In a country with one too many beaches, sightseeing in the City of Manila is not first on many travelers’ lists. But it actually has a lot to offer those brave enough to venture out on its streets. Here’s Top 10 things to do in Manila to get you started:
Luneta Park aka Rizal Park
1. Hang out at Rizal Park
As a friend once told me, “You haven’t been to Manila if you haven’t been to Rizal Park.” And she’s right. One of the most recognizable icons of the capital, the monument to national hero Jose Rizal, can be found here. The park is also a popular venue for free outdoor concerts and is known for its dancing fountain show.
Eat Balut – Photo by John Brian Silverio
2. Attempt to eat balut and other Filipino street food.
There’s no better way to experience a city than by eating what the locals eat. So prepare your stomach for the variety of street food that the capital can offer. Start your gastronomic adventure with fishballs and squidballs. Then work your way up to balut, or fertilized duck embryo; and isaw, which are made either of pork or chicken intestine. Gross or good? You decide.
Manila Bay Sunset from Metropolitan Theater
3. Admire the Manila Bay sunset.
It’s a sunset so majestic that there’s a law declaring the area as a national park to help preserve it. For the best views, go to the Baywalk along Roxas Boulevard, especially the portion facing Malate Church.
4. Go back in time at Intramuros and Escolta.
In Manila, the words “fun” and “history” collide when you explore these two areas. Nicknamed the Walled City, Intramuros is a centuries-old Spanish fortress that’s home to various heritage sites. These include San Agustin Church, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that’s built in 1607.
Then cross the Pasig River using the Jones Bridge to go to Escolta. This street offers the finest examples of architecture from the American colonial period, such as Capitol Theater, Regina Building, and First United Building. It is bounded by Muelle dela Industria, where the landmark El Hogar and the Juan Luna eServices buildings can be found.
Suckling Pig @ Ying Ying Tea House
5. Chow down in Binondo.
There’s no better thing to do in one of the world’s oldest Chinatowns than eat. Must-try restaurants in Binondo include Serenity, Wai Ying, and New Toho, which is the oldest continuously operating restaurant in Manila. For dessert, don’t forget to buy hopia (a pastry with different fillings) from Polland, Ho-Land, or Eng Bee Tin.
Kalesa in Malate Church
6. Ride the Jeepney and the Kalesa.
Even getting from one place to another in Manila is an adventure if you choose to ride a jeepney. These vehicles, which were based on the American jitneys from World War II, is arguably the most popular form of transport in the metro.
For a more laid-back ride, try riding a kalesa, a horse-drawn carriage that was popular during the Spanish colonial period.
7. Shop in Divisoria.
There’s no better destination for bargain shopping than Divisoria. This area is like one giant street market, with all kinds of wares imaginable sold on its streets. It also has several air-conditioned malls with numbers for names (168, 999, anyone?) that offer more bargains.
8. Party in Malate.
Looking for a little nightlife? Whether you want a rocking party or just looking to chill out with a beer in hand, the Malate district is for you. This area is home to popular establishments such as Café Adriatico, Exklusiv by Insomnia, Café Havana, The Oarhouse Pub, The Library Comedy Bar, thebar@1951, and more.
National Museum of the Philippines
9. Visit its Museums.
This historic city also has its own share of museums. Begin your journey at the National Museum complex along Taft Avenue, which is composed of the National Art Gallery and the Museum of the Filipino People. And make sure to see the galleon exhibit at the Museum of the Filipino People.
Then there’s the Metropolitan Museum at the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas, which also feature contemporary art from time to time. If you have kids tagging along, take them to Museo Pambata (Children’s Museum), which has a vintage helicopter that was transformed into a play area for kids.
10. Explore Quiapo.
If there’s one thing that encapsulates the entire contemporary Manila experience, it might be Quiapo. Like Divisoria, Quiapo has crazy street markets. Hidalgo Street in Quiapo is popular for its Photography shops that sells cheap gadgets and accessories. And like Binondo, it has its fair share of good eats too, from the lumpia (spring roll) at Globe Lumpia House on Raon to hopia at Kim Chong Tin Hopia Factory on C.
Palanca/Echague Street. And for your taste of history, you can even find a heritage house here—Bahay Nakpil—along A. Bautista Street. Truly, Quiapo is an experience not to be missed.
What other things to do in Manila can you suggest?