Bored On A Long Weekend? Take This Quick Manila Tour
If you have an extra free day this weekend, do not waste it by sleeping at home. Hop on a bamboo bike, read a 200 year old book, visit an old house, and explore the historical-architectural side of Manila. No need to leave the city!
Once a long weekend is announced, it is but second nature for us to book a flight to an island, spend three days shopping, or just vegging out at home. Instead of wasting your time and money at an airport or mall, why not rediscover old Manila, instead? Intramuros and its surrounding areas are rich in culture and history, and you would totally enjoy exploring it—all you need are good walking shoes, a bit of pocket money for entrance fees, and sunblock. Here are some interesting places to visit and things to do on your free day:
Rediscover a 400-year-old church
You may remember the San Agustin Church and Convent from a friend’s wedding, but now’s the time to rediscover this UNESCO World Heritage Site in another light. Built in 1571 by Augustinians, the church is considered the oldest in the country, and is also one of the most beautiful, and features decorative styles from different eras. The façade is high Renaissance, while the interiors have Baroque lines. A breathtaking trompe l’oeil (literally, “fool the eye”) mural painted by Italian artists from the 1800s covers the entire vaulted ceiling.
While you’re there, don’t miss going up to the coro or choir loft, which artisans from the Escuela de Taller de Filipinas restored recently. Sixty-eight ornately carved, high-backed chairs from the 1600s surround the coro, and in the middle of the loft is a lectern that holds centuries-old hymn books. Open from 8am to 6pm (closed at lunch), General Luna Street.
Explore the labyrinthine museum
Most first-time visitors have an impression that the Museo de San Agustin only houses religious artifacts. The museum does contain many religious artifacts in their collection, but it also gives us a lesson of how Manila (and the Augustinian order) was born on these sands. Its vaulted hallways and stone exhibit rooms are a veritable treasure trove of Chinese pottery, large-scale art pieces, furniture, and intricately embroidered priests’ vestments. Even if it may make your hair stand on end, do visit the Sala de Profundis or crypt that serves as the final resting place for historical figures like the painter Juan Luna.
Learn about medicinal plants
On the second floor of Museo de San Agustin is a special exhibit of medicinal plants studied and used by Augustinians (who embraced science, even two hundred years ago). On display are the ceramic pots used to store the precious seeds of these medicinal plants. Far from quackery, you would probably recognize some of the plant types from the labels—lagundi, bignay, and bangkal—plants that, to this day, are used to treat common illnesses and wounds. Also on display is the actual 1800s Flora des Filipinas book, Father Blanco’s compilation of exquisitely detailed botanical drawings of local plants.
Hop on a bamboo bike
Biking is a good way to explore Intramuros if you don’t want to walk, and you could do it with an eco-twist and help a social advocacy by taking a Bambike ecotour. Bambike builders from Gawad Kalinga create the bikes, the frames of which are made from sustainable bamboo. The tour covers 12 locations, runs for about two-and-a-half hours, and is quite sulit. They offer two tours (one at 10am and the other at 3pm) from Tuesday to Sunday. Located at Plaza San Luis Complex.
To book your Bambike ecotour, click here.
Take a peek at 19th-century living
Located within the Plaza San Luis Complex along with Barbara’s Restaurant and Bambike Tours is Casa Manila, which is a 1980s reproduction of a late-19th-century to early-20th-century bahay na bato of an upper-middle-class family. Some parts of the house, like the floorboards (you’re not allowed to step on it, only on the carpeted areas) are authentic, and the donated pieces of furniture and artifacts give you a feel of how life was during the Spanish-colonial era. Don’t miss the bathroom at the back of the house—it sports side-by-side wooden toilet bowls. Tuesdays to Sundays, 9 to 6pm.
Climb the Baluarte de San Diego
A baluarte is a stronghold or sheltering area against invasions in a fort, and Intramuros has several of them. One of the most famous is the Baluarte de San Diego, a circular stone fortification that was first built in 1586. It housed a foundry at one point, was damaged by British cannons in 1762, and was destroyed during WW2.
Restored in 1992, the Baluarte de San Diego’s entrance is beautifully landscaped and is a nice area to stroll in. Aside from exploring the baluarte itself (you can climb up the stone stairs to see it, but not go into it), you can also explore the stone ramparts surrounding it. Corner of Muralla and Sta. Lucia Streets.
Retrace Rizal’s footsteps
Fort Santiago is a popular destination for school field trips, and although its once-lush Plaza Moriones has been replaced with a more modern, tree-less plaza, it is still worth a visit. A large moat surrounds the impressive stone fortification—which dates from 1571—and its famous, reconstructed main gate. National hero Jose Rizal was imprisoned here prior to his execution, and his detention cell is located in the Rizal Shrine, which exhibits many of the hero’s personal effects. Open Tuesday to Sunday, 9am to 5pm.
Shop local at a store with an advocacy
Hidden in between the usual souvenir shops along the walls of Fort Santiago is The Manila Collectible Co., which is chockfull of houseware and clothing using Filipino tribal textiles, indigenous weavings, and other local crafts you can’t find at tourist traps. Its owner, Charisse Tugade, aims to educate shoppers about Filipino culture through TMC’s products, and occasionally holds talks and workshops. Sta. Clara St., Fort Santiago.
Extra: Visit the National Museum
While you’re in the area and if you have a couple of hours left, drop by the National Museum National Art Gallery, which is just 1.8 kilometers from the site. View the sculpture halls, Luna-Hidalgo galleries, and Amorsolo paintings, but don’t leave without seeing The Spoliarium. Best thing about the museum is that entrance is free. Padre Burgos Ave., Manila.
To get a preview of what's inside the National Museum, watch this video.
If you're in Manila, might as well go on a staycation at the Waterfront Hotel & Casino Manila Pavilion Hotel, United Nations cor. Ma. Orosa St., Manila. For more information about their hotel, click here. To contact the Intramuros administration, click here.
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