Proud of its long history and wealth of culture, Manila is one of the greatest gems of the Philippines. Nothing better defines the Manila than the walled ancient city of Intramuros, where ghosts of the past linger through the crumbling streets and centuries-old buildings.
Walking the cobbled streets and admiring the well preserved medieval city riding a calesa lets you travel through time and experience life during the colonial era. You can either go on a DIY walking tour of Intramuros, or sign up for a group tour.
Start your tour of Old Manila at the Intramuros Visitor’s Center, located right inside the refurbished Baluartillo de San Francisco Javier, in the historic Fort Santiago. Here, you can get a clear idea of what Intramuros has to offer with comprehensive brochures that can guide you on your quest through the city’s historic past.
The center also provides schedules of the cultural events that go on in the Walled City. Whether you choose to go on a self tour or sign up for a guided tour of ancient quarter, the Intramuros Visitor’s Center makes an ideal first stop.
Steeped in history, Fort Santiago is also worth exploring before embarking on further exploration of the Walled City. The ancient fort has an impressive triumphal gate, named after Manila’s very last pre-Hispanic king, Rajah Sulayman. Other places worth visiting in the fort include the open air theater called Dulaang Rajah Sulayman and the Baluarte de Santa Barbara where you can admire the views of the historic Pasig River and the Manila Bay.
Just beside the imposing fortress is a monumental piece of history, which is probably one of the most famous sites in the country. Take time to admire the Rizal Shrine, built in honor of the country’s national hero who was gunned down for his bravery in exposing the tyranny and injustice of the Spanish colonisers. Those who have time could also fancy a walk through the lush Rizal Park, located just close to the Walled City.
Many other great architectural structures can be found within Intramuros, including massive churches like the Manila Cathedral and San Agustin Church as well as beautiful houses like Casa Manila. Top your tour off with a walk along Roxas Boulevard, which leads to the Parade Avenue and the South Boulevard, where you could admire views of the Manila Bay, especially the Harbor View. Here you can enjoy a cup of coffee (or an ice-cold glass of water to beat the heat) in any of the cafes and restaurants.
If you are ready to leave historic Manila and see what modern Manila looks like, then take a short jeepney ride from the Harbor View to reach the world-famous Mall of Asia, which is in Pasay City, fronting the other half of Manila Bay. This is perfect place to watch the local ‘mall culture’, as Filipinos love to walk around shopping centres – especially during weekends – largely to take advantage of the air-conditioning and meet friends.
If you are looking for a little more sophistication and want to see the high life of modern Metro Manila, then take a cab to the Makati business district, which is about 20 minutes from old Manila and 15 minutes from the Mall of Asia. Head on over to Greenbelt where you will find the best nightlife; there are wines and tapas bars, Parisian bakeries and pastry stores, luxury restaurants, and more casual diner-style joints right next to each other.