10 Heritage Sites in Manila Worth Visiting

Rediscover these landmarks and find Old Manila amid its modernity

(SPOT.ph) Heritage is our inheritance from the past. They can be buildings or homes which give the place its character, history, and culture.


In the Philippines, heritage sites are usually associated with Intramuros, the University of Sto. Tomas, Vigan, and other famous places mentioned in history books. But there are, of course, lesser-known heritage sites around the metro.


Why not take a trip to the past and visit these somehow forgotten but still beloved places? Members from the Heritage Conservation Society Youth suggested these sites worthy of a tour, an Instagram post, or at least a second look the next time you happen to be in the area.


This list is not ranked.


The De La Salle Chapel. Photo from the Heritage Conservation Society Youth


1. Lesser-known Historic Campuses: De La Salle University and St. Scholastica's College

Heritage History: The De La Salle University Manila was founded in 1911 by the De La Salle Brothers and was first located in Paco, Manila. The university started as a boys' elementary and high school before offering college programs. The campus-in particular, its beautiful, spacious chapel-was the scene of a massacre by Japanese troops during Manila's liberation in 1945. Just a block away from De La Salle, on Leon Guinto St., is another Catholic institution, St. Scholastica's College-established in 1906 by the Benedictine sisters. "St. Scho," as this institution is fondly called, started as an elementary school before it admitted high school and college students. The school was actually founded at a home in Tondo, starting with 60 students. As time passed, the number of students grew, prompting the school to relocate twice before settling in its present location.


Look for: The chapels. DLSU's Chapel of the Most Blessed Sacrament is known for the bloodbath that occurred during World War II when Japanese soldiers massacred the people who sought sanctuary within its walls. St. Scholastica's chapel was badly damaged during the same era. In 1949, St. Scho built a new chapel that is faithful to the old design.

Best appreciated: With a camera from outside or during school fairs when the public is allowed inside. The school, however, requries visitors to schedule an appointment before they pay a visit.

How to get there: Visitors can come to these schools by taking the LRT1 yellow line to Vito Cruz. You can also take a northbound bus going to Lawton or Vito Cruz.

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Aerial shot of the Manila Hotel taken in the 1930s. Photo from the hotel’s Facebook


2. The Manila Hotel

Heritage History: A Philippine landmark that at one time symbolized all things classy and high society, the Manila Hotel also played its part in history-being, among other things, the command post of Gen. Douglas McArthur before his retreat at the start of the Pacific War. This five-star hotel first opened on July 4, 1912, to coincide with the United States' Independence Day. Since then, it has housed visiting royal families from Spain, Monaco, Cambodia, as well as several American presidents including Richard Nixon, Dwight Eisenhower, and Lyndon B. Johnson. The historic hotel has also been the popular choice among visiting celebrities, among them, Ernest Hemingway, Marlon Brando, and the Beatles. The Manila Hotel administration is proud of its heritage, as shown by their website.


Look for: The three-bedroom MacArthur suite, located on the fifth floor, which was designed by architect Pedro Luna, son of master painter Juan Luna. If you can't afford to see it, just loiter around the lobby and gaze at the furniture, carved out of Philippine mahogany.

Best appreciated: When staying inside the hotel, as you soak up its heritage value. Extensively remodeled in the 1970s and in recent years, the hotel has managed to maintain its look and feel, hinting at Manila's pre-war distinction as the Pearl of the Orient. Warning: It's better when you're hanging around the hotel that you have business there, to avoid the scrutiny of the hotel's security.

How to get there: Ride the LRT-1 and get off at Carriedo Station. Walk along Avenida until you get to Ronquillo St. and ride "Retiro Sta. Cruz Pier 15" jeeps. The jeep passes by Manila Hotel.



Temple at the Chinese Cemetery. Photo by Stephen John Pamorada



3. Historic Cemeteries (North Cemetery and Chinese Cemetery in La Loma)

Heritage History: The Manila North Cemetery, a 100-acre area, is the final resting place of many a historical figure. During the Spanish era, non-Catholics and Filipino rebels were refused burial in these grounds. This is why in the 1850s, Lim Ong and Tan Quien Sien founded the 54-hectare Chinese cemetery just beside it.

Look for: An abandoned Japanese artillery inside Manila North Cemetery, which was also the site of mass executions during that time. Among those executed here were Girl Scouts founder Josefa Llanes Escoda, Bataan hero Gen. Vicente Lim, and writer Rafael Roces. Three Philippine presidents-Sergio Osmeña, Manuel Roxas, and Ramon Magsaysay-are also buried here. Inside the Chinese cemetery are places called the "Little Beverly Hills" and "Millionaire's Row," which are known to be the most expensive real estate in the country. The Chong Hock Temple which holds golden statues of Taoist gods is also a tourist favorite.

Best appreciated: At night, walking around with nothing but a dim flashlight. We kid! Old Manila Walks also offer a two-plus hour tour of the cemeteries... during the day.

How to get there: Take the LRT1 and get off at Blumentritt Station. Ride the jeepneys bound for Retiro or Frisco. Ask the driver to drop you off at the gate of the Manila North Cemetery, which is just beside Chinese General Hospital.



The Nakpil-Bautista home. Photo by Boldy Tapales from bahaynakpil.org


4. Bahay Nakpil-Bautista

Heritage History: Not a few among the people who shaped our history lived in Bahay Nakpil-Bautista-which stands in the heart of Manila, the district of Quiapo, on a colonial-era street now named after Dr. Ariston Bautista, the most famous resident of this home. Dr. Bautista was the one who built the house in 1914 on the site of a previous Nakpil house. Relatives of his wife, Petrona Nakpil, and even the house's architect, Arcadio Arellano, were connected with the Katipunan.

Look for: The spacious public rooms where Dr. Ariston Bautista used to throw parties and two orchestras would play on these occasions. Unlike the usual doors of the period, the doors separating the dining rooms, antesala and sala slide in sills, creating a vista of doorways leading to a wide exterior window bright with light.

Best appreciated: Once you step inside this house. Bahay Nakpil- Bautista opens Mondays to Saturdays, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. For further information, you may contact Ms. Bobbi Santos-Viola, President, Bahay Nakpil-Bautista Foundation Inc. at 0915-871-7455, 731-9305, or atinfo@bahaynakpil.org.

How to get there: To get to Bahay Nakpil-Bautista, just cross the street from Quiapo Church. The address is 432 A. Bautista Street (formerly Barbosa Street), Quiapo, Manila. It's easy to find because of the Katipunan and Philippine flags hanging from its windows.



The Presidential Museum inside Malacañan. Photo from malacanang.gov.ph


5. San Nicolas, San Miguel, and Santa Ana districts

Heritage history: The Pasig river Runs through San Nicolas, San Miguel, and Santa Ana districts in Manila, where the early Spanish settlements were built. Some of these ancestral homes still survive, tucked in between commercial centers. In the district of San Miguel, the most famous residence, of course, is Malacañan Palace. The colonial-era Executive Building in this compound is currently the Presidential Museum, housing the Palace’s archives and other memorabilia. Tours are conducted in this museum with a reasonable price of P50 per head.

Look for: In Santa Ana, look for the Lichauco House. It was officially declared a heritage site in 2010 and is open for public viewing. The Sta. Ana Church and its hand-painted ceiling is also a must-see. The Laperal and Legarda mansions in San Miguel district should also be part of any itinerary.

Best appreciated: With a proper tour guide. For a tour of the Presidential Museum, you may contact 784-4286 and asked to be connected to the museum. A community-based heritage group called the Santa Ana Heritage Tourism Association handles tours for the Santa Ana district.  They can be contacted at santaana.heritagetourism@gmail.com. Ivan Man Dy and his buddies at Old Manila Walks are also famous for their San Miguel and San Nicolas tours, which include a Binondo food trip. Check out their schedule at oldmanilawalks.com and contact them at fun@oldmanilawalks.com

Touring group Culture Shock PH also does its own tour of the San Miguel district, too. Make sure to book at http://cultureshockph.wordpress.com


How to get there: To get to San Nicolas in Binondo, ride the LRT1 yellow line and alight at Carriedo. To go to San Miguel, ride the LRT2 purple line to Legarda. To get to Sta. Ana, ride the Sta. Ana-bound jeeps in Guadalupe.


El Hogar Building in Downtown Manila. Photo by Paolo Bustamante


6. Escolta area

Heritage History: During the Spanish occupation, army wife Doña Ciriaca Santos de Gorricho purchased the land running parallel to Pasig River so she could grow hay to feed the horses in the Spanish cavalry. This land later became Escolta, established in 1594, a commercial center for goods traded in the Manila-Acapulco trade. Its name was said to come from escorts who also sold their services to the Spanish generals. At the turn of the century, this thoroughfare began its transformation as Manila's premier commercial district-and home to such historic "firsts" as the first ice cream parlor in the country, the first movie house, and the first elevator. In time, the commerce and glamour of Escolta transferred to Makati and now Bonifacio Global City. The street is now occupied by banks and other service shops. A few Art Deco buildings built in the 1920s and 30s still stand. One is in danger of demolition, and there is a new movement aimed at reviving Escolta's former glory.


Look for: Among the heritage buildings in this neighborhood are the Regina Building, the Don Roman Santos Building, the Perez Samanillo a.k.a. The First United Building, the Capitol Theater, and El Hogar Building. The Calvo Building also houses the Escolta Museum.

Best appreciated: In a study tour or during a street fair! 98B and the Heritage Conservation Society Youth are among those organizing Escolta tours and fairs. Keep updated by liking their Facebook pages.

How to get there: Ride the LRT1 and get off at Carriedo station. Walk toward the BPI building and you're there!


Balara Filters Park. Photo by Verlie Retulin


7. Balara Filters Park

Heritage History: Apart from the arcades of Downtown Manila which preceded today's malls, Balara Filters Park was the premier family weekend destination during the 1950s. Its public pools were full of people escaping the summer heat and it was the envy of other countries in this region. Balara Park has accompanying treatment plants to filter waters from the Angat, Ipo, and La Mesa dams and supplies some 600,000 gallons of clean and potable water to the Metro Manila area. The park has six main amenities-the Children’s Park, the Pedro Tobias Park, the Escoda Hall, the Windmill Park, the picnic grove, and the swimming pools.


Look for: The Escoda Hall, the swimming pools, and their amenities.

Near the pool entrance and opposite the Escoda Hall stands the bathhouse once referred to by the Americans as the "Widow's Walk." It was believed that the Americans who gave the bathhouse its name came from whaling communities and the structure reminded them of the pier buildings where wives of sea captains awaited their loved ones. Just a few steps away from the swimming pools is the Anonas amphitheater where celebrities and legendary artists from bygone eras, like Atang de la Rama, had performed.

Best appreciated: On a hot summer day. The Quezon City government, with the help of the private sector, has recently restored the park so visitors are very much welcome. Entrance is free!

How to get there: From Taft Avenue or T.M. Kalaw Street, hail a jeep bound for Fairview. Get off at Tandang Sora along Commonwealth Avenue. Take another jeep going to Old Balara.



The Metropolitan Theater. Photo by Paolo Bustamante


8. The Metropolitan Theater

Heritage history: The Metropolitan Theater or Met is an Art Deco building designed by the Filipino architect Juan Arellano and inaugurated in 1931. With a capacity of almost 1,700, it was the home of operas and of the Manila Symphony, and it stood as prewar Manila's symbol of fine arts and high society. During the Japanese occupation, many theaters in Manila closed down but the Met continued to be the center of cultural entertainment. After World War II, the theater became an all-purpose venue-an ice cream parlor, boxing arena, garage, motel, gay club, and eventually a shelter for families living on Manila's streets. Despite being declared a National Treasure and sporadic restoration efforts, the Met has not raised its curtains since 1996 because of the long-running dispute between the Government Service Insurance System and the City of Manila over its ownership.

Look for: The muses at the theater's façade by Italian sculptor and long-time Manila resident Francesco Riccardo Monti. Highly stylized relief carvings of Philippine plants by the renowned artist Isabelo Tampingco decorating the lobby walls and other interiors. "The Dance" and "History of Music" murals by Fernando Amorsolo, also at the now-neglected lobby. The stained-glass façade by Kraut Art Glass and the proscenium by the House of Pre-Cast.

Best appreciated: During a special tour! You need a GSIS clearance to enter the Met. Good thing there's the Filipinas Stamp Collector Club that offers the free Royal Postal Heritage Guided Tour every third Sunday of the month. For more information check out their Facebook page.


How to get there: Ride the LRT1 yellow line and get off at Central Station. Walk for about three minutes and you can see a pink building. If you are coming from Quiapo, ride a jeepney or FX, the Met is after Quezon Bridge.


Malabon ancestral home. Photo by Stephen John Pamorada


9. Old Malabon Houses

Heritage History: Just a stone's throw away from Manila is a city that boasts not only of its food and local culture, but also of its ancestral homes. Some of Malabon's old houses are maintained by the surviving families but others, unfortunately, have been abandoned. Here the houses you'll encounter on your trip: Syjuco, Dionisio, Borja, Martinez, Chikiamco, Gaza, Rivera, Luna, Paez, Raymundo, Pascual, and Camus.

Before, Malabon was known for its production of knives and tobacco. Another industry that took its first steps in this town is patis. The old Rufina Patis manufacturing plant still stands in front of the Cayco house.


Look for: The Raymundo house which is known to this community as its oldest house, built in 1861 as stated on the stone marker atop the sunken adobe gateway. One can clearly see the Hapsburg Eagle or the double-headed eagle. The local lore has it that the Augustinian friars owned this property at some point.

Best appreciated: With a tour guide! Malabon may be abundant in heritage, but it takes some time to know where to look. Architect Richard Tuason-Sanchez Bautista and other heritage enthusiasts  conduct tours in Malabon. E-mail him at richardtsb@gmail.com.

How to get there: Ride a northbound bus going to UE Letre. Once you're in Letre, take a jeep to Gasak Recto to enter the city proper. That's it, you're in Malabon! You can also ride the LRT1 yellow line to Monumento. From there, take a jeep going to Malabon poblacion. Travel further to see the cluster of heritage houses by riding a tricycle or keep going to Gasak.



The revamped Tutuban Station (with Centermall). Photo by Malou Buenconsejo


10. Tutuban

Heritage history: Tutuban got its name from the alcoholic drink tuba, the town's flagship industry. It is also known as the birthplace of Andres Bonifacio, whose monument stands at the heart of the shopping district.

Today, it is best known for a shopping building called "Centermall" which used to be part of the Tutuban Railway Station built in 1887. The old railway station, named the Ferrocarril de Manila-Dagupan by the King of Spain, survived over a century of wars, natural catastrophes, and neglect. In fact, not many know that Tutuban is actually a heritage site!

Look for: The exterior, ceilings, and walls of the mall. During its remodeling, the National Historical Commission actually gave strict guidelines to preserve the original look of the place.

Best appreciated: While shopping. What better way to support its adaptive reuse, right?

The Centermall is a two-storey shopping mall with specialty shops and boutiques. It also houses restaurants and fast-food chains.

How to get there: Ride the LRT2 purple line going to Recto. From there, ride a jeepney going to Divisoria or Tutuban.

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