LOCAL GUIDE: Amazing Things to Do and Places to See in Manila
Are you planning to stay in Manila? Let’s be honest — Manila isn’t on top of everyone’s list when planning a visit to the Philippines, but unbeknownst to many, it also offers interesting sights and activities.
Whether you’re going here for a short layover or simply want to explore this city, this guide will help you navigate the buzzing capital of the Philippines.
- Tours and sightseeing
- Where to eat
- City Life and Shopping
- Where to stay in Manila
- Local tips when visiting Manila
- What to read next:
Tours and sightseeing
Historical tour in Intramuros
Intramuros is one of the most important historical landmarks in Manila. During the Spanish occupation in the 1500s, Intramuros was synonymous to the City of Manila itself. It was the seat of the government & political power of the Spanish government.
The local government has since declared it as National Cultural Treasures.
You can explore Intramurous via a do-it-yourself walking tour or bamboo bike tour via Bambike Ecotours. Start your tour with the Intramuros Visitor’s Center where you’ll be given brochures of the structures inside the walled city. You can visit Fort Santiago, Manila Cathedral, Walls of Intramuros (Puerta de Santa Lucia), San Agustin Church and Museum, and finally Casa Manila.
There is also a night tour offered at Intramuros called Intramuros After Dark. This will let you see the old streets of the walled city at night and learn about not just historical facts but also urban legends.
Click here to book a tour in Intramuros via Klook.
Stroll around Quiapo
If you want to have an authentic exploration of the gritty street of Manila, there’s no better place to be than Quiapo. It’s known as the “Old Downtown of Manila” and it’s currently a local marketplace bargaining hunt.
Here in Quiapo, you’ll find the Quiapo Church, which is the center of devotion for the Black Nazarene. Surrounding the church are different stalls selling fresh fruits, street food, and other items. Interestingly, it’s also where you can find local fortune tellers and vendors who sell anting-anting (talisman) and other items used in traditional healing and witchcraft.
Other interesting points in Quiapo include the Quinta Market, Muslim Town, Bahay Nakpil-Bautista, Maglaqui Talyer, Hidalgo Street, and San Sebastian Basilica.
You can do explore Quiapo on your own, but I highly suggest booking a tour via Bukas Quiapo Tours. It’s a community-based group that supports the community by offering tours to Quiapo, which includes food tasting of local dishes including halal food from the local Muslim community as well.
Day tour at Manila Ocean Park
The Manila Ocean Park is considered the first world-class marine theme park in the Philippines. It’s a popular option for educational tours, family trip, and even couples who are on a romantic day-off.
The best feature of Manila Ocean Park is its Oceanarium, which is home to 14,000 sea creatures indigenous to the Philippines and other countries in Southeast Asia. It also offers various activities such as helmet diving, sharks and sting rays encounter, and mermaid swimming.
Book a discounted ticket to Manila Ocean Park via Klook.
P.S. You might also consider staying at Hotel H2O inside the complex where you can book a room with an aquarium on its walls.
Watch the sunset at Manila Bay
The Philippines presents amazing sunsets. One popular spot where you can enjoy a sunset view is in Manila Bay. Take a walk along Roxas Boulevard or enjoy a drink in one of the bars in the area, such as Sofitel Manila’s Sunset Bar or Bayleaf Hotel’s Sky Deck View Bar which is on a rooftop within Intramuros.
Established in 1901, National Museum is one of the best attractions in Manila. It is at the forefront of research, preservation, and promotion of the country’s cultural and natural heritage. It features a wide range of artworks, artifacts, and natural specimens.
The museum has four main buildings, each with its own distinct collection. The National Museum of Fine Arts houses a collection of Philippine art from the 17th to the 20th century, including works by renowned artists like Juan Luna and Fernando Amorsolo. The National Museum of Anthropology houses archaeological and ethnographic exhibits, including artifacts from the pre-colonial era of the Philippines. The National Planetarium is dedicated to the study of astronomy and space exploration. Finally, the National Museum of Natural History features exhibits on the country’s flora and fauna, including a collection of preserved specimens and interactive exhibits.
If you’d like to delve more into the rich culture of the Philippines, you can visit the Ayala Museum in Makati. It features ethnographic and archaeological displays on Filipino culture, art, and history.
Some of the interesting things you can see in Ayala Museum include ancient ceramics from bartering with China and other Southeast Asian countries and more than 1000 gold objects from local cultures before the colonization of the country in the 16th century.
Lakbay Museo is a newly opened museum located in S Maison at Conrad Manila, Pasay. It lets you see the best of the Philippines in 1-2 hours.
Here you can learn more about the Philippines including its regions, culture, festival, and food staples. It also offers unique experiences such as taking a “lava walk” in Mayon Volcano and swimming in a giant rice bowl.
This museum appeals to not just the history buffs but the younger crowd as well, with its IG-worthy displays and interactive stations.
Book a ticket to Lakbay Museo via Klook.
Arguably more of an entertainment platform than a museum, the Dessert Museum is the most scrumptious museum you can find in Manila. It features themed rooms depicting specific sweets and desserts. Samples are also given along the way. It’s ideal for kids or people who are young at heart, especially those who’d like to amp their IG feed.
Guests in Dessert Museum are given 2 hours to explore inside. After the tour, there’s an option to buy various sweets, supplies & accessories.
Book a ticket to Dessert Museum via Klook.
Where to eat
Popular local joint: Jollibee
Ask Filipinos for a suggestion on where to eat and they’ll immediately answer with “Jollibee”. Jollibee is a fast-food chain and it’s what McDonalds is to the US. Jollibee is more than a restaurant, it’s part of the local culture. A lot of people grew up with fond memories of having family meals in Jollibee, which is why it’s a beloved brand.
While you’re here, don’t forget to try out the Chicken Joy fried chicken, spaghetti (which is sweet instead of tangy), and burger.
Food crawl: Binondo, Chinatown
Did you know that you can find the oldest chinatown in the world in Manila? Binondo was established in the 1950s as a place of commerce for Chinese traders. Today, it’s one of the most popular foodie spots in the city.
Some of the must-eats in Binondo include kutsay fried dumplings from Dong Bei Dumplings, fresh lumpia at New Po Heng, and hand-stretched noodles from Lan Zhou La Mien. Also don’t forget to bring home tikoy, hopia, and other pastries from Eng Bee Tin!
Click here to book a Binondo food tour via Klook.
City restaurants: Poblacion
Poblacion is a trendy neighborhood in Makati. Over the years, it’s becoming increasingly popular as a food hub. Here you can find various restaurants, from authentic Korean samgyupsal restaurants to Indian curry houses and local food joints. It also hosts drinking holes including roofdeck bars, which makes it a popular spot for professionals and foreigners who are out for a good time.
Market to plate: Seafood dampa
A dampa is a local seafood market. Here you can buy fresh seafood in market stalls and have it cooked for you in a restaurant for a fee. If you don’t want the trouble of buying the ingredients yourself (which, btw is really fun), you can simply ask the restaurant staff to do it for you. Ala carte non-seafood items are also available.
Eating in a dampa is a unique local experience and will allow you to appreciate the bountiful catch in the local seas.
Dampa can be found in various locations in Manila including Macapagal in Pasay and Daang Hari in Las Pinas. There are also “high-end” dampas nowadays including Seascape Village in Pasay.
Weekend market: Salcedo Market
Salcedo Market is a weekend market held every Saturday at Salcedo Village in Makati City. Here you can buy a variety of cuisines, including specialty dishes from different provinces in the Philippines. They also sell organic fruits and vegetables, as well as plants and other items.
Salcedo weekend market rates are more expensive compared to ordinary local markets, but you’re guaranteed to love the cozy & laid-back vibe in this place. It’s a favorite breakfast place of locals residing in Makati as well.
City Life and Shopping
Explore BGC, Taguig
Bonifacio Global City (BGC) is a modern-day business district in Metro Manila. A lot of business people, professionals, and mid-budget travelers stay here as it’s clean, safe, and modern. It also features the usual city comforts such as malls, parks, and leisure activities.
There’s a lot of things you can do in BGC.
Take a walk at Serendra which is a pedestrian-friendly community with various restaurants and retail stores, ride aboard a gondola in Venice Grand Mall, catch all the street murals scattered in the city, or visit interesting museums such as the Mind Museum. You can also stop by Mercato, a night food market where you can buy local cuisines.
Greenbelt Mall, Makati
Greenbelt Mall offers a mix of high-end retail stores and shops, including both local and international brands. This is one of the best shopping malls in Manila for a comfortable shopping spree.
Greenbelt Mall is also linked to Landmark, Glorietta, and SM Makati which features budget- to medium-priced stalls.
Greenhills Shopping Center, San Juan
If you want to go bargain shopping but don’t want to venture to local marketplaces such as Divisoria, you can go to Greenhills Shopping Center in San Juan. Here you can find hundreds of stalls selling clothes, jewelry such as pearls, arts & crafts, and other knock-off brand merchandise. If you’re looking to buy pasalubong, you can also find local products imported from the provinces here.
Where to stay in Manila
There are various hotels in Manila, ranging from luxurious 5-star accommodations to budget inns and hostels.
Luxury stay: Peninsula Manila
The Peninsula Manila is a 5-star hotel located in Makati. This is a great choice if you’re looking for a luxury stay in proximity with shopping malls and other commercial establishments in this city.
The hotel features multiple dining options. It also has a gym, a sauna, and an outdoor pool. Spa services are available for a fee.
Luxury Stay: Hotel H2O
Hotel H2O is a 4-star hotel located within the Manila Ocean Park complex, right off Manila Bay. This hotel offers a unique experience — you can book a room with an in-room aquarium, which is popular with families and couples. Other rooms offer bay views.
Facilities include a restaurant and lounge, coffee shop, and a bar with bay views. There’s also a spa, a gym, and a hot tub.
Mid-range stay: Tropicana Suites
Tropicana Suites is located in the lively district of Malate. It offers 100 modern rooms. The best feature of Tropicana Suites is its location: it’s close to cultural landmarks, malls, dining hotspots, and even the airport.
Budget stay: Z Hostel
Z Hostel is a popular choice for budget traveleres. It offers private rooms and dorms. It has a rooftop bar, which is a great place to hang out in at night. It also has a 24/7 cafe that offers a good breakfast buffet.
Local tips when visiting Manila
Manila is a safe place to explore, but be sure to keep your head with you at all times and avoid the seedy parts of Manila.
Explore attractions outside Manila
Manila is built for the working population so most of what you can visit here include shopping malls, parks, and museums. If you have more than a day to spare, it’s best to get out of the city. There are nearby provinces where you can enjoy other activities. Here’s name a few:
- Dine with a view of Taal Lake in Tagaytay (2 hours away)
- Take a day tour and waterfall dining at Villa Escudero Resort (1.5 hour away)
- Visit beaches and diving spots in Batangas (2-3 hours away)
- Trek to Mount Pinatubo (4 hours away)
- Relax in hot spring resorts in Laguna (2 hours away)
- Stay in old casas in Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar in Bataan (3-4 hours away)
That’s it. I hope you like this travel guide to Manila, Philippines. Do you have other recommendations on things to do and places to see in Manila? If so, let us hear about them in the comments below!
What to read next:
Planning a trip to the Philippines? Check out these guides!
- First-Timers Guide to the Philippines
- Best Places to Visit in the Philippines
- Things You Need to Know Before Visiting the Philippines
- Is the Philippines Safe to Visit?
- Off-the-Beaten-Track Destinations in the Philippines
- Suggested 2 Weeks Itinerary in the Philippines
- Suggested 3 Weeks Itinerary in the Philippines
- Philippines Packing List
Katherine Cortes is a 30-something freelance writer/editor. She likes beaches, snorkeling trips, and relaxing staycations (preferably with bath tubs!).