What to Do in Manila for First Time Visitors

Thursday, September 6, 2018

What to do in Manila? That is a common question especially for first-time visitors to the city. As the capital city of the Philippinesinfo-icon, Manila is often the jump-off point to some of the country’s more popular destinations, such as Palawan and Boracay.

Like most cosmopolitan cities, Manila is big, dense, and chaotic. Most expats move to Manila for the low cost of living. You could get lost in the crowd, drowned in the noise, and choke in the pollution. But if you look beyond these inexplicable things, you’ll realize that Manila, after all, has its own unique charm. So here’s a guide for those wondering what to do in Manila on their first visit.

Manila at A Glance 

Manila has had a very long history, and there are a lot of Spanish influences still around.

Manila has a colorful past. Due to the city’s strategic location, it has been invaded several times by the Spaniards and Americans. These occupations are still evident today. 

Roman Catholicism is still widely practiced and several Manila attractions, like the Intramuros and Fort Santiago, have a strong Spanish influence. American influences are still all over the place, from the food, educational system and fascination with pop culture. 

In fact, the English language is still widely spoken all over the city.

Best Time to Visit Manila

Make sure that you are educated on the seasons in the Philippines before you book a ticket to Manila!

As mentioned, Manila is often a jump-off point for many travelers to the country, so there really is not the best time to visit Manila. However, it’s crucial that you educate yourself about the Philippines weather seasons before coming for a visit. 

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There are four seasons in the Philippines and the two main seasons are dry and rainy. The dry season in Manila is during December to May while the rainy season is from June to November. 

The hottest season is between March and May while the wettest months are July to September. December to February are the coldest and are the best months to travel to Manila. 

Knowing the types of weather in the Philippines is a great way to prepare for your Manila trip.

How to Get Around Manila

Taking a taxi in Manila is the most comfortable way to get around this huge city, but be prepared to negotiate for a price.

If you refer to the Manila metro map, you’ll know that Manila is a vast metropolis. Yet, there’s just so much to see in many of its hidden corners. Traveling from one location to another might prove to be challenging especially if it’s your first time. 

Riding the Philippine jeepney is one of the most common modes of transportation in Manila. However, the public jeepneys are not the most comfortable means of traveling especially if you are visiting during the summer season when the weather is too hot. 

Nevertheless, the Philippine jeepney is an iconic part of the country’s culture so you may want to experience riding it at least once.

The manila metro rail transit system may be an ideal means of traveling within the metro, but they are far from being comfortable. It could get very crowded especially during the peak hours, and incidences of pickpocket and snatching are pretty common.

Taking the taxi is the most comfortable way to get around Manila. But be careful with drivers insisting that you pay a fixed rate. Ride-sharing apps like Grab and Uber are also available so to avoid the hassles of having to negotiate the fare with some taxi drivers; you may want to take advantage of these apps instead.

What To Do in Manila

Inside Fort Santiago, you get a pretty decent look on the impact of the Spanish conquistadors in Manila.

Manila may not make it to the list of the best places to visit in the Philippines, but the city has lots of hidden gems that many travelers are not aware of. 

So if you’re wondering what to do in Manila on your visit, check out this list.

Intramuros and Fort Santiago Manila - if you are only stopping over and wondering what to do in Manila for a day, you may want to visit the Intramuros. Built in 1571, the Intramuros is the oldest district in Manila, which has survived several foreign invasions including the World War. You can explore Intramuros on your own or join a Fort Santiago tour that includes a tour inside Fort Santiago, a Spanish citadel built in 1590.

Rizal Park Manila - also known as the Luneta, the Rizal Park is Manila’s iconic park set in a 60-acre of open lawn. It’s a great place to visit away from the busy and crowded atmosphere of the city. You just need to pay for the Rizal park entrance fee of 20 pesos, and you are free to explore the park’s gardens, ponds, and some monuments, which play an essential role in Rizal Park’s history.

Manila nightlife - one of the best things to do in Manila at night is to experience the city’s vibrant nightlife. When nighttime comes, each district in the metro showcases a different personality that caters to all kinds of partygoers. The Manila nightlife area is scattered all over the metropolis and not just concentrated in one place. If you want a more upscale place to party the night away, check out the bars in Makati and Taguig. For cheaper pubs, visit Ermita, Baclaran or Malate.

There are several other exciting things to do in Manila that are not mentioned in the list above. You can check out the Manila Ocean Park attractions, visit the San Agustin church museum and the National Museum.

What to Eat in Manila

Balut is definitely the most popular street food in Manila, no matter how hard it could be to eat on the mental level, when you know that you're eating a duck embryo.

You can never leave Manila without trying some local street food. So if you enjoy the food like you love traveling, here are some of the most popular Manila street foods that you should give a try.

Isaw food - these are chicken intestines coiled into skewers and grilled to perfection, just like your favorite barbecue.

Tokneneng -  these are hardboiled chicken eggs coated with orange batter and fried in oil. It’s often dipped in a sweet and sour sauce.

Balut - this is perhaps the most popular street food in the Philippines. Balut is a partially developed duck egg embryo that’s being sold all over the streets of Manila and eaten with a salt and vinegar.

Taho - this is made of tofu that’s sweetened with sugary syrup. The taho food is served in a cup and eaten with a small spoon.

If eating local street foods is not your cup of tea, do check out some of the cheap fine dining restaurants in Manila. Like most Asians, Filipinos love to eat, and you’ll find several affordable buffet restaurants in Manila. These are the best places to have a taste of some of the most delectable Filipino cuisines.

Where to Stay in Manila

There are a lot of Manila hostels around that cater to all kinds of travelers, from budget to luxury.

Manila is a huge city, and the main attractions are often a bit far away from each other, which makes it difficult to decide where to stay. Nevertheless, some of the best hotels in Manila are located at the city’s most famous districts, such as Makati. 

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If you’re a budget traveler, there are plenty of cheap inns in Manila that cater to backpackers and budget travelers and charge less than $20 each per night. There is also cheap apartelle in Manila that offers affordable but decent accommodation.

Manila may not be as beautiful as the other cities in the Philippines, and figuring out what to do in Manila may be challenging at first. The capital city has actually a lot to offer for all kinds of travelers. If you’re wondering what to do in Manila on your first visit, this guide should get you covered.

Carolyn Boston freelance content writer for aSabbatical.com
Travelling the world on a budget for several years without having a hefty savings account.