Things to do in Manila - a comprehensive guide to Metro Manila

Things to do in Manila – a comprehensive guide to Metro Manila

You are planning to go to Manila? – a must-read about the things to do in Manila. This thriving metropolis and capital of the Philippines, an archipelago of over an incredible 7,640 islands in South East Asia. Manila actually refers to two entities. The first entity is Manila City, which is the capital of the Philippines and is a city located on the eastern shore of Manila Bay. The Pasig Bay runs and divides the city’s northern and southern part. 

Manila can also refer to Metropolitan Manila (or Metro Manila) as the National Capital Region. The National Capital Region is the seat of government and consists of 16 cities, including Manila City. It is also known as an urban area with a population of approximately 21.3 million people! Manila city itself has a population of 12 million so expect a bustling, high-energy city. 

Manila City 
Manila City
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How to get to Manila City 

To get to Manila City from abroad, you must enter through the city’s Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA). Alternatively, Manila has an international cruise terminal, allowing for both cruise liners and luxury residential cruise ships.

Once you’re in the Philippines, you can get to Manila City by bus, train, jeepney, taxi and private car. The first three are part of the Philippine’s public transportation system. 

The jeepney, in particular, is a unique Filipino staple. It remains popular due to its convenience and low cost and fare. The jeepney is the size of a small bus. It is called the king of the road. So, if you’re after an authentic and cost-effective experience, opt for the jeepney.

What is Manila known for? 

Manila is known for incredible colonial architecture, historical sites, and museums. Manila is renowned for its shopping, with the Philippines’ first IKEA branch which is the biggest branch in the world and SM Mall of Asia, which is one of the largest malls in Asia. Divisoria, which is known for its great deals and affordable prices, is located in Manila. And the city boasts spectacular sunsets over Manila Bay with plenty of trendy bars to watch from while sipping sundowners. 

Manila transportation - things to do in Manila a Jeepney ride
Manila transportation – things to do in Manila a Jeepney ride

Planning your trip to Manila

Before booking your tickets to Manila, do consider the following factors: 

  • Climate – Manila has a tropical climate. It also has two seasons: the dry and the rainy season. Both are hot and humid.
  • Safety – Some areas in Manila can be a little sketchy, especially in the Divisoria area. 
  • Budget – Manila offers plenty of places for different budgets. If you do drop by a mall in the urban center, things will be a little pricier.
  • Food – Manila has a diverse cuisine. You can eat Filipino, Chinese, Japanese and Korean food all around the city. You may eat some foods that are fattier. Most Filipino food that are for tourists are mostly meaty. 

Things to do in Manila:

With plenty of great locations, there are plenty of things to do in Manila: 

Visit historical sites and museums

  • Fort Santiago – A fortress built during the Spanish occupation of the Philippines. Fort Santiago has open air spaces perfect for those who enjoy the sunshine and walking. This Spanish-era fortress also has a museum dedicated to the country’s national hero, Jose Rizal. 
  • Bahay Tsinoy – A museum that focuses on the history of the Filipino-Chinese community; the Filipino-Chinese community experienced oppression at the hands of the Spanish colonizers yet would later become an integral part of Philippine society.

Take a walk in an open space

  • Arroceros Forest Park – Arroceros Park is home to over 60 types of trees, more than 8,000 plant species, and 10 species of bird. The park has elevated path walks, a jogging lane, a trail bridge, and various water features 
  • Rizal Park – Rizal Park has a wide open area which provides a peaceful escape from the bustling city. You can take walks along its scenic trails. 
  • Paco Park – Paco Park is a popular location for garden weddings. With its Spanish-style architecture and open location, Paco Park is also a historic location. It serves as a final resting place for the heroes, Fr. Jose Burgos, Fr. Jacinto Zamora and Fr. Mariano Gomez  The three of them were falsely accused of inciting rebellion during the Spanish occupation, due to their involvement in forwarding ecclesiastical reform and in Fr. Zamora’s case, penchant for playing cards. 

Go see Manila Cathedral 

The Manila Cathedral was built from 1954-1958 under the supervision of Filipino architect Fernando H. Ocampo, after the previous structure was flattened in the Second World War. It is considered an architectural masterpiece and as Philippine’s prime basilica. 

Things to do in Manila - A must visit to Manila Cathedral 
Things to do in Manila – A must visit to Manila Cathedral
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Drop by the National Museum 

The National Museum is one of the biggest museums in Manila. This museum showcases collections of Filipino fine art, botany and natural history. The National Museum enjoys great popularity due to it being Instagrammable and because of its occasional free entry. 

Learn about wine at the Destileria Limtuaco Museum

This wine museum is near the local BIR branch! The Destileria is one of the most long-running distilleries in the Philippines. For 40 years, you could not visit this place as it originally was a private museum before opening to the public. 

If you are above drinking age, you can taste samples of their drinks but you have to pay 

Destileria Limtuaco for certain drinks; these are White Castle whisky, Napoleon VSOP brandy and the original Sioktong herbal wine. Worth paying for, just quietly!

Manila Filipino Grafitti
Manila Filipino Grafitti

Shop at Divisoria! 

Divisoria is a centuries-established shopping hub and outdoor flea market for locals and other Filipinos alike. It opens from 7AM-9PM and can be found in San Nicolas, Manila. You can go to Divisoria via a jeepney or private car. A tip for newbies: in Divisoria, you’ll get better deals if you know how to haggle.  

A Basic Guide to Filipino Etiquette:

Do:

  • Respect for elders – In the Philippines, elders are seen as the pillar of wisdom. When addressing elders, you must kiss their hands as a sign of respect. 
  • Use your hands while eating or using utensils – In the Philippines, you can eat using your hands as long as you wash your hands beforehand. If you wish to, you can eat with your usual spoon and fork.
  • Chat while eating – Filipinos are a very social people. Conversations over the dinner table are encouraged. It’s also a way for people to bond. 
  • Familiarize yourself with Filipino pronouns and the language – It’s not only practical but also a great way to elevate your communication skills. 
  • Leave your shoes outside – Some households do not allow you to bring your shoes inside the house. This is because this is seen as dirt. 

Don’t:

  • Insult the Philippines – Filipinos have pride in their country. If you say something bad, it will be seen as disrespectful. 
  • Be late – While Filipino time (being late) is a thing in the Philippines, it is a result of the poor transportation system and traffic. Do consider being earlier. 
  • Be a picky eater – This is considered rude. 
  • Reject hospitality from the locals – Similar to how picky eating is viewed, rejection of hospitality is a bad note for Filipinos. 
  • Expect commute to be easy – While commuting can be tough, it’s also a great experience. 

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