Metro Manila is a hybrid of well developed business districts as well as historic attractions dating back from the Spanish colonial times. These are mostly concentrated in the old parts of the city and especially in the walled Intramuros area. Among the high rise buildings and wide highways are cultural gems to keep you occupied for a day or two. Here are some of the main attractions in Manila, in order of popularity.
This walled city is home to many preserved original structures built during the late 1800s, and is a great place to visit for two to three hours if you want to get a glimpse of Manila’s past. This city within a city also houses educational institutions, churches and museums that are still being used today. Being in Intramuros is like going into a time warp of cobble-stoned floors and quaint buildings left over from the Spanish reign.
Inside Intramuros is a commercial complex, the Plaza San Luis, which contains many souvenir and antique shops showcasing the country’s Hispanic heritage. You can also have coffee in any of the quaint cafes you find inside. Other attractions are Fort Santiago and San Diego Gardens.
More commonly known as Luneta Park (because the park is shaped like a moon or lunette), this patch of green in the middle of Manila is the historic site where national hero Dr Jose Rizal was executed by the ruling Spaniards for inciting a revolution with his writings.
The remains of Jose Rizal are under a granite and bronze monument just a few steps from the exact location of his execution. This urban park is also home to museums and the Quirino Grand Stand where some major events usually take place, such as the oath taking of every new Philippines president. Rizal Park, with beautiful and lush greeneries, is also a favourite picnic place for local families. Other interesting locations within the park include a man-made lake, Planetarium, National Museum of the Filipino People, Orchidarium and Butterfly Pavillion.
This two-kilometre strip with well-lit pathways is the perfect place to watch the famous Manila sunset. You will see many street vendors selling food and knick-knacks. This place is actually frequented by locals more than tourists. People go there to have picnics, go fishing or just enjoy the view. The Manila Yacht Club is stationed here.
Mall of Asia
This is the third largest shopping centre in the whole world – a testament to Manila’s unrivalled ‘malling’ culture. This huge property has hundreds of retail stores (both local and international brands) and also plenty of restaurants and bars. The skating rink inside the mall is Olympic size and there is a music hall where a lot of international and local concerts are held. There is also an IMAX theatre, bowling centre, esplanade and Science Discovery Centre. (website: www.smmallofasia.com). Another good reason to go to MOA is so you can take the Manila Bay Cruise, a one-hour tour of the famed waterway.
University of Santo Tomas
UST is the first and oldest university in the Philippines and in Asia. Built in the early 1600s, this stunningly beautiful campus still has some of its original facets, and those that have not survived have been meticulously restored by the country’s top architects, many of whom were schooled here. Five parks and four museums lie within the complex. Among the most interesting are the Arch of Centuries, Fountains of Wisdom and Knowledge, Quadricentennial Square and Main Building.
This district is home to Manila’s Chinatown – one of the oldest in the world. Binondo used to be the centre of commerce, business and finance. Great shopping bargains can be found in the flea markets here, and the tasteful and exotic delicacies are a must-try. The historic Binondo Church is also situated here.
Also spelled ‘Malacañang’ Palace, this century-old stately home is the residence of the President of the Philippines. Aside from the palace building itself, there are now many other additional structures. Visitors can view the Malacañang Museum filled with tasteful Filipino art, furniture, and sculptures. Tours are also available.
Cultural Centre of the Philippines
This is the central venue to everything cultural in the country, showcasing dances, art galleries, theatrical plays and so much more. The CCP usually holds different shows and events and tickets should be ordered beforehand. (website: www.culturalcenter.gov.ph).