Manila Destination Guide
The seaside city of Manila is a great place to start your vacation in the Philippines whether your ultimate destination is the balmy beaches in the south or the northern highlands. Manila is a vibrant, cosmopolitan city that oozes charm and personality. Locals mingle freely with travellers and the influence of the Spanish, the North Americans and the Chinese - who have all called the city their home from time to time - is everywhere.
Tranquil parks, bustling marketplaces, culture and history collide in a unique madness that is Manila. Those prepared to throw themselves into the local scene will be well rewarded by one-of-a-kind experiences unlike any others in South East Asia.
This Manila Destination Guide gives some information about the city as well as details on some of the things to see and do in Manila and the surrounding areas. Take a look at our Manila tours page to see learn more about, and book great tours in Manila, Philippines. Handy information that can be used to help plan your Philippines holiday can be found in our Philippines Country Guide.
Things to See & Do in Manila
Follow the links to the right or scroll further down the page for details on some of the many interesting tourist attractions in Manila:
Chinatown in Manila is special. For one, it is the world's oldest, having been established in the 1500s. The Kuang Kong temple offers respite from the bustle of the city and travellers who take the time to visit, light some incense and try their fortune (‘told' by wooden half moons) will be rewarded with a moment of true tranquillity.
Don't miss having a cuppa and some steaming hot dumplings at the cosy teahouses or picking up a sticky sweet bun. Later, you can still find time to buy gold, gadgets, clothes and Chinese medicine (if you will), because Chinatown's biggest draw is the easy-on-the-wallet shopping!
The Subic Freeport Zone is a tourist magnet and is just two hours from the city centre. Walking among the treetops is quite a surreal experience and definitely a must-do while touring Manila.
The north western end of Intramuros is marked by the lush green grounds and fortifications of Fort Santiago. The fort itself took about 150 years to complete and was built entirely by forced labour of the local people, its name ‘Shrine of Freedom' is an ode to the men who died here during the Spanish and Japanese invasions. A walk through the fort today, however, doesn't hint of its dark history. Homing pigeons swoop in past horse-drawn carriages (visitors can pay for rides), beautiful flowering trees dot the grounds and the arts thrive here as a variety of plays are staged at this venue.
Mines View Park is easily accessible from Baguio which is an hour away from Manila by air and about five hours by road. Take to the mountains immediately and let the trails lead the way. Though hiking in Manila and hiking in Philippines is a relatively new concept it is growing with tremendous popularity and becoming one of the Philippines leading adventure sports.
Medieval cities may be something you'd associate with countries in Europe, like Italy, and not the Philippines. But at the centre of Manila is the wonderfully well preserved Intramuros, a place you will be spending a lot of time at as a tourist. Intramuros or the Walled City is a cluster of European style palaces, churches and buildings dating back to 1571 and a wonderful window into Manila's past. Today, the area also boasts of some world-class art galleries, performance art theatres as well as parks. For those wanting a peek into the murkier side of history, the dungeons here are quite an experience.
Home to the country's premier, the presidential palace is a pristine white colonial style building with red roofing. Its location by the side of the Pasig River is idyllic to say the least. Across the bank is the Malacañang Park which has a rest house, park and golf course. You can even visit a part of the palace which has the Presidential Museum. However, during times of unrest, access is restricted, so check to see if visits are permitted while you are there.
The majestic domed cathedral stands out in the Intramuros landscape and is a good place to start your exploration of Manila. It is the seat of the Catholic Archdiocese of Manila. With a history closely entwined with Manila itself, the cathedral has had its share of ups and downs, being ruined and restored in turn. Visitors can now spend time looking at the whopping 134 stained glass windows that adorn the cathedral inside and spot statues of local preachers and saints who influenced the faith in the region on the facade. It is also a popular venue for weddings, and their official site can be checked for available dates.
The National Museum of the Filipino People traces the fascinating past of the local people in archaeological and anthropological collections and acts as a guardian and repository of the cultural and natural heritage of the Philippines.
One of the best museums in the country, the National Museum was created to give the Filipinos something that would inspire feelings of patriotism and national fervour. The Old Congress Building now houses the main building which showcases natural sciences and art among other things.
Historical buildings and glitzy hotels form the perfect backdrop for a night of clubbing, theatre and more. Manila has a brilliant range of activities on offer, for the culture seekers and the hedonists too. Casinos, live cultural shows, clubbing - the city has it all. The best places to mingle with the locals and enjoy a night of shopping, great food and clubbing are the cosmopolitan areas of Malate & Ermita. These districts have some unique antique shops, art cafes, fashion stores and restaurants, so you might end up coming back more than once.
This massive park occupies 58 acres from Manila Bay right up to Taft Avenue and is believed to be one of the largest in South East Asia. Once a killing field where executions of Filipino rebels were held, the site received a makeover when architect Daniel Bumham designed a U shaped complex of buildings for the American Government Center here which later became the Department of Tourism, Department of Finance and Executive House and came to be known as Rizal Park to honour Filipino national hero Dr. Joze Rizal. Also in the area are the Japanese and Chinese gardens, the Orchidarium, the Butterfly Pavilion and an auditorium where performances are held. A light and sound show, fountain, a lagoon for children to play and a chess plaza are other attractions that make this a popular place with locals.
This baroque style church is one of four of its kind listed in the UNESCO World Heritage List from the Philippines. It is also Manila's oldest stone church, and was built between 1586 and 1606. Take time to notice the chandeliers, the detailed carving on the door, the chapels and the pipe organ spanning different eras of the country's history.
Anilao lies south of Manila and has some wonderful views from its waterfront resorts which make a good base for the night. During the day head out to explore the rich marine life and coral reefs enjoying some of the best diving in Manila.