No trip to the Philippines would be complete without a visit to the bustling city of Manila. During our recent trip to the Philippines, we had a chance to spend one day in Manila, the country’s capital city. We wished we could have spent longer there! But despite the short time, we still explored as many places to go in Manila as we could while we were there.
The country of the Philippines holds a special place in our family. My husband’s mother is from the Philippines. And my own mother spent several years during her college years studying in Manila.
So doing a Manila city tour was a chance for both my husband and me to connect to our mothers’ histories. And it was also a chance to spend time in the city, especially after our Puerto Princesa itinerary and spending about a month in the rural parts of the Philippines.
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Fast facts about Manila
The city of Manila is a bustling metropolis of over 1.78 million people. It dates back to as early 3,000 BC, even before Spanish colonization of the Philippines. Back then, Manila was inhabited by aboriginals of Austronesian descent. As time went on, Manila became a trading city, participating in trade with China and the empires of the Indonesian archipelago.
A colony of the Spanish
In the 1500’s the Philippines came under Spanish control. And Manila became an important city for the Spanish Empire.
During the era of Spanish rule, Manila served as a trade port, connecting the Philippines with another colony of Spain: Mexico. We learned about the Mexico-Philippines trade route when we were visiting Mexico, and during the pirate ship cruise in Puerto Vallarta that we did there. In fact, under Spanish rule, the Philippines reported to a governor who was based in Mexico.
When the Philippines gained its independence, Manila was established as the capital city of the country. Since independence, the Philippines has been developing economically. But poverty still exists in the Philippines. Before going to the Philippines, it’s a good idea to talk about the concept of privilege with your kids. That will give them some context for traveling through the Philippines.
These days, Manila serves as the center of government and the center of commerce for the Philippines. It’s considered one of the best shopping destinations in Asia. And it’s also a major tourist destination in the Philippines.
Want to explore more of Southeast Asia? Browse through my Asia posts for travel ideas.
Making the most of one day in Manila
You really need more than one day to really experience all the places to go in Manila. The city is full of important historical places, as well as family friendly spots. Makati, Quezon City, and Fort Bonifacio are some of the neighborhoods that are popular among travelers. You can find some great options for lodging in these neighborhoods, as well as other parts of Manila.
When we were in Manila as part of our exploration of tourist spots in Luzon, back in 2012, we enjoyed visiting Intramuros, as well as the Mall of Asia. This time around, we would have loved to do a visit to Manila’s Kidzania and enjoy some KidZania activities with the kids. Binodo, Manila’s Chinatown, is also a fun place to explore, from what I hear.
But since time was limited, we mainly focused our Manila city tour around Rizal Park and it’s surrounding museums. If you only have one day in Manila, you really want to focus your sightseeing on one location. Alternatively, you can choose a few sightseeing spots that are near to each other. That way, you won’t need to worry about getting through Manila traffic.
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Getting to and from the places to go in Manila
Traffic in Manila is awful! It can take you hours to get around town! When you’re planning your Manila city tour, really keep in mind that you will most likely encounter traffic. Add in adequate time for transportation around the city.
In terms of transportation options, you can get around Manila by taxi. This is a convenient option for families, although it can get expensive. Additionally, you’ll have to contend with the road traffic. From my research, fares cost around 100 PHP to 800 PHP (roughly $2-16 USD), depending on the distance.
An alternative to taxis is Grab, a ride sharing app which is similar to Uber. Much like using Uber overseas, the Grab app allows you to call a car, and you can pay through the app. Fares vary depending on the distance, but they are usually cheaper than taxis.
If you’re feeling adventurous, take a jeepney, at least while they’re still around. We didn’t do jeepneys while we were in Manila, but we did while we were in Puerto Princesa. The fares are 9 PHP for the first four kilometers, and 1.5-2 PHP per kilometer after that, based on my research. A final option for transportation is the MRT. There are MRT stations at major points of interest throughout the city.
What to do in one day in Manila
As I mentioned already, one of the best ways to select which places to go in Manila is to center them around one or two locations. The itinerary below is a combination of places we visited during our first visit to Manila, along with places we visited during our recent trip.
This Manila city tour can be completed in one day, but if you want to spend more time in each location (and you have more than one day in Manila), you’re welcome to break it up into two days. Take a look at the Lonely Planet Philippines guide book for more ideas of what you can do in Manila.
1. Start off the day in Intramuros
Intramuros (which means, “within the walls”), is the old colonial part of Manila. Here, you’ll find historic buildings like Fort Santiago. You’ll also find San Agustin Church, which is considered a UNESCO World Heritage Site, along with other Baroque style churches in the Philippines. Walking around Intramuros is a great way to admire the Spanish colonial architecture during your one day in Manila. Or you can catch a ride on a kalesa, a traditional horse-drawn carriage. A 30-minute ride will cost around 500-700 PHP (roughly $10-14 USD).
You can take a kalesa from Intramuros to the next destination, the National Museum of Anthropology. The ride will cost 500-700 PHP, and will most likely drop you off at Rizal Park, along Roxas Boulevard.. Alternatively, if you do the reverse route (from Rizal Park to Intramuros), the price will be about 150 PHP cheaper.
2. Learn Philippines history and culture at the National Museum of Anthropology
As a worldschooling family, we absolutely love learning about the history of the places we visit. One of the must-see places to go in Manila is the National Museum of Anthropology. This museum is part of the National Museum of the Philippines, and is a great place to learn about the history and culture of the Philippines. While we were there, we saw exhibits about the traditional arts of the Philippines, as well as historical artifacts from the Philippines’ past.
The National Museum of Anthropology is open from Tuesdays to Sundays, from 10 am to 5 pm. Admission is free. There are five floors to explore, so give yourself at least an hour and a half to visit the museum.
3. Explore Philippines’ natural history at the National Museum of Natural History
After learning about the Philippines’ history and culture, take a break for some lunch, and then head to the National Museum of Natural History. This museum is also part of the National Museum of the Philippines, and is packed with exhibits focusing on the Philippines’ natural environment. It’s a great place to incorporate some worldschooling into your Manila city tour.
The museum has several floors focused on various environments – the forests, the mountains, the sea. The exhibits are informative, and also interactive. Our kids really enjoyed marine life exhibits. There were so many different creatures to see.
The National Museum of Natural History is open from Tuesdays to Sundays, from 10 am to 5 pm. Like the National Museum of Anthropology, admission is free.
4. Relax at Rizal Park
The National Museum is located at the famous Rizal Park, also known as Luneta Park. Dr. Jose Rizal is a famous figure in Filipino history. He advocated for political reforms when the Philippines was under Spanish rule, and was executed by the Spanish for his beliefs. Jose Rizal’s execution subsequently gave fire to the Philippine Revolution, paving the way for independence.
Rizal Park, built in 1820 in honor of Jose Rizal, encompasses 58 hectares (140 acres) of public space. There is a monument of Jose Rizal at the park. And there are also gardens, fountains, and monuments to other important figures of Philippines history.
One of my favorite features of Rizal Park is the relief map of the Philippines, set in a man-made lake. Most of the islands of the Philippines are represented in this relief map. A boardwalk traverses the lake, so you can walk over the islands and really get a feel for just how many islands there are in the Philippines. It’s a great way to “see” all of the Philippines, if you only have one day in Manila.
5. End your one day in Manila at Manila Bay
To end your one day in Manila exploration, head over to Harbor View Restaurant to catch the sunset at Manila Bay. We ate at Harbor View Restaurant when we visited Manila the first time, and really enjoyed all the delicious seafood that the restaurant serves. Harbor View Restaurant is conveniently located across the street from Rizal Park, right on the water, so you can walk over to the restaurant.
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Creating your own Manila city tour
We really enjoyed our time in Manila, and wished that we had more time to explore the city. Despite the traffic, Manila is a fun place to visit if you have kids. If you’re planning to visit Manila, take some time to create your own Manila city tour.
Whether you only have one day in Manila, or you have a week or more to explore, there is so much to the city that families can experience.
Have you visited Manila? What are your tips for experiencing the city? Share them in the comments!
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