Manila – The Capital with a Spanish Past: Top 6 Things to Do

by Gavin Darvell

Manila is referred to as the Pearl of the Orient, apt, as from the outside, it’s shell, this city looks like any other bustling Asian city. Open it up, however, and like the pearl inside the shell, you’ll find this is a city beautiful, with plenty to uncover and enjoy.

Like many of its neighbours in the East, the skyline is punctuated by glass sided skyscrapers, standing next to shanty towns and mega shopping malls. Its roads congested and the air clammy. Not a picture postcard image you would say, but it’s what’s underneath that matters, and Manila delivers in spades. Never judge a book by its cover. Well, the same applies with visiting a city.

Step into the Asian powerhouse and you’ll find exciting bars for evening entertainment, the chance to enjoy single-origin coffee in a cafe, a thriving music scene and exciting art shaping the cultural foundations. Oh, don’t worry about the mix of the modern with the old shanty towns. The people here carry on regardless, so no need to feel uncomfortable while walking around. Asia’s most underrated city is ready to welcome you. With that in mind, let’s look at six key places you should visit when you come to Manila.




Fort Santiago

Let’s start with some historical detail. The Spanish founded Manila, and their colonial heritage still remains, and forms the principal attraction in the walled city of Intramuros, a district of the city. Fort Santiago has manicured gardens, plazas and fountains to enjoy. There’s also plenty to see and much to enjoy here.


San Agustin Church and the cathedral 

After Intramuros was destroyed in WWII, the San Agustin church somehow survived, and is the Philippines’ oldest church. They built it between 1587 and 1606, and remains a popular place for weddings and other religious ceremonies. You’ll find it’s another of the Spanish touches on display. Manila Cathedral is another place worth exploring. The stained-glass windows are a joy to look at, all 134 of them! I’ll let you count them!


The Museums

Ok, so every city on the planet has a museum to wander around. Manila is no different. For Filipino culture, head for Ayala Museum. For art from the region, you’ll need to head out to the hills in the east of the city, and the Pinto Art Museum. There are six galleries to wander around here.


Manila Ocean Park

If the idea of visiting ruins or museums is a turnoff, then you had better head for the theme park. Splash around and have some fun in the Asian heat. Enjoy the spectacle of the sea creatures and the shows. That’s entertainment.


Manila street scene

Photo by Gabriel Banzon on Unsplash



Binondo, as it’s referred to, is one of the most popular neighbourhoods to visit. It includes the next place on our list, Divisoria Market, so you’re killing two birds with one stone here. There are temples and churches to see, as well as plenty of dining options. 

The Spanish have influenced the region, as did the Chinese. So, you should spend some time here. There is the Chinese cemetery to explore, and for the tastes and smells of China, then this is the place to be.


Divisoria Market

The maze-like interior of this market would be fun enough, even without the stalls selling their wares. Come here to explore and feel the vibe and atmosphere. Sounds fun, right? This huge outdoor flea market has plenty to look for, and it’s a chance to try out your haggling skills. Time to grab a bargain.


Manila is a city to get lost in, add in the parks (Rizal) and the Manila Baywalk running alongside Roxas Boulevard, with its palm trees and the calming sound of the water, well, you can see the attraction of visiting here. This city really is the Pearl of the East. Asia’s overlooked city is overlooked no more!

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