Whether you are on vacation in Cebu or are a resident/expat living here, you might find yourself wondering what to do, particularly during long weekends such as Holy Week. Despite living here for over a year and a half, I’m still yet to explore some of the fantastic activities this island has to offer, although I do plan on doing most of the below before I eventually leave this place. In this post I have listed all of the fun and interesting things to do and see in Cebu that I can think of, although if I missed anything then feel free to add your own suggestions in the comments box.
1. Swim with Whale Sharks in Oslob Cebu must be one of very few places where you can do this – you can swim with sharks without a cage or any sort of protection. I haven’t been myself but supposedly it’s safe as the whales are constantly being fed by local fisherman while you’re swimming, and you’re not allowed to get too close to them. They have an underwater photographer and it would also be a great opportunity to strap on a GoPro camera. It’s probably not for the faint hearted but certainly a unique thrill.
2. Check in at the Mövenpick Hotel and Beach Resort You don’t need to check in to the hotel to enjoy the fantastic facilities – they welcome day-trippers and aside from the private beach, they also have a swimming pool, hot tub and the Ibiza beach club, which is a large decked area great for cocktails and dancing to local DJs. My own personal experience was slightly soured by someone very unsubtly spending most of the afternoon ogling my girlfriend, but for anyone other than myself it’s well worth visiting. Oh and they also have a great menu, although as you’d expect it’s a costly day out.
3. Hang out at the Rock Cafe, Mactan
Situated close to the Mövenpick in Mactan, this bar is a very cool place to hangout. It feels like what I imagine a rock star from the seventies’ basement would look like i.e. loads of authentic rock music paraphernalia and incredible artwork on the walls. They also have a pool table, a British food menu, and weekly live music events.
4. Face your fears on the Extreme Edge Coaster & Skywalk, Crown Regency Hotel If you’re feeling brave and don’t suffer from vertigo, then take the elevator to the 35th floor in Crown Regency for an adrenaline rush. The skyride travels around the edge of the top of the hotel, and you are tilted in such a way in that you have no choice but to look all the way down. If that isn’t scary enough, you can also walk on a glass panel that circumvents the top of the hotel. You are tied to the top as you walk round, so it’s perfectly safe, although again this will really test your bravery.
5. Party till dawn in Mango Square If you’re looking for a place to party in Cebu City then J Ave or it’s neighbour ‘Alcology’ are where you’ll most likely end up. The party doesn’t stop till daylight hours and if you’re not fussy about overcrowded bars or very loud music and want to find someone to hook up with, then this is your place.
6. Watch a movie in IMAX 3D
Although there is an IMAX cinema back home in London, it’s both difficult and expensive to buy tickets there, so I very rarely went. By comparison, the IMAX cinema in Cebu always has available seats and although tickets are twice the cost of regular cinema tickets, they’re still cheap by western standards (around £5.30/$9). As a movie lover, it feels like a great privilege to have this on my doorstep.
7. Go Shopping in SM City Cebu When you’re done with your IMAX movie, then SM has a good selection of shops, cafes and restaurants to hang out in. The most popular store is Forever 21 and the entire mall has regular 3 day sales, so it’s a popular place with locals. My personal recommendation would be to try the Ramen Noodle burger at the Japanese restaurant in the north wing ground floor.
8. Embarrass yourself singing Karaoke
There are hundreds of karaoke venues in Cebu so if that’s something you’re into, then you’re spoilt for choice. I never did karaoke before moving to Asia, and it’s still not something I would do when sober, but after a few Red Horse beers it’s actually very good fun. Embarrassingly enough I actually had to sing in front of my entire office of over 100 people the first week I was here, and I still have nightmares about it!
9. Take a dip by the beautiful Kawasan Falls If you do a google image search for ‘Cebu’ then this is likely to be one of the first images you’ll see, as it’s something Cebu is famous for. I haven’t been myself but I went to a similar place in Samal Island, and if it’s anything like that then I’m sure it’s a great place to swim.
10. Enjoy a taste of France at La Vie Parisienne
Known for it’s delicious freshly baked croissants, macarons and the best wine shop in Cebu, this picturesque French bakery and wine bar is a must for anyone in Cebu. It’s a very popular place with locals and tourists, and they have weekly live DJs on Friday nights. It really is the perfect place to spend a chilled out evening with friends, and if you’re hungry they also have an adjoining restaurant called La Maison Rose, which as you might have guessed serves typical French dishes like Beef Bourguignon and Duck a l’Orange. Read my full review here.
11. Stargaze in IT Park
Sometimes the best things in life are free, and if you’re looking for a cheap and relaxing activity, then you can be totally ‘kilig’ (sweet) with a loved one by chilling out under the stars.
12. Play Beer Pong at Cable Car
If you’re looking a fun drinking game then head over to Cable Car where they hold weekly beer pong tournaments, with big prizes for the winners.
Scrapyard is located right next to Cable Car, so after you’ve won the beer pong tournament head over to the next building. It’s also a cool place to drink and chill out, and probably the most artistic place in Cebu. If you are a fan of modern art then it’s worth checking out as the entire building is littered with modern pieces, including this very fetching VW Beetle.
14. Eat a burrito at Army Navy, IT Park Known for it’s army bunker-style arch, this American themed restaurant serves delicious burgers and burritos. They have a burger known as the ‘bully boy’ which I have tried and all I can say is that the name is very appropriate. It’s a triple burger with all the trimmings and is only for the extremely hungry. Typically though I go for the burritos, as they are all delicious and they have a number of options including all day breakfast, vegetarian, chicken and beef. I’ve tried all of them and have never been disappointed, so this is a great place to eat for both healthy eaters and if you want to pig out. They also serve excellent crispy fries.
For locals this is probably something you do on a daily basis, but for foreign tourists and expats like myself it’s actually a fun experience as we don’t have buses like this in our own countries, and it really is an authentic Filipino activity to ride a jeepney. Just be careful riding it late at night as the jeepneys can be a target for local criminals, and always be careful of what’s in your pockets.
16. Get a massage
Whether you’re looking for a ‘happy ending’ or just a regular massage, you have a lot of options in Cebu. Just make sure you don’t ask for ‘additional service’ in a place that is unlikely to offer it as they might get offended. I’ve been to both the Crown Regency and La Esperanza De Masaje massage centres, and both were incredibly relaxing. The massage I got at Crown Regency hotel though was undoubtedly the best massage I’ve ever had, and I could have stayed on that table much longer than the 75 minutes allocated.
17. Get a sweat on at the Gym
With all the partying you’ll be doing while in Cebu, it’s important you don’t forget about your health. The gym I go to is the Power Gym at Crown Regency, which anyone can become a member of for 2k PHP a month or 5k for 3 months (or free if you’re staying at the hotel). There is also a Fitness First at Ayala and several other small gyms dotted around Cebu. There is one gym that someone told me about recently which supposedly is just 60 pesos per visit (about 80p / $1.35) although most of the cheaper gyms here don’t have air conditioning, which is great if you really want to lose weight and sweat out the alcohol from the previous night, but not if you just want a more comfortable workout experience.
18. Catch some rays at Bantayan Island
Bantayan Island is just off the northern coast of Cebu and was ravaged last year by Typhoon Yolanda, but it has reportedly recovered from this now and is well worth visiting if so. I was fortunate enough to go here before the storm (literally just the week before), and with all the problems that the island’s inhabitants have gone through over the last 6 months, I’m sure tourists would be welcomed with open arms. It’s a bit of a trek to get there (4 hours on a bus and a 2 hour boat ride), but definitely worth it for the experience and pristine beauty. My top tip would be to take a boat trip to Virgin Island, which has one of the best beaches in the Philippines.
19. Enjoy a cold Red Horse at KOA Tree House
For a chilled out night with live music, head over to KOA Tree Lounge on Gorordo avenue. It’s a great place to chill out on a Friday night with a few beers and to listen to some cool local bands playing. Generally the music is mostly reggae/rock ballads, so it’s a relaxing atmosphere.
If you’re looking for the perfect vantage point over ‘The Queen City of the South’, then Lantaw Native Restaurant has exactly that. Located up in the mountains, it boasts impeccable views of the city as well as excellent food. It gets pretty cold at night though so you might want to bring something warm to wear.
This is Cebu’s first (only?) indoor shooting range, where you can choose from a number of weapons like an M4 Rifle, a Shotgun, and a revolver. Located in the basement of Crown Regency, this could be a great activity to release stress.
Until recently, this was the number 1 restaurant in Cebu according to Tripadvisor, and when you sample the food there it’s easy to understand why. The restaurant is owned by an Italian and it shows in the quality of the pizzas and pasta dishes. They also deliver, although they don’t appear to have a website so ordering might be a challenge!
23. Eat Lechon
If your diet/religion doesn’t restrict you from eating pork, then you must try Lechon. Due to The Philippines previous hispanic colonisation, they have been heavily influenced by Spanish culture, including their language, religion and the food that they eat. Lechon is originally a spanish dish but has been embraced by Cebuanos and cooked here for hundreds of years. You can find Lechon at any local mall and is something normally eaten at celebrations and parties.
As you can see from the above table, ‘Bisaya’ is actually a different language from Tagalog (pronounced Tagahlog rather than tag-a-log) – the official language of the Philippines. What amazes me is that many Filipinos can only speak one or the other – my girlfriend only speaks Tagalog and so is as clueless as I am when someone speaks to her in Bisaya! However, you shouldn’t need to worry too much about becoming fluent because everyone here speaks good English, which is why it’s one of the world’s largest suppliers of call centres for western companies. Having said that, if you can learn a few phrases then the locals will be very impressed.
Not to be confused with KOA Tree House, the Tree Lounge is an outdoor bar located behind Neo Neo restaurant. It’s owned by an expat living in Cebu and most of the clientele are also expats, so if you’re a foreigner travelling alone or are new to Cebu and want to make friends then this is a good place to start. It has a friendly chilled out vibe with regular live music events, as well as serving some great burritos.
26. Eat Jollibee
Jollibee is the main fast food chain of the Philippines, mostly serving chicken with rice or sweet spaghetti and they are literally everywhere. The first time I went there I simply wanted a chicken burger, and was confused when they only had a beef burger or chicken on it’s own. Why don’t they have a chicken burger? It is a chicken fast food chain after all. Anyway, I’m not personally recommending that anyone reading this should eat here, but it is a part of the local culture and something different.
Whether you’re from England or not, you might like to try some (relatively) authentic English dishes. I say relatively because I had the fish and chips there, which was nice enough but they don’t have the same kinds of fish in the Philippines, so it will never taste the same without Cod or Haddock. However, you can also watch football here on the big screen inside, so it is as English as it gets here in Cebu.
Premier League games aren’t currently shown on local channels in the Philippines, so if you want to watch football then your only options are to either stream the games on a laptop or go to one of the bars showing the games. As mentioned in 27., Urban Cellar does also show the games. However, I struggled to find a good seat the last time I went there and it’s usually pretty crowded, so I prefer to go to The Emerald Isle Irish Pub which is just next door. They also have a great food menu and I had some delicious quesadillas there.
29. Take a dip at Portofino Beach
A popular spot with locals, Portofino beach is probably the closest beach to Cebu City and much cheaper than going to one of the resorts like Movenpick. If you just want to go to the beach and aren’t fussed where then this is a decent spot.
30. Go to one of Cebu’s Girly Bars
Cebu is famous for it’s ‘girly bars’ and as such, there is a lot of sex tourism here. Surprisingly, the girls aren’t actually allowed to take their clothes off which I find bizarre (which might explain why it’s called a girly bar and not a strip club). However, you will still be overcharged for drinks as is the case in regular strip clubs, and when one of the girls working there sits down next to you, you will also be strongly encouraged to buy them an overpriced drink too. If you want some adult entertainment then this is the place for you, although if you are well-travelled then don’t expect it to compare to places like Thailand, and the majority of the girls working there aren’t especially attractive.
31. Get breakfast at the Pancake House, Ayala Terraces
I love pancakes. Eating them makes me both nostalgic and homesick, and they are a great weekend food. The Pancake House in Ayala Terraces serves the best pancakes in Cebu, and they have some delicious varieties like Hawaian Eggs Benedict Pancakes (as shown above).
32. Get a Tattoo
Although this might not be for everyone, if you are considering getting a tattoo then the Philippines has some of the best tattoo artists in the world, and Cebu has a great selection of tattoo artists to choose from. As you might expect, tattoos are also much cheaper here.
33. Get a haircut
Although most things in Cebu are much cheaper than the rest of the world, getting a haircut is probably the biggest difference in price. I used to get my hair done for around £7 which equates to 522 PHP or $11.75. Here, you can get a perfectly good haircut for just 100 PHP – less than 20% of what I used to pay. If you want to go to a proper salon, even that would just be around 400 PHP including a head massage, and different staff to cut and style your hair, so you can really go all out on pampering yourself here.
34. Eat Balut
Not for the squeamish, Balut is an unborn duck embryo that has been allowed to mature for 16-23 days before being cooked and subsequently eaten. The local guys typically eat it when they’ve had a few red horse and want to improve their virility when they get home, although a minority of Cebuanos actually eat balut. It’s definitely something to try if you are an adventurous eater like myself, but just to warn you it did nearly make me throw up so try it with caution.
35. Go for a hike in the mountains
If you want a different kind of experience from the girly bars and nightlife in Cebu, then you might like to try some mountain hiking. Cebu has several incredibly scenic paths that you can take, which will allow you to really appreciate the beauty of the island while taking in the mountain air.
36. Try a Gourmet Burger at Irie Gastropubliko
Irie Gastropubliko is as it sounds – a gastro pub. They have a mixture of internationally themed dishes, although perhaps ‘American’ is the most evident. They have a fantastic selection of burgers (as well as steaks) and the Umami burger is particularly delicious, they also have the best fish and chips in Cebu (better than the English Urban Cellar bar). Aside from the food, they have many imported and rare beers, along with healthy milkshakes and an excellent playlist. This is my favourite restaurant in Cebu, and I’ve eaten pretty much everywhere.
37. Go Jogging in IT Park
If you want to follow in the footsteps on Manny “Pacman” Pacquiao then you can do just that by jogging in IT Park. IT Park is probably the only place in Cebu with pavements and lots of open space to run around in. Late at night the air should be cool enough to enjoy some outdoor running and there wouldn’t be much traffic there at that time either, plus it’s completely free and healthy, so there’s no excuse not to!
38. Go Ziplining
Unless your opinion of ziplining has been ruined by South Park’s ‘I Never Should Have Gone Ziplining’ episode, then this is another thrill you can enjoy in Cebu. If you do a Google search you’ll see that there are actually multiple destinations where you can zipline, although the above photo from the theme park in Tambayan looks especially exciting.
39. Relax on the sandy shores of Badian
Unfortunately the weather wasn’t fantastic when I went here, although that didn’t stop me from enjoying the beach at Badian. Again it’s around a 3-4 hour ride from Cebu City but still a lovely area to visit. Also very close to Kawasan Falls which could be seen in the same trip.
40. Play Golf
No popular retirement destination would be complete without a golf club or two, and Cebu actually has quite a few. The above picture is of the Alta Vista Country Club, which looks quite spectacular. The membership, green fees and club rental are significantly lower for most of the courses here than they would be in western countries, and there are several good quality courses to choose from. As with any golf course, you are still required to dress appropriately.
41. Watch live music at the Outpost
The Outpost is a large outdoor and covered/indoor area where all the cool kids of Cebu hang out. The benches are made of skateboards and there is deliberately placed graffiti in some parts. You’re unlikely to see too many foreigners here but that shouldn’t put anyone foreign off from going there as it has a relaxing vibe and good live bands.
42. Learn to Fight like Pacquiao at ALA Boxing Gyms
The Philippines has one of the richest boxing histories of any nation, and ALA Boxing gym has trained a number of their World Champions, including “Gerry Penalosa, Malcom “Eagle Eye” Tunacao, current WBO Minimum Weight World Champion Donnie “Ahas” Nietes, IBO champion Noel “The Eel” Tunacao, and WBC Light Flyweight Champion Rodel “Batang Mandaue” Mayol” (source: ALA Boxing). Anyone is welcome to walk-in or join one of 5 gyms and as you can imagine, they have the best coaching you can get as an amateur.
43. Try the Belgian Waffles at Brussels Café
Possibly the only Belgian restaurant in Cebu, Brussels Café has both excellent food and excellent drinks. Belgian Waffles are the obvious choice, while they also have a fantastic selection of imported Belgian beers.
44. Try Durian
While Durian is actually grown in Davao, it’s sold all over the Philippines and if you are new to the country then it’s a must to try this controversial fruit. I say controversial because in many international hotels it is banned on account of the pungent smell, and any local stores/street food sellers will likely reek of it. However, the taste is unique and I’m quite partial to it in small doses. Try a durian shake at any fruit shake vendor and I’m sure you’ll love it.
45. Dine with a view at Sky Lounge by Blue Elephant
I’m due to visit this place this week so I’ll be sure to write a full review of it soon, but judging by the pictures, this is a great place to eat out in Cebu. It overlooks Ayala Center and there’s clearly a great view up there. I imagine the food is probably good too as I’ve eaten at the other Blue Elephant Restaurant in IT Park and it’s undoubtedly the best Thai food I’ve had here, so I’m really looking forward to experiencing this place.
46. Go Diving in Dumaguete
Cebu (and the Philippines in general) is supposedly one of the finest diving areas in Asia, with Dumaguete being the most well-known spot locally just off the southern coast of Cebu. They have expert divers to assist you and it would certainly be a great place for anyone to test the waters.
47. Roll the dice at the Waterfront Hotel Casino
Judging by the outside, you could be forgiven for thinking you were in Vegas. The Waterfront Hotel is one of the most reputable hotels in the city and is also known for it’s excellent casino. I haven’t been to the casino itself but if you have money to burn then I’m sure it’s a great place to spend the evening. The Waterfront Hotel is just opposite IT Park as well, so there’s a lot to do in that area.
48. Buy knock-off replicas in Colon
If you want to buy the fake clothes and pirated DVDs that Asia is famous for, or even want to purchase some very cheap fruit and veg, then Colon (pronounced Collon rather than it’s unfortunate spelling) is an option as they have thousands of stores that sell those kinds of things. One word of warning though, this is not an especially safe place for foreigners. If you do want to go here, only go during the day and keep your phone and wallet in a zipped pocket, and don’t carry valuables in a backpack or anything that can be easily snatched away. Personally I don’t go here and most likely never will, but I do know of foreigners going here and successfully purchasing items without being robbed. Co-incidentally, while searching for an image of Colon I stumbled across this article of a foreigner getting attacked here, which is an interesting read. Generally Cebu is a safe place but I wouldn’t advise staying in a hotel anywhere near Colon.
49. Dine at one of the many excellent restaurants at Ayala Terraces
Ayala has most of the best restaurants in Cebu City. Supposedly the no. 1 restaurant according to Tripadvisor is an Australian place called ‘Canvas Bistro Bar Gallery’ which is located here. My personal favourites include the Vietnamese/Thai place called Lemongrass, the Greek restaurant Cyma, Mesa Filipino Moderne and the Thai restaurant Banana Leaf. Also located here is the Pancake House I mentioned earlier, and there is even a T.G.I Fridays for those who want a taste of America. I have been here so many times and yet there are still many places that I’m yet to discover (like the Australian restaurant) so if you’re stuck on where to eat then Ayala is always a good choice. Aside from restaurants they also have great stores selling designer clothes and watches (which are just as expensive as they would be in the west unfortunately), as well as a cinema and some cafes. There is even a Fitness First gym if you want to get some exercise.
50. Check in at the Shangri-La Hotel, Mactan Island
If money is no object, then undoubtedly you should stay at this incredible resort in Mactan. Shangri-La Hotels are an internationally known brand and from what I’ve heard this place lives up to all expectations. It has its own private beach, huge swimming pools, excellent food, a spa and massage centre, and pretty much anything you could want from a hotel. The only drawback is that Mactan is a good 45 minutes away from central Cebu City but if you stayed here then I’m not sure if you would want to go anywhere else. You don’t actually have to check-in here however, you can visit for the day and sample the beach and delicious food, so if you can go then I’m sure it’s worth it.
I probably could have written 100 or 1000 things to do in Cebu City as there really are a lot of things you can do here, and there are many things that haven’t even been included. However, you’ll certainly never be bored in the ‘Queen City of the South’ and although it might not have as much natural beauty as places like Palawan or Boracay, it really is a cool place to live and to visit. As mentioned in the first paragraph, feel free to add your tips in the comments section.