Known as the Queen City of the South, Cebu is one of the largest cities in the Philippines and is home to one of the busiest ports in the country. Being the oldest settlement in the country, its history is traced back to a long Spanish heritage. The most historic event in Cebu is Ferdinand Magellan’s landing there in 1521 and of course, when Chief Lapulapu killed him later. It was in 1565 when Miguel Lopez de Legazpi and friar Andres de Urdaneta founded the first Spanish settlement, bringing in Catholicism.
That made Cebu the Spanish Colonial capital until Legazpi was removed from Manila. Until now, Cebu City remains a cultural and religious hub of the Philippines. Cebu has also become a commercial and industrial core in the south throughout the years. Nowadays, it is now a popular destination where there is so much to see, explore, and experience.
To enjoy Cebu City the best way possible, we’ve prepared the ultimate Cebu City tour guide for you.
How to Get to Cebu City
Going to Cebu from different parts of the country and even from other countries is easy. You have the option of traveling by air or by sea. Here’s how you can get to Cebu.
The quickest way to get to Cebu City is by booking a direct flight to Mactan-Cebu International Airport. There are local flights available to Cebu from Manila, Tacloban, Kalibo, Davao, Camiguin, Siargao, Cagayan de Oro, Iloilo, and Legazpi. You have different airline options as well.
Many people coming from different countries still book a connecting flight to Cebu with a layover in Manila. Be informed that there are already direct international flights to Cebu from Singapore, Japan, China, Hong Kong, and Malaysia.
Flights from Manila can cost as low as 2000 PHP/4300JPY/40 USD.
If you want a cheaper way to get to Cebu City, you can go by ferry. There are ferries bound for Cebu City from ports in Manila. Ormoc in Leyte, Butuan, Maasin, Cagayan de Oro, Tagbilaran and Tubigon in Bohol, and Ozamiz. You can check the internet for different ferry schedules or various fast crafts and ferries operating trips.
Tickets are as low as 1000 PHP/2150 JPY/20 USD.
9 Interesting Facts about Cebu City
Cebu is a fascinating city. It’s bustling with so much culture and history, but there are facets of those things still unknown to many, including many Filipinos. Cebu City is not your ordinary weekend getaway or escape from the stress in Manila. It is a charming city with so much background that represents the entire country possibly more than several other places in the Philippines.
Here are 10 interesting facts about Cebu City to convince you to book those flight or ferry tickets ASAP:
The Country’s Oldest City
As mentioned above, Cebu City was founded by Miguel Lopez de Legazpi in 1565. That makes it the oldest city in the Philippines with structures and landmarks dating centuries ago. The oldest streets and educational institutions in the country can be found right in this city, and they’re still almost exactly the way they were in the early days.
The oldest street in the Philippines, Colon Street, is right here in Cebu. It was named after Christopher Columbus. The road’s design is still the same as back in Legazpi’s era. It’s surrounded by vintage structures and architecture, making the street absolutely Instagram-worthy for those who love a good social media check-in.
One of the oldest schools in the country was also founded in Cebu by the Jesuit priests all the way back in 1595. It is the University of San Carlos. Just like Manila’s University of Sto. Tomas, these universities are still reputable institutions known for their quality education. They have kept their operation running on the original values they were established from.
Then there’s the oldest relic in Cebu as well. The statue of the Sto. Niño at the Basilica of Sto. Niño was a gift given by Ferdinand Magellan to Queen Juana and her husband King Humabon when they were baptized as Catholics in 1521. The statue has even survived a terrible fire, instantly making it Cebus’ patron saint an attraction to many devotees and tourists.
Cebuanos Are the First Filipinos
When Ruy Lopez de Villalobos landed on the Philippine islands, he named Cebu, Bohol, Negros, Panay, and Leyte “Las Islas Filipinas”, technically making the inhabitants of these places the very first Filipinos. The name was in honor of Philip of Austria who later became King Philip II of Spain.
There is a Malacañang Palace in Cebu
There is a Malacañang Palace in Cebu City established in 1910. It is known as the Malacañang of the South and is used to be called the Aduana or the Spanish term for customs. The building used to be the Bureau of Customs in the province. Now it just serves as the official residence of the President of the Philippines in the Visayas.
Hosts One of Asia’s Biggest Festivals
Cebu City is known for its Sinulog Festival, a 9-day festival with millions of comers every year. This fiesta has a wild mix of street dances, novena masses, and the Mardi Gras. This festival is a celebration of the Santo Niño, so expect a dance ritual that tells the story of the Filipino people’s pagan history and their acceptance of Christianity.
Sinulog means graceful dance which started in 1980 with a dance symbolizing the sulog or current of a river in Cebu. This vibrant and grand celebration is recognized even in different parts of the world, making it definitely a must-come-to festival. Drag your friends and be prepared to party!
Home of Thresher Sharks
The city itself is not the home of thresher sharks, but it is the gateway to the Malapascua Island, a famous diving community known for its thresher sharks. You can spot these sharks beneath the island just before sunrise, a magnificent thing to witness for divers and adventurers. In Cebu City, you could meet a few people who can tour you to this area though. You can also meet locals or travelers alike who may want to join you.
Ferdinand Magellan Gave Three Gifts to Cebu
The oldest relic of the patron saint wasn’t the only present Magellan gave Queen Juana and King Humabon. He also gifted them two more important religious images such as that of Virgin Mary and the Child Jesus for Queen Juana and the Ecce Homo given to King Humabon. Ecce Homo is a wooden bust sculpture of the suffering Christ.
It Once Had Its Own Railway System
The busy LRT lines 1 and 2, the controversial MRT, and the classic PNR weren’t the only train systems in the Philippines before. Trains were the primary mode of transportation back in the day for the Filipinos. The main track of this now gone railway system stretched up to 90 kilometers or 56 miles. However, the railway was destructed during the World War II. That urged the Cebuanos to find other modes of transportation.
The City Has the Smallest and Oldest Fort
Fort San Pedro was the first ever fort to be built in the Spanish colonial era. It was established to fend off attackers and later became a refuge for the revolutionaries. In World War II, it turned into an army camp after being used as the American forces’ barracks.
The City Was Once Had a Revolving Restaurant
Back then, this revolving restaurant was the first in Asia. The city’s first high-rise, Ludo & Luym Hotel Building built in the early 1960s was home to this unique restaurant. Now, the modern skyscraper is where the Centerpoint Hotel, the GMA 7 Studio, Shoe Mart Store, and the Sundowner Hotel can be found.
17 Things to Do in Cebu City
Now that you’ve learned a few things about Cebu City’s background, it’ll be easier for you to grasp the value of the following activities we’ve listed below. Cebu City may not have the cosmopolitan vibe of Metro Manila, but it has its cultural charms and little delights that can tickle any traveler’s heart. With so much history to discover and beauties to admire, we assure you won’t run out of things to do in Cebu City.
See the Iconic Magellan’s Cross
Magellan’s Cross is believed to be the Christian cross planted by Portuguese and Spanish explorers led by Ferdinand Magellan. It was planted on their arrival on the 15th of March in 1521 which is also the day marking the birth of Christianity in Cebu. An interesting thing is that the original cross was believed to hold miraculous healing powers, and the people would take it away.
The government encased it in another wooden cross now secured in a small chapel. There are theories that the original cross was destroyed or simply disappeared after Magellan’s death. In the present time, the cross is placed in an octagonal pavilion known as the kiosk. It is a popular attraction in the city. You can find it in a small chapel near the Basilica Minore Del Sto. Nino on Magallanes St. right in front of the Cebu City Hall.
Take a Walk Down Colon Street
You can’t miss walking down on Colon Street when you’re in Cebu City. It may seem like any other ordinary stretch of sidewalk at first but the more you walk down the path, the more you find different things that will tickle your curiosity. The street has markets selling different stuff like backpacks, clothes, shoes, jewelry, and all kinds of souvenirs. You can even haggle the prices with the friendly vendors. Make sure to try the street food there as well.
Visit the 1730 Jesuit House
Visiting the 1730 Jesuit House is one of the best surprises you’ll ever get in Cebu City. The establishment is a hardware store on the outside but once you step inside the main 1730 Jesuit House, it feels like you’ve instantly been transported centuries back into time. This ancient house has been through it all–foreign invasions, typhoons, earthquakes. The managers of this place works hard to protect the historic site.
There are tours for the Jesuit House that lasts an hour. It’ll be a little journey through the management’s efforts in preserving the site, artifacts, antiques, carvings, cameras, and old pieces of furniture that smell of fresh nostalgia.
Take Tons of Pictures at the Sirao Flower Gardens
The new Sirao Flower Gardens is made to look like Cebu City’s own little Amsterdam. Its colorful and fresh blooms arranged with unique life-size monuments and other Instagrammable spots are just a must-see. The garden even has a specific pictorial garden for those who would go crazy going home without additional memories on their camera roll.
Sirao also has a camping site for those who would like to wake up to the view of the hills and thousands of different flowers around. The entrance fee per head is just 50 PHP/ 108 JPY/ 1 USD.
See the Historic Cebu Metropolitan Cathedral
Also popularly known as the Cebu Cathedral, this church was founded as the seat of Cebu bishop when the province turned into one of the suffragan dioceses under the archdiocese of Manila in 1595. Sounds a lot technical for a cathedral, right? What was once a holy place with nipa palms as its foundations eventually transformed into a Baroque-Rococo style architecture.
The cathedral is decorated with carved floral motifs, images of Saint Peter and Saint Paul, clamshell medallion of the most Holy Name of Jesus, two fu dogs acting as guards of the main doors, and Phonenixes that could be of Chinese influence. The main cathedral retablo (traditional Catholic church painting) also has detailed images of different Catholic icons.
It would be fun to see such a beauty and spot more intricacies in the structure.
Relax at the Mountain View Nature Park
Whether you’re coming as a family or a group of friends, here’s a nice place to hangout. The Mountain View Nature Park is not just all about its views. If you’re coming with kids, they can enjoy the water playground with exciting pool slides. If the kids in your family aren’t really into the water, there’s also a land play place for them that’s jungle-themed. Then the adults can enjoy different viewpoints within the park. It’s a nice time to unwind while the kids play. There’s a cafe, restaurant, public restrooms, and even hotel rooms available in this compound. It’s a perfect break from all the tours and walking around the city.
Visit the Old Yap San Diego Ancestral House
The Yap San Diego Ancestral House is one of the oldest yet preserved houses in the entire Cebu province. It was constructed in 1675, and it best represents the aesthetic of its times. Since this a well-preserved structure, you can still see the coral stones used for the walls, ceilings, floors, and even stairs of the house. The roof has Chinese bricks for its roof, also known as terracotta tiles.
Inside the house, you’ll also see paintings, furniture, and other stuff from the 16th through 19th century. You’ll be assisted by an English-speaking tour guide so you can learn more about the background of each important painting or decor.
Head out to the Tops Lookout
Tops Lookout is one of the secret attractions in Cebu City. It looks like a fortress with an open viewing deck that makes you feel like you’re in some fantasy movie. This place is designed with round stone structures, each making a unique photo backdrop. You would definitely want to stay longer here just to relax, especially if you’re with a significant other. Don’t worry as they have a bar that sells beers and snacks. They also have a little souvenir shop in case you want to take something from such a simple but memorable experience on top of the city.
Go to the Temple of Leah
Cebu has its own Taj Mahal too. The Temple of Leah is also a mausoleum built by Teodorico Soriano Adarna has a symbol of love to his late wife Leah Albino-Adarna who had been his partner for 53 years. The founder is also the hotel of the Queensland motel chains in Cebu. The temple wasn’t built that long ago. The construction began in 2012.
The temple is said to have an art gallery, museum, bar, library, breath-taking life-sized statues, and many other luxurious decor. There’s also a brass 10-foot monument of Leah in the lobby with a plaque on its base that says:
“Beloved Wife and Mother: Leah V. Albino-Adarna was chosen Matron Queen of her Alma Mater the University of Southern Philippines. This bronze statue portrays her composure and regal bearing when she was crowned. May the beholder discern her innate beauty, poise and gentleness.”
See the marvelous structure and melt in the touching story behind it.
Admire the Cebu Heritage Monument
The Cebu Heritage Monument sums up everything there is about the city–its history, churches, historical figures, etc. Many tourists come here to get a preview of what to expect from the city, but put this in the middle or at the end part of your tour instead. That way, you would already have more insight about the context of the monument.
See Different Butterflies at the Jumalon Butterfly Sanctuary
Cebu City has a beautiful butterfly sanctuary which is like a little rainforest with plants, flowers, and different species of butterflies flying around. This is definitely the place where you should keep your camera or phones out at all times to capture every moment a butterfly lands somewhere close to you. There is a small entrance fee to pay but it goes a long way for the maintenance of this precious place.
Conquer Your Fears at the Crown Regency Sky Experience
Yes, Cebu City also has room for the adrenaline junkies. Ride the Edge Coaster at the Crown Regency hotel. The ride circles the edge of the 38th floor while you’re strapped up and walking along the translucent glass flooring. You’ll be 126.55 meters high. You can even take the extreme zip line 473 feet in the air. Those are just the main activities there, so make sure to check it out and see which death-defying activity is for you.
Be Amazed by the Taoist Temple’s Extraordinary Architecture
There’s a stunning Taoist Temple located in the Beverly Hills subdivision of Cebu. It is 300 meters above sea level, so prepare for a hike getting there. It’s all worth it when you reach the temple though as it’s also a nice spot to see the views of the island.You can also join a Taoist ritual which is as simple as taking two wood blocks into the temple and dropping them on the floor in front of the shrine.
They say that the blocks fall face up, it means the gods are giving you permission to make a wish. If the blocks don’t fal face up, the gods simply don’t think it’s the time for your wish to come true. Take note that before you enter the temple, you must wash your hands and take your shoes off first as respect for the sacred grounds.
Visit Fort San Pedro
As mentioned above, this country’s smallest and oldest fortress has been through a lot. It’s definitely a must-see when in Cebu City. Walk around the area and try to imagine the significant events that took place there. Don’t forget to take a few snaps against the walls too. These walls have been steady throughout the centuries, so they’re worth a spot in your gallery.
Enjoy a Peaceful Time at Terrazas De Flores Botanical Garden
The Terrazas De Flores can act as your break in between the many active tours you’ll be doing in the city. Walking around alone could be stressful sometimes, especially in the summer, so treat yourself to beautiful flowers planted in the sides of rolling mountains. The areas get a cool wind breeze that can make any hot afternoon less bearable.
This is also a good destination for couples as there are floral gazebos with seats that make a perfect background for one of those Instagram couple pictures. Although a little outside the city center, you can hire a motor taxi for a cheaper and quicker transport to get to this floral paradise.
Enter a Colonial Prison House, the Museo Sugbo
It would be quite an experience to be behind bars, especially if it’s in a colonial prison house. The Museo Sugbo is situated right in the former Cebu Provincial Detention and Rehabilitation Center. The prison was designed in 1869 by Domingo de Escondrillas who was an architect in Cebu at that time. It was originally built as the main prison for the Visayas district due to its large size. After its establishment in 1871, more historic events took place which the current Museo Sugbo will walk you through.
Marvel in the Beauty of the 10,000 Roses of Cebu
The 10,000 Roses Cafe is one of the new attractions in Cebu. The cafe is located in Cordova already, about an hour away from the city. The 10,000 roses aren’t real roses but LED roses that glow up almost magically. Take note that visiting at night time might be a bit disappointing to due to light source issues in the area.
During the day, the roses still stand out anyway and would still make good background for your Instagram shots. Just prepare 20 PHP/ 43 JPY/ .40 USD for the entrance fee.
5 Delicacies to Try in Cebu City
Many people visit Cebu just for their delicacies. Many Filipinos from the north head to the Queen City of the South for food trips as there are simply different tastes to explore in this City. Just check out the ones below:
Cebu has the crown for the best roasted pork in the Philippines. Lechon is a local trademark in Cebu, so you must try this pork you can order as a whole pig for a big group or as chopped pieces for smaller meal portions. The crunchy skin of roasted pork and its soft, flavory insides are just too irresistible to skip when in Cebu City.
If you want to take home some Lechon, there are Lechon houses that arrange for their product to be carried by air or land travel. Just inquire about it and take home such a scrumptious souvenir.
Dried mango may be available in several other countries, but Cebu is the main distributor of dried mangoes in the Philippines. So that’s quality dried mango right there. There are also tamarind candies and other fruit candies or mango concentrates to try in the city as well. They are found in the same shops, so you won’t have a hard time getting a hold of them all.
Mangoes are not the only dried stuff Cebu is known for. They are also known for their dried fish which is a good breakfast food paired with rice and eggs.
Masareals are rectangular sweets that are made from peanuts and sugar syrup. It’s hard to explain the specifics of its taste and texture but it definitely tastes good. Just try them and see for yourself.
Rosquillos are butter cookies, which have been around in the city for more than a century now. One of the shops selling home-baked rosquillos has even been in the business since 1907. You can find one of these less commercial stores or purchase a pack from “pasalubong” stores or supermarkets in the city.
A Few Last Tips
If you really want to experience all of those things throughout your stay in Cebu, you could just hire your personal tour guide who knows the ins and outs of the city. To find trustworthy and reasonably priced personal tour guide services, you can check out Rakuboss. This freelance marketplace has listings of reliable tour guides you can reach, as well as more travel content for your trip to the hottest destinations in the Philippines.