Blake Walsh

15 Best Things to Do in Manila

  • Published 2021/09/09

Manila, the Philippines’ capital city, is often seen as a jumping-off point to the country’s magnificent beaches, gorgeous islands, and one-of-a-kind natural treasures.

However, in Manila alone, there are numerous tourist attractions to see.

It’s a lovely city full of surprises and incredible things to do!

The city and its inhabitants have captured the hearts of many travel bloggers, with some even considering relocating here.

But if you are a first-time visitor, Manila may appear to be an intimidating place to explore.

However, as long as you have a solid travel itinerary, it will not be too difficult to deal with.

Thinking of the best things to do in Manila?

Its unique tourist attractions, gastronomic places, and entertaining activities will undoubtedly make you fall in love with the city.

Read on to explore Manila’s busy metropolis and its adjacent cities.

Pray at Manila Cathedral

Manila Cathedral in Intramuros, Manila

Richie Chan /

Built in 1571, Manila Cathedral has suffered fires, earthquakes, and war.

The current magnificent structure on Plaza de Roma is its eighth reconstruction.

A few years ago, the church went through a renovation, and Pope Francis led a mass there shortly after it reopened in 2015.

Dome of Manila Cathedral

Jon Bilous /

The Cathedral serves as the Philippines’ Prime Basilica and houses the highest-ranked archbishop in the country.

One of the most notable pieces you can find here is the giant Dutch organ with 4500 pipes, which is considered the largest church pipe organ in Southeast Asia.

You will also be fascinated by the stained-glass windows created by Galo Ocampo in the early 20th century.

Reminisce the National Hero’s Final Moments at Fort Santiago

shutterstock 630122372

Although Fort Santiago resides in one corner of Intramuros, it is a sight of its own.

The Spanish built the defense fortress in the late 1500s.

The Battle of Manila took its toll on the site during World War II, although the government did some restorations afterward.

Ruined Gates in Fort Santiago

Tappasan Phurisamrit /

On the enormous entry gate, you will see a Spanish coat of arms and Santiago Matamoros, the patron saint of Spain.

The fort is a good place to learn about the Philippines’ independence struggle.

In one of its jails, Filipino national hero Dr. Jose Rizal composed his famous poem, “My Last Farewell,” before being killed by the Spanish firing squad in 1896.

Explore Intramuros

Facade of El Amanecer Building in Intramuros

MDV Edwards /

Often known as the “Walled City,” it is a walled area within the city’s modern landscape.

This famous attraction is Manila’s oldest neighborhood and historic center.

When the Philippines was still under Spanish dominion, it served as the seat of government and political authority.

Horse with carriage in Intramuros

saiko3p /

Intramuros is the only neighborhood in Manila where visitors may view entire architectural relics of the Spanish era.

For history enthusiasts, you will appreciate the historical structures and sculptures inside Intramuros.

To fully immerse in the past, you can ride a bambike (bamboo bike) or a kalesa (horse-drawn carriage), used as the primary transportation in the Spanish era.

Contemplate at San Agustin Church

Outside View of San Agustin Church

Richie Chan /

San Agustin Church is one of the only four Baroque churches included on the UNESCO World Heritage Sites list.

Many residents come here every day to pray and reflect on life.

This magnificent structure, completed in 1606, is the Philippines’ oldest church.

In the Baroque style, the church’s interior is filled with paintings in Trompe l’oeil style, an art style that depicts images in three dimensions.

Inside San Agustin Church

Joseph Oropel /

Near its altar, you can find a 15th-century crucifix.

There are also 17th-century choir halls made of beautiful, ivory-inlaid molave wood.

If you wish to explore the premises, you should check the church’s schedule ahead of time as it prohibits outsiders during weddings ceremonies.

Learn Religious History at San Agustin Museum

Outside View of San Agustin Museum

Inspired By Maps /

WWII tore down the monastery adjacent to San Agustin church, but authorities began its restoration in the 1970s.

The museum has significant historical value and provides an ideal refuge for the treasures that it proudly displays.

Here, you will find wooden sculptures, crucifixes, furniture, ancient missals, and other ecclesiastical art pieces collected from different churches across the country.

Inside San Agustin Museum

Inspired By Maps /

You’ll also learn a lot about the city’s history, from the onset of the Spanish occupation until the partial devastation of Manila during the Japanese military invasion.

It has a strict no-photography policy inside various rooms, but you can take photos outside and in the hallways.

Watch the Picturesque Sunset at Manila Baywalk

Sunset at Manila Baywalk

Tony Magdaraog /

One of the best things to do in Manila is catching the breathtaking sunset in the Baywalk.

In 1989, the Baywalk witnessed a bloody encounter involving the United States and Spain.

The said battle ended in favor of the US and freed the Philippines from Spain after over 333 years.

Baywalk’s two-kilometer stretch features a wall of palm trees that sets it apart from bustling Roxas Boulevard.

You can also spot skyscrapers across the street and a long strip of cafés and restaurants.

The Baywalk is not only filled with IG-worthy attractions but also with gastronomic delight and street performers.

Picnic at Rizal Park

Rizal Park in Manila

posztos /

If you want to pay tribute to the Philippines’ national hero, this is the best place to go.

Rizal Park is a historical monument located in the center of Manila.

It is where the Rizal was executed by firing squad for allegedly inciting local revolt against the Spanish government in 1896, bringing the Philippine Revolution to a head.

It also holds his remains and is guarded 24/7 by Marine Corps personnel.

Rizal Park is dotted with monuments, squares, gardens, stadiums, observatories, open-air performance halls, sound, light theaters, and a variety of food stands, playground equipment, and numerous fountains.

Rizal Park in Manila

Elena Ermakova /

The Park consists of three sections, beginning with the 16-hectare Agrifina Circle near Taft Avenue.

Then there’s the northeastern section, where you can take a stroll around the 22-hectare park that stretches all the way down to Roxas Boulevard.

You can also watch free concerts at the Quirino Grandstand, located at the park’s western end.

The Grandstand can hold up to 10,000 people.

Finally, Burnham Green may be found in the center portion, which ends in the southwest.

Immerse in Local Artistry at the National Museum of Fine Arts

Aerial View of National Museum of Fine Arts

Kim David /

If you are an art enthusiast, check out the works of traditional and contemporary Filipino painters and sculptors in this museum.

Among the artists featured here are Félix Hidalgo, Juan Luna, and Guillermo Tolentino.

The museum’s centerpiece Juan Luna’s controversial painting Spoliarium depicts dead gladiators being dragged away from the arena.

According to historians, the painting symbolizes the injustices under the Spanish regime.

In 1884, Spoliarium garnered its first gold medal in Exposición Nacional de Bellas Artes in Spain.

Relive Spanish Grandeur Casa Manila

Outside Casa Manila

Ramon FVelasquez, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

If you wish to see the lifestyle and luxury of wealthy Spaniards and Filipino families in the Spanish era, visit Casa Manila.

Casa Manila is a 1981 reconstruction of a 19th-century Spanish colonial home.

Inside Casa Manila

Tooykrub /

The three-story mansion features a stone foundation and painted wood construction on the top level.

Climb its grand staircase to reach each floor, where you can find paintings, sculptures, and other ornaments commonly collected by wealthy families in the past.

Meanwhile, its hallway leads out to a courtyard decorated with palm trees and a fountain.

Take a Stroll at Paco Park

View of Paco Park in Manila

Sean Hsu /

Take a stroll at Paco Park, a leisure and nature park built by the Dominicans during the Spanish colonial era.

It is located on General Luna Street in Paco, Manila, as well as the eastern portion of Padre Faura Street.

It was used as a cemetery during the nineteenth century.

In fact, it served as the first resting place of Rizal’s remains following his execution in 1896.

 Paco Park in Manila

Paul Juser /

As the population grew, its chambers became empty to become niches, and authorities built a second exterior entrance made of dense, adobe-like bricks.

In the center lies a lovely, secluded garden with grass, trees, and beds of flowers, as well as St Pancratius’ circular burial chapel.

During President Diosdado Macapagal’s tenure, he declared the reserve as a national park in 1966.

Take a Gastronomic Trip at Chinatown

Chinatown in Manila

Phuong D. Nguyen /

At first look, Manila’s Chinatown does not appear to be a popular tourist destination; it is loud, run-down, and traffic is frequently congested.

However, it is important to note that the region has had a Chinese commercial presence since the 800s, and this sector, known as Bindondo, flourished as a neighboring town for persecuted Hokkien Chinese immigrants and their descendants during the Spanish colonial era.

This vibrant and historic neighborhood in Manila was established in 1594 and is regarded as the world’s first Chinatown.

Poeople in Chinatown

Al.geba /

Like those of the other Chinatowns, Contemporary Binondo excursions are enjoyable since the town is made with narrow and lively alleyways.

It is worth your time to see the Buddhist temples of Kuang Kong and Seng Guan, as well as the vendors selling herbs and charms on Ongpin and Carvajal Streets.

If you’re hungry, there’s no better place in Manila with its hole-in-the-wall eateries, traditional bakeries, and low-cost streetside businesses.

One of the finest ways to appreciate its splendor is to go on a guided culinary and walking tour in Binondo.

Look Into Chinese-Filipino History at Bahay Tsinoy

Outside View of Bahay Tsinoy

Judgefloro, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

Bahay Tsinoy is another reflection of the rich Chinese history in the Philippines.

It houses the Kaisa-Angelo King Heritage Center, a museum that records Chinese ethnicity’s history, lives, and contributions in Philippine life and history.

The three-story structure features artifacts depicting the earliest encounters between the Filipino and Chinese people in the 9th century.

You can also see how the Chinese practiced a nomadic lifestyle in the colonial period.

When the Philippines gained independence, it ushered in an era of integration and opportunity, with Chinese business entrepreneurs assisting in the country’s industrialization.

You will also find out here how they were able to thrive in the Philippines until modern times.

Reflect on the Colonial Past at Chinese Cemetery

Taoist temple in Manila Chinese Cemetery

Kim David /

The Manila Chinese Cemetery offers another sight that educates visitors on Filipino-Chinese traditions.

It was also the location of numerous executions during the Japanese rule of the Philippines during WWII.

In the colonial era, this cemetery served as a resting place for the non-Catholic Chinese.

This place also provides you momentary tranquility from the bustling streets of Manila.

The cemetery features Manila’s oldest Chinese temple, called Chong Hock Tong temple.

It was built in the 1850s, with a style resembling those in China’s Fujian Province.

Take a moment to reflect at Liat See Tong, also known as Martyrs Hall, which pays tribute to Chinese activists executed during WWII.

Attend the Religious Festival of Quiapo Church

Outside View of Quiapo Church

Tappasan Phurisamrit /

Quiapo Church is a major religious and historic site in Manila.

With its rolling towers, the facade of Quiapo Church, built in the baroque style, stands out from both sides.

It is home to the Black Nazarene, a full-sized icon of Christ carrying a cross, and one of Manila’s most well-known monuments.

Quiapo was the first to deliver the life-size ebony figure in 1767.

On January 9 each year, the church celebrates the icon’s feast, one of the city’s most important religious festivals, gathering hundreds of thousands of followers.

It features the Black Nazarene Procession called Traslación, which begins in the early hours of the day and lasts until the evening.

If you are a devoted Catholic, you can demonstrate your religious piety by joining this perilous procession with other penitents, marching barefoot.

Visit Malacañang Palace

Outside Malacañang Palace

Ramon FVelasquez, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

What’s the best way to learn more about the country’s political history and its significance?

Visiting the Malacañang Palace.

Malacañang Palace serves as headquarter of the President of the Philippines.

Malacañang’s extensive house project comprises several homes and departments, most of which are built in the neoclassical style.

It was constructed in 1750 as a country house for the aristocrat Don Lus Rocha.

Later on, it became the summer residence of Spain’s governor-general.

It housed 18 Spanish and 14 American governors before the first Philippine president took over in the succeeding years.

From then on, Malacañang has served as the official residence and headquarter of the current Philippine president.

It is largely made up of wooden structures with roofs, courtyards, and azoteas.

When Imelda Marcos was Philippine First Lady in 1978-79, she reconstructed the palace and added to its size.

Final Thoughts

The rich culture of the Philippines is evident in Manila.

Even though it’s sometimes crowded and noisy, the city is also praised for its hospitable locals, historic sites, and splendid scenery.

If you’re planning to visit the capital, save this list of the best things to do in Manila, and you won’t run out of ideas.

© All rights reserved.