Being under the Spanish rule for more than 300 years, almost every town or city in the Philippines has architectural gems.
While most have been sold off, or deeply neglected, or are already in ruins, some have thankfully survived through the centuries and are still intact and relatively well-preserved.
For the history buffs, these five heritage towns are worth visiting more than once.
The charming town of Taal, 112 kilometers (70 miles) south of Manila, is more known for what is said to be the world’s smallest volcano of the same name. But there is more to discover here like the grand ancestral homes lining up its main street and the church of Basilica de San Martin de Tours, which is the largest in Asia.
In the late 19th century, the local coffee industry boomed. Due to the growing financial prosperity of middle class businessmen, numerous Bahay na Bato (stone houses) were built which we can all see still standing in the town today.
Taal town is a marvel. Photography enthusiasts will surely have a great time paying Galleria Taal a visit. This is an ancestral house turned into a museum , which houses a collection of antique cameras and old photos.
For those who yearn for a taste of the past, Villa Tortuga offers a dinner package where you get to wear period dresses and have your pictures taken with faded photographs as your souvenirs. It is a perfect way to experience the life of the elite during the Spanish regime.
Don’t miss visiting the mansion of local heroine, Marcela Agoncillo. She was one of the three women who produced the very first hand-sewn official Philippine flag which was unveiled during the announcement of Philippine independence from Spanish rule on June 12, 1898 in Kawit, Cavite.
How To Get to Taal
From Manila, ride a bus going to Lipa City, Batangas then hop on a jeepney bound for Taal Town. You will know you are in Taal when you notice the steep road and get a glimpse of the imposing church right ahead.
Vigan, Ilocos Sur
The capital city of Ilocos Sur, Vigan, is a UNESCO World Site and is also one of the remaining intact Hispanic towns in the country. Its old homes showcase a fusion of Chinese, Filipino and European colonial architecture.
A former Philippine President, Elpidio Quirino and Padre Jose Burgos, a Philippine National Hero, both call Vigan City their home.
History lovers will definitely enjoy walking along the cobblestone street of Calle Crisologo. Animal lovers can visit Baluarte – a mini zoo owned by former Ilocos Sur Governor Chavit Singson. For the prayerful, St. Paul Metropolitan Cathedral is not hard to miss since it is located in the heart of the city, fronting Plaza Salcedo.
For old romantics, the tale of Vigan is the perfect explanation to the old saying “love conquers all.” The story behind the survival of Vigan during WWII is a love story in itself. A former Japanese commander fell in love with a Bigueña (a female local) and thus ordered Vigan to be spared from the war.
How To Get to Vigan
The fastest way to reach Vigan is via a 1-hour flight to the nearby city of Laoag, Ilocos Norte from Manila. Then travel by land from Laoag to Vigan for two hours. Vigan is also reachable from Manila via an 8-hour bus ride.
Unlike the neighboring towns of Pagsanjan and Sta. Cruz, Pila’s pride comes to the fact that its ancestral homes survived the turmoil of World War II.
The town itself was declared as a National Historical Landmark by the NHCP or National Historical Commission of the Philippines (formerly NHI or National Historical Institute) on May 17, 2000.
It’s also considered as one of the oldest settlements in the country since archeologists have found artifacts dating back to the late Tang Dynasty. The town was built with the St. Anthony of Padua Parish Church as the center with the old houses, town hall and the plaza grounds surrounding it – giving off a very laid-back feel.
The old homes of Pila are still being occupied by private residents. A visit to the town museum is recommended to know more about the Pila’s history. It’s no surprise that this quaint town was chosen a film location for some scenes in the popular daytime Philippine series Be Careful With My Heart.
How To Get To Pila
Ride buses plying the Manila-Sta. Cruz, Laguna route then exit at Pila Junction at the National Highway. Travel time is about 2 hours depending on traffic. The town center is shortly reachable from here either by jeepney or by foot for about five minutes.
Silay City, Negros Occidental
Dubbed as the Little Paris, Silay City was named after Kansilay trees due to its abundance in the area during the early days. There are more than thirty well-preserved ancestral homes here which have been declared as historical landmarks.
Similar to the coffee industry of Batangas, the advent of sugarcane plantations in Negros grew Silay City’s economy, giving rise to its exuberant collection of old homes. One of the most famous of these homes is the Gaston Mansion or more popularly known as Balay Negrense (balay meaning house).
A lavish party scene in the award-winning 1982 movie Oro, Plata, Mata was shot here.
How To Get To Silay City
Silay City can be explored through a less than 1-hour plane ride from Manila, landing at Bacolod-Silay International Airport. A local shipping company, 2GO, also offers trips to Bacolod City every few days via the Port of Manila. Silay City is just about a 30-minute ride from the Bacolod City.
Biñan City, Laguna
Biñan, also referred to as Binyang by local townsfolk, is famous for its mouth-watering Puto Biñan – a kind of rice cake topped with cheese, butter or salted egg mostly produced in Brgy. San Vicente and for its custom-made hats found in Brgy. Platero.
A modern city in the eyes of many, not many know that there are beautiful ancestral houses hidden in the heart of the city. Rows of Spanish homes have survived the past decades and can be found on the streets along San Isidro de Labrador Parish Church.
Dr. Jose Rizal, the Philippine National Hero, had his early education here in Biñan in which the nearby City of Sta. Rosa used to be a part of. He hails from Biñan through his mother’s side, Doña Teodoro Alonso.
Recently, the Alberto House, the ancestral home of Dr. Rizal’s mother, was recently stopped from being demolished. Sadly, it was sold off by one of the descendants of Teodora and was scheduled to be transferred to a resort in Bagac, Bataan. Fortunately, the local government and the people of Biñan are trying to prevent the transfer from happening.
How To Get To Biñan City
Biñan is accessible from Manila via a 1-hour bus ride passing through the South Luzon Expressway (SLEX) via Carmona Exit. One short jeepney ride from the bus terminal is all it takes to reach the town proper.