Heritage towns in the Philippines are becoming rarer and rarer. With the apathy of most local governments and Filipinos, much have fallen or disappeared. But there are just some towns and cities that have preserved their own historical architecture, and with heritage awareness, these ten towns and cities enumerated here are must visits.
Although many other places around the country should have been included, my objective is to give a more balanced list of places that can be found in Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao. I intentionally omitted Metro Manila, with interesting areas like Malabon and the old quarter of the city of Manila, these will be treated in a separate post.
For now, the selection here are the best the regions have. It’s just a pity that Bicol and the Cagayan Valley doesn’t have much except a sprinkling of old houses and old architecture in most major areas.
1 Vigan City, Ilocos Sur
Vigan City is the only locality in the country that has preserved much of its Spanish colonial era architecture, from houses, to buildings to religious structures, thus earning it a listing as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Beautiful bahay-na-bato houses not only line Calle Crisologo, the main thorough fare but surrounding streets as well.
Nearby are the old ecclesiastical architecture comprised of the Archibishop’s Palace, the Cathedral and Belfry. Two historic plazas are just a stone’s throw away. Even the cemetery, with its brick perimeter fence and small church, Simbaan a bassit, is still intact.
How to get there: There are planes from Manila to Laoag. From Laoag, there are Manila/Vigan bound buses. Buses from Manila travel to Vigan and Laoag.
2 Malolos City, Bulacan
Malolos City is not only historic, with important events happening especially during the transition from the 19th to the 20th century. It is also rich in culture and heritage with many ancestral houses found within the town center.
It is also one of very few towns in the country with three Spanish colonial era churches (Barasoain, Malolos Cathedral and Sta. Isabel). The Historic Town of Malolos is declared National Historical Landmark.
How to get there: There are several buses from Metro Manila, especially in Cubao like Baliuag Bus that travels to Malolos.
3 Pila, Laguna
Pila is just a beautiful heritage town! Around its spacious plaza are several interesting ancestral houses. The old church is built at one side and the municipal hall opposite it. Around the town are other heritage structures built from the Spanish to the American colonial periods. The Historic Town of Pila is declared National Historical Landmark.
How to get there: There are several buses bound for Sta. Cruz, Laguna that passes Pila from Manila in Buendia corner Taft Ave.
READ MORE: Pila: Heritage town, heritage architecture
4 Taal, Batangas
Taal town is known as having the biggest church edifice in Asia with the Basilica of St. Martin of Tours dominating the town. Less than a kilometer away is the Shrine of Our Lady of Caysasay and a miraculous well and chapel ruins, both built in the Spanish colonial period.
Around town are also historic and ancestral houses and mansions with some converted to museums or open to the public. The Historic Town of Taal is declared National Historical Landmark.
How to get there: Buses from Manila to Lemery, then take a jeepney to Taal.
5 Iloilo City
Iloilo is one of the oldest cities in the Philippines and, with its faith, are several Spanish era churches scattered around its old districts. It was also home of rich sugar barons and once the premier trading hub in the Visayas from the the 19th to the early 20th century.
In the districts of Jaro, Iloilo Downtown, Arevalo, Molo and La Paz, the wealth that was generated has translated into beautiful mansions with architectural styles ranging from bahay-na-bato to art deco and more modern styles. A walk along Calle Real with many of its old buildings flanking both sides of the street is quite an experience!
How to get there: There are several flights from Manila, Cebu and Davao bound for this city. Passenger ships from Cebu, Manila and boats from Bacolod also dock at the Iloilo City wharf. Buses also connect the city with Manila.
6 Silay City, Negros Occidental
Silay City, north of Bacolod City in Negros Occidental is a pretty town with a big plaza infront of a beautiful church. Around the town center are heritage buildings and almost 30 ancestral houses of which, some have been converted into museums or opened to the public for a fee.
How to get there: Buses bound for San Carlos and the northeastern towns via the coast pass by Silay. There are also several jeepneys that ply the Bacolod-Silay Route. Planes from Manila and Cebu land at the city airport.
7 Carcar, Cebu
Carcar is the only heritage town in Cebu City with many of its old architecture, ranging from the Spanish to the American colonial periods intact. From the hill overlooking the town is the beautiful Sta. Catalina de Alexandria Church. Beside it is the old kumbento.
Near the church are American colonial period structures like the Carcar Dispensary, the Sta. Catalina school, the turn of the century public elementary school. From here, down are several ancestral houses. The town center’s rotunda with bandstand is old as well.
How to get there: Vans and jeepneys ply the Cebu City-Carcar route. Buses from the Cebu South Terminal bound for Oslob pass by Carcar.
8 Balingasag, Misamis Oriental
Mindanao has quite a few heritage towns. Most old town centers have a few share of old houses and architecture. However, in Balingasag, there are several interesting houses around the town proper generally found at the area beyond the right side of the brick church which is one of very few built during the Spanish colonial period.
How to get there: From the east bound bus terminal at the Agora market/Market City in Cagayan de Oro City, ride a bus that travels to Butuan. Tell the conductor to stop at the Balingasag junction. Once you get down, ride a traysikad to the town proper.
9 Dapitan City, Zamboanga del Norte
Dapitan City is most known historically as the place of exile of the Philippine National Hero, Jose Rizal. Beyond that though, it is a beautiful provincial city with beautiful and clean roads, scenic coastline, Spanish era church and buildings. Old houses, from bahay-na-bato to all wood, turn of the century structures abound.
There’s a wide open plaza lined with century old trees and relief map of Mindanao (both planted and done by Rizal himself). The old town of Dapitan is a declared Heritage Zone.
How to get there: Planes fly from Cebu and Manila to Dipolog and from there, are bus and jeepneys. Boats also sail from Cebu and Dumaguete.
10 Zamboanga City
Although it has no spanish era church, Zamboanga City’s strip along Valderosa and Rizal Streets from Fort Pilar to the City Hall, the old quarter called the Pueblo has interesting heritage architectures.
Fort Pilar has its Marian religious devotion at one side of the fortification which dates to the 18th century. From here to the main city center are several turn of the century and American Colonial period houses and government buildings. The century old acacia trees along Rizal St. are specifically protected by the local government.
How to get there: Planes from Manila, Cebu and Davao fly to Zamboanga City. Boats also sail to this city from Cebu. There are also buses from Cagayan de Oro, Ozamiz, Pagadian and Dipolog.