Things to Do in Manila
One of the most important sites for Philippine history in Manila, Fort Santiago was built by the Spanish conquistador Miguel López de Legazpi as a defensive fortress designed to protect the newly formed city. The fort is a key feature of the famous walled city known as Intramuros — a complex of manicured gardens, fountains, lily ponds, and sunny plazas, as well as the Rizal Shrine museum, located in the building where Dr. Jose Rizal (a Philippines national hero) was incarcerated during the late 19th century.
The colonial heart of Manila, Intramuros—which means “within the walls”—is the capital’s oldest district and home to some of its most impressive historic monuments. Founded by the Spaniards in the 16th century, the gigantic stone citadel is surrounded by impressively preserved city walls, stretching for almost 3 miles (5 kilometers).
Step back in time and see how upper-class Filipinos lived during the colonial era at Casa Manila, a beautifully reconstructed traditional Spanish colonial home within the walls of Intramuros, in the heart of Manila. Casa Manila is filled with period furniture, furnishings, decorative objects, and artwork from the colonial era.
Situated next to the walled city of Intramuros, historical Rizal Park is one of the largest urban parks in Asia and covers 140 acres (58 hectares). With lawns, gardens, walkways, ponds, museums, an observatory, a concert hall, and more, it’s one of the most popular attractions in Manila for locals and visitors alike.
One of Manila’s best-known streets, Roxas Boulevard hugs the waterfront for most of its length and includes Rizal Park, the historic Manila Hotel, and the popular promenade Manila Baywalk. It’s backed by the lively Malate district, with its open-air bars and restaurants, while Manila Bay sunset views make it a popular early evening stop.
Located in the historic Walled City of Old Manila, the beautiful baroque Church of San Agustin is both the oldest church in the country and a designated UNESCO World Heritage site. Highlights include the tombs of several historical figures—including conquistadors, statesmen, and artists—as well as the adjoining San Agustin Museum.
An ever-popular retreat from Manila, Villa Escudero Plantations and Resort is a historic hacienda and working coconut plantation. Attractions here run from a restaurant set in a waterfall, where you dine with water running over your toes, to swimming pools, a river, a museum, buffalo-cart rides, bamboo rafts, and cultural dance shows.
Established in 1901, the National Museum of the Philippines is a vast complex of museums and a planetarium located next to Rizal Park. Immerse yourself in the artistic, historical, and cultural heritage of the Philippines through the museum’s expansive collections covering fine art, ethnography, anthropology, archaeology, and natural history.
About 60 miles (97 kilometers) from Manila, a visit to the 33-foot-high (10-meter-high) Pagsanjan (Magdapio) Falls delivers an epic thrill ride. First, paddle upstream in a small boat. Then ride a bamboo raft under the cascade itself into Devil’s Cave. Finally, race down the jungled gorge through a series of adrenaline-pumping rapids.
Located along the Pacific Ring of Fire, Taal Volcano is one of the most active volcanoes in the Philippines. Rising up from the center of Taal Lake and harboring its own crater lake and island, the unique setting—an island in a lake on an island in a lake—makes for an incredible sight.
More Things to Do in Manila
Towering 4,757 feet (1,450 meters) above Luzon, the Mt. Pinatubo stratovolcano blew its top quite spectacularly in 1991. Today, the crater lake that’s left behind and the surreal mudflow landscapes around it make one of the Philippines’ most fun adventures—and one that’s well worth the early start. The volcano is carefully monitored for safety.
Built by the Jesuits in 1620, Manila's St Peter and Paul Church has survived earthquakes and typhoons to stand proud in the ritzy Makati district as one of the oldest churches in the Philippines. The Roman Catholic chapel was designed in the typical Baroque style of the Spanish colonial period and was dedicated to the first pope, St Peter, and to St. Paul, the local patron saint. The façade bears the cross keys of St Peter, and inside, you can still see the chapel’s original carved retablo with its Rococo style motifs of flowers and fruits.
Known locally as Poblacion Church, the site served as a hospital during the Philippine-American War from 1899 to 1902, where American soldiers were tended to. Every year, on the last two days of June, the plaza outside the church hosts the Bailes de los Arcos fiesta, where local Makati girls perform a traditional dance to give thanks to Saints Peter and Paul.
In death as in life, Manila’s rich Chinese like to live large, and the renowned Chinese Cemetery—lined with otherworldly mansions, some complete with air-conditioning and flush toilets—is a tribute to their wealth. Sprawling over 133 acres (54 hectares), it’s one of Manila’s quirkiest attractions: You can even rent a bike to get around.
Manila Ocean Park is the city’s world-class ocean theme park. The 86,000-square-foot (8,000-square-meter) park features an oceanarium with over 14,000 marine creatures, as well as birds, insects, and other animals in a variety of interactive and educational exhibits and shows, and will appeal to visitors of all ages.
Probably the Philippines’ oldest art, and some of the oldest rock carvings in southeast Asia, the Angono Petroglyphs sit in Angono, Rizal, southeast of Manila. The 127 carvings show human and animal figures and date back to the late Stone Age, more than 4,000 years ago. A small on-site museum displays ceramics, fossils, and other artifacts.
First settled by the Spanish during the 16th century, Manila Chinatown in Binondo is one of the world’s older Chinatowns. It centers on Ongpin Street, where stores offer mooncakes, incense, paper money, herbal medicines, and tasty dumplings. Buddhist temples and towering gates add extra color to the Chinese area of Binondo.
Located in Makati, the Ayala Museum is considered one of the most culturally significant museums in the Philippines. Spread over four stories, this well-organized and -maintained gallery houses a large collection of art, gold jewelry, archaeological artifacts, maritime vessels, and dioramas covering Philippine arts, culture, and heritage.
Dedicated to the work of a family of self-taught painters now entering its third generation, the Blanco Family Museum is a distinctly Filipino affair, one filled with folk-art-style scenes of colorful fiestas and rural life. Jose “Pitok” V. Blanco founded the dynasty; today, Michael, one of his seven children, runs the museum.
A rugged, forested island around 30 miles (48 kilometers) from Manila, Corregidor Island is perhaps the Philippines’ most important World War II site. General Douglas MacArthur’s headquarters until 1942, Corregidor was occupied by Japanese forces until January 1945, and most visits focus on WWII-era relics rather than natural attractions.
A popular weekend escape from Manila, Subic Bay was once the base for a huge US naval fleet. Today it’s reinvented as a family-friendly tourist destination, with attractions from theme parks and safari parks to jungle trekking. Most foreign travelers visit to dive the magnificent wrecks, trek the jungle, and tour the abandoned base.
An enormous 3D trick-art museum in Cubao, Metro Manila, Art in Island is tailor-made for the selfie era. Insert yourself into more than 100 3D images, some based on classic originals. Pose on magazine covers, among Egyptian ruins, or in the jaws of a sea monster. Besides the paintings, there’s an on-site café if you need to refuel.
Dinosaurs Island is a theme park that brings the Jurassic period to life with life-size, animatronic dinosaurs. The park boasts a forest trail featuring more than 30 moving dinosaur models, a museum containing fossils and replicas of four dinosaur skeletons, an immersive 7D cinema screen, and a Jungle Safari thrill ride.
Set amid the bustle of downtown Manila, Manila American Cemetery is an oasis of peace and remembrance. The cemetery is home to the remains of 17,184 soldiers who died during World War II, with serried ranks of brilliant white crosses across manicured lawns and galleries that explain key battles.
The country’s national center for the performing arts, the Cultural Center of the Philippines is a vast complex spread over 150 acres (62 hectares). Designed by Filipino architect Leandro Locsin, this is Manila’s go-to venue for ballet, classical music, and theater, as well as other local and international productions, performances, and festivals.