Carlos Celdran said in his TED talk that if you can’t find beauty in Metro Manila, you won’t find beauty anywhere else. Having lived all my life in this chaotic third-world jungle, I would say it required a lot of effort to discover the beauty in this place.

Beautiful Manila?

Fifty years ago, our parents enjoyed a decent lifestyle in which they can watch vaudevilles and zarsuelas, play on the streets, bathe in Manila Bay, and walk along  the shores of Pasig without turning into a mutant because of the DNA-altering, god-awful smell of the river. Now Metro Manila’s an ugly, sprawling beast of a mega city with no decent planning at all. Local government units are incapable of designing long-term plans for our current problems. They only seek short-term solutions and implement half-assed development projects that serve nobody but themselves and their contractors… but I digress. As I was saying, there is still beauty in Manila, and I believe it’s our duty as citizens to find it.

Here are some of my favorite spots in Metro Manila.

1. Intramuros

What better way is there to introduce foreigners and locals alike to the beauty of Manila than to show them around the noble and ever loyal city’s old seat of power? Not only is this district teeming with culture and heritage, there are lots of other sights to see here as well, such as Fort Santiago, The Manila Collectible Co., Casa Manila, and Bahay Tsinoy (which I haven’t visited yet). Less than a kilometer outside its walls, you can find the National Museum and the beautiful Luneta Park. Whenever I can, I revisit these places and try to listen to the murmurs of the walls that bore witness to the unraveling of history… kidding. I just like walking in Intramuros.

Sta. Cruz

2. Downtown Manila

Many say that the glorious days when Santa Cruz, Binondo, and the other districts that used to constitute ‘downtown Manila’ reigned supreme are long over. I have to agree. We rarely hear about the jewelry shops of Ongpin and Arranque, or the RTW stores along Avenida. I guess most of the stores in the commercial establishments here have long moved to those stupendous malls scattered around Metro Manila. Nonetheless, I still hope that we can revive these districts. I long to see the day when we can shop (safely) on the streets of Manila again, especially on Escolta.

(On a personal note, I witnessed a small group of thugs gang up on a Chinese vendor somewhere in Santa Cruz a couple of weeks ago. I’m relieved that the old Chinese guy was able to fight them off, though. He told the men–no, children, really–that they should work to earn their keep rather than prey on innocent citizens. God, I wish the police of Manila were more visible in this area.)

3. Divisoria

Who doesn’t love Divisoria? A lot of people, actually. It’s dirty, crowded, noisy, and filled with pickpockets. But there’s more to Divisoria, actually, than what meets the eye. There’s the Tutuban Station, where one can see an old train coach and a bunch of pictures of old trains on display. There’s Andres Bonifacio’s statue right in front of Tutuban Mall, and a few blocks down the road, you can find the marker for the site where the Katipunan was formed. And need I mention that Divisoria has everything you need? Last weekend, I bought a terno (or what we commonly call baro’t saya) for only P400!

Ermita Shrine

4. Ermita

There’s not much to see here, really, but I like this district of Manila for being one of the most authentic ones. If any politico would have the gall to speak about economic development, look at Ermita first. The people living on the streets will tell you a different story. Based on my experience studying in a public school in Manila for four years, I think Ermita is the district where dreamers converge. Along Kalaw Avenue, you’ll find hopeful seamen and sailors looking for loan sharks who can finance their application to jobs abroad. Of course, there’s PGH, the most depressing place in the country where many future doctors train and hope to see a better future for our public health care. And there’s the US Embassy, right across the the Nuestra Señora de Guia Shrine (Ermita Shrine), where Filipinos line up every day in hopes of securing a visa to the land of the free.

5. Diliman

Having lived in QC for six years (and counting), I have fully enjoyed the perks of a middle class lifestyle. With Teacher’s Village’s Maginhawa Street just around the corner, I can easily visit quirky shops, diners, and cafes (such as Ate Fe’s, Cool Beans, Moonleaf, Bookay-ukay). This place is ideal for introverts like me. I used to spend most afternoons catching the fading sunlight at UP Diliman‘s Quezon Hall. There are several museums, too, such as Vargas Museum (UP) and Bantayog ng mga Bayani, which is a must-visit for those interested in knowing what really happened during Martial Law.

Most of these places are in Manila, I know. I’ve always been fascinated by this beautiful city, and I’ve always had a love and hate (but mostly love) relationship with it. Maybe Nick Joaquin’s influence on my worldview and philosophy is deeper than I would care to admit, who knows.

What do you think? Is this post too cynical? =) What are your favorite places in Manila?


is a digital marketer in a firm in Makati who loves locally sourced coffee, a bowl of zesty pho, and rusty old trains. She likes to write about the places she’s been to and the places she wants to see.