Discover the history of the Philippines through the preserved old streets and attractions in Vigan. Learn about the top tourist spots and must-do activities in this guide.
Going on a trip to Vigan is like going back to the Hispanic era centuries ago because of its well-preserved Spanish-inspired architecture.
It's best known for Calle Crisologo, a well-preserved cobblestoned street that’s lined with ancestral houses dating back to the Spanish colonization of the Philippines in the 16th century.
Its historical and cultural significance makes it a popular destination among millions of local and international travelers. Vigan received a much-coveted recognition of being one of the six UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the Philippines and it’s also one of the New7Wonders Cities.
If you’re heading to Vigan anytime soon, make sure to include these attractions and activities in your itinerary:
Calle Crisologo is Vigan’s most popular tourist attraction. The grounds and pavements of this preserved street are made of cobblestones, and both sides are lined with ancestral houses that are reminiscent of old Spanish towns.
During the daytime, the street is a busy commercial district, with most shops selling quality antiques, furniture, and jewelry pieces.
You can indulge yourself in souvenir shopping, including native food products and delicacies, or snag world-class hand-woven clothing, blankets, and other accessories at Rowilda’s Weaving.
You can ride a kalesa (horse-drawn carriage), which is the only vehicle plying Calle Crisologo.
A kalesa ride is good for an hour and can take you around Calle Crisologo and the rest of the Vigan Heritage Village, including the Vigan Cathedral and Plaza Burgos.
It’s a totally different scene at night, as Calle Crisologo transforms into a dining strip where loads of people eat alfresco and enjoy drinks to cap the night off.
There are a lot of Calle Crisologo tours to try from, make sure to choose the one that fits your budget, schedule, and type of experience.
Along Burgos Street, you’ll find the National Museum of the Philippines, Ilocos Complex.
This is a series of museums adjacent to the Vigan provincial capitol and a treasure trove of memorabilia of two historical personalities: the martyr priest Padre Jose Burgos and former Philippine president Elpidio Quirino.
One of the museums in the complex is Padre Burgos’s House, which the locals call bahay na bato (house of stone).
The martyr priest’s childhood home has his personal belongings on display, the most memorable of which perhaps are vintage writing tools that the priest used to compose letters and manifestos.
Meanwhile, President Quirino’s museum houses his personal effects and other mementos, including the things he wore as president. The highlight of the exhibit is a replica of the former president’s office.
Here, you’ll see a mirror image of his office desk and an intricately designed chest given to him by Chinese leader Chiang Kai-shek.
Also called the Saint Paul Metropolitan Cathedral, the Vigan Cathedral is another important landmark in Ilocos Sur’s capital city.
It stands in a prominent spot just in front of Plaza Salcedo, which is why you might find many tourists having their pictures taken between these notable structures.
The cathedral pays homage to Baroque architecture as seen in the ornate details outside and inside the church, although the cathedral has had its share of renovations too to make it sturdier.
Nothing else can give you the best view of Vigan than the Bantay Church Bell Tower. The belfry is situated on a hill overlooking the Bantay district in northeast Vigan.
You’ll need to climb a winding staircase to get to the top of the brick structure, where you’ll find an enormous bell hanging right in the middle of the tower.
The watchtower served as a good vantage point for the natives of Ilocos to see approaching enemies during the Spanish reign and World War II.
Today, people honor the memory of the tower by taking pictures at the foot of the hill, making it look as if they’re holding it dearly on the palm of their hands or forming a heart shape with their arms extended over the tower.
Joining a day trip to Vigan is a good idea if you want to explore other tourist spots as well.
If you want to know what it’s like to be an ilustrado, the class of educated Filipinos during the Spaniards’ reign, you need to visit the famous mansions-turned-museums of Vigan:
Visiting this mansion is an experience of a lifetime, as you get to dress up in elaborate costumes depicting the different classes of people during those times.
The people managing Arce Mansion will even host a special dinner for you upon your request, with the servers garbed in uniforms as well. Best of all, you can make a homestay reservation here too.
The Syquia Mansion is every bit a nostalgic place, having been the home once of President Quirino and his wife, whose family owned the property.
The Syquia Mansion is a typical ancestral house with high ceilings, hardwood floors, antique furniture, porcelain ware, and family portraits.
There’s even a vintage carriage parked on the ground floor of the mansion, which is aptly located on Calle Quirino. This mansion is a popular attraction included in an Ilocos Sur excursion.
Meanwhile, the Crisologo Museum offers a glimpse of the life led by another Ilocano statesman, Congressman Floro S. Crisologo who was assassinated while attending church services at St. Paul’s Cathedral.
Since then, the late congressman’s wife turned their house into a museum that’s open and free for public viewing, including the blood-stained pair of trousers that the late congressman was wearing during that fateful day.
While in Vigan, make sure to check some interesting immersions in Crisologo Museum.
One good thing about touring Vigan is that you get to learn a lot about its history, culture, and way of life through the town’s homegrown establishments.
Take for example Pagburnayan Jar Factory, one of the very few remaining jar factories around Vigan. It’s a popular must-try cultural activity in Vigan.
In order to help people appreciate the industry of jar-making, the factory is open for tourists who want to see and experience pottery making first hand, from simple, basic designs to more artistic earthen jars.
The staff will also tell you an interesting background about the origins of pagburnayan, the art of producing jars, which was inspired by Chinese traders who came to settle in Vigan and then later intermarried with Ilocanos and Ilocanas.
Located within a good walking distance from Plaza Salcedo, this plaza is named after Padre Jose Burgos, whose statue stands as a reminder of the priest’s martyrdom in fighting the Spanish regime.
Here, you can take pictures, go people watching, or simply give your tired legs some resting time after a long walk around the area.
If you’re feeling hungry, you can grab a quick bite of the best-selling empanada, a kind of pastry turnover filled with minced meat, vegetables, and egg, which is one of Ilocos’ specialty food products on this side of the town.
It’s best to come here in the late afternoon or just before the sun sets since it can get pretty hot in this open space.
Not too far from the center of Vigan City, you’ll find the Baluarte Resort and Mini Zoo sprawling on roughly 100 hectares of rolling plains and hills.
The zoological park belongs to local politician Chavit Singson who used his property to share his love for safari to the public.
Admission is free, and you can take snapshots with the more tamed animals like birds and ponies.
Baluarte’s version of Jurassic Park includes make-believe life-size dinosaurs, which can be an amusing background for your photoshoots. There are a lot of activities in Baluarte Zoo you can try.
Of course, it’s best if you stay clear of wild animals in the Baluarte like snakes, crocodiles, lions, and tigers, among others, and just settle for the daily shows featuring the animals that are kept in the zoo.
Some 15 minutes away from Vigan City is an ideal destination for tourists who are looking for a more active kind of fun.
The Ilocos Sur Adventure Zone zip line traverses the towns of Santa and Bantay, so you have a perfect view of the picturesque Abra River down below as well as the old and new Quirino bridges.
There’s a 5-story platform that you need to climb up before making your way to the zip line, which is about 400 meters long.
The sports and recreation facility is open from sun up to sundown, and offers more adrenaline-pumping activities like a giant swing, kayaking, and rock climbing and rappelling at the rocky Banaoang mountains.
Bigueños and Bigueñas also take pride in their town’s world-class natural heritage just like the Mindoro Beach that offers a front-facing view of the West Philippine Sea.
This beach, which has black but smooth and fine sand, has some strong currents so if you’re planning to take a dip, do it with caution.
Since Mindoro Beach is situated toward the west coast, it can be a good spot for watching sunsets.
The park between Vigan Cathedral and the Provincial Capitol turns from a haven for picture taking at day to a stage of dancing lights at night that everyone can enjoy for free.
Plaza Salcedo features an outdoor light and water show that’s comparable to those you might see in other countries.
As darkness falls, the fountain area at Plaza Salcedo gets jam-packed with tourists who come to witness a spectacular show of bright laser lights that illuminate the square.
Jets of water spout from “dancing fountains” right on cue, making it look as if they’re moving with flickering lights and slow- to fast-tempo music playing on the background.
Everything is so well executed you can imagine the waters doing turns and leaps, and then returning to the same position before another round of mesmerizing dance performance begins.
Ilocos Sur’s twin bridge, the Quirino Bridge and Banaoang Bridge, stand parallel to one another on a crossing along the grand Abra River.
The older Quirino Bridge remains a tourist spot despite it being damaged by a typhoon in the early 2000s.
A couple of years after its destruction, the bridge underwent reconstruction as a way of preserving its magnificent architectural design.
Although the Quirino Bridge is not being used anymore, with the Banaoang Bridge replacing it, it’s still one of the country’s most beautiful bridges in anybody’s book.
A view deck offers a stunning view of the picture-perfect twin bridge with theAbra mountains on the background. For a more dramatic effect, go for an aerial shot of the scenery using a drone.
Culinary experiences are coveted in the Philippines. Now we’ve come to the best part of things to do in Vigan, which is none other than exploring all the mouth-watering food that the place has to offer.
Ilocos empanada’s hand-rolled dough is made of rice flour, with annatto seeds (atsuete or atsuwete in Filipino) giving its distinct striking bright orange color.
The pastry’s filling is even more interesting, as it combines minced longganisa sausage, green papaya, and raw egg before the whole thing is deep fried.
Longganisa, on the other hand, is a staple food in the Philippines, but the Vigan variant is one of the most flavorful with its mixture of ground pork, loads of garlic, vinegar, and several other kinds of seasoning.
The traditional Filipino breakfast of pork sausage (longganisa), garlic rice (sinangag), and fried egg (itlog) or longsilog is the house specialty in this haven of Ilocano dishes.
Top up your food adventure in Vigan by having a sip of sinanglaw, a tasty soup dish made of beef and beef innards simmered in a broth that’s flavored with garlic, onions, and ginger.
The tree cucumber (kamias) is the star ingredient that gives it a bitter-sour taste, a perfect beer match (pulutan) when you’re having those late-night drinks.
Whether you’re a fan of educational museums, old churches, nature parks, islands and beaches, or authentic local food, you won’t run out of things to do in Vigan.
It is a great getaway destination for short weekend trips and is also a place where can you immerse yourself in the then and now of Philippine history and culture.
You don’t even have to spend a fortune experiencing all these things since accommodation, entertainment, and food are reasonably priced.
It also helps that Vigan is just a small town, so getting from one place to another doesn’t call for long-distance travel and expensive fares.
Start planning your trip by checking out Ilocos tours and activities that you can add to your Vigan itinerary to fully experience its old-world charm.