Metro Manila definitely has tons of destinations to offer to local and foreign tourists, but if you are short of time or if you’ve been staying in the metro for so long already but afraid you haven’t tried something yet that’s truly Metro Manila, we’ve listed down our top things that you must see and do in Metro Manila – because you’ve never really been to Metro Manila if you haven’t seen or done the best things it has to offer.
1. Relive the rich history of Manila in Intramuros (Intramuros, Manila)
The first thing that comes to mind of every Manileño when touring a tourist friend, or one of the firsts items on the bucket list of every local or foreign tourist when visiting Manila. Given the fact that Intramuros is home to numerous historical hotspots including Fort Santiago, Manila Cathedral, and the San Agustin Church, there is no doubt that the walled city of Intramuros’ old-fashioned architecture and cobbled streets is a must go to destination to experience Manila’s rich history and culture.
2. Malacañang Palace (San Miguel, Manila)
Malacañang Palace is no less than the official residence and principal workplace of the President of the Philippines. The palace’s Presidential Museum and Library that showcases the heritage and history of Philippine Presidency is a must-see, too, when visiting the palace.
Location: JP Laurel Street, San Miguel, Manila, Metro Manila
Contact: (02) 736 4662, (02) 784 4286 loc. 4649/4945 (Reserve a tour)
3. Go on a food trip to Manila Chinatown (Binondo, Manila)
Manila’s Chinatown is no less than the oldest Chinatown on earth. Its dates back to 1594, and the bustling economy of a distinct Chinatown continues to thrive in the Binondo district to this day. Binondo’s streets are full of culinary adventures – from small Chinese restaurants to Pinoy street food, so be sure to hit Binondo at least once in your trip.
4. Visit the National Museum of the Philippines (Ermita, Manila)
No visit to Manila is complete without a step inside the National Museum of the Philippines (Fine Arts, Anthropology, Natural History, and Planetarium). Inside are a vast collection of artworks and cultural artifacts and treasures that a day wouldn’t be enough. It is also home to the “Spoliarium” (1884, Rome), a famous masterpiece by Filipino painter Juan Luna.
Location: Padre Burgos Ave, Ermita, Manila, Metro Manila
Contact: (02) 527 1215
5. Experience Pinoy culture, arts, and tradition at the Cultural Center of the Philippines (Pasay)
The Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) is the country’s premiere showcase of traditional theater, culture, and arts. Step inside to explore the CCP at your own pace, or join one of its guided tours.
Location: CCP Complex, Roxas Boulevard, Pasay, Metro Manila
Contact: (02) 832 1125
6. Witness the Manila Bay sunset at least once
The famed Manila Bay sunset is one of the best in the world you’ll ever see – we promise! Watch the golden and orange hues of the skies and see the sun sink into the vast horizon – the best way to experience this is to take a stroll along Manila Baywalk in Roxas Boulevard or grab a coffee, cocktail, or beer and stare at the sun as it sinks from the comfort of your open air bar seat at the Whitemoon Bar in Manila Ocean Park.
7. Manila Ocean Park (Ermita, Manila)
The Philippine islands are strewn across the vast ‘Coral Triangle’, or the center of the world’s marine biodiversity. One better way to see and feel that you are actually in the Coral Triangle is to explore and learn more about it in the Manila Ocean Park.
Location: Behind Quirino Grandstand, Luneta, Manila
Contact: (02) 567 7777
8. Visit Metro Manila’s old churches
Walk, take a cab, or ride a calesa or jeepney – if you wish to know more deeply about the Filipino traditions and family culture, a visit to one of Metro Manila’s old (not to mention really beautiful and architectural masterpieces in their own rites) churches is truly a memorable experience. Witness families gather at the churches especially on Sundays – this is where you’ll see and understand more of how Filipinos give a new level of meaning to love, respect, faith, and really really close family ties. Our suggestions are the Manila Cathedral and San Agustin Church in Intramuros, and the Quiapo Church and San Sebastian Church both in Quiapo, Manila.
9. Go on a walking tour of Escolta District (Escolta, Manila)
Escolta used to be Manila’s glorious downtown before the country’s center of business gradually shifted to Makati City that’s also in Metro Manila. If you’re into old things, history, and architecture, then Escolta is definitely a feast for the eyes. Escolta is truly a unique part of Manila as it gives the experience of a look back in time, during the glory days of old Manila’s downtown. Thanks to the local community who’s active in restoring the old glory of the old downtown Manila, Escolta Street’s famed thoroughfare lined with art deco, beaux-arts, and neo-classical buildings, hip shops and hip vibes is now getting back to life.
10. Take a walk, shop & dine, and experience Manila’s cosmopolitan lifestyle in the Makati Central Business District (Makati)
If Escolta was Manila’s historically rich center of business back in the days, the Makati Central Business District is now the financial and business capital of the Philippines. Walk along the busy Ayala Avenue strip that’s lined with palm trees and tall buildings on all ends, shop at the huge Glorietta and SM Malls, go gourmet food hunting at the lush Greenbelt Mall, then cap off the night with a taste of Makati’s hip and vibrant nightlife at the Poblacion district.
11. Explore the vast Rizal Park (Ermita, Manila)
Rizal Park a.k.a. Luneta Park is one of the largest urban parks in Asia and is of great historical value to the country. Aside from having the shrine of the Philippines’ National Hero José Rizal and the highest flagpole in the country, Luneta Park is also lined with museums and cultural centers, including the National Gallery of Art, Museum of Natural History, and the Planetarium.
12. Walk around and explore the posh Bonifacio Global City a.k.a. The Fort (BGC)
BGC has its own uniquely sophisticated vibe and culture in it, and the truly global experience and cosmopolitan lifestyle it brings makes it one of the must visit places in Metro Manila. Walk around its wide open sidewalks and public spaces filled with street art amidst gleaming skyscrapers, high-end malls, and hip nightlife hotspots.
13. Ride the iconic jeepney
Although it can get quite confusing for first timers, the Philippines’ iconic jeepney is a must try transport option when roaming in and around Manila. Try it at least once even on a simple short ride to mingle with local co-passengers get a feel of what it’s like inside one of these colorful jeepneys.
14. Belt out your favorite songs at a live Videoke session
Videoke, also called Karaoke, is indeed a part of the Pinoy culture and its abundance in the city especially during occasions show the Filipinos’ love for singing, whether in-tune or not. And Pinoys don’t just do with any other videoke machine – the sound system must be crisp and banging and the mic must be of high quality, else it’s not a fun videoke session.
15. Go on a Filipino cuisine and street food adventure
You’ve never been in a country until you try their local cuisine, right? Of course, Filipino cuisine and fine dining is a must try so make sure to try a sampling of Adobo (marinated meat dish), Sinigang (sour broth dish), Kare-Kare (peanut-based dish), and Lechon (roasted pig), as well as ever-famous Pinoy desserts such as Halo-Halo (fruits and toppings in shaved ice and milk) and Ube (purple yam) based desserts. It’s easy to find Filipino specialty restaurants especially inside malls, so there’s no reason for you to miss out.
For fast food lovers, you must try Jollibee! Jollibee is the Philippines’ premier fast food chain that’s been making waves abroad as they open new international branches. It’s Mc Donald’s stiffest competition in the Philippines, and it serves fast food that are uniquely Pinoy so a trip to one of its thousands of branches is a must do when in Manila.
If succulent seafood is your liking, a trip to Seaside Dampa market in Macapagal (Pasay) is one you shouldn’t miss. This huge market near the SM Mall of Asia sells an overwhelming variety of fresh seafood, then you can take the seafood you just bought to one of the restaurants in the market so they can cook it for you whatever style you wish.
Go food tripping on street foods like the Tokneneng (battered egg fry) and fish & squid balls, and also try out street food reserved for those who are brave enough to try, like the Isaw (barbequed intestines) and the ever famous Balut (boiled duck embryo). The choices are endless when it comes to Filipino street food!
And of course, do not miss the tropical fruits of the Philippines, especially the Philippine mangoes which are the sweetest variety on this planet!
16. Experience the malling culture at SM Mall of Asia (Pasay)
One thing that you will surely notice is the malling culture of the Filipinos, and to find out why, go to the SM Mall of Asia (SM MoA) which is one of the largest malls in the world. It’s perfect location fronting the Manila Bay makes it a perfect spot to go shopping and dining whilst looking out over the famed Manila Bay. It’s always festive inside the SM MoA, so you are sure never to get bored when you’re out there – did we mention the mall also has its own bayfront carnival, museum, convention center, coliseum, an ice-skating rink, and a soccer field?
17. Go on bargain hunting spree
No visit to Metro Manila is complete without going out on a bargain hunting spree and shop for pasalubong (gifts or souvenirs) and local delicacies and crafts. The popular ones you can go to for bargain hunting are the Greenhills Shopping Center (San Juan) and Divisoria (Binondo) – prices here tend to be already cheaper than anywhere else, but if you have haggling skills, asking with a smile can cut the prices a lot more.
18. Experience luxury at the Entertainment City (Parañaque)
The Entertainment City in Parañaque is home to the metro’s gigantic resort and casino complexes such as Solaire, Okada Manila, and the City of Dreams (and much more to open), making the area the Philippines’ answer to Las Vegas and Macau. Casinos are a thing here but if you’re not really into playing the casino, tons of luxurious dining, shopping, and entertainment options await at the Entertainment City.
19. Go for a road trip outside Metro Manila
When you’re in Metro Manila, it’s hard to keep the temptation to go on a road trip at bay when gorgeous beaches and holiday destinations are just a few hours away from the capital. Just do like the locals often do on weekends and holidays – go on a historic trip to Corregidor (1.5 hours), trek the Taal Volcano in Tagaytay (3 hours), soak the sun at a beach in Batangas (3.5 hours), and surf the waves and hang loose at San Juan, La Union (4.5 hours) and Baler (5.5 hours).