Exploring Historical area of Intramuros and National Museum of Fine Arts in Manila

San Agustin Church main prayer hall

I imagined me, watching fireworks with the background of Hallgrimskirkja in Reykjavik (Iceland). I also imagined spending new year in Patagonia. But none of that neared to materialise as a close friend of mind called me to confirm our plan to spend New Year in Manila was about to happen. We made a plan as early as April 2019 to go to Philippine. But, as another travel plans squeezed in between, we pushed it until December 2019, and so with that phone call, off to Philippine we went. This article will focus on how i spend my first day in Manila, that includes exploring Historical Area in Intramuros and National Museum of Fine Arts.

The bad news was, both of our leave days were depleted. So we only had 7 days to explore Philippine, and that included 2 days of travelling days. That left us only 5 days to effectively travel Philippines. With only 5 days, we focused on Manila and places around Manila. For those of you who just checked out my website, i usually write my travel experiences day-by-day, I also write tips and summaries. This particular article is focus on how I spend my first day in Manila. Here’s the full itinerary for 5 days in the table below.

DaysPlaces Visited
Day-1National Museum of Fine Arts, The Minor Basilica and Metropolitan Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, San Agustin Church, and Casa Manila
Day-2Explore Mall of Asia (supposed to go to Pagsanjan Falls but the tour was cancelled)
Day-3Mount Pinatubo day trip
Day-4Taal Volcano day trip
Day-5Okada Manila, Dessert Museum, New Year’s Eve at Mall of Asia

And below is my map for day-1 itinerary. I chose to explore the historical area in Intramuros and National Museum of Fine Arts because i think it could be a perfect combination of introductory itinerary for me, a first-time traveller to Philippines.

Where to Stay in Manila

In Manila, I stayed at Airbnb in the City of Manila (one of sixteen independence cities that make up Metro Manila – also the densest city in Metro Manila), near De La Salle University and Manila Zoo. This is because City of manila is located between Intramuros (historic walled area in Manila) and SM Mall of Asia (The place in which we planned to spend the new year’s eve) and I thought it would be practical to stay in between. If you are deciding where to stay in Manila, this article has a detail recommendation whether you are travelling with budget, first timer in Manila, or if you travel with your family.

Map of Independence Cities in Manila (Source: Wikipedia)

Most articles that I read about “where to stay in Manila” recommend Makati for convenience and pleasantry. And having visited Makati area, I couldn’t agree more. Makati is the financial district of Manila, with very well established roads, buildings, and other facilities. The roads are neat and clean. So if you look for a comfortable environment that close to the airport and relatively near to the main attractions and historical area, Makati is the answer.

Getting around in Manila

Metro Manila is a very big cities with diverse locations and with population around 13 millions people. Means of transportations are vary from renting a car (with driver), local and regional buses, LRT (Light Rail Transit), MRT (Metro Rail Transit), Jeepney (a unique mini bus with no air conditioner), Taxis, and even GrabTaxi. During my stay in Manila, I almost all the time used Grab and occasionally used MRT. If i remember it correctly, i rode Jeepney twice though. Jeepney is a cheap alternatives if you know how to navigate around the systems. For more information about transportation in Manila, you can read it here.

National Museum of Fine Arts

National Museum of Fine Arts in Manila is also known as National Arts Gallery. It sits on a historical building that was initially intended for National Library of the Philippines and its construction was finished at 1926. During the world war II, the building was destroyed by the Japanese army in Manila, and the building was rebuilt in 1950..

The museum has collections vary from contemporary art, historical pieces, paintings, sculptures, and many others. The admission is free. If you are a fan of arts, this museum has so many to offer. Allocate 2-3 hours to get the best of the experience from all exhibitions

Admiring the sculptures on the entablatures (c. 1934) by Isabelo Tampinco and sons Angel and Vidal.

Entering Intramuros

After spending hours in the museum, I went to Intramuros part of the City. That time, we walked there. Intramuros is like the old, historical part of Manila. Intramuros itself means “Within the wall”, a quite literal name for the part itself, which is literally walled.

The history of Intramuros dated back to 16th century during Spanish Colonization in Philippines. At that time, the city had invasions especially from China. Under the rule of Governor-General Santiago de Vera, the wall was constructed at 1590. Inside the intramuros are some of beautiful churches, the famous fort Santiago, Restaurants, universities, monuments and statues (Source: Wikipedia). To be honest, aside from day trip to falls and mountains outside Manila City, intramuros is probably the most exciting part of Manila to me. Almost roads and alley are made from cobblestone, and the influence of Spanish culture is very visible in its buildings and architecture. It made me feels like I was in one of European cities.

Main intramuros gate

Lunch at Ristorante Delle Mitre

After taking a stroll, I took lunch at Ristorante delle Mitre. Situated right next to the San Agustin Church, Ristorante Delle Mitre, “ is a place for Bishops to dine. But as Bishops too must feed the flock, so is everyone invited to partake of the Lord’s bounty. A place for dining and relaxation after a day’s toil, Ristorante delle Mitre is conceived as an outreach programme of the catholic bishops’ conference. The restaurant provides affordable menu for intramuros workers at lunch break and fine dining for discerning patrons in the evening” (quoted from its table mat).

The interior of the restaurant is decorated with catholic nuance, and they have international menus and traditional Philippines meals. I ordered pasta and Philippines’ Halo-halo. Halo-halo is “es campur” in Indonesia, and it has two types: Hold one and cold one. Cold Halo-halo has shaved ice, milk, assortments of toppings such as beans and fruits. Hot halo halo (which I ordered) has some sweet potato, purple yam, taro root, tapioca pearls, glutinous rice (bilo-bilo) and they are cooked in coconut milk.

The Minor Basilica and Metropolitan Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception (or known as Manila Cathedral – Basilica)

After having a great and fulfilling lunch, I went to The Minor Basilica and Metropolitan Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, which just a few blocks away. Strangely enough, the cathedral architecture somehow reminds me of the architecture of mosques in Turkey, especially the minaret. This cathedral’s dome and bell tower somehow remind me the likeness of religious buildings in Turkey.

This cathedral was built on 1571 by secular priest, and has survived earthquake and fire. On 2012, the cathedral was renovated and was re-opened to the public on 2014. (source: Wikipedia)

When I came in, there was a marriage ceremony held inside the main hall, so the visitors were kept on the area before the chair rows. It didn’t stop me admiring the cathedral interior though. And with the European style domes and arches, this cathedral is one of the most beautiful Cathedral in Intramuros.

The Minor Basilica and Metropolitan Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception (or known as Manila Cathedral – Basilica)

San Agustin Church

Architecture wise, Manila Cathedral and San Agustin Church is very different. San Agustin was a Roman Catholic Church built on 1571. After series of fires, it was rebuilt and finished on 1607. The distinguishing feature is the colour of the wall, and compared to the Cathedral, the bell tower is located on the left side of the building while Manila Cathedral has its bell tower on the right side. The current building has survived 7 major earthquakes.

In 1993, San Agustin Church was one of four Philippine churches constructed during the Spanish colonial period to be designated as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, under the collective title Baroque Churches of the Philippines. It was named a National Historical Landmark by the Philippine government in 1976 (source: Wikipedia)

Beside the churches, its museum is also worth checking out. And by the way, since I went there on December 27th 2019, the Christmas decoration were still everywhere especially in the Cathedral and Churches and they were all so amazing. In front of the San Agustin Church there was this huge decorated Christmas trees.

San Agustin Church main prayer hall

San Agustin Church’s Garden

Christmas tree in front of San Agustin Church

Casa Manila

Casa Manila is a museum in Intramuros depicting colonial lifestyle during Spanish colonization of the Philippines (source: Wikipedia). When I arrived, it was already passed visiting hours. So, I just walking around the garden and admiring it’s humble buildings. If you ever been to the Juliette’s house in Verona, then you will find resemblance of Casa Manila with Juliette’s building.

And that is my adventure in Manila on Day-1. I felt like exploring historical Manila in Intramuros, combined with National Museum of Fine Arts make such a perfect one-day exploration of Manila. Both point of interests give such a great introduction for first-time traveller to Philippine (or Manila) to the city and Country’s history dated back to 16th Century.

Don’t forget to subscribe to my newsletter to get update on Day-2 til Day-5 and many more exciting travel journeys to come! Feel free to drop any questions, comments, or feedback!


Asana Kusnadi
I'm Asana Kusnadi from Semarang Indonesia. Some of my friends call me Mei, it is taken from my Chinese Name. I was born in Semarang, capital city of Central Java and lived there until I graduated from University. After graduated i worked in Sumatera island and it's been almost 9 years now i live in Riau Province

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