The nearest provinces in the north of Manila City that are worth for a quick visit are Bulacan and Pampanga. These provinces are very accessible through the North Luzon Expressway (NLEX).
Bulacan is a historically rich province. Even a brief visit can afford you vignettes of major events in Philippine history and its rich cultural heritage.
One of the places to visit is the Barasoain Church in Malolos City, the capital of Bulacan. Barasoain Church was where the Constitutional Convention took place under the first Philippine Republic during Spanish times. Another popular place to visit is the Biak-na-Bato National Park. The fit and sporty, especially the teens will have a field day traversing the hanging bridges and exploring the caves, one of which was named after revolutionary leader Emilio Aguinaldo. Crowd drawer is the humongous boulder with a large split, hence the name Biak-na-Bato which literally means split stone. Biak-na-Bato served as hideout of Filipino revolutionaries when they took arms against the Spanish authorities. This was also where the Malolos Constitution was signed by Emilio Aguinaldo and Pedro Paterno. Emilio Aguinaldo played a key role in the Philippines’ gaining independence from Spain. He was elected as the President of the new Republic under the Malolos Constitution.
Before leaving, you may want to buy and bring home sweets and breads Bulacan is famous for. These are ensaymada (sweet coiled bread available in different variants), pastillas de leche (milk candy) and inipit (chiffon cake with custard filling).
Next to Bulacan is Pampanga, home of Mt. Pinatubo and host to Clark Air Base, a former enclave of the US military. Mt. Pinatubo is an active volcano. Its last eruption was in 1991 where its ashes reached as far as the Amazons. Clark Air Base is now where the Diosdado Macapagal International Airport is located (named after one of the Philippine Presidents).
Pampanga is famous for its cuisine that tells of the richness of Pampanga’s cultural heritage. Side by side with regular dishes are concoctions, which to someone not from Pampanga, are considered exotic. Feeling adventurous and wanting to go extreme? Then the following dishes are for you: camaru or crickets which are either fried or cooked adobo style; betute or field frogs (fried, stewed, or stuffed); binurong hito (fermented catfish) to mention a few.
Needless to say, the best way to quickly explore the province is through a food trip. You can do this on your own or by joining a day-tour group whose main objective is food-tripping. If you are unfamiliar with the place, your best bet is to join the day-tour group. Your itinerary shall be laid out for you and the cost would include round-trip land transportation (from designated pick-up/drop-off place) and sumptuous lunch plus snacks. Historical bits are shared by your guide as each dish is laid out on the table. This activity, however, is more fun with family or friends.
So, whether it is Bulacan or Pampanga, the short trip is definitely worth your while.