Manila Travel Information

Mother Earth Travel > Philippines > Manila > History

Whenever Manila is mentioned, the speaker actually refers--sometimes unknowingly--to a vast conglomeration of 12 cities and five municipalities. Each is an autonomous political entity, but together functioning as one city called Metro Manila. Exploring this sprawling metropolis can be quite a daunting prospect even for its residents, but as a visitor you may rest assured that your stay will be most likely confined to certain areas, as outlined in this guide.

The Historic City

Intramuros, seat of government in Spanish colonial times, offers glimpses of Manila's historic past. A stroll through the 16th-century walled city takes you to such landmarks as Fort Santiago, San Agustin Church, Manila Cathedral and Casa Manila Museum. Each of these sites deserves to be visited individually, particularly if you are interested in culture. Attached to San Agustin Church, the Philippines' oldest church, the San Agustin Museum displays an astonishing array of artistic treasures.

Just outside Intramuros' walls lies Rizal Park where many important historical events have taken place, including the martyrdom of Dr. Jose Rizal, a national hero. Rizal's death ushered in the Philippine Republic, Asia's first democracy. A light-and-sound presentation at the Site of Rizal's Execution renders a moving depiction of his courageous stand for freedom; the Rizal Monument enshrines his mortal remains as a symbol of Filipino nationhood. Nearby are other points of interest, such as the National Museum, National Library and Quirino Grandstand. The DOT Information Center fronts the National Museum, in a building marked Department of Tourism. At the other end of the Park stands The Manila Hotel, a landmark in its own right.

The Tourist Belt

Cutting through the western tip of Rizal Park is a broad boulevard stretching several kilometers past the US Embassy, Ramon Magsaysay Center, Manila Yacht Club, Central Bank of the Philippines, Cultural Center of the Philippines and Philippine Senate. This oceanfront esplanade, named Roxas Boulevard, runs through sections of Metro Manila (City of Manila, Pasay City and Parañaque City), and then turns inland toward Las Pinas City, home of the world's only Bamboo Organ. As you travel southward, a superb vista of Manila Bay, scene of famous naval battles and renowned for its magnificent sunsets, opens up on your right.

Around the boulevard are two districts traditionally known as Manila's tourist belt--Ermita and Malate. Presently undergoing extensive redevelopment, both areas are packed with brand-new or renovated hotels, restaurants, cafés, antique shops, souvenir stores, travel agencies and the like. Robinsons Place is a huge shopping mall with just about everything you could ask for in terms of shopping, eating and entertainment. The fashionable set congregates after dark around Nakpil Street and Remedios Circle, a couple of blocks south of the mall. Further away lies Pasay City, which is known for its casinos and girlie bars.

The Inner City

Facing the northeastern fringe of Rizal Park, you will notice a building with a clock tower--the Manila City Hall. This is where the Mayor of the City of Manila holds office and runs the affairs of such districts as Quiapo, Santa Cruz, Binondo and San Nicolas, all of which are situated further north across the Pasig River. The first three areas feature churches of great historical and cultural significance. Quiapo Church is the home of the Black Nazarene, a life-size image of Christ that has been the object of fervent veneration over centuries. Divisoria Market in San Nicolas sells everything under the sun, while gold and Chinese delicacies are the staple goods at the stores and stalls of Chinatown in Binondo. All four districts are part of the inner city and worth visiting for their fascinating local color and flavor, though the visitor should venture into them only in the company of a Filipino friend or a trustworthy guide.

Accessible from Rizal Park by Ayala Bridge lies another old district called San Miguel. Here Malacanang Palace, official residence of the President of the Philippines, and the Museo ng Malacanang are open to visitors on certain days. The palace grounds extend across the river into Malacanang Park and Mabini Shrine, the latter dedicated to the intellectual force behind the Philippine Revolution.

The Modern City

Going from the inner city to Makati is almost like a journey into another time. Ayala Avenue is lined with gleaming glass-and-steel skyscrapers that accommodate banks and offices. Two buildings particularly stand out--Ayala Avenue, Philippine Stock Exchange Plaza and Enterprise Center. Ayala Avenue culminates at Ayala Center, where everything revolves around Manila's premier mall, Glorietta. A showcase of the latest fashions, Ayala Center allows the traveler to choose from a wide range of accommodations including deluxe hotels. Eateries and nightspots operate throughout the center as well as in the vicinity of Makati Avenue, Jupiter Street and Rockwell Center. Along tree-lined McKinley Road are Santuario de San Antonio, Manila Golf Club, Manila Polo Club--all within the wealthy neighborhood of Forbes Park--and the futuristic Global City.

Proceeding north from Makati on Epifanio de los Santos Avenue (EDSA), you will soon reach Ortigas Center, another dense concentration of high-rises including the Philippine Stock Exchange Center. Shops, restaurants and entertainment outlets abound at Shangri-La Plaza Mall, SM Megamall, Robinsons Galleria and El Pueblo & St. Francis Square. Ortigas Center sits where Pasig City, Mandaluyong City and Quezon City border each other. Though visible from here, Greenhills Shopping Center, Manila's equivalent of a flea market, belongs to the municipality of San Juan.

The Commuter Belt

A large percentage of commuters reside in the districts south of Makati. The Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) and the Centennial Terminal for Philippine Airlines flights are located in the area, along with duty-free shops and Nayong Pilipino Cultural Park, a theme park showing the country's main tourist spots. An hour's drive from here takes you to Taal Volcano and Lake, the world's smallest volcano, and Tagaytay, a resort town celebrated for its cool breezes. A separate drive on the South Super Highway terminates in Laguna, a lush province dotted with hot springs at Pansol and Los Banos, and such day-tour destinations as The Enchanted Kingdom, Pagsanjan and Villa Escudero Plantation and Resort. On the way, you might want to drop in at Alabang in Muntinlupa City, where more malls (Alabang Town Center, Festival Supermall, Metropolis Mall and SM Southmall) and a manicured business center called Filinvest Corporate City await the visitor.

The Official City

A northbound drive on EDSA or a quick ride on the MRT (Metro Rail Transit) from Makati will take you to Cubao, the heart of Quezon City's commercial life. Araneta Coliseum, built in 1960 and once the world's biggest dome coliseum, dominates the skyline at Araneta Center. Further north, a monument towers over the Quezon Memorial Circle, around which several government agencies maintain offices, a reminder of the days when Quezon City was the official capital of the Philippines. Six long avenues radiate from the elliptical road encircling the memorial: one leads to the University of the Philippines, another to Batasang Pambasa, or House of Representatives. Large tracts of eye-soothing greenery, such as Ninoy Aquino Park & Wildlife, are scattered throughout the area.

Quezon Avenue stretches westward from the circle, joining with West Avenue and Timog Avenue to form yet another center of dining and nightlife. This long and almost straight road takes you all the way back to Quiapo in the inner city, though en route you may want to check out more landmarks such as Santo Domingo Church and the University of Santo Tomas, Asia's oldest institute of higher learning.

On the other hand, you may opt to go north to Marikina City, the Philippines' shoe-making capital, or Antipolo City, renowned as a place of religious pilgrimage and a hill resort interspersed with public swimming pools and sweeping views of Manila. Bars and eateries on Sumulong Highway, such as Cloud 9, stay open until the small hours of the morning, allowing you to enjoy the marvelous panorama both day and night.