The Philippine capital of Manila has been the seat of political power for centuries, dating back to the Spanish colonial period that started in 1521. Several years and foreign occupations later, Manila remains to be a central place for governance, but the surrounding cities called Metro Manila have also evolved. It is often said that the only things you do in the cities are eat, drink, and go crazy, but Metro Manila is also one of the most kid-friendly places you can visit in the Philippines.
So if you happen to be headed to Manila with kids in tow, here are some awesome activities for loads of fun and also a bit of learning. You can save the partying for later after what will surely be a tiring day for the kids.
Literally translated as "city within walls", Intramuros is the heart of Philippine history that is a must visit for kids and adults alike. Built in 1571 by Miguel Lopez de Legazpi, a Spanish navigator and governor, Intramuros was created as a fortress against foreign invaders, as well as the seat of the Spanish government.
The walled city only welcomed the Spanish and mestizos (Filipinos with Spanish blood) to live within its walls. Inside, there is a plaza, 12 churches, dungeons, houses of feudal lords, and Fort Santiago, the strategic fortress facing the mouth of Pasig River. Prisoners in Fort Santiago were kept in cells which get flooded when the Pasig River overflows.
Now, there are several tours in Intramuros to give visitors a crash course on Philippine history, especially since the Spanish colonial era spanned 300 years. If you're not keen on the tour for some reason (which would be a mistake), and would just take a stroll around the city by yourself, there are several picnic areas, some good restaurants, and walkways that go through the entire perimeter of Intramuros. You can also ride horse-drawn carriages called "kalesa" and trot around Intramuros on your own.
SM by the Bay Amusement Park
SM by the Bay is created by SM, one of the country's largest real estate developers, behind the Mall of Asia, the country's biggest mall by the same developer. It is a strip of establishments sitting at the edge of Manila Bay, known for its superb sunsets.
The biggest attraction along this strip is the MOA Eye, a large ferris wheel that give clear views of the entire Manila skyline. There are several other rides including small coasters, spinning rides, bumper cars, a boat cruise, and even a short zip line.
The strip is very lively, where you see a mix of people: local, foreign, old, young, rich, middle-class. The already very long strip of SM by the Bay extends into another property called BlueBay Walk, where even more restaurants are situated. There are park benches every as well for a quick rest, which you will surely need. The Mall of Asia and the Conrad Hotel are just across the street if you're still looking for even more things to do in the area.
With the traffic and the winding streets of Manila and Metro Manila, museum-hopping isn't as easy as it sounds (refer to insider tip above). But there are so many museums you can visit with your kids, some big, some small, each one with different themes and specialties.
The most important visit would be to the National Museum, just a short drive from Intramuros, and also called the Museum of the Filipino people. It houses interesting historical artifacts and objects, but the main draw is some of the country's most important historical artwork. The most popular one was done by the Philippine National Artist Juan Luna in 1884 called the Spolarium, a larger-than-life painting that depicted the abuse of the Spaniards against the Filipinos. There is also a recently-renovated Planetarium that features a 360-degree projector.
Moving away from Manila proper and into nearby cities, Mind Museum is another popular destination for kids. It has interactive exhibits that kids can play with, and is located in Bonifacio Global City, an upscale neighborhood located within the city of Taguig. If you're staying in Makati, the central business district, a convenient visit will be to Ayala Museum, located at Greenbelt Mall. It's big enough for kids to immerse themselves in the many different displays, but small enough not to get them too bored looking at old objects.
There are a whole bunch of museums for kids and adults to enjoy, it's just a matter of choosing which area would be most convenient for you.
Watch a Show
Filipinos are very fond of entertainment, so there is sure to be something showing somewhere.
While you're in Manila, skip the movies and head to the Cultural Center of the Philippines. Here you will find all kinds of shows, from broadway musicals and plays to ballet performances and cultural dances. The park fronting the structure also features a grand fountain, wherein fountain and light shows are done every night. Surrounding the center are restaurants and smaller parks for a quick and cool stroll in the evening.
There are several other theaters within and around Metro Manila for more modern performances. Just check out the websites for the schedules and you might catch a performance both you and your kid will like.
Cultural Center of the Philippines for cultural performances and broadway shows
Solaire Casino Theater for concerts and peformances
Resorts World New Performing Arts Theater for performances, plays, and concerts
Carlos P. Romulo (RCBC Plaza) for broadway shows
PETA Theater for local independent plays
Kidzania is a play city built for kids - this is where kids come to pretend to be grown-ups and do the things that they see grown-ups do. It is filled with booths, mostly sponsored by different companies, and feature unique activities so kids can know what it feels like to be in a grown-up world.
It's an impressive facility spanning over 8,000 hectares of play space. Everything seems miniature, shops, offices, cars, and rest areas built for kids to be comfortable and for everything to be within their reach.
At the onset, Kidzania looks like a city of advertisements, with sponsor brands flashing their logos brightly as kids roam around. However, this has proven to be very helpful when it comes to education - each sponsored booth provides an interactive experience for kids related to the company's industry. It can be very hands-on: baking, burger assembly, bank telling, fire fighting, gadget assembly. It's enough fun adults, even, but unfortunately, Kidzania is strictly for kids only.
Park Triangle North, 11th Ave, Taguig
+632 711 5439
DreamPlay is another one of those kid havens that adults would want to play in as well. It's a mix of entertainment, education, and play, made even more interesting by the fact that it is created by Dreamworks. Exhibits and play areas at DreamPlay feature characters and environments from famous Dreamworks movies such as Madagascar, Shrek, and How to Tame your Dragon.
There are 12 attractions in approximately 5,000 square meters of space. It even has 3 themed party rooms that can be combined into one for a total capacity of 120 persons.
Most rides and interactive exhibits require a minimum height of 100 cms, so this will be better for older kids. Kids below 100 cms will require an accompanying adult, who will still have to pay full price. Unfortunately, adults with no accompanying kids are not allowed inside the facility. Fees are also charged by the hour, starting at USD 10 for the first two hours. It seems like a fair price, but you have to be careful because it's very easy to go way over the two hours in this place.
Like Kidzania, there are areas where kids can play pretend, but there are more exhibits for rides, film viewings, and other kinds of interactive play.
DreamPlay is a welcome addition to City of Dreams, an entertainment compound featuring casinos, hotels, and event places. The opening of DreamPlay makes City of Dreams a more family-friendly place.
Upper Ground Floor, The Shops at the Boulevard, City of Dreams, Asean Avenue corner Roxas Boulevard, Entertainment City, Parañaque 1701
+632 808 0909
Trampoline Park Zero Gravity Zone is made for kids with unlimited amounts of energy.
The only non-bouncy part of the park would be the lobby, where visitors are given protective gear and safety briefings before entering. Once inside, visitors can go nuts, jumping to their heart's content.
There's a Main Court where trampolines are situated throughout the space and visitors can just jump free style. There are foam pits, tracks, basketball courts, and other areas where visitors can try to show off some skills and tricks.
There are other trampoline parks in the city, but Zero Gravity Zone has more precautions when it comes to kids. Kids are not prohibited, and toddlers are more than welcome to participate. Their Facebook page is filled with photos of families having fun at the park, so there's no reason to fuss over the mini jumpers.
The Portal, Mayflower Street, Greenfield District, Mandaluyong
+63 905 4533879
Going through this list for your visit to Manila is barely scratching the surface. Manila and Metro Manila can be crazy and fast-paced sometimes, but it is a mecca of activities and adventures fit for every member of the family.
Just make sure you know where to go!
And if you are looking for even more information, check out these guides on Manila which are packed full of useful information.