Even before there was a Manila, there was already Intramuros. Latin for “within the walls, Intramuros is a fortress city built by the Spanish, starting in the late 16th century. Today, it is the oldest surviving district of the City of Manila and is home to its lone UNESCO World Heritage Site. Discover what awaits you here, inside its walls, in this guide.
Established by the Spanish in the late 16th century, Intramuros is the historic core of Manila. Since most of the buildings in the Walled City were destroyed in World War II, you’ll find a mix of old and new structures here. These house government and private offices, schools, restaurants, and other establishments. Hence, the entire area can be quite busy on weekdays.
However, Intramuros takes on an entirely different character on weekends. With the number of couples getting hitched at its two churches and holding their receptions at its many event halls, it becomes wedding central. But whatever day of the week you decide to go, you’ll surely have a fun time exploring this side of Manila.
If you can spare lots of time, try riding the Pasig River Ferry to Intramuros. Simply ride it all the way to the Plaza Mexico Terminal, which is only few blocks away from the Manila Cathedral. As a bonus, you will get to see Malacanang Palace—the official residence of the Philippine president—during the trip. Fares range from PHP 45 to PHP 95; travel time from Guadalupe Terminal takes around two hours.
From Quiapo or Rizal Avenue (Avenida Rizal), simply ride a jeep heading towards Pier 15. This will go inside Intramuros, passing in front of the Manila Cathedral.
Alternatively, you can ride the Harrison Plaza-Pier jeepneys from Taft Avenue to Intramuros. Just ask the driver to drop you off at Round Table, which is ironically a triangular island/mini-park. From there, you can simply walk inside the Walled City by following Gen. Luna Street.
Riding by train is one of the most convenient ways to get to the Walled City. From the LRT-1 line, get down at Central Station and walk south to Manila City Hall. Locate the underpass and use it to cross to Victoria Street (Calle Victoria), the street leading inside Intramuros.
From the LRT-2 line, get down at Recto Station then walk one block to Rizal Avenue (Avenida Rizal). Then ride a jeepney plying the Pier 15 route, which will pass in front of Manila Cathedral.
The best way to go around Intramuros is on foot—there’s simply a lot of things to see and do at ground level. However, if you’re looking to cover more ground, you can also hop on a kalesa (horse-drawn carriage). And for a different take on the entire city, try one of the pedicabs or “padyak,” the local version of a rickshaw.
With a total land area of 0.67 square meters, it may seem that the entirety of Intramuros can be easily covered in a day. However, its many attractions are sure to capture your attention; if you wish to really explore them all, 24 hours are not enough.
First on the list of must-visit attractions is the San Agustin Church and Museum, the lone UNESCO World Heritage Site in Manila. Built in the 16th century, it is the oldest still-existing structure in the metro. It is also the only one left of the original seven churches of Intramuros, majority of which were destroyed during World War II. And while seemingly plain on the outside, when you see its ornate interiors, you’ll be glad it survived.
Second is Fort Santiago, where you can take a crash course in Philippine history. Not only was this the site where National Hero Jose Rizal was incarcerated. It was also where American and Filipino troops were imprisoned in World War II. A museum about Rizal’s life and several memorials to these fallen troops, nestled in landscaped gardens, can be found inside.
Third is the Manila Cathedral. This is actually the eight incarnation of this church, which was also destroyed in World War II and rebuilt. That doesn’t make it any less majestic, however.
Last but not the least are two museums: Casa Manila and Bahay Tsinoy. As the name suggests, Casa Manila is a recreation of a typical Manila home during the Spanish colonial era. Meanwhile, Bahay Tsinoy recalls the history of the Filipino-Chinese community in the Philippines, through various dioramas and displays.
Sightseeing may be the most popular activity in the Walled City. But there are two unique ways to go about it here in Intramuros: walking the walls or biking on a Bambike.
Walking the walls means going up the walls of Intramuros and going around by following it. And the best part is that it’s free. To start your journey, simply walk up the ramp at the Victoria Street gate. Meanwhile, if walking around isn’t your thing, then simply rent a Bambike from their shop near San Agustin Church. Rent starts at PHP 200 per bike per hour; guided bike tours also available.
And if you’re done sightseeing, you can also go on the greens. The 18-hole Intramuros Golf Course, which goes around the walls, offers a quick yet challenging round for both beginner and experienced players.
Intramuros has dining establishments that cater to all budgets. Those who can afford to splurge can indulge themselves at Ristorante delle Mitre, a restaurant owned and run by the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines. As such, it serves up the favorite dishes of prominent prelates, such as Cardinal Vidal’s Kare-Kare and Cardinal Tagle’s Homemade Silvanas.
However, if you’re on a budget, head on to Patio de Conchita. While it looks and feels like a bohemian café, it serves up home-cooked dishes at student-friendly rates. Don’t miss their Kalderetang Kambing, a spicy goat stew that goes well with rice and beer.
While Manila’s nightlife scene is better experienced outside the walls, there are also a number of nighttime activities to be enjoyed in Intramuros. First, you can opt to enjoy the cultural show and Filipino buffet dinner at Barbara’s. This presentation showcases different dances from all over the Philippines—and you can even join in on the fun!
But if you want a quieter evening, there are also two options. You can go for drinks at The Bayleaf’s Sky Deck View Bar, which offers a stunning 360-degree view of the metro and the world-famous Manila Bay sunset. Or you can just hang out at Plaza Roma—the plaza in front of the Manila Cathedral—and admire the surrounding buildings, which are all lit up at night.
While Intramuros has a number of museums and other tourist attractions, accommodation options are limited in the area. There are only two hotels inside the Walled City: The Bayleaf and White Knight Hotel, which are both rated as 3 star. For more variety, travelers are advised to book at the Ermita/Malate districts of Manila—just right outside the walls.
Stick to the tourist areas, especially at night. It’s still best to practice caution at all times.
Deal only with licensed tour guides. By dealing with official guides, you get to avoid getting overcharged by touts or worse, scammed. For assistance with booking a trip, proceed to the Intramuros visitor center inside Fort Santiago.
Wear comfortable shoes. You’re going to do a lot of walking in the area, especially in some parts that have cobblestone streets.