explore Manila, Philippines

What to see in Manila, Philippines

Landmarks

Baywalk – South of the Luneta is the renovated Baywalk a linear park adjacent to Manila Bay. Restaurants formerly on the actual baywalk have been moved inwards to allow a clear view of Manila’s legendary sunsets.

Bonifacio Shrine – A shrine in honor of Andrés Bonifacio who was one of the Filipinos who struggled and fought for freedom for the country against the Spanish forces.

Chinatown – Manila has one of the largest Chinatowns in the world, where one can find exotic Chinese goods and delicious cuisine. The area, however, is dirty and polluted, plus getting there can be a hassle given heavy traffic.

Coconut Palace – a residence commissioned and built along the waterfront by First Lady Imelda Marcos for Pope John Paul II’s visit in 1981. While open to the public at some point, it is currently (as of June 2011) occupied by the current Vice President and still open for public visits (by appointment by calling the Office of the Vice President, leaving a return call number and waiting for a confirmation).

Intramuros – At the northern end of the Bay lays the remnants of the old walled Spanish settlement of Manila, Intramuros (Spanish for ‘within the walls’). Intramuros contains some of the city’s most interesting museums, ruins, and churches including the Manila Cathedral, the most important church in the country.

Mabini Shrine – Apolinario Mabini’s former home. Mabini was a Lawyer and fought for Philippine Independence. During the American Occupation, this home became the first intellectual headquarters of the First Philippine Republic.

Malacañán Palace – Manila is the host of the official residence of the president of the Philippines. While heading your way here, you will see wonderful places. People can roam the garden afterwards.

Manila Hotel – Just outside Intramuros and on the edge of Manila Bay is the beautiful and historic Manila Hotel, a legacy of the American colonial era and the place where General Douglas MacArthur made his home before World War II.

Plaza San Luis – A commercial complex consisting five house; Casa Manila, Casa Urdaneta, Casa Blanca, Los Hidalgos and El Hogar Filipino. Plaza San Luis showcases Filipino-Hispanic Architecture. Other than Souvenir shops there is a museum in Casa Manila.

University of Santo Tomás (Universidad de Santo Tomás (UST)). This University, constructed by the Spanish, is the oldest existing University in the whole of Far East and second to be founded in the Philippines. Used as a concentration camp by the Japanese during their occupation and cramming about 10 000, exceeding the maximum capacity of 4000. The University has a museum housing a collection that dates back to 1682 mostly natural history, coins & medals, ethnography, oriental arts, and catholic iconography. The building where the museum sits, known as the paraninfo or simply Main Building to most, has a lobby containing powerfully steering wall-to-wall mural by National Artist Botong Francisco in the genre of his contemporary, Diego Rivera. Fee.

The Manila Metropolitan Theatre or MET is an art deco building designed by the Filipino architect Juan M. de Guzman Arellano, and inaugurated on 10 December 1931, with a capacity of 1670. The theatre is located on Padre Burgos Avenue, near the Manila Central Post Office. Renovated under the auspices of Imelda Marcos, it now falls back under the management of neglect and decadence.

Manila Central Post Office. Designed by Filipino architect Juan Marcos de Guzman Arellano, located in a very prominent visual and commanding spot of the first Civic Centre in Manila and could have been perfect location for a Senate building, the Post Office building was built in neoclassical architecture in 1926. It was severely damaged in World War II, and rebuilt in 1946 preserving most of its original design. It is located in the Intramuros district of the city, at the bank of the Pasig River. The front of the building faces the Liwasang Bonifacio plaza (now known as Plaza Lawton).

Museums

Manila has seen a drastic improvement in its museum offerings with the recent renovation of old favorites such as the National Museum of the Filipino People and the Ayala Museum (located not in Manila but in nearby Makati City). Other must-see museums in the city are the Bahay Chinoy (Chinese House), Casa Manila, San Agustin Museum the Museum of Filipino Political History, the “Museo Pambata” children’s museum’.

National Museum of the Philippines (Pambansang Museo), P. Burgos Ave. Built and opened in the 1900s the museum showcases significant collections from archaeology, arts, cultural properties, zoology, botany and many more. This museum boasts of amassing over a million artifacts but in actual, only 125 pieces or so are on show. An optimist would describe something as a glass half full, and for one, this museum is less than half full for one would see halls and halls of empty space. A floor would have just about a maximum of two utilized halls with displays in it. The museum is comprised of three separate buildings – this one and the one facing it as showcases for anthropological and archaeological artifacts while the third one, the former Senate Building functions as the National Art Gallery where paintings and sculptures are housed. All three provide free admission. 

The National Art Gallery as explained, took over the premises of the former Senate Building and the repository of works of Filipino masters. The more than life-sized painting of Juan Luna titled “Spolarium”, a powerful imagery in the mold of classical theme and Romanticist in style is the museum’s version of “Mona Lisa”, meaning the most priced Philippine artwork.

Museum of Philippine Political History (National Historical Institute Museum), T.M. Kalaw Ave. Manila. Includes documents such as the signing of Independence displayed in a holy grail-like showcase. 

Metropolitan Museum of Manila (Met Museum), Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas Complex, Roxas Boulevard, Manila. M-Sa 9AM-6PM. Inaugurated during Imelda’s heyday, it used to display works by Caravaggio. This overrated art museum showcases  traditional, Hispanic and modern art through its exhibits. Located along Roxas Boulevard, across the Manila Yacht club. 

Bahay Tsinoy (Museum of Chinese in Philippine Life), 8 Anda, corner Cabildo Street, Intramuros. 9am-5pm. Bahay Tsinoy is the only museum of its kind in Southeast Asia and, arguably, the world. The Chinese, having come to the Philippines in batches since pre-Spanish colonial times, have been settling and assimilating as Filipinos. The museum gives an idea of the nuanced past that Chinese immigrants had to live through, and details their impressive journey from largely being itinerant vendors and coolies during the Spanish Occupation to being captains of industry and prominent figures in art, politics, media and government today. Museum is closed on Mondays, but open on Sundays. Although Bahay Tsinoy is open by 9AM, try to go there at 1PM at the earliest; only then is the air-conditioning turned on, for electricity-saving reasons.

Museo Pambata, Roxas Boulevard corner South Drive Manila, Philippines 1000. Aug-Mar: 8AM-5PM daily; Apr-Jul: 9AM-5PM daily. The Museo Pambata is a children’s interactive museum, the first of its kind in the Philippines. Opened in 1994, Museo Pambata is the dream come true of Nina Lim-Yuson, who was inspired by the Boston Children’s Museum to open up a similar facility in Manila.

Parks

Rizal Park  right outside the walled city is Rizal Park more widely known as the Luneta. The Luneta is the venue for the national museums, bayside restaurants, an open-air theater featuring free classical music concerts and acclaimed international films, a planetarium, an open gym for early morning jogging and tai chi enthusiasts, or a night ballroom, as well as Japanese, Chinese, Filipino gardens, an orchidarium, an aquarium, and a children’s museum. It is a popular meeting spot for family picnics and lovers’ trysts, and was the site of the execution of José Rizal, the national hero of the Philippines, and where a monument and final resting place most importantly – but sadly and disrespectfully overshadowed by poking skyscrapers nearby – is erected, as well as the inaugural grandstand for the incoming President.

Paco Park was actually built as a final resting place for Spanish families residing in Manila. After José Rizal’s execution, his remains were sent and buried here, which is today commemorated by a monument in the park. It is now a public park with jogging lanes and open air concerts, and is also a popular venue for weddings. It is accessible by taxi and bus, as well as a 10 minute walk from the LRT-1 United Nations Ave. station.

Nature and Wildlife

Manila Zoois rather decrepit, and in need of drastic renovations. The Manila Zoo covers an area of 0.055 square kilometres. Accessible via LRT-1 Quirino station. Also here is housed its famous occupant, the lonely elephant Mali, the Philippines‘ only living elephant, known and friend, but not intimately, to Hollywood stars such as Sir Paul McCartney & Pamela Anderson who have yet to personally inspect her condition and ‘solitary confinement’.

Manila Ocean Park is a much better maintained marine wildlife facility which was recently opened in 2008 and is located behind the Quirino Grandstand at Rizal Park. The 8000 square metres (86,000 sq ft) oceanarium is larger than the Sentosa Underwater World oceanarium in Singapore, and features a 25 metres (82 ft) underwater acrylic tunnel. Mostly accessible by taxi, but can be walked if you are in the vicinity of Rizal Park.

Arroceros Forest Park Situated in the heart of downtown Manila, Arroceros Forest Park is a 2.2-hectare piece of land behind the old art deco Metropolitan Theatre. Arroceros got its name, which means “rice dealers,” from the rice trade along the Pasig riverbank during the early colonial period.

Churches

Baroque colonial churches where once proud showcases of the past especially before World War II but the wanton destruction of the Japanese and the equally guilty American soldiers during the Battle of Manila in 1945 dissolved all that except for a handful remaining. Lack of maintenance, vandalism, theft, and no proper awareness, guidance, or education by administering priests and architects who undertook renovation blunders (multiplied more incidents in the provinces) complicated the already pathetic state of remaining churches.

  • San Agustín Church
  • Manila Cathedral
  • Malate Church
  • Santa Ana Church
  • Binondo Church
  • Santa Cruz Church
  • Quiapo Church
  • San Nicolás Church
  • Tondo Church
  • Parish Church of St. Joseph – See the Las Piñas Bamboo organ here.
  • Pasig Cathedral
  • Peter & Paul Church of Makati
  • Guadalupe Nuevo Church
  • San Felipe Neri Church of Mandaluyong
  • Santuario de Santo Cristo Church of San Juan
  • San Bartolomé Church of Malabón
  • Iglesia ni Cristo Churches

Basilica of San Sebastián – The only all steel church of the Asia, the Spanish were tired of building the church over and over again after fires and earthquakes, they finally decided to build the cathedral in solid steel. The materials were ordered from Europe while the architect is Gustav Eiffel; the architect of the Eiffel tower in France. Its Gothic architecture might make you think you’re somewhere in the middle of Europe.