Strategically located and facing the idyllic sunset boulevard of Manila Bay, the city of Manila is filled with rich cultural history and influences derived from the early Spanish colonization period
Spending a day inside the walls of Intramuros (Old Town) is the best option to learn about Metropolitan Manila’s historic and colorful past. In addition, the area is quiet, uncluttered by vehicular traffic, and away from the frenzy of the rest of the capital city.
Right across from Old Manila is Fort Santiago, an old Spanish fort that memorializes the incarceration of Dr. Jose Rizal. It includes the Rizal Memorial Shrine, a museum that aims to educate every visitor about the life and times of this National Hero of the Philippines. His works are truly impressive, but we are sad to learn about his eventual execution that helped to spark the 1896 revolution. The difficult path to independence by the Filipinos after Spain’s more than 370 years of occupation is better understood after a visit here.
In Manila, discover century-old churches and universities, theme parks, ride the horse-drawn carriage called “Kalesa”, go from one place to another on board the brightly painted and decorated Jeepney, check out the 24/7 nightlife and dazzling skyline, and experience the friendly nature, resilient spirit, and warm smiles of its people.
When To Go:
Classified as a tropical country, the city basically experiences two seasons: wet and dry. The climate and temperature are more ideal for a tour during the months of November to March when the weather is colder and less humid. Avoid the months of April to May (summer season) if you don’t want to be inconvenienced or suffer from heat stroke, as temperatures can go as high as 104 degrees. It is also advisable to postpone any holiday plans from July to September, as this is the time when the country is besieged by lots of storms that cause flooding in major thoroughfares of the metropolitan city.
This city is predominantly Catholic. Therefore Christmas, the New Year, and Easter are the most celebrated and joyous occasions in Manila. However, everyone must endure the traffic and the hustle and bustle of the local crowds in the huge shopping malls. During Easter, shops may close from Holy Monday up to Black Saturday. This is also the time when locals go to their native provinces to spend the almost week-long vacation.
Here is a list of
things to do
and exciting reasons why you must keep coming back to Manila:
Intramuros (Old Manila)
is recognized as the Old Town of Manila with a special atmosphere. It is a small town in the center of Manila where you can take a leisurely stroll to see both old dilapidated buildings and a beautifully manicured alley — a great place to observe and contemplate. You can explore on foot or via a horse-drawn carriage with a driver who also serves as a tour guide for the 160-acre neighborhood. This place once served as the center of Spanish rule; in fact most of the buildings, churches, and streets here still represent Spain’s overwhelming influence. Names and titles include Palacio del Gobernador, Calle Arzobispo, Casa Manila, and Iglesia de San Agustin, just to mention a few. To indulge in Spanish cuisine you will find rows of restaurants (Barbara’s, Ilustrado, etc.) along the walled city that offer a fusion of Filipino and Spanish dishes to satiate one’s palate.
In these modern times, the old town and its walled fort still stand and have come to symbolize the special Filipino brand of resiliency and perseverance. This small area has survived numerous war bombs, earthquakes, colonial invasions, and strong natural disasters. It is certainly worth a visit if you are in Manila.
is certainly one of the main attractions of Manila. It is included in all guidebooks about the city and despite its nearly 5 centuries of existence it is still well preserved — although more as remnants of an ancient fortress than one meant to protect the city. This place has additional historical value as it contains the former jail, the tomb, and the museum commemorating Dr. Jose Rizal. The terrain itself is quite well groomed and green. There are several monuments, there is a section dedicated to the vintage cars of former Philippine presidents (among other things,) and you can take pictures of urban views from the wall of the fort and the Pasig River. At the entrance to the fort is one of the best (in terms of range and price) souvenir shops in the Philippines.
If you walk around
, make sure you visit this old fortress. The entrance fee is not very expensive, and it is educational and informative. On the grounds there is a small park with a fountain, benches, and bronze figurines. You will hear a lot of interesting stories about Rizal, Manila, and Intramuros related by the walking tour guides within the fort. There is a beautiful cathedral inside, a well maintained garden, preserved guns and cannons, ramparts and batteries, dungeons, a well tended park with gorgeous fountains and a century-old arch. This fort has witnessed Philippine history from the sixteenth to the twentieth century. Even with the destruction of the Second World War, this last bastion of democracy in Manila maintains its military aspect of being a Spanish colonial fortress.
Upon entering the recently renovated
your attention will immediately be caught by its entryway. It is decorated with flags of Spain along with CCTV camera monitors in every entry point; there are also stained glass windows, beautifully painted ceilings, LED lights and huge flat screen TV’s in every corner. The cathedral is vast, and has some exceedingly interesting carvings; the outside gate is equally impressive. Inside, there is also an area of wooden figures, old chairs and relief images.
The overall impression of the actual church interior is remarkable because it always looks adorned for one of the many weddings which most guides say need to be booked two years in advance.
The new organ is beautiful and in the next room you can still admire some of the original organ’s parts. The ceiling looks almost three-dimensional. The cathedral accommodates various figures, saints, etc. On the side you can see the floats used for the annual procession and feast of the Blessed Virgin Mary for whom the Basilica was built and to whom it is dedicated. There is a crypt located under the main altar that keeps the remains of the prelates and archbishops that served the city (Archbishop of Manila- Jaime Cardinal Sin, Bishop Gabriel Reyes, and Bishop Rufino Cardinal Santos, etc.). This cathedral is not hard to locate because it is situated within the premises of Intramuros and just across from the historic Fort Santiago.
Located within the walls of the “Intramuros”, this splendid mansion/palace is a real piece of Spain in Manila. The
has a nice patio and beautiful house furnished with really old antiques. You can even see a well-preserved Antwerp ebony cabinet and items made from an old tortoise shell. This house serves as a small museum where you can see how the home of a
wealthy Filipino in the 19th century felt and looked.
It consists of three floors and presents stunningly authentic wall decoration, furniture, and even kitchen utensils. It feels as if the owners lived in prosperity and everything was chosen with good taste and not by chance. Walking from room to room is permitted only in areas with a red carpet. Once in the kitchen, you will feel as if the residents just left for a moment, because utensils are not properly stored and the impression is that someone is about to cook. But the most vivid impression is the 2 toilets that stand next to each other. The house has a courtyard at its center that is rented for private parties, film making, and wedding venues.
San Agustin Church
If you’re in Manila, be sure to visit one of the main attractions of the capital – the ruins of Intramuros and the
St. Agustin Church
. The church is very beautiful and also rather big. You might visit for more than two hours and you will learn so much about its interesting history by just reading the markers and following the trail up to the garden.
There is a cute oval green patio within the grounds where one can contemplate and find peace. On the second floor, get to know more about the Baroque-styled church from its museum. You can take photos inside this UNESCO World Heritage Site only in allowed areas, as there are designated halls where it is prohibited to take pictures. Bless your visit to this old church by lighting a candle and giving a modest donation at the entrance.
is a memorial to the late national hero Dr. Jose Rizal. This shrine and museum is located in Fort Santiago in Manila, a few miles away from the Rizal Park. When you visit the Shrine, take time to read the poetic stanzas of “My Last Farewell” or the “Mi Ultimo Adios” engraved on the walls and translated in many languages. You can admire one of Rizal’s coats, the old notes and coins produced in his time, and the original manuscript of his two famous and remarkable novels: Noli Me Tangere (Touch Me Not) and El Filibusterismo (The Filibustering).
Do not miss a visit to the cell where he was confined. One of the top things to do is to follow his engraved footsteps on the ground, from his dungeon in this fort leading all the way to Bagumbayan (now Rizal Park/Luneta) his final place of execution and brave road to martyrdom. There is a lot to see and understand but this place is a good way to learn more about the country’s historic and most iconic character.
Luneta – Rizal Park
Rizal Park (Luneta)
is a wonderful green oasis in the bustling city. You can go there for a walk after a tour of Intramuros, eat ice cream, and visit the Japanese and Chinese gardens filled with exotic plants. Stroll along the picnic grounds, skating rink, and the fountain area that is beautifully illuminated at nightfall. The park was named in honor of the late poet Jose Rizal. In the park you can also find the National Library, Lapu-Lapu monument and the Quirino Grandstand (a favorite venue for national events and Independence Day celebrations). There is also a zero-kilometer landmark post just across from the statue of the national hero.
Aside from the imposing and guarded monument of Dr. Jose Rizal, you can also find lots of sculptures of various national heroes of the Philippines all over the park. There is another interesting place to see, a 3D layout of the Philippines where you can see the entire country’s land formations with the topography of its volcanoes, islands, and mountains.
Manila Ocean Park
Manila Ocean Park
is a large aquarium with a lot of fish and marine wildlife. There are shows about penguins, sea lions and dolphins that delight both children and adults. From here you can admire all kinds of fish, jellyfish, seahorses, lobsters, swordfish, penguins, turtles, sharks, and shrimp. On the roof there is a fish spa where you can relax or get tickled by the small fish that bite the dead skin cells off your feet.
After visiting this park, you can stroll along the promenade, take pictures or have the best-tasting fresh oysters from one of the seafood restaurants in the area. You can combine a visit to Rizal Park with a visit to the ocean park because it is located just a few yards away from the Quirino Grandstand and Intramuros. On the ground floor are many restaurants (some with views of the bay) and shops where you can purchase souvenirs.
Binondo Church (Chinatown)
is without a doubt a standout among the most beautiful houses of worship in the city. It is an exceptionally old basilica found in the northern part of the city, close to its famous Chinatown. Visitors are amazed by the large mural on the ceiling that depicts the life of Jesus. The immense replica of St. Peter’s dome is also one of the interesting highlights of the church.
Surrounded by Chinese restaurants, pastry shops, shopping centers, banks, and century old arches and bridges, this part of the city is proud to highlight the harmonious relationship between the Filipino and Chinese traders. It is also widely recognized as the financial district of Manila.
National Museum of Manila
National Museum of Manila
is actually two museums with each side facing the street that is adjacent to the Department of Finance building. It is easily accessible for everyone including those in wheelchairs. Inside you can discover exhibits about traditional clothing and rice cultivation; the paintings, potteries, and sculptures are all worth a visit too. The highlight of the museum is the work of famous Filipino artist Juan Luna, the Spoliarium. The works of another noteworthy artist, Felix Resurreccion Hidalgo, are also featured in another part of the museum.