Manila has multiple charms, many of which risk being lost in the chaos and sprawl of this heavily populated city. A cultural melting pot of Malay, American, Chinese, Spanish and Arabic, it borrows from numerous cultures to create its very own personality.
To find things to do in Manila that don’t detract from its good points, you need to remember that the slums, the impossible traffic and the confusion are all part of what makes this city what it is. Manila tourist attractions are not the sanitised type hot spots you find in other major cities. Prepare to open your mind and heart and get excited about entering a world of colour, where nature and history add so much to the tourist experience.
No. 1 Learn about Filipino Culture through Dance
A visit to the Zamboanga restaurant is considered a must for its seafood selection and its lively Filipino Cultural Dance Show. Feast on local cuisine while taking in a vibrant dance performance featuring traditional costumes and bamboo poles. The ceremonial dances draw you into the movement of the northern mountain tribes and you’ll also enjoy the exotic dance styles of the Muslim-populated regions in the south. Audience members are invited to participate on stage to show off their own dance moves.
No. 2 Eat Lunch among the Volcanic Springs
The Hidden Valley Springs tour will take you 90 minutes from Manila to an area created by a volcanic eruption that occurred millennia ago. Take a dip in the natural spring fed pools and experience the waterfall and small gorge. On a hot day, this is the perfect place for a cool-down. A delicious lunch is included and your English speaking tour guide will provide an interesting talk on the history of the area and what makes it so special.
No. 3 Visit a Living Museum
Set over 400 hectares is the Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar where you can immerse yourself in the traditions and culture of the Philippines. There, you’ll find more than 27 Spanish stone houses and colonial buildings along your heritage tour. Every casa in the resort has a personality and story all its own. Wander along the footpath as the guide tells you what makes each so unique.
A selection of shops including souvenir shops and a wonderful bakery will make your day complete. You can have your very own sepia colonial photo taken in the studio and bury your tastebuds in the fabulous Spanish bread. You can also take a cruise around the resort and view it from different vantage points such as under arched bridges, somewhat like a Filipino scaled-down Venice.
No. 4 Reconcile the Old with the New
Would you like to see historic landmarks in Manila but also the more modern sights? The Manila Old & New City Tour introduces you to just that. Fully conducted by English-speaking guides, you’ll travel in an air-conditioned coach for comfort. You’ll be taken to historic attractions including the American Memorial & Cemetery, Nielson Tower, Forbes Park (Manila’s very own “Millionaire’s Row”) and the City of Makati, the Philippines’ prime financial district.
You’ll also visit the country’s oldest stone church, San Agustin, located inside Manila’s historic walled city of Intramuros. Within the walls are church ruins and relics of the era of the Spanish Conquistadors. This four-hour tour will provide tons of facts, stories and historical data, all of which will give you a new insight into the city of Manila.
No. 5 An Inspiring Oasis in the midst Manila
Make your way over six floors of exhibits in the Ayala Museum in metropolitan Manila. Established in 1967, today it houses a number of permanent exhibitions including The Diorama Experience, an astounding collection of sixty handmade dioramas that record Philippine history, from the prehistoric era through to the People Power Revolution of 1986.
You can also see the Maritime Vessels exhibit and Gold of Ancestors featuring over one thousand gold objects that pre-date the 16th century. The museum also offers changing exhibitions to keep things fresh and interesting. The stunning contemporary art, the historic ceramic collection and the workshops and performances give tourists of all tastes reason to visit. While planning your trip to the Philippines, add this to your list of things to do in Manila and expect to spend several hours there.
No. 6 Of Course, a Shoe Museum!
Given the notoriety of the shoe collection of former Philippines First Lady, Imelda Marcos, it certainly wouldn’t be a complete visit to the capital without seeing the Marikina Shoe Museum! It is actually a celebration of the country’s shoe industry and showcases no less than 800 pairs of shoes of the 3,000 pairs owned by Marcos as well as those worn by former presidents, VPs, ambassadors, senators and mayors. You can learn how shoes are made, see the shoe lasts created for clients and see how different skins are turned into luxury ‘leathers’ for quality shoes. The shoe museum is open daily from 8am to 5pm, with a 1-hour break for lunch.
No. 7 Visit the World’s Oldest Chinatown
Established in 1594 by the Spaniards, Binondo is the oldest Chinatown in the world and one of the most popular Manila tourist attractions. The place is alive with aromas, sights and sounds and countless intriguing shops such as Chinese pharmacies, souvenir stores and even a hardware shop.
You can even pay for a Feng Shui consultation at Binondo. Travellers’ hint: don’t venture into this Chinatown if you don’t like crowds, chaos or strong smells. Go for the interesting sights, the cheap shopping and the chance to try unusual foods.
Staying Safe and Healthy in Manila
As with most tourist destinations, it’s wise to keep your wits about you when travelling, particularly in locations that are over-crowded and where the language isn’t your own. Be vigilant about tampered ATMs, unsafe tap water, opportunistic scammers and undesirable neighbourhoods.
Seasoned travellers say it’s best to avoid engaging in conversations with strangers, riding in taxis that don’t have meters and wearing visible jewellery in questionable areas. Travel insurance* goes a long way to protecting your interests when overseas, whether it’s to pay for medical treatment, stolen belongings or travel plans cancellations.
Don’t let negative tales deter you from visiting the Philippines. There are so many things to do in Manila that will provide you with fabulous lifetime memories; simply be vigilant and sensible and have a great time exploring this incredible multicultural city of the world!