Vigan city in Ilocos Sur, located in the northwest region of Luzon in the Philippines is a beautiful Spanish colonial city. The city takes pride in its colonial past while mixing in some quirky, new and fascinating places to visit in the city and region. If you are looking for something with more history and culture in your visit to the Philippines, check out these must see tourist spots in Vigan city, Ilocos Sur.
What to see and do in Vigan City
Where is Vigan city and why visit
Unlike the ugly urban sprawl and development of Manila and Cebu City, Vigan city maintains its unique character as a authentic Spanish colonial city, in a very compact space. Designated as a Unesco World Heritage site, the entire city has many traditional homes, converted mansions and beautiful architectural zones that make this a unique travel destination in the Philippines. For those interested in Philippine culture and history from the Spanish colonial times, this city encapsulates the look and vibe of the those early days but with modern conveniences to make it a pleasant visit.
Top attractions to visit in Vigan city and surrounding area
Running over five blocks in the historic center, Calle Crisologo is the popular tourist destination with many of the Spanish colonial homes in the street converted into shops, restaurants, inns and other tourist attractions that give you a taste of what this colonial city looks like with cobble stone streets and kalesa horse buggies ply through the main thoroughfare.
Kalesa ride through the historic districts of Vigan
One of the best ways to slow down to the colonial lifestyle and pace of Vigan is to travel by kalesa or a horse drawn carriage with a driver. Kalesa drivers ply the main tourist areas of the city to show you the best parts of the colonial capital depending on how far you want to go and see around the city. Most drivers will offer you a highlight tour of the important sections and attractions around the city
Tip – Make sure you negotiate a good price up front before you step into the kalesa and what places you want to explore from the drivers highlights of places to see.
St. Paul Metropolitan Cathedral
The main church of St. Pauls sits directly in front of Plaza Salcedo – the main square of the city with the dancing fountains. St. Paul’s Cathedral is part of the Unesco Heritage sites of the city and has been rebuilt many times from earthquakes, fires and other damages. The Spanish colonial style church is Neo-Gothic and Romanesque in style with the archbishop’s palace located next to the cathedral.
The large plaza fronting St. Paul Cathedral is known as Plaza Salcedo which is named after Spanish conqueror Juan de Salcedo who founded the city and region. The plaza is a very popular spot to hang out and relax in the main square of Vigan City with large monuments to check out around the square include the bronze statue of Jose Rizal (Philippine national hero), the water dancing fountains with the obelisk in the center (to honor Salcedo) and the city hall fronting the fountains. Night time is a popular time to visit with the colorful water dancing show which happens daily.
Father Burgos Museum and Home
The city has so many heritage homes and sites and this includes the Father Burgos Museum which used to be his home. Now managed by the Philippine National museum, rotating exhibits, art collections and a visit to the home and personal collection of Father Burgos gives you an insight to the daily life, memorabilia and Spanish colonial lifestyle to living in Vigan city.
Syquia Mansion of President Elpidio Quirino
Home to the Philippine’s sixth president, Syquia mansion is the birthplace of Elpidio Quirino who brought back the Philippines economic growth after World War II. You can take a self tour of the mansion with signage describing the elaborate rooms that are all open to visit in this colonial home. The ancestral home has many of the personal effects, fine furnishings, antiques and memorabilia of this affluent family that made their fortune building trade in the Vigan area. The exquisite home, furnishings and beautiful details are perfectly preserved for you to see how the wealthy entertained and lived during this time frame.
Part zoo and then a strange collection of the owners hunting prowess with a museum on the top of the hill with his trophy wildlife collection. This private collection gifted to the city, Baluarte is a fun distraction to visit outside of the city with a beautiful view from the top hill to the ocean with some free range animals roaming around and some other caged or fenced animals that you can view from a distance. This free zoo is open to the public, but there is a charge for the tram and visit to the wildlife museum if you’re in the mood to see his trophy collection of prized heads and taxidermy.
Bizarre museum of taxidermy and prized hunts at Baluarte
Vigan Public Market
The expansive Vigan public market is a fun place to explore to see where the locals shop for their perishables, meats, seafood and other take away foods. Housed in two large indoor buildings the top floors are the actual markets for fruits and vegetables on one side and meat, poultry and seafood with a large section of cafes, bakeries and other take away foods. The downstairs have crafts and souvenir shops, clothing and other daily sundry items worth walking around and finding some real cheap deals or gifts to take home. This is also a great market to photograph with not so shy locals also posing and hamming it up with you when you walk around the aisles.
Traditional woven craft products are still hand-made in Vigan city and Ilocos Sur. There are traditional craft centers or coops that you can visit personally and pic up some wonderful and inexpensive hand-made woven crafts. Also if you visit the Vigan public market, there is a large souvenir area that you can find many of the local fabrics turned into linens, clothing and other souvenirs at cheap prices.
The Bantay Belfry is in another section far from the historic district – you can catch a tricycle to get to this destination. The entrance to the tower requires you to sign in and give an optional donation to visit the tower. Once you enter, you climb up a nicely landscaped area and then enter the door where you climb two sets of stairs to two observation areas, but the top deck has great views and a nice cool breeze flowing through which made me want to stay longer to enjoy the great views from the top. The name Bantay means to watch and was used as a lookout for raiders coming close to the town.
I head back down the tower and enjoy a nice last view and spot the wedding couple again taking pictures in the garden. Just outside the gate are a few more vendors selling crafts and snacks and I stop again to try another savory empanadas and fried shrimp okoy with a spicy vinegar sauce. When the temperatures are hot I usually just stick to small snack foods to keep me going instead of the typical heavy meals served in the restaurants. There are also a few cafes and small eateries just outside of the church if you are looking for a bigger meal.
The church is quite elaborate with a beautiful exterior and interior – a wedding photo shoot was in progress which made it fun to also take photos with a wedding couple. I checked out the lovely outside garden and chapel before heading out to climb the massive bell tower.
Bantay church gardens and outdoor chapel
Located in the historic district, Plaza Burgos is the starting point of the cobbled streets of Calle Crisologo along with a variety of fast food, take out eateries and the popular empanada shacks that Vigan city is known for its famous snack – the empanada. Old colonial structures line the square along with very well established restaurants serving a variety of Ilocano specialties from the region. If you’re looking for food venues, take a walk around the square and then to Calle Crisologo and check out the menus and daily specials to the various places you pass through.
Old colonial buildings around Plaza Burgos
Empanada food stalls
Located on the far end of Plaza Burgos, you’ll find the empanada food stalls where all the fried specialties including empanadas, okoy, grilled barbeques and soups are made fast and are an inexpensive snack or quick meal. Around the square are a variety of shops and small malls selling a variety of souvenirs, tshirts and clothing and other local made crafts and food items.
Sitio Food Park
Just outside of Vigan city is the cool new venue called Sitio Food Park which are old containers refashioned into a hip new dining, bar and hangout space with live music. Popular all day, the scene is really active at night time with live bands, neon and spotlights to create a fun vibe with many food choices to choose from snacks, desserts to local traditional food or even fusion food. Come to Sitio if you’re looking for something different and lively at night time in Vigan City.
Traditional to fusion at Sitio Food Park
How to get to Vigan City
The easiest way to get to Vigan City is by flying from Manila to the closest airport at Laoag and taking a bus or hired car to Vigan. There are about 4 main bus lines from Laoag to Vigan City and the best schedule is with Partas Bus lines and you can check out their availability here.
If you are going to fly, check out these airline deals through Skyscanner to Vigan City.
Other alternatives would be to take one a 10 hour ride from Manila to Vigan city which is a cheaper alternative and their are many bus lines from Manila that cover this route.
Where to stay in Vigan City
There are plenty of fantastic accommodations, but the best stays are in some of the beautiful homes repurposed into inns or hotels. Here are some of the wonderful choices for inns to add to your stay and visit to Vigan City below.
Hotel Luna – nicely restored with a swimming pool, the comfortable rooms and modern amenities make this stay and close proximity to Calle Crisologo ideal in the historic district.
Hotel Salcedo de Vigan – Beautifully restored colonial home in the heart of the historic district with spacious rooms, fantastic buffet breakfast and friendly front desk service.
Vigan Plaza Hotel – A grand colonial home restored with beautiful antiques, large rooms with historic details and features in the rooms and main room. In the historic district with comfortable sized rooms.
Check out these other listing reviews with Trip Advisor here for current prices and availability.
More details about visiting Vigan City
It’s relatively easy to get around the city by taxi or tricycle, you can also hire a Kalesa ride to take you to any of the historic places around the city.
Try some of the local Ilocano specialty dishes like empanadas or okoy, loggonnisa (local sausages), and popular main dishes like pinakbet, bagnet (fried pork belly)
There are quite a few spas around Vigan City which are a fantastic and inexpensive way to wind down after touring around the city. You can check out the various spas here for more details.
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