With a population density second only to Dhaka, the hyperactive capital of Bangladesh, Metro Manila is indeed a megacity. Total population figures range from 11 million to over 20 million, if you account for adjacent suburbs in other provinces. Whatever the case, the National Capital Region of the Philippines is vast, busy, complex and worth the effort. On the massive island of Luzon, the city sometimes feels impossibly remote from the Philippine Sea and South China Sea coasts. Yet tranquil escapes from the urban crush of Metro Manila do proliferate. But more on that later.
For now, we take a look at ten must-see attractions in Metro Manila. Remember however, that Manila itself is but one city in the National Capital Region. Others like Quezon City, with over 2.6 million people, Makati, Valenzuela and Pasig provide visitors to Metro Manila with a lot to see and do.
Intramuros is the de facto Old Town of Manila. The district dates back to the colonial era under Spain, in the 16th century. Though heritage preservation has not always been front and center on the Filipino agenda, efforts have been under way in recent years to stem the tide of decay and neglect.
9. Rizal Park
In the actual heart of Manila, Rizal Park is the historic hub of political protest and social movements in the Philippines. With monuments and green space, the park is also close to Intramuros and Manila Bay.
Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos left a shameful legacy behind but at least visitors today can enjoy the Coconut Palace. The former First Lady’s nutty plan to elicit support for the coconut export industry, the coconut-centric landmark was a prominent guest house back in the day and now contains a museum and botanical garden.
7. American Cemetery and Memorial
As a former territory and commonwealth of the United States, the Philippines has very strong cultural bonds with America. Just turn on the radio, check out a local beauty pageant, evangelical church service or visit a mall to see for yourself. But we digress. The American Cemetery and Memorial is a fine landmark in the Taguig City area of Metro Manila.
6. National Museum of the Filipino People
If you want a history lesson and some elucidation on the Philippines, check out the National Museum of the Filipino People. Natural history, ethnography and the arts form the backbone of the facility, next to Rizal Park.
5. Casa Manila
Part landmark, architectural masterpiece and museum, Casa Manila is a rare gem in the National Capital Region.
Malate, the Metro Manila district and not the organic compound with the formula HO2CCH2CHOHCO2H, is a terrific destination. Though home to the sorry Manila Zoological and Botanical Garden, the area also contains a Baroque church that together with the cathedrals of Intramuros, make up the city’s only UNESCO World Heritage inscription.
3. Metropolitan Museum of Manila
Arturo Luz is one of the most prominent artists to ever come out of the Philippines. The sculptor, printmaker and visual arts pioneer is just one of many talents on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Manila.
2. SM Mall of Asia
To understand a vital component of the culture of Metro Manila and indeed, the Philippines, visit a mall. Seriously. Malls – huge, multi-purpose, mega-malls – are a major deal in the National Capital Region. With over 410,000 m² of floor space and daily visitors in excess of 200,000 people, SM Mall of Asia in Bay City, Pasay City, Metro Manila is the best initiation for foreigners.
1. Manila Bay
One of the best natural harbors in the world, certainly in Southeast Asia, is Manila Bay. A marvel and indeed, impetus behind Manila’s ultimate development, it serves a massive port of course but also provides some opportunity for quiet reflection.
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