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Are you taking a flight from Dubai to Manila this year? Manila, sitting quietly next to the Manila Bay is a popular destination in Asia, also being the capital of the Philippines it is a rich blend of history and modernized ways with all those cathedrals, parks, museums, and shopping districts! Here, we share the top things to do in Manila:
8 Best Things to Do in Manila, Philippines
Intramuros, or the ‘Walled City’, is a must-visit attraction in Manila, and that being said you are more likely to pass through this district whether you add it to your itinerary or not. It is one of the oldest districts in the Philippines dating back to the 16th century. The walled city was built on the banks of the Pasig River by the Spanish in 1571 and the fortifications lasted till the 1800s under the Spanish rule. It covers an area of 66 hectares and there are about 50 blocks of all which are filled with museums, churches, military bases, hospitals, and so on.
The highlights while visiting Intramuros are Fort Santiago, Manila Cathedral, Casa Manila Museum, San Agustin Church & Museum, and Rizal Shrine. Although the city is quite large, it is impossible to get lost there because of the well-marked street signs. It is best to take a guided tour if you are looking to gather more information about Intramuros. However, you can also explore the city on your own, visit the gift shops, or a modern cafe at one of the narrow streets.
2. Fort Santiago
Fort Santiago, the fortress located inside the Intramuros, was built in the 16th century by the Spanish Governor Miguel López de Legazpi, the same person who led the foundations for the Intramuros. The fort was named after Saint James who is the patron saint of Spain and this translates to ‘Santiago’ to give the fortress its name. It was declared as the Shrine of Freedom in 1950. The architecture inside the fort is inspired by Spanish and Italian architectural styles.
The highlights of Fort Santiago are Plaza de Armas, Rizal Shrine, and Plaza Moriones. Plaza de Armas served as a military base for the Spanish and it also houses the Rizal Shrine and the Museum. Rizal was a national hero in the Philippines who was executed in 1896. There is a statue of Jose Rizal in Fort Santiago and the museum was established to honor his memory.
3. Rizal Park
Rizal Park which is also known as the Luneta Park is the largest in Manila spreading to an area of 140 acres. It is located near Intramuros, and therefore you can combine the trip. The park was named after Jose Rizal and his remains are found in a monument within the park. Rizal Park is ideal for an evening walk.
There are many gardens and other attractions here waiting to be explored. The Orchid Garden has a collection of exotic orchids and butterfly species, the Chinese Gardens contains pagodas and buildings with iconic red and green roofs, the Japanese Garden has a bridge constructed with Japanese architecture and a lagoon. You can also visit Rizal Park with kids because there is a children’s play area as well in the park.
The most famous structure in the Rizal Park is the Musical Dancing Fountain which displays a vibrant show with waters going up to a height of 88 feet. The Flower Clock is a thing not to be missed; it is a clock designed with flowers so the sight is spectacular. And if you are interested in dancing or musical performances, head to the Open Air Auditorium which features shows free of charge!
4. San Agustin Church and Museum
San Agustin Church, also known as the Archdiocesan Shrine of Nuestra Señora de Consolación y Correa, is the oldest stone church in the Philippines. What you see today is the third church in that location; the first and the second churches made of wood were destroyed by fires. After that, the people of Manila decided to build the church out of stone.
Largely inspired by the Spanish architectural styles combining the vibe of both a monastery and a church, it was completed in 1607. The San Agustin Church was then declared as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1993. If you want to learn more about the history, the exteriors and the interiors it is best to take a guided tour. The San Agustin Museum, on the other hand, is connected through a passage to the San Agustin Church. It displays ancient artworks, statues, paintings, etc.
5. Manila Ocean Park
The Manila Ocean Park located nearby the Rizal Park is another must-visit attraction in Manila, Philippines. It is best to allocate half a day if you are going to explore everything in this oceanarium. Manila Ocean Park houses over 200 species of marine animals in seven sections.
The most iconic feature is the see-through curved tunnel inside it that goes up to a height of 25 meters. With this, you can see and walk with many of the marine animals. You can see penguins in the Trails to Antarctica section and the Jellyfish Exhibit that is completely dedicated to jellyfish! The Birds of Prey Kingdom features Brahminy kites. The World of Creepy Crawlies provides a home to amphibians, reptiles, and insects.
There are many shows in the Manila Ocean Park which you can enjoy, especially if you are traveling with kids; the Sea Lion Show, All-Star Bird Show, and the Neon Rides. In the Sea Lion show, you will get a chance to see the adventurous activities of sea lions. The All-Star Bird Show shows you some amazing skills of birds like macaws and eagles. The Neon Rides is ideal in the evening because there you can have a ride in a pedal LED-lit car! Manila Ocean Park is a great thing to do in Manila.
6. National Museum of the Philippines
To know everything about the culture and the history of the Philippines, you should take a step to the National Museum Complex of the Philippines. It has four museums; the National Museum of Fine Arts, National Museum of Anthropology, National Museum of Natural History, and National Planetarium.
The National Museum of Fine Arts which was originally designed as a library has many impressive artworks. The most notable is the painting known as Spoliarium by Juan Luna Y Novicio. You can also see paintings of Jesus Christ, classical romantic art, and sculptures depicting the conflicts faced by the people in WWII. The oil paintings depicting rural life by Fernando C. Amorsolo is also amazing. There is an entire section dedicated to Dr. Jose Rizal with paintings and sculptures as well.
The National Museum of Anthropology, also known as the Museum of the Filipino People, is the section where you can learn about the origin of the Philippines as a nation. There are canons and burial jars used by the Filipino people before the influence of the Spanish inside the country. The National Museum of Natural History will have trees planted inside and also a DNA like a tower inside it. The National Planetarium is yet to be added with more space shows and entertainment activities.
7. Robinsons Place Mall
Robinsons Place Mall is a shopping complex located within a walking distance from Manila Bay. It is the largest shopping complex in Manila that has everything you are searching for in the Philippines. It houses both local and international shops. You can shop for anything including textiles, cosmetics, bags, shoes and so on. The seven-storied Robinsons Place Mall is much more than a shopping complex and therefore, you might need an entire day to explore the building and the activities it has to offer. The affordable prices and high-quality items make it worth the visit. You can also enjoy some delicious food at one of the food courts inside it, watch a movie in the Robinsons Movieworld and play some billiards in the entertainment section.
8. Divisoria Market
Divisoria Market is the place to go if you want to get goods at bargain prices. The market is crowded and packed with people but you are sure to find nice textiles, souvenirs, fashion items, electronics, and even spices and household items. You can always pay half the original price when buying something from the Divisoria Market.
The history of the establishment of Divisoria Market is interesting. When Manila was dominated by the Spanish the non-Christian Chinese people could not engage in business inside Intramuros. Therefore, they had to set up their stalls outside the streets of Intramuros and gradually the area had developed into a chaotic yet lively shopping district. A trip to the Divisoria Market is one of the top things to do in Manila.
Things to Know Before Visiting Manila, Philipines
Best Time to Visit Manila
Like many tropical destinations, Manila has a dry and wet season. Manila’s dry season lasts from December to May. The wet season lasts from June to November and may include monsoons. The best time to visit is from January to April, avoiding the transitional months. Visiting during the best months means you’ll see more best things to do in Manila in the optimal weather.
Language in Manila
Though Filipino is the official language in the Philippines, visitors will find that most people are also fluent in English and sometimes Spanish. Travelers remaining primarily in Manila and other tourist destinations should be fine speaking English, though knowledge of a few phrases in Filipino is always appreciated!
Currency in the Philippines
The official currency of the Philippines is the Philippine Peso, or the piso, as it is called by Filipinos. We recommend exchanging currency in advance of arrival in order to get the best exchange rate. Having some local currency means that you can get to the best things to do in Manila faster!
Getting Around Manila
Most visitors only spend a short amount of time in Manila before jetting off to a touristy beach destination. You can go around Manila in the iconic and colorful jeepneys; jeep adapted small bus like great transportation options. If you’d like to do some sightseeing, arrange for a driver through your hotel. While taxis are available, they have a bad reputation for defrauding both locals and tourists. Instead, use the GrabTaxi app to hail a cab, though there is a small convenience fee (US$1.60).
We hope we’ve given you several reasons to spend a day or two in Manila before jetting off to the white sand beaches of Boracay, going diving in Cebu City, or hiking the Chocolate Hills of Bohol.
This post has been sponsored in part and is a collaboration with a guest writer, but as usual, all opinions expressed are our own.
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Annick, The Common Traveler