Things To Do in Manila Philippines – History, Shopping, Sunsets and Day Trips

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When you come to the Philippines, you will most likely land in what locals call Metro Manila. Metro Manila is a group of 16 municipalities within close proximity of each other. Manila City, the country’s capital, is part of Metro Manila. While the Philippines is most known for its beautiful beaches and islands, a few days of exploration in the city gives you an idea of what to expect as you make your way through the country. With a population of over 12 million people, Metro Manila sounds massive.

Its interesting mix of tall skyscrapers and gated villages can be overwhelming, but there are many gems to discover. The attractions are diverse and suitable for any kind of traveler, even if you have several kids in tow.

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If you’re looking to experience a bit of Manila history, then head over to Intramuros. Referred to as the “walled city”, the centuries-old cobbled steps and nearly three-mile stoned walls definitely solidifies its place as the oldest district in the city. Originally built as the Spaniard’s political and military base in Asia, it eventually became a hub for trade and commerce.

Teeming with rich tales from the old colonial times tracing back from the 1500s, you’ll naturally stumble into museums scattered within. For about a dollar and a few cents charge each, you get to experience the past and get a feel of the old city.

There’s Casa Manila showcasing Filipino daily life during the Spanish era; the San Agustin Museum that houses paintings, sculptures, and a gallery of recreated pharmacy pots of 16th century drug stores; the National Commission for Culture and the Arts Gallery which exhibits contemporary Filipino art; and the Bagumbayan Light and Sound Museum, an hour’s show that narrates the life of the Philippine’s national hero, Jose Rizal.

Interestingly, educational institutions are also housed within the area. Mostly Catholic schools established by the early colonial rulers. So don’t be surprised by all the school-aged, young adolescence presence, they’re hopefully just trying to get to class on time.

Once you get tired from all the walking, you can opt to rent a horse-drawn carriage, locally known as kalesa. Costing about $5.00 per person, you can have a guided tour of the walled city and can even explore other places within the immediate vicinity. Make sure you bring your A-game negotiating skills with you though, as kalesa peddlers don’t normally have fixed prices, so the charges can be dependent on the places you’ll visit and the number of stops along the way. Another alternative would be the free e-trikes that ply certain routes. If you have time to plan ahead the museums you’d like to visit, then this would be the cost-efficient choice.

Ayala Triangle Gardens

Image courtesy of Wiki Commons

Ayala Triangle Gardens

Set right in the heart of the Central Business district, this 20,000 square meter patch of land can be considered a respite within the concrete jungle. Busy office workers and passers-by alike are often lured by the lush greenery with more than a hundred golden palms, fire trees, and rain trees scattered across the area. An unusual sight within the city, finding a spot to chill to take a break from the daily grind will definitely leave you feeling relaxed.

As you explore further, an array of restaurants offering various specialties from regional Filipino cuisine, bakery-cafes, dessert shops, and one targeted for the health-conscious, are found within the confines of this oasis. You definitely would want to visit on an empty stomach.

Dropping by in the early morning or late afternoon, you’ll more likely find sweat-drenched health buffs and those who simply want to counter a static lifestyle, taking advantage of the jogging paths lined around the area. With no membership fees and dress codes to worry about, this is the perfect spot to burn the calories away.

Pet parents are also encouraged to take their furry kids for walks and socialization as this place is pet-friendly. Ranging from energetic fur balls like Jack Russell Terriers, cute little Chihuahuas, and large but affectionate Huskies, you’ll never run out of cuties to meet.

Lastly, the highly anticipated Christmas light show during the holiday season is a must-see. Trees are adorned with light displays that dance to the accompanying music. It is mesmerizing and will definitely have you enthralled. The most recent one was Disney-themed which made it more magical. Oh, and did I mention it’s free? Just be ready to jostle your way into the crowd as it tends to be packed with kids and kids-at-heart alike.

Manilla Bay Sunset

Image courtesy of Pixabay

Manila Bay Sunset

Having an unobstructed view of the Manila Bay sunset for a couple of years, sitting in my corner of the office is admittedly, one of the things I look forward to at the end of the workday is a Manila Bay sunset. The calming comfort of the soft orange glow as it sets, slowly turning into hues of blues and violets, seems to tell you that all has ended well.

If you’re looking for the perfect way to wind down your one-day exploration, then you may want to do so in this part of the city. Closer to the airport than the other areas in this article, it would be much more convenient to make your way back to the airport from here, more so if you have to catch an early or late evening flight.

Finding the perfect spot for a free front-seat view of the natural show is easy, as the 937-lineal meter sea wall provides a lot of retail space. If you have some cash to spare, taking the sunset cruise is another option. For around $30.00, you get unlimited drinks with buffet and have musicians serenade you as you quietly enjoy the hour-long experience. Either way, you’ll be treated to an impressive and strangely comforting display of one of nature’s wonders.

A word of caution for all the sun-loving folks out there: before settling in for the day, the majestic Mr. Sun will harshly cast its glowing orange ball of scorching heat, so best to be armed with some sunscreen if you happen to stop by at a time earlier than the sunset is forecast.

National Museum of the Philippines

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

National Museums

The National Museum of the Philippines is found in Manila City. There are three main institutions: the National Museum of Fine Arts, Anthropology, and Natural History, which are located within a few meters of each other. As the government placed heavier emphasis on local culture, these buildings were renovated to look more modern and house many important exhibits. Best of all, they are now free to all visitors all throughout the year.

The most popular destination is the National Museum of Fine Arts. Built in 1918, the building was used throughout history to house several government functions. During the Japanese occupation in 1945, the building was bombed and subsequently rebuilt to house the congress. It was only in 1998 that the building was turned over to the National Museum of the Philippines. It was declared a National Historic Landmark in 2010.

The Museum houses many collections from all over the world, but the most revered piece is the larger-than-life Spoliarium by National Artist Juan Luna. It’s one of the most important pieces of art in Philippine history. The painting depicts the gladiators of the Roman Empire, dragged away and bloodied after a fight in the arena. National Hero Jose Rizal himself analyzed the artwork as a raw revelation of the Filipino ordeal during the Spanish regime in the Philippines.

Across the Fine Arts Museum is the National Museum of Anthropology. It’s an interesting and extensive collection of artifacts and information about the history of the Filipino people. Exhibits showcase the story of the Filipino people from prehistoric to modern times. Much of Philippine history is centered around the 300-year reign of Spain, but the Museum of Anthropology reveals the long history of Filipino culture, deeply-rooted in natural beliefs and even Islam.

The third institution is the Museum of Natural History. It’s one of the most recently-renovated structures and its modern design and unique architecture was the main draw during its reopening. It features a spiral ramp throughout the museum. Visitors learn about the many life forms in the Philippines. There are numerous displays and even walk-through exhibits showcasing the incredible biodiversity that calls the Philippines home.

Manila Greenhills Shopping Center

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons


One of the first things you’ll notice in Metro Manila is the number and size of malls in every city. Filipinos are unashamedly fond of hanging out in malls, partly because of the all-day air-conditioning in this very hot country. Malls in the Philippines come in all shapes and sizes, but you will find some of the best retail stores and restaurants in them.

Some of the best-designed malls belong to the Ayala Group of Companies. You’ll find malls such as Greenbelt, Glorietta, and Bonifacio High Street Central in Makati and neighboring Taguig. These malls are beautifully designed with gardens and sculptures. The SM Group has an extensive network of malls, from neighborhood spaces to the biggest mall in the Philippines called the Mall of Asia. These popular malls have an array of retail shops, from high-end boutiques to local brands. There are also department stores for affordable and mid-range apparel, which will be very useful if you need to adjust your wardrobe for your trip to the Philippines.

For bargain-hunters, the easiest bargain heaven to navigate is Greenhills in Pasig City. There are places with rock bottom prices such as Divisoria, but these are hard to find and extremely packed with people. Greenhills, however, follows the same market stall concept and bargaining process, but it is housed in a comfortable and air-conditioned mall.

If you’re looking for uniquely Filipino items and food, look for Kultura shops. They’re found in SM malls all over the city. Kultura is the Filipino word for “culture”, and this chain of stores features some amazing Filipino and Filipino-inspired items. You’ll find apparel, accessories, and even some local snacks for you to take on your trip or bring back home.

Daranak Falls Philippines

Image courtesy of SPumpie on Flickr

Day Trips

If you’re not really into the city scene and you’re itching to be one with nature, there are many day trips from Manila you can do.

Rising in popularity is the province of Rizal, some two to three hours away from Metro Manila. This once-ignored province is now getting known for its accessibility to nature and ease of transport. A trip to Daranak Falls or a day hike to Mt. Pamitinan gives travelers a quick reprieve from the city’s chaos. Hiring a car to bring you to these places is ideal, but it’s quite easy to use public transportation as well. You jumpstart your outdoor adventure and still be in time to party back in Manila.

Another popular day trip destination is Tagaytay City, another 2-hour drive from Metro Manila. Tagaytay is a town situated in Cavite province with an average elevation of about 610 meters (2,000 ft). The climate here is considerably cooler than Metro Manila, which is why it’s a very popular destination, especially in the summer season. There are many restaurants along the Tagaytay Ridge that overlook Taal Lake. It’s a great option to just relax, enjoy the famous Bulalo (beef shank soup), and cool off from the Manila heat.

Traveling Soon? These useful links will help you prepare for your trip.

Enjoy a few days in Manila

Metro Manila may be a shock to anyone’s system, but this lively metropolitan city is an exciting place to be. With so many restaurants and bars, the gastronomic experience is bound to be phenomenal. At the same time, there are many places to explore to learn more about Philippine culture and scenery. So if you find yourself passing by, don’t waste your time locked up in your hotel room. Get moving and get to know one of the liveliest cities in Asia.

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Anna Timbrook

by Anna Timbrook

Anna was born to travel the world having studied languages all her life. Although she has traveled the world, she now calls Switzerland home and spends her time writing about her experiences on her travel blog with her husband.

One Response to “Things To Do in Manila Philippines – History, Shopping, Sunsets and Day Trips”



Great introduction, the photos are also very beautiful, thank you for sharing

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