Manila – the flagship city of the Philippines – is a very diverse and busy metropolis overwhelmed by people, culture, sights, sounds and all the charms of a bustling capital. It is often described as a city of intense contrasts – of rich and poor, urbanity and rusticity, quiet and chaos.
The city’s airport is one of the gateways that welcome tourists to the country (the other major gateway being nearby Clark in Pampanga). From historical monuments to leisure and recreational attractions, everything is within reach from the heart of this thriving city.
The term ‘Manila’ is often used loosely to mean ‘Metro Manila’ or the ‘National Capital Region’, which is comprised of the capital city and its immediate surrounds of 16 cities.
These are namely Manila itself, plus Caloocan, Las Piñas, Makati, Malabon, Mandaluyong, Marikina, Muntinlupa, Navotas, Pasay, Pasig, Parañaque, Quezon City, San Juan, Taguig, Valenzuela, and Pateros (a municipality).
Intramuros (the old town) is the most historically significant portion of Manila, and is also the oldest portion of the city. Intramuros is a walled enclave, located right on the banks of the historic Pasig River, dominated by century-old and medieval buildings, churches and other historic establishments. To date, the site is one of the most visited tourist spots in the city, teeming with parks, performance venues (both for conventional and cultural showcases) as well as art galleries, shops, bars and restaurants. Intramuros is also among the most entertaining spots in town, and is a great place to discover the city’s medieval past.
This historic park is the site where the Philippines’ national hero – Dr. Jose P. Rizal – was shot dead and became a martyr for the love for his country. The park is one of the best open spaces in the country, and among the largest in Southeast Asia. It is lined with ornamental gardens, beautiful plazas, a pond area plus numerous art galleries and open-air spots.
National Museum of the Philippines
The National Museum of the Philippines is one of the most comprehensive and probably the largest museum in the country, offering a wide range of exhibits that cover history, culture and even the natural heritage of the Philippine Islands. Different sections are dedicated to zoology, botany, art, geology as well as anthropology and archaeology. It likewise houses some of the oldest human remains and prehistoric specimens from the different parts of the archipelago. National Museum: Open: 10:00-17:00 (webaite: www.nationalmuseum.gov.ph).
The Malacanan Palace
This stunning 18th century palace is the official seat of government and residence for the Head of State. The palace rests along the glorious banks of the Pasig River and showcases a wide range of artifacts in its public rooms and halls. The palace is also home to a museum of mementos from former Philippine presidents. (webaite: www.malacanang.gov.ph).
University of Santo Tomas
Founded in 1611, the University of Santo Tomas is the first university in Asia. It was originally located in Intramuros but was moved to where it currently lies in 1927 in order to house the growing number of students. An architecturally stunning campus, UST is home to beautiful buildings, circular fountains, an arch, libraries, statutes of famous saints and philosophers and a grand clock tower. Take a leisurely stroll around to see all these and the different colleges devoted to sciences, humanities, music and arts. (website: www.ofad.ust.edu.ph).
The Manila Cathedral (last renovation completed in 1951) has been destroyed five times. The first four times it was ruined by earthquakes and fires, while the fifth time ,in 1945, it was bombed during the liberation of Manila. The cathedral was always carefully reconstructed after every destruction, and now its Romanesque edifice uses some of the original rosette windows and original stone carvings recovered from the ruins. (website: www.manilacathedral.org).
Formally known as the Church of the Redemptorist Order, the Baclaran Church is especially packed during Wednesdays, when Filipino devotees of the Our Lady of Perpetual Help flock to the church to fulfill their promise to the Virgin Mary. It’s an interesting place to visit even for non-Catholics, as it showcases the profound Filipino spirituality. Some go here just to watch people and stroll through the stalls surrounding the church, most of which sell rosaries, novenas, candles, replicas of the icon and food. (website: www.baclaranovena.org).