Manila is the sprawling capital of the Philippines and a major entry point for visitors to the nation. It has a rich multi-cultural heritage and an architectural landscape that blends gleaming modern skyscrapers with historic churches and old palaces. There are interesting museums, pretty parks, and a lively night scene to add to the city’s diversity.
Although many people pass through Manila, a lot of visitors dismiss the city in favour of more popular destinations around the island nation. Manila is often thought of as being an unsafe and crowded concrete jungle with little to interest tourists.
We’re here to prove you wrong! We’ve put together the ultimate list of the best places to visit in Manila to allow you to dig beneath the surface and discover the city’s treasures. Plan to spend at least a few days in the Filipino capital and you’re sure to find that the city offers much more than you initially expected.
Warning: after working your way through our recommendations of the best places to visit in Manila you may well find that just a couple of days simply isn’t enough!
Table of Contents
Best places to stay in Manila
Best Hostel in Manila: Lub d Makati
Lub d Makati is a large and lively hostel with mixed and female-only dorms, four-person family rooms, and private rooms for two. A great place to meet other travellers, the hostel has a cool rooftop restaurant and bar, a relaxation room, and a chilled lobby area where you can mingle.
Need to catch up with work? The co-working space, with free Wi-Fi, is ideal. You can discover the local area on a free walking tour. Other plus points include laundry facilities, 24-hour reception, luggage storage, lockers, basic self-catering facilities, and a book exchange.
For more hostels options, head to our Best Hostels in Manila article!
Best Airbnb in Manila: Spacious and Sophisticated Loft
This fully furnished elegant and dreamy loft offers a wonderful city view will make you feel like you’re home away from home. Just in front of greenbelt malls and other malls such as Landmark and Gloriett, it’s perfectly located. Tastefully decorated, it has all the amenities and modern appliances in good working order.View on Airbnb
For more Airbnb options, check out our Best Airbnb in Manila article.
Best Budget Hotel in Manila: ZEN Rooms Basic Quiapo Manila
The budget-friendly ZEN Rooms Basic Quiapo Manila has en suite rooms for two (double bed) and four (bunk beds). Clean and comfortable, rooms have air-conditioning, free toiletries, and free Wi-Fi. Reception is staffed around the clock and the hotel offers luggage storage facilities. Places of interest close to hand include Quiapo Church, San Sebastian Church, Chinatown, and Manila Metropolitan Theatre.
Best Luxury Hotel in Manila: Edsa Shangri-La, Manila
The stunning Edsa Shangri-La, Manila is a luxurious hotel where you can really treat yourself to some top-class pampering. Various room types are available, all with a private bathroom (complete with free toiletries and a hairdryer), a TV, free Wi-Fi, a telephone, a wardrobe, a fridge, a kettle, and a seating area. The interconnected rooms are ideal for families. Floor-to-ceiling windows offer terrific vistas.
The hotel boasts a beautiful swimming pool surrounded by lush greenery and sun loungers and there are an impressive eight onsite dining options where you can enjoy local and international cuisine. Visit the gym for a workout and the spa for some TLC. There are also tennis courts, a water slide, and a running track for guests to enjoy.
Other convenient features include laundry services, child-minding services, luggage storage, currency exchange, a kids’ club, airport transfers (surcharges apply), and 24-hour reception.
Need a place quick? Here’s the best neighbourhood in Manila:
- Dance the night away at Black Market.
- Enjoy incredible views and tasty drinks at The Penthouse 8747.
- Take a stroll through Washington SyCip Park.
With useful tips covered, here are the best places to visit in Manila to add to your itinerary:
These are the BEST Places to Visit in Manila!
#1 – Fort Santiago
Possibly one of the most important places to visit in Manila
- Long and bloody history
- Fascinating statues
- Interesting architecture
- Imprisonment of a national hero
Why it’s awesome: Named after Spain’s patron saint, Fort Santiago was constructed by Spanish conquerors when Manila was a newly established city. Built on the site of an older fortress, the original Spanish citadel was constructed in the 1570s from earth and logs, replaced with a sturdier stone structure just a couple of decades later.
The fort has seen many significant events over the years and has been controlled by the British, the Americans, and the Japanese. Many people were imprisoned in the fort’s cells and dungeons, including José Rizal, a national hero. The fort is almost triangular in shape and it features interesting architectural details, statues, and displays.
What to do there: Gaze in awe at the mighty complex, complete with a defensive moat and dense 6.7-metre-high (22-foot-high) walls, and cross the garden of Plaza Moriones to reach the impressive gateway to the fort. The garden is filled with statues of historical, political, religious, and military figures. Admire the ornately carved gateway and enter the once-powerful fortress.
Explore the grounds and pay your respects to the many people massacred during WWII. See the proud statue of José Rizal in the centre of the main plaza and learn more about the national hero at the Rizal Shrine, housed in former barracks. You can retrace the last footsteps of the fearless revolutionary, following the bronze footprints from the fortress to the spot where he was executed by firing squad.
#2 – Star City
Easily one of the most fun places to check out in Manila
- Cool amusement park
- Family-friendly attraction
- Ideal for any weather conditions
- More than 30 rides and attractions
Why it’s awesome: Star City is a large and popular amusement park with a great selection of rides and attractions to suit people of all ages. Many of the park’s attractions are indoors, with air-conditioning and shade, making it a great place whatever the weather. The high Ferris wheel provides terrific views and is a must-do on your Manila itinerary. The winter wonderland of Snow World lets visitors experience icy and snowy fun and it’s a top way to beat the heat. There are also two large theatres and cool water rides as well as a good choice of places to eat and drink.
What to do there: Feel a shiver down your spine in the Dungeon of Terror, experience life on the seven seas on Pirate Adventure, learn more about scary folklore at Gabi ng Lagim, and journey back through the ages at Time Tunnel. Cool off and experience winter in Snow World, watch as magical creatures come to life in the Star Dome, get great pictures in the interactive Art Alive Museum, and feel tiny as you’re surrounded by super-sized objects in the Toy Chest.
Feel the adrenaline pumping on thrilling rides like the inverted roller coaster of Star Flyer, Viking, Surf Dance, Jungle Splash, and Star Frisbee. Challenge your mates on the bumper cars and bumper boats. Have family fun on rides like the enchanting Magic Forest, the China-themed Dragon Express, the charming Grand Carousel, the Wacky Worm, and the Happy Swing, admire the views from the top of the Giant Star Wheel, and let little ones have fun on rides like the Frosty Train, Road Race, and Tea Cups.
#3 – San Agustin Museum
A fascinating educational place to visit in Manila
- Step back into the past
- Many religious items
- Lots of interesting artworks
- Building with historical significance
Why it’s awesome: Housed within an old monastery, San Agustin Museum takes visitors back in time and provides interesting insights into the city’s colonial past and religious culture. The 16th-century building has many eye-catching frescoes and carvings and the rooms are filled with informative displays and varied exhibits. The museum is peaceful and calm and the sense of history is strong. There’s a tranquil and serene garden next to the museum that was created by a monk with a passion for botany.
What to do there: Walk through the old porter’s lodge, with a gigantic bell in the middle of the room, and follow the marked route around the museum. Absorb the historic air as you make your way along centuries-old corridors to peek at the displays in the various rooms that were once the living quarters of devout monks.
Stand in the Sala De La Capitulation, the room wherein 1898 people drafted the terms of surrender to the Americans, and ascend the glorious Chinese granite staircase. See an array of interesting memorabilia, including statues, paintings, religious artefacts, a stunning golden altar, religious clothing, ceramics, photographs, and more. Take time to relax in the pretty Father Blanco’s Garden with its many plants and flowers.
#4 – San Agustin Church
One of the most religious places to see in Manila
- The oldest church in the Philippines
- Glorious frescoes
- Gorgeous architecture
- Active place of worship
Why it’s awesome: Built in the early 1600s, San Agustin Church is the oldest church in the Philippines. Today it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a National Historical Landmark. It stands on the site of older places of worship and is still an active church today.
Modelled after grand Augustinian churches in Mexico, the enormous church saw looting by British invaders, survived large earthquakes, was used as a hospital, and was used as a concentration camp by the Japanese during World War II. Impressive both inside and out, it features striking frescoes, intricate carvings, statues, and splendid chandeliers.
What to do there: Admire the church’s Renaissance façade and see the Chinese-style dog statues stood to attention in the courtyard before passing through the large carved wooden doors. The spectacular ceiling is sure to grab your eye, with its attractive appearance and seemingly graceful arches. The ceiling is, however, completely flat, with the curved effect caused by the intricate trompe l’oeil painting created by talented Italian artists.
Stand in front of the grand baroque pulpit, decorated with pineapple motifs for a local connection, and marvel at the stunning Parisian chandeliers, ornately carved choir stalls, huge organ, religious statues, golden altar, and historic crucifix.
#5 – Chinese Cemetery
A nice quiet place to see in Manila
- One of the city’s oldest cemeteries
- Stunning funerary architecture
- Tranquil atmosphere
- Moving memorials
Why it’s awesome: Manila’s Chinese Cemetery was built to house the remains of deceased Chinese people who were not allowed to be buried in the city’s Catholic cemeteries. Many members of the local Chinese community were wealthy merchants, and the affluence and respect for deceased family members is evident in the grand home-like mausoleums. One of the oldest cemeteries in Manila, the Chine Cemetery is attractive and almost deserted—you certainly won’t encounter many other tourists exploring the expansive burial ground. Several prominent members of the community were laid to rest here, including Vicente Lim, Ma Mon Luk, and Dee Cheng Chuan.
What to do there: Stroll along the wide and quiet lanes that run through the cemetery and see the grand burial homes alongside the thoroughfares. Some are multi-storey buildings and it’s easy to forget that you’re in a place of rest and not instead of taking a walk through a rich residential area. Some of the tombs are kitted out like modern homes inside, complete with bathrooms, air-conditioning, lavish furnishings, appliances, and everything that a person may need to feel comfortable in the afterlife.
It’s easy to see why the cemetery was nicknamed Millionaires’ Row. Towards the back of the burial ground are the graves of less-wealthy members of the community, with more basic tombs and memorial stones. There’s also a section for children and babies. Remember those who lost their lives during the catastrophic earthquake in 1968 at the Ruby Tower Memorial, visit the historic Chong Hock Tong Temple, and pay your respects to those who were killed during WWII at the Martyrs Hall.
#6 – SM Mall of Asia
An awesome place to visit in Manila for half a day!
- Huge shopping centre
- Diverse leisure and entertainment options
- Fun amusement park
- Varied dining options
Why it’s awesome: The huge SM Mall of Asia (often known as MoA) is one of the biggest shopping malls in the Philippines. Home to a large selection of shops that sell an even larger assortment of goods, the mall is much, much more than simply a place to shop. Spread across green and attractive grounds, there are several buildings.
The varied leisure and entertainment facilities include several cinemas (including the nation’s first IMAX cinema), an ice-skating rink, open-air concert grounds, an indoor arena, museums, and an amusement park next to the bay. There are many places to eat and drink too and a small tram takes visitors around the gigantic mall.
What to do there: Browse a huge selection of items in the mall’s many stores, with brands that include Crocs, Aldo, Dyson, JB Sports, Esprit, H&M, Lacoste, Lenovo, Nike, Watsons, Rolex, and Timberland. Grab a bite to eat in one of the restaurants, cafes, or fast-food joints, with local and international fare to tempt you.
The Food Village has a huge array of meals to suit almost any taste. Appeal to your sweet tooth in the Dessert Museum, glide around the Olympic-sized indoor skating rink and catch a movie in one of the cinemas. Have fun at the SM By the Bay Amusement Park and soak up the sweeping views from the top of the Mall of Asia Eye.
#7 – Intramuros
One of Manila’s coolest historical sites!
- The oldest part of Manila
- Historic walled area
- Colonial past
- Lots of old architecture
Why it’s awesome: Built by Spanish colonial powers, Intramuros is the oldest district and one of the best places to stay in Manila. Founded in the late 1500s, in the past, the walled city was the only city—the rest of the sprawling capital has since sprung up outside the walls. Huge walls and fortifications stretch for some 4.8 kilometres (three miles) around the area. Grand gateways have been restored to their former glory and the neatly laid-out district has many historical buildings.
There are churches, monasteries, convents, courtyards, palaces, grand private homes, museums, schools, old government buildings, and more. It’s a must-visit place in Manila for anyone wanting to travel back in time and glimpse into the city’s past.
What to do there: Enter the walled city-within-a-city through one of the imposing gateways in the defensive walls and wander along the well-arranged streets. You can also hop in a calesa (a traditional horse-drawn carriage), ride in a tricycle, or rent a bicycle to explore the historic streets. Delve into the past at museums like Casa Manila, which is filled with period furnishings and objects from the Spanish colonial era, the lesser-visited Bahay Tsinoy, which tells the history of the Chinese-Filipino community, San Augustin Museum, and the Light and Sound Museum.
Soak up spirituality at old churches like San Augustin Church, Manila Cathedral, and the ruins of San Ignacio Church, see the war memorial in Plazuela de Sta. Isabel and the statue of King Carlos IV of Spain in Plaza de Roma, explore Fort Santiago and admire the numerous old buildings. You can pick up souvenirs in the many small gift shops and there’s no shortage of places to eat and drink. You can even have a quick game of golf at the 18-hole Club Intramuros Golf Course.
Quick Note – Staying safe in Manila
Is Manila safe? The city has something of a reputation of being unsafe, though cautious travellers shouldn’t find themselves in too much trouble. As with any trip, you should avoid carrying anything with you that you cannot afford to lose—limit or hide the amount of cash you carry, don’t wear flashy jewellery or accessories, and avoid carrying expensive electronics. Pickpockets are rife in certain areas and it’s easy to swipe things out of a backpack carried on your back (wear it on your front for greater protection).
Don’t walk around quiet and poorly lit areas at night time, particularly if inebriated and/or alone. There are certain areas that are best avoided at all times, including Tondo, Baclaran, Ermita, and Malate. Be cautious of open drains when walking along, always wear a helmet when riding on a scooter, and be careful when crossing the roads.
Common scams including taxis refusing to use the meter, shopkeepers saying they do not have change, being short-changed by moneychangers, and “friendly” strangers approaching you on the streets with a view to tricking you. There are many beggars, including street children, in Manila. You shouldn’t drink the tap water and masks can be useful when the air quality is poor. All in all, use common sense and practice these travel safety tips and you should be fine.
Don’t forget to sort your travel insurance! We’ve put together a roundup of the best travel insurance for backpackers, or if you’re low on time, get a quote from World Nomads now, our favourite travel insurance provider.
#8 – La Mesa Watershed Reservation
A beautiful and scenic place to check out in Manila
- Rich biodiversity
- Several nature trails
- One of the last patches of rainforest in Metro Manila
- Picturesque views
Why it’s awesome: La Mesa Watershed Reservation has the biggest remaining areas of rainforest in Metro Manila and has the city’s primary watershed, a reservoir, and a dam. It is often referred to as the Green Lungs of Manila. Long nature trails run through the 6,570-acre (2,659-hectare) area, letting people spot diverse flora and fauna. There are also excellent opportunities for cycling. The area has a rich biodiversity within its various ecosystems. There are great views too.
What to do there: Connect with a local guide (you need a guide to accompany you around the reservation) and set off along the narrow but well-maintained walking trails to spot various wildlife. Common trees in the area include acacia, teak, mahogany, and beechwood, and the diverse bird life includes moorhens, herons, ospreys, woodpeckers, wagtails, robins, kingfishers, and sparrowhawks.
See the large reservoir, admire the views from the dam, and discover the various terrains like mudflats, swamps, and rainforest. Climb the watchtower for more great views across the natural area. You can also do your bit for the environment by helping with reforestation projects—plant a tree or adopt a tree.
#9 – Quiapo Church
One of the more unique places to visit in Manila!
- Home to a famous black statue of Jesus Christ
- The scene of one of Manila’s biggest religious festivals
- Attractive baroque building
- Spiritual ambience
Why it’s awesome: The baroque beauty of Quiapo Church was built in the 1930s as a reconstruction of an older church that was damaged by fire, an earthquake, and invading forces. Featuring a large dome, two bell towers, twisted columns, carvings, and statues, it’s a photogenic building from the outside. The interiors are fairly plain in comparison, but the highlight is the life-size statue of the Black Nazarene.
The dark statue of Jesus Christ was made in Mexico and shipped to the Philippines aboard a galleon in the 17th century. The statue is said to be miraculous and services are held every Friday to honour the statue. There are also daily masses. Every January there is a large procession and celebration for the sacred idol.
What to do there: Admire the beautiful church from the outside and immediately sense the tranquil and spiritual air when you step through the large doors. Take a seat on one of the wooden pews for some quiet moments of reflection and see the sacred statue of the Black Nazarene. Devout Catholics climb the steps to kiss the statue’s foot. Dressed in a burgundy lace-edged tunic, the life-size statue carries a large wooden cross and a golden ball and chain.
Wander around the surrounding market where you’ll find a large assortment of items ranging from electronics and jewellery to clothing, herbs, and religious items. You’ll also find practitioners of spiritual healing and fortune telling.
#10 – DreamPlay
Awesome place to visit in Manila with kids!
- Children’s play area with a DreamWorks theme
- Hands-on activities
- Indoor attraction
- Suitable for kids aged 7+
Why it’s awesome: Located inside the City of Dreams, DreamPlay is a cool indoor play centre for younger members of the family. Themed around the popular DreamWorks animated movies, the centre is fully air-conditioned making it a prime place for kids to play and let off steam without becoming overheated. There are plenty of interactive experiences to stimulate curious minds and help kids to learn new skills.
You can watch a short animated movie and puppet shows with your children before letting them loose to enjoy the rest of the fun attractions and activities. There’s a themed gift shop and restaurant too.
What to do there: Watch all your favourite DreamWorks characters in the fantastic 4D movie in the DreamTheatre and create your own animated movie in the DreamStudio. Enjoy quiet moments and story times in the DreamTales Library and watch a charming puppet show. Kids can bake and decorate their own gingerbread man at Gingy’s Kitchen.
You can make your own boat to sail along the river at Whatever Floats Your Boat, launch your own hand-made dragon at How to Fly Your Dragon and watch as your kids have fun dancing to the beat at Fast as Lightning Kung Fu Fighting. Visit Shrek’s Swamp Stomp, see the Magic Mirror, and let kids play on the various equipment at Afro Circus. Older children are sure to enjoy the climbing wall and rope course maze.
#11 – Divisoria Market
A great place in Manila if you love to shop!
- A lively market with a local vibe
- Bargain prices
- In the heart of Chinatown
- Plentiful food options
Why it’s awesome: Divisoria Market is a large and thronging market in the middle of Manila’s bustling Chinatown. It’s often said to be one of the best markets in the entire country. A top place for bargain hunters and those who want to fully immerse themselves in the local shopping experience, the market has a wide selection of goods, many of which are at discounted prices. It can trace its roots back to the Spanish colonial era when members of the Chinese community were not allowed to trade or shop in the markets within the walled city centre.
What to do there: Join the crowds and shop for a huge array of goods at great prices. You’ll find almost anything you could ever need or want here, including clothing, electronics, fresh produce, homewares, crafts, textiles, toys, movies, souvenirs, and more. There’s also a wide selection of religious memorabilia, including items typical to Catholicism, Buddhism, and Taoism. Perfect your negotiating skills to get the lowest prices. It’s also a great place for photography. Stop into a nearby Chinese restaurant to take a break and refuel.
#12 – Tagaytay
A very cool place in Manila to go for a day
- Easy day-trip destination from Manila
- Active volcano
- Stunning scenery
- Diverse things to see and do
Why it’s awesome: Tagaytay is a charming, picturesque, and interesting city just 60 kilometres (37 miles) from Manila. A fabulous place for a day trip, a highlight is the spectacular Taal Volcano and Lake. Rather unusually, it’s not just a volcano and lake—there’s a small island in a lake, in a volcanic crater, in a lake! Taal Volcano is one of the most active volcanoes in the Philippines. Other attractions include fantastic shopping centres, pleasant parks, and religious buildings, and there are great options for romance, dining, and relaxation too.
What to do there: Admire the striking Taal Volcano and Lake, soaking up the glorious scenery and awesome views. Enjoy even more terrific vistas of the volcano and lake from the pretty Peoples Park in the Sky, a lovely hilltop city park. Visit the serene Our Lady of Manaoag Church, with a large statue of the Virgin Mary and charming chapel.
Have heaps of fun at Sky Rance, where you’ll find an assortment of rides, a Ferris wheel, an exciting zip line, pedal boats, a carousel, and more. Enjoy being outdoors in the pretty Picnic Grove, a popular spot for families with activities like horse riding, zip lining, and swimming. Check out Twin Lakes Shopping Village and Ayala Malls Serin if you’re looking for some retail therapy.
#13 – APEC Sculpture Garden
One of the most romantic places to visit in Manila!
- Selection of interesting sculptures created by artists from the Asia-Pacific region
- Peaceful and romantic ambience
- Pretty grounds
- Outside the Philippine International Convention Centre
Why it’s awesome: The APEC Sculpture Garden can be found across the lawns outside of the Philippine International Convention Centre. Opened in 1996, the pretty garden features 20 unusual sculptures made by people from different APEC (Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation) countries. Together, the eye-catching pieces show the collective ideals of the member nations. Great attention was given when deciding where to site the different statues in order to be in harmony with the natural surroundings.
What to do there: Walk around the attractive APEC Sculpture Garden with your love, admiring the various sculptures throughout the lovely grounds. You’re sure to snap plenty of cool selfies! See the brown bear statue from Russia, the cassowary bird from Papua New Guinea, the lotus flower from Thailand, and the kimono-wearing girl from Japan.
Chile’s contribution is a red tower, Australia’s is a bell hanging underneath a pitched roof, and Malaysia’s is a multi-coloured pyramid atop a tripod. Others, such as those from Indonesia, Hong Kong, Singapore, and the USA, are more abstract, with the sculptor from the Philippines includes detailed landmarks and traditional scenes. Other countries with sculptures in the garden include Brunei, Canada, China, Taiwan, Mexico, New Zealand, South Korea, and Vietnam.
#14 – Marikina Shoe Museum
One of the most underrated places to see in Manila
- Unusual museum
- Many of Imelda Marcos’s shoes
- Diverse collections of footwear
- Historic building
Why it’s awesome: Marikina is known as the Shoe Capital of the Philippines, so it is perhaps only fitting that the town has its very own shoe museum. One of Manila’s quirkier museums, it is housed in an old building that dates back to the 1880s. The building was previously used as an arsenal, a prison, and a rice mill. Open since 1998, the museum aims to showcase the nation’s shoe-making heritage. There are many pairs of shoes in all colours, styles, and sizes within the museum, with many that once belonged to famous people.
What to do there: Be amazed by the huge collection of shoes within Marikina Shoe Museum. Some are sure to make you wonder how people actually managed to walk in them! From flats to stilettos and with all colours of the rainbow, it’s definitely something different to the norm. The museum houses around 800 pairs of shoes that belonged to Imelda Marcos, a former first lady of the Philippines.
It is said that the shoe-loving lady had in excess of 3,000 pairs of shoes! Neatly lined up in glass cabinets, her shoes include those by well-known designers like Dior, Prada, and Chanel. You can also see footwear that was once worn by other famous people, including politicians, movie stars, singers, and government officials. There are also displays of locally made Marikana shoes.
#15 – Manila Ocean Park
Certainly one of the most exotic places to see in Manila!
- Family-friendly attraction in Manila
- Home to more than 250 species of aquatic creatures
- Educational activities
- Stunning water fountain show
Why it’s awesome: Manila Ocean Park is a large oceanarium that contains around 270 species of marine creatures from around Southeast Asia. The facility also houses an assortment of birds, reptiles, snakes, and insects. There are seven different sections, along with a large food court and a top-class hotel. Visitors can learn more about creatures from the deep, watch interesting and educational shows and talks, and take part in a variety of cool experiences and activities.
What to do there: Walk through the long water-surrounded tunnel and watch as diverse sea creatures swim right in front of your eyes. See cute penguins in the Trails to Antarctica section, get up close to various types of jellyfish, and be in awe as you observe fearsome sharks and stingrays. The Barnyard, with its cute and cuddly collection of furry pets, is often a hit with younger visitors, and old and young alike are often intrigued at the World of Creepy Crawlies. Meet even more creatures at the Birds of Prey Kingdom and the Birdhouse.
Plunge your feet into the fish spa for a tickly time, learn how to swim like a mermaid (complete with a scaly tail!), see the collection of super toys, go behind the scenes and learn more about creature care, dive with different fish at the Aquanaut Voyage experience, and get cool pictures at the Augmented Reality Encounter. Don’t miss the captivating Symphony show in the evenings, which features large fountains, music, lights, and animated effects.
#16 – National Museum of Fine Arts
A perfect place to visit in Manila if you are on a budget!
- Home to many splendid national works
- Housed in a handsome neoclassical building
- National Historical Landmark
- Free admission
Why it’s awesome: The National Museum of Fine Arts in Manila is within a beautiful historic neoclassical building. The building itself has been listed as a National Historical Landmark. Built in the early 1920s, the building was originally home to legal branches of the local government. It now contains numerous important and interesting pieces of artwork. The paintings and sculptures were all produced by Filipino artists, and many provide great insights into the country’s past and culture. A top place for budget travellers, there’s no charge to visit the excellent museum.
What to do there: Appreciate the historic building from the outside before entering the top-class art museum to admire the various works inside. Among the most famous pieces, you can see are works by renowned national artists like Guillermo Tolentino, Juan Luna, and Felix Resurreccion Hidalgo. Top pieces to add to your must-see list include Spoliarium, La Barca de Aqueronte, Portrait of a Lady, Planting of the First Cross, Rape and Massacre in Ermita, Doomed Family, and The Burning of Manila.
#17 – R. Papa Street
A must-see for foodies!
- A wide array of Pinoy street foods
- Cheap prices
- Popular with students
- Great photo opportunities
Why it’s awesome: R. Papa Street is one of the main places in Manila for a huge selection of street food favourites. It’s a popular place with students, largely thanks to the budget prices, large portions, and a wide variety of dishes. The local vibe is strong here. There are fabulous photo opportunities too, as you see vendors cooking up various delicacies. Do keep in mind, however, that you may wish to simply visit to see the foods, not to actually eat them—many locals refer to the street as Hepa Lane, based on the idea that eating street foods is unsanitary and can lead to people contracting hepatitis.
What to do there: Mingle with the locals and take a stroll along the lively R. Papa Street and watch as people prepare a host of local meals and snacks. The sights, sounds, and smells are definitely appealing, and you can snap lots of terrific foodie photos and street scenes. Burgers, fish balls, dim sum, the deep-fried quail eggs known as kwek kwek, the noodle-based dish of palabok and sotanghon, coconuts, chicken feet, and the sweet treat of halo halo are just a few local street food specialities.
#18 – Rizal Park
One of the nicer places in Manila to sightsee!
- Large urban park
- Beautiful musical fountain
- Gruesome history
- A popular place for leisure and relaxation
Why it’s awesome: The expansive Rizal Park (also sometimes referred to as Luneta Park) is a popular destination for both locals and tourists. It is named after the national hero of José Rizal, who was executed in the area, and there is a sombre monument that contains the revolutionaries remains. The park has a history that dates back to the Spanish colonial era, when it was commonly used as an execution spot.
Today, it is much more peaceful. There are various attractive gardens throughout the park, along with play areas, statues, monuments, and the country’s tallest flagpole. Also within the park, Kilometre Zero is the point from which distances throughout the country are measured in relation to the capital.
What to do there: See the statue of José Rizal and the monument dedicated to the hero, gaze up at the soaring Independence Flagpole, and watch various events at the Open-Air Auditorium, parade grounds, and Quirino Grandstand. Wander through the attractive Japanese Garden and Chinese Garden, learn more about local wildlife at the Orchidarium and Butterfly Pavilion, and let kids cut loose and have fun at the playground.
Spot the various interesting statues and sculptures throughout the park, including the Flower Clock, the Filipino-Korean Soldier Monument, the Gallery of Heroes, and The New Filipino. The raised map of the Philippines, floating on an artificial lake, is especially interesting. Watch as locals practice different martial arts in the mornings and marvel at the large dancing and musical fountain.
#19 – Manila Cathedral
A great place to see in Manila if you love architecture
- Dedicated to the Virgin Mary
- Long history
- Beautiful architecture
- Peaceful atmosphere
Why it’s awesome: Located within the walled area of Intramuros, Manila Cathedral is a grand and elegant building with a long history and a strong sense of spirituality. The original place of worship was constructed in 1581, but it was destroyed several times over by fires, earthquakes, and bombing during World War Two.
The present building dates back to 1958 and it is the eighth cathedral to have been built here. A stunning building inside and out, the cathedral is dedicated to the Virgin Mary. It has been visited by the Pope and is an important place of worship for local Catholics.
What to do there: Admire the beautiful façade of the cathedral; the northwest part is a replica of the former cathedral and there are stone sculptures of saints. Go inside for some moments of reflection and to see the attractive details. Hear the bells ringing out—they are the biggest bells in active service in the country. Step into the baptistery and you’ll find a reliquary calendar that contains relics of saints.
See the interesting marble relief at the altar that shows souls stuck in Purgatory who are praying to the Mother Mary and being helped by angels. There’s also a large bronze statue of the Immaculate Conception, complete with a solid gold halo. Gaze upon the huge pipe organ. Dating back to the late 1950s and comprising in excess of 5,000 pipes it is the biggest church organ in the country. Other interesting features include the bronze fonts, colourful stained glass windows, and mosaics.
#20 – Masjid Al-Dahab
A nice non-touristy place to visit in Manila
- Away from the typical tourist trail
- Biggest mosque in Manila
- Colourful mosaics
- Large golden dome
Why it’s awesome: Also known as the Golden Mosque, Masjid Al-Dahab is the largest mosque in Manila. In a city filled with splendid churches, an Islamic place of worship can make a pleasant change when sightseeing. It was built in the 1970s ahead of a planned visit by the Libyan president. Although the visit never actually happened it provided a place of worship for local Muslims and added to the city’s architectural diversity. There are traditional Islamic designs combined with Western influences.
What to do there: Visit the mosque to see the beautiful golden ten-metre-high (32-foot-high) dome, topped with the religious symbol of the crescent moon. There are wide open spaces inside and people pray and perform religious rituals in the large courtyards. Visitors can admire the graceful arches, grand pillars, and ornate and colourful mosaics.
Non-Muslim visitors are advised to dress conservatively and seek permission before entering the mosque. Ladies should cover their hair too. Do note not to visit at prayer times, or wait outside until prayers and sermons have finished. When you have seen the mosque, take some time to wander around the surrounding predominantly Muslim area to see a different side of local life.
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Even more top places to visit in Manila and nearby
Enjoy peace and quiet as you see the beautiful details in Manila North Cemetery, one of the city’s oldest burial grounds. Learn more about Filipino culture, history, and art at the privately operated Ayala Museum, discover the history of Chinese immigration to the Philippines at Bahay Tsinoy, and admire art at the Metropolitan Museum of Manila and the Pinto Art Museum.
Stroll along Manila Baywalk and soak up the views, and explore the sprawling Chinatown of Manila. Admire various architectural gems, such as Malacañán Palace, the Coconut Palace, Manila Central Post Office, University of Santo Tomás, and Manila Hotel.
Call into historic churches peppered around the city, enjoy nature in Arroceros Forest Park, gaze up at the modern skyscrapers along Ayala Avenue, and see where revolutionaries used to meet at Bahay Nakpil-Bautista. Learn more about local liquor making at the interesting Destileria Limtuaco, the oldest distillery in the Philippines. In the evening, test your luck and have fun at the casino in City of Dreams.
Take day trips to the verdant Banaue Rice Terraces, the picturesque Pinatubo Crater, the old naval area of Subic Bay, and the delightful Hidden Valley Springs, and spend time exploring the energetic Bonifacio Global City.
Whether you’re into history, culture, art, nature, relaxation, or offbeat attractions, you’ll find many amazing places to visit in Manila.
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Need More Inspiration?
- Backpacking The Philippines Guide
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Writer and Editor, Ana Pereira is a California native, inspired by Earth exploration and introspection. Recently, she spent several months exploring Africa and South Asia. She spends most of her “down-time” out in the wilderness, climbing, hiking, and beyond, and is feverishly passionate about travel and health.