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Escolta Tour: Fun Things to Do in Old Manila

Escolta is one of the few streets in Manila that has never lost its charm. Beyond its chaotic appearance (tangled electric wires, dense walking population, and surplus in public vehicles), this spot in Manila boasts a vibrant history that most of us may not be aware of.

The American colonization in the country during the 20th century has caused a huge increase in business investments—hence, the boost in American establishments during that time. The modernized look of Escolta is still evident today, as you may notice in its intricately designed buildings.

World War II happened, and so is the Battle of Manila. Escolta slowly lost its appeal to the general public. However, there are still efforts that attempt to reignite people’s interest in the area. The Escolta Block Party, for one, takes place to memorialize the glory days of Escolta.

Interested to learn more about this part of Manila? We encourage you to go on a day tour!

What’s great about Escolta walk tours is that you don’t really need a guide to help you sort out the place. The old street is pretty straightforward; if ever you get lost, you’ll get lost in beauty, at least.

Here’s an easy street guide to spark your interest to visit the place and roam around its nostalgic corners.

 

Explore Escolta Buildings

No matter where you look, you can easily find Insta-ready architectural gems in Escolta. Many of the buildings incorporate Renaissance, Neoclassical, Beaux Arts, and Art Deco styles in its design.

Make sure to bring a camera with you to take snapshots of these old wonders.

Most of the structures were built in the early decades of the 20th century, and have survived World War II along with a number of earthquakes that affected Manila.

 

1. Burke Building

William J. Burke Building
Image Credit: @Wikipedia

The home of the first elevator in the country, Burke Building was named after its original owner and a cardiologist, William J. Burke. Local celebrities Fernando Poe Jr. and Joseph Estrada used to rent spaces here.

 

2. Don Roman Santos Building

Roman S. Building
Image Credit: @Wikipedia

More popularly known as the BPI Plaza Sta. Cruz branch, this building has undergone several changes. In 1957, more floors were added to accept more tenants. It used to serve as a hospital and a bank, among others.

 

3. First United Building

First United Building
Image Credit: @Wikipedia

With its symmetrical designs, First United Building can easily attract Escolta visitors. The building geometric designs, rectangular segments, and straight lines, giving it a sharp and edgy appearance.

It formerly housed the Manila Post Office and commercial spaces owned by the late comedian Dolphy and superstar Nora Aunor.

Read 10 Instagram-worthy Places to Visit in Manila

4. Capitol Theater

Escolta Capitol Theater
Image Credit: @Wikipedia

Built more than eight decades ago and designed by Juan Nakpil (the first National Artist for Architecture), the Capitol Theater is a 1,200-square meter playhouse with 800 seats. Its exterior features carvings designed by Francesco Riccardo Monti, an Italian sculptor.

Sampaguita, the Philippines’ national flower, was used to design the building’s central motif. However, the building’s interior was heavily damaged by the Battle of Manila in the 1940s.

 

5. Regina Building

Regina Roxas Building
Image Credit: @Wikipedia

Originally known as Roxas Building, the Regina Building initially has three levels only, which were designed by local architect and Juan Luna’s son Andres Luna de San Pedro. To accommodate more tenants, it was later expanded by Fernando H. Ocampo.

Interestingly, the building is surrounded by two bodies of water, the Pasig River and Estero de la Reina.

 

6. Juan Luna E-Service Building

Juan Luna E-Service Building
Image Credit: @Wikipedia

Juan Luna E-Service Building was originally called the Pacific Commercial Company. During the 1930s, it changed its name to the First National City Bank Building, as it served as the bank’s headquarters during that time.

The building was among the few ones that survived the infamous 1945 aerial bombing.

In 1969, it was renovated based on the proposed interior design of National Artist Leandro V. Locsin. Today, it is a commercial property with a food court and several office spaces.

 

7. Commercial Bank and Trust Company Building

Commercial Bank and Trust Company Building Manila
Image Credit: @Wikipedia

What sets this architectural masterpiece apart from other items on this list is its shape. With its dome-like structure, it looks like a spaceship. This futuristic building is now known as the BPI Escolta branch, as it was acquired by the Bank of the Philippine Islands about four decades ago.

 

8. Natividad Building

Natividad Building
Image Credit: @Wikipedia

Designed by Spanish architect Fernando de la Cantera Blondeau, Natividad Building is a majestic example of Beaux Arts architecture. During the Battle of Manila in the middle of the 20th century, the building suffered from minor damages.

It was rebuilt right after the war. Natividad Building also used to house the Philippine Insurance Commission and the Philippine Education Company, the largest local book firm at that time.

Check out the complete Escolta Map tour guide

 

Museums in Escolta

Feed your artistic soul as you visit old-school museums in Escolta. Compared to other museums across Manila, the museums in this section of the capital have lower entrance fees.

1. First United Building Community Museum

Stairs in First United Building Museum
Image Credit: @misterhubs via Instagram

See precious memorabilia of iconic entrepreneur Sy Lian Teng at First United Building Community Museum. The museum was actually a tribute to him, for being a significant instrument in the shaping of commerce in the district.

Some of his machines, household appliances, furniture, and even old receipts can be found here.

  • Operating Hours: Monday to Saturday: 9 AM – 5 PM
  • Entrance Fee: PHP50

 

2. Calvo Museum

Calvo Museum Interior
Image Credit: fritzgrace.blogspot.com

A short walk away from LRT 1-Carriedo station, this accessible museum in Calvo Building features displays of posters, bottles, music sheets, postcards, and other interesting items from the past.

Visitors can enjoy an unobstructed view of the Manila Post Office when looking through one of the building’s windows.

Another interesting piece of trivia: Calvo Building also housed GMA Network’s original office.

  • Operating Hours: Monday to Friday: 9 AM – 5 PM; Saturday: 9 AM – 12 PM
  • Entrance Fee: PHP50 per person, for a group of at least four

 

Things to do in Escolta

Aside from taking photos of the aesthetically pleasing buildings and appreciating art at historical museums, there are so many other fun things to do in Escolta. Include these items on your Escolta bucket list for a visit like no other.

1. Take part in Escolta Block Party

Happening every quarter, this party is a whole-day affair commemorating the rich and colorful history and heritage of this part of Manila. During the event, you can expect art exhibitions, mystery tours, street bazaars, and even stage performances.

Wait until it gets dark, as you’re most welcome to join a street party and dance your heart out to the tune of lively disco music. You can also purchase souvenirs from the party such as art merchandise and sweet Filipino treats.

2. Check out the iconic Carriedo Fountain

Binondo Carriedo Fountain
Editorial Credit: aldarinho / Shutterstock.com

The Carriedo Fountain is named after Don Francisco Carriedo y Peredo, one of the benefactors of Manila’s pioneer waterworks system. Some people referred to this structure as a “traveling fountain,” since it was initially set in Plaza Rotonda then was later transferred in Balara, Quezon City.

Several years after, it was supposed to be transferred again to its original location but did not push through due to the presence of flyovers on the site. The city government decided to place it at Plaza Sta. Cruz instead, its current location.

3. Pass through a historical bridge

Jones Memorial Bridge
Editorial Credit: Z. Jacobs / Shutterstock.com

Built in 1876, the William A. Jones Memorial Bridge (aka Jones Bridge) is the historical structure that connects Ermita to Binondo. It originally has four statues (called the La Madre Filipina) on both ends, but only three of them remain today. No one knows about the case of the missing statue.

The bridge that we see today looks different compared to its original appearance. It was heavily destroyed by World War II and was affected by the aerial bombing in 1945.

With financial help from the American Government, it was rehabilitated with a simpler but more functional design. From the bridge, you’ll get to enjoy an astounding view of the Manila Central Post Office.

4. Go on a food trip!

Ice Cream and Snacks in Escolta
Image Credit: @genlangurayan via Instagram

Hole-in-the-wall restaurants are everywhere in Escolta. UNO Seafood Wharf Place is the place to visit if you’re on the hunt for savory Chinese dishes without having to stop by Binondo. Polland Hopia Café, on the other hand, sells hopia, siopao, and lumpia.

Into ice cream for dessert? Check out Escolta Ice Cream and Snacks that brings out nostalgia. While you’re at it, you might want to finish gulping a tall glass of cold beer at Fred’s Revolucion.

Read 10 Underrated Chinese Restos for the Best Dimsum in Manila

5. Shop, shop, shop!

Store in Escolta
Editorial Credit: Michael Wels / Shutterstock.com

Make your tour more memorable by shopping miscellaneous items at the stores of HUB|Make Lab. They carry decorative items, plants, furniture, and even perfumes.

 

How to Get There

Going to Escolta can be challenging to the uninitiated. But this history-laden street is pretty accessible with various modes of transportation traversing the area.

  • Via private car

Using a GPS navigation software app could be the most convenient way. But if you’re not that techie, just remember that one end of Escolta is located right next to the famous Jones Bridge. The other end is beside the Roman Santos Building.

Make sure to park your vehicle in a designated parking space to avoid it from getting towed.

  • Via jeep

If you’re coming from LRT Buendia, you can ride a jeepney with a Divisoria sign. You’ll pass by Jones Bridge. You can get off right after passing through the bridge.

  • Via train

Take the LRT 1 and alight at Carriedo Station. Walk straight to the nearby Plaza Lacson (landmark: Sta. Cruz Church). The intricately designed BPI Building is just across the plaza. Facing the building, you can find Escolta at the right side.

  • Via ferry

Escolta has its own ferry station. You can take the ferry from any of these terminals along Pasig River: Pinagbuhatan, San Joaquin, Brgy. Hulo, Guadalupe, Brgy. Valenzuela, Lambingan Bridge, Sta. Ana, PUP-Sta. Mesa, Lawton, and Plaza Mexico.

 

Where to Stay Near Escolta

If you’re planning to stay for a few days in Manila for your Escolta trip, check out our recommended hotels nearby as well as some hotels in Binondo.

 

Banner Image Credit: @Wikipedia

 

Check out these 15 fun and unique things to do in Manila to complete your Old Manila tour experience!

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