Tagaytay is found in the highlands, and if you’re over the sweltering humidity of Manila, this makes for a cool and blissful retreat. There are hiking opportunities, scenic viewpoints and plenty of spas offering relaxation treatments!

Our top recommended tours of Tagaytay:

15. Malacanang Palace

Malacanang Palace in Manila

Back in Manila, a visit to the Malacanang Palace will give you a chance to see where and how the President lives in the city.

The grand building dates back to the 1750s when it was built by the Spanish to serve as the residence for their governors, in a prime position on the river.

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15 Awesome Things to do in Manila (Itinerary for First Time Visitors)


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About Lina Stock

Lina is an award-winning photographer and writer that has been exploring the world since 2001. She has traveled to 100 countries on all 7 continents. Member: SATW, NATJA, ATTA, ITWA

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