The capital of the Philippines is the melting pot of Filipino, American, and Spanish culture and influences. Though Manila is generally thought of as a crowded metropolitan where people eat weird things, it is one of the liveliest cities in Southeast Asia.
The bustling metropolis is packed with crazy markets, beautiful scenery, value-for-money shopping opportunities, and to-die-for dining experiences. If you are planning a visit to the Philippines, Manila must be on your itinerary. The fastest way to travel to Manila is via a direct flight with Cathay Pacific.
People visiting Manila for the first time often have a hard time deciding what activities to do and places to explore, especially if they have only a few days there. Here are the top things to do in Manila for first-timers:
Go back in time in the oldest part of Manila.
Intramuros is a historic walled area within the city that dates back to the Spanish Colonial Period. As you explore the Spanish-era landmarks housed within the Walled City, you will no longer feel like you are in the Philippines. The former colonial outpost of the Spanish empire is a big contrast to the high-rises surrounding it.
As you make your way past the cobblestoned streets, colonial-style villas, and Baroque churches, you’ll get an insight into the Philippines’ history. Head to Casa Manila to escape the heat and enjoy a refreshing meal in the museum’s courtyard. You may also want to visit the other seven museums housed in the Walled City.
Fulfill the “Binondo Food Crawl”
Binondo is the world’s oldest Chinatown where you’ll have the most memorable gastronomic and cultural experience. From dim sum to duck roast to lumpiang Shanghai, Binondo offers an impressive variety of Filipino-Chinese food. The best way to explore Binondo’s food scene is by joining a food crawl. However, you can also choose to craft your own foodie itinerary.
Explore marine life at Manila Ocean Park
You can’t come to Manila and not visit Manila Ocean Park. The world-class oceanarium is much more than a tourist spot to explore marine life behind glass. Whether you want to learn how to swim with a mermaid tail or enjoy the best penguin-feeding experience of your life, Manila Ocean Park offers tons of exciting activities for children and adults alike.
You can also walk underwater by donning an oxygen-filled space helmet. If you are not much of an aquanaut, you can try the fish spa and have your dead skin removed by small fish. If you can’t get enough of all these amazing ‘aquatic’ experiences, you can spend the night at Hotel H2O, the country’s only marine-themed urban resort that has floor-to-ceiling aquarium walls in all rooms.
Treat your palate with local street food.
There is no better way to explore Filipino culture than through its food. You can find street food vendors all over the city, from Metro Manila to Quezon City to Kapitolyo. Metro Manila features an ever-evolving array of local food options, including, adidas, offal, isaw, banana cue, mais, dinamita, and carioca among others.
Explore art, architecture, and history at the National Museum
The four-part National Museum Complex on Padre Burgos Avenue is where you’ll find an amazing array of national treasures on display. The Museum of Fine Arts displays Spoliarium by Juan Luna, the largest and most famous painting of the Philippines. Head to the Museum of Natural History to take a peek at the skeletal remains of the largest crocodile in captivity.
The National Museum of Anthropology houses more than 10,000 items and exhibits including cultural material from Filipino locals, economic and agricultural rolls, personal ornaments, and musical instruments. You’ll have to set aside an entire day to explore all exhibits housed in the complex.
Spend an evening at the Manila Bay
There’s nothing as enjoyable as watching the sunset at Manila Bay. Arrive at Manila Baywalk an hour before the sunset and take a stroll along the promenade. As you walk past the beautiful palm trees, you can wallow in live music and many different street eats.
Grab the popular Halo-Halo dessert or cocktails at Sofitel Manila’s Sunset Bar and watch the sunset while sitting beside the azure water of Sofitel’s famous lagoon-shaped pool.
Go on a Poblacion pub crawl.
Poblacion is where the hipsters hang out in Manila. The hottest neighborhood of the city is filled with pubs, lively eateries, and indie shops. If you want to see the best of Manila’s nightlife, you should spend your evenings in this happening neighborhood.
From shots of Korean Soju to local craft beer to reggae music, Poblacion has everything to make your evenings perfect. While you can craft your itinerary for exploring the neighborhood, joining a pub crawl will be more convenient.
Enjoy at Star City
Located in the Cultural Center of the Philippines Complex, Star City is an indoor theme park that offers thrilling adventures for both children and adults. The park boasts different types of rides and attractions including the loop roller coaster, classic arcade games, and double-deck carousels. The snow play area of Star City makes it a great place to visit on a hot day.
Explore the toy collection at Yexel’s Toy Museum
Yexel’s Toy Museum features a massive life-size toy collection with over a thousand action figures and cartoon characters. The museum also houses more than 50,000 smaller toys of different categories. Some of the famous collections of the museum include Yexel’s Iron Man suit collection and the Star Wars room. You’ll be amazed to know that the museum does not house the complete toy collection of its curator.
Relax at La Mesa Eco Park
La Mesa Eco Park covers over 30 hectares of verdant gardens and beautiful foliage. You can indulge in a range of outdoor activities here, including fishing, zip-lining, rappelling, horse-riding, hiking, picnicking, and canoeing. It’s a great place to escape the heat and commotion of the city. If you are a nature enthusiast, you’ll probably want to spend an entire afternoon exploring the park’s beautiful orchidarium.