Manila is the center and capital of the Philippines, an island brimming with beaches, culture, and a people with a generally warm and hospitable personality. But anyone coming to the Philippines will most likely pass through Manila, where the main airport is.
So if you’re planning to visit the Philippines, you might be planning to spend a day or two in Manila, or even make it one of your main destinations. Expect to have a full city experience when you’re in town.
What to Expect in Manila
Being the capital of the Philippines, you’d expect that Manila is brimming with life and activity. Over 14.7 million people live in the Metro. And what most people don’t know is that Manila isn’t a city per se. It’s actually a cluster of 16 cities all with their own unique characteristics.
So if you’re visiting Manila, expect to have lots of ground to cover, people to meet, and things to do. Of course, there’s no way that you’ll be able to experience all that Manila has to offer, so I’ve made a list of the top things to do that you should prioritize if you’re planning to visit Manila soon.
10 Things to Do in Manila
Let’s dive in and look at the top ten things you should do when you’re in Manila.
1. Go Shopping at Bonifacio High Street
The first stop of your Manila visit should be Bonifacio Global City (BGC) in Taguig, and you should probably land at the trendy and high-energy Bonifacio High Street. This bustling hub of life nestled within the heart of the metropolis is a playground for both the young and the young-at-heart.
High Street is a one-mile-long stretch of open-air shopping haven in the heart of the bustling city. You’re right in the middle of a fusion of high-end shopping, mouthwatering cuisine, and the trendiest of the trendy hotspots. This location is packed with global and local brands to satisfy your every shopping desire.
You can also find time to unwind in one of the many landscaped parks, perfect for those much-needed breaks between your shopping conquests. Also, High Street is within striking distance of many other areas in BGC that promise something fresh, including:
- Uptown Mall
- SM Aura
- Market Market
2. Haggle at Greenhills
If you’re up for a place that’s going to ignite the bargain hunter in you, you’ll want to end up in Greenhills, a one-stop shopping paradise for all things cool and affordable. You’ll find yourself strolling through a labyrinth of stalls selling everything from fashion-forward clothing to the latest tech gadgets at prices that would make any wallet smile.
Greenhills Mall isn’t just about bargain shopping, it’s a social experience in its own right. Here, you’ll share laughs and stories with the friendly vendors as you haggle your way to that perfect deal. Most of the clothes here are knock-offs so they won’t have the same quality. Consumer electronics, however, are mostly original and top-tier quality.
3. Watch the Sunset over at Mall of Asia Grounds
You haven’t really seen Manila until you’ve watched the sun dip behind Manila Bay, casting a warm glow over the cityscape. And the best place to do this is the Mall of Asia in Pasay City. It’s one of the largest in the world and its grounds boast an unbeatable view of Manila Bay.
As you watch the golden hour unfold, it’s hard not to feel a twinge of romance in the air. You’ll see families enjoying the open grounds, lovers strolling hand in hand, and friends laughing against a breathtaking sunset.
Before or after, you can also head over to the Mall of Asia itself, which is an attraction in its own right. The mall also has the first (and so far only) IKEA, so maybe you can hit two birds with one stone and go window shopping on the same day.
4. Take a Relaxing Stroll Along the Manila Baywalk
Unwind and immerse yourself in the beauty of Manila Bay by taking a leisurely stroll along the famous Baywalk. Located along Roxas Boulevard, this waterfront promenade offers a serene escape from the bustling city. Feel the gentle sea breeze brush against your skin as you take in the breathtaking views of Manila Bay.
The Baywalk is a popular spot for locals and tourists alike, attracting people from all walks of life. As you walk along the paved pathway, you’ll encounter street performers, food stalls, and vendors selling souvenirs. Take your time to explore the various sections, such as the Children’s Playground, a great attraction for families.
One of the highlights of the Baywalk is the stunning sunset views. Find a comfortable spot, sit back, and witness the sun dip below the horizon, casting a warm golden glow over the cityscape. It’s a truly magical experience that shouldn’t be missed.
The Manila Baywalk is also known for its vibrant atmosphere, especially in the evenings. You can enjoy live music performances, try local street food, or simply relax on one of the benches and soak up the unique charm of Manila’s coastal area. It’s the perfect place to unwind, people-watch, and create lasting memories.
So, put on your walking shoes, take a leisurely stroll, and let the tranquility of the Manila Baywalk wash over you.
5. Ride a Gondola at The Venice Grand Canal Mall
In Mckinley Hill, you also have the Venice Grand Canal Mall. This place has captured the magic and charm of its Italian namesake and plonked it right in the middle of Manila. Think cobblestone paths, colorful Italianate buildings, and gondolas.
Grab a seat in one of these authentic Venetian gondolas and allow yourself to be serenaded as you’re gently rowed along the man-made canal. As you glide, take in the views of the beautifully styled buildings that transport you straight to the heart of Venice. There are also many amazing restaurants along the banks of the gondola area to choose from. Our personal favorite has to be the Italianni’s branch in that mall.
6. Visit Intramuros
Take a step back in time by visiting the historical heart of Manila, Intramuros. This walled city, whose name literally means “within the walls”, is a living testament to the Philippines’ Spanish colonial period.
One of the best ways to experience Intramuros is by hopping on a Bambike — that’s a bamboo bike— and riding around the walled city. Pedal along the cobblestone streets, past centuries-old churches, beautiful Spanish houses, and remnants of fortifications. Intramuros isn’t just a tourist spot, it’s a time capsule, a slice of Manila’s past preserved amidst the hustle and bustle of the modern city.
7. Go for a Chinese Food Binge at Binondo
Next, you’ll want to head over to a gastronomic hotspot, where the scent of dumplings and roast duck fills the air. That place is Binondo, Manila’s highly popular Chinatown, and the oldest one in the world. This neighborhood is a culinary paradise where you can indulge your tastebuds in a mouthwatering array of Chinese and Filipino-Chinese dishes.
Be prepared to eat your way through narrow alleyways and busy noodle shops. Some must-tries must be lip-smacking noodle soup, dim sum, and the famous fried siopao. The flavors here are a crazy good collision of cultures that will have your tastebuds dancing in delight.
8. Go Cafe Hopping Around Town
Got a thing for caffeine and cozy corners? We’re bouncing over to Manila’s burgeoning cafe scene next. The city is overflowing with trendy coffee joints, each one cozier and more Instagrammable than the last.
Whether you’re after artisan coffee, unique brews, or simply a delightful space to chill, Manila’s got a cafe for you. Check out the industrial-chic coffee bars in Makati, the artsy hole-in-the-walls in Quezon City, or the stylish spaces in Bonifacio Global City. Each one offers a unique vibe, along with great coffee and pastries.
Here are some coffee shops you should try:
- Mary Grace
- Wildflour Café + Bakery
- Because Coffee by Harlan + Holden (BGC)
- The Coffee Academics (Makati)
- Ito Kish Cafe (Makati)
- Granville San Juan
- Hey BBK (Quezon City)
If you like heights, you should also check the best rooftop bars in Manila!
9. Take a Day Trip Out to Tagaytay
Take time to step away from the urban jungle and take a breath of fresh air. Just a short drive from Manila, Tagaytay is the perfect city escape. With a cooler climate, lush greenery, and a spectacular view of Taal Volcano sitting majestically in a lake, it’s like walking into a postcard.
There are many things to do when you’re in Tagaytay. Visit the Sky Ranch for good old amusement park fun or stroll around the Picnic Grove. Indulge in a steaming bowl of Bulalo, a local beef marrow stew that’s perfect for the cool Tagaytay weather.
10. Visit Manila’s Museums
Manila’s museums are a colorful whirlwind of art, history, and culture, each one promising a unique journey into the heart of the Philippines. You’ll want to start the National Museum Complex. This isn’t just a single museum, but a whole network of them, each exploring a different facet of the country’s rich heritage. From stunning artwork at the National Museum of Fine Arts to awe-inspiring archaeological finds at the National Museum of Anthropology, you’ll come away with a deeper understanding and appreciation of the Filipino identity.
A visit to the Pinto Art Museum is a must for art lovers. Picture this: sprawling gardens, white Mediterranean-style buildings, and galleries filled to the brim with contemporary and indigenous art. It’s a feast for the eyes and soul! There’s also the Mind Museum, which is a great learning experience for the kids.
Where to Stay in Manila
Manila’s got you covered with accommodations that suit every kind of traveler. These are the top picks primed to cater to your style and budget.
Luxury: EDSA Shangri-La
EDSA Shangri-La is one of Manila’s finest luxury hotels. It’s nestled in the heart of the city and right next to the metro’s main thoroughfare, EDSA. EDSA Shangri-La is more than just a place to sleep. It’s an experience in its own right.
Apart from the sumptuous rooms that ooze elegance and views that stretch out over the cityscape, there’s a garden oasis that will make you forget you’re in one of the busiest cities in the world. Then there’s the Heat at EDSA Shangrila, one of the city’s best buffet restaurants I’ve visited.
Read also: Best beach resorts in SE Asia
Mid: Hyatt Regency Manila
The Hyatt Regency Manila City of Dreams is one of your top options for travelers seeking a blend of comfort and convenience without the hefty price tag. The hotel strikes a great balance between lavish and practical. Located in the heart of the city, it offers easy access to Manila’s prime destinations.
The Hyatt’s rooms are sleek, modern, and decked out with all the amenities you need for a stress-free stay. Take a dip in the pool, grab a bite in one of their on-site restaurants, or just chill out in your room with a view of the bustling city below.
Low: Hop Inn Hotel Branches
Hop Inn Hotels are perfect for those on a budget but still want a comfortable and clean place to crash at the end of the day. This chain of cheap stays has mastered the art of simplicity without skimping on the essentials. They offer clean, minimalist rooms that are light on the pocket but heavy on comfort.
Each branch is conveniently located near major transportation hubs, which means less time commuting and more time exploring. Plus, with their friendly staff always ready to assist, you’re guaranteed a hassle-free stay.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQS)
Is It Worth Visiting Manila?
Manila may not be your conventional vacation spot. It’s a city that’s always on the go, teeming with life and bursting at the seams with energy. It’s a city of contrasts — towering skyscrapers meet age-old traditions, frenzied markets coexist with tranquil parks, and historical relics stand amidst bustling modernity.
Moreover, there are also the people. Filipinos are known for their warmth and hospitality. In Manila, you’ll meet locals eager to share their culture, stories, and city with you. It’s the kind of place where you arrive as a visitor, but leave feeling like a local.
What’s the Weather in Manila Like?
There are generally two seasons in the Philippines, Manila included: dry and wet. The dry season usually runs from January to May or June. This is when Manila truly shines. Expect a lot of sun, clear blue skies, and temperatures hovering between 25°C to 32°C (that’s 77°F to 90°F for my Fahrenheit friends). It’s the perfect time to explore the city’s outdoor attractions, catch a golden sunset by the bay, or even venture out on day trips to nearby destinations.
The wet season typically kicks off in May or June and runs through December. You’ll need to pack an umbrella and maybe some waterproof shoes during this time. The rain might be a spoiler for some outdoor activities, but there’s still plenty to do indoors— museums, shopping malls, cafes, and more.
Is It Expensive to Visit Manila?
Manila is the most expensive part of the Philippines, but it’s still much cheaper than other Southeast Asian countries like Kuala Lumpur and Singapore. Accommodations can cater to all budgets.
The city’s food is also quite diverse in terms of cuisine and price. You could spend a few bucks on a meal in a local Carinderia (canteen), or splurge on a fine dining experience. Most restaurants in cities like Makati or Taguig will be more expensive.
Here are other very useful Philippines travel tips.
There you have it — a definitive guide to things you can do in Manila. This city is a dizzying blend of the old and the new, where history rubs shoulders with modernity and every street corner serves up a slice of the vibrant Filipino culture. It’s a place where the people are as warm as the tropical weather and adventure awaits at every turn.
So pack your bags, bring your sense of adventure, and experience the magic of Manila. It’s a city that’s always ready to surprise, delight, challenge, and charm. Once you’ve had a taste, you’ll be itching to come back for more.
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