The capital of the Philippines, Manila is a densely populated city on the island of Luzon. The city is located on the eastern shore of Manila Bay and has the moniker, the “Pearl of the Orient”. It is an incredible city with lots to see, explore and admire.
An amazing place to explore is the huge Chinese Cemetery, where the wealthy Chinese citizens of Manila had found their forever home. Instead of being just an ordinary cemetery it seems to be like a residential suburb, where the streets are lined with mausoleums. Some of these mausoleums have crystal chandeliers, air-conditioning, hot and cold running water, kitchens and even flushing toilets. You can hire a bike to get around this sprawling cemetery, just walk about or even get a tour guide to get access to the best tombs.
The city’s premier modern art museum is the Metropolitan Museum of Manila. This museum showcases Filipino contemporary and experimental art. The ground floor has amazing rotating exhibitions and the upper floors display a permanent collection of modernist and abstract paintings. There is also an impressive collection of pre-colonial gold ornaments and pottery in the basement. Guided tours are available on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
The National Museum of the Filipino People is housed in a wonderful Neo-classical building. This museum has a vast and varied collection that includes the skullcap of the Philippines’ earliest known inhabitant, Tabon Man, who lived around 24,000 BC. A great deal of the museum is devoted to the wreck of the “San Diego”, a Spanish galleon that sank off the coast of Luzon in 1600, On display are such salvaged items as shell-encrusted swords, coins, porcelain plates and jewelry. Other treasures in the museum include a large collection of pre-Hispanic artifacts and musical instruments and displays on indigenous textiles.
At the entrance to the Pasig River is a premier tourist attraction – Fort Santiago. On the grounds of the fort you’ll find lovely well-kept gardens, plazas and fountains that lead to its arched gate and lovely lily pond. In the fort is the beautifully presented Rizal Shrine Museum, the building where Dr. Jose Rizal – Philippines’ national hero – was incarcerated while awaiting execution in 1896. There are fascinating displays of Rizal memorabilia and re-creation of his cell and the courtroom trail.
At the far end of the fort you’ll find outlooks over an industrial section of the Pasig River, leading to Baluarte de Santa Barbara, a restored 18th century Spanish military barracks where hundreds of Filippino and American POWs were killed in WWII. Today this is the Rizaliana Furniture Hall, displaying the Rizal family furniture. Visitors are also impressed by the various dungeon cell blocks, including one in which Rizal spent his last night in. Brass footprints set into the pavement mark his final steps to the execution spot in Rizal Park.
On the Fort Santiago ground you’ll also find the Rizal Shrine. It contains displays of Rizal memorabilia among them one of his vertebrae, the first draft of his novel “Noli Me Tangere” or “Touch Me Not” and a copy of “Mi Ultimo Adios” or “My Last Farewell”, the original was smuggled out his cell inside an oil lamp.
With a 46m flagpole in front and guarded by sentries in full regalia, the Rizal Monument, contains the mortal remains of national hero Jose Rizal and stands as a symbol of Filipino nationhood.
Take a look at Manila’s iconic Rizal Park also known as Luneta National Park or just Luneta. It sprawls out over about 60 hectares that include open lawns, ornamental gardens, ponds, paved walks and wooded areas. The monuments of Filipino heroes can be found here. It is relaxing to take a walk here at any time of the day.
You’ll find the Rizal Monument here.
The park is divided into three sections. At the edge of the middle section you can see the site of Rizal’s Execution; at the entrance is a black granite wall inscribed with Rizal’s – My Last Farewell. Eight tableaux of life-size bronze statues recreate the dramatic last moment of the hero’s life and at night these statues become part of a light-and-sound presentation dedicated to Rizal. At the opposite end of the park is the drinking fountain that was shipped all the way from Heidelberg, Germany, where Rizal spent time studying at university.
In the middle of all of this is the Central Lagoon, a pool that is lined with busts of Filipino heroes and martyrs and a dancing musical fountain that erupts in colorful explosions in the evenings. On Sundays there is the free long-running Concert at the Park in the open-air auditorium.
At the western end of the park is the Quirino Grandstand, where Philippine presidents take their oath of office and deliver their first address to the nation.
At the opposite end of the park near the National Museum is a large statue of Lapu-Lapu – the 16th century national hero famous for slaying the Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Megellan.
Finally there is the flower-filled Manila Orchidarium, a gigantic three-dimensional relief map of the Philippines and a children’s playground.
You can explore four floors of superbly curated exhibits on Filipino culture, art and history at the Ayala Museum. At the heart of the collection is a wonderful exhibit that consists of 60 dioramas, tracing the nation’s history. Another highlight is the collection of pre-Hispanic gold jewelry and other exquisite pieces. The museum’s rotating art exhibits showcase Filipino masters like Luna and Amorsolo and on occasion international shows. Guided tours are available as well as audio guides.
Casa Manila is a beautiful reproduction of a Spanish colonial house offering visitors a look into the opulent lifestyle of the gentry in the 19th century. Imelda Marcos had it built so that it would showcase the architecture and interior design of the late Spanish period. The house is interesting to explore with impressive antique furniture and different artwork.
Malacanang Palace sits overlooking the Pasig River. This sprawling palace complex dated back to the mid-18th century. It was originally built as the residence of a Spanish aristocrat, later became the office of the Spanish and much late, American governor-generals. Since 1935 it’s been the official residence of the Filipino president. Only the Museo ng Malacanang is open to tourists.
The museum displays memorabilia relating to the 15 presidents of the Philippines since 1899. Highlights include President Quezon’s office, the room dedicated to the First Ladies and Ferdinand Marco’s original 20-page decree proclaiming martial law. The building is quite impressive with polished floorboards, high ceilings, sparkling chandeliers, ornate wood paneling and capiz windows.
The San Agustin Church was the only building that was left standing after the destruction of Intramuros in WWII. It was built between 1587 and 1606 and is the oldest church in the Philippines. The interior is filled with historical and cultural items. Out back you’ll find tropical cloisters and gardens. The church is active and much in demand for weddings and other ceremonies. To view the church you can visit during a mass or get access to it through the fascinating San Agustin Museum, where you can see the riches of Old Manila.
The Coconut Palace was born when Imelda Marcos ordered a grand palace to be built for the visit of Pope John Paul II. As it turned out the Pope was not pleased at all with the money spent on building the palace and never stayed there. Today the palace is rented for wedding parties and tours are available.
The UST Museum is housed in a heritage-listed 19th century building on the campus of the University of Santo Tomas. Here you can find an interesting mix of taxidermy, coins, religious artifacts and a wonderful visual arts collection that features Filipino masters and modernist painters. The building is noteworthy for its earthquake-resistant design.
Even though it is rather rundown today Escolta Street is worth taking a look at. It is one of the last remnants of swinging pre-WWII Manila. At that time it was a ritzy strip with upmarket department stores and theaters. There are numerous heritage buildings that include examples of art deco, Beaux Arts and neo-Classical design. To see a collection of photos and pre-war Manila paraphernalia stop by the Escolta Museum. Visit the Saturday Future Market held weekly in the First United Building where they sell art pieces, vintage items and bric-a-brac.
Manila Cathedral was built in 1581 and then rebuilt seven more times, most recently 1951, following its destruction in WWII. The cathedral has a Romanesque facade and graceful cupola. Inside is a gilded altar, a 4500-pipe organ and rosette window with beautiful stained glass. Friezes on its bronze door depict the string of tragic events that led to the destruction of the cathedral. It fronts Plaza de Roma.
Plaza de Roma was once known as Plaza de Armas, at which time it was used for public bullfights. At one time it was turned into a garden and the name changed to Plaza Mayor. When it was converted into a park in 1797, it was renamed Plaza McKinley after U.S. President William McKinley in 1901.Finally in 1961 it got its present name to honor the Sacred College of Cardinals in Rome following the elevation of first Filipino Cardinal, Rufino J. Santos. Rome returned the favor naming one of their plazas – Piazza Manila.
In the plaza is the bronze monument of Carlos IV of Spain, erected in 1824 as a tribute for the introduction of the smallpox vaccine in the Philippines. The fountain was added in 1886.
For rest and relaxation visit Arroceros Forest Park. Here you’ll find century-old rubber trees as well as sparrows and bulbuls. Even though you can hear the rumble of LRT cars and see tugboats on the river you still feel as if you are far away from the city. There are 60 tree species and 6 bird species. You can take a stroll along the riverside and watch the Pasig River Ferry go cruising through floating water hyacinths and squawking seabirds. Social activities are held in the park grounds like cultural shows, tree planting and painting sessions.