The beauty of the Philippines really shines in other provinces and islands. Destinations like Palawan, Cebu, Bohol and Boracay are top draws for foreign tourists. However, many international travelers have to travel through Metro Manila, the capital and main gateway to many of the other destinations before they can get there.
For those who have a short time to visit the country and are staying in Manila, there are some fun and interesting activities you can do. However, if you have more time to spare, I would suggest heading to destinations near Manila that offer refreshing natural getaways. The region of CALABARZON (Cavite, Laguna, Batangas, Rizal and Quezon) just south of the National Capital Region and the nearer provinces of Central Luzon (Bulacan, Bataan, Pampanga, Tarlac, Zambales and Nueva Ecija) offers a lot of interesting places to visit.
For first-time international tourists or balikbayans looking for places to visit relatively near Manila (roughly 2-4 hours away if traffic is not a factor), that offers something distinctly Filipino that you can visit on a day trip or weekend getaway, here are my top picks.
For those coming from Metro Manila, Tagaytay in Cavite is one of the most popular choices for a quick weekend or day trip. You can enjoy the cooler climate while dining on fresh farm-to-table cuisine in many of the restaurants located along the ridge overlooking Taal Lake in Batangas.
Taal Vista Hotel offers fresh farm cuisine in their specialty restaurant Taza, offers a beautiful overlooking view and showcases traditional cultural shows and dances in their buffet restaurant. Tagaytay is home to many good restaurants like Sonya’s Secret Garden, Josephine’s Restaurant and Balay Dako, which serve a mix of healthy farm cuisine and traditional Filipino favorites.
There are several good museums in Metro Manila, but if you have more time to spare, I highly recommend Pinto Art Museum in Antipolo, Rizal to get a good overview of traditional and modern Filipino art. Pinto Art Museum displays contemporary Filipino paintings and sculptures in galleries spread apart among tropical gardens and whitewashed villas.
The Museum of Indigenous Art, located in the lower gardens, showcases the richness of Filipino culture particularly Cordillera. It contains functional and ritual objects, textiles, jewelry and other beautiful indigenous artwork. The museum also has a chapel and in-house cafes where you can stop for refreshments.
Corregidor Island in Cavite is one of the most important historic and tourist sites in the Philippines. This island located at the entrance of Manila Bay in the southwestern part of Luzon played an important role during the invasion and liberation of the Philippines from Japanese forces during World War II. Because of its historic value and close proximity to Metro Manila, visiting Corregidor is a good option for foreign or local tourists who want to go on a day trip or stay overnight.
Various package tours are offered here including traditional historical tours via tramvia, walking tours for hikers, and even biking tours where visitors can bring their own bikes. They’ll be offering Bambike Tours (where guests get to ride Filipino made bamboo bicycles) here soon!
Villa Escudero is one of the oldest and most famous resorts in the Philippines. This coconut plantation and resort in Tiaong, Quezon has been around for decades, having opened to the public in the 1980s. It’s a top tourist destination for foreigners and balikbayans who want to experience traditional Filipino culture and heritage.
The top draw here is getting to dine in its famous restaurant by the waterfalls. You can also learn more about Filipino culture and traditions, visit one of the largest private antiquity collections in the country, enjoy traditional cultural shows and feast on Filipino delicacies.
For those who want to experience simple country living, the City of San Pablo in Laguna, offers a good day trip getaway. You can spend the day in a farm, stay in cozy bed & breakfasts, dine in artistic and heritage restaurants or visit artist’s studios.
If you have your own vehicle, you can just follow the suggested Viaje del Sol route, which covers various establishments rich in food, art and culture. To maximize your visit, stay overnight in Casa San Pablo, Sulyap or Patis Tito Garden Cafe (in nearby Tiaong), then visit some of the city’s lakes for rafting and picnics.
Dubbed the “Art Capital of the Philippines,” Angono in the province of Rizal is a good destination for those who want to get a taste of folk art museums and restaurants serving native and exotic cuisine.
Tourists can dine at Balaw-Balaw Specialty Restaurant and Art Gallery or other homegrown haunts in Angono, visit museums and see the famed Petroglyphs (the oldest known work of art in the country).
7. TANAY, RIZAL
It’s hard to get here by public transport, but for those with private vehicles, Tanay (and nearby Baras) in Rizal offers a great alternative to Tagaytay. It’s along this route where you can visit Masungi Georeserve, a conservation area and karst rock garden hidden in the mountains. However, you can only get here by reservation, and this may be hard for walk-in clients to book on the spot.
Another good place for nature-lovers to visit on a day trip is Daraitan and Tinipak Rocks. You can swim and have picnics by the river, visit beautiful natural rock formations or hike up the nearby mountain. For those looking for all-inclusive tours & transport, some tour groups offer weekend day hikes to various provinces near Manila. Hiking Buddies PH offers all-inclusive worry-free adventures, inclusive of pick-up and drop-off, hike-related fees from the entrance, environmental and guide fees, Filipino food for lunch & merienda, etc.
For hikers, Mt. Pinatubo located on the tripoint boundary of the Philippine provinces of Zambales, Tarlac and Pampanga is one of the top destinations to visit near Manila. The crater lake offers a stunning hike and view.
The province of Pampanga is also known as the “Culinary Capital of the Philippines” and offers one of the best destinations to enjoy authentic Kapampangan cuisine and local delicacies. For adventurous foodies, some restaurants like Abe’s Farm serve exotic dishes like kamaru (mole crickets) and betute tugak (stuffed frog) along with traditional Filipino dishes. Prado Farms in Lubao, Pampanga is a beautiful farm destination where you can go enjoy simple provincial living with the family, ride carabao carts and enjoy healthy organic fare.
While the best beaches in the country are located in other islands, there are a few beach destinations close enough to Manila that you can visit by land. One of the nearest beach destinations popular for family road trips and weekend getaways is Laiya, Batangas.
There are lots of hotels and resorts along Laiya, from high end resorts like Acuatico to smaller backpacker friendly haunts. Some resorts like La Luz offer a buffet of Filipino food, and have affordable day tour rates inclusive of entrance fee, lunch, snacks, and cabana rentals. You can spend the day swimming, diving and other outdoor activities or stay overnight at a resort to maximize your stay.
The province of Bataan is best known for its historical and cultural attractions. One of the most popular among international and domestic tourists is Las Casas de Filipinas de Acuzar, an open air museum and heritage park complex made up of reconstructed ancestral houses from different parts of the country. There are currently 27 heritage houses that recreate the ambiance of a colonial village.
With the ferry operating from Pasay, Mall of Asia Complex to Orion, Bataan recently being made operational, the whole province of Bataan is another great destination near Manila accessible to tourists.
These are just a few suggestions of destinations near Manila ideal for first-time visitors, international tourists and balikbayans looking for something uniquely Filipino that I’ve personally been to and can recommend. Let me know if you have other suggestions in the comments section. 🙂