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13 Things to Do in the Philippines for History, Culture, and Art Lovers

by Annicca Albano
August 13, 2019

Although much is known about the colonization of the Philippines, historical memoirs often begin with the arrival of the Spaniards, skipping our rich pre-colonial roots. For those who believe that there is more than meets the eye, living with what they know from elementary textbooks is simply not enough. Curiosity leads them to places that uncover layers of culture, traditions, and art, whose historical significance runs far deeper than you think.

From exciting and educational tours that will take you to heritage sites that promote folklife, musical traditions, and cultural advances, to workshops that try to keep indigenous art well and alive, these experiences will make you immensely proud of the blood that courses through your veins.

HERITAGE

Walking Performance Tour at Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar

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Anyone who's been meaning to read up on the impact of colonialism must pay a visit to Bataan, one of the last refuges of American and Filipino soldiers before the Japanese conquest during World War II. In time for history month, Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar transforms its sprawling estate into an interactive storybook with their newest attraction, HistoryLand. Let a talented cast of Bataan locals walk you through history from the The Battle of Mactan, The Execution of our National Hero, The Cry of Pugad Lawin, The Making of the Philippine Flag up until The Declaration of Philippine Independence. Held every Tuesday to Sunday, the attraction will also breathe life into iconic characters from Dr. Jose Rizal’s greatest masterpieces, Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo, like Padre Damaso, Maria Clara, and Sisa.

The ticket costs ₱9,500 and is inclusive of a hotel stay for 4 with buffet breakfast, group photo at La Casa dela Fotografia, Hotel de Oriente access, tramvia and calesa rides, and an invitation to the Walking Heritage Tour, which involves navigating the cobblestone roads and bridges of the resort while listening to the most fascinating anecdotes of the ancestral homes collected by Jose Acuzar.

Pilgrimage Tour in Cebu

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The Philippines is recognized around the world as the most Christian country in Asia—and much of that has to do with Cebu, where Spain first introduced Christianity. Pilgrims interested in culture and history can take part in a city tour of historical and religious landmarks such as the centuries-old Roman Catholic churches Basilica Minor Del Sto. Niño and Metropolitan Cathedral; the miraculous castle church, Simala Shrine; and Magellan’s Cross which was planted by Portuguese and Spanish explorers led by Ferdinand Magellan. Rumor has it that the original cross was destroyed after the death of Magellan. Whether it’s only a replica or the real thing, what is more important is what it signifies and how it has shaped the nation’s religious culture.

Klook’s Cebu City Private Day Tour costs ₱990 and includes side trips to Taoist Temple, Temple of Leah, and Sirao Garden.

Historical Tram Tour in Corregidor Island

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A heartbeat away from Manila via ferry ride lies one of the best destinations in the country to learn military history: Corregidor. Perched on its highest point is a stunning Spanish lighthouse where the corregir or customs person would check all vessels entering Manila Bay, and was later on used as an observation platform for military purposes during the American era. Hop aboard a tramvia to see the skeletal ruins of military barracks, bomb-proof tunnels, a movie house, and the Pacific War Memorial Complex that was built by the US Government in honor of Filipino and American soldiers who served during World War II. With the historical events that took place in this military bastion, Corregidor is no doubt a symbol of courage and valor and a great reminder of the fallen soldiers’ fight for freedom and what they believed in.

Sun Cruises has an ongoing promo of ₱2,650 per ticket and already includes entrance fee, ferry ride, island tour, buffet lunch, and a day tour kit. Regular ticket costs ₱3,358 for a weekday trip and ₱3,629 for a weekend trip.

Liquor Tasting & Tour at Destileria Limtuaco Liquor Museum

IMAGE: Annicca Albano

Being the oldest district of Manila, Intramuros has seen plentiful (and often painful) events. But along with that, it has also witnessed new beginnings unfold, like the opening of a distillery museum—one that chronicles over 160 years worth of history and the legacy of the five generations of master blenders behind the oldest distillery in the country. Sitting in a bahay na bato where the Limtuacos used to reside, the Destileria Limtuaco Liquor Museum boasts an expansive display of an authentic dadapilan or sugarcane presser from Ilocos Sur; vintage bottles of the Chinese herbal wine, Kung Fu Siok Tong, that was popularized as a health drink; labeling machines from the 70s; and posters of the White Castle ads that propelled the careers of many starlets.

Sign up for a guided museum tour for only ₱200, which includes a liquor tasting experience. Worth sampling are Manille Liqueur de Dalandan, Amadeo Coffee Liqueur, and the Paradise Mango Rum that highlights the distinct flavor of our national fruit.


ARTS & CRAFTS

Guided Art Tour in Angono

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Touted as the “Art Capital of the Philippines”, Angono is home to ateliers including that of Botong—also known as the National Artist for Painting Carlos Francisco, whose vibrant murals capture the country’s colorful history. See it for yourself when you participate in Culture Shock PH’s Angono Art Tour, which brings you to the Botong Francisco House. See the very brushes and paints his hands touched along with his unfinished works and sketches. You’ll also have stops at Blanco Family Museum, YAB Design, Nemiranda Art Gallery, and Angono Petroglyphs. The ₱2,000/pax fee already includes roundtrip transportation, donation fees, lunch at the museum restaurant Balaw-Balaw, and a chance to paint with artist and musician Orville Tiamson. Take advantage of your art therapy session with Orville by asking him for his advice for aspiring artists!

Pottery Making at Tahanan Pottery Shop & School

INSTAGRAM: tahananpottery

Traditional pottery and ceramic making in the Philippines dates back to third millennium BCE, but it’s secretly one of the world’s oldest art form. In fact, some of the cooking vessels and vases we see in our great grandparents’ house are made using this method. Now, you can create your own to fill your space with when you attend a short-term course (starts at ₱7,000) and single-session workshop (starts at ₱2,150) for mud pottery and clay sculpture at Tahanan Pottery Shop & School in Quezon City. Using the traditional wheel-throwing technique, try your hand at forging coffee mugs, lidded pots, and planters. After mastering the basics, put your own spin on stoneware ceramic art like anthropomorphic vessels and tea light holders. At the shop, you can have a piece of work commissioned by a seasoned Filipino potter and founder of the Ceramic Studio of the UP College of Fine Arts Rita Gudiño—and if you’re lucky, you might even be able to sit in one of her workshops!

Creative Retreat at Tam-awan Village

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Baguio is a major cultural city, and rightfully so. Apart from being the birthland of several national artists like painter Benedicto Cabrera and filmmaker Kidlat Tahimik, this is also where the famous artist village Tam-awan is found. For a humble budget of ₱1,000, you can book a bed in an authentic Ifugao hut and a slot to a workshop module of your choice—from printmaking, basic or advance drawing, portraiture, oil pastel and watercolor painting, to wood carving and dreamcatcher making. During your downtime, meditate through the forest or immerse yourself in the way of life of the local community by joining demonstrations on bamboo craft, rice winemaking, and more that will surely make your trip an inspiring one.

Sketch Walks in Manila

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If your creative spirit sparks at the sight of visually arresting places, then you should connect with the artists at Urban Sketchers Philippines. Every month, this non-proft organization arranges a series of sketch walks in different cities like Binondo, Escolta, Marikina, and Intramuros to recreate sceneries or buildings—from Renaissance Revival-style university buildings, baroque churches, and heritage houses to discreet streets that have their own charm and story to tell. The walk, which concludes with a show and tell, is absolutely for free but you have to bring your own art materials (any medium you’re comfortable with!). Don’t worry; there’s no level of drawing experience required—just openness to the process of looking, seeing, feeling these locations and immortalizing them on paper for others to appreciate.


LITERATURE, FILM & PERFORMANCE

Cultural Dinner Show at Barbara’s

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Music and dance have always been vital to shaping a society’s culture, and this holds especially true for the Philippines. Cloaked inside Plaza San Luis in Intramuros, Barbara’s Heritage Restaurant takes you back in time with sights, sounds, and sumptuous delights that elicit feelings of nostalgia and national pride. For only ₱999, you’ll be treated to a feast for the senses—endless servings of heirloom Filipino and Spanish recipes to devour while watching troupes move gracefully to the country’s national dance, tinikling, and pandango sa ilaw, a playful folk dance that mimics fireflies at dusk and at night. Make this your last stop on your Intramuros exploration, which should include visits to heritage museums and the historic churches that embellish the walled city.

Cinephile Crawl in Manila

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Despite the advent of Netflix and cineplex, there remains a fascination with microcinemas that pave the way for Filipino directors to screen indie films—or rerun the forgotten ones—that don’t always appeal to the mass audience. Take a peek into the world of independent film production and discover its influence in shaping today’s pop culture through a cinephile crawl. Carefully curated by Fat Girls Day Out, Klook’s crawl starts at Manila Cinematheque Center in Ermita where you can marvel at vintage film equipment, behind-the-scenes photographs, memorabilia, and retro posters in its very own museum. Led by a group of cinema buffs, the tour will also stop at Black Maria Cinema, one of the few theaters that screened the 2017 Metro Manila Film Festival entry Ang Larawan, which was later on honored with the awards for Best Film, Best Actress (Joanna Ampil), Best Production Design, Best Musical Score, and the Gatpuno Antonio J. Villegas Cultural Award. With a chance to converse with like-minded individuals who share the same cinematic taste plus a film screening at the prevailing independent movie house Cinema ’76, the ₱3,200-priced ticket is worth saving up for.

Spoken Word Poetry Nights at Conspiracy Garden Café

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The local spoken word scene has come a long way since its first form as balagtasan. Its resurgence, which is now leaning towards Western performance style while still keeping the topics close to home, has become widely embraced. And it’s all thanks to artists and collectives who continue to perform wherever the crowd who needs to hear their piece on current events and contemporary social issues is—oftentimes, in a bar. Tucked quietly along Visayas Ave., Conspiracy Garden Café doubles as an events ground, keeping the art form alive through regular open mic nights. Apart from the garden café where you can dine and drink, it also houses a music room where established and emerging musicians perform, plus a gallery that exhibits eclectic art to feed the curiosity of any goer. Spend your sultry nights listening to poems of Juan Miguel Severo, songs of Joey Ayala, or guitar strumming of Noel Cabangon.


INTERACTIVE ART

LuzViMinda Tour at Lakbay Museo

INSTAGRAM: lakbaymuseoph

With thousands of islands that make up Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao, visiting every hill and valley of the Philippines can be a daunting and expensive entry in any traveler’s bucket list. But the newly opened Lakbay Museo can take you through all the regions of the country in just 2 hours for only ₱799 (via jeepney, airplane, the vinta ride from Mindanao—your pick!). Lending a fresh touch to island hopping, this modern gallery presents the country’s rich culture and traditions through larger-than-life exhibits and interactive stations of iconic landmarks like Banaue Rice Terraces, Mayon Volcano, and Bohol’s Chocolate Hills. Learn through experiencing with textile touching, vinegar tasting, coffee smelling, tinikling dance-off, and cultural shows by the museum facilitators. Or, be part of the festivities like the Pahiyas or Panagbenga festivals. You’re sure to leave with a deeper admiration for the country and dozens of photos to fill your Instagram feed with.

Book online to get ₱100 OFF your ticket, which comes with “chips” that you can use to buy meals from the carinderia or candies and chips from the sari-sari store.

Digital Play at PlayLab PH

INSTAGRAM: playlabph

Start ‘em young at PlayLab PH, where kids (and kids-at-heart) can learn to appreciate art and how it evolves into something that can be seen, felt, heard, explored, and even played with. The first of its kind in the country, this digital kid’s play park has 14 fun installations engineered by Filipino media artists. Foster your child’s inner artist as he watches his creations come to life on the big screens. With a digitally-lighted slope, interactive wall-climbing, and real-time interactive green screens, this immersive experience shows how art has changed with the times, and gives you a peek into the promising future of visual arts in the country.

Get a discount on Kids Pass for 2 when you buy via Deal Grocer.

Looking for a place to stay before taking on these tours? Check out our Getaways and Hotels collections for the best deals in the country.

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This article was last edited on September 13, 2019 by the DG Traveler team.

About Annicca
Always the designated trip planner but never the navigator, Annicca loves crafting travel itineraries with a mix of city, island, and cultural exploration. At age 21, she authored an ethnography on spoken word poetry in the Philippines, the first of its kind in the country. Follow her Instagram @anniccalbn to know her whereabouts.

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