20+ Historical Landmarks in the Philippines to Add to Your Travel Bucket List

Historical sites remind us of how our country evolved and its people thrived. Events that took place in these sites helped build the Philippines as we know it today, making us realize that the past can shape our future.

Exploring historical places allows us to remember and learn from the past’s mistakes and triumphs. And on a lighter note, it’s just downright fascinating, especially for history buffs. 

More importantly, visiting heritage sites help us see our country as a giant classroom. You can learn through adventures by visiting these locations steeped in history: 

UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the Philippines

United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) have declared more than a thousand world heritage sites, all of which offer value to humanity due to their cultural, historical, and scientific significance. 

Machu Pichu, Taj Mahal, and Stonehenge are among the most famous heritage sites around the globe. Properties near such historic locations are likewise widely visited. 

In the Philippines, here are the heritage sites recognized by UNESCO:

Baroque Churches of the Philippines

The Baroque churches of the Philippines were constructed between the 16th and 18th centuries, showcasing the fusion of locally sourced materials and European church design. 

There are four baroque churches that made it to the list of UNESCO’s world heritage sites: 

  • San Agustin Church in Manila 
  • San Agustin Church in Paoay, Ilocos Norte 
  • Nuestra Señora de la Asuncion in locos Sur (also known as Santa Maria Church)
  • Santo Tomas de Villanueva Church in Iloilo (also known as Miagao Church)

San Agustin Church in Manila is one of the longest-standing churches in the country and was able to survive the clash between Filpino and American troops in May 1945. 

Meanwhile, the other San Agustin Church in Ilocos Norte is known for its baroque architecture infused with gothic and oriental elements. The three-storey bell tower of the church also served as an observation post during the Spanish colonial period and the Japanese invasion.

Santa Maria Church in Ilocos Sur is one of the most beautiful old churches in the Philippines. It has a fortress-like appearance and protective walls that can shield it from seismic activities. The Miagao Church likewise has thick walls, but it was reportedly used as secret passages and protection from invaders. 

The Philippines is home to many extravagant churches, representing Filipinos’ fervent Catholic faith and culture. Here’s a short list of other must-see worship places in the country.

Vigan City

The entire city of Vigan has preserved Spanish colonial architecture, evident in its grid street pattern, plazas, and grand old houses. UNESCO called the city “the best-preserved example of a planned Spanish colonial town in Asia.” 

Calle Crisologo, in particular, is a sight to behold at night. It takes you back in time, surrounded by centuries-old heritage homes, antique souvenir shops, charming little restaurants, and the car-free cobblestone street. 

Tubbataha Reef 

This protected area in the middle of the Sulu Sea is a shelter for over 1,200 marine species, including corals, sharks, sea turtles, and marine mammals. Although not ordinarily considered a historical spot, Tubbataha Reef carries a long history as one of the oldest ecosystems in the country. 

It was only discovered in the 1970s, but many believe that its atolls (ring-shaped coral reefs) were formed over a thousand years ago after the underwater volcanoes of Cagayan Ridge went extinct. 

Rice Terraces of the Philippine Cordilleras

A landscape of unparalleled beauty, the rice terraces of the Ifugao ethnic group were built 2,000 years ago and have been passed on from one generation to another. The high rice fields represent the endurance of ancient civilization amid a modernized society. It also celebrates the agricultural history of the Philippines, from rice cultivation to rice consumption.

Two of the UNESCO-inscribed terrace clusters of Ifugao are located in Banaue—the Bangaan and Batad terrace clusters. 

The Capital City of Manila

Manila became the capital of the colonial Philippines six years after Miguel López de Legazpi arrived in the country. Back then, the city acted as the center of Spanish military, religious, and commercial activities, which led to some of the most historic moments in the Philippines. Many of them have been immortalized in the following historical sites of Manila: 

Rizal Park

During 1800s, Rizal Park was a popular place among Manila’s elite. It was a spot for events, parades, celebrations, and ruefully, executions, too. Spaniards used it as an execution ground for rebels and the national hero, Dr Jose Rizal

The park’s most famous landmark is the Rizal Monument, facing Manila Bay and surrounded by ornamental gardens, paved walkways, and open lawns.

Intramuros

Located roughly 10 minutes away from Rizal Park is Intramuros. Also known as the Walled City of Manila, the historic district was the seat of the Spanish government when they colonized the Philippines. Intramuros is also home to Fort Santiago, a defense fortress during the Spanish colonization era, and two historic churches: Manila Cathedral and San Agustin Church. 

National Museum

The National Museum complex showcases natural history, fine arts, and archaeology collections, representing the unique heritage of the Filipino people. Each artwork, installation, and artifact tells a story of how we evolved from the prehistoric period to modern times.

Some must-see items are the Butuan boat, which symbolizes early Filipino craftsmanship and the Manunggul Jar made before Christ was born. 

Bahay-Nakpil Bautista

The Nakpil-Bautista House was built in 1914 and is one of the oldest houses found in the district of Quiapo, Manila. Key figures of Philippine History lived in this house, including Dr Ariston Bautista who invented a medicine to combat cholera and Gregoria de Jesus, the widow of Andres Bonifacio. 

Today, Bahay-Nakpil Bautista holds items related to Katipunan, memorabilia of the Nakpil family, and an activity and reading area for kids. 

If you’re looking for more heritage houses to explore, here’s a list of homes with unique architecture and glorious past.

Besides the century-old buildings, new developments also celebrate the historical significance of Manila. The city is now home to sky-high condominiums, enabling it to regain its place as one of the luxuriant areas in the country.

The Manila Hotel

Speaking of luxury, you can get more of it at The Manila Hotel. It’s a premier building that was constructed in 1909 and officially opened in 1912. The hotel was not just built to provide accommodations and display Filipino hospitality. Its strategic location also lets you enjoy the magnificence of Manila Bay’s sunset, Intramuros, and Rizal Park.

Bonifacio Shrine

Located near Manila City Hall, Bonifacio Shrine is a public park and plaza with the monument of Andres Bonifacio wielding a bolo as its masterpiece. The shrine also depicts the life of Bonifacio from his childhood to his tragic death. A simplified version of the “Kartilya ng Katipunan,” or the guidebook for new members of Katipunan, can also be found on the memorial shrine. 

Binondo

Founded in 1594, Binondo is the oldest Chinatown in the world. Its history is tied to the rise of the Chinese-Filipino population, culture, commerce, and trade in the Philippines. Today, Binondo continues to serve as a commercial hub and home to businesses of all sizes. The area is also the location of various real estate developments owned by property giants like Megaworld Corporation and Anchor Land. 

Of course, history is rich not just in the capital city. Other historical places to visit within Metro Manila include: 

  • Quiapo Church, Manila 
  • Coconut Palace, Manila
  • Libingan ng mga Bayani, Taguig
  • Ayala Museum, Makati
  • Museo Valenzuela, Valenzuela 
  • EDSA People Power Monument, Quezon City 
  • Bantayog ng mga Bayani, Quezon City
  • Pasig City Museum, Pasig

World War II Historical Places in the Philippines

World War II is arguably the biggest war in history, and the Philippines was one of the countries that suffered a great loss of life. When Japan attacked the Philippines in 1941, it was also the prelude to the horrors of Japanese occupation. 

Around the Philippines, you can find the following sites that carry important reminders of the war. Visting them will remind you of harrowing memories and also the hope that even the darkest nights will end.

Shrine of Valor

The Shrine of Valor or “Dambana ng Kagitingan” sits atop Mt. Samat in Pilar, Bataan and is dedicated to the Filipino troops who fought against the Japanese Imperial Army. 

Within the 15-hectare shrine complex, you’ll find a white Memorial Cross, which is a remembrance of the heroism of World War II soldiers. There’s also a war museum that contains armaments used against the Japanese forces. 

(Zero Kilometer) Death March Marker

Another landmark that saw the events of World War II is the Zero Kilometer Death March Marker in Bataan. There are two zero km. markers in the province—one in Bagac and one in Mariveles. 

The death march is one of the gruesome parts of Philippine history, a time when surrendered Filipino and American troops were forced to march 85 miles in six days, with only one meal during the entire journey.

Corregidor Island

The historic island of Corregidor, located south of Bataan province, is another place chock full of Word War II stories. Corregidor is one of the largest islands guarding the entrance to Manila Bay and one of the combat zones between Filipino and US forces and the Japanese Army. 

Inside the island, here are some of the historic sites you can explore: 

  • Malinta Tunnel 
  • Filipino Heroes Memorial
  • Japanese Garden of Peace
  • Pacific War Memorial
  • Corregidor Lighthouse 
  • Battery Hearn 
  • Mile-long Barracks

The Leyte Landing Memorial

Located in Palo, Leyte, this war memorial commemorates the landing of American forces who helped drive the Japanese Army away. In December 1941, US troops were forced to retreat from the Philippines, allowing the Japanese to take control. General MacArthur promised to return, making his famous speech “I shall return.” 

In 1944, he fulfilled his promise as he was seen wading through the Red Beach of Palo with other high-ranking soldiers, including Sergio Osmeña, who later became a Philippine president. 

In 1945, Japanese troops formally surrendered as guerilla forces stood up everywhere to fight for freedom. The Philippines then faced another challenge, which was to rehabilitate its postwar economy to pre-war levels.

With the collective hard work of the Filipino people, the tide turned and the historical performance and economic outlook of the Philippines started showing a positive trend. 

Archaeological and Spanish Era Historical Sites in the Philippines 

Archaeological sites also carry historical and cultural stories that span hundreds, if not thousands of years. In the same way, Spanish era-related structures in the Philippines have recorded long-lived stories since we have been a colony of Spain for more than three centuries. 

The following sites connect us to the past and the ways our modern traditions and behaviors have been shaped:

Tabon Caves

In the municipality of Quezon in Palawan, there are over 200 caves collectively known as the Tabon Caves. The site is a museum of natural art where you can find rounded limestone domes and pieces proving the presence of humans before the Neolithic Age.

Less than 30 caves have been fully explored by archaeology experts, and only 7 are open to the public. This makes the Tabon Caves one of the most mysterious sites that promise extraordinary adventure. 

Callao Cave

Callao Cave is a place to explore and pray, located within the Peñablanca Protected Landscape and Seascape. The park has over 300 cave systems, with Callao Cave being one of the most famous landmarks and tourist spots.

A trip here would be calm or callado (as the Spaniards have named it) because of the pathways and stairways through the cave’s chambers. There’s also a Roman Catholic chapel inside the cave, called The Chapel, where weddings are sometimes held.  

Sunken Cemetery

A picturesque site for the dead, the Sunken Cemetery in Catarman, Camiguin is usually visited by tourists instead of relatives. The cemetery stands on a portion of the province wherein the first Camiguin locals lived and were buried alive due to the Mt. Vulcan eruption.

The giant cross in the middle of the sea is a reminder that there were ancestors and a culture that sunk due to a natural hazard. Besides sightseeing and reflecting, you can dive under the cemetery and explore the old gravestones that turned into marine life habitats.

Cagsawa Ruins 

Cagsawa Ruins is part of Cagsawa Park, a widely visited attraction in Daraga, Albay. The ruins are fragments of what was once a Franciscan church. In 1814, the most violent eruption of the Mayon Volcano occurred, and only the belfry and some parts of the convent survived. 

Around Cagsawa Park, you can also look at the collection of photographs of Mount Mayon eruptions or visit geological and archaeological exhibits. 

Magellan’s Cross

Ferdinand Magellan planted a cross in Cebu to celebrate the Roman Catholic faith propagation in the Philippines. The replica of the cross is located inside a small chapel along Magallanes Street, which was also named after the famed explorer. 

On April 14, 1521, it was believed that Magellan’s priests baptized up to eight hundred Cebuanos, including the King and Queen of Cebu. 

Fort Pilar 

Finally, on the farthest island region from Metro Manila, you’ll find Fort Pilar in Zamboanga. It’s a major historical landmark in the area, which served as a defense fortress against the attacks of the British, Portuguese, and Moros. 

Inside the fort is a National Museum branch that showcases Zamboanga as a Spanish city as well as collections of antique items, paintings, and cultural memorabilia. 

Visiting all these historical sites can be enjoyed by all ages. It proves that history is not at all boring and you can learn it beyond reading textbooks. 

Places, traditions, and our way of life didn’t just appear out of nowhere. Discover how they all came about by including some of these historical sites on your next trip. 

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