The oldest Spanish fortress in the Philippines, Fort Santiago was built in 1571. Located inside the walled city of Intramuros, it was originally the site of a Muslim kingdom. The area was destroyed by Spaniards and the fort built in its place, which quickly became the main defense fortress during the spice trade with the Americas.
A UNESCO site, San Agustin was built in the 16th century and is the oldest stone-built church in the Philippines. Baroque in style, this is a must visit for it’s spectacular interior, with trompe l’oeil paintings on the barrel vault and pilasters mimic pediments, reliefs, rosettes, laurels and other intricate mouldings. There’s a crucifix from the 1500s in the chancel, with the 17th-century stalls in the choir hewn from rich molave wood inlaid with ivory.
The monastery attached to San Agustin church delves into Manila’s colonial years, from the arrival of the Spanish in the 1500s to the partial destruction of Manila in 1945, and showcases the history of the Philippines’ Catholic faith. The array of ecclesiastical art includes paintings, wooden statues, crucifixes, furniture, antique missals, old vestments and altars, collected from churches around the country
At the southern limit of the walled city Intramuros, Rizal Park is where Independence was officially declared in 1946. This is also where the patriot José Rizal was executed in 1896, bringing the Philippine Revolution to a head. Erected in 1913, the monument at the spot where he was killed holds his remains and is guarded day and night by soldiers from the Marine Corps. Beyond its historical significance, the park is also a rare open space amongst some of the world’s most congested streets.
Binondo is considered to be the World’s First Chinatown, dating back to 1594. Like many such Chinese outposts, Binondo is the ideal place to go to stimulate your senses, with delicious cuisine to sample, and a range of exotic goods to buy. Highlights of the district include Kuang Kong and Seng Guan Buddhist temples, along with the herbal stores and vendors along Ongpin and Carvajal Streets.
A remnant of the colonial period, this cemetery was for Chinese residents who couldn’t be buried in Manila’s Catholic cemeteries. A world away from the busy streets that surround it, the quiet gardens and memorials offer welcome respite. The Chong Hock Tong temple, with a design reminiscent of temples in China’s Fujian Province, dates to the 1850s, making it oldest in Manila.
The Malacañan Palace is the official residence and principal workplace of the President of the Philippines. Set on the banks of the Pasig River, the palace was built in 1750 for the nobleman, Don Luís Rocha, later becoming the summer home of the Spanish governor-general.
Fire, earthquakes and war have lead to this monument being rebuilt 8 times. Originally founded in 1571, the Manila Cathedral, on Plaza de Roma, is renowned for the high vaults in the nave, the reflective marble floor and stained glass windows designed by the 20th-century Filipino artist Galo Ocampo.
For the perfect place to watch as the sun sets, the waterside promenade along Manila Bay is second to none. Two kilometres in length, this is a popular area for locals and tourists aline, and features live music, street performers and food vendors.
A must before legislation to ban these ageing beasts kicks in, Jeepneys are buses adapted from American jeeps. Painted in garish colours, each one unique, they represent Manila in the same way as the yellow cab is New York or the double-decker bus is London. They’re a very inexpensive mode of transport, and almost always overloaded with passengers. Ask other passengers to pass your fare to the driver, and remember to shout when you want to get off!