For a long time the walled city of Intramuros, once the heart of Manila itself, was little more than an afterthought. Even when it was overlooked, Intramuros kept Spain’s long presence in the Philippines alive in its graying churches, bastions and courtyards. Today, new eyes are on Intramuros. Some of the Philippines’ best tours, like Carlos Celdran’s ‘Walk This Way’, tell the stories behind these streets.
This handpicked list covers the best attractions and activities in Intramuros. Follow along, and enjoy exploring!
SimplyPhilippines’ Top 10 Things To Do in Intramuros
1. Fort Santiago and the Rizal Shrine
This 16th-century fort is a must-see for history enthusiasts and anyone interested in the Philippines’ colonial past. Built by the Spaniards after conquering the local chieftain, Rajah Sulayman, the fort guards the mouth of the Pasig River facing the open water of Manila Bay. The fort’s dungeons, barracks and secret gates tell a story of their own.
Also inside the compound, the Rizal Shrine showcases art and memorabilia by the Philippines’ national hero, Jose Rizal, who was held in Fort Santiago before his execution.
Mon: 1pm – 5pm, Tues to Sun: 8am – noon, 1pm – 5pm, tickets: P75
2. San Agustin Church and Museum
Take a peek inside San Agustin, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the oldest stone church in the Philippines. The church is known for its intricate 3D-style painted ceiling, baroque architecture and ornamental decor. Next to the church, the San Augustin Museum houses religious relics and treasures from all over the islands.
San Agustin was the only building left standing in Intramuros after WWII.
Open every day from 9am – noon, and 1pm – 5pm, museum tickets: P100
3. Casa Manila Museum and Plaza San Luis
You may (or may not) feel right at home at the Casa Manila Museum, a fully reconstructed turn-of-the-century house with furniture and paraphernalia to match. Inside your have a fascinating picture of domestic life in a wealthy mestizo family during the colonial period.
The Plaza San Luis Complex is a showcase of five houses, all replicas of real Spanish-Filipino abodes from different provinces. Poke around the plaza and you’ll find charming courtyards, souvenir shops and the White Knight Hotel (See hotels within Intramuros here.) Stop in at La Mona Loca to pick up a copy of Rizal’s first novel, Noli Me Tangere, or have a cold drink at Barbara’s Cafe.
Tues to Sun: 9am – noon, 1pm – 6pm, tickets: P75
4. Bahay Tsinoy
This little-known museum vividly depicts the role of Tsinoys (Chinese-Filipinos) in the nation’s development from the pre-Hispanic to the modern era. The exhibits are well-labelled and presented. If you have no reference of Philippine history, this museum will give you a quick rundown, with plenty of points to ponder.
Tues to Sun, 1pm – 5pm, P100
5. Walk This Way
Carlos Celdran’s buzzed-about afternoon tour is an entertaining, rapid-fire introduction to Philippine history and Intramuros. It’s a show you won’t want to miss, with much food for thought just beneath the theatrics. Bring a sense of humour (and the number of a taxi service to pick you up when the tour ends.)
Check tour schedule here
ALSO READ: The Manila Hotel, A Storied Address for History Lovers
6. Shop for Filipino crafts
Take a break from sightseeing and duck into one of Intramuros’ well-stocked souvenir stores (like Silahis, pictured above.) One of the capital’s best outlets for Philippine-made products and gifts, Manila Collectible Co. brings the flavours of the islands – coffee, palm sugar, dried mangoes, fruit wines – together under one roof. The store also stocks indigenous Filipino souvenirs, such as ling-ling-o amulets, artwork, fabrics and handmade tribal crafts.
TIP: If you have time, climb to the rooftop of Manila Collectible Co. for a different perspective on the walled city.
Open 10 am to 6 pm every day.
Cabildo corner Beaterio Sts., behind the Manila Cathedral
See the Manila Collectible Co. Facebook page here
7. Manila Cathedral
Intramuros’ crown jewel, the Manila Cathedral, is now on its 8th edition. Perhaps one of the country’s most unfortunate structures, the building has witnessed numerous calamities. Officially the Manila Metropolitan Cathedral-Basilica, the cathedral was built in 1581. Today it’s a popular choice for weddings and a unique place to attend mass.
See schedule of mass services here.
8. Calesa Tour
Sit back and see the walled city the same way the Spaniards and mestizos did centuries ago. The leisurely pace of the calesa feels like the right way to explore Intramuros’ cobblestone streets. Be sure to set the price before setting off, and specify the route or places you want to see. A jostling ride through the streets followed by a break for halo-halo is one of the best things to do in Intramuros.
A half-hour tour costs P300-350.
9. Explore the walls
About 22 feet tall and eight feet wide, many restored portions of the city’s walls are walkable. A short stroll atop the ramparts reveals tranquil gardens, fountains and plazas. The city’s outer moat was transformed by the Americans into a golf course. The portions that used to face the sea now sit atop reclaimed sections of land on Manila Bay.
10. Sky Deck View Bar
Can grabbing a sundowner be one of the best things to do in Intramuros? Absolutely. Intramuros’ highest accessible point is the 10th floor rooftop bar of the Bayleaf Hotel. Try visiting in the late afternoon just before sunset for breathtaking views of Old Manila and Manila Bay. The drinks and snacks are not bad either.
Open from 5pm – 1pm.
Address: Bayleaf Hotel, Muralia cor Victoria Sts.
All images in this post are by photographer Fred Wissink. See more of his work on his Facebook page.
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