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18 Hidden Gems In Manila to get away from the tourist crowds

Manila has deservingly become a popular tourist attraction in the last couple of decades. It’s chaotic yet spiritual, dirty yet divine, metropolitan yet slum-ridden… There’s a lot to see and do within the capital’s 17 square miles and you might miss out on some not-so-known but spectacular places this city has to offer if you follow the typical Manila travel guides. But don’t worry- that’s why I’m writing this article. To show you some of the best hidden gems in Manila that you should definitely consider visiting if you’re looking for a different experience away from the tourist crowds!

The Manila Central Post Office

manila post office

Starting off this list of hidden gems in Manila, we have the Central Post Office. Most people vacationing wouldn’t consider a post office as one of the top places to see, but the Manila Central Post Office sure is worth mentioning. The building has a beautiful neo-classical architecture both inside and is one of the most prominent buildings in the capital. This old architectural masterpiece is still standing even today, graciously passing the test of time and being a real gem hidden between the new, modern buildings in the area.

San Sebastian Church

san sebastian manila

Today, most tourists visit St. Augustine, the most popular church in town and decide to skip on San Sebastian. However, this green cathedral that features neo-gothic architecture with murals of Carmelite saints is certainly worth visiting. Behind the twin spires at the entrance of the cathedral that can be seen from miles away, you can still see traces of the church’s rough history.

San Sebastian originally had a wooden structure that was destroyed during the Chinese uprising and rebuilt in brick several times after a series of devastating earthquakes. The church got its final form in 1891, but if you look closely, you can still see the traces of some of the previous incarnations both inside and outside. Finally, if you need another reason to visit, San Sebastian is the only steel building in the Philippines (probably to make sure that the building’s rough history doesn’t repeat itself ).

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Puerta Real Gardens

Puerta Real Garden

The Philippines has a unique culturally diverse population with heavy influences of Spanish and Japanese cultures. The result of this unique cultural mix is the Puerta Real Gardens. Rising like an oasis in the middle of a bustling metropolis, Puerta Real is a place where locals come to get some peace. In the past, the gardens were a part of a military fort, but today it’s one of the most peaceful places in Manila.

Puerta Real offers serene beauty beside stone-paved walkways and fountains. You can even take a short climb to the top of the fort and get a spectacular view of Makati, Manila’s central business hub.

National Museum

manila national museum

The National Museum of the Philippines looks after a myriad of national museums, including the Archaeological Museum, the Ethnographic Museum, the Anthropological Museum, and many others. However, these museums don’t get nearly as many visitors as some of Manila’s popular shopping malls.

In some of these museums, you can see amazing classical and contemporary pieces of art and learn a lot about the history of the Philippines. The best part? All of the national museums in Manila were all made permanently free to the public, so you can visit all of them without hurting your travel budget. My personal favorite is…

National Museum Of Anthropology

manila museum of antropology

Formerly known as the Museum of the Filipino People, this museum is arguably the best place to learn about the country’s culture and the people that inhabit it, including religion, traditions, ethnic wear, etc. The museum displays a lot of interesting exhibits, including some very old ceramic and pottery artifacts and replicas that will give you a glimpse into life in the Philippines throughout the years.

Talking about museums and hidden gems in Manila, I simply can’t miss mentioning…

The Metropolitan Museum


If you made it till here, you get the drill. Most tourists don’t visit Manila because of its museums, even though some of them are rather fascinating. Opened in 1976, the goal of the Metropolitan Museum of Art was to introduce Filipinos to contemporary visual art from throughout the world. Today, you can also find a lot of interesting contemporary art by local artists but also see a few very rare collections, including pre-Hispanic golden decorations, old pottery items, as well as rare religion-themed artworks.

Manila Hidden Garden

Manila Hidden Garden

Today, one of Manila’s most peaceful oases (and one of our favorite hidden gems in Manila), this place used to be a neglected dumping ground which seems hard to believe once you see the open sanctuary it has been turned into. The place flourishes with pocket gardens, palm trees, and lush foilage, offering a peaceful retreat from the standard Manila urban clamor. If you’re looking for a peaceful place to have a cup of coffee and catch a break, look no further.

Seng Guan Temple

Seng Guan Temple

Located in the Tondo District, Seng Guan Temple is an important cultural and historical yet often forgotten landmark of Manila. It’s the first Buddhist temple in the Philippines. Its façade, stone-carved with oriental symbols and detailed reliefs will surely grab your attention if you happen to be passing by and the interior is equally beautiful and calm too. Seng Guan Temple, a focal point of both the spread of Buddhist spirituality and Philippine history, still preserves its place in the cultural kaleidoscope of Manila, not forgetting to welcome the curious ones who want to dig through the soil of the city and discover the richness of its religious and cultural diversity.

Escolta And Calvo Museum

Escolta hidden gems in Manila

Escolta was once one of the most important financial districts of the city where fortunes were made and lost. Unfortunately, most of the neighborhood was destroyed during WWII, but you can still find some interesting, historical gems around. One of them is the Calvo Museum which shows scale models of what the Escolta financial district looked like when it was hailed as the Wall Street of the Philippines.

Here, you can also find rare collections of old print advertisements and old photographs. If you want to get a glimpse of Manila’s glory years before the war, you should definitely explore this area.

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Books from Underground

hidden gems in manila

Located in the tunnel of the Lagusnilad underpass in the University Belt, Books from Underground is an interesting second-hand bookstore that’s home to hundreds of books that stretch all the way to the ceiling of this small, hidden passage. Looking at it from far away, I never would have guessed that this muggy underground pass hides such a gem.

The bookstore was created by two book lovers who wanted to give Manila a bookstore with a soul that won’t be located in a fancy neighborhood or in an expensive lounge bar. I think they did a great job. Talking about books, another place you might not find in most Manila tourist guides is…

National Library Of The Philippines

National Library of the Philippines

With over 210,000 books, 170,000 old newspapers, 880,000 manuscripts, and more than 4,000 maps, this library is without competition the largest one in the Philippines. However, this isn’t the most impressive thing about the National Library of the Philippines. The library is also home to some very valuable items. Some of these items include the documents of five presidents of the Philippines, the original manuscript of Lupang Hinirang, original copies of some of Jose Rizal’s most interesting writings, as well as a rare collection of Filippiniana books owned by Compan­a General de Tabacos de Filipinas.

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Pinto Art Museum

pinto art museum

Hidden on the calming hills of Antipolo, completely surrounded by greenery, you’ll find the Pinto Art Museum, an artistic hub perfect for artsy travelers looking for a peaceful escape from the hustle and bustle of Manila’s busy streets. Featuring spacious galleries interspersed with sculptures, the museum shows off contemporary artworks by some of the most prominent local artists and is a haven where the art-making spirit of the Filipino people pulsates through every wall and crevice.

Salcedo Community Market

salcedo market manila

When it comes to trying new types of food in Manila, most tourists head to Maginhawa Street but the locals’ favorite is the Salcedo Community Market. There’s certainly a good reason for this! The Salcedo Market hosts over 50 different street food stalls every Saturday where you can try local delicacies from different parts of the Philippines.

Some of the things you have to try while visiting the Salcedo Market include longaniza (A Philippine version of the chorizo sausage), ube (a delicious purple yam), suman (coconut milk and rice wrapped in banana leaves), etc. A lot of locals visit the market and it gets quite busy in the afternoon. If you want to explore the market in a more peaceful atmosphere, try visiting around 9 o’clock in the morning.

Talking about food, another place I strongly suggest you visit is…

Ado’s Panciteria

philippines food manila

If you’re looking for the best pancit in Metro Manila, look no further. Opened in 1952, Ado’s Panciteria is one of the oldest restaurants in Manila. Despite its success and almost iconic status among locals, the prices still remained accessible for everyone. At Ado’s Panciteria, you can have a serving of bihont, lomi, and canton for less than one hundred pesos. Or to put it simply, you can feed two starving people for less than $2! Some other things that you should also try if you visit are the crispy pata, the silog meal, the sinful chicharron, and of course- the finger-licking-good barbecue.

After all that eating, you’ll probably want to wash down all that food with some drinks. That leads me to the next hidden gem in Manila:

Sip & Gogh

sip & gogh

If you’re wondering what the name of this place means, don’t think too much. It’s exactly as it sounds. Visitors get a sip of alcohol and after drinking, they paint (trying to be Van Gogh). Sip & Gogh is the first paint & drink establishment in the Philippines and a place most tourists still don’t know about. You can have an open session, bring your own booze or if you fancy, even have a date-night special. It’s one of the most unusual places in Manila and one you should definitely visit if you’re looking for quirky things to do in the capital.

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Lilac Street, Marikina

street food thailand

Marikina is a district historically famous for some of Manila’s shoemaking stores. However, today this part of the city is becoming more famous for its food scene. The whole street is filled with independent food stalls but some of the most famous ones are the Breakfast Brothers and the Kebab others. You’ll absolutely love Lilac Street if you’re a meat lover. Here, you can find some of the most delicious ribs, Caribbean wings, and of course the locals’ favorite- Cargo rice.

Reducto De San Pedro

Reducto De San Pedro manila

Finally, we round up this list of hidden gems in Manila with one of the most forgotten historical sites in Manila. El Reducto de San Pedro is a historical building that seems to have been forgotten by everyone. The Spanish authorities built this pentagonal stone building next to the walls of Intramuros and used it as an ammunition bunker for years.

Unfortunately, the building isn’t open for visitors today but you can still admire the interesting architecture from outside. If you like visiting old, forgotten places while traveling, a quick visit to Reducto de San Pedro is highly recommendable.

Helpful Tips For Discovering Hidden Gems In Manila

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Did you ever visit Manila? If yes, did you get the chance to check out some of these hidden gems in Manila? Would you like to get off the beaten track in Manila? Maybe you think I didn’t mention some places that are worth mentioning? Let me know in the comments!

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Yukti Agrawal

Tuesday 4th of June 2019

I love hidden gems in a city as they are very less crowded and something unique. It is great that you have listed some beautiful and unique gems of Manila. I would love to go to the National Museum and Puerta Gardens. Underground books is also an interesting place for book lovers.

Passport Symphony

Friday 7th of June 2019

Thank you, Yukti and I hope you get the chance to visit some of these places soon :)

Shreya Saha

Friday 10th of May 2019

I am planning to visit Palawans soon, and for that, my flight first connects to Manila. I guess I will stay in Manila first for 2 days and visit these hidden gems as you have mentioned. Do you think 2 days will be enough?

Passport Symphony

Sunday 12th of May 2019

That's awesome, Shreya. I don't think two days are enough for all of them, but I think you can cover most of it :)


Thursday 9th of May 2019

This is a great and thorough guide! I've been looking for tips on Manila and there isn't a lot out there. I'm excited to explore it with all of your useful tips! Thanks for sharing!

Passport Symphony

Sunday 12th of May 2019

I'm glad you liked this post, Sana and even more, I'm glad to hear it inspired you to visit Manila :)


Thursday 9th of May 2019

I always enjoy seeing sights that are off the beaten path and less touristy. The food scene is where you would find me! Great list of places besides typical tourist stops.

Passport Symphony

Sunday 12th of May 2019

Sounds like we have something in common, Jordin :)

Adele Gee

Wednesday 8th of May 2019

Sadly I have never been to the Philippines. You just gave me a few good reasons to put it on my list. I love the Underground books , they remind me of the time I used to spend time browsing in a used bookstore back when I had time to read. I also like the thought of visiting the Museum of Anthropology. All in all its a cool list that you have put together.

Passport Symphony

Sunday 12th of May 2019

Thank you, Adele! I'm glad to hear this article inspired you to visit Manila :)