A layover in Manila – What to see and do

Find out everything you need to know about a layover in Manila with our guide below. The city that sometimes gets a bad rep, usually for its heavy traffic but also for the lack of things to do when compared with other South-east Asian capital. After arriving in Manila with fairly low expectations, we were surprised at how fun this city can be, even if you’re only spending a day or two exploring. We agree that there’s not a great deal of things to do, but the handful of sights and attractions it does have are very good!

It has a historic past and there are both modern and cultural things that you definitely have to try. Browse our itinerary for one day in Manila below, listing the top things to do if you’re on a layover in Manila.

I have a layover in Manila – should I visit the city or stay at the airport?

It all depends on how long your layover in Manila is. If you arrive late at night and have an early morning flight the next day, we recommend staying at a nice airport hotel and catching up on sleep, avoiding the busy city. If your layover is 5 hours or longer and you have time to explore, we definitely encourage you to venture out! You can reach the city centre within 15 minutes in a taxi (traffic dependant).

How can I get to Manila city centre from the airport?

How to get from Manila Airport to the city - Shows a group of Jeepneys in traffic

Manila Airport has 4 terminals. Terminals 1 – 3 are International and Domestic travel and Terminal 4 is domestic only. Depending on the terminal you fly into, your exact directions for getting from the airport to Manila will be slightly different, however the transport options are the same.

In our opinion, the best way to get from Manila airport to the city and vice versa is by using the local ‘Grab’ Taxi service. Grab is similar to Uber and is big in many South-East Asian countries. Simply download the app before you arrive and head to the Grab taxi stand (which is in a different location depending on your terminal).

View the Grab taxi stand location for each terminal on their website here.

If you don’t have the Grab app, you can queue up at the booth and the staff will order a taxi for you. It’s a cheap and safe way of getting around during your layover in Manila!

If Grab doesn’t sound like your thing, other options include the official airport taxis, the local bus, or a pre-booked private transfer. View all options on Rome2Rio here.

The best things to do on a layover in Manila – Our one day itinerary

If you’ve researched before your arrival, you’ll probably notice that there isn’t a great deal of top-rated attractions in Manila, especially for a city of its size. It is very business focused and the technology hub of the Philippines, however it does have some cool places to check out. We’ve assembled the best things to do on a layover in Manila. Pick as many as you can fit into your layover itinerary. We’ve included the recommend duration alongside.

Go on a bamboo bike tour of Intramuros

Layover in Manila - Shows Fort Santiago main entrance in Intramuros

If you only manage to do one thing on your layover in Manila, make sure it’s a tour of Intramuros. This historic quadrant of the city sits near the docks and is home to many of the Spanish colonial sites in Manila. The architecture is unlike anywhere else in the city and there are some nice parks and gardens to relax in. From castle walls to canons, this was our favourite area in Manila by far! The best way to see Intramuros is by renting a cool bamboo bike and then riding from site to site. You can choose a guided tour or set off at your own pace with a map. Intramuros is an area with many of the top Manila sites all in one place.

Things you’ll discover include:

Fort Santiago – The top attraction is an ancient Spanish fortress. Walk around the fortress gardens, gaze over the walls and stroll in the gardens. A vast area with must-see scenery.

The Intramuros walls – Towering fortress walls that surround Intramuros, with stunning views of the city skyline and river. Capture a cool picture alongside a canon.

Canon and canon balls at Fort Santiago

Manila Cathedral – One of the first churches built in Manila. It has a beautiful Spanish colonial design and you might be lucky enough to catch a wedding ceremony!

Casa Manila – A museum that tells the story of a rich Filipino family in the 1800’s.

San Augustin Church – A Roman Catholic church reminiscent of the colonial architecture of Intramuros. Sit on a park bench in the main square and capture your best pictures of this beautiful building. If it’s open and there isn’t a ceremony taking place, ask to see inside. The interior is just as captivating.

San Augustin Church and Gardens

The above sites are just a sample of the things you’ll see in Intramuros and the main attraction is simply riding your bike or walking, marvelling at the cobblestone streets and sand-washed colonial buildings.

We recommend booking Bamboo Bike Tours. You can reserve a tour in advance or turn up in person to rent a free-style bike for a few hours.

Duration: 3 – 4 hours


Chinatown in Manila - Layover activities
Image courtesy of Doods Dumaguing

Just outside of the walls of Intramuros is Chinatown. This bustling array of streets is filled with ornate Chinese decoration and architecture. It’s noisy, busy and can be quite intimidating, but if you like placing yourself deep into a melting pot of culture, you’ll probably like it. Browse the market stalls, go on a foodie tour of the restaurants and take pictures of the decorated monuments and streets. We recommend combining Chinatown with your visit to Intramuros and stopping here for lunch.

Duration: 1 – 1.5 hours

Makati City

Things to do on a layover in Manila - View of Makati City

Makati City is the futuristic business district of Manila. Towering skyscrapers sit alongside huge shopping malls and the scenery is very modern. Choose one of the uniquely designed malls and wander around, browsing the shops, having a bite to eat experiencing the cool atmosphere. Between malls you have the beautiful Ayala Triangle Gardens, museums and preserved 1800’s churches. Makati is worth exploring for a few hours and has some nice places to eat lunch or dinner. We recommend checking out Greenbelt Mall. It’s the most modern shopping area in Makati and has many brands that you’ll recognise. It’s also the best in terms of design and architecture, with pretty garden scenery throughout.

Duration: 2 – 3 hours

Manila Baywalk and Marina

View of Manila Baywalk promenade

The Manila Baywalk is a long promenade that stretches 2km of the city centre. Escape the traffic filled streets and go for a morning or sunset stroll. You’ll walk past a picturesque marina filled with yachts and tourist boats, the US embassy and Star City fairground; which dominates the bay-area skyline with its giant Ferris wheel. You’ll also find various pop-up stalls along the promenade to grab a drink or snack for your walk.

Duration: 1 hour

Manila Ocean Park Aquarium

Manila Ocean Park Aquarium - Tropical fish underwater

An aquarium may not be your first thought of an attraction in Manila, however it’s well worth visiting if you like sea life or want a family-friendly activity. It’s also a nice place to wander around if you’re a bit jet-lagged from your flight. Get up close and personal with wide varieties of tropical fish and sea creatures, experience feeding time and watch the animal shows. Manila Ocean Park has excellent reviews and entry is only 570 PHP per person.

Duration: 2 – 3 hours

Poblacion Restaurants & Nightlife

Poblacion neighbourhood streets - Layover in Manila

Poblacion is one of the best places to stay in Manila. It’s a trendy neighbourhood that’s packed with bars and restaurants and is within a short walk of the futuristic hub of Makati city. Expect a clash of modern shopping centres with a more local vibe. Busy streets, heavy traffic and lots of neon lights all add to the scene that makes Poblacion reminiscent of many Asian cities. We recommend exploring Poblacion on a walking tour to take in the atmosphere.

You can then check out the trendy coffee shops, bars and restaurants before a lively night out. The area is a good mix of tourists and locals and is only 15-minutes from the airport, making it a great place to stay on a layover in Manila. It’s the best place in Manila for a night out!

Duration: 2 – 3 hours

An example one day in Manila itinerary

One day in Manila itinerary - City Skyscrapers

If you have an entire day to spare for your layover in Manila, we recommend the following, in order.

  1. Take a Grab taxi to Star City fairyground
  2. Walk the long Manila BayWalk promenade to Intramuros (45 minutes)
  3. Spend 3-4 hours exploring Intramuros on foot or by bike
  4. Visit China Town for lunch
  5. Take a Grab taxi to Makati and explore the shopping malls and sites on foot.
  6. Rest at your hotel (in Makati or Poblacion)
  7. Head out to a nice restaurant in Poblacion and tour the local nightlife scene

If you only have a half day layover in Manila, the following attractions are best.

  1. Take a Grab taxi to Intramuros
  2. Spend 3-4 hours exploring Intramuros on foot or by bike
  3. Walk the long Manila BayWalk promenade to Star City (40 minutes)
  4. Return to your hotel area

Do I need a visa to enter the Philippines on my layover in Manila?

The Filipino government grants you a 30-day visa free of charge when you head through customs. They’ll stamp your passport and you’ll be free to explore the city.

An overnight layover in Manila. Should I stay near the airport or city?

If you have an overnight stay in Manila and your flight isn’t until the next day, you may be wondering whether to book a hotel near the airport or travel into the city. If you have an early morning flight to catch the next day, we recommend booking a hotel directly opposite the main airport terminal building. The following options are affordable and have excellent reviews.


The best Manila Airport hotels

Luxury: Hilton Manila Airport – View on Booking.com

One of the best hotels at the airport, directly opposite terminal 3. It has an open-air swimming pool, easy access to all terminals and you can walk to the many restaurants and shops of Resorts World within 5-10 minutes.

Mid-range: Savoy Hotel Manila – View on Booking.com

We really enjoyed our stay in the Savoy. It has lots of facilities, including working areas, a spa, pool and bar, plus a nice restaurant. Get to the airport terminal in 5 minutes with the complimentary shuttle bus.

Budget: Go Hotels Manila Airport Road – View on Booking.com

Go Hotels is a very affordable option near Terminal 4. Rooms are nicely decorated and you have everything you need for a comfortable stay on a layover.

If your flight isn’t until lunchtime or so the next day, we recommend travelling into Manila and staying in Makati or Poblacion. These areas are only a 15-minute drive from the airport (without traffic) and will allow you to sample Manila city life. You also have many more restaurant options and can have a night-out if you wish. Manila has some of the best nightlife in the Philippines!


The best hotels in Makati/Poblacion

Luxury: Makati Shangri-La, Manila – View on Booking.com

A world-renowned brand in luxury travel. Expect the exquisite golden furnishings of the Shangri-La, multiple restaurants and amazing service. It’s very affordable for the calibre of the hotel.

Mid-range: The Picasso Boutique Serviced Residences – View on Booking.com

Spacious and great value apartments with a modern edge. You have plenty of space in your apartment and the added bonus of a bar area and gym.

Budget: Z Hostel – View on Booking.com

Private room and dorm bed options to suit those on a budget. It’s located in the heart of the Poblacion nightlife scene and has its own rooftop bar. Recommended for solo and younger travellers.

What can I do if I have a short layover? (5 hours or less)

Overhead view of Manila city centre - Layover in Manila

If you have a short layover in Manila and your flight is inter-connecting, you’ll likely have to stay inside the departures area of the terminal building. In that case, check out our tips below for what to do in Manila airport. If you’re switching terminal and have time to waste between flights, we recommend catching a taxi 5-minutes along the road to Resorts World. This huge complex of hotels has a shopping mall, cinema and countless cafes, shops, bars and restaurants.

To get to Resorts World, exit the main terminal and look for the ‘Grab’ taxi stand. This will be in a different location depending on the terminal you arrive into. Simply tell them your destination and they’ll book a low-cost cab to Resorts World for you. Alternatively, catch the Resorts World bus outside of your terminal building. See schedules and bus stop pick-up and drop-off points here.

Visit the Resorts World website for more information and the full list of restaurants and activities.

What can I do in Manila Airport on a layover?

Shows a Cebu Pacific plane at the airport

Manila Airport is a large airport with four terminals. 1, 2 and 3 are International and Domestic Terminals, whilst terminal 4 is the main Domestic terminal for flights throughout the Philippines. The shops, bars, restaurants and other activities will all depend on the terminal you flight is departing from. Check out our highlights and top tips for a Manila Airport layover once you’re inside the terminal building.

  • Shops, bars and restaurants vary for each terminal; however, all 4 terminals are large and there are plenty of options.
  • Consider eating in the pre-departure area. We found the restaurants in terminal 3 (one of the popular terminals) to be better pre-departure than in the departure area.
  • Facilities are modern and you’ll find everything you’d need in an airport – ATM’s, sleeping areas, charge points, duty free, etc.
  • Consider booking an airport lounge if you have time to kill. International Terminals have the best lounges and food and drink is complimentary. View information for all Manila Airport lounges on Lounge Buddy here.

How do I travel between Manila Airport terminals?

A shuttle bus operates between each terminal and runs every 20-minutes or so. It costs 20 PHP for the one-way journey to your next terminal.

You can find the shuttle bus in the following locations, depending on the terminal you’re departing from:

Terminal 1 – to the far right when coming out of the arrival’s hall

Terminal 2 – On the arrivals level outside the international section

Terminal 3 – Across the road on the right side from arrivals hall

Terminal 4 – Outside departure level on left hand side

If you’re running late for your onward flight and the next shuttle bus won’t be for another 20-minutes, the best option is to take a taxi outside of the airport. Queue up for a set-price coupon taxi as this is the safest option and the drivers are far less likely to rip you off. Stand in the coupon taxi queue, tell them your terminal and you’ll be assigned a cab.

Visit the Manila Airport official website here for all flight and transfer information.

Our top tips for your layover in Manila

Top tips for a layover in Manila - Shows city skyline on river
  • Download the ‘Grab’ taxi app and use it to get around Manila. It’s cheap and super easy to use. Booking booths are also available at the airport terminals.
  • Traffic is insane in Manila. So much so that it can take you over 90 minutes to complete a journey that’s usually 15 minutes. Avoid the morning (6am – 9am) and evening (4pm – 7pm) rush hours at all costs.
  • If you plan on staying overnight on your layover in Manila, stay in areas close to the airport so you can easily return to the airport for your flight.
  • Don’t pack too much into your layover in Manila. A handful of key activities is all you need to get the best out of the city.
  • If you need to stock up on holiday essentials or even some cheap electronics, shopping in Manila is excellent. Top brand names are very affordable.
  • If you’re only in Manila for the day, leave your luggage at the storage area of the airport. It’ll save you dragging it around everywhere.
  • Make a note of your inbound and departure terminals and leave plenty of time when checking in between flights. The airport is huge busy, and it can take a while to travel between terminals.
  • If your layover is onward to another destination in the Philippines, use your airport time to buy a phone SIM card. They’re cheap and will give you data access throughout the country. We recommend the Globe network for their coverage.
  • Use Google Maps and Grab to plan your route between attractions. This way you’ll maximise your time and won’t be back at the airport too late.

That concludes our guide to a layover in Manila. It’s a city that’s well worth seeing if you have time and we recommend planning your visit carefully based on how much time you have. Our final tip that we’ll re-emphasise, is to leave plenty of time to arrive at the airport before your flight. The traffic in the city is no Joke! If you have any questions about our one day in Manila itinerary or need help planning your trip, get in touch!

Check out our other Philippines guides for tips and itineraries for visiting the islands.


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