Cebu City is a major port of entry into Cebu with many people (including us!) picking it as an alternative to the bigger, more daunting Manila. Unfortunately, many people skip right over Cebu City on there way elsewhere. This is a shame!
On one level I can understand it. We loved exploring Bohol and Moalboal. However, Cebu City is worth a day or two as well, particularly if you are city slickers like us. We ended up spending nearly a week in Cebu City over three different visits this month and we kept coming back for a reason.
It is just a nice, easy place to be. It has a good energy and we found the accommodation much better value than anywhere else.
If you are exploring this part of the world, you will no doubt go through Cebu City, so why not stop for a minute and explore the Cebu tourist attractions? You will hopefully enjoy it as much as us ?
Below, you will find our guide to what to do in Cebu City, including our best things to do in Cebu Philippines, the best places to stay in Cebu, how to get around Cebu, Cebu with kids and other information you need to make your stay as easy and fun as possible.
to do in Cebu City!
1. Tops Lookout
Some 600 metres above Cebu is one of the top places to visit in Cebu – Tops Lookout. Here you will find great views over Cebu City and beyond. If it is a clear day, you can see all the way over to the north of Bohol. There’s nothing else to do but take in the views but these are some magnificent views of the entire Cebu City area. If you’re lucky you’ll even spot a plane take off or land.
There’s some basic seating, plus a store selling snacks and a small restaurant as well. Entry is 100 pesos per person.
To get there you’ll need a taxi or a habal-habal (motorcycle taxi). I took a habal-habal from the JY Square Mall for 300 pesos return (including some other stops) at the following two temples.
2. Temple of Leah
My habal-habal driver suggested I stop here on the way back from the lookout. It was worth the stop!
Temple of Leah is the newest of Cebu attractions. It’s a testament to a man’s love for his wife. The temple is being built by Teodorico Adarna for his departed wife, Leah. The temple is built in a neo-classical style, impersonating a Roman temple of a different time and place. It borders on tacky but (in my opinion) stays on the right side of tasteful.
When completed, the temple will feature galleries containing Leah’s life story. For now though you can enjoy the wonderful, decadent, use of marble and stone and the views of Cebu City from its courtyard. It’ll be quite a building when it’s complete.
There’s a slope to get to the temple and forecourt and stairs in the temple (that don’t really go anywhere) but otherwise the place is stroller and kid friendly, although lacking in facilities.
Entry is 50 pesos. There’s no charge for children under 10 years old.
3. Taoist Temple
Located roughly two kilometres away from the JY Square Mall is another temple on the list of Cebu places to visit – a Taoist temple that provides a sharp contrast to Cebu’s many churches. The ornate and very oriental style temple was built to be a place of reflection and prayer, and there are signs asking for quiet within the temple.
The temple itself is quite small and there isn’t a lot to see.
If you are in Cebu with kids, there is a simple but functional playground and park less than 100 metres away.
The temple is within a gated community and your transport might not be permitted in – my motorcycle taxi driver didn’t want to try but I saw some taxis get in. If your ride is stopped it is about 400 metres walk from the traffic checkpoint to the temple.
Entry is free.
4. University of San Carlos Museum
If you are looking to learn some history, this Cebu things to do activity is a good choice. This small museum consists of four galleries of artefacts, plus some historically interesting electronics and appliances out the front. The four galleries, in two sections, cover natural history (bird, butterfly and animal specimens), archaeology, and religious artefacts.
The galleries are small with simple, static, displays and, despite labels being in English, seeing everything won’t take very long for either an adult or child. I had the museum to myself when I was there so young kids, being noisy, won’t be much of an issue provided they aren’t touching anything.
The museum is undergoing expansion which is due to be completed sometime in 2016.
To enter, go into the university campus main entrance on Del Rosarios Street. You will be asked for ID but I was able to continue onto the museum without it. To get to the main part of the museum you’ll be directed to the right of the entrance and down the passageway. The other section is to the left of the entrance (you will need to buy a ticket at the main section first).
Entry is 30 pesos, with kids cheaper.
5. History of Cebu Monument
Located in the raw but friendly backstreets of downtown Cebu is the oddly located Monument to the History of Cebu. It’s a large sculpture covering notable events in Cebu City and surrounds from 1500 to its completion in 2000, including Magellan’s visit and death at the hands of Lapu Lapu.
6. Museum Sugbo
Located in a former jail is a small but interesting museum looking at Cebuan history. Exhibits cover pre-Spanish Cebu and the Spanish and American colonial eras. The displays and exhibits are a bit random but well organised into a flowing narrative and are labelled in English. There’s some helpful explanations of Cebuan and Filipino history to put it all into context.
There’s some cool items on display, some quite old. There’s centuries old Spanish weapons and documents and a bunch of stuff from WW2 that got our attention. There’s letters and documents from some of the first Filipino presidents (the second President of the Commonwealth of the Philippines was from Cebu).
The museum’s displays are mainly static (there was one video) so little kids will be bored quickly. Some of the galleries are upstairs, too, so strollers won’t access everywhere (but some of the galleries are accessible with them). Older kids might be fine looking at the exhibits and reading the descriptions if they’re into that sort of thing.
That said, this was one of the better Cebu City attractions. There’s between 30 and 60 minutes of stuff here, maybe more if you stop and read everything, if you can.
Entry is 75 pesos for adults with students and kids 50 pesos. It is located on MJ Cuenco Avenue.
7. Magellan’s Cross
The famous explorer Magellan’s first step in the Philippines was in Cebu and he brought Catholicism with him. The location of the first mass in the Philippines is marked by the Cross of Magellan. Housed in a small rotunda on the plaza between the town hall and the Basilica of Santo Nino is a large cross built to celebrate that mass and the site is now one of the top places to visit in Cebu City.
To save the original from souvenir hunters, it has a case around it made of wood (just larger than the original cross, and also cross shape). Unfortunately the rotunda was closed and encased in tarpaulins and scaffolding when we visited, allowing us only a small glimpse of the cross.
8. Basilica Minore del Santo Niño (Minor Basilica of the Holy Child)
Soon after landing, Magellan began to convert the people he met. Two of his first converts were the local Cebuan chief and his wife. In thanks for their support and their faith Magellan presented the couple with a small wooden idol of the Holy Child. This icon was later lost to Magellan’s ill-fated landing on Mactan Island but revered decades later by Spanish conquistadors taking possession of the Philippines for Spain.
In honour of this idol, the Philippines oldest church was built in Cebu in 1565. The Basilica has been damaged by fire multiple times since then and the church’s current form dates from 1737.
Unlike many churches you might visit, this one remains a busy place of worship with 10 masses per day, more on Fridays and Sundays. There’s a constant throng of pilgrims and worshippers lighting candles and visiting the idol.
Many of these masses are held outside the church in a large open-air area. This was taking place when we visited. S was super happy as she is very interested in religion at the moment and she enjoyed taking part.
The Basilica itself was full of people when we went in so we couldn’t explore much but it was pretty inside. Having it full of worshipers added to its aura and I’m glad we visited. It was one of the best attractions in Cebu to check out.
Clothing should be respectable to enter (no bare shoulders or bare knees for women) but if they’re enforcing modesty there are shawls to cover up with at the entrance.
9. Cebu Metropolitan Cathedral
Right near by the Basilica (about 3 minutes walk away) was another bustling church – the Cebu Metropolitan Cathedral. It also had a service in progress when we visited, full of psalm singing and prayer. I think many people came here after the service at the Basilica ended.
Built by the Spanish after their conquest it reminded us of many of the churches and cathedrals we have seen in Latin America. It is also worth adding to your list of places to see in Cebu City.
10. Fort San Pedro
Another of the fun places in Cebu to visit is the small Fort San Pedro. Originally built in 1565 by the Spanish as a stronghold against pirates and Portuguese raiders, it was upgraded from wood to coral and stone and today hosts a small tropical garden and gallery.
Free personal tours are available and our friendly guide LJ showed us around, explaining the history of the fort and pointing out and explaining the various plants and flowers along the way. Being our own tour it moved entirely out our own pace and the kids were never bored or misbehaved as our guide did a great job of making sure they were included (plus they loved sitting on the cannons).
There’s also a tarantula in the fort visitors can hold and touch (its apparently tame). We weren’t brave enough.
Although the fort is small, between it and the plants we were there for 40 minutes. It is one of our favourite tourist places in Cebu and if we hadn’t been with the kids, I think we would have sat and soaked up the place for awhile.
Entry was 30 pesos for adults. Our kids were free.
11. Plaza Independencia
This sunbaked large park surrounds Fort San Pedro. There’s a lot of grass and open space to run around in and off to the side of the fort is a fun thing to do in cebu city with kids – a cool looking, fenced, playground. Unfortunately the park is only open from 3pm.
12. Carbon Market
This market, by the water in downtown Cebu City, was established in the 1890s. The market gets its name from the coal and wood that was sold from here. Today, it is a bustling and busy market selling all sorts of food. The market and the streets around it are full of activity. There’s many places to buy food at low prices. If you are a local market fan then include it in your activities to do in Cebu.
13. SM City Mall
If you want to do some shopping or want a zillion eating options, this is a great place to go! What’s also good is all the fun things to do in Cebu with kids that you will find here. There’s several indoor play areas, lots of game arcades and our kids particularly enjoyed Story Land – where there were some small kid rides. Z loved going on an elephant train and S on a boat version of dodgem cars! All for 35 pesos per ride.
Where to stay in Cebu City
There is a wide range of accommodation in Cebu City for all budgets and you are unlikely to have any problems finding something suitable for your needs and budget.
We managed to stay in 3 different hotels during our visits to Cebu City – two that battle it out to be the best place to stay in Cebu and a third which is a solid, central budget option.
Radisson Blu Cebu City
This is our pick for the best hotel in Cebu City and we returned here a second time. In fact, it is a big part of the reason we spent so long in Cebu City as we enjoyed spending time here so much both because it is a great hotel and also because it is right across the road from SM City so it is a very easy place to be.
There is a great big lobby with kids’ activities on the weekends and lots of Christmas decorations when we visited. We loved how we were given welcome ice creams on arrival!
There are also restaurants and room service. We enjoyed both, especially the buffet breakfast! It would have to be the best breakfast I have had a hotel anywhere. There was all the usual suspects plus a great range of food from other Asian cultures. What made it really stand out for me, however, was the cupcake ferris wheel, chocolate fountain and homemade ice cream counter! FYI ice cream tastes great for breakfast!
The Raddison Blu also has perhaps the best best swimming pool in Cebu – it’s the biggest one in Cebu City. It was a great place for us to get some downtime.
There are also nice spacious rooms with a great desk area and a couch that one of our kids could sleep on. There are also great toiletries and a gown. Our kids were free in existing bedding.
Marriott Cebu City
The Marriott is also a nice hotel but not up to the same standard as the Radisson Blu. I would not call it a 5 star hotel, more like a 4.
What we did really like about this hotel was that standard rooms came with two double beds which suited us well as a family. It is also next door to a shopping centre and there is a pool.
There is a lot to like about this hotel but my feelings about it were discoloured by bad service on arrival – no one helped us with our bags (and we are travelling with two young kids and I’m pregnant) and we received a complaint about noise within minutes of first arriving in our room. Perhaps give us a chance to put our bags down before saying we are too loud!
So it is hard for me to recommend this hotel with kids, but if you are looking for a nice, business standard hotel, this is a good choice of where to stay in Cebu.
La Gloria Residence Inn
This is a solid budget option close to the attractions in Cebu’s downtown area. They have a variety of room types, including family rooms, and I was impressed by the quality of the beds and bedding. Our family room had two double beds as well as a couch and was cosy, but there was enough space. My only gripe was that the air conditioning unit did not work well in our room.
We were able to walk to the downtown attractions above and there is plenty to eat nearby. The included breakfast is simple. We could not get wifi in our room.
Cebu with kids
We found Cebu City a very easy place to be with kids. We visited while I was pregnant and with our 3 and 5 year olds. There are enough attractions to keep them interested but no must see attractions that we needed to drag them around. Most things appealed to them enough.
It was an extra easy place for us to stay with kids because we stayed at the Radisson Blu Cebu. This place was perfect for them with good sized rooms, the big swimming area and SM City across the road. SM City in particular is a highly recommended place to visit with kids.
Getting Around Cebu
The easiest way to get around Cebu is by taxi. Depending on the time of day these can be easy or hard to come by. Shopping centres will have a rank but otherwise you’ll have to wave one down. This is harder than it should be because the drivers often don’t properly indicate when they’re occupied. During peak times it can be hard to get a taxi.
Taxis will use their metre without needing to be asked. We only had problems on one evening, when it was raining and traffic was bad. On that occasion the drivers wanted a set fare which they made clear from the beginning.
Taxis were clean and drivers didn’t have problems finding where we wanted to go or understanding us. We were able to get a regular taxi all the way to Moalboal (a couple of hours away) just by asking one.
Habal-habals, or motorcycle taxis, are a cheap and fast alternative for one person. They can weave in and out of traffic and avoid bottlenecks easily. You need to negotiate the fare before you go.
Downtown Cebu is walkable although it can be hard. Foot paths do not always exists and when they do they can be crowded or uneven. It is not a good place for strollers (and you probably won’t see any). Walking did feel safe though, even at night – although at night we stuck to busier areas.