When in Manila, visitors often find themselves asking, “What do we do first?” The city is a huge collection of diverse cultures, arts, cuisines, histories and attractions so it is fairly easy to get confused about what to do. There are an astounding number of things to do in Manila and often, the limit is your time and thirst of adventure.
There’s something for every one in Manila: sprawling shopping centers, historic landmarks, excellent food, interesting museums, child-friendly parks and shops, night markets and stunning sunsets. Manila is far from a beautiful paradise; no, it is much too developed to be called that. Instead, it is a vibrant ultra-modern city with touches of history here and there and to explore it will give you a taste of what’s in store in the rest of the Philippine islands.
Understand that Metro Manila is quite huge and time is needed if you’d really want to experience it. We’ve come up with a list of the exciting things to do in Manila. If you’re staying only week, you'll need to plan your trip well to do all the activities on our list:
Today, Intramuros is one of the most visited districts of Metro Manila, with Fort Santiago, Manila Cathedral and San Agustin Church, a world heritage church as the main points of interest. Intramuros is easily explored on foot there are also guided tours available through several providers. If you’d like something a little out of the box, try touring the district on a calesa (horse-drawn carriage) and ask the driver to be your guide.
Manila Ocean Park is the first and only oceanarium in the country, said to be bigger than Singapore’s Sentosa Underwater World. The park is located behind the Quirino Grandstand, close to sprawling the Rizal Park. The entire complex is an integrated resort, with accommodations, a spa, and several displays and shows for the entertainment of its guests. Among its many exciting attractions, the underwater tunnel is the most visited. It is home to about 300 marine species endemic to the Philippines and Southeast Asia.
This is the closest you can get to seeing reef fishes in their natural habitat without getting wet. Other attractions in the Manila Ocean Park include the Jellies – Dancing Sea Fairies, Aquanaut Voyage and the Fish Spa.
Children of all ages will love the scientific exhibits at the Mind Museum in Taguig, the first world-class science museum in the Philippines. The museum features five separate galleries: Universe, Earth, Life, Atom and Technology. Interactive displays are abundant in all five galleries, including a life-sized T-Rex skeleton and an authentic fossilized dinosaur poop. There’s also a robot that patrols around the technology gallery.
Other interesting bits and pieces of the wonderful world of science are waiting to be explored inside the museum. Guides inside the museum take you through an educational tour around the entire complex, stopping every once in a while to allow you to interact with the exhibits. There is also the 800sqm Science-in-the-Park where there’s more learning in store.
Looking for something new to feast on aside from the usual restaurant fare? Head to Mercato Centrale in Bonifacio Global City! Mercato Centrale is a weekend food and organic market frequented by foodies in Metro Manila. Different concessionaires, usually up and coming food businesses, converge in air conditioned tents to serve some of the best culinary delights in the city. Aside from the food, organic produce can also be bought in Mercato Centrale. Free wireless Internet is available in the premises. Of all things to do in Manila, this gastronomic adventure might just be the one thing you will not soon forget.
Tourists traveling with small children will love what Animaland has in store. The store has six branches in the metro: SM Mall of Asia, Robinsons Manila, Festival Mall, Trinoma, Shangri-La Mall and Bonifacio High Street. If you’re looking for a place where you can personalize your souvenirs or simply where you can have clean good fun with the kids, then this is the place.
You get to pick your animal, decide how much stuffing it will have, what clothes it will wear and how it would smell. Your finished products will even come with its own birth certificate. This place has something fun and exciting for children of all ages.
Imelda Marcos is known to the world as the socialite wife of the only Filipino dictator Ferdinand Marcos. But Mrs. Marcos is also famous for her astounding collection of luxurious footwear accumulated over the years. If you’d like to see a small portion of this collection, you may view them at the Marikina Shoe Museum. Shoes of other important people, national heroes and diplomats can also be found on display.
Marikina is considered the Shoe Capital of the Philippines, with numerous shops and factories producing quality footwear for export and local distribution.
Shopping is an exciting pursuit in Metro Manila. Aside from the huge upscale malls, there are those equally-large bargain centers where most locals buy their stuff. Greenhills Shopping Center and the ever-so-crowded Divisoria are just two of the many bargain centers in Manila.
Keep in mind that haggling or negotiating sale prices are completely acceptable in these places and it is almost weird not to. You can find all sorts of merchandise in these shopping centers, including women’s, men’s and children’s apparel, toys, home décor, kitchen ware, furniture and souvenirs. Electronics can also be bought in these places but take care not to fall for to-good-to-be-true prices.
Get ready for a feast for the senses in Binondo’s Chinatown, a melting pot of restaurants, temples, shops and markets offering everything and anything Chinese. The district is best explored on a calesa weaving through heavy pedestrian traffic. When visiting Binondo, do not forget to pass by Ongpin Street where you can find vendors selling traditional Chinese herbal medicine, Feng Sui amuleys and charms, and authentic Chinese delicacies.
There are also plenty of restaurants and grocery stores in this area. Also visit the Binondo Church, an old structure with elaborate interiors adorned with statues of saints and biblical paintings. And as you leave Chinatown, drop by Eng Bee Tin to shop for delectable Chinese pastries including the famous hopia.
The sunset in Manila Bay is considered one of the most picturesque in the Philippines and perhaps the whole world. Maybe is it due to the accumulation of smoke and dust in the atmosphere but as the sun slowly makes it way behind the horizon, it creates a beautiful, almost haunting spectacle. Many people go to the Baywalk to simply marvel at the Manila Bay sunset and take photos to share with friends. For those who want to watch it in style, there are sunset cruises around the bay which can be a perfect prelude to a romantic night with a special person.
Manila’s street cuisine is known as the best in Asia and sampling it is something that should not be missed by any visitor. Manila’s Baywalk is the perfect place to have a taste of the grilled, boiled, fried and steamed culinary delights of the street. Some of the items to watch out for are balut (boiled duck embryo), barbecue (grilled meat cuts), isaw (grilled chicken intestines), dimsum and dirty ice cream. Remember that this adventure is not for the squeamish. Although Manila’s street food offerings are considered more sanitary than those in neighboring Asian countries, proceed with caution especially if you have a weak stomach.
There are at least a hundred more exciting things to do in Manila for travelers from all walks of life. To experience Manila is to take a quick peek at what is in store in other Philippine cities. While the city is crowded and there’s heavy traffic almost anytime of the day, the fact remains that Manila is a city of wonders in all respects.