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Exploring Manila: A Journey Through the Cultural Sites and Landmarks

Updated: Jun 4

It's been a while since our adventure in Manila at the end of February, and now, in June, I am excited to finally share our experiences with you. Our trip to Manila felt like a dream, and despite the passage of time, the vivid memories of our cultural journey through the city remain strong. This speaks volumes about the lasting impression Manila and its landmarks left on us. Let me take you on a brief yet enriching tour of the cultural highlights of Manila. Please note that this is not an exhaustive guide, as we spent just about a week in the city before heading to Batangas for a martial arts festival. Enjoy the journey!


Full disclaimer: Although I have included links to the places we visited, this post is not sponsored, and I do not receive any compensation for these recommendations.


Intramuros

Intramuros, known as the "Walled City," is the historic heart of Manila, Philippines. Established by Spanish colonialists in 1571, it served as the political, religious, and military center of their empire in Asia for over three centuries. Enclosed by massive stone walls and fortifications, Intramuros was designed to protect against foreign invasions and local uprisings. Within its walls, grand churches, monasteries, schools, and government buildings thrived. Despite suffering extensive damage during World War II, Intramuros has been meticulously restored and remains a vibrant testament to Manila's rich colonial past, offering a unique glimpse into the city's storied history.

We stayed at the White Knight Hotel, within Intramuros, and while not the best hotel in the area-as tropical entropy had already taken its course-it was nicely situation within walking distance of all the other landmarks.



One of the highlights of staying at White Knight Hotel was being next to Casa Manila which is a beautifully restored museum that offers a captivating glimpse into the colonial lifestyle during the Spanish era in the Philippines. Modeled after an 1850s Spanish colonial mansion, Casa Manila showcases the opulent architecture, elegant furnishings, and intricate designs that characterized affluent homes of that period. Visitors can explore its exquisite rooms filled with period antiques and artifacts, providing an immersive experience of 19th-century Filipino aristocracy and Spanish colonial influence. Not to be missed!

Also, if you find yourself in Intramuros near Casa Manila, don't forget to stop by Batala Bar, which has the best cocktails and lovely Filipono-inspired fast food in the area. It is perfectly situated overlooking on one side the courtyard of Casa Manila, and on the other side San Agustin Church.

Intramuros Tour

Another fantastic recommendation is the social enterprise initiative of Bambike Ecotours Intramuros. Riding a bamboo bike you are guided through the Walled City by expert tour guides! This was informative and fun and a great way to be introduced to the cultural landmark that is Intramuros. Just a warning: some parts of Manila's history will break your heart, but we owe it their people to listen and witness their story.



Intramuros Cuisine

Something that should also be on the list of any traveller to Manila is to experience their cuisine! Traditional Filipino food is a delightful fusion of flavors and influences, reflecting the country’s rich cultural heritage. Dishes like crispy pata and chicken adobo are beloved staples (see photos below!). Crispy pata is a delectable treat featuring deep-fried pork leg with a crispy exterior and tender, flavorful meat, often served with a soy-vinegar dipping sauce. Chicken adobo, widely considered the national dish, is a savory stew made with chicken marinated in soy sauce, vinegar, garlic, bay leaves, and peppercorns, slow-cooked to perfection.

Seriously! Every restaurant that we went to had these dishes and they were amazing. Although, what really truly made my trip was to discover Beef Tapa for breakfast at Figaro Coffee near the Cathedral! Known as tapsilog, this breakfast dish features marinated and thinly sliced beef, seasoned with garlic, socy sauce, vinegar, and a touch of sugar, then pan-fried to savoury perfection. It is usually served with garlic fried rice and a sunny-side-up egg. On one occassion, it was also accompanied by a side of pickled papaya and a dipping sauce made of vinegar and chili.

I also have to mention the quintessential Filipino dessert, a must try as it is fantastic for hot tropical weather. It is called halo-halo and it includes shaved ice and evaporated milk as its base, topped with an assortment of sweetened ingredients such as beans, coconut strips, tapioca pearls, agar jelly (a type of seeweed), and fruits like jackfruit and bananas. Additionally, it often features a scoop of purple yam ice cream, leche flan (caramel custard), and crisped rice.


I must also mention two additional places in Intramuros that blended history and food: Casa Ilustrado and Barbara's Heritage Restaurant. Casa Ilustrado, set in a beautifully restored colonial mansion, exudes old-world charm with its elegant interiors and period furnishings, making it a picturesque spot for photography enthusiasts like myself. The restaurant serves a mix of Filipino and Spanish cuisine. Just a short stroll away, near Casa Manila, is Barbara's Heritage Restaurant. This place looks like a tourist trap, but do not be decieved! This restaurant enchants visitors with its romantic, heritage ambiance and traditional Filipino fare. With its vintage decor and cultural performances, Barbara's offers an immersive dining experience that captures the essence of Manila's storied past. The combination of traditional cuisine with a rich programme of dance performances that emotionally narrates the stories of the Filipino people is not to be missed! Be advised that when you make a booking at Barbara's Heritage Restaurant, you should not consider departing early until the programme comes to a natural end. You do not want to miss the chance of taking photos with the performers or to learn to dance one of their most traditional dances!





Binondo: The Oldest Chinatown

Finally, I will leave this blog post with a brief description of Binondo, which is also located in the heart of Manila. Binondo is famed as the oldest Chinatown in the world, established in 1594. This vibrant district is a bustling hub of commerce, culture, and cuisine, offering visitors a rich tapestry of experiences. Walking through Binondo, you'll encounter a lively mix of traditional Chinese shops, herbal medicine stores, and historic temples. The area is particularly renowned for its diverse culinary scene, where you can savor authentic Chinese-Filipino dishes like dumplings, noodles, and the famous hopia pastries (which I could not eat because of gluten! Shocking! I know!). Exploring Binondo provides a unique glimpse into the dynamic fusion of Chinese and Filipino cultures, making it an essential stop for any traveller in Manila. Also a fascinated stop is the Binondo Museum, although getting there might be a bit tricky as you have to go through the first floor of the parking lot of one of the big shopping centres in the area, but it is definitely worth the visit. And, of course, do not miss the beautiful Binondo Church as well!



There were many other places and historical landmarks that we saw, but for today, these highlights would have to sufice! If you want to check out more street photography from the trip in black and white, why not stop by my dedicated page here?

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