3 days in Manila is the perfect amount of time to explore the sights and attractions of the Filipino capital before the city’s infamous traffic begins to wear you down!
Manila is one of Southeast Asia’s largest cities. It’s an enormous, hulking mass of suburbs and districts, and for this reason many travelers choose to use the city simply as a transport hub to the tropical islands. There are no beaches here, but Manila is one of the most underrated cities in Asia.
Give the capital a chance and you’ll discover some of the best-preserved Spanish colonial architecture in the Philippines, a wide range of first-class museums, and some of the best restaurants and bars in the country.
To inspire you to explore the city, here’s our guide to seeing Manila in 3 days.
Best Time to Visit Manila
The best time to visit Manila is during the dry season, which is also the best time of year to visit much of the rest of the Philippines. The Philippines experiences distinct wet and dry seasons, with the dry season generally falling between November and April and the wet season generally falling between May and October.
Within the dry season it’s best to visit between November and January, especially if you are looking to experience cooler weather. As for the rest of the year, temperatures can be scorching hot or uncomfortably humid. The wet season is best avoided even in Manila, as this brings with it a high chance of typhoons and storms, which can cause not only travel disruptions and flight delays, but also injury and in the worst case scenario, loss of life. June to September are the worst months in the Philippines when it comes to typhoons.
How to Get Around Manila
Manila has a terrible reputation when it comes to traffic, with public traffic being one of the city’s biggest downfalls. It’s a busy and chaotic city, and there are a lot of people and vehicles in motion through the streets, so always plan extra time for journeys, particularly during peak periods when it can take an hour to travel just a few kilometers.
Public transport in Manila consists of a Light Rail and Metro Rail transport system, as well as buses and minibuses. The most iconic way to get around is using the famous Jeepneys which are colorful old army trucks that have been converted into vibrant buses. Most public transport however, is packed and schedules and route maps can be impossible to find.
Taxi drivers are notorious for ripping off locals and tourists alike, but the introduction of Grab, a ride sharing app, has made transport much safer and more efficient in the city. Grab rides aren’t that much more than public transport, and will save you a lot of time and energy, since the app ensures you won’t be getting ripped off. You’ll just need a local internet connection to book.
Where to Stay in Manila
Calling Manila a big city will always be an understatement. It is a sprawling metropolis, with countless different districts and suburbs, and deciding where to stay can be a real headache. If you are looking for nightlife and modern international restaurants, head to Makati, while if you are looking to be close to the old sectors of Manila then the Malate or Manila Bay areas have a wide range of options.
Z Hostel is perhaps the best budget hostel in the city and a great place to stay while you check out the best places to visit in Manila. Located in Makati, the lively business and nightlife district of Manila, the hostel has clean, spacious rooms with lots of privacy, excellent WiFi, and a rooftop bar, which on weekends is overflowing with locals and tourists!
If you’re looking for something a little more upmarket, but still casual, book into the Lotus Garden Hotel. It’s located close to Intramuros, so if it’s your first time in the city it’s perfectly placed for you to explore the major historical sights on your Manila travel itinerary.
Another, more luxurious option is the New World Manila Bay Hotel. This 5-star hotel is found overlooking Manila Bay, with quick access to Intramuros and Jose Rizal Park, alongside many other attractions. The hotel offers luxury, restaurants, bars, swimming pools, and fitness centers to make your stay in Manila as comfortable and convenient as possible.
For more accommodation options in Manila check out Booking.com. They continuously offer the best rates and their custom service is on point.
Language in Manila
The Philippines is a country where hundreds of different languages and dialects are spoken across the over 7,000 islands found in the archipelago. In Manila, you’ll also hear languages from across the world being spoken, and while the predominant local language is Tagalog, due to the huge American influence over the last century, English is in many ways a de facto language. Filipinos speak at least basic English, but most are fluent, making communication rather easy in Manila.
Safety in Manila
Manila is a big, congested city, and at first, it can be an intimidating place. Some parts of the city can potentially be dangerous for both tourists and locals, particularly as the president’s war on drugs took a turn to the darker side in recent years, particularly in the slum areas. This, however, is a problem you aren’t likely to see in the touristy areas of Manila.
Common travel safety rules should be adhered to in Manila, as theft and pickpocketing can be a problem, while the traffic can be a potentially dangerous hazard, particularly when crossing roads.
The Perfect 3-Day Manila Itinerary
However, before we get to our Manila itinerary, we just wanted to remind you to purchase travel insurance. You never know what will happen and, trust us, you do not want to get stuck with thousands of dollars in medical bills. As a wise man once said, “If you can’t afford travel insurance, you can’t afford to travel.” So don’t leave home without it.
We personally use and recommend SafetyWing. For only around $10 a week, it’s really a no-brainer. You can get a quick, non-binding quote below:
With that out of the way, let’s get to this Manila itinerary already!
Day 1 in Manila
Our 3 day Manila itinerary begins in Intramuros, the most historic part of the city. This is where modern Manila really began, as this is where the Spanish built their colonial forts in the 16th century and from where they would rule the country for 300 years.
Spend the morning walking through the old, restored streets, walls, and ramparts of Intramuros – which literally means, ‘between the walls’. Visit Fort Santiago, take a peek inside the elegant Manila Cathedral, and soak in the complex history that’s buried beneath the stone walls of Intramuros.
From Intramuros you can walk – or, if it’s getting too hot, jump in a Grab car – to Rizal Park. This is one of the most iconic and best things to do in Manila, and you’ll find that this wide public park is always packed out with people.
You can see the monuments to national hero Dr Jose Rizal – for whom the park is named – a man who gave his life for independence from the Spanish. Stroll around, and make your way towards the museums which are found at the far end of the park, away from Manila Bay.
At the far end of the park you’ll find the capital’s best museums where you can spend the afternoon delving into history and culture, and escape the worst of the day’s heat too.
Spread out across grand, public buildings constructed in a neoclassical fashion, you can find the National Museum of Natural History, the National Museum of Anthropology, and the National Museum of Fine Arts.
When it’s cooled down again, head out for an evening stroll through Rizal Park, where you’ll find half of Manila enjoying the cool evening air before heading into nearby Malate for some dinner.
Day 2 in Manila
Start the second day of your 3 day trip to Manila by exploring the Binondo district. This is Chinatown, found on the opposite side of the river to Intramuros, and it’s one of the oldest Chinatown’s in the world.
Binondo is the best place in Manila to realize the city’s diversity, as, for 300 years, Chinese immigration and influence have merged with Filipino heritage to create a unique culture. You can walk through the vibrant markets and visit the iconic Binondo Cathedral, as well as traditional Chinese temples, but the district is perhaps best known for its food.
Enjoy breakfast and lunch in Chinatown with plates of steaming dumplings or wolf down bowls of noodles. You can even join a Binondo food tour to learn more about both the history and the cuisine of the area.
After exploring Binondo, it’s time to head across the city to see a more modern side of Manila. Catch a Grab car to Makati, the thriving business district and most up and coming part of the city.
Get dropped off at the Ayala Triangle, where you can stroll through pleasant gardens and upmarket shopping malls, before calling into the excellent Ayala Museum. The museum focuses on art, history, and culture, and you can spend hours there, browsing through the exhibits and archaeological finds on display.
When you are museum-ed out, it’s time to begin exploring the best restaurants and bars Makati has to offer. Head to Poblacion, where you can find speak-easy style cocktail bars or rooftop restaurants that turn into late-night DJ venues once the sun has set over Manila Bay.
Day 3 in Manila
On your third and final day in the city, one of the best things to add to your Manila itinerary is actually found outside the capital. Villa Escudero is a working plantation that offers a great escape from the city and a chance to visit the countryside.
In the forest you can learn about this historic coconut plantation on a day trip from Manila. It’s somewhat of an eco-adventure playground too, and you can hike through the trees, take bamboo rafts along the river, and enjoy cultural performances from dancers and singers.
The highlight of a trip to Villa Escudero though is undoubtedly the Labasin Waterfall Restaurant, and come lunchtime, you’ll be whetting your appetite as you are ankle-deep in water. Rustic bamboo tables and chairs are set up in the plunge pool of a crashing waterfall, and you’ll be immersed in nature as you enjoy a traditional Filipino style meal.
On your return to the city, spend your last evening enjoying a sunset over Manila Bay. The best place to do that from is the SM Mall of Asia.
This huge shopping mall and entertainment complex is one of the largest malls in Asia, and is a popular hang out for locals. You’ll find plenty of shops, but also bars and restaurants offering wonderful views over Manila Bay as the sun sets.
You should now have a great idea of what to do in Manila in 3 days, and once you have seen all the best of Manila, it’s easy to continue onwards to Palawan, Cebu or anywhere else in the Philippines from there.