From Laoag and Pagudpud, we reached Vigan on our last day in Ilocos. Among these three places, it’s Vigan that I was most excited about because of its rich history. I was thrilled to know what it feels to be in the Philippines’ most extensive and only surviving historic city that even dates back to the 16th century Spanish colonial period.

Vigan is one of the few Hispanic towns left in the country where structures remained intact. It is now considered as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. We managed to see all the beautiful highlights in our half-day tour. In this article, I’m sharing the top seven tourist attractions in Vigan which should be included in any traveler’s itinerary. 🙂

Top 7 Places We Visited in Vigan, Ilocos Sur (Holy Week)

1. Calle Crisologo

Our final morning in Ilocos Sur started with a buffet breakfast at the hotel we stayed in. Shortly, the driver and our travel guide sent us to Calle Crisologo, the Heritage Village of Vigan, Ilocos Sur. It’s a long street lined with heritage houses and shops selling souvenir items, local food specialties (bagnet, Vigan empanada, and longganisa), handmade crafts, and wooden furniture.

Calle Crisologo was established before the time of the Galleon Trade. It served as the business center of the migratory traders including the Chinese, Spanish, Mexican, Japanese and other European businessmen. This was even before the coming of Spanish explorers to the Philippines in the 15th century.
We learned that almost all the buildings are original and unchanged. Some shops have posters outside or beside their doors stating about the history and owners of the establishments. The exterior designs looked dated but charming and perfect as backgrounds of portraits. When you look closer, you will see the evident signs of the structures that have survived many natural and man-made calamities throughout the centuries.

Cars are not allowed to pass through the street because of vehicular traffic. Since horse-drawn carriages were used as transport services in the past, tourists can ride calesas to further experience Calle Crisologo’s old-style ambiance. Rate is PhP 150/hour. Although tempting, we did not choose to take the calesa ride because we wanted to better explore this historical site by foot. Calle Crisologo is really a virtual tourist playground! 🙂

2. St. Paul’s Cathedral

Part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site declaration for the Historic Town of Vigan in 1999, St. Paul’s Cathedral or the Vigan Cathedral is a major religious landmark not only of northern Luzon but also the country. It has been a center of Roman Catholic devotion for centuries. The original structure was built in 1574 upon the command of the Spanish founder of Vigan, Juan de Salcedo and was completed in 1800. It was a mere chapel then, made of wood and thatch. In 1641, the chapel was replaced by a church.

We stopped by for a moment and acknowledged the presence of the lord. My dad got tired of walking, so he rested inside while we continued to explore its surroundings.

From the outside, the design of St. Paul’s Cathedral follows a Baroque architectural design that has been modified by Ilocanos to strengthen the structure against earthquakes. This is now known as Earthquake Baroque. It also has Neo-Gothic, Romanesque and Chinese inspired embellishments.

3. Cafe Leona

There are many restaurants lined up around the area of Calle Crisologo, but we decided to go to Cafe Leona to sample the popular delicacies in Vigan—rather than dining at those that have branches in Metro Manila (the likes of Max’s Restaurant, Red Ribbon, Shakey’s, Mang Inasal, etc.).

Cafe Leona was named after the popular Ilocano poet, Leona Florentino. She was also the original owner of the house where the restaurant now stands. Her monument was positioned just across the venue.

A table here was “gloriously” hard to obtain. Apparently, it’s the place everyone was raving about. Cafe Leona bagged top rank in the lists of so many bloggers and the press as well. People queued outside like sheep. What made waiting time seemed longer was that service was slow and it almost took forever for our dishes to land at the table. Luckily, my dad sat by the door an hour before opening so he was one of the earliest to enter.

I’m happy to report anyway that in terms of food variety and taste, Cafe Leona turned out as a solid choice and it was worth the wait. It serves a mix of Filipino, Japanese, European and other international cuisines. Sticking with authentic Vigan City favorites, we ordered sets of the Cafe Leona Native Special, which consisted of bangus, longganisa, bagnet, pinakbet, and rice. My dad had sizzling vegetables with delicious sauce.

4. Crisologo Museum

The Crisologo Museum, also known as “Vigan House National Historical Institute Branch,” is a museum that used to be the ancestral home of statesman Floro S. Crisologo. This place houses the memorabilia of the Crisologo clan and some private collections of religious figures and antiques.

Through the old publications posted in the museum and stories told by my dad, we learned that the Crisologo family is prominent in Vigan with their political background. Flor Crisologo used to be a congressman who worked towards the ratification of the Tobacco Law and the establishment of the Social Security System.

On October 18, 1970, he was assassinated in the Vigan Cathedral by a lone gunman. In his memory, his family transformed their residence into a public museum, a structural proof that’s open to the public from Monday to Saturday from 9AM to 5PM. There’s no entrance fee here but donations are welcome.

5. Pagburnayan Jar Making 

Next, we went to a place that specializes in making earthenware the locals call “burnay” (pottery or jars). We passed through its dark warehouse and saw many forms, sizes, designs, and shapes of jars. There was a man teaching a group of teens on how the jar was being formed from clay through the use of the pottery wheel and kiln.

Later, he asked for a volunteer who would want to try making burnay. My mom was first to raise her hand. Although she was not successful in producing a jar close to the desired shape, it was a great first-hand experience for her. 🙂

The craft of burnay-making requires time to practice and a lot of patience. Jars made in Vigan are popular to both local and foreign tourists. They are used for storing tea, water, spices like bagoong (shrimp paste), and wine (basi). Some people use them as decorations and displays in homes.

6. Bantay Church

Established in 1590, Bantay Church or “Saint Augustine Parish Church” in Vigan is 10-15 minutes of drive away from Calle Crisologo. This church served as a watchtower for pirates back in the Spanish colonial era, and this was where its name was derived: bantay (translating to “guard” in English).

During World War I and II, Bantay Church also served as a watchtower for invading enemy forces because of its strategic location. It’s interesting to know that a church can possibly be a place for worship and also a reliable shield against various atrocities in the past.

7. Bantay Bell Tower

Just a few steps away from Bantay Church, the Bantay Bell Tower doubled an an observation tower during the war. It was not directly attached to the Bantay Church because people then feared that it might squash the church and cause collapse when there’s an earthquake.

A silent witness to the historical events, the tower was built on a mound in 1591. It was also in this territory where Diego Silang and his troops were said to have fought with the Spaniards in 1763. (Note: Diego Silang was a revolutionary leader who conspired with British forces to overthrow Spanish rule in the northern Philippines and establish an independent Ilocano nation.)

Entering and climbing up the iconic red brick tower required registration and donation (at least PhP 100/pax, according to my mom), for the maintenance of the site. From the top, a 360-degree view of the town could be seen. The gates close at 5:00PM so plan your trip accordingly.

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An IT person by profession; Foodie by nature; Wushu athlete by training; Dancer by heart; Writer by passion; Hasn't met a piece of cake she didn't like 🙂

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50 Responses

  1. Mr_jeng

    Oh my it looks like your in a different country… Believe it or not i havnet been there like in my adult life… Definitely a part of my bucket list. … Grabe ah one hour before opening… Hahahaha did you get an empanada tho??? Hihihi hmmmm i also saw that its nice to viait the place at night because of the european feels … Hihihi cheers

    Reply
    • Rochkirstin Santos

      My dad was tired na kasi after hours and hours of walking. You know he can’t walk too long. We tried the Vigan empanada in another restaurant. 🙂 This place feels like Intramuros which is only about 6 minutes drive from our house!

      Reply
  2. Jenn

    I love your photos. I’ve never traveled anywhere like this. Looks like a great trip. I bet it was an incredible experience.

    Reply
    • Rochkirstin Santos

      Thanks, Jenn. Glad you loved the photos though they don’t justify the beauty of the place enough. Visiting Vigan was a great experience for our family. 🙂

      Reply
  3. Tammilee Tips

    Your photos are amazing!! This would be a trip of a life time tot get to take. I love how much history and culture there is in this part of the world in the buildings and the artifacts.

    Reply
  4. Wandering Carol

    Laoag, Pagudpud, Vigan … I haven’t heard any of these names before, so thanks for opening my eyes to a new corner of the world. I love visiting UNESCO World Heritage sites and your trip sounds fun as well as educational. (The weather looked fantastic, too!)

    Reply
    • Rochkirstin Santos

      It was too sunny but I’d rather take that than a rainy day. It’s quite an achievement to have visited 2-3 UNESCO World Heritage sites in one trip. These places must be really outstanding examples representing major stages of earth’s history with exceptional natural beauty and aesthetic importance.

      Reply
  5. angie appoo

    My geography knowledge sucks so I’ve actually never heard of ANY of these places. I’m so happy you wrote about it now. I love to travel and visit new places and your photos and info have made me want to add this to my list. I’m in a FB group called “Girls Love Travel”. If you’re not already in it, you should consider joining. There are lots of great travel tales there too. I love to see places where the history is still rich and visible and that hasn’t been consumed with moderism and consumerism. And I love touring these places, and trying the local foods. This was a great read, and I look forward to reading more from you.

    Reply
    • Rochkirstin Santos

      Thanks, Angie. I’ll try to find that group on Facebook. I’m always interested about places to travel whether or not budget allows. These make up for inspirations and reasons to continue our dream to go around the globe. 🙂

      Reply
  6. Bites for Babies

    I have never heard of these places..until now! There seems to be so much to see and do there. I once visited a UNESCO world heritage site in Romania…it makes it so much more magical to visit a place that has been deemed a heritage site.

    Reply
    • Rochkirstin Santos

      Yup. The thing is that I did not know that the churches we visited are UNESCO World Heritage Sites until I have researched about them after the trip. 😛 Should I have known earlier, I would have taken more photos of each. Lesson learned here is to read more and know the brief description at least so the travel experience will feel more fulfilling.

      Reply
  7. Censie

    What an incredible week for you. These pictures are breath taking. I will be adding these places to my vacation wish list Thank you for sharing your experience.

    Reply
  8. Elizabeth O.

    What an awesome tour that must have been! There are so many things to see! It’s good to know that the buildings are taken care of. They all look so beautiful!

    Reply
  9. Fred

    Same here, we came and visited these same places. Calle Cristobal is really the best of the lot because it really brings you back to the past. They should really take care of this heritage city.

    Reply
    • Rochkirstin Santos

      I think Calle Crisologi is like Escolta or Avenida Street in Manila. They exhibit an important interchange of values, trade, and traditions of civilization in the old era.

      Reply
  10. Tiffany Cutcliff

    Your photography is awesome! Makes me want to travel. I would love to go to St. Paul’s Cathedral sometime. So amazing. Thanks for sharing your story!

    Reply
    • Rochkirstin Santos

      You’re welcome. I’m just wondering why the photos do not turn out as sharp and crisp as they are in the original form. Next time I will try to upload a bigger (uncompressed) version. It would be great to hold a wedding at St. Paul’s Cathedral. I think it’s an ideal wedding destination complete with beautiful scenic sites.

      Reply
  11. Barely Vegan

    I love that some of the buildings in Calle Crisologo are original and have never been changed! That’s amazing. I also like that they don’t allow cars. Riding a horse and carriage sounds fun and peaceful!

    Reply
    • Rochkirstin Santos

      Yeah, it’s not a super long street anyway so walking is manageable. You won’t be bored with all the interesting stuff you’d see in every store. Buy all souvenirs here for your loved ones back home. 🙂

      Reply
  12. phyliciamarie

    I’ve also been to Vigan before and I totally agree with Cafe Leona! My biggest regret would be that I wasn’t able to buy longganisa from there to take home as pasalubong! Their’s was the best from what I sampled from our Vigan-Pagudpod-Laoag trip

    Reply
    • Rochkirstin Santos

      Oh thanks, Lana! This trip was arranged only a week before we went there. Fortunately, our travel agent took care of the arrangement and booked the hotels for us even when almost all facilities were already packed and unavailable. She found a way! 😀

      Reply
  13. Claire Marie Algarme

    Cafe Leona and Calle Crisologo are even lively at night, with the lights and the al fresco dining. I’ve visited Vigan twice and have stayed in the city for a night or two. I also went to Baluarte, Singson’s zoo. Looking at your photos makes me recall those visits I did in this historic place.

    Reply
    • Rochkirstin Santos

      Singson’s zoo was originally part of our itinerary, however because it’s said to be farther from the places we would visit, we decided not to go.

      Reply
  14. Tiffany Yong

    You mentioned how Cafe Leona is difficult to get a space, so how’s the food there like? Even if it’s popular, it doesn’t mean it’s definitely good!

    Reply
    • Rochkirstin Santos

      Ohh I don’t think they changed much anyway. If there’s one thing I’d want to go back to, it would be for the food-tripping experience. Since we hastily went around Vigan, we did not have the time to get to more restaurants as we liked.

      Reply
    • Rochkirstin Santos

      I think you will appreciate the old structures and cobblestone streets more when you’ve read about the history of the places. I wonder how these would look like another century from now. 🙂

      Reply
  15. Ahuose

    This looks so amazing! I can feel the magic in your pictures. It is so great that they do everything to preserve their heritage!!!!

    Reply
    • Rochkirstin Santos

      We had a great time. Since it was a holiday (celebrating Holy Week) in the Philippines, there were more tourists in Vigan than usual. I suggest planning a vacation there during non-peak season so you would not be too bothered taking pictures with other people on the same background. 🙂

      Reply
  16. Amanda Love

    It looks like you all had an amazing time. I love the pics and all that food. Oh man how I wish that I was there with you.

    Reply
  17. Shub

    Such sunny pics! I love these historic places. They give us good idea how the life must be in that era.

    Reply
  18. Sunshine Kelly

    This is so cool and thanks for listing down the happening place to visit and stop by for photos. Will keep that in mind when i go there.

    Reply
  19. Rosey

    The food looks delicious. The pictures are great. I like the first one, it looks like you’re both levitating, lol!

    Reply
  20. Leke Awonuga

    A city of history and proper maintenance at its best. Obviously, you had a fab time visiting those places. I love the motion pic, seems y’all were creating some stunting flying!! Lol

    Reply
  21. Kelvin7132

    Wanna visit those places, but it seems so far from here

    Reply

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