[Manila] ► Tourist Spots: 26 Attractions and Historical Sites via Walking Tour

(The full article is posted below this discussion box.)

"Flow with the lifeblood of this city and experience the vibrant story and rich history."

Her crowded shopping malls, noisy streets, the high-rise buildings and upscale condominiums fronting the Manila Baywalk occupied by homeless urban beggars and those plethora of 7-11 Convenience Store branches occupying every corner of the busy streets overshadow the past glory of a city we both hate and love. But heyah! Let's check out this 20+ attractions and historical landmarks in Manila that could bring back the old Manila feel as well as some random destinations that will let you understand the heart beat of the Philippine capital.

(1) Manila City Hall

With the clock tower rising over a busy district occupied by street vendors, SM Manila fanatics (who oftentimes enter the mall to access a free Wi-Fi) and a regular crowd crisscrossing the streets (some persistently chasing after jeepneys), the City Hall of the Capital City of the Philippines stands very noticeably even though modern skyscrapers are trying hard to steal the attention of the skyline.

Manila City Hall

[MANILA] the City Hall stands out at night

When the night comes, other high-rise structures are just a group of pitiful backstage elements of a stunning superstar of the night that is the City Hall Clock Tower.

(2) Carriedo Fountain & Plaza Santa Cruz

Located at the center of Plaza Santa Cruz and a few steps away from the Manila Chinatown and the stunning Santa Cruz Church is the Carriedo Fountain. The water of the fountain might not have been changed for a long time as evidenced by the color of the water turning greenish (unless they really added chemical solutions to make it green) and the presence of algae (unless they use the fountain to culture extremely important marketable algae) but this fountain is yet another historical landmark that every Filipino, especially Manileños should memorize.

Carriedo Fountain, Manila

[MANILA] Carriedo Fountain

The Carriedo Fountain was named after Francisco Carriedo, a Spanish national, who gave way for Manila's first ever water system. In 1700's, he donated 10,000 pesos for the construction of the water system -- an amount now commonly appearing on bill statement of consumers from Maynilad, are you one of them?

(3) San Agustin Church

A favorite site for wedding (although a little few end up with annulment), San Agustin Parish is the first stone church in the Philippines. Founded in 1571, it was declared a World Heritage Site in 1993. It is one of the 4 Baroque churches in the Philippines listed by the UNESCO.

San Agustin Church, Intramuros, Manila

[MANILA] Philippine's first stone church

The church is located along General Luna Street, Intramuros, Manila. Don't also miss to check out the church museum nearby.

(4) Ongpin Street

Ongpin Street is centrally running through the heart of Manila's Chinatown of Binondo. Experience the Chinese vibe as you see red lanterns hovering over the street, shops selling Chinese herbs & medicines and Chinese restaurants serving long-life-meals. 

Ongpin St., Binondo, Manila

[MANILA] Red bike, red clothes, red umbrella, red lanterns, red street post

This street is named after a Chinese businessman Roman Ongpin who financially supported the katipuneros during a successful uprising against the Spaniards. Binondo is also distinct for its bright vibe. Expect to see red bicycles, red shirts, red umbrellas, red store signs, red street lanterns and even red street posts.

(5) Santa Cruz Church

Marked with a façade and a belfry carved with imposing details, Santa Cruz Church is something that should not be missed during a heritage walking tour around Manila. 

[MANILA] Santa Cruz Church in Santa Cruz District

This church is fronting the Carriedo Fountain and the Manila Chinatown. Street vendors are not allowed inside the church premises (hope this condition is consistent) so you can enjoy the space all the time! The latest façade color (as of this post) is orange. Today, the church's architecture is a mixture of American, Hispanic and Asian Baroque ornamentation.

(6) Plaza Lacson

An equally historical landmark in Manila is the Plaza Lacson named after Manila's so-called greatest mayor. The plaza is surrounded by buildings with visually appealing architecture.

Plaza Lacson, Manila

[MANILA] Plaza Lacson

That beautiful building at the background is the Roman Santos building, named after the founder of Prudential Bank. However, this building is now occupied by the Bank of the Philippine Islands (BPI).

(7) Santa Isabel College

This school located along Taft Avenue in Ermita used to be a school exclusive for girls founded in 1594 as a Charitable Brotherhood then became a colegio in 1632 with the primary purpose of educating Spanish orphans, daughters of the Spanish soldiers in the service of the king. 

Santa Isabel College, Manila

[MANILA] This school is 400+ years old

So what makes this school interesting and unique? I don't know and I'm not really sure. But if you love visiting historical structures older than your favorite fastfood chain and cartoon character, then this school is a great place. Hey, this is 400+ years old, mind you.

(8) Philippine Normal University

Although not as old as the Santa Isabel College, the architecture of the school building is something worth seeing during a walk along Taft Avenue in Manila. This school is a great addition to your collection of schools older than 100 years.

Philippine Normal University, Manila

[MANILA] Old charming façade with an American-era feel

The Philippine Normal University was founded by the Americans, hence the American architecture. This school specializes in teacher education and has expanded as far as Isabela, Agusan del Sur  and Negros Occidental. Have you ever wondered why it was called "normal?"

(9) Basilica Minore de San Sebastian

Made dramatic with its two towering spires, it requires a semi-major hyperextension of your cervical vertebrae for you to be able to decipher how tall it is. The design of this church is somehow similar to the OUR LADY OF ATONEMENT CATHEDRAL located atop a hill in #BAGUIO


FAST FACTS: Due to its high altitude and cool weather, Baguio is the Summer Capital of the Philippines. The city is also the home of the Ibaloi Igorots.

PHOTO: Wearing traditional Igorot clothes at the Mines View Park in Baguio.
City. However, what makes this church more interesting than the latter will astound you - it is the only steel church in Asia.

San Sebastian Church, Manila

[MANILA] Asia's only steel church

It is located along the Pasaje del Carmen Street in Manila. Its architectural style is a Gothic revival and never became a Gangnam style. You can attempt to photograph the interior. You'll be lucky if there's no event happening inside. Keep calm and hope.

(10) National Shrine of St Jude Thaddeus

Church-haters might hate me for this next destination but I believe there are more church-chasers and architecture-freaks out there who really see churches not just a religious structure but also a cultural, architectural and historical landmark. In San Miguel District is the National Shrine of Saint Jude Thaddeus.

Saint Jude Thaddeus National Shrine, Manila

[MANILA] The national shrine as the sunset unfolds

Relatively a modern church, it traces its roots in 1954, the year when the first parish priest was appointed to take charge of this church when it was still called as the Espiritu Santo Chinese Church. When you want to get rid of crowded, noisy and relatively unsafe place to meditate, then this place should be for you. (Disclaimer: I am not a Roman Catholic. I feature the cultural and historical side of churches like this and not their religious implications).

(11) Intramuros

Intramuros is Manila's tangible history. Narrow cobblestone streets lined with well-preserved houses, mansions and buildings built during the Spanish era is a history overload you may not contain.

Intramuros, Manila

[MANILA] A Cobblestone street lined with charming old houses

Intramuros is a walled city suitable for a walking tour. Don't worry, there's no traffic jam. Just be prepared to pay an expensive padyak (tri-cycle) ride if you're tired walking which I don't think will happen unless you came here touring during an asthma attack with exacerbation, extreme arthritis, extreme hunger and thirst with prostration or with a serious health condition. Intramuros is pedestrian-friendly. It is a place where you can escape the common Manila street set-up that might stress you.

(12) Manila Metropolitan Cathedral-Basilica

The Manila Cathedral being located in Intramuros does not mean it does not deserve a separate mention. The church is Manila's oldest and Mother of all Churches. The natural materials used  in constructing this church were provided by the Mother Nature though.

Manila Cathedral

[MANILA] The Manila Cathedral

The Manila Cathedral traces its roots in 1581 when it was still made up of nipa and bamboo (materials from Mother Nature) that lasted only for two years because it was consumed by fire. The present structure is already the 6th make over.

(13) Santo Niño de Tondo Parish

Earning a notorious image as told by old Filipino action films, Tondo has been known to be a land of gangsters, drug lords and hired killers (that's according to movies). But Tondo is a totally different picture of what the movies are portraying.

Tondo Church, Manila

[MANILA] Tondo Church

Seeing an old church in Tondo for a probinsiyano who grew up watching old FPJ and Eddie Garcia (and other action stars) films is a totally different expectation. Who would think that gangsters and drug lords also go to church? (Blame the movies, this is the Tondo image they wanted me to believe. ☻)

(14) Binondo Church

This church became a social media sensation among travelers, heritage advocates and some travel bloggers when its façade has undergone a makeover. Now some parts of the façade is already painted with orange.

Binondo Church

[MANILA] Minor Basilica of Saint Lorenzo Ruiz

Binondo Church was founded by the Dominicans to serve the Chinese Christian converts in Binondo District. The architecture is great and beautiful but it's not as imposing as the other old and great churches in the Philippines. At night, the lack of enough lighting makes Binondo Church a pitiful display in front of a plaza teaming with wonderful and eye-catchy fountains lighted with different colors. The interior is however appealing. The paintings at the ceiling is I think what make this church an exceptional jaw-dropper - don't dare skip checking the interior to check the ceiling and you'll know what I mean (just be sure you do not have cervical fracture or severe muscular spasms).

(15) Higino Francisco Residence

An old house (but looks like it is substantially renovated) that doesn't really look stunning standing in Binondo is actually where the original manuscripts of the Noli Me Tangere written by Rizal were kept.

Higino Francisco House

[MANILA] In front of the house is maybe a sleepy place

A marker of the National Historical Commission is posted thereon. I did not attempt to enter the house because it appeared so unwelcoming that time.

(16) Chinatown: Binondo

I might have included some specific destinations in Binondo above but let's treat Binondo as a destination in a different general perspective. Basically it is a community to Filipino-Chinese in Manila. This district used to be Metro Manila's center for business and trade before Makati grabbed the title.
Manila Chinatown

[MANILA] Trying hard to turn my round eye almond-shaped

Just entering the Binondo District will already give you a dose of Chinese stuff starting from the welcome arch to the red street lanterns hanging over the streets of Binondo. Don't forget to eat delicious oriental dish with Filipino mix only the Chinese restaurants of Binondo can provide. By the way, don't confuse yourself with a Korean restaurant and a Chinese restaurant, just in case.

(17) Isla de Convalenscia

This is something unusual on the face of Manila. An island in Manila? Yes, you read it right. There is an island in Manila! If you think this island can rival Boracay, Yes! Isla de Convalenscia can actually rival Boracay not in terms of the quality of the sand but in history. By the way, this island has no beach line.

Hospicio de San Jose

[MANILA] Historical marker of Hospicio de San Jose

This island located at the middle of the Pasig river is where the Hospicio de San Jose was founded during the Spanish era. It is a home for orphans and the [neglected] elderly. Hats off to the nurses here who work for them. One of them is a good friend of mine. This is the oldest charitable institution in the Philippines.

(18) The Manila Skyline

Manila skyline has been recognized to be one of the best skylines in the world. Well, it is. You can actually view her skyline rising at the bank of the Pasig River or by the Manila Bay lining the Roxas Boulevard.

Manila Skyline

[MANILA] The skyline by the river

For Manila-born dwellers, the Manila skyline might be a common scene. But for kids born and raised in the countryside farms and mountains, the skyline of Manila is one thing that excites them. The skyline is a major tourist attraction for them (us). You won't understand this unless you're born to be a traveler but raised in the countryside.

(19) Quiapo Church

Quiapo Church is probably the most popular church in the Philippines due to the media hype covering the Feast of the Black Nazarene which is visited by millions of people from all over the Philippines.

Quiapo Church, Manila

[MANILA] Crowd frenzy

For a Manila first-timer, Quiapo is a culture shock. See fortune tellers (who predict your fate by reading the lines on your palms), old folks with long hair dressed in white (like the get-up of Jesus Christ this modern world has known), old women sprinkling Holy Water in the middle of the public square and a constant day crowd of church visitors handling rosaries and rosary booklets while chain smokers and rugby boys are standing beside. 

(20) Divisoria

Divisoria is said to be the shopping mecca of the Philippines. This part of Manila is crowded with buyers looking for the cheapest products. Divisoria is not exempted from the Filipino mall culture. Shopping malls have popped-out in the area with a twist -- to also sell cheap goods.


[MANILA] A street for cheap goods

This shopping district is located at the boundary of Tondo, Binondo and San Nicolas. Divisoria is under San Nicolas. Shop here and be a wise buyer. Don't wear high heels while squeezing in the crowd but you can actually buy cheap high heels here if you wish.

(21) San Miguel Church

This frenzy-free church will let you focus on your meditation without worrying of pickpockets or hold-uppers. I would say it is relatively safer here since it is located near the Malacañang Palace (a heavily guarded building of 'some' corrupt officials). If you happen to visit this church, please don't forget to pray for our leaders residing in Malacañang so that they will be enlightened!

San Miguel Church, Manila

[MANILA] San Miguel Church by Night

The church is also the National Shrine of Saint Michael and the Archangels. The original San Miguel Church was constructed in 1630s as an act of gratitude by a Spanish governor-general who had miraculously escaped death.

(22) Santo Cristo de Longos

The practice of veneration to Santo Cristo de Longos in Binondo especially to the Filipino-Chinese community can be seen through the replica of the image located in the alley side off the Ongpin Street. The original image is now housed in the Binondo Church. What's interesting here is the fusion of Roman Catholicism and traditional Chinese religious beliefs.

Sto Cristo de Longos in Binondo

[MANILA] In Binondo, two religious beliefs fused as one

See Chinese devotees holding incense sticks while facing the replica of Sto Cristo de Longos. This is what we call a fusion of faiths - Roman Catholicism and Chinese religious practices! That said, religion can be man-made, a culture, or just a mind-set. Anyways, this Binondo encounter is beyond fascinating!☻

(23) Plaza Calderon de la Barca

This plaza is an island at the middle of Juan Luna Street located in front of the Binondo Church. It is also known as Plaza San Lorenzo Ruiz, named after the first Filipino saint. At night, colorfully lighted fountains add charm to the plaza as the darkness unfolds.


[MANILA] Plaza San Lorenzo Ruiz by Night

A hotel fronting this plaza between Oriente and Veronica Streets is said to be a hotel patronized by our National Hero, José Rizal. If not for the fountains, this plaza will just appear to be a dark, lonesome space.

(24) Manila Post Office Building

A grand heritage landmark stealing the attention of passersby, it rises over the banks of the Pasig River and will let you forget that the latter river is polluted. Its grandeur owns that stretch of the river as far as the eye can see.

Post Office Building Manila

[MANILA] An imposing structure rising over the riverbank

According to sources, this is no longer in use and a foreign investor will convert it to a hotel (rumor) to restore the structure. Remember that this building once played a role on how we sent our love letters and greeting cards to our loved ones back then. I bet, there are also couples who got married by just exchanging letters through this once operational post office that has rapidly killed and replaced by technology.

(25) Ayala Bridge

This is a historic bridge connecting the districts of Ermita and San Miguel in Manila via the historic eyot of Convalenscia. This bridge was first built by Don Jacobo Zobel de Ayala in 1872. There are also rumors that it is designed by Gustav Eiffel though still unproven. 

Ayala Bridge, Manila

[MANILA] An empty bridge in the heart of the Metro

Just be careful when crossing this bridge by night since it is said to be a favorite place of some people waiting to snatch your cellphone or your wallet.

(26) Escolta

This historic street is lined with striking old buildings and structures with old-world feel. Some of the remaining buildings have been decaying through time.

Escolta Street, Manila

[MANILA] An old decaying building

Parallel with this street is the Pasig River while some parts of the street shoulders are occupied by some urban beggars. This street is not the typical busy Manila street you're thinking. It's definitely a pedestrian-friendly zone that allows you to marvel with the numerous historic buildings with grandiose architecture. This is Manila's pre-war business and luxury district.

These are the places and things I discovered in Manila. There are more places and historical sites I've missed -- more reasons to go back and explore the great city. I will update this post whenever I have the chance to visit the other places. Connect with me on facebook or twitter to see real-time updates. end.


Tolentino, Niki Jon. "The Carriedo Fountain and Manila’s First Water Pipeline System." Noble and Ever Loyal City. 21 May 2014 <http://theurbanhistorian.tumblr.com/post/3143099957/the-carriedo-fountain-and-manilas-first-water> No Author Identified. "History of San Agustin." San Agustin Church. San Agustin Parish Priest/s. 21 May 2014 <http://sanagustinchurch.org/> No Author Identified. "Ongpin Street cramped, noisy but an experience." Philippines Travel Guide. 21 May 2014 <http://www.philippines-travel-guide.com/ongpin-street.html> BeRFi303030 and Cess19. "Santa Cruz Church." tripadvisor Philippines. tripadvisor. 21 May 2014 <http://www.tripadvisor.com.ph/Attraction_Review-g298573-d592712-Reviews-Santa_Cruz_Church-Manila_Metro_Manila_Luzon.html> Tolentino, Niki Jon. "Santa Cruz Church, Manila." Noble and Ever Loyal City. 21 May 2014 <http://theurbanhistorian.tumblr.com/post/25194885235/santa-cruz-church-manila-the-first-church-was> Tolentino, Niki Jon. "Untitled." Noble and Ever Loyal City. 21 May 2014 <http://theurbanhistorian.tumblr.com/post/2622100861/before-the-plaza-lacson-near-the-santa-cruz-church> No Author Identified. "School History." Santa Isabel College. Santa Isabel College. 21 May 2014 <http://santaisabel.dcphilippines.org/history.php> No Author Identified. "History and Milestones." Philippine Normal University. PNU Administrators. 21 May 2014 <http://www.pnu.edu.ph/page/brief_history.php> No Author Identified. "Philippine Normal University: a Brief History." Hemlock. 21 May 2014 <http://bsehistory.blogspot.com/2012/04/philippine-normal-university-brief.html> No Author Identified. "History of SAINT JUDE Parish." National Shrine of St. Jude Thaddeus. Saint Jude Parish. 22 May 2014 <http://www.stjudemanila.com/index.php/about-us>
No Author Identified. "Manila Cathedral." Philippines Travel Wiki. 22 May 2014 <http://www.philippinestravelwiki.com/manila/manila-cathedral> Resurreccion, Rene. "Manila Cathedral." Resurreccion Family Site: Aming Angkan. Ressurreccion Clan of Manila. 23 May 2014 <http://resurreccionfamily.tripod.com/id18.html Gamboa, Coylee. "About Us." Hospicio de San Jose. Hospicio de San Jose. 23 May 2014 <www.hospiciodesanjose.org/about-us> No Author Identified. "Untitled." Hospicio de San Jose. Philippine Orphanage Fund. 23 May 2014 <http://orphanage_fund.tripod.com/facts.htm No Author Identified. "San Miguel Church, Manila." Yahoo! Travel. Yahoo!. 23 May 2014 <https://travel.yahoo.com/p-travelguide-2767480-san_miguel_church_manila-i# Aguilar, Karl. "A Fusion of Faiths in Manila." The Urban Roamer. 23 May 2014 <http://www.theurbanroamer.com/a-fusion-of-faiths-in-manila/ Martinez, Glen. "Sto Cristo de Longos of Binondo." Traveler on Foot. 23 May 2014 <http://traveleronfoot.wordpress.com/2011/02/12/sto-cristo-de-longos-of-binondo/> Señor Enrique. "Plaza Calderon de la Barca in Binondo." wish you were here. 24 May 2014. <http://senorenrique.blogspot.com/2008/01/plaza-calderon-de-la-barca-in-binondo.html> Tolentino, Niki Jon. "Ayala Bridge." Noble and Ever Loyal City. 25 May 2014 <http://theurbanhistorian.tumblr.com/post/4256511927/ayala-bridge-the-bridge-that-connects-ermita-and>

Manila #TownExploration Series

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comment 6 #TownFolks Commented :

Pondering Paodaolei on May 30, 2014 at 10:49 AM said...

Hey TP! Nice list! Am starting my version of our trip. I'll wait for yours so I could grab our photos!

Edmar Guquib said...

Pondering Paodaolei | ...will send if I'll have a decent i-net connection, and if I'm not busy :)

Pondering Paodaolei on June 2, 2014 at 5:32 PM said...

Edmaration | Think positive! You will have a decent i-net connection. I'll pray for it...hehe :)

Pondering Paodaolei on June 3, 2014 at 7:50 PM said...

TP | Thanks in advance!

Ivan Cultura on September 5, 2014 at 10:58 AM said...

Awesome list Ed. Kung alam ko lang na dumalaw ka ng Manila, sinamahan pa sana kita sa iba pang lugar dito sa Manila. I know Manila by heart kaya marami pang sulok at istorya akong maibabahagi sayo.

Edmar Guquib said...

Ivan Cultura | Nice! Gusto ko 'yan Ivan! :)

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