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The 20 Best Things to Do in Manila, Philippines for First Timers

San Augustin Church and Museum

Manila is the capital city of the Philippines, so it is a popular tourist destination for those who are visiting that part of the world. It is located on the bay of the island of Luzon, and it is a highly urbanized and densely populated city. It is known for its combination of Spanish colonial architecture alongside magnificent skyscrapers, for its unique food, and for its interesting history and culture. If this is your chosen destination, then planning your vacation itinerary in advance can help you to make the most of your time in this amazing city. Here are the 20 best things to do in Manila, the Philippines for first-timers.

Dine at Sala

20. Dine at Sala

Although there are many outstanding restaurants in Manila, Sala is arguably the best fine dining restaurant in the city. It is a refined European bistro with Scottish chef-owner Colin Mackay at the helm. This chef also runs Blackbird and the People’s Palace in the city. Many diners opt for the five-course tasting menu, as this allows them to sample an array of dishes with different flavors. The menu is constantly changing but usually features fusion dishes. Diners can pay extra for wine pairings with each course.

Chinese Cemetery

19. Visit the Chinese Cemetery

An interesting and peaceful place to visit is the Chinese Cemetery. This huge cemetery is the final resting place of some of Manila’s wealthiest Chinese residents. It is not an ordinary cemetery as it feels more like walking along a suburban street. However, the streets are lined with ornate mausoleums. Some of the mausoleums are decorated with crystal chandeliers. It is a sprawling cemetery, but you can hire a bike to get around. You can also hire a guide who will take you to the best tombs.

Pinto Art Museum

18. See the Art at Pinto Art Museum

An excellent attraction for art enthusiasts is Pinto Art Museum, says Lonely Planet. This art museum is located in the hills just to the east of Metro Manila. It showcases some of the best works of contemporary artists from the Philippines. Inside the museum, the pieces are spread across six galleries. There is also an outdoor art installations section that you can peruse during your visit.

Pasay Seafood Market

17. Sample the Food at Pasay Seafood Market

Close to the Mall of Asia, the Pasay Seafood Market is a bustling market selling a vast array of freshly caught fish and seafood. You can enjoy a unique dining experience if you visit this market, as you can choose your ingredients from the stalls and then take it to one of the local restaurants where you can ask for them to prepare the ingredients in your preferred way. This is a fantastic way to sample the local produce, and it is some of the freshest seafood you will ever eat.

Bahay Tsinoy

16. Learn About the Chinese Community at Bahay Tsinoy

Since the 9th-century, there has been a large Chinese community in the Philippines. This is something that you can learn more about at the Bahay Tsinoy. This museum has exhibits over three floors that cover the history, culture, and achievements of the Chinese community in the Philippines. The exhibits cover the arrival of the first Chinese people in the 9th-century, the difficult lives the Chinese led during colonial times, and how Chinese business leaders contributed to the industrialization of the Philippines. Some of the exhibits include photographs, prints, profiles of Chinese figures, and ceramics.

Bario San Luis

15. Visit the Bario San Luis

When you are in the Walled City, you should visit the Bario San Luis. This attraction is a house museum that focuses on the Spanish colonial period in Manila. The building, which is located on Calle Jaboneros, looks very old. However, it is a mid-19th-century reproduction that was not built until the 1980s. Each of the rooms within the house has been carefully designed to reflect the 19th-century, and they each contain a range of interesting artifacts.


14. Visit the Bars in Poblacion

There are plenty of places to enjoy a drink around Manila, but one of the hippest neighborhoods in the city is Poblacion. This district is home to some of the liveliest pubs and bars, so it is a great place to hang out at night. You will find this neighborhood in downtown Makati, and you will find a vast array of venues with something to suit all tastes. There are bars serving craft beers, classy wine bars, fun cocktail bars, lively nightclubs, and venues with live entertainment to enjoy.

Yexel’s Toy House

13. Go to Yexel’s Toy House

An unusual attraction to include in your vacation itinerary is Yexel’s Toy House. This is an attraction that will appeal to avid toy collectors and fans of graphic novels. It is home to most of the collection of Yexel Sebastian, who is a Filipino television personality and an avid toy collector. There are more than 50,000 collectibles housed in this unique museum, including over a thousand life-sized action figures. These are fantastic as a photo opportunity to commemorate your visit to this city. Some interesting exhibits include an Iron Man suit collection and a room devoted to Star Wars. The collections are spread over four levels, and even this isn’t enough room to house Yexel’s entire collection.

Manila Cathedral

12. Visit Manila Cathedral

One of the most impressive structures in Manila is Manila Cathedral, which was founded in 1571. The current structure is the 8th building on the site, as the cathedral has suffered damage during the wars and from earthquakes and fires. It is architecturally impressive, and some of the internal features to note include the reflective marble floor, the stained-glass windows, and the high vaults in the nave. You can visit the cathedral at any time, and you can even wander in if there is a wedding taking place.

Manila Baywalk

11. Walk Along the Manila Baywalk

The Manila Baywalk is the city’s waterside promenade. According to The Crazy Tourist, the best time to take a stroll along the promenade is in the evening so that you can enjoy watching the sunset over the bay. The walk stretches for two miles from the American Embassy to the Cultural Center for the Philippines. Although the walk is lined with palm trees, you can still see the impressive skyscrapers and many important landmarks along the way. When you reach the Manila Yacht Club, you will see a precinct with shops and restaurants, so you can enjoy a little shopping or grab a bite to eat. There are also food vendors and street performers to enjoy along the Manila Baywalk.

Ayala Museum

10. Go to Ayala Museum

Located within the former stock exchange building, the Ayala Museum focuses on the art, ethnology, and archaeology of the Philippines. Within the museum, there are six permanent exhibitions. These cover porcelain trading with china, the embroidered silk garments of the 19th-century, Filipino maritime vessels, 19th and 20th-century works of art, and the gold items created by people from Filipino cultures prior to colonialization. There is also a diorama experience with 60 models arranged in chronological order.

National Museum

9. Immerse Yourself in Art and History at the National Museum

Those who are interested in art, history, culture, and architecture should include a visit to the National Museum on their vacation itinerary. The National Museum is a complex with four sections to visit, including the Art Museum of Fine Arts, the Museum of Natural History, the National Planetarium, and the National Museum of Anthropology. Each of these museums has something different to offer, so you should make sure you visit all four. Set aside a full day so that you have the time to fully appreciate the exhibits in each of the museums.

Rizal Park

8. Explore Rizal Park

The largest urban park in Manila is Rial Park, and this is a popular tourist attraction. It is also a place of historical significance as it is home to a monument that contains the remains of the Philippine national hero, Jose Rizal. This park is a popular place for locals and tourists to enjoy a stroll or sit and relax. There are also two stunning gardens to visit: the Japanese garden and the Chinese garden. Throughout the park, there are statues of many national heroes.

Manila Ocean Park

7. See the Marine Life at Manila Ocean Park

An enjoyable activity for all the family is spending a couple of hours at Manila Ocean Park. Walking through glass tunnels, you will see a vast array of tropical fish and marine life. Various aquatic performances take place throughout the day to keep visitors entertained. For an extra cost, visitors can enjoy the aquanaut experience, which involves walking underwater amongst the fish while wearing an oxygen-filled space helmet. You can even spend the night at this aquarium as it has its own hotel with rooms that boast wall-to-ceiling aquariums.


6. Eat Your Way Around Binondo

Tripzilla recommends taking a food crawl around Binondo, which is the world’s oldest Chinatown. This neighborhood is filled with small and affordable places to eat. You will find Chinese cuisine and places specializing in Chinese-Filipino fusion dishes. You can choose where you would like to visit or join one of the food crawls that take you to various eateries to sample some of their best offerings.

Star City

5. Have Fun at Star City

One of the top family attractions in this city is Star City, which is a fun theme park with something for everyone. Part of the park is indoors, so you can escape some of the Manila heat while you are there. The park consists of classic arcade games, children’s rides, carousels, a toboggan slide, and rollercoasters. An interesting feature of the park is the snow room, which has huge ice sculptures of famous monuments from across the globe.

Bonifacio Global City

4. Shop and Eat at Bonifacio Global City

If you want to enjoy some retail therapy during your visit to Manila, then the best place for this is at Bonifacio Global City. This is a huge shopping mall with shops of all types. There are also plenty of restaurants within the mall, so you can grab a bite to eat. Furthermore, the mall boasts an immersive 4DX cinema experience and landscaped grounds with sculptures. Therefore, it is an attraction just as much as it is a shopping mall.

San Augustin Church and Museum

3. Visit San Augustin Church and Museum

San Augustin church is the oldest and most important church in the Philippines, so it is an attraction that you should include on your vacation itinerary. The church was partially destroyed during World War II and then suffered further damage during earthquakes. There is an adjoined museum, and this is the fourth one built on the site due to the former damage. In the museum, you will see displays of paintings and various religious objects. You should also look inside the church, as this has a decorative ceiling, beautiful artwork, and impressive halls. You can then walk around the courtyard gardens, which are peaceful places to spend some time.

Fort Santiago

2. Go to Fort Santiago

Now a museum, this Fort has been occupied by the Spanish, American, and Japanese over the years. It was originally built in the 14th-century by a Spanish conquistador. The museum has a strong focus on the imprisonment of Jose Rizal, a national hero, as this was where he was executed. The museum also has beautiful grounds to explore.

Walled City

1. Explore the Walled City

According to Time Out, the best thing to do in Manila, the Philippines for first-timers is to explore the Walled City. Also known as Intramuros, the walled city is what remains of Spain’s former colonial empire. In this European-style walled city, you will see interesting landmarks and architecture along cobblestone streets. There are several Baroque churches, various administrative buildings, and some beautiful colonial villas. You will also find many outstanding restaurants in this part of the city.

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Liz Flynn

Written by Liz Flynn

Liz Flynn has worked as a full-time writer since 2010 after leaving a career in education. She finds almost all topics she writes about interesting, but her favorite subjects are travel and food. Liz loves the process of researching information, learning new things, and putting into words what others who share her interests might like to read. Although she spends most of her time writing, she also enjoys spending time with her husband and four children, watching films, cooking, dining out, reading, motorsports, gaming, and walking along the beach next to her house with her dog.

Read more posts by Liz Flynn

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