If you want to get deep into the colonial history of the Phillippines, there’s no better town to visit than Vigan. This UNESCO World Heritage site is the oldest surviving Spanish town in Asia, and its centre will have you thinking you’ve ended up in the backstreets of Madrid or Barcelona. Located in the northwest of Luzon, it’s a great next step if you’ve been surfing in La Union.
You’ll also find traditional artisan ways of production, a delicious local cuisine, and some awesome and vibrant festivals happening throughout the year, it’s well worth stopping by and seeing what’s going on in this city. In fact, it can be hard deciding what to do! That’s where we come in.
In this post, we’ll take a look at the best things to do in Vigan. With a mixture of the city’s top attractions, some off the beaten track hidden gems, and some awesome things to do at night, you’re sure to find a way to enjoy Vigan City. We’ve taken into account different travel styles and budgets too.
So, let’s jump straight in and take a closer look!
Top Things to Do in Vigan
Let’s kick off our list of the best things to do in Vigan with something that’s on every traveller’s itinerary. Calle Crisologo is the main artery of the city’s colonial centre. The cobblestone streets are beautifully preserved, partly because no vehicles are allowed to travel down here. It’s one of the most instagrammable spots in the Philippines! Make sure to stop off as you wander down the streets – there are bars and cafes where you can stop for a drink and people-watch as well as souvenir shops where you can pick up gifts for loved ones back home. You can take a step back in time at any time of day on pretty Calle Crisologo!
2. Bantay Bell Tower
Known as the People’s Tower, Bantay Bell Tower stands on a hill overlooking the city from the highest point in the area. It was built in 1591 and stands next to one of the oldest churches in Ilocos Sur Province – St Augustine’s. It was an excellent vantage point for troops in the Second World War. If you’re feeling brave, climb the winding staircase in the tower. You’ll be rewarded with a jaw-dropping panoramic view of Vigan and the surrounding area. Bantay Bell Tower is one of the most popular Vigan landmarks.
3. Syquia Mansion
Once the home of President Quirino and his wife, the Syquia Mansion is a typical ancestral mansion. It boasts high-ceilinged rooms and hard floors, as well as exquisite wood carvings and furniture. There are still paintings here of Quirino and his family members, and it can be quite a romantic spot too. The book Elpidio and Alicia: The Love Letters contained letters between the president and his wife which were written and sent here. Make sure to get a photo with the vintage carriage on the mansion’s ground floor before you leave.
4. Take a cruise on the Mestizo River
A short cruise on the Mestizo River usually lasts around 45 minutes and it’s a great way to learn more about Vigan and its history. The river was the trading gateway in days gone by. You’ll not only learn about that but also how the city was discovered and why it became one of the most visited places in the Philippines. If you come during the Raniag Twilight Festival, you’re in for a real treat. This is Vigan holds the annual candle floating ceremony, where the river is magically lit up.
5. Mindoro Black Sand Beach
Although Vigan is full of fascinating historic sites, you should make time for some natural wonders too, such as the Mindoro Black Sand Beach. It’s a real off the beaten track attraction, so if you’re really lucky you might be the only tourist here with just a few locals for company. If you catch it under the right light, this sand glistens from the iron ore and magnetite compounds in it. While we’d recommend the beach, the currents here are strong so swimming is not advised.
6. Try a Vigan empanada
That’s a Vigan empanada, not a vegan one! While you might associate these tasty pastries with South America, this city has its own take on the popular street food. Ilocos empanadas use Ilocos longganisa (a type of sausage) as well as mung beans, papaya, and white cheese. These tasty combinations are available everywhere in Vigan – so pick one or two up to chow down on as you’re making your way through town.
Unusual Things to Do in Vigan
7. Abel-Iloko Weaving
You may notice looms with material on when you’re wandering down Calle Crisologo. If you want to learn about this Vigan tradition, then check out Abel-Iloko weaving. Visit a workshop or showroom to see how the craft is made into a number of products such as blankets, shawls, and placemats. If you visit Rowilda’s loom weaving factory in Brgy, Camangaan, you’re able to watch the weaving take place or even have a go at it yourself. The factory Showroom is on Calle Crisologo.
8. Pagburnayan Jar Factory
One of the most popular yet unusual things to do in Vigan is a visit to the Pagburnayan Jar Factory. It’s another chance to see a local tradition from the area and have a go at getting your hands dirty with the pottery. You’ll learn about the background of the jars, which harks back to when Chinese traders settled in the Ilocos region. Should you have a go, it might be a good idea to set your sights on more basic and functional designs than going for the most artistic options. Either way, this is one of the top cultural activities in Vigan and you’ll come out with a lovely souvenir!
9. Café Uno
Want to take your taste buds on an adventure? Head off from the beaten track of Cafe Crisologo and to Cafe Uno. While it serves traditional local dishes such as longganisa sausage and fatty agent (deep-fried crispy pork belly), there are some dishes that will catch the eye of the brave traveller. Seasonal specials at Cafe Uno include nga abuos (mountain ants) or tokak (frog). Cafe Uno is on Bonifacio Street opposite Grandpa’s Inn.
Safety in Vigan
Vigan is generally a safe place to visit. As a popular destination, most backpackers and tourists will be aware simply standing out from the crowd can make them a target. However, practising common sense like taking care of your valuables and not going out alone in poorly lit areas at night usually help you to stay safe. If in doubt, check your country’s government website on travel safety for the latest and most up to date information.
Taking safety measures and ensuring you have everything on your Philippines packing list can ensure you enjoy your time in paradise. Check out our roundup of the best travel insurance.
Things to Do in Vigan at Night
10. Calle Brewery
Vigan is not a place to go if you’re looking for wild nightlife and megaclubs. However, you didn’t go for a mad night in the first place. It can, however, offer cool sophistication, like you’ll find at the Calle Brewery. This restaurant is a smokehouse which offers delicious meat and tempting sides, but the real star here is the drink to wash it down with. Enjoy either strong home brew or wine and tapas bar. There’s even a 12-course degustation menu, where you can enjoy all of the best dishes and local, fresh ingredients from Ilocos Sur.
11. Magic Fountain
Before you head to Calle Brewery or BarTech, there’s something that will capture the imagination of the whole family. Go to Plaza Salcedo, the park between Vigan Cathedral and the Provincial Capital building to get some memorable photographs of the Dancing Fountain. When darkness falls, there’s a laser light show that illuminates the square from the fountain. Jets of water move rhythmically with the flickering lights and the beat of the music so that you can easily imagine the water itself is dancing! Shows take place at 7 and 8.30pm
If you’re looking for a place to end the evening, BarTech is Vigan’s answer to nightlife. Located on Calle Crisologo, it’s as though someone has dropped a New York lounge into a Spanish colonial house. Most nights you can enjoy your food and drink accompanied with live acoustic music performed by local artists. It’s open ’til late, so make sure to kick back and unwind here after a day of exploring!
Where to Stay in Vigan
Best Hostel in Vigan – Escolta’s Homey Lodge
Situated in one of the best locations in Vigan, Escolta’s Homey Lodge is just 200 yards from the centre of all the action – Calle Crisologo. There’s a shared kitchen so you can keep your costs down by preparing meals with ingredients from the local markets. With a choice between private family rooms or mixed dormitory, it’s suitable for both solo backpackers and groups of family and friends.View on Booking.com
Best Airbnb in Vigan – Affordable Homestay near Calle Crisologo
For those who are looking to keep their costs down and have an authentic experience, staying with a local is the perfect option. The best Vigan Airbnb is a homestay, and will give you a window into Filipino life. There’s a laptop friendly workspace which is great news for digital nomads, while a private entrance will mean you don’t have to disturb your hosts if you come back late.View on Airbnb
Best Hotel in Vigan – Hotel Felicidad
Want to stay in a large colonial heritage house in the oldest Spanish city in Asia? Tick this off your bucket list at the Hotel Felicidad, just a block away from Calle Crisologo. Rooms come with a seating area and dining table, as well as a private bathroom. You’ll also get free toiletries to keep you fresh and comfy amid all the humidity.View on Booking.com
Romantic Things to Do in Vigan
13. Take a Kalesa Ride
There are no vehicles allowed on Calle Crisologo, but walking isn’t the only way you can experience the pretty street. Take a kalesa, a synonymous form of Vigan transport. It’s a small carriage drawn by a horse – an ideal way to see the city if you’re travelling with your other half. It’s possible to arrange to go from A to B, or you can just rent the kalesa for a period of time and have the driver show you their favourite spots in town.
14. Go antique and jewellery shopping
As Vigan has so much heritage and history, it’s a great place to find antiques. On Calle Crisologo, you’ll find a whole lot of places to pick up lovely memntos, such as Lucy’s Antique Shop on the ground floor of Don Renato Peñs old house. Here, there are paintings, porcelain, vases, and lots of other things. As we’ve already mentioned, Abel Iloco weaving also makes a great souvenir from Vigan’s shops. Just make sure to pick something up that you can easily fit into your backpack or luggage!
Always Be Insured
Don’t forget to sort your travel insurance! We’ve put together a roundup of the best travel insurance for backpackers – check it out here, or if you’re low on time, get a quote from World Nomads now, our favourite travel insurance provider.
Best Free Things to Do in Vigan
15. St Paul Metropolitan Cathedral
One of the most important landmarks in Vigan, St Paul Metropolitan Cathedral is right in front of Plaza Salcedo, one of the city’s main squares. The church was originally built in 1574 by the founder of the city, just a small chapel made of wood. It was replaced in 1641, but the church as you can see it now was completed in 1800. The cathedral has a Baroque-inspired design which has been re-enforced by Ilocanos to make it more resistant to earthquakes.
16. Plaza Salcedo
Along with Calle Crisologo, Plaza Salcedo is one of the most important and popular tourist spots in Vigan. It’s a lovely place for a stroll and there are popular landmarks on the square, including the Metropolitan Cathedral and fountain. If you’re happy to spend a little cash, there are some restaurants and spots for street food surrounding it. Plaza Salcedo is where you can see the dancing fountain show each night. There’s one at 7pm and then another at 8.30pm.
17. Banaoang Bridge
One of the most iconic symbols of Ilocandia, the Banaoang Bridge crosses the Abra River. It’s also known as the Quirino Bridge, after the president who used to live in Syquia Mansion. The bridge is now a tourist attraction and is not used by vehicles after being damaged in a typhoon in 2001. There is now a parallel bridge so you can get dazzling panoramas as you walk across this one!
Vigan Packing List
1. Travel Water Bottle: Always travel with a water bottle – it’ll save you money and reduce your plastic footprint on our planet. AR bottles are tough, lightweight, and maintain the temperature of your beverage – so you can enjoy a cold red bull, or a hot coffee, no matter where you are. For every AR bottle sold, we donate 10% to PlasticOceans.org – an initiative to reduce plastic in our oceans!
2. Microfibre Towel: It’s always worth packing a proper towel. Hostel towels are scummy and take forever to dry. Microfibre towels dry quickly, are compact, lightweight and can be used as a blanket or yoga mat if need be.
3. Security Belt with Hidden Pocket: I never hit the road without my security belt. This is a regular looking belt with a concealed pocket on the inside – you can hide up to twenty notes inside and wear it through airport scanners without it setting them off. This is hands down the best way to hide your cash.
4. Camera or Cell Phone Camera Accessories: One thing’s for sure – Japan is a picturesque destination! Get perfect shots from your phone using clip-on-lenses with wide-angle, close-up and optical zoom. With the ability to turn travel pictures from basic to professional, this universal lens sits neatly over any phone camera and comes with a durable, travel-friendly case!
5. International Adapter: Japanese outlets accommodate typical US two-pronged plugs, but for electronics that have three prongs, or if your plugs are of a different variety, you’ll need an adapter. Save yourself the hassle of trying to track down an adapter at your destination and paying twice as much than planning ahead by buying one online.
Books to Read in Vigan
The Backpacker Bible – Get it for free! Learn how to ditch your desk and travel the world on just $10 a day whilst building a life of long-term travel with an online income. To inspire and help the next generation of Broke Backpackers, you can now grab ‘How to Travel the World on $10 a Day’ for free! Get your copy here.
Playing with Water: Passion and Solitude on a Philippine Island: Ever wondered what life on a deserted island would be like? Well, James experiments with this, spending months on uninhabited islands in the Philippines, going back to the basics of survival and diving into the ‘real Philippines’.
History of the Philippines: From Indios Bravos to Filipinos: For the history nerds, this is an awesome background of The Philippines, the culture and what went into making it the incredible country it is today. Seriously, well worth a read!
Best Things to Do in Vigan with Kids
18. Baluarte Zoo
With animals from the Phillippines and further afield, Baluarte Zoo is the perfect place to learn about conservation in this part of the world. The zoo owner’s home is on the premises, and it’s surrounded by wide-open plains and rolling hills. As well as being able to get up close and personal with local wildlife, there’s an animal museum. If you want to see the animals in action, check out the wildlife show. The kids are sure to love it!
19. Hidden Garden
A popular spot for locals and tourists alike, the Hidden Garden is a bit of a misnomer. While it’s definitely a garden, it’s certainly not hidden. It started off as a personal garden, but has been open to the public since 1991 a passion project by a retired engineer Francis Flores. You can buy plants and local food here – including honey, sauces, and sweets. Donations made through the garden are funnelled back into nearby communities. If you’re having trouble finding the hidden garden, it’s on Katipunan Street.
Other Things to Do in Vigan
20. Jose Burgos’ House
The house of Jose Burgos is also known as the National Museum, and it’s one of the most notable landmarks in Vigan. Padre Burgos was one of the three Spanish priests who was executed by the Spanish in 1872. Come here to see a huge collection of Ilocano artefacts while learning more bout the history of the capital of the Ilocos region. The Burgos House is close to the Metropolitan Cathedral and Plaza Salcedo.
21. La Nuestra Señora de la Asuncion Parish Church
Looking to take a day trip from Vigan? Head 38km south to this incredible 18th century Baroque structure. Unlike most Spanish churches, it’s not located in the centre of a town square, but instead overlooking the town of Santa Maria. The bus ride is around 80 minutes, so make sure to get some lunch in Santa Maria too, a town which was used as a fortress in the Phillippine Revolution.
22. Vigan Festivals
Time your journey right and you might just arrive in Vigan when there’s a celebration! The Vigan Town Fiesta happens right at the beginning of the year, with carnivals, parades, and beauty contests for a week in January. The festival ends with a celebration of the conversion of the city’s patron saint, St Paul the Apostle. Another awesome party is the Viva Vigan Festival of Arts in May. The highlight is on the 3rd of the month, where you’ll see dancing in Crisologo Street and a parade of kalesas!
23. Arce Mansion
Last but not least on our list of the best things to do in Vigan is another colonial house turned museum – Arce Mansion. You can even enjoy a dinner of traditional Filipino fare here from while being served by staff in period costume. As well as a delicious dinner, you can enjoy antique furniture and paintings from times gone by at this Vigan landmark.
Final Thoughts on the Best Things to Do in Vigan
So, that concludes our list of the best things to do in Vigan. We hope you’ve found it helpful. Vigan is full of wonder and it’s a great place to learn more about the Phillippines colonial history. And do take another look at our top places to stay in Vigan before making your final decision on accommodation.
Whether you want to meander through the Old Town and pick up trinkets, see the whitewashed Spanish churches and mansions, or just have a great night out Filipino style, you certainly won’t be bored when you travel to Vigan.
Now that our expert travel writers have helped you plan your Vigan itinerary, it’s time for you to go and enjoy your vacation. We hope you have a safe and fun trip!
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