Exploring Manila in One Day: An Itinerary
For most people, Manila’s capital city is just a jump-off point to other Philippine tourist destinations like Cebu, Davao, or Boracay. Because of this, it is easy to overlook the history, culture, and notable tourist attractions within Manila itself.
In 1571, one of the first Spanish conquistadors arrived in Manila and declared it a territory of Spain. From that point onwards, most Spanish activities were anchored in Manila. Although the Spanish are long gone, many buildings, traditions, and different aspects of life continue to be felt in the city.
This bustling city, unsurprisingly, is full of beautiful surprises. Hidden amongst soaring towers and hectares of malls are untainted culture, remnants of history, and wonderful, local Filipino life. We listed some fun things you can do in Manila if you have one whole day to spend in the city.
Morning Manila itinerary
1. Reconquer Intramuros first thing in the morning
The historic walled city of Intramuros is one of Manila’s most notable Spanish settlements. It was the center of government, and the walls were constructed to fortify the area’s defense, particularly against foreign invaders from the nearby vulnerable Manila Bay.
The Walled City has had a long history of attempts of invasion, natural disasters, and more. Today most parts of Intramuros continue to stand as symbols of the past.
2. Stop by Fort Santiago
Fort Santiago is one of the many defense structures in the fortress that is Intramuros. This is a vital fort because it is where the national hero, Jose Rizal, was imprisoned. Within the fort grounds is the Rizal Shrine, which preserves the last footsteps of Rizal leaving the fort before proceeding to his execution in Bagumbayan, which will later be called Luneta Park.
3. Pray at the Cathedral of Manila and San Agustin Church
Just a short walk from Intramuros and Fort Santiago is the Minor Basilica and Metropolitan Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, known as Manila Cathedral. The church was originally built under the direction of a priest who came to the country in the 16th century. It was briefly closed and reopened in 2014 after being restored.
`The San Agustin Church is another parish church located just a few meters from Manila Cathedral. In 1976, it was declared a National Historical Landmark by the Philippine government. Years later, in 1993, it was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.
4. Check out the National Museums
The National Museum of Fine Arts, Anthropology, and Natural History is a few kilometers southeast of San Agustin Church. Nearby is also the National Planetarium. All buildings are operated by the government. Take your time exploring either one or all of them.
5. Lunch break at Rizal Park
Observe the locals and have lunch at Rizal Park, often called Luneta Park. If you don’t have a packed lunch or you simply don’t fancy eating one in a public area, feel free to visit the many restaurants nearby, which include:
- Mabuhay Restop, which sells Filipino cuisine, including breakfast dishes
- Emerald Garden Restaurant, whose chefs specialize in Chinese and seafood dishes
- Ocean Park Bistro Restaurant, where you can get a wide variety of Italian and Filipino food
- Pantalan ng Maynila Seafood Restaurant, where you get authentic Filipino dishes like Sinigang, Ensalada, and the house special Pantalan Fried Chicken
Afternoon Manila itinerary
1. Ride a jeepney
Jeepneys are the symbol of Philippine transportation. These public transportation vehicles each have routes displayed on the front and sides of the vehicle. You can sit anywhere and ask other passengers to lend your fare to the driver in front, and you can stop the jeepney by saying, “para po!”. If you are a foreign tourist, you should try riding a jeepney. It’s way cheaper than getting a cab, and it’s more immersive, too!
2. Get the most delicious dumplings from Chinatown in Binondo
In the past, Chinese traders repeatedly came into contact with the locals. Inevitably, they have left some influence in the area. This is most especially true when it comes to food. Chinatown in Binondo has the best Chinese food, especially dumplings. Be it fried, boiled, or steamed, you can find it here in Chinatown—and for the lowest prices.
3. Get a Kalesa Ride to Roxas Boulevard
The perpetually busy streets of Metro Manila are dominated by cars, motorcycles, and other vehicles. Sometimes, however, you will spot a kalesa or two, a horse-driven carriage. During the Spanish Era, the kalesa is the primary mode of transportation, especially by high-ranking officials. Today, kalesa still serve as a mode of transportation, but primarily for tourists who want to go sightseeing.
4. Watch the sunset in Manila Bay
It would be sundown by the time you reach the end of your kalesa ride. Before the sun ultimately sets, catch it sink slowly on the horizon of Manila Bay. The sunset is usually at around 5:30 PM, so don’t worry if you come too early from your kalesa ride.
5. Shop in Malate
If you go further north along Roxas Boulevard, you will reach Malate, a busy commercial area in Manila. Shops here are open from 9 to 10 PM. Places like SM Manila, SM Cariedo, Shopwise, and BLGT are in clusters, so shop to your heart’s content. More giant malls include Robinsons Place Manila and Divisoria Mall. After shopping, you can party all night in Manila’s Malate district.
- If you plan to get a kalesa ride, avoid getting one when you are in Intramuros. The kalesa drivers will charge you more if you get one in Intramuros than when you rent one in Ermita.
- Manila is busy all year round, so there are no particular months to avoid when it comes to tourist influx. The season is something you should consider more. The Philippines has two seasons: wet and dry. If you plan to have a bright and sunny walking tour, come visit from December to early June.
- Make sure to bring water with you. Manila is generally hot except during December and January, so do not forget to bring water or a fan to stay cool and hydrated.
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