Manila is not one of the major tourist attractions of the Philippines, and many tourists use Manila just as a transfer hub for other destinations in the country, nevertheless there are several reasons to decide to dedicate few days in order to visit this city.
Manila has suffered deep wounds and destruction during the wars, and there are no monuments that are older than few centuries, but the charm of this city must be sought precisely in the scars of this suffering and in the great nobility with which its people tackles the harsh daily life.
“Manila” in the local language (tagalog) sounds like “Maynila”. This name, Maynila, derives from a genus of mangrove with characteristic white flowers, the “nilad”, from which the toponym “May-nilad” originated, meaning “place where the nilads grow”; and we all know that mangroves are a very resistant plant that can survive in tough places, just like this people.
The archipelago of the Philippines was a Spanish colony for three centuries, then in 1898 it became an American colony and Manila became one of the most famous cities of the East.
During the war with the Japanese, Manila was practically razed to the ground.
With the Americans return, the reconstruction of the city began.
The influence of the two colonizers (Spaniards and Americans) is still quite evident in the Filipino culture, but it is perhaps this mix of local culture and distant cultures that makes this city so interesting.
Anyway, here is a (non-exhaustive) list of places worth seeing in Manila:
Ancient city-fortress memory of the Spanish domination, Intramuros is characterized by a network of perpendicular roads that, in the Spanish era, were the headquarters of the government offices in Manila; the perimeter of the city is equipped with protective bastions inside which the access gates to the walled city are obtained.
Almost nothing survived the American bombing against the Japanese, but what is left is very fascinating and interesting.
Highlights: San Agustin Church – Parco San Diego – Forte Santiago – Cattedrale – Casa Manila – Silahis Arts & Artifacts
It is the oldest Chinatown in the world, established in 1594 by the Spaniards as a settlement near Intramuros, but it was already a hub of Chinese commerce even before the Spanish colonial period.
Highlights: Kuang Kong and Seng Guan Buddhist temples – The herbal stores and vendors along Ongpin and Carvajal Streets.
3. AYALA MUSEUM & GREENBELT PARK
Located in Makati, this six-storey edifice houses ethnographic and archaeological exhibits on Filipino culture, art, and history. Without any doubt the most interesting museum in Manila. Do not miss a walk in the pleasant park behind the museum!
Notice: the museum is temporarily closed (from June 2019)
Avenue corner De La Rosa Street, Greenbelt Park, Makati, Metro Manila
4. MANILA BAYWALK
A pleasant walk adjacent to the sea, to be done strictly at sunset! Perhaps after a day of shopping in the nearby MAO (Mall Of Asia), one of the largest shopping centers in the world.
5. RIZAL PARK
Also known as Luneta Park, it is a historical urban park located along Roxas Boulevard, adjacent to the old walled city of Intramuros, and it is one of the largest urban parks in Asia. Its current name comes from the memory of the execution of national hero José Rizal on December 30, 1896 fanned the flames of the Philippine Revolution against the Kingdom of Spain.
6. PACO PARK
The Paco Park is a recreational garden and was once Manila’s municipal cemetery built by the Dominicans during the Spanish colonial period.
7. QUIAPO CHURCH
The Minor Basilica of the Black Nazarene, also known as the Quiapo Church, is a prominent basilica in the district of Quiapo. The basilica is famous home for the Black Nazarene, a dark statue of Jesus Christ said to be miraculous.
Plaza Miranda Quiapo Church, 307 Quiapo, Manila, 1001 Metro Manila
8. CHINESE CEMETERY
One of the most fascinating places you’ll never see in your life.
In addition to countless marvelous graves, you can also see: Chong Hock Tong Temple – Liat See Tong (Martyrs Hall) – Carlos Palanca (Tan Quien Sien) Memorial – Ruby Tower Memorial
9. PASAY SEAFOOD MARKET
A definitely place to visit if you love seafood!
10. DIVISORIA MARKET
This is absolutely the most incredible market in Manila: here you can really find anything! The place is simply huge, and it’s open until late at night.
It would be advisable to go there with a guide or a local, because the market is really huge and you risk to get lost and finding the exit after a couple of days …
11. MALACANANG PALACE MUSEUM
This is the official residence of the President of the Philippines, but the current President Duterte does not want to use this residence because he says it is haunted by ghosts. If you are not afraid of ghosts, you can visit it. In case you have to plan ahead and book a tour in advance.
Malacañan Palace, JP Laurel Street, San Miguel, Manila, Metro Manila
12. PINTO ART MUSEUM
This is not simply a museum, this is a fantastic former private residence, placed in the Antipolo hills, which showcases some of the Philippines’ best contemporary artists.
1 Sierra Madre St, Subdivision, Antipolo, 1870 Rizal
13. MANILA OCEAN PARK
This is is the first world-class marine theme park in the Philippines. It is an integrated urban resort with marine life attractions, events and educational activities.
Quirino Grandstand, 666 Behind, Ermita, Manila, 1000 Metro Manila
14. YEXEL’S TOY MUSEUM
Museum of 4 floors with a large collection of toys, models, cartoon figures, super heroes, and movie characters. Not just for children!
52 Sampaguita Rd, Las Pinas, 1740 Metro Manila
15. THE MIND MUSEUM
This is is a science museum in Taguig, close to Bonifacio. The museum has five main galleries, occupying a 4,900 square metres exhibit area, and spanning 2 floors. The galleries each had its own theme namely: Atom, Life, Earth, Universe and Technology which are linked by features called “Nature’s Webways”.
JY Campos Park, 3rd Ave, Taguig, 1634 Metro Manila
16. NINOY AQUINO PARK
The Ninoy Aquino Park and Wildlife Center is a 23 hectare zoological and botanical garden located in Quezon City. The park houses several indigenous plants and animals such as crab-eating macaques, water monitors, Philippine deer, binturongs, Palawan bearded pigs and several varieties of birds.
Elliptical Road, Diliman, Quezon City, Metro Manila
17. BONIFACIO GLOBAL CITY
This is a financial and lifestyle district. It is worth taking a walk along its quiet streets, to go shopping or just to relax on a bench.
18. YUCHENGCO MUSEUM
Exhibits of modern and contemporary art in an elegant and modern structure with a book shop inside.
Tower 2, RCBC Plaza, 6819 Ayala Ave Makati
19. CUBAO EXPO
When it comes to all things underground, Cubao Expo is the place. It’s the hub for all things hip and cool, from cheap eats to quirky art, from novelty items to indie music. It’s where all artists and pop culture enthusiasts gather, as it houses art galleries, ethnic restaurants, and live music concerts you’ll want to spend the night with.
20. FIREFLY ROOFDECK BAR
This bas is located at the 32nd floor of the City Garden Grand Hotel in Makati. From up there you can enjoy a fantastic view of the city. Unfortunately the pool is reserved for the hotel guests.
8008 Makati Ave. cor. Kalayaan Ave., 32/F City Garden Grand Hotel, Makati, 1200 Metro Manila
21. SAN SEBASTIAN BASILICA
Located in Manila’s old district of Quiapo, the Basilica opened in 1891. It’s the only all-metal building and the oldest basilica in the Philippines.
Seven countries across the world worked together for the construction of this Neo-Gothic style, Augustinian church.
You can book a visit to the church and a very interesting Quiapo tour, thanks to the Foundation Save San Sebastian Basilica.
For information and reservations: firstname.lastname@example.org
22. Tago Jazz Cafe
The only legit Jazz Cafe in Manila that it was even recognized by Herbie Hancock. A fantastic and intimate jazz lounge hidden off the grid in Quezon City.
14 Main Ave, Cubao, Quezon City, Metro Manila
23. First United Building
Not only is this one of Manila’s finest pieces of surviving pre-WWII art deco, but it’s also the centrepiece of the Escolta St revival. Inside are galleries, cafes, co-laboratories, artist collectives, the First United Community Museum and the HUB Make Lab. Head up the fantastic spiral staircase to observe photos of old Manila lining the corridors of the 3rd floor.
Mezzanine Level, 413 Escolta St, Binondo, Maynila, 1008 Kalakhang Maynila
24. Bahay Nakpil-Bautista
Built in 1914, this beautiful ancestral home is the former residence of Perona Nakpil, the widow of Andrés Bonifacio ( father of the Philippine Revolution); she lived here after his death. As well as an insight into the grandeur of pre-war Manila, the museum provides a history of the Ilustrados and Katipunan – the anti–Spanish revolutionist movement.
432 A Bautista St Quiapo
25. The Collective
A hive of creative energy and cool, this co-op brings together a collection of urban galleries, vintage shops and boutiques, along with a few bars and restaurants. It doesn’t really wake up until early evening.
7274 Malugay St Makati
26. Mercato Centrale
Mercato Centrale is a pop-up food park of sorts that sees close to 50 vendors appear every weekend (and Thursdays) in one of the few vacant lots left in The Fort. It’s a lively scene, with most regions of the Philippines well represented along with international stalls and a beer tent.
7th Ave cnr 25th St BGC
27. Balikbayan Handicrafts
The most exciting shop in the city for handmade things.
1010 Arnaiz Avenue, San Lorenzo Village, Makati, 1223 Metro Manila
After visiting Manila, maybe you could want to rest on a tropical beach … in this case we recommend going to Palawan. and in particular to the new nascent destination, not invaded by mass tourism: San Vicente.