25+ Best Things to Do in Manila

Written by Bianca Versoza

The Philippines is a country where two places that you visit will never have the exact same experience. This is because we’re an archipelago, or a country made out of separate islands. Seven thousand, one hundred and seven of them, in fact. But if it’s your first time in the country, then one of the best places to visit is Manila.

But first, which Manila are we talking about?

Before we discuss all the lovely things you can do in Manila, you first need to know which “Manila” you want to discover places for. Because when tourists say, “I’m visiting Manila!” most of them actually mean Metro Manila.

Metro Manila is not a city but a region in the Philippines—the capital region, to be exact. Located in the center of Luzon, Metro Manila is where most of the country’s business economy is generated. It’s an urban place in the most traditional sense, much like Tokyo and Dubai. 

Metro Manila comprises 16 cities, one of them being Manila, the capital city of the country. There’s a lot of history woven here, with it being the site of many of our adage events, such as the Philippine Declaration of Independence. As such, there are a lot of historical sites and museums to explore in the area. It’s more culturally designed, too. 

In essence, if you’re visiting Metro Manila, your first stop should indeed be Manila, where you can witness some of our history and culture firsthand. You can tour Manila City in two to three days.

In between your Manila trips, you should definitely see the other things the metro has to offer.  After all, Metro Manila isn’t insanely huge—you can stay in a hotel or Airbnb in any city and still be able to visit any of the other 16 from where you’re in an hour or two, depending on the traffic or less on a very, very good road day.

The best places to visit in Manila City

As mentioned, Manila is the capital of the Philippines. A lot of historical events happened in the area (particularly during the Spaniard’s 300-year-long reign) and much of our history can still be seen in its streets today. 

If you want to learn more about our culture and formative years, Manila is a must-visit. Here are the best places to see:

Intramuros 

Known as the “walled city,” Intramuros is your number one must-visit location in Manila. It contains much of our history from the Spanish colonial period, which formed much of Metro Manila Philippine culture today. 

Just to give you a quick look into our geography, The Philippines is an archipelago made up of thousands of islands—we have ranges of mountains that divide regions and oceans that separate islands. It was difficult for Spain to truly get a foothold in the entire country

This is why our colonial Spanish history is centralized in only select parts of the country—Manila City being one of them.

Intramuros used to be a place for the elite, which was why it was so fortified. Today, the government has managed to do what it can to preserve the look and feel of Intramuros in the 1600s. The streets and most of the local infrastructure are still made up of stone.

Intramuros is also home to Fort Santiago, one of the oldest forts in the country. It was built back in 1571 during the Spanish occupation and served as a key military post in Manila. 

Other important landmarks here include the Manila Cathedral and San Agustin Church. They are Neoclassical-esque buildings that have managed to preserve their looks from when they were built. By visiting them, you’ll get more insight as to how influential Catholicism was in areas that Spaniards settled in.

But want to know something people don’t tell you about? The local haunted tour. There are a lot of negative memories nestled in Intramuros, and residents have long reported seeing paranormal activity in the area. In fact, I’ll walk you through two of the most visited for the above: Fort Santiago and San Agustin church!

Fort Santiago

Fort Santiago is a stone fort built by Spaniards in 1571. It started as a simple HQ for the Spanish military but was later on viewed as a symbol of power in the Philippines. A ton of people were unjustly imprisoned in it, including Jose Rizal, the country’s national hero. 

In 1945, over 600 bodies were discovered. Experts deemed they died of suffocation and heat stroke. They’re the source of most of the fort’s paranormal stories. Eventually, it was destroyed during the Battle of Manila in WWII. 

In honor of its history, it remains untouched—a memorial to the victims of the Second World War. It was even lauded as a National Cultural Treasure in 2014. 

San Agustin Church

San Agustin Church is locally renowned for being the oldest church in the Philippines. And even if Fort Santiago is still around, this church is really the only one that’s truly “standing” and used. We still host masses in it.

Still, with it being a church (and one with a crypt), it is also famous for a lot of ghastly sightings. A lot of famous people were buried here, including Miguel Lopez de Legazpi, the founder of Manila itself.

Sky Deck View Bar

While you’re Intramuros, don’t miss out on the chance to visit the Sky Deck View Bar. It’s an al fresco lounge and resto on top of Bayleaf Hotel. Those who didn’t check in are welcome to enter; don’t worry!

With so many buildings populating Manila, The Sky Deck is arguably one of the best places to view the sunset within the city. The other best place is Manila Bay, whose coast stretches between two cities (Manila and Pasay). 

There are restaurants along The Bay too if you’d like to see the sun set below its waters—but the best ones are in Pasay, near Mall of Asia, and not in Manila City.

But back to the Sky Deck. This rooftop bar offers a lot of local and international cuisine in generous portions. There’s even a buffet every Friday and Saturday, which is accompanied by live entertainment.

Barbara’s Heritage Restaurant

The Barbara’s Heritage Restaurant is where my aunt takes foreigners who are interested in local Filipino cuisine. It’s located on General Luna Street.

Barbara’s Heritage doesn’t just offer your traditional Filipino foods (such as Lechon, pancit, and singing) but also the traditional experience of serenades and dances. It’s a cultural treat!

June-Nairah Halal Food Restaurant

Even though many Filipinos are of Catholic faith because of the Spaniards, the populace that isn’t are Islam. 

Again, the Philippines is an archipelago, and our islands are separated. The Spaniards were only really able to establish their presence in Luzon and Visayas (the upper half of the country). Most Filipinos who dwell in the south practice the Islamic faith, which its first settlers, the Malays, did. 

The June-Nairah Halal Food Restaurant is a place locally known for its homestyle Maranao cuisine. The Maranaos (People of the Lake) settled in the Bukidnon-Lanao Plateau in the far south. My friends often get their chicken piaparan and beef rendang. The spices are truly amazing!

Luneta Park

Again, Manila is home to a lot of historical activity in the country, particularly during the Spanish colonial period. Luneta Park, locally called Rizal Park, is one of them. It’s where our national hero, Jose Rizal, was executed in the 1800s. There’s a huge statue of him there to commemorate his deeds, literature, and sacrifice. 

I know it sounds a little morbid, but we Filipinos are really proud of our heroes. Most of the sites where they were born, imprisoned, and died have been turned into places of gathering, like Luneta Park. 

Sure, they can be considered tourist attractions, but beyond that, they’re places that allow people to keep memories alive and create lasting ones.

In fact, Luneta Park is a place families love to visit. My mother and her family treated the park as their weekly playground when she used to live near the area decades ago. Now, we occasionally visit it for memories and fresh air.

National Museum

The Philippines has a lot of talented artists with unique mediums to explore their crafts with, as well as a long cultural history to inspire their works. Most of these works can be found in the National Museum.

The National Museum is divided into three major galleries: the National Museum of Fine Arts, the National Museum of Anthropology, and the National Museum of Natural History. 

The National Museum is also connected to our National Planetarium!

Here are some National Museum highlights to look forward to:

  • Archaeology
  • Architectural Arts and Built Heritage
  • Ethnology
  • Fine Arts
  • Geology and Paleontology
  • Botany and National Herbarium
  • Maritime and Underwater Cultural Heritage
  • Zoology

A day is barely enough to see what one museum has to offer, so I recommend staying in the metro (if not the city) for an extended period if you really want to learn more about the country’s history and culture.

By the way, the National Museum of Fine Arts is a place my sister frequents a lot and a place she really recommends to both locals and tourists. The exhibits often rotate, and there’s a lot of local history to go around. If you’re planning on a second or even third visit, do drop by (again)!

Manila Zoo

While Manila’s zoo isn’t as big as the ones in other parts of the country (due to the urbanness of the surrounding area), I’d say it’s still a great place to visit while you’re here. It’s recently renovated, too, with more pens, animals, food hubs, and play areas for little kids.

The full list of animals you see in the reserve is here, but the birds are my favorite. There’s also a butterfly garden you can enter. If you’re not afraid of these beautiful bugs landing on your skin to get a closer look at them, you can even chill in the area.

If you’re interested in local fauna, there’s a healthy variety of them in Manila Zoo as well, from the flowery-smelling Gumamela to the Fortune Plant.

Families love to frequent the place because of all the children play areas near the monkey dome. The entrance fee is super affordable, too, at roughly $6 per head.  

Manila Ocean Park

Surrounded by miles of ocean, The Philippines is home to a diverse ecosystem of marine life. You can discover some of them right here in Manila by visiting the local Ocean Park!

While the metro’s Ocean Park doesn’t have the extensive collection that our neighboring regions do, it still has over 14,000 of local marine life for you to discover. 

After all, our country is an archipelago with more than 7,000 islands. We have miles and miles of shorelines and hectares of water and an equally abundant sealine to match.

Aside from aquariums, Manila Ocean Park offers Aqua Dining, H2O accommodations (water beds), and a lot of scheduled activities. 

Ticket prices are usually in packages (around 60 USD on peak seasons), but they often have deals for quieter months, such as the start and end of the year.

Binondo

The Philippines is a place of diverse culture. Much of our location population’s ancestors come from various parts of the world, including China. My own grandma is half-Chinese!

Located in the heart of Manila, Binondo is the oldest Chinatown in the world. It used to be a catalyst for Chinese migration and the economy back in the 1600s, but has long been transformed into a bustling market for the local Chinese-Filipino community. If you’re looking for authentic Chinese food or items, Binondo is a must-visit. 

Speaking of Chinese food, there are three restaurants I highly recommend in the area:

  • Wai Ying, for their dimsum
  • Lan Zhou La Mien, for their noodles
  • Original SaLido, for their chicken and unique Chinese-Filipino fusion meals

I know we have authentic Chinese restaurants in all of our malls—but these are local to Binondo! 

Divisoria

If my parents ever want to thrift, we go to Divisoria. Divisoria is a gigantic flea market known for its extremely low-priced goods (even for us locals). If you don’t mind the fact that it’s not air conditioned, I’m sure you’ll find some truly amazing bargains. 

Clothes and jewelry (including our pearls) are some must-peruse items. Souvenirs can be bought here, too. 

Also, as a foodie, I must mention that it has a food hub too (which serves both restaurants, stalls, and street food). You’ll find lots of amazing Chinese and Filipino food options. My friends and I go on food trips when our schedules align.

Things to do in Metro Manila

There’s a lot to see in Metro Manila in its entirety, so you can visit a lot of places below in between your Manila City historical trips. 

Let this local introduce you to some of the best things you can do in the area!

Visit Mall of Asia

The Philippines is known for its malls, which, unlike most countries, are not places purely for designer boutiques. Our malls have literally everything, from lazy boy movie houses and department stores to play parks and arcades. Locals go in and spend the entire day in the mall.

The largest mall in Asia, aptly named the Mall of Asia, is located in Pasay City. It has a gigantic globe upfront and is really hard to miss. Whether you take public transportation or ride-hailing services, it’s a designated destination point. 

It’s located near Manila Bay, so it’s an amazing place to watch sunsets as well. 

Don’t ask me what you can do there because the answer is everything. You can ride a ferris wheel if you want. I recommend you eat in one of the seaside/by-the-bay restaurants, though—the seafood they serve around here absolutely slaps.

“Tour” Bonifacio Global City

Bonifacio Global City (BGC) is another urban landmark locals love to spend their days at. Located in Taguig City, BGC is officially a financial business district. Thus, there are a ton of “urban” things to do in the area, from eating in the biggest branches of Michelin-star restaurants to touring Mitsukoshi, the local Japanese mall. 

Unlike most places in Metro Manila, BGC is walkable, which is probably why people often come to hang out.

BGC is also home to Uptown Mall, which has the Uptown Tempur Cinema. It’s a premium movie house where you enjoy your movie on a reclining bed with butlers to serve you during your stay. It’s only around $20 per head! 

Just remember to book your tickets in advance since there is only one room with a very limited number of seats. 

Look around the Metropolitan Museum

Since you’re already in BGC, don’t forget to stop by the Metropolitan Museum of Manila, the biggest contemporary art museum in Southeast Asia. It showcases pieces created not just by locals, but by international curators as well. 

Ever since it opened in 2022, it has had a total of 15 contemporary art exhibitions, fifty thousand visits, and hundreds of events. Banksy, for example, is showing off his famous street art collection in 2024. 

Plus, guess what? The museum is non-profit as well, so entrance is free.

The contents of the Metropolitan Museum shuffle every couple of months. If you want to know which exhibit to expect, you can check the viewing dates here.

Use video game logic to exit LOST

The puzzle-loving community in Manila is huge (myself included)—and if you’re one yourself, then don’t forget to enter LOST. 

LOST is a series of escape room that actually uses escape room logic normally found in video games, such as light puzzles, music puzzles, and even…literal screaming. There’s a lot of tech at work!

A couple of rooms that uses some traditional locks (the ones with keys or alpha-numeric ones), but only when they fit the theme, like prison breaks. 

There are two LOST branches in Metro Manila: one in Greenhills (San Juan City) and another in SM North Edsa (Quezon City). I recommend rooms that need at least three players; that’s how you know you’ll encounter fun challenges that physically require more than two people to execute. 

Try traditional Filipino dishes with a twist at Manam’s

If there’s an occasion, like mother’s day, Valentine’s, and Christmas, you can bet that Manam’s is always full. Manam’s is a local food chain that serves homecooked Filipino dishes and those with a “twist.” 

For instance, they offer Bone Marrow Kansi (an Iloilo dish) made with beef shank and bone marrow that are boiled for so long they’re practically soft. The result is a creamy, umami broth that every customer gets with rice. 

The twist version of the Kansi is one boiled with beef belly instead.

Manam’s also consistently tops as the best place to get sisig in the metro, which is a local fried meat dish made with pork jowls, pork belly, chicken liver, and chicharon (crispy pork skin). 

There are a ton of Manam’s in the Philippines, and more so in the metro. I would just check your nearby mall’s directory if they do. 

Eat in an international buffet

When you’re a credit card holder in Metro Manila, there’s one promotion we get every month: buffet discounts. We have dozens of buffets in every city, spanning multiple cuisines from local to international. My family and I eat in one whenever there’s a special occasion.

That also means you get tasted and tested recommendations from yours truly.

Cafe 1228 in New World Hotel, Makati City

Among all the international buffets I’ve eaten at, Cafe 1228 is probably my favorite. For all-you-can-eat $70, it has a good selection of delicious food. I always make sure to eat one of everything!

Their carving station’s beef brisket, lamb (if you’re lucky—the menu rotates a lot), spare ribs, and sausages are simply to die for. Yum. 

Fresh International Buffet in Solaire Resort, Paranaque City

Fresh International Buffet is where my family and I go if we’re craving lobster. During all-day weekends and weekday nights, they have lobster, which you can eat all you can for $50. 

And it’s not just grilled and boiled lobster, too, but actual lobster cuisine like lobster soup, lobster rolls, and more!

Another must-try here at Fresh is pretty much all the other seafood they offer (if you couldn’t tell by their namesake), like their crab and shrimp. Of course, there’s also the sashimi, which, as the Philippines’ biggest sashimi fan, is an S+ recommendation. They also have our local “sashimi,” called the kilawin, which is raw tuna soaked in vinegar and spices.

My mom, a bread connoisseur, also attests that the ones here are the best among all the buffets we’ve been to. 

Century Tsukiji in Century Park Hotel, Manila City

I wouldn’t call myself the sashimi expert if I didn’t recommend my favorite place to get sashimi in as well—which just so happens to be one of the most affordable buffets in the Metro. 

Century Tsukiji is an authentic Japanese buffet my friends and I frequent. For a very humble price of $20, it serves most things you can order from a Japanese restaurant, such as ramen, cheese broth, tempura, yakitori, and sashimi! 

Their sashimi is the best. It’s the only one I’ll eat without soy sauce, just so I can enjoy the freshness of the fish’s flavor. Their salmon and tuna are a must-eat.

You can also try Tsukiji’s wasabi ice cream if you’re feeling a bit daring.

Dine in a local Jollibee

When we see celebrities come over for fan meets, concerts, and conventions, a huge part of their Philippine bucket list is dine in a local Jollibee. 

Jollibee is the biggest fast-food chain in the Philippines, and one that came from the Philippines too. It’s globally known for its fried chicken, locally known as Chicken Joy, because of all the happiness it brings to the people who eat it. 

But while you’re here, don’t forget to grab some of the local menu items like the Spaghetti (ours is a little sweet compared to European spaghetti), Palabok (a local noodle dish), and Peach-Mango pie. My mom likes to brag that our mangoes are some of the best, being a tropical country and all, which I agree with 100%. 

Take creative pictures in Art in Island

One of the most fun excursions I’ve had with my extended family is this one trip to Art in Island. It’s a mixed media art museum located in Quezon City.

Art In Island is an optical illusion art museum where you can take really creative photos with literal walls of background paintings. Just remember to find the right angles! 

The entrance fee is roughly around $15/head, and you can stay as long as you want. We were there from morning until the afternoon!

Become an instant novice painter in Sip & Gogh

The Philippines is crazy big on art, if you haven’t noticed at this point. So, if you want to be an artist instead of being a mere spectator, head to the nearest Sip & Gogh and learn how to paint a full canvas work in less than three hours. There’s probably one in most cities.

You can choose one of their sample paintings to replicate or paint your own. Then, Sip & Gogh’s painters will teach you how to paint it from scratch. 

They have complimentary snacks, too, making up the “Sip” in the Sip & Gogh. 

The entire package (the snacks, the service, the canvas, the paint, etc.) is only $20. You even get to take your work home with you.

Live out your childhood in DreamPlay by Dreamworks

Every Filipino child loves their cartoons, and there are plenty of places in Manila that are a testament to it. One such attraction is DreamPlay in Paranaque City, a family entertainment experience created by DreamWorks. 

For instance, you and your kids can watch a puppet show of Madagascar, train like Po in a rope obstacle course, and enter a tour of Shrek’s house. 

Tickers are roughly $30 for participants, and $7 for those who just want to watch their kids have fun. Nonetheless, I find that it’s an unforgettable experience for both!

Breathe in some fresh air in La Mesa Dam Ecopark

Metro Manila isn’t all metro; we have parks and nature reserves, too, if you know where to look. One of the places I frequently visited with my family when I was young was La Mesa Dam Ecopark in Quezon City. It’s located near one of three dams that supply water in Metro Manila (La Mesa Dam). 

For a meager $1 entrance fee to help preserve the park, you and your family can enjoy a long day surrounded by nature. There are picnic tables and a ton of shade. 

The Ecopark does offer a couple of activities for those who are looking for unique experiences, like a photo tour, bungee jumping, boat riding, and zip lines. 

Relax at Ace Water Spa

If you’ve had enough excitement to last you months, you can relax in Ace Water Spa, a local well spa that offers hydrotherapy, unparalleled massages, hot herbal pools, and more. 

It has a ton of branches around the country, but the one in Pasig City is arguably the least crowded despite its obvious metro location. I guess it’s because it’s tucked away in a residential area—but the benefit of being a local is knowing it’s there! 

(And near a ton of bars.)

The only catch is that you have to check into their hotel to avail of their services, but it’s totally worth it. The rooms are affordable, and you can access their giant water spa for as little as 15 USD.

Shop at Greenbelt

On your last day in Metro Manila? You can buy all your souvenirs, among other things, in Ayala Center, Makati City.

Greenbelt is technically a shopping mall, but locals all know it’s more of a shopping “district.” There are five Greenbelt malls, which are all located beside each other for your convenience, each with its own niche. 

For example, Greenbelt 4 is a high-end mall where brands such as LOUIS VUITTON, Gucci, and Prada can be found. Accessories can mostly be found in Greenbelt 5. Examples of boutiques you’ll find there are Rolex and Jaeger.

If you’re going in with a particular boutique in mind, this Greenbelt directory can help you know which mall to visit. There’s usually a mix of international and local brands in the area, so shop to your heart’s desire.

You can also relax in the nearby Greenbelt Park after a long day.

A region that embraces culture and modernity

Manila, whether you choose to visit the city or the “Metro,” is an amazing chance to experience what The Philippines has to offer today, from cultural experiences to high-end shopping. 

The best part? You don’t have to go on long drives to get to your destinations. 

Despite Metro Manila being an amalgamation of 15+ cities and even more districts, you can reach the furthest ends in around two hours, and that’s with traffic in mind. Just try to avoid rush hours on weekdays.