Which Asian destination is home to hundreds of islands, miles of sandy beaches and coastline, lush tropical forests, world-class, old-world cities, and some of the friendliest people on earth. If you guessed the Philippines, you’re right!
Spending time on one of countless tropical islands in the Philippines may be a vacation of a lifetime, but don’t forget to set aside a few days to discover the bustling metropolis of Manila. Its rich past, incredible cuisine, and world-class shopping are just a few of the things that visitors enjoy when they visit this vibrant cultural city in the East.
A Spanish colony for more than three centuries, Manila also endured years of occupation by the Americans and Japanese during the 19th and 20th centuries. The result is a city with colorful past that is deeply rooted across several different cultures. Manila may have gained independence in 1946, but many of its old-world traditions remain the same.
Blast from the Past
The charming city of Manila is generally passed over by tourists in their haste to reach other popular destinations in the Philippines. The fascinating history of this ancient city, however, reveals the very heart of its people.
The ancient walled city of Intramuros allows visitors to take a step back into time to what was one the seat of Iberian Power in Asia. Its cobbled streets boast colonial architecture that was built by the Spanish conquistadors in 1571. Don’t miss the baroque San Agustin church (a UNESCO World Heritage site).
2. Fort Santiago
The cobblestone streets of Fort Santiago demonstrate what Manila used to be like before the destruction of the city in World War II. The 16th century military defense structure is the city’s most famous historical landmark, and today it makes an ideal setting for picnics and open-air theater. Fort Santiago is located within the walled city of Intramuros, which was where the Philippines’ national hero, Jose Rizal, was imprisoned before his execution in 1896.
3. Rizal Park
Known as one of Manila’s most popular tourist attractions, Rizal Park has been home to some very important moments in Philippine history, such as the execution of Jose Rizal, numerous political rallies, and the Declaration of Philippine Independence from American rule was held there on July 4, 1946.
Meander through picturesque Chinese and Japanese gardens, check out the giant relief map of the Philippines, sit and watch locals playing chess, or tour the park in a horse-drawn carriage or calesa.
4. Manila’s American Cemetery and Memorial
While Manila’s American Cemetery and Memorial doesn’t sound like it would be a lot of fun up front, this is one destination in Manila where you should really stop to take in. Over 17,200 US personneland soldiers from the Philippines and other allied nations have found their final resting place here in on this beautiful expanse of land in the largest cemetery in the Pacific. Most of the personnel interred here were killed in New Guinea or during the Battle of the Philippines or the Allied recapture of the islands. The marble headstones are aligned in eleven plots forming a circular patten among the lush green lawn and tropical trees.
5. San Sebastian Steel Church
Marvel at the impressive architecture of San Sebastian Church. This Roman Catholic minor basilica is the seat of Parish of San Sebastian, the National Shrine of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, and it’s made entirely of steel. As the only all-steel church in Asia, San Sebastian’s gothic architecture draws thousands of tourists each year. It is also thought to be one of the first prefabricated buildings in the world, and the only prefabricated steel church in the world.
Its pale green walls, steel vaulting and twin spires were designed by Gustave Eiffel, the same man who designed the world-famous Eiffel Tower in Paris.
World caliber museums
Culture addicts will love the number of interesting museums on Manila’s tourism roster.
6. The Ayala Museum in Makati
This museum showcases a diorama of Philippine History and an extensive exhibit of pre-colonial gold objects, including jewelry, funerary masks, and a gold vessel in the shape of half-bird and half-woman. These objects are from the cultures that thrived in the Philippines before the Spanish colonization in the 16th century. The museum also has a collection of scale models of ancient ships that sailed the Philippines waters and a collection of paintings from famous Philippine artists.
Manila’s premier museum of contemporary visual arts in the Philippines, has a slogan that says it all. ART FOR ALL is the foundation of all its programs, which include permanent and traveling exhibits, interactive displays, and learning activities.
8. Shopper’s Paradise
Manila is a shopper’s idea of heaven.Shopping is the number one national pastime in Manila, and the giant shopping malls that can be found all over the city is a true testament to this. The city is home to three out of ten of the world’s largest malls. The Mall of Asia, SM Megamall, and SM North EDSA are some of the largest malls in the world, and are a popular hangout for locals any day of the week. These malls are like mini-cities, with stores, supermarkets, theaters, spas and even a skating rink! Christian and Muslim religious services are also held at the malls.
Go bargain shopping in Greenhills in San Juan for knock-off designer bags, clothes, watches, and shoes. Nab some cultured pearls at any one of the jewelry shops in the area, or browse through DVD collections and art shops. Don’t be afraid to bargain!
Push your way through the crowds at Manila’s bargain shopping mecca, Divisoria. Every bargain hunter knows that this is the place to go to for arts and handicrafts, yards of fabric, food, and other cheap treats.
9. Nocturnal Wanderings
If it’s posh nightclubs, pubs, pool parties and nightlife that you seek, you’ve come to the right place. Metro Manila never sleeps. Makati, the financial hub of Manila, is also the city’s entertainment district. There are hundreds of bars spread throughout the city.
If dancing is more your thing, take a taxi to Club Embassy, Manila’s trendiest nightclub.
The Library, at 1779 M Adriatico Street, draws karaoke fans and music lovers with a passion for live music. If you like displaying your singing prowess, this is the place to head to.
If you’re after something a little different for your night’s entertainment, head to Ringside in Makati’s red light district, where you can enjoy some female boxing, complete with gloves and headgear.
10. Weekend Attractions
While this isn’t my cup of tea, plenty of travelers rave about Manila’s bloddy cockfighting arenas in the Pasay City District each Sunday. Dozens of fights are held each day.
See the city from a jeepney, the most popular means of transportation in the Philippines. Originally constructed from US military jeeps from World War II, the ubiquitous jeepney is a symbol of Philippine culture, and they are well known for the flamboyant appearance and crowded seats.
What’s your favorite thing to do in Manila?