For many tourists, Manila is just a stepping stone before going to the “real vacation places” in the Philippines. It doesn’t help that the city is known mostly for business districts and massive traffic. But there are many places around Manila to experience local culture, go on historical tours, and taste unique flavors without booking flight or boarding a bus!
I’m naming this article “Manila tourist spots that you actually want to take foreign friends to”. This is because over the years, I’ve come to meet foreign friends who are in the city for business, for an internship, or for short stays before flying to other destinations. Since they are already in the city, I might as well give them a quick Manila city tour to make the most out of their stay!
My last post was 6 days ago? Damnnn. I saw #Intramuros beyond a place for #ootd. We literally went to each nook and cranny in search of the supernatural… Not sure if I wanted to find one! Our Pinoy-flavored #Halloween adventure now up on the blog — #IntramurosGhostWalk 🌛 #philippines #manila #plazasanluis #intramurosmanila
Manila city tour #1: Intramuros
Intramuros is known for its romantic cobblestone streets, vintage Hispanic architecture, and its surrounding stone wall. It takes you back to the colonial era of Manila without the time travel! But the heart of Manila is also more than just an Instagrammable place.
Literally translating to “within the walls”, Intramuros was the Spanish seat of power during Manila’s pre-war heyday. The surrounding stone walls have been fortified to protect the city within the city from foreign invasion and natural calamities. Intramuros Manila has withstood heavy bombings during the World War II and now has been rebuilt and preserved for the Filipino cultural heritage.
Intramuros tourist spots:
- Plaza San Luis. The arts and culture center of Intramuros to find folk dance performances, live music, local restaurants, souvenir shops, and a museum under one roof. It houses Casa Manila Museum, which re-imagines a classic 19th century Filipino home.
- Fort Santiago. The citadel within Intramuros is famous for being the last detention cell of the Philippine national hero, Jose Rizal. It was also rumored to be the hiding place of the buried Yamashita treasure.
- Manila Cathedral. A beautiful piece of architecture that have also endured tragedies such as earthquake, fire, and war. During his Papal Visit of Manila, Pope Francis celebrated mass here with the clergy.
- San Agustin Church. The oldest church in Manila, a UNESCO World Heritage Site as one of the Baroque Churches of the Philippines, and the only survivor of the World War II bombings!
- Manila City Hall. Its iconic clock tower, the largest in the Philippines, is the ultimate symbol of the Manila.
How to commute to Intramuros: Take public transport that goes Lawton or Quiapo. The landmark that you won’t be able to miss is the Manila City Hall. Get off your ride and pass through the underground subway to cross to the entrance of Intramuros.
Manila city tour #2: Binondo Chinatown
The Manila Chinatown is world’s oldest Chinatown! Along the banks of Pasig River is where the rich culture of Filipino-Chinese communities have thrived for centuries. Binondo is also the home of the Filipino Catholic saint and martyr, San Lorenzo Ruiz.
Today, Binondo Chinatown is known for its gastronomic tours and Chinese New Year festivities. It livens up with fireworks, firecrackers, performances, and street-side markets! Try the hopia (moon cake) of Eng Bee Tin, a homegrown bakery that is being lined up for during special occasions, and so many more!
Binondo tourist sports:
- Escolta. Called the “Wall Street” of the Philippines, Escolta is the former financial district of Manila. It used to be synonymous with luxury shopping before large malls lured the city-dwellers. Today, it’s being revived as a place for Manila nightlife.
- Binondo Church. The symbol of the Catholic Filipino-Chinese community named after San Lorenzo Ruiz. Nearby is a crucifix said to have been found by a deaf and mute man inside an old well, called Santo Cristo de Longos.
How to commute to Manila Chinatown: You can take the LRT-1 and get off at Carriedo station. You can also take the LRT-2 and get off at Recto station, and walk all the way to Ongpin Street (about a kilometer’s distance).
Manila city tour #3: Luneta Park
Luneta is one of the largest city parks in Asia. It’s commonly called Rizal Park after the Filipino national hero, Jose Rizal, who was executed here via firing squad. His remains lie in the Rizal Monument. As a public space, Rizal Park is now known for Sunday leisurely activities such as aerobics, kite flying, tai chi, and local games.
Rizal Park tourist spots
- National Museum of the Philippines, National Museum of Anthropology, National Library of the Philippines, the Museum of the Filipino People, and the Manila Planetarium. There are many national museums located just within Rizal Park. It’s the ultimate Manila art space!
- Manila Bay. Across Luneta Park the place to catch the world-famous golden sunset.
- You can also find the tallest flagpole in the Philippines, Kilometer Zero, a man-made lake and sculpture representing the Philippine archipelago, and sculptures of local heroes.
How to commute to Luneta Park: You can take the LRT-1 and get off at U.N. Avenue Station. You can also ride a jeepney or van bound for Vito Cruz and Buendia and get down at T.M. Kalaw. From any of the two stations, take a stroll to Rizal Park!
Manila tour ideas: Take the touristy route by doing a kalesa tour, which is riding a horse-drawn carriage fit for 2-4 people to see Manila attractions. You can also try the jeepney tour. At night, you can try the Manila Bay Cruise where you can enjoy plated meals, acoustic music, and watching city lights from a distance.
A marine theme park with thousands of sea creatures, the Manila Ocean Park houses species that are only found in Southeast Asia! The most popular section here is the curved tunnel Oceanarium that lets you view marine life from underneath. There are also shark, stingray, jellyfish, and penguin viewing areas and exhibits inside. Not to mention, activities and performances that are great for family bonding.
Manila Ocean Park activities and attractions
- Hotel H2O. It features spacious marine-themed suites that let you sleep next to an aquarium full of fish! Makes you wonder, do they actually sleep or will they just watch over you?
- Mermaid Swim Experience. Want to be Ariel for a day? You can wear a mermaid tail and learn how to swim with a fish tail underwater.
- Aquanaut Voyage. It’s similar to helmet diving.
- Trails to Antarctica and Snow Village. Trails to Antartica features Humboldt penguins that actually came from coastal Peru and Chile. While Snow Village is every tropical dweller’s dream… experience snow even for just 5-minutes!
How to commute to Manila Ocean Park: You can take the LRT-1 and get off at UN Avenue station. Walk past Luneta Park/Rizal Park, the Kilometer Zero marker, all the way behind Quirino Grandstand.
Manila city tour #5: Corregidor Island
A tadpole-shaped island at the entrance of Manila Bay, Corregidor Island was a strategic military defense during the World War II. In the Philippines’ colonial past, Corregidor Island was fortified and contained sophisticated coastal guns and mortars, anti-aircraft artillery batteries, a railroad track, a school for servicemen, cinema, baseball field, swimming pool, and an airfield. It now still serves as a military memorial for American, Filipino, and Japanese war veterans.
Corregidor Island attractions
- Pacific War Memorial and Eternal Flame of Freedom. Every May 5th noon-time, the light falls perfectly on the sculpture’s oculus, the time when Filipino and American troops surrendered after 72 days of bombing. A similar Japanese Garden of Peace was constructed for their Japanese counterparts.
- Malinta Tunnel. The last stronghold of the Philippine and American forces against the Japanese. It now has an audio-visual storytelling of what transpired in the island.
- Corregidor Lighthouse. One of the oldest landmarks in the island that guided seafarers safely.
How to go to Corregidor: Since it’s an island, it’s best to book Corregidor tours that use private ferry boats. These are usually packaged with historical tours and optional overnight accommodations.
Other Places to see in Manila: Off-the-beaten path
Want to see Manila beyond the city tours? If you’re up for an immersive cultural, artistic, and political experience, try the following off-the-beaten path destinations.
- Manila nightlife. The city comes alive with various options for unwinding by nightfall. These come in the form of laid-back gastro-pubs, sophisticated super clubs, family-friendly karaoke bars, and even adult entertainment.
- Divisoria Mall. It’s the go-to place for bargain-hunting for extremely cheap items that can also be bought in bulk. It’s particularly crowded during Christmastime.
- Quiapo Church. Prepare to be immersed in Filipino culture! This is where religion and mysticism mix. Just outside the church where hundreds of devotees go to mass are a wet market, tarot card reading, magical charms, and shady ladies selling abortion-inducing drinks.
- Malacañang Palace. It’s the where the presidents throughout history have resided, similar to the White House of the US. Guests are allowed to visit the Malacañang Museum during weekdays, provided you will book 3 days in advance.
- Cultural Center of the Philippines. The CCP is a theater, a cinema, and a museum where greatest events in the realm of local arts and culture are held. Its grounds are also a great spot for jogging and leisure activities.
The go-to place after the #IntramurosGhostWalk. This is where the famed #CasaManilaMuseum is located, also a variety of souvenir shops, the restaurant Barbara's (with traditional folk dance and buffet meals), and the former #Intramuros Hotel. I wonder why the patio is almost always empty though. ⛲ #philippines #instatravel #earth #tourist #getoutside #igtravel #instatraveling #getaway #instago #tourism #travelblog #travelblogger #tourism #visiting #travelgram #lonelyplanet #worldcaptures #manila #traveltheworld #travelingram #casamanila #passionpassport #huffpostgram #intramurosmanila
Preparing for your Manila tour
- How to commute around Manila. The fastest way around the city is via the train stations of the MRT and the LRT. Land transportation are air-conditioned buses, vans, and jeepney. For convenience or safety, you can ride metered taxi cabs or use ride-sharing apps such as Uber or Grab.
- Manila Food. Being a global city, Manila offers a wide array of local and international dishes, particularly Japanese, Italian, and Chinese cuisine and American fast food. Meanwhile, most local dishes are comprised of meat such as chicken, pork, and beef. Some recommended dishes to try are the Filipino adobo and sinigang.
- Best time to travel to Manila. Summer time during the months of March to May is the best time to have a weather-proof trip. Take note of local holidays which may work for or against you, such as Chinese New Year celebrations, Holy Week, Christmas, as well as many local fiestas and festivals.
- Things to bring. Some must-haves for any quick tour are bottled water, face towel, and an umbrella in case it rains. An online map on your smartphone helps too in navigating during the Manila city tour.
- What to wear. Because it’s a liberal city, there usually has no restrictions in terms of dress codes. Still, it’s best to dress comfortably or like the locals. Wear flip-flops, sandals, or rubber shoes for footwear, and breezy shirts coupled with shorts or jeans. Avoid wearing jewelry or flaunting expensive gadgets.