Manila is the capital and largest city in the Philippines, a cosmopolitan destination on the island of Luzon that's home to excellent shopping, restaurants, and hotels, as well as beautiful historical architecture influenced by the area's Spanish colonial past. Manila comprises sixteen different districts, which are all cities in their own right, and the list of things to do here is nearly endless, due to the city's vast size and range of unique sections. Travelers who plan trips to the Philippines for its beaches or the Banaue rice terraces should schedule a few days in Manila as well and avoid just using the city for its airport, as Manila is a fascinating destination in its own right.
From its founding in 1571, Intramuros, or The Walled City, was the exclusive preserve of the Spanish ruling classes. Within its massive walls were imposing government buildings, stately homes, churches, convents, monasteries, schools, hospitals and cobbled plazas. The area had a high level of significance during the Spanish Colonial Period and was the home to ruling classes. Once situated on the edge of Manila Bay (today it is obscured from the water) Fort Santiago is officially guarded the city and today it welcomes visitors entering at the river’s mouth. Tours of historic buildings are the main activity.
Bars, pubs, and karaoke halls offer some of the most exciting things to do in Manila once the sun sets. Much like the Spanish, Filipinos know how to party and take every opportunity to encourage anyone and everyone around them to follow suit. Dancing and singing is the norm in most bars and culturally, most have an extremely good sense of humor. Western-style pubs, jazz bars, wine bars, and thumping clubs are part and parcel of several popular areas and major Manila attractions. Nightlife districts include Malate, a livelier version of Hong Kong’s Land Kwa. Morato Ave in Quezon City is filled with dining options, bars, and comedy clubs. Bangkok’s Patong District is essentially emulated in Manila’s P Burgos Street, where random chaos is sure to rear its lively head. The evenings start to get rev up around 10pm during the week and slightly earlier during weekends.
Sixteenth century Fort Santiago, open daily to the public, is a historical structure in Manila located inside Intramuros at the river’s entry point into the walled city. The Fort is directly associated with Rizal Park, dedicated to Jose Rizal, whose advocating of national reform during the Spanish colonial period found him imprisoned at Fort Santiago before execution by the Spanish in 1896. Fort Santiago was originally built by Rajah Sulayman, a ruling Muslim presiding in pre-Hispanic times, mainly of earth and logs, and rebuilt by the Spanish in the 1500s after conquering the chieftain.
Named for the national hero Jose Rizal, Rizal Park (also called Luneta Park) is a definite must on every list of things to do in Manila. Located in the heart of the city, the park pays tribute to Rizal via a central statue and sits adjacent to Manila’s old walled city, Intramuros. The park has played a central role with Manila residents for decades as a place to relax, picnic, and socialize. It’s especially lively during holidays and weekends. Being one of the main Manila attractions for its scenic backdrop and closeness to Manila Bay, the park is packed on July 4th each year by nationals celebrating Philippine Independence Day.
San Agustin Church
San Agustin Church
Immaculate, ornate, and completely impressive, San Agustin Church is another of the best Manila attractions and a central focus inside Intramuros. Agustin is one of the oldest churches in the country and one of the most sacred in South East Asia. It has withstood both incredible bombing during the Holocaust of WWII and the Battle of Manila in 1945, which saw most of the city demolished. Key features include the graves of three famous conquistadors buried under the church and pews made from molave wood, hand carved in the in the seventeenth century. Today the visiting is one of the quintessential things to do in Manila, especially since the church’s World Heritage Site designation.
Manila Metropolitan Cathedral
Manila Metropolitan Cathedral-Basilica
For years The Manila Metropolitan Cathedral-Basilica stood desolate within Intramuros, occupied by squatters and used informally as a warehouse for years after the Battle of Liberation in 1945. Yet before 1945, the cathedral had several lives, the first which began as its inception in 1581. Devastated by a typhoon, the cathedral underwent four additional rebirths until its present day state via construction beginning in 1954 and lasting four years. Pope John Paul II declared the cathedral a minor basilica in 1981. The church is a wonder inside, featuring beautiful stained glass, old and massive marble slab flooring, and dozens of historic statues.