Manila may be both chaotic and congested, but it’s never dull. New shopping malls rise next to the slum areas, the poverty and the luxury coexist just next to each other. Manila may not be famous for its beauty, but its magnetic energy gives you a special feel. Diverse and lively in so many ways, it’s a great city to explore even if you only have one day to do it.
What’s the best time to visit Manila?
The best time to visit Manila would be in December and January. Both months offer nice and dry weather and the lowest average temperature. Dry season continues until April, while the wet season starts in May and lasts until November. If possible, skip July and August because there is too much rain at that time and May because of the unbearable heat.
A few facts about Metro Manila
Metro Manila is the capital region of the Philippines composed of 16 cities and home to 12 million citizens. One of the cities inside the region is Manila, the capital city of the country, while the most populous city is Quezon City. In pre-Hispanic time, the province known as Manila encompassed kingdoms of Tondo and Maynila. At the time of the Spanish occupation, the city inside the walls (Intramuros) became the capital of the country. Today, Metro Manila region is the cultural, economical and governmental center of the Philippines.
One day in Manila itinerary
Follow this guide and make the most of your trip even if you’re short on time. These are the top sights and things to do during your one day in Manila.
Start your day at Intramuros
Intramuros or ‘within the wall’ represents the oldest district of Metro Manila, built during the Spanish occupation. It’s the best place to start your day and to soak in the rich history of the Philippines. There’s even a great hotel here, The Bayleaf Intramuros, which you can book to start sightseeing first thing in the morning.
A part of the boundary walls is still well preserved, even though a huge part was destroyed in WWII, during the Japanese-American battle for Manila. Still, lots of historical buildings, museums and even two churches can be found inside the area. For those who want to know more about this place and the Filipino history in general, it’s recommended to book an Intramuros walking tour.
Stop at the Fort Santiago
Stop at one of the famous sights inside Intramuros – Fort Santiago. As a defense fortress, this citadel played a very important role in the history of Manila. Today, it’s still very well preserved and together with lovely gardens and plazas makes a perfect oasis in the center of the city, perfect to enjoy on hot sunny days.
If you’re interested, visit the Museum of Dr José Rizal, Philippines’ national hero and one of the most important figures in their history.
Visit the Cathedral of Manila and San Agustin Church
Not far from the Fort stands the Cathedral of Manila, a Roman Catholic basilica, dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary. It was heavily damaged several times, but it has now been restored to its full glory. If you’re lucky enough, you’ll have a chance to see a Filipino wedding ceremony on weekends.
The San Agustin Church, the other church inside Intramuros, was constructed during the Spanish colonial period as one of four churches. This Baroque church was recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and named a National Historical Landmark.
Check out the National Museum
To continue your Filipino culture and history lesson, head to the National Museum. It houses the nation’s heritage and greatest artwork. The exhibits are divided between two separate buildings, one with the historical artifacts and one with the artwork. The best part of it is that the museum is admission free, so it’s really open for everyone to enjoy it.
Have a break at Rizal Park
You’re probably a bit tired by now. Adjacent to Intramuros, Rizal Park is the best place to relax a bit and escape Manila’s heavy traffic. It’s a favorite outdoor spot for both tourists and locals. On weekends, it’s usually packed with people. There are numerous statues in the park, so make sure to capture a few photos while there.
Take a jeepney ride
Taxis in Manila are very affordable and pretty convenient, but not as exciting as jeepneys. This cheapest public transportation in the Philippines costs less than a quarter of a dollar, which is nothing compared to the fun it offers you. All of that, if you manage to fit inside. You should stop a jeepney at a random place, since there are no actual stops.
Visit the Chinatown and try the best dumplings in the Philippines
Binondo may be the oldest Chinatown outside the territory of China, but it’s actually not that different from any other. Still, it’s worth a visit for several reasons. The place Lan Zhou La Mien serves the best dumpling in all the Philippines. You need to try them even if it means waiting in line for 15 minutes. Not just is the food super delicious, but it’s also super cheap.
It’s shopping time!
One more reason to visit Binondo is the shopping. This is the area where several markets and malls are located, but the most famous ones are Divisoria Market and 168 Shopping Mall, located just next to each other. Clothes, accessories, souvenirs and many other items can be purchased there at very cheap prices. Just don’t forget to bargain.
Watch the sunset from the rooftop of Bayleaf Hotel
After a long day of walking, it’s time for some drinks and relaxation. Sky Deck View Bar at the top of the Bayleaf Hotel offers both hot drinks and cocktails, but it’s also the best place in the city to enjoy Manila’s magical sunset. Watch the amazing colors of the skyline as the sun covers all of the Manila Bay in an orange glow.
Have a dinner at Makati
Makati is the financial center of the Philippines, another city and the central business district of Metro Manila. It’s where all the exclusive bars, hotels and restaurants are located, and it looks nothing like other cities within Metro Manila.
You can find a variety of nice restaurants at the Greenbelt, Ayala Center that surroundings the beautiful Greenbelt Park. Nice atmosphere, many different cuisines to choose from and amazing food are pretty good reasons to visit this place. But the visit doesn’t have to be short. Booking a room at Raffles Makati will see you spend the night in this modern district.
Enjoy Makati’s nightlife
Makati may be a bit pricey compared to other Manila’s districts, but it’s without a doubt the best place for a night out. For those who love the red light district atmosphere, head to the P Burgos Street. If clubbing is your thing, Royal Club may be a great place for you. Those who love deep house and techno should definitely visit Time club.
Where to stay in Manila?
Where to stay in Manila? Good question. It all depends on how much time you have. If you have an early flight, book a room in a hotel near Manila Ninoy Aquino International Airport. If, on the other hand, you are looking for a place in the city, you’re in the right place! We’ve chosen to recommend the hotels below because of their quality, great location, and capable staff. With them, you can be sure your vacation will be as good as it can get, and there’s something for everyone on the list here. Check it out!
City of Dreams Manila – Nüwa
Asean Avenue corner Roxas Boulevard Entertainment City Paranaque
City of Dreams Manila – Nüwa is definitely one of the top hotels in the whole city. It has a wide range of amenities and facilities like a pool and fitness area, a great selection of restaurants to choose from as well as a casino.
1 Raffles Drive, Makati Avenue, Makati, 1224 Manila
Raffles Makati situated in the heart of Makati central business district features an outdoor swimming pool, a gym and a business center. Spectrum restaurant serves a wide variety of international cuisines, and Café Macaron has tasty pastries. Cocktails are available at the Raffles Long Bar, and room service is provided.
The Bayleaf Intramuros
Muralla Corner Victoria Streets, Intramuros, 1001 Manila
The Bayleaf Intramuros is a hotel in a great spot in Manila – inside the walled city! The rooftop terrace of this beautiful building offers an incredible view of the city, something that can be enjoyed along with a great dinner. As a matter of fact, the food here may even be better than the view, and the rooms boast modern design and big comfortable beds. All in all, a great place to stay in Manila.
Element Boutique Hotel
4950 Guerrero Street, Barangay Poblacion, Makati City
Element Boutique Hotel is a cozy, very well furnished hotel with a cool flair. The rooms are modern and stylish, the staff is friendly and wonderful, and the quality of the food and wine list is high. The location is pretty central, close to many restaurants and bars, although quiet.
day trips from manila
If you have more than one day in Manila, investing time in a day trip is an excellent idea. There are plenty of historical and nature sights to see if you head out of town a bit, so you will surely not be disappointed. If you can’t decide which day trip you should book, our Day trips from Manila article might help you with that.
Corregidor Island is the site of one of the biggest battles of World War II – Americans and Filipinos took on the Japanese army. You can still see the ruins of the building used by the defending soldiers there, and you will hear detailed stories of the events that unfolded here. For all of you who enjoy history, this is a place you simply cannot afford to miss.
Pagsanjan Gorge National Park
Now this is something truly special. Pagsanjan Gorge National Park is a pristine strip of land with loads of vegetation and a crystal-clear Pagsanjan river. It is this river that hides the true gem of this day trip because, with the help of local guides, you can easily reach the magnificent Pagsanjan Falls. There is even a cave nearby where you swim and relax, so prepare yourself for a truly magical experience.
A trip to Subic Bay promises to be a memorable adventure. The place has thick jungle, and you can learn the survival skills you need from the Aetas, native people of the Philippines. Furthermore, there is also the option to embark on a safari if you want to see the tigers of the area, but you can choose to stay in one of the towns around the bay too if you prefer.
Taal Volcano is another place that combines nature and adventure. It contains a small but beautiful lake surrounded with lush vegetation. Keep in mind that you will be hiking here, so appropriate footwear is a must. The best thing about this day trip is that the volcano is still active, plus you can rent boats or even horses to explore everything.
Hidden Valley Springs
If you’re simply looking for some good-quality relaxation, Hidden Valley Springs is the perfect destination for you. Soak in the hot springs, relax in the midst of a thick forest and enjoy the incredibly clear water. This resort is placed perfectly between magnificent mountains and has absolutely everything you need to unwind and recharge your batteries, including a soda pool for you to enjoy.
Extra tips for visiting Metro Manila
-If you have never visited this destination and know little or nothing about it, worry not! Obviously, after reading this article you now know where you should go and what you should see, but for your general safety check out World Nomads. They are a group of experienced travelers who will make your trip much safer through their travel insurance packages. Everything is very easy to set up, but apart from insurance they also have plenty of excellent advice.
– The heat in the city can be unbearable. Wear lighter clothes and bring a bottle of water with you.
– It’s pretty common to experience the stare of the locals, especially if you’re tall or white-skinned. They may also stop you in the street and ask for a photo.
– Be careful with your belongings, as there are occasional pickpockets, especially on the touristy sights.
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Make sure you have everything you need
What to pack for your next trip?
Make your next trip as simple and as enjoyable as possible by packing smart. It’s amazing how much stress top travel items can save you, so choose carefully.
Things like lightweight travel backpacks, for example, are ideal for short trips and allow you to move around with ease, and a passport holder will make sure you keep your documents safe at all times.
Check our travel checklist guide for 2021 to make sure you haven’t missed anything, and travel to your next destination in style and with maximum comfort.
Anca is a travel writer and the founder of One Day Itinerary - the biggest collection of travel itineraries for those who are time-limited or just want to maximize their time while traveling. Although she easily becomes homesick for Croatia, she thinks travel is essential to her happiness. She has traveled to more countries than she is years old and doesn’t plan on changing that fact. In her travel guides she aims to inspire people to travel whenever they have a spare day (or two).