This was a European-style medieval fortified city that functioned as the seat of the Spanish government from 1571 to 1898. The massive walls stretch for a few kilometers, enclosing a 64-hectare (158-acre) area once occupied by palaces, churches, monasteries, schools and wealthy residences. Having sustained damages in the past, the walled city has persevered and is visited by many. Most of the walls, gates and bulwarks have been restored, affording visitors a glimpse into the past.
Also known as Luneta Park, Rizal Park is often hailed as the symbolic seat of the nation's heart and soul. A beautiful green space, the park encompasses over 60 hectares (148 acres) of land area, its landscape studded with gardens, wooded areas and open spaces. It draws crowds from all walks of life. Points of interest include the Rizal Monument, the Site of Rizal's Martyrdom, the central pool and fountains, the Chinese Garden and Japanese Garden, and a huge relief map showing the whole Philippine archipelago. The National Library and National Museum are next door.
If you are young or young at heart, you will certainly find plenty of "enchantment" at this amusement park. There are seven zones with rides in each: Spaceport, Jungle Outpost, Midway Broadwalk, Brooklyn Place, Portobello, Victoria Park and Boulderville. Among the thrillers is an 11-story roller coaster named Space Shuttle, a huge Ferris wheel and a water ride called Jungle Log Jam. Automated teller machines, a first-aid station, a paging and message center, and storage lockers are located throughout the park.
The history of Manila is closely tied to the bay which is overlooked by the spectacular Manila Baywalk. Naval battles were fought here, including the celebrated La Naval de Manila in 1646. Today, the waterfront promenade is stippled with several establishments where you can make a pit stop with friends and family. Stroll along the scenic coastline or bask in the refreshing atmosphere as you admire the stunning sunsets.
The 1960s saw the emergence of a new business district in the then sleepy municipality of Makati. The Spanish-Filipino conglomerate of Don Jaime Zobel de Ayala developed the district by first establishing this main thoroughfare which cuts through to Highway 54 (now known as Epifanio de los Santos Avenue, or EDSA). Towards the end of the decade, Ayala Avenue emerged as the main artery of the Makati business area. Many major banks, multi-national corporations and embassies are located here.
Set in Rizal Park, this pocket of solitude is a modern interpretation of the traditional Japanese style of gardening. A stone-paved footpath undulates around a central pond planted with water lilies, while stone lanterns (a quintessential feature of Japanese gardens) and two bridges (one over the central pond) create the illusion that you have been transported to the Land of the Rising Sun. Though bordering a busy street, the small garden is surprisingly serene and peaceful.
This is where Presidents of the Philippines traditionally take their oath of office and deliver their first address to the nation (Joseph Estrada broke with tradition and had his inauguration at Barasoain Church, site of the drafting of the Philippines' first democratic constitution). Many important political, cultural and religious events in the post war era have been held here, including the mammoth festivities that capped the 1998 Philippine Centennial Celebration. Marking a hundred years since the declaration of independence from Spain, the festivities culminated in the greatest fireworks display ever witnessed over Manila Bay.
Roxas Boulevard is one of Manila's best known landmarks. Named Dewey Boulevard during the American colonial period, it was given its present name to honor the Philippines' first elected president, Manuel Roxas, after the country gained independence in 1946. Offering the most scenic drive in the whole of Manila, this 10-kilometer oceanfront boulevard goes past other landmarks such as Intramuros, Rizal Park and the Cultural Center of the Philippines. Hotels, museums, condominiums and office buildings line one side of the road, while an animated scene of strollers, joggers and hawkers can be observed along Manila Bay.
These small but lovely gardens are laid out by the remnants of the defensive moat that used to surround Intramuros. From here you catch a glimpse of Puerta Real, the royal gate that was reserved for stately processions, and a section of Intramuros' moss-covered walls. With their highly evocative atmosphere, Puerta Real Gardens provide a fitting venue for Intramuros Evenings, a series of cultural shows staged annually under the management of the Intramuros Administration.
Opened in 1913, the Manila Aquarium was a very popular tourist attraction during the American colonial period, but was closed down during World War II. It resumed operations after the war, but again closed its doors in 1983. The current revival dates from 1998. The aquarium, renamed Acuario de Manila, displays a fascinating diversity of marine life in tanks set against the old adobe walls of one of fortifications along the walls of Intramuros. Admission: PHP50.