For majority of those travelling to the Philippines, Manila is often relegated as nothing more than the point of entry to many of the country’s premier islands. Sure, its crazy traffic, dense population, and seemingly endless sea of concrete buildings may discourage you from exploring the capital, especially if it’s your first time.
However, if you keep an open mind and let your inner adventurer take the lead, you’ll be surprised to know that there is actually so much to see here that are worth your time and will make your vacation all the more memorable. Having said that, we have put together a list of top 4 places to visit in Manila if it’s your first time in the city.
Tour the Walled District of Intramuros
Intramuros, which means within the walls, is the oldest part of Manila. Built in 1571, this 64-hectare stone citadel used to be the seat of power for the Spanish colonists for 400 years. It also survived subsequent foreign invasions and suffered great damage during World War II, with San Agustin Church being the only building left standing after the war. Through the initiative of the government, Intramuros was restored to its former glory in the 1980s and has retained its old-world charm to date.
Having witnessed centuries-worth of events under foreign rule, this fortified center tells a lot of stories about Filipino life and culture of that time, making it one of the top places to visit in Manila. Fort Santiago, for instance, which is the Philippines’ oldest Hispanic stone fortress, fended off marauding Chinese pirates and also served as prison for political prisoners of the Spanish-era and torture chamber of the Japanese during World War II. Puerta de Santa Lucia, which was built in 1603 and is one of the gates passing through Intramuros, is where visitors can climb up and get a good view of the thoroughfares within the walled district. Manila Cathedral and San Agustin Church, on the other hand, are two of the religious sites within Intramuros that stood as witnesses in the spread of Catholicism in the country. Other notable sites to explore include Plaza Moriones, Rizal Shrine, Bateria de Santa Barbara, Bahay Tsinoy, and Casa Manila.
Get Educated on the Natural, Cultural, and Visual Heritage of Filipinos by Dropping by the National Museum of the Philippines
The National Museum of the Philippines is one of the best places to visit in Manila to immerse yourself in Filipino cultural and historical artifacts, works of art, and natural history. Established in 1901, it was originally intended as an ethnography and natural history museum. When it subsequently moved into its present building, which was designed by American Architect Daniel Burnham in 1918, the National Museum of the Philippines broadened its concerns in various areas of cultural heritage, natural history, and other sciences. Today, it continues its mandate to instill cultural consciousness and nationalism among Filipinos by acquiring, documenting, preserving, and exhibiting a wide array of specimens, works of art, and cultural and historical artifacts that represent the Filipino people’s heritage.
Currently, the National Museum of the Philippines has two buildings: the National Fine Arts, which serves as the home of the country’s treasured artworks, and the Museum of the Filipino People, which contains artifacts reflecting Filipino heritage.
When you make your way to the National Fine Arts, The Old House of Representatives Session Hall (also called The Hall of the Masters) is a place you should not miss. It houses two of the country’s most important paintings: Juan Luna’s “Spolarium” and Felix Resurreccion Hidalgo’s “Virgenes Cristianas Expuestas Al Populacho”. You should also explore the Museum of the Filipino people, which is a short walk across the National Fine Arts Museum, to see important artifacts like traditional Ifugao house, recovered articles from the San Diego Galleon wreckage, and indigenous textiles and fabrics, among others.
Get to Know the Country’s National Hero at Rizal Park
More widely known as Luneta until it was officially renamed in the 1950s, Rizal Park is another one of those places to visit in Manila to learn about the Philippines’ past. It is of great historical importance to Filipinos, as it is where the country’s celebrated hero, Dr. Jose Rizal, was executed by Spanish authorities. Fronting the 60-hectare park and guarded by sentries is Rizal Monument, which contains his remains. About 100 meters from the monument is the site of Rizal’s execution, where a tableaux of life-size bronze statues that recreate the hero’s final moments can be found.
Seated in the middle of the park is the Central Lagoon, which is lined with bust sculptures of other heroes and martyrs of the country, including Juan Sumuroy of Samar, Marcelo H. Del Pilar of Bulacan, Sultan Kudarat of Cotabato, Aman Dangat of Batanes, and Gregorio Aglipay of Ilocos Norte. Further to the east end of the park near the National Museum is the 40-foot statue of Lapu-Lapu, who is the hero of the Battle of Mactan in 1521.
See Malacañan Palace—The Official Abode of the President of the Philippines
The Malacañan Palace is the Philippine president’s official residence and office. However, when it was first built in 1750 by Spanish aristocrat Don Luis Rocha, it was intended as his summer house. The palace was then sold to Col. Jose Miguel Formento in 1802 for P1,000 and was again resold to the Spanish government in 1825 for P5,100. Malacañan Palace only became the president’s official residence upon the establishment of the Philippine Commonwealth.
Take note that the residence itself is off limits to the public. However, several areas around the palace are open to visitors but can only be explored through guided walking tours, which are held only on weekdays. These areas include the Presidential Museum and Library, Casa Roces, and National Shrine of Saint Michael and the Archangels. Through the 2.5 hour tour, visitors get to learn stories and even scandals about those who occupied the property. They also get to explore other parts of Barangay San Miguel where Malacañan Palace is situated, such as San Rafael Street and Legarda Mansion.
As you can see, the capital of the Philippines has a lot to offer when it comes to tourist destinations. It is just a matter of knowing the right places to visit in Manila to fully appreciate its chaotic beauty and rich history. So if you are planning to visit Philippines anytime soon, don’t just make Manila a pit stop of your trip. Make it a destination as well.