Manila is the capital of the Philippines and has a very interesting past. As the city has a lot of colonial heritage from the times of the Spanish occupations, the city is highly different to other cities in South East Asia. In this city guide, I’ll explain what you should see when visiting Manila!
The capital of the Philippines is really different to what I’ve seen in South-East-Asia before. That’s due to many reasons, including the very different colonial past. While most countries in the region were mainly influenced by Great Britain, the Netherlands or France, the Philippines have a Spanish past.
Even though the Spanish era is long gone and other countries took reign afterwards, the old town (called Intramuros) still reminds everyone of the interesting past of Manila and the Philippines. Another special thing about Manila and the Philippines is that the country is mainly Catholic, which is a rariety in Asia. Thus, you’ll see a lot of churches in the city.
It’s worth noting that Manila and its city center are not the most accessible places on earth. The traffic can be horrible and most hotels are located in the newer parts of the city, including Makati City. Upon arrival in Intramuros, I’d recommend getting an idea of the place first.
Intramuros is Spanish and stands for something like ‘inside the walls’, meaning that you are actually in a castle of sorts. Till today, Intramuros has an existing wall, which spans around this whole part of Manila. There are several gates and you can freely walk on the walls to enjoy an interesting view.
Yet, the most interesting spots in Intramuros are located inside this special city, which is bigger than you might think. Places worth seeing are Plaza de Roma, which feels very much like a historic square in Europe, the Cathedral, Casa Manila, which is one of the most famous buildings in the city, and Fort Santiago.
The latter has always played an important role in the wars, which Manila was involved in. Fortunately, the fort is still pretty much like it was hundreds of years ago.
However, you should be aware that the condition of the walls and everything isn’t exactly good. That’s something you should know about Intramuros as a whole. While some areas have been refurbished, most places are in a horrible condition. That’s quite sad, taking into account how rich the cultural heritage in this special part of the city is.
Nevertheless, visiting Intramuros was very interesting and definitely is one of the hihglights of visiting Manila. If you don’t walk through Intramuros, you may also take a Tuk-Tuk, which is quite a funny way to get around.
I’d say that exploring Intramuros is quite doable for everyone. Things are relatively straightforward there and you can find the most interesting places easily.
Plus, the traffic isn’t too bad. All that is not to be said about the rest of the inner city. Right next to Intramuros, there’s the very big Rizal-Park, which comes with a couple of monuments, the Chinese Gardens and the National Archive.
Further to the end of the park, you can also find the National Museum of the Philippines. A couple of other museums are located between Intramuros and the park. This area is pretty much walkable as well. However, the Manila City Hall, which is only a couple of hundred meters away from the National Museum can hardly be reached walking as you can’t properly cross bigger streets in Manila.
Besides the City Hall, the Metropolitan Theatre is sometimes mentioned as an attraction of city maps. I decided to go there, but was given weird looks when telling my Tuk-Tuk driver.
As it appeared, the building is nearly falling down and doesn’t have anything of the charm it used to have decades ago.
If you happen to visit Manila, I’d say that just seeing the city center and Intramuros doesn’t do the city justice. This area is relatively old and not really much like other parts of the city.
Even though you will find most cultural heritage there, visiting Quiapo City is a must, too, in my opinion. I even decided to walk there (it’s like 30 to 45 minutes from Intramuros), but would recommend taking an Uber or taxi as Manila really is not a walkable city.
Quaipo City itself is very much an alife city, there are markets and sellers everyone and you’ll rarely meet a tourist. Nevertheless, there are two very interesting buildings. One is the world famous Quiapo Church, which I found to be very interesting.
The other is the San Sebastian Church, which is also nice to see.
Yet, especially walking around Quaipo is a funny experience as you’ll just see how normal life in the Philippines goes.
Manila itself actually isn’t that big, but the city is often referred to the whole area. That’s why places like Makati City are seen as a part of Manila. This is basically, where most luxury hotels are located (nowadays, there are hotels in other areas as well, but rarely any in ‘real’ Manila).
Personally, I’d say that Makati City feels very generic and not too much local. There are big luxury shopping malls, nice parks like the Greenbelt and a couple of government buildings. It’s quite easy to walk around here and explore the area.
Yet, I woldn’t say that you have to visit Makati, when in Manila. The ‘real’ city center is way more interesting as it’s a nice combination of history and local charm.
Visiting Manila definitely isn’t for everyone. The city is not so easily explorable as Bangkok or Tokyo, but is still very interesting. Especially the combination of old and often colorful churches and the Spanish colonial heritage in the form of Intramuros, makes Manila a place I’d like to come back to. I’d also highly recommend visiting Quiapo City as it really gives you a feeling for real life. Intramuros is a must as well. Last but not least, I can just tell you to enjoy the city, even if you’ll be stuck in traffic from time to time!
Do you have any questions about Manila? Feel free to ask or share your impressions in the comments!