For most people, Cebu City in the Philippines is a place to spend a night or two before heading out to one of the many resorts and beaches of the beautiful islands. But there are many things to do in Cebu City that make it worth spending at least a couple of days.
Cebu is the second most populated province in the Philippines and Cebu City is second only to Metro Manila.
- Cebu City and Mandaue City on Cebu Island have now grown into one large city area.
- And Lapu-Lapu City on Mactan Island is where you will land when arriving in Cebu by plane.
Most people go to Cebu for the island hopping, snorkeling, or swimming with whale sharks. If you Google “whale shark watching in Cebu”, you’ll find hundreds of thousands of search results.
While the resorts and the whale sharks are definitely worth your time and money, in this post, I will show you all the things to do in Cebu City that will make it worth sticking around longer before rushing off to your favorite white sand beaches.
The Best Things to do in Cebu Philippines
I’ve spent 4 months in Cebu. I am not a holidaymaker, but I work online full time as a digital nomad.
When I look for a place to settle down, I want a place where I can live comfortably, where I feel safe and secure, and where the locals are friendly.
Cebu undoubtedly fits this description, with many (but not all) of the modern conveniences that any developed city has to offer.
So, what can you see and in Cebu City?
The Cebu City guide below will be useful for people visiting Cebu City for the first time or for those wanting to spend a day or two exploring the main tourist attractions.
This highlights all of my favorite places to go in Cebu.
1. Magellan’s Cross
Magellan’s Cross is one of the most famous historical monuments in Cebu. When Magellan arrived, he erected a cross here, after successfully converting people to Christianity.
The original cross is found inside another cross that you can see in the chapel next to the Basilica Menor del Santo Niño. Be sure to look up, the ceiling is covered with paintings from the time of Magellan.
Right next to it is the Basilica Santo Nino.
- Entrance: Free
2. Colon street
Colon Street is the most famous street in Cebu.
At one end of the street, there is a rather plain-looking obelisk. It is supposedly from the time of Magellan and it claims that it was “the first street” in the Philippines.
The street is named after Christopher Columbus, whose Spanish name is Cristóbal Colón. Colon street used to be the most fashionable part of Cebu perhaps a hundred years ago, but today, it is anything but.
The area looks quite rundown, with some abandoned-looking buildings, and the shops in this once chic and stylish street now offer cheap bags, second-hand clothes, and five-dollar watches worth even less.
There are, however, a few modern shops, and even larger malls in the area. Whatever your preferences are, a visit to Cebu is simply not complete without Colon street.
- Cost: One of the many free things to do in Cebu City.
3. The Cebu Heritage Monument
The Cebu Heritage Monument is a large, eye-catching monument in the centre of Cebu.
It depicts famous historical moments, buildings, and figures, focussing mainly on Christianity.
You can spend either just a minute or two there or hire a guide who will tell you what the various parts of the monument refer to.
Pair this with a visit to the Cebu Provincial Museum and you will learn a lot about the history of the Philippines.
- Entrance: Free
4. Fort San Pedro
Fort San Pedro was used for defence and was built by the Spanish Explorer Legazpi.
He established Spain’s sovereignty over the Philippines and his statue can be seen at one end of the remains of the fort.
Inside, you’ll find a small exhibition of drawings and paintings from the history of the Philippines and Cebu City.
From here there, is a nice view of Plaza Independencia, the large square and garden in front of the fort but don’t expect a real garden with trees and shade.
Cebu, unfortunately, doesn’t really have city parks – this is one thing that was missing for me.
It is also worth noting that even though Cebu is a coastal city, there are no beaches.
- For some beach time in Cebu, you’ll have to hop across to Mactan Island. Other beaches found near Cebu City are Bantayan Island, Moalboal or Bohol island.
5. Ayala Mall
Like other large cities in Southeast Asia, Cebu has innumerable and massive shopping malls.
They are not all the same though. Some of them are more elegant than the others, some offer better deals or budget prices, others focus on quality and luxury.
Ayala Mall will have high quality (and higher prices) items.
It is a favorite of the expats living here.
Perhaps one of the main attractions of Ayala Mall is the inner garden with the terraces (look for the sign “Terraces” when in the mall), where you can have lunch or dinner with a very nice view of the garden.
6. AM City and SM Seaside Malls
Other large malls are SM City and SM Seaside, but you can also find other department stores and large shops including huge supermarkets in the Colon street area.
The malls are also a good place to buy a SIM card and to change money.
Yes, it is not only possible but highly likely, that you will get lost in some of the larger malls. In Ayala, I always struggled to find the exit even after several visits!
7. Basilica del Santo Nino
Most Filipinos are Catholic, and religion is a very important part of their lives.
A good basilica to visit is the Basilica del Santo Nino is so named because it houses a small statue of the child Jesus.
It was supposedly given to the Rajah of Cebu as a gift from Magellan and is kept in a small chapel there.
There is always a very long queue to enter the chapel, and you’ll only have a few seconds to look at the statue (behind a glass wall), but local people say it is a miraculous statue.
So for the believers, it may be a chance to make a wish. The cathedral itself is a very nice building, especially the interior.
- Entrance is free, but prepare for a security check (but this is nothing special in the Philippines, you’ll have to go through security even if you want to enter a pharmacy or a shop, not to mention malls).
8. Metropolitan Cathedral
Just a few metres away is the Metropolitan Cathedral, another beautiful church with a nicely decorated altar.
Christianity was introduced by Magellan in 1521 when he arrived in the Philippines while trying to circumnavigate the Earth.
He converted many people to Christianity, but Mactan island resisted, and Magellan was killed in a battle, by the leader of Mactan, Lapu-Lapu.
Both Magellan and Lapu-Lapu are regarded as heroes by the vast majority, and when I asked local people how this is possible, I didn’t really get a clear answer.
They did confirm that the two gentlemen are equally respected. Magellan for introducing Christianity, while Lapu-Lapu as a national hero for standing up against colonization and foreign rule.
9. Temples of Cebu
In Cebu, there are quite a few temples too.
Some of the most picturesque temples are outside of the city center.
Among them the Cebu Taoist temple in the north of the city that offers excellent views of the Cebu City Skyline.
You’ll also find Buddhist and Hindu temples closer to the city centre. Although most of them are not regarded must-see places, you may find some of them interesting, so check your online map, and if you are close by, why not pay a visit.
10. The Cebu Provincial Museum
Cebu City doesn’t have a large number of museums, but the ones it has are interesting, easily accessible, and either cheap or free.
Most of the museums in Cebu are located in the historic center of the city.
The Cebu Provincial Museum (Museo Sugbo in the local Cebuano language) is a great place to learn about the history of the Philippines.
The museum is in a building that once served as a prison, which makes it perhaps even more interesting.
- Entrance is free and you also get a guide if you want to (I recommend you giving the guide a little extra money at the end.
- Unlike many countries in Southeast Asia, The Philippines doesn’t normally charge a separate price policy for foreigners.
- Some museums in Cebu are closed on Sundays or Mondays or in the afternoon, so check the opening hours on their websites before you go.
Cebu Dancing Inmates
She also told me about the dancing inmates’ videos. Have you seen those viral YouTube videos where thousands of prisoners dance to Michael Jackson’s songs? It is in a prison in Cebu city (not this one of course).
11. Yap-Sandiego Ancestral House
The Yap San Diego Ancestral House is near the Cebu Heritage Monument, and it is a good place to visit if you’re interested in antiques.
This pretty house is still used by the owners. My guide told me the owners sleep there every Friday.
It was built by Chinese residents in the 18th century, and it has a lot of old furniture and objects on display.
- Entrance: 50 Pesos
12. Casa Gorordo
Casa Gorordo is a house that was built in the 19th century.
Today is it a museum and entrance includes a guide who shares the history of the house and the history of Cebu City.
- The base entry fee is 80 Pesos, but you pay more if you want a souvenir and a drink included.
13. Ride in a Jeepney
There is practically no public transportation in Cebu – besides MyBus, which serves a very useful route connecting Cebu City with the airport on Mactan Island.
If you don’t want to use taxis (they are inexpensive, but only if you can avoid being cheated), the most available option is the jeepney.
The jeepney is now a symbol of the Philippines for many. These vehicles are said to be the descendants of the jeeps left behind by the American soldiers when they left the country.
The abandoned jeeps were transformed into public transportation – exactly the way they are used to this very day.
The difference is that today’s jeepneys are elaborately decorated where it seems that jeepney owners compete for a prize for the most extravagant and ornate vehicle.
Some Jeepney’s carry religious messages, others opt for Captain Jack Sparrow or other characters.
How to Ride a Jeepney
Jeepneys don’t have official stops: they can be flagged down anywhere, and you can ask them to stop and drop you off anywhere.
If you don’t know their routes, you can simply as ask either the driver or the passengers that are waiting for one on the roadside.
- One ride costs 8 pesos only (about 15 cents).
They are usually quite crowded so you can’t pay the driver directly. Instead pass the cash to your neighbor who will pass it on again, until it reaches the driver.
Standing is not an option, of course, the height is the same as in an average car.
When you want to get off, hit the metal bar on the ceiling with a coin or rings or whatever you have to make noise for the driver to hear.,
He will then stop – or in many cases, just slow down to let you off. But don’t worry, this only happens in terrible traffic (which means most of the time ?).
Food of Cebu
Some people will find Filipino food excellent, while others may regard it too exotic. I belong to the second group.
When I went to the Philippines, I had already spent several years in Southeast Asia, and I thought I knew what to expect. I was wrong.
My Cebu Food Story
On my first night out, just hours after my plane landed, I followed the good old recipe: find a pretty looking food stall in the streets where there is a queue, look at the food they offer, and choose something that looks fine to you. It was a soup which the young girl behind the stall said was beef soup.
Only at the table did I realize that there was something strange with this soup. It smelled odd, and it had no meat at all, but it was full of body parts that I am sure zoologists have yet to discover.
Without going into too much detail about the ingredients, let me just say that after the first half spoonful I quickly finished my drink, paid and left.
This repeated itself several times during the first few weeks with many other dishes, before I reluctantly switched to self-catering mode.
14. Try The Local Food
- Lechon is one of the most famous Filipino cuisines. It is a whole roast piglet, and you can order it (well, some of it, obviously) in any restaurant in the country.
- Batchoy – Batchoy is a soup with noodles, eggs, some vegetables and perhaps some meat.
- Bangus – Bangus is a type of fish mainly eaten in the Philippines, usually served fried or roasted, with rice.
- Lumpia – Lumpia is the local variant of the good old spring rolls. It may be filled with pork or vegetables. Can be eaten as a main course or as street food, too.
Filipino cuisine doesn’t include many vegetables, but expect a lot of pork (the fat parts seem to be a favourite) and fish. And it will be spicy.
For me, it came as a surprise that spaghetti also seems to be a staple food. Jollibee, the most famous fast-food chain in the country, serves spaghetti with fried chicken, and people seem to eat this combo just about everywhere as a quick bite.
- Try it yourself for 120 pesos per serving.
Cake shops are everywhere too, and Filipino cakes are delicious. But cake prices are high compared to food and other prices though.
- While you can have a good lunch for as little as 200-300 pesos, a nice piece of cake will cost you well over a hundred. You will also find bakeries literally at every corner, and they sell a wide variety of good looking, nice smelling and tasty delicacies for just a few pesos.
15. Visit the Markets
Cebu has several large markets in the city centre, but the most famous is perhaps Carbon Market, which close to the coast.
It used to be a market where they unloaded the coal from the arriving ships. Today you’ll find vegetables, meat, clothes, pots and pans and lots of other things you’ll normally find in large local markets.
Buy some local pineapple or mango or enjoy one of the many food stalls.
Remember, it is normal to eat with your hands (your right hand only, because your left hand is used for other things that I will not go into details here while discussing food…).
- Getting there: There are a lot of jeepneys everywhere in Cebu, that head to “Carbon”, so it’s a good idea to combine a jeepney ride with a visit to the Carbon market.
16. Take in a Festivals
Sinulog Festival is perhaps the most famous festival in the Philippines. It is an annual festival that takes place in Cebu City in the first half January.
- For up-to-date information and dates, see the official website: https://sinulog.ph/.
Sinulog is a two-week long festival, but the major event is the street parade on the final day of the festival, which is on the third Sunday in January.
Sinulog is basically a religious festival, centred around the Santo Nino, the famous statue given to Cebu my Magellan in the 16th century.
17. Visit Cebu’s Party District
If you are looking for clubs and nightlife, head to Cebu’s party district near Fuente Osmena, at Mango Square.
Practical Cebu Travel Tips and Information
Getting from the airport to the city
Taxi: The easiest (and possibly the most expensive) option is taking a taxi. If you do, make sure the driver turns on the meter. It shouldn’t cost more than 400 Pesos to the city center, but it may be more depending on traffic.
MyBus: Another, cheap option is taking the local bus called MyBus. There is only one bus line from the airport to SM City Mall, and it costs 50 pesos. The bus is modern, with luggage storage space, and it is usually a quick ride.
Getting a SIM card in Cebu
You can buy a SIM card at the airport after you exit the arrival hall. You will see the booths that sell SIMs, you just can’t miss them. Prepare for a wait as there is always a queue there.
It doesn’t make a big difference which operator you choose, especially if you aren’t staying for long and if coverage in the rural areas is not that important.
Money and Banks in Cebu City
The local currency is the peso (PHP), and no other currencies are normally accepted as payment. 100 pesos = 2USD
Using credit/debit cards is very common, but take the usual precautions.
Although you’ll see literally hundreds of pawn shops in Cebu that offer currency exchange, their rates are shamefully bad.
If you need to change money, go to one of the larger malls. As always, check the exchange rate online and compare the rates offered.
If you need to withdraw cash, keep in mind that most ATMs will only let you withdraw a maximum of 10k to 15k pesos, which is not a lot. (200 – 300 USD). And they charge a 250 to 300-peso fee (4-6 USD).
Where to Stay in Cebu
Read this breakdown of the top 10 Hotels to Stay in Cebu recommended by a local.
Other areas to Stay in Cebu:
- Mango Square: Great for nightlife. Check hotels on TripAdvisor or Booking.com
- Cebu City Business Park – Right in the heart of the action. Check hotels on TripAdvisor or Booking.com
- Mactan – Best place for beaches in Cebu. Search hotels and reviews on TripAdvisor or Booking.com
- Lapu Lapu – On Mactan Island just east of Cebu. Easy to get to downtown. Search hotels and reviews on TripAdvisor or Booking.com
- Moalboal – Located on the Southwest Coast. It’s a Cebu beach town good for the budget. TripAdvisor / Booking.com
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