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Iconic Sites & Things to Do in Manila When You Visit

This blog post was updated on August 4, 2021.

Not only is Manila (the capital of the Philippines) the most densely populated city in the world, it’s also home to an array of fascinating sites that reflect the country’s centuries-old history and culture…which you only need a couple of cheap international flights to partake in. From monuments to museums to churches, here are five iconic sites and things to do during any visit to Manila.

Ride Over to Rizal Park
Things to Do in Manila - Rizal Park

The large, urban Rizal Park is still widely referred to as Luneta by locals (Luneta was the park’s name until it was officially changed in the 1950s). Rizal Park comprises 60 hectares of manicured lawns, impressive gardens, walkways, ponds, and fountains. The layout is impressive in and of itself, but the main reason people visit is to pay homage to the Filipino heroes honored by sculptures and monuments throughout the park. The most famous of these is the Rizal Monument, dedicated to José Rizal who was executed by Spanish colonial officials at that spot.

Make It Over to Malacañang Palace

The official residence of the President of the Philippines, Malacañang Palace, and surrounding grounds are an impressive sight. The land the structure stands on is representative of the Philippines’ long colonial history – having been under Spanish, American, and Filipino control at various points over the past 400 years. Visitors can take a guided tour of the Palace and the Presidential Museum and Library to learn more about the history of the Filipino government.

Inspect Intramuros
Things to Do in Manila - intramuros

The walled part of the city, Intramuros, is a must-see. As you enter through the stone gates, you’ll be transported to a different time. A guided walking tour is key to really understanding the complex history of this area. Sites you’ll encounter along the way include Spanish-style colonial homes and buildings, Casa Manila Museum, Fort Santiago, and the Manila Cathedral.

Ready to take in the iconic sites of Manila? Now all you need are some cheap international flights!

Find Fort Santiago
Things to Do in Manila - Fort Santiago

Located on the northern end of Intramuros, Fort Santiago was built by the Spanish in 1571. Strategically placed at the mouth of the Pasig River, the fortress played a major role in defending Spanish interests during the spice trade. Substantial sections of the Fort were destroyed during the Battle of Manila (fought by American forces against Japanese troops) in February 1945. The site is currently managed by the Philippine National Parks Development Committee, who maintains the grounds and provides educational information to visitors.

Meet up at Manila Cathedral
Things to Do in Manila - Manila Cathedral

Architecture aficionados will definitely enjoy a visit to one of Manila’s oldest churches. The Manila Cathedral &  Minor Basilica of the Immaculate Conception was originally established under Spanish colonial rule and has seen various iterations over the past three centuries. This makes for unique elements that reference various architectural styles. The Cathedral was most recently renovated in 1945 (after it was partially destroyed during World War II), and is a prime example of Romanesque Revival architecture. For centuries it has served as the seat of the Catholic Archbishop of Manila. One of the most striking pieces of sacred art in the Cathedral is a life-sized bronze statue of the Immaculate Conception by Italian artist Vincenzo Assenza.

Have you visited Manila? What other sites would you add to this list? Let us know in the comments section.

About the author

Jen Westmoreland Bouchard

An insatiable foodie, art collector, and international literature aficionado, I have traveled throughout Europe, Asia, the U.S. and Canada. For the past fifteen years, I have written about my adventures for various travel and literary publications. I am the owner of Lucidité Writing ( and Bouchard Design Co. (

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