The World Travel Awards recently named Manila’s historic district of Intramuros as the World’s Leading Tourist Attraction. With the many changes inside the walled city over the past several years, the recognition is well-deserved.
Steeped in local color, Intramuros is home to a UNESCO World Heritage Site and several museums. Although many of the crowd-drawing attractions are still closed, now may be a good time to explore the walled city. Several establishments, like cafés, restaurants, and shops, are open. Spend a quiet day in Intramuros without having to contend with busloads of tourists or students. In planning your visit to the walled city in the new normal, consider these churches, dining options, and activities.
What to see
Before World War II, Intramuros had as many as seven Catholic churches within its walls. Today, only two churches remain. Plan your Intramuros trip with a holy mass at Manila Cathedral or at San Agustin Church. Be amazed by their storied past and stunning architecture.
Manila Cathedral is often the entry point of Manileños to Intramuros. Time your visit around the 7:30 a.m. or 12:10 noon weekday mass. On Saturdays, mass is held at 7:30 a.m. Sunday is the busiest day, with Manila Cathedral holding masses at 8:00 a.m., 9:00 a.m., 10:00 a.m., and 6:00 p.m. The grave of Spanish conquistador Miguel Lopez de Legazpi is to the right of the church altar. But unfortunately, this part of the cathedral is temporarily closed.
Manila Cathedral is across Plaza Roma, best accessed from Soriano Avenue and General Luna Street. To inquire, call +632 8527 3093, 1796, 3889, or 3876, or email email@example.com.
San Agustin Church
The San Agustin Church is a 16th-century Baroque structure and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Its architecture is a reinterpretation of European Baroque by Chinese and Filipino craftsmen. The ceilings are painted in the tromp l’oeil style. The altars are adorned in high Baroque fashion. San Agustin’s convent museum and gardens are closed at the moment, but you can hear mass on weekdays at 6:45 a.m. and 5:30 p.m., on Saturdays at 7:00 a.m. and 5:30 p.m., and on Sundays at 8:00 a.m., 10:00 a.m., and 6:00 p.m.
Enter the San Agustin Church complex through the driveway and parking lot at General Luna corner Real Streets. To inquire, call +632 8527 2746 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Where to eat
Intramuros has fine restaurants that have been around for decades, as well as newer cafés and bars that give life to the walled city. Make the most of your day within the walls by checking out these dining options.
An institution since the 1970s, Barbara’s serves traditional Filipino and Spanish fare. The heritage restaurant is not difficult to miss, with its proximity to San Agustin Church. Bestsellers include pastel de lengua. For an unforgettable evening, book a dinner buffet and cultural show at Barbara’s through KKday for 2,809 PHP. Recall Filipino folk songs and dances with fondness as you sample house specialties.
Barbara’s is at Plaza San Luis on General Luna Street. To inquire, call +632 8527 4083 or +632 5244 7260, or email email@example.com.
Looking for a place to chill? The Batala Bar of the Philippine Artisan Trade Gallery serves ice cream, coffee, and craft beer. Whether you and your friends unwind with a sweet treat, a shot of caffeine, or some booze, there’s something for everyone. Batala Bar has a hole-in-the-wall appeal, and its views of the Casa Manila patio are unmatched.
Batala Bar is at the Plaza San Luis Complex, corner General Luna and Real Streets. The bar is open daily from 10:00 a.m. – 7:00 p.m. To inquire, call +63 917 598 2000 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
There’s a new kid on the block, and it opened less than a week ago on February 6! Belfry Café offers a novel way of experiencing Manila Cathedral and Intramuros. Sip a cup of coffee to the pealing of church bells for a truly blessed day in the walled city.
The Belfry Café is at the ground belfry or bell tower of Manila Cathedral. To inquire, call +63 926 628 7133.
Tucked away in a courtyard is Ilustrado, a must-visit for foodies and romantics. The restaurant has been serving Spanish-Filipino favorites such as paella and adobong bagnet for more than 20 years. But what makes Ilustrado unique is its sampaguita ice cream. It’s a refreshing frozen dessert every Manileño must try.
The entrance to Ilustrado is at 744 General Luna Street, next to Silahis Center. The restaurant is open daily from 9:00 a.m. – 7:00 p.m. To book a table, call +632 8527 2345 or 3674 or email email@example.com.
What to do
Bring home a souvenir of Intramuros. The walled city is a great place to find Filipino handicrafts, antiques, and artisanal goods. Many of the places in our guide are within a short distance, making it easy to explore Intramuros.
Bambike Bike Shop
Bambike is a socio-ecological enterprise that makes bamboo bicycles, keeping fair-trade labor and sustainable building in mind. Although their guided biking tours around Intramuros aren’t available yet, Bambike runs a bike shop from their headquarters. Try their bamboo bikes on the streets for a distinctly Filipino experience.
Bambike is at the Plaza San Luis Complex near Casa Manila Museum on General Luna cor Real Streets. The bike shop is open Monday to Saturday from 9:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m. To reserve a slot, call +63 977 781 5322 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
From local handicrafts to vintage books, the Silahis Center has it all. The art gallery, furniture store, and souvenir shop have been a shopper’s paradise since the mid-1960s. Each floor of Silahis Center houses different departments. Silahis Arts and Artifacts focuses on fine crafts and folk art. Chang Rong Antique Gallery offers oriental ceramics, maps, and textiles. Tradewind Books is a bibliophile’s delight, while Galeria de las Islas showcases art, prints, and sculpture.
Silahis Center is at 744 General Luna Street. It is open daily from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 pm. To inquire, email email@example.com.
Visiting Intramuros in the new normal
Take note that Intramuros museums and tourist sites remain closed as of writing this guide. If you plan to visit the walled city soon, be sure to book restaurant reservations or pre-register with churches. COVID-19 health and safety guidelines also apply. For updates, follow the Intramuros Administration on Facebook.
*Featured image via Ray in Manila on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)