Intramuros Manila: Exploring The Walled City In Just 4 Hours
Manileños need not travel far to have an adventure. Located in the heart of Old Manila, Intramuros Manila (“within the walls” when translated literally from Spanish) is one of the Philippines’ biggest cultural and historical landmarks.
The Walled City and its famous citadel Fort Santiago were the seat of government during the Spanish colonial period. Now, it is still very much a living, breathing city with universities, government offices, banks, hotels, and restaurants—and it is well worth the visit. The best part is you can enjoy most parts of Intramuros Manila without breaking the bank!
Here is a four-hour suggested itinerary for your big day out that will cost you just under 500 pesos!
10:00 a.m. Find your bearings
There are numerous locations within Intramuros Manila from where you can start your tour, but my personal suggestion would be at the Galeria de Los Presidentes de La Republica Filipina—a series of carvings depicting former presidents of the Philippines from its independence all the way to the present day. This outdoor gallery is at the eastern end of Intramuros if you are coming in through General Luna Street, the main thoroughfare into the city. By starting here, you will be able to walk past all the major points of interest in one go.
10:15 a.m. Spot a calesa
If you feel that you have indulged in enough presidential history, walk a little further down the parapet, and you will most likely find colorful calesas (a smaller local version of the horse-drawn carriage). Remember to snap photos while you watch these charming, hand-painted carriages zip past as they transport eager tourists from site to site!
Cost: FREE (unless you decide to hop on one, in which case it would cost around PHP 300)
10:30 a.m. Greet a Guardia Civil
Once you are done horsing around (no pun intended), cross the street to the right side of the road, just before you reach the major archway marking the entrance to Intramuros from General Luna Street. Here, you should find a colonial guard’s hut like the one pictured above. Looking as if it came straight out of an old photo, this pretty accurate replica is where you may find a uniformed officer of the Guardia Civil—the official keepers of the peace during colonial times. There are also some stationed around Intramuros Manila, so keep an eye out for them for a good photo opportunity to add to your collection!
Cost: FREE (unless, of course, the Guardia flashes a million dollar smile!)
11:00 a.m. Marvel at the Manila Cathedral
The Manila Cathedral has an incredible story, one that reflects very much of Philippine history. The cathedral serves as the seat of the Archbishop of Manila and the place where papal masses are held. Devastated seven times by natural disasters and the WWII since 1571, the year it was founded, the church was rebuilt after each time—a testament to the faith and resilience of the Filipino people. In 2012, Manila Cathedral was then renovated for disaster prevention and opened its doors again in 2014 with improved interior and exterior.
Cost: While donations are graciously accepted, entry is FREE
11:30 a.m. Pose like a king at Plaza de Roma
Head to the Plaza de Roma, formerly called Plaza de Armas when it was a bull ring. It’s hard to miss because it’s the small park right across Manila Cathedral. Here, you will find the imposing monument built in tribute to King Carlos IV of Spain. On one side is the Palacio del Gobernador, which currently houses the Commission on Elections. On the other side, you will see the Ayuntamiento de Manila.
11:45 a.m. Lunch at Ristorante delle Mitre
If you want some time to rest your weary legs and seek refuge from the afternoon heat, then a highly recommended place to do all of that and fill up your stomach is at Ristorante delle Mitre. It is an ecclesiastical-themed restaurant run by the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP). They serve traditional Filipino comfort food and some Italian and Spanish dishes that are favorites of the bishops, nuns, and priests, hence their names on the menu.
Located in the CBCP Building on 470 General Luna Street, Ristorante delle Mitre is just around the corner from the Manila Cathedral and across San Agustin Church.
Cost: Approx. 150-300 PHP per dish
12:30 p.m. Have a historical walk at Fort Santiago
The entrance to Fort Santiago can be tricky to find if you are traveling there by foot, so do not hesitate to ask for directions.
Fort Santiago served as the Spanish defense fortress in the Philippines, and within, you will find the Rizal Shrine Museum, the same building where the Philippine national hero José Rizal was imprisoned before his execution. During the Japanese occupation in WWII, the dungeons served as a prison for American and Filipino troops where they were tortured and even left drowning during high tides (Pasig River).
Cost: PHP 50 for children & students, PHP 75 for adults
1:30 p.m. Walk through Baluartillo de San Francisco Javier
As you enter the vicinity, you would have noticed the left side of the plaza where the visitor center and stretch of shops are. That is the restored Baluartillo de San Francisco Javier. It served as storage for military supplies back then. Walk along this strip and you will find a tunnel that leads to Reducto de San Francisco Javier, a quaint shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe.
Cost: FREE (included in the Fort Santiago ticket)
2:00 p.m. Relax at Plaza Moriones
After a long day of exploring, you deserve some hard-earned rest. Relax on one of the benches in Plaza Moriones, the first plaza you’ll see by the entrance. Take in the fresh air and lush greenery while you are there. The cool and peaceful surroundings are rather hard to find beyond the walls of the incredible Intramuros Manila.
Cost: FREE (included in the Fort Santiago ticket)
BONUS: Cool off with some sorbetes
When Paris Hilton visited Intramuros Manila a couple of years ago, she famously sampled some sorbetes (also known as “dirty ice cream”) from a street vendor at Luneta Park. Not to be mistaken with sorbet, the sorbetes’ unique texture is from the coconut milk and cassava flour. As to why it’s called dirty ice cream, the term could be from the natural mother’s warning telling her child not to eat street food given that sorbetes is homemade, and sanitary measures are vague in this kind of industry.
The popular flavors are ube (purple yam), avocado, pinipig (rice cereal), and cheese! And if you wanna up the experience, try it with a bun—consider it a Filipino-style ice cream sandwich.
Cost: PHP 20–60
Calesa ride (optional): PHP 300
Lunch at Ristorante delle Mitre: PHP 150-300
Fort Santiago ticket: PHP 50-75
Sorbetes ice cream (optional): PHP 60
TOTAL: PHP 410-435
Philihappy Pro Tips
Wear sensible shoes—a lot of walking will be done.
Wear sunscreen—SPF 30, if possible, because the heat is real.
Bring a hat—in case you start to feel like your head is under a steamer.
Bring some snacks or even a packed lunch and a few bottles of water, because this will cut your costs.
Not into walking? Rent a bambike around Intramuros for a small fee of PHP 300! There are also organized bambike tours.
Discovering or even re-discovering Intramuros in an afternoon is definitely a delight! It shows you a whole new side to the urban jungle that is Manila. Do you have more than a couple of hours to spare? Take it a step further and plan a day trip to Intramuros and neighboring Binondo with your friends. Our handy guide will help you experience the best of what this these two districts have to offer!