City

Manila City Tour: Quick Trips for Short Stays (with videos!)

manila city tour

Manila is not just a bridge to other Philippine tourist spots. You can take a quick Manila city tour to make the most out of your short stay!

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!

So if you’re a tourist or a Filipino who want to show off Manila to your foreign friends, here’s your travel guide to my most recommended Manila city tours:

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 ideas: Try the three-hour Intramuros Ghost Walk, where you can get to know walled city at nightfall and hear both history and horror stories!

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 ideas: Take the Binondo Culinary Tour where you can taste authentic Chinese cuisine from the oldest Chinatown in the world, in the most unexpected of places.

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.

Manila city tour #4: Manila Ocean Park

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 ideas: Manila Ocean Park offers a variety of tours ranging from PHP 550 to PHP 990. You can enjoy exhibits and shows of your choice that fit your budget and preferences.

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.

Manila city tour ideas: Take the Sun Cruises package tour to Corregidor Island. You can do it on a day trip, overnight, or just the walking tour.

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.

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.

 

 Intramuros, Binondo Chinatown, Luneta Park, Manila Ocean Park, and Corregidor Island are the top Manila city tours of choice if I will take a friend around. What’s yours? Suggest below!

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30 Comments

  • Reply
    ASKSonnie
    December 10, 2016 at 2:21 PM

    You provided a comprehensive list, Sam. Since I’m living in Manila, let me add two more destinations-

    1. Paco Park- Great for weddings, dating, photo walk and just hang-out with friends. Mass is also being held on Sundays

    2. Bay walk- For people who just want to stroll and watch the famous Manila bay sun set

  • Reply
    KT Nielsen
    December 10, 2016 at 11:33 AM

    Thank you for sharing this blog post. I am planning to tour Manila as well because I have only been to a few places and I can’t say that I have seen all already. I’m really interested to try the Binondo tour soon. I won’t do it this month though. Maybe early next month, when traffic is more bearable.

    • Reply
      Sam Coronado
      December 12, 2016 at 10:44 PM

      Try going on February or March, whenever the Chinese New Year falls! It’s traffic, but not that difficult if you don’t mind walking.

  • Reply
    Bernardo Rancho
    December 8, 2016 at 10:20 PM

    I would recommend Manila Bay Sunset Cruise, it was really nice, very relaxing, we had live band on boat and that added final touch to whole experience. The dinner was OK, my girlfriend and I really did enjoy the cruise, and your suggested time of 4pm was perfect as the weather was really just perfect.

  • Reply
    Liana
    December 8, 2016 at 7:14 PM

    I have heard a lot about Manila, and the Philippines, and so many of my friends told me it was just an amazing place to visit and to wander, but I still never been, yet. It’s on bucket list, and you’re making me want to go even much more than ever! The Videos are so thoughtful and it’s so interesting to see it intramuros!

  • Reply
    Carola
    December 7, 2016 at 5:56 AM

    I have heard a lot about Manila but I have never been there. I would love to go one day. I love how your post already guides me. It definitely makes me more interested. I really like the Manila tour ideas and I’m happy to see a lot of museums. It’s definitely good to know how to commute. That’s always hard in a country you’ve never been before. I usually go on holiday in October, so good to know I should visit Manila in march-may

  • Reply
    Marge Gavan
    December 6, 2016 at 11:28 PM

    Wow this is such a great guide Sam. I love it. As a Manilenean, I used to discourage people especially foreigners about exploring it because it’s not exactly the best spot to see in the Philippines. Lately though, and this is something that a foreigner told me, that the city is where the heart of the country is and the quickest way to get to know a place is to go there. Since then I have been telling foreign visitors not to miss Manila and just suck it up wit the traffic. Of course, I always recommend Intramuros, which really, is the most beautiful place in Manila.

    • Reply
      Sam Coronado
      December 7, 2016 at 12:25 AM

      Hi Marge!! Thanks for dropping by 🙂 I have the same sentiments. I used to always say “Fly to Cebu instead” but usually they have affairs within the city. I don’t want them to just walk in Makati and visit the malls. I actually made this because a friend is coming next year. It really made me think how I can make the most out of her stay before she flies to Boracay 🙂

  • Reply
    thesanetravel
    December 6, 2016 at 10:46 PM

    Your post brings back my memories of my recent trip to the Philippines and Manila. I missed at least half of your list. Besides LRT I haven’t tried I found a traffic in Manila difficult, congested and confusing. Otherwise I was happy with what I saw. Thanks for sharing!

  • Reply
    wishingbelle
    December 6, 2016 at 5:52 PM

    I’m curious at Hotel H2O. Some of my friends have stayed there and I guess, they all enjoyed it. It would also be a strategic place to stay for tourists who have not been to Manila. It’s a bit hard to capture the beauty of Manila in one frame, I guess. But tourists will surely find joy in our tourist spots and the people and the weather! Haha.

  • Reply
    Milton Coyne
    December 6, 2016 at 1:57 PM

    I really want to Explore intramuros! I’ve been to Intramuros many times na but only for a pilgrimage but I would love to explore it more especially to discover the place’s huge historical significance… it was actually on my bucket list for this year but it seems like i cannot make it this year na 🙁
    Binondo however has always been on my destination list every year especially during Chinese New year
    I haven’t been to Manila Ocean Park and COrregidor yet

  • Reply
    katrinajeancarter
    December 6, 2016 at 4:14 AM

    I grew up in Manila and have been in these places. It has been more than 8 years since I left the country and seeing your photos and videos still put me in awe! I love how we are able to keep so much culture and history in these places. They seem so magical to me and can’t wait to take my husband and future kids to see them as well.

  • Reply
    Thelittlelai: Beyond limits
    December 6, 2016 at 3:16 AM

    These places to visit in Manila has long been slumbering in my bucket list and I just can’t simply find a good time visiting them. Yes, I’ve been to Manila several times, but just for only a stop by area going southern and Northern Part and flight going outside the country. Thank you for sharing them all Samantha!

  • Reply
    The Walking Map
    December 6, 2016 at 2:23 AM

    I don’t believe I’ve “seen” a city unless I’ve used the public transit. Good to know that it’s a reasonable option in Manila. In Johannesburg and Yangon, I was advised not to use it!

  • Reply
    Sam Coronado
    December 6, 2016 at 12:03 AM

    Thanks Shai! Not all of em are mine, but I’d love to provide something more visuals. I’m also a fan of your IG feed :p

  • Reply
    Hendrik
    December 5, 2016 at 11:29 PM

    Such lovely pictures and even some cool videos. Binondo sounds actually very amazing to us, since we love the Chinatowns all over the world. Its always a great fun to discover the local chinatown food and goods, especially the Bubble tea 🙂
    Thank you for sharing your experiences, cheers Birdie & Hendrik

    • Reply
      Sam Coronado
      December 6, 2016 at 12:07 AM

      Hi Birdie and Hendrik! I think milk tea and bubble tea are really popular among tourists. It’s great that it’s also popular in the Philippines so you can have your fix here! I agree, Chinatowns all over the world are just fascinating. Very rich culture in every square meter!

  • Reply
    Jade Martin
    December 5, 2016 at 2:35 AM

    Another great article. Thank you very much for sharing more about Manila.

    • Reply
      Sam Coronado
      December 6, 2016 at 12:05 AM

      Miss Jade! Thanks again for dropping by here and sharing this with your followers!! 🙂

  • Reply
    Gessa C
    December 4, 2016 at 2:18 PM

    Well, that’s just saddening about the tourists. They only consider Manila as stepping stone to the real vacation spots in the country. However, this post of yours is definitely saving the thought that people should also consider exploring the capital city of the country. Good thing you have pointed out the places that are open for everyone and that people would definitely love to see.

    • Reply
      Sam Coronado
      December 6, 2016 at 12:04 AM

      Thanks Gessa! I really wrote this keeping in mind all my friends and couchsurfers who think Manila is only about the malls!

  • Reply
    yogoandcream
    December 4, 2016 at 2:17 AM

    This is a great compilation of what Manila has to offer. I’ll definitely forward this blog post to our foreign friends. We have an influx of that this coming Christmas since we’re spending our Christmas here. By the way, we always go to Chinatown before when it’s Chinese New Year, but still haven’t done the Binondo Culinary Tour yet. Looking forward to trying it out with Lloyd.

    • Reply
      Sam Coronado
      December 6, 2016 at 12:03 AM

      Yes! And please include me and Josh! Haha. I’ve only done DIY gastronomic tours but not the official ones. 🙂

  • Reply
    ROBERT LEE | Amazing Life Daily
    December 3, 2016 at 4:24 PM

    Hey nice one here. I used to live in Binondo. 🙂 Hehehe, so it was kinda … strange to see Binondo and Chinatown again. Even Intramuros. I have been there so many times I cannot count. My lola nakalibing doon sa San Agustin. Tapos all those times attending weddings and receptions sa Intramuros area… and playing golf… Your post brought back a lot of memories.

    Narinig ko ang ghost walk eh. I was telling people. Hindi naman nakakatakot basta may kasama na grupo. Mas nakakatakot mga buhay na tao.

    • Reply
      Sam Coronado
      December 6, 2016 at 12:02 AM

      Haha! Thanks Sir Robert. I’ve heard that you lived in Boracay, now in Binondo. What an exciting life to live in some of the most interesting and culturally rich places 🙂 I really love Chinatown. I do wish I lived there but I know it’s already a bit congested. I used to have the same feeling for Maginhawa St (where I live nearby) but now everything is commercialized. I would love to have a chunk of that Chinese culture.

      • Reply
        ROBERT LEE | Amazing Life Daily
        December 6, 2016 at 2:32 AM

        That is because I am an oldie, so I have been around. I grew up in Binondo. Pure Chinese, born and raised in the Philippines, so that makes me a Tsinoy. The Chinatown I was accustomed with is different now. The few times I went there in the last several years, I see the difference, but the people are different. The new batch of people from Mainland China, I understand them, but I cannot relate with them.

  • Reply
    Stargazer Writes
    December 3, 2016 at 5:23 AM

    I had been to most of the places on your list aside from Corregidor, Malacanang and Divisoria (My friends wouldn’t go with me, but I really want to go). Night life is awesome too! I had been to a lot of clubs and karaoke establishments. I remember going to Binondo Church and bought stuff from Eng bee tin too. lol

    • Reply
      Sam Coronado
      December 5, 2016 at 11:49 PM

      Haha! Eng Bee Tin is really an “institution” in Binondo. I don’t appreciate hopia very much, but it’s remarkable that it was homegrown! As for Divisoria, try it this season. But be prepare to go on battle!

  • Reply
    Mica de Leon
    December 2, 2016 at 6:29 PM

    Come to think of it.. I haven’t really seen most of Manila yet. Intramuros – check, Luneta Park – check, Manila Ocean Park – check. Binondo Chinatown & Corregidor Island not yet. Hmm. Now I know a place I should visit next. Btw, love your photos.

    • Reply
      Sam Coronado
      December 5, 2016 at 11:46 PM

      Binondo is a must-see! Or should I say, must-taste 🙂

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