Last Updated: December 19, 2021

What Is Manila Known For?

Generally speaking, Manila is known for being the capital city of the Philippines and as a hub for travelers to connect through when exploring Southeast Asia or more of the Philippines itself. But the city of Manila is a lot more than just that.

On first appearances, it’ll seem hectic and chaotic, full of people and traffic trying to find their way through the hustle and bustle of Manila city. Once you spend a day there, this chaos fades away and you’ll find everything from historical monuments to Filipino history museums, and lots more.

Join me as we answer the question: what is Manila known for?

Manila Ocean Park

Manila Ocean Park

The Ocean Park is without a doubt something that you have to see on any Manila trip. This marine park is home to countless saltwater and freshwater species, some of which you wouldn’t usually find in a similar marine park and they are showcased in a very cool way.

There are many highlights when visiting the Ocean Park in Manila and most people’s favorite is walking through the glass tunnel while watching sharks, eels, rays, and lots of other fish species swim overhead. It’s a very up close and visual experience and one you or the kids won’t forget.

At the Ocean Park, you can also hang out with penguins, sea lions, see dolphins and there is even a jellyfish exhibit which feels quite other-worldly. To top it all off, kids can try out a mermaid suit, see a 4D show of the ocean, and check out the world’s largest freshwater fish that lives in the Amazon, the Arapaima.

Ocean Park is by far one of the most popular destinations in Manila and it’s open all year round!

Manila Cathedral

Sitting in the heart of the city the Manila Cathedral is something you kind of have to see while you’re visiting. The most recent version of the cathedral was built between 1954 and 1958 after the previous cathedral was destroyed in World War II and it’s architecturally fantastic.

Between the wall carvings showcasing Philippine history to the stained glass windows and beautiful entrance way, it’s one of the prettiest semi modern buildings in the city.

The cathedral is used as the main Basilica for the Philippines and is the high seat for the archbishop in the country too. Visiting the cathedral is easy thanks to its central location plus the entrance is free. Remember to take in the 134 stained glass windows, bell tower (belfry), and the facade which is home to numerous statues of famous saints.

Rizal Park

If you’re looking to take a break from the busy streets of Manila then there isn’t anywhere better than Rizal Park. The park is huge, taking up some 60 hectares and it provides some much-needed peace and tranquility around the central business districts of the city.

The park was built in dedication to Dr. Jose Rizal who is a Philippine national hero that pushed back against the Spanish colonization and demanded democratic rights for Filipinos. It has a large place in Filipino history and it was built on the site where Dr. Rizal and many others were executed for standing up for their rights.

Inside the park, you’ll find lots of small gardens, monuments, a stadium, a concert hall, a 3D map of the Philippines, and, of course, some great places for a picnic. The park is the perfect place to head to with friends and family for a walk and some lunch.

You’ll find the park next to Metro Manila United Nations LRT station and it’s next to the Intramuros and the National Museum which are also worth a visit.

Fort Santiago

Fort Santiago

Image courtesy of Wikimedia

For a sight of some of the best colonial architecture in Manila and the Philippines, head to Fort Santiago in Old Manila, Intramuros. The fort was built in the 16th century and it has lived through pretty much every part of the country’s history from Rajah Sulayman to the Spanish colonization all the way through to when the USA ruled.

The fort is built as part of the corner of the old city of Intramuros and is packed full of history. You can see old cannons, where soldiers lived, old ammunition, and lots more.

Over the ages, the fort was used as a fortress to prison and even a weapons storage facility during conflict.

Sitting right next to the main river of Manila, the Pasig River, the fort isn’t just a great place to see some history, it’s also a wonderful place to walk around and have a picnic at Plaza de Armas. You’ll also find w little restaurants and street vendors too.

San Agustin Church

The San Agustin is the oldest church in Manila and in the Philippines. It was one of the few things not to be destroyed during World War II and even though it’s been rebuilt three times after numerous earthquakes, it still showcases a beautiful baroque architectural style and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

You’ll find the church in Intramuros and there is a lot to discover inside. You’ll find the San Agustin Museum that teaches you about Catholicism in the Philippines and how it came to be taken so seriously and there is a gallery of paintings done by Augustinian monks about the Philippines. The art is categorized into things like love of nature and science.

Inside the church, you’ll also find some beautiful statues, ornaments, and the ceiling is very well decorated. The sense of history inside is quite amazing and there isn’t a better way to learn about religion in the Philippines than at the museum.

Manila’s Chinatown

Manila’s Chinatown, known as Binondo, is a cultural melting pot of the city and is somewhere you simply have to visit on a day out while in Manila. You’ll find lively streets with churches, markets, temples, great restaurants, and lots more.

If you want to do some shopping in Manila then this is one of the best places to do it and if you’re looking to make the best of it, hiring a horse drawn carriage to get around is your best option.

Binondo isn’t just about food and shopping though, the area also has a large cultural relevance. It was created in 1594 for Chinese immigrants who had converted to Catholicism, making it the oldest Chinatown in the world. You’ll find old churches, Buddhist temples, and even the Filipino-Chinese Friendship Arch which is something everyone visiting the area should see.

Mall of Asia

Mall of Asia

Image courtesy of Jun Acullador

The SM Mall of Asia sits right on Manila Bay and is one of the largest shopping malls on the planet if you can call it a mall. The so-called mall is full of everything from shops with local and global brands to every kind of restaurant from budget to fine dining and lots more. You could easily spend 48 hours there and be fully entertained the entire time.

In addition to great food and shipping, the mall is also home to movie theatres, an Olympic-sized ice-skating rink, a convention center, a concert ground, and an indoor arena with a seating capacity of up to 20,000 people; it’s more of a city than a mall.

Walled City of Intramuros

The Old Walled City of Intramuros Manila is what can only be described as the cultural center of Manila. It was built way back in the 1500s and was originally an Indianized-Malayan-Islamic settlement but it quickly became the hub for religious, political, and military power for the Spanish colonizers.

The Old Walled City was built on the banks of the Pasig River by the Spanish and featured moats on all sides as well as thick high walls, acting as much as a fortress as a city. Only the most important people were allowed to live in Intramuros and it worked well at stopping any invasions. The Dutch, the Portuguese, and the Chinese all tried to overthrow the Spanish but failed due to the well-laid-out design.

A walk around Intramuros Manila is a wonderful thing to do while in the city. It takes you back to those times through the old architecture and it’s full of old museums and historic sites worth seeing.

The old city is made of some 50 blocks over 60 or more hectares and with 7 fortified gates and then a moat was added later. You can see why it was so hard to conquer.

Manila Bay

Manila Bay is a stunning stretch of coastline in the middle of the city that runs next to Roxas Boulevard. It’s a beautiful place with an amazing backdrop of skyscrapers on one side and then a stunning bay of calm seas, palm trees, and yachts.

If you’re looking for a nice walk to do while you’re in Manila, then the bay is the place to be. You can stroll for 2 km while looking out to sea and if you time it with sunset, then you’ll have the best view in Manila.

About the Author Roger Timbrook

Roger is a little obsessed with travel. He has been to over 40 countries, broken 3 suitcases and owned over 10 backpacks in 12 months. What he doesn't know about travel, ain't worth knowing!

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