Manila's architectural attractions have taken a battering over the years; the city was second only to Warsaw in terms of bombing destruction in WW II. Nevertheless, there remain some insightful reminders of the country's economic, political, religious and social history lined along Manila Bay, an attraction in itself.
Manila was once Asia’s star attraction and it continues to shine with its east-meets-west colonial architecture. Prior to the war the city was known as the ‘Pearl of the Orient’, and was rich in culture and natural resources, none better manifested than in its architecture.
Manila's attractions are not exclusively man made; natural beauty is abundant around the city with various parks and the famous ‘Manila sunset’. The star attraction of the city is undoubtedly the people, so get out and about, amongst them.
Manila Cathedral rises regally over the remains of its five predecessors, the first of which was erected in 1581. Four of the cathedral's previous constructions were destroyed by earthquakes and fires; the fifth was reduced to a bombed-out shell during the Liberation of Manila in 1945. Completed in 1951, the Neo-Romanesque structure is a popular attraction, incorporating stone carvings and rosette windows, salvaged from the ruins. It is also home to a 4,500-pipe organ
Manila Bay walk
Roxas Boulevard is the main promenade of Manila and the best place to view the glorious sunset, a definite must when in the city. Serving as a fitting backdrop to families enjoying their time together, or for lovers enjoying a romantic moment, it is quite an idyllic and cost effective end to the day. Open-air cafes and benches fringe the waterfront, ideal for people watching and enjoying a drink and a bite to eat.
Situated on the southern side of the Pasig River, Intramuros is also known as the ‘walled city’ of Manila. Built in 1571, it served as the centre of political, military and religious power of the Spaniards during the time that the Philippines were a colony of Spain. Consisting of 51 blocks within the vast walls, the only access in or out of Intramuros was via seven fortified gates. A moat around the walled city was added in 1603. Spread throughout the 51 blocks of the inner city were 12 churches, hospitals, domestic accommodation, military barracks, the Governor's Palace and schools. Built over 163 acres, the Chinese, the Dutch and the Portuguese all failed to penetrate this walled city. Nowadays Intramuros is the only district of Manila where old Spanish-era influences have been fully retained. It was damaged in WW II during the Battle of Manila.
Originally called Luneta Park due to its moon-like shape it was later named Rizal Park in honour of the country's national hero, Dr Jose Rizal. Situated in the heart of Manila at the northern end of Roxas Boulevard, overlooking Manila Bay, it’s conveniently situated close to other attractions. The site of some of the most significant events in the Philippines' history, it is guarded by soldiers 24/7. Rizal Park is mostly frequented by families and couples enjoying picnics on national holidays and weekends. Other nearby attractions include a man-made lake replicating the Philippines archipelago, Japanese gardens and a planetarium.
Chinatown Manila was established in 1594, making it the oldest in the world. The Spaniards gave a parcel of land tax free to Catholic Chinese and granted them self-governing privileges. Known for its wholesale stores, it's a place for shopkeepers to find out if retail goods are sellable or not as a popular local belief is that 'if it sells in Chinatown, it will sell anywhere'. Chinatown is of course, also a very popular culinary attraction because of its traditional food. Be sure to stop in and visit the history-filled Bahay Tsinoy Museum.
The very embodiment of Spanish colonial rule, Fort Santiago was destroyed during World War II and subsequently restored into a 'Shrine of Freedom' following a government decree in 1950. Home to many points of historical interest, it was occupied by British forces for a two-year period in the 18th century and by American colonial authorities after Spain surrendered the Philippines to the US in 1898. It's worth checking out for its insight into the country's colonial history.
A state-of-the-art oceanarium to rival any other in Southeast Asia – Ocean Park is home to a plethora of exotic marine life including seven species of shark and an open-water marine habitat where visitors can go snorkeling or diving. Another unique attraction of this site is a marine-themed shopping mall, featuring 30 shops and over 20 varied restaurants and the Concourse Plaza, where concerts and shows take place.
Opened in 1959, the Manila Zoological and Botanical Park is one of the oldest zoos in Asia. Home to more than 800 animals, one of the main attractions is Mali, a 24-year old Asian elephant who arrived at the zoo as an orphaned calf. Other animals include Bengal tigers and local crocodiles. The zoo attracts thousands of visitors each week and promises a fun and educational day for the family.
City Marikina Shoe Museum
This museum is the first of its kind in the Philippines and one of only a handful around the world. Housed in an artistically restored former rice mill (built circa 1860), the museum traces the history of the shoe industry in Marikina, the Philippines' shoe-making capital. Among the shoe exhibits is the infamous collection of 1,500 pairs that once belonged to Imelda Marcos. Other displays of historical value and human interest are shoes of former Philippine presidents and their first ladies. Enjoy a trip to the past on foot at this museum!
San Augustin Church & Museum
Built between 1587-1606, this is the oldest church in the Philippines and one of the few that remained intact after WW II. The structure you will see nowadays is in fact the third to stand on the site and has survived seven major earthquakes, but is nonetheless in demand for weddings and other religiously affiliated celebrations. Admission includes entrance to the San Augustine Museum which lends insight into the riches of old Manila.