Skip to main content


Rooftop view Lub d Makati Manila Philippines Mice Around the World

What to do in one day Manila?

By Countries, Manila, Philippines

Manila, the capital of The Philippines, is often portrayed as overcrowded, polluted, difficult to navigate, and above all—dangerous. While there might be some truth in these statements, they are slightly exaggerated. Most visitors to the Philippines skip Manila and head straight to the country’s more exotic destinations like Palawan, Siargao or Bohol. This is a pity, because there is no way to indulge yourself better in the Philippines’ national history and culture than to explore this Metropole. In this article, you’ll read all about what to do in Manila in one day.

Manila is located on Luzon, the largest, most northern and most populated island of the Philippines. As you can see in the picture below, the metropolitan area of Manilla consists of multiple cities that have grown together (total population of 13,5 million). While Manila is the capital, the largest city is Quezon City. Manila was declared the most densely populated city in the world in 2019.

Map Manila Philippines Mice Around the World

Map of Metro Manila.

Looking for something?

Rooftop view Lub d Makati Manila Philippines Mice Around the World

View from the rooftop restaurant at Hotel Lub d in Makati City.

Interesting info about Manila


Manila was declared the nation’s capital in 1901, although it already existed for centuries. The Spanish arrived in Manila in 1571. In the nineteenth century, Spain’s colonies began to become independent of their colonial rulers. Inspired by the Latin-American wars of independence which gained Colombia, Venezuela, Peru, Chile, Argentina and Costa Rica independence, the Philippine revolution started in 1896. José Rizal became the most prominent Filipino nationalist fighting the Spanish colonial forces and is now a national hero. He was captured and executed by the Spanish army in August 1896 for conspiring against the Spanish crown. 

In 1898, the United States began interfering with the revolution and aiding the Filipinos because the Spanish sunk an American ship near Havana, Cuba. They captured Manila, and the Spanish rule of the Philippines officially came to an end in 1898. The Americans then incorporated the Philippines as a territory of the United States. The Filipinos tried several times to gain independence from the United States, but it was only after World War II in 1946 that they were formally declared independent of the United States. During the war, the Philippines were occupied by the Japanese, who imposed harsh and cruel rules on the Filipinos from 1942 till 1945. During the battle of liberation in Manila in 1945, more than 100,000 Filipinos died.

Having this history in mind makes seeing Manila way more interesting. The old town of Manila, Intramuros, is the best-preserved piece of Spanish colonial history in The Philippines.

Jose Rizal Manila Philippines Mice Around the World

Memorial on the execution of José Rizal by the Spanish army in 1896. It is located in Rizal park in central Manila. Rizal is worshipped throughout the Philippines and many street names, museums, stations, and institutions are named after him.

St Agustin Church Intramuros Manila Philippines Mice Around the World

The Philippines is called Philippines because of Spanish king Philips II who send an exploration that claimed the land in 1521 as part of the Spanish Kingdom. The influence of both the Spanish and U.S. rule is still widely recognisably throughout Manila, especially in the old walled city, named ‘Intramuros’. On this picture, St. Agustin Church in Intramuros.

Is Manila dangerous?

Manila unfortunately has a very bad image, and many people say it should be avoided. We think this is a shame because the history and culture in this city is very interesting. We always want to have a full picture of a country. As Manila is very different from the rest of the Philippines, we’re really glad we didn’t miss out on the capital.

The Philippines has a big drug problem that’s causing violence. The previous president had quite a violent approach to winning the drug war that caused safety issues for everyone stepping foot there. Ever since there is a new president with a more compassionate approach, it became a lot safer. The city is definitely not 100% safe, but saying you will be in danger by even setting foot outside the airport is an absolute exaggeration. 

Especially as a tourist, you should be fine. As long as you stay in a particular area (Makati) and avoid going far from this area at night, you should be fine. In fact, Makati City was listed among the safest cities in the Philippines. Inform yourself well about the country and make sure you book a Grab and hotel in advance. Plus, follow ground rule number one for every big city: Don’t go where you’re not supposed to be as a tourist, and you’re fine. Going on a slum safari is not cool anyway.

Maybe good to mention is that Filipinos are super friendly people who overall speak English well. They have a chill attitude but are very hard-working people who are very welcoming.

Rooftop view Lub d Makati Manila Philippines Mice Around the World

How to get around Manila

Airport to the city

When arriving in Manila with your luggage after a long trip, you want to go to your hotel as quickly as possible. Especially during the night, Manila can feel overwhelming. The easiest way to go from Nino Aquino International Airport to Makati is by booking a Grab at the airport. The Grab pick-up location is located near Terminal 3 at Bay 9. You will recognize your grab driver by the car’s licence plate. Be aware of your luggage and keep valuable items close to you. The busses are unreliable and no one knows if they’ll actually show up.

Not in the mood for arranging a taxi upon arrival? Book a transfer from the Airport to Makati City here.

Inside the city

Manila is a huge metropole and getting around can be quite a challenge. There are several ways to travel, varying in comfort and price.

The easiest transport in Manila is a grab taxi. To go to a specific location, travel fast or transfer to Nino Aquino International Airport, it also the most expensive way of navigating through the city.  ‘Official’ cabs are even more expensive than a Grab taxi.

If you want to travel from Makati City to central Manila (Intramuros), it is easier and cheaper to take a jeepney (shared minibus) or tricycle (motor with passenger cab). Take a jeepney or tricycle to the Metro Rail Transit (MRT) and take the metro to Intramuros. 

Motortaxi in Manila Philippines Mice Around the World
Jeepney in Manila Philippines Mice Around the World

Left: Wessel took a motorcycle taxi in Makati to Gil Puyat MRT train station on his journey to Intramuros.

Right: Jeepneys are multicoloured shared minibuses and the most used mode of transportation through the Philippines. They were introduced by the Americans and were exhibited as a national image for the Filipinos at the New York World’s fair in 1964. Tricycles are motorized vehicles consisting of a motorcycle attached to a passenger cab.

Where to stay in Manila

Makati City is where most (international) corporations, hotels, and nightlife is located and is considered the safest place to stay for tourists. It is located roughly 10 kilometres from Nino Aquino international airport and 9 kilometres from Manila.  

We had a lovely stay at Lub d Philippines Makati, a hotel and hostel in Makati with very comfortable beds, a rooftop restaurant with a spectacular view and great food. The facilities were amazing, with a co-working space, gaming area, Skype room and many activities. They even had a space with a couch and shower to wait for check-in or spend the day after check-out. A bed in the dormitories start from €15,- and private double rooms start from €30,-.

Lub d Makati City Manila Philippines Mice Around the World

Lovely twin room at Lub d Hotel in Makati City. This hotel has the best price/quality ratio in our opinion when staying in Manila (1768 Philippine Peso= €30,- per night).

What to do in Manila

Although the metropole of Manila is enormous, most highlights are found in central Manila. We spend two days in the capital, exploring the city’s most famous sights in one day. To help you navigate, we have outlined these sights for you.

Rizal Park Manila Philippines Mice Around the World

The monument honouring José Rizal in the namelike park in central Manila.

Rizal park

Rizal park is named after José Rizal, the Filipino resistance leader against the Spanish rule who was executed in 1896 by the Spanish army. Rizal is a national hero and the Filipinos devoted an entire park to him to honour his legacy. In the park, you find a monument dedicated to him and a martyrdom at the place where the execution took place. 

Courtyard Spanish colonial style Manila Philippines Mice Around the World

Everywhere in Intramuros you will find beautiful courtyards from the Spanish colonial era.


Intramuros (literally: within the walls) is the old walled Spanish colonial town of Manila. Time stood still in this part of the city. Intramuros include a multitude of beautiful colonial houses, churches, and the Santiago fort. It is definitely worth a visit. Just walk around the old streets take pictures of coloured courtyards, have a mango ice cream (the best mango comes from the Philippines), walk into the San Augustin Church or the Manila Cathedral and immerse yourself in the Philippines’ colonial past.

Manila Cathedral Philippines Mice Around the World

Manila Cathedral. We were there just when a couple was getting married.

Second World war Memorial Manila Philippines Mice Around the World

Many people don’t know Manila suffered greatly during its liberation from the Japanese forces during WOII. More than 100,000 civilians died during the battle and much of the city was destroyed.


Binondo is another district in Manila and is home to the oldest Chinatown in the world. Even before the Spanish established it in 1594 to keep the Chinese segregated from the Catholics, it was already a hub for Chinese commerce. You can reach Binondo by crossing the Jones bridge over the river passing from Intramuros. Binondo is famous for its delicious street food.

Mango icecream at Rizal Park Manila Philippines Mice Around the World

Rumour has it the Philippines has the best mangos in the world. We could not resist trying.

Crossing Jones bridge Chinatown Manila Philippines Mice Around the World

Crossing Jones bridge from Intramuros into Binondo. The arch marks the entrance to Chinatown.

After visiting Binondo, you can probably have soared legs and want to head back to your hotel in Makati. You can try to take the ferry back on the river Passig. Unfortunately, the boat was already occupied in our case, so we took MRT line back to Gil Puyat station and from there a jeepney to our hotel.

After visiting Manila, you probably want to continue your journey to the more exotic parts of the Philippines. Don’t worry, there are remote places with only a few people and the bluest waters you will ever see. Read our travel itinerary on the Philippines here.

More Philippines