Unmissable attractions... of Manila

| February 4, 2015

Manila is one of the Philippines’ most fascinating destinations. Here, we demonstrate why.

Manila skyline (Photo credit: Thinkstock/ iStock)

The Philippines' vibrant capital, Manila, is a destination of contrasts. Its rich colonial history lives on in the historic Intramuros area, while its towering skyscrapers and packed roads give it a distinctly modern face. Experiencing the fast pace and colonial history of Manila is a must during your stay in the Philippines, with its fascinating past proving particularly worth exploration.

Here, we will introduce you to some of the city's finest attractions, which you can explore as part of a tour with Cox & Kings.


For travellers, Intramuros represents one of the most fascinating parts of Manila. Translating as 'within the walls', Intramuros is a walled part of town from where Spanish colonists once governed. An excellent example of a medieval fort, it is home to some of Manila's most historic and remarkable buildings, including the celebrated San Agustin Church, which is a Unesco World Heritage Site.

The walls themselves stand much as they did after being laid down in stone by the Spanish approximately 400 years ago, and are dotted with gates. Interestingly, Intramuros is also where you will find the Philippines' very first hotel, the Manila Hotel, which is still a wonderful place to stay.


San Agustin Church

A Unesco World Heritage Site, San Agustin Church and the attached San Agustin Museum is one of the real highlights of Intramuros and indeed Manila as a whole. Having survived the Battle of Manila, one of the most devastating military clashes in the country's history, the church certainly has some stories to tell.

Housing the remains of one of the country's most celebrated painters Juan Luna, the compound also displays a host of fascinating artefacts from the galleon trade, which make for enjoyable perusal. Bear in mind that the church is very much an active one where ceremonies such as weddings as well as daily worship take place. To visit, you will need go during mass or through the San Agustin Museum. Whenever you go, remember to look up – the ceiling features a splendid bas relief.

Fort Santiago

Another must-visit is the wonderful Fort Santiago, which ranks among the city's top attractions. Tucked within the fort you will find a host of attractions to charm you – fountains, manicured gardens and even a shrine to one of the nation's heroes, Dr Jose Rizal. As you explore, you will notice all sorts of interesting details that make a trip here such a rich historical experience. For example, you might notice the brass footprints set into a section of the pavement - these represents the footsteps Rizal took towards his execution.

Rizal Shrine

Situated within Fort Santiago is the Rizal Shrine. This is actually where the man himself was imprisoned, making a visit here all the more poignant – something that is further enhanced by memorabilia of his work and life. Among the treasures you can see are a fast draft of his novel Noli Me Tangere, which translates as Touch Me Not, and a reliquary that contains one of his vertebrae.

Rizal Park

The shrine is not Manila's only monument to Rizal. Another is Rizal Park, a beautiful green space dedicated to the writer's memory. Spanning 60 acres, it includes ornamental gardens, lawns, woodland and a variety of monuments, making this a place that's not only ideal for gentle walks, but educating yourself about the city too.

Among the highlights is the Central Lagoon, which has a dancing musical fountain and is lined with busts of Philippine heroes. Of course, it also possesses a selection of monuments dedicated to Rizal, including the Rizal monument which houses his remains, and bronze re-creations of the final moments of his life.

Casa Manila

Rounding off our list is Casa Manila, which is another of Intramuros's key attractions. Interestingly, it is actually a reproduction of a Spanish colonial house rather than a genuine article, but you will find the wonderful artwork and furniture to be found through the interior is indeed authentic. Providing a window into the life of the 19th century gentry, it is a real joy to explore.

Cox & Kings offers tours and tailor-made itineraries to Manila >

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