Roman Catholic church in the PhilippinesYears of colonization and trade with several nations formed the cultural melting pot that is the Philippines. No other country has arguably the greatest influence on the Philippines than Spain, however, which kept the country as its colony for over 300 years.

Centuries of Spanish colonization allowed the country’s culture to penetrate the Philippines deeply. From lifestyle and cuisine to religion and architecture, Spain’s impact can still be seen and felt to this today.

The heritage towns and landmarks give you the opportunity to immerse yourself in the colonial period’s architecture and gain a better perspective of the past. Rent a self-drive car in Manila, Philippines to experience more than just the Spanish influence in Intramuros.

You’ll find a heritage town worth visiting whether you’re in the mood for a quick weekend getaway or a long epic road trip.

Quick Getaway Destination: Taal, Batangas

Only a couple of hours south of Manila is Taal, Batangas. The municipality of Taal is well-known throughout the country as the home of the balisong or butterfly knife and the barong Tagalog.

Taal shares its name with two nearby famous tourist attractions. The first is the Taal Volcano, said to be the world’s smallest active volcano. The second is the volcano’s home: Taal Lake. The town may be less well-known to tourists than the volcano, but its rich history and beautifully preserved ancestral houses (and colonial ruins) offer an equally enjoyable experience.

When in Taal, be sure to visit its many historic bahay-na-bato or stone houses. Some notable ancestral homes to visit are the house-turned-museum of Doña Marcela Agoncillo (best known for making the first Philippine flag), Casa Villavicencio, the Villavicencio Wedding Gift House, and the Don Leon Apacible House.

Make sure to visit the Taal Basilica, as well. Also known as the Basilica of St. Martin of Tours, it is the biggest Catholic church of its kind in Asia. The church features intricately hand-painted ceilings and an illuminating altar wall made with sterling silver and gold.

Long Road Trip Destination: Vigan, Ilocos Sur

If you’re up for a lengthier road trip (at least seven to eight hours), then head up north to Vigan, Ilocos Sur.

Vigan, which was established in the 16th century, is included in UNESCO’s World Heritage List. The 233 historic buildings spread across 25 streets will transport you back to the Spanish colonial era more than any other heritage site or town in the Philippines.

The buildings’ impressive craftsmanship and architectural design continue to stand the test of time. The structures are largely similar to those you’d find in Taal — brick, mortar, and stone on the first floor, wood on the second floor. Unlike Taal’s bahay-na-bato, Vigan’s buildings also feature Chinese influences.

Many locals still use the structures for commercial, residential, and other purposes. Don’t pass up the chance to explore the cobblestone street of the city’s famed Calle Crisologo. You’ll find many ancestral homes of historical figures that have been transformed into cafes, souvenir stores, hotels, and bars.

Discover the rich colonial history of the Philippines through an enriching road trip to Taal or Vigan. Let go of all your worries and immerse yourself in the experiencing the past.