Travel Guides

Vigan City Travel Guide for First Timers

No other cities in the Philippines have captured me the way Vigan did. It’s like a scene straight out of the movies in the 16th or 18th century with a bit of contemporary touch. The skyscrapers and the wide pavements under the city lights do not appeal to me the way the houses along Calle Crisologo, its cobblestone streets adorned with vintage streetlamps do. It just gives off this charm with a sense of nostalgia which makes it special for me. If you haven’t been to this heritage city yet or you just wish to see it in a brand-new perspective, here’s a Vigan city Travel Guide for first timers to help you make the most out of it!

About Vigan City

Vigan is a city in the province of Ilocos Sur that is situated in the northern west side of Luzon, Philippines opening up to the West Philippine Sea. It is one of the top favorite tourist destinations in the region. Ciudad ti Bigan (Ilocano name) stands out as one of the remaining Spanish colonial towns in the Philippines with its preserved structure from the streets to the houses. This made Vigan the best-maintained Spanish colonial town in Asia which also made it a part of the New 7 Wonder Cities in 2015. UNESCO recognized this town established in the 16th century for its exceptional preservation; hence, declaring it as a World Heritage Site in 1999. The city showcases a blend of cultural influences from the Philippines, China, and Spain, contributing to its distinctiveness on a global scale.

Language Spoken

The language that is widely spoken in Vigan city is Ilocano. However, Bigueños could also converse well in English and Tagalog/ Filipino. Among the interesting and useful Ilocano phrases that you can use to interact with the locals are, “Agyamanak” or “Dakkel a salamat” meaning thank you; “wen” for yes, “Awan” for no; “Tagaano daytoy?” if you’re asking for a price; “Naimbag a bigat” for good morning; “Naimbag a malem” for Good afternoon and “Naimbag a rabii” for Good evening.

Where Vigan Got its Name

Bigueños have fascinating tales to share regarding the city’s name origins. Among those are the following:

  • A Spanish conquistador came to Vigan and met a local. In Spanish, he asked the local about the name of the place. The local thought the Spanish conquistador was asking for the name of the plant he was pointing locally known as “Bigaa“. Bigaa is a native plant like taro growing predominantly in the region. Since then, the place has been called as Vigan with its local called as Bigueños.
  • Vigan also came from the Fukien/ Hokkien phrase  美岸 (Bi-gan) which means beautiful shore. It started during the pre-Hispanic era when the Chinese traders would pass along the coastal area of Ilocos Sur. They would notice the shimmering golden dust from the shore of the province. The golden dust was said to be excess gold mines coming from the Cordillera region.

Best Time to Visit Vigan City

You can actually visit Vigan anytime of the year. Its beauty endures through every season, whether dry or pluvial. However, if you wish to witness and join the fun the festivities like Vigan Town Fiesta, Longganisa Festival, and Viva Vigan Festival, the best time to visit Vigan is sometime between November to May. Apparently, it’s also a dry season which makes it more ideal to explore around.

Best Things to Do and Places to Visit in Vigan City for First Timers

Visit Vigan City Museum

The best way to start your trip is to visit the Vigan City Museum. The museum is segmented into three main sections: religion, civics & politics, and architecture. The guided museum tour helps the tourists understand and appreciate the city from the story of its humble beginnings which eventually became part of the rich history not just of the province but also the region. The first section walks you through the replicas of the faith-related depictions like bajo las campanas of the detatched bell tower of St. Paul Cathedral, antique images, ex votos, a crucified Apo Lakay or the Black Nazarene locally known as Sto. Cristo Milagroso from Sinait and others.

The second segment walks you to the map of “Ylocos” made of red clay; local products like pots and textiles; and images of the important people in the history of Vigan like the famous poets, previous Mayors of Vigan, the three martyrs: Gomez, Burgos and Zamora, former Philippine president Elpidio Quirino, the German priest who saved Vigan from arson by Japanese; and the singson and Crisologo feud. The last section walks you to Casa Bigueño — the architectural design both exterior and interiors.

Operating Hours: 9:00 AM to 4:00 PM
Entrance fees: Php 80.00 (tourists), Php 50.00 (locals)

Try the Vigan Empanada and Ukoy

Complete your trip back to the Spanish colonial times by taking a seat in a local restaurant, where you can savor a fried turnover snack known as empanada. Vigan empanada represents an adaptation of a Spanish and Portuguese snack, infused with distinctive local flavors. These turnovers are deep-fried to perfection, crafted from rice flour, and generously filled with Vigan’s signature longganisa, shredded green papaya, and egg. It is best enjoyed with their special vinegar. Apart from this, you may also try ukoy. It is a fritter made of shredded vegetables and shrimp, bound together in a light, crispy batter.

Explore the City in Calesa

For only Php 250.00, you may explore the quaint streets of Vigan city as if you’re traveled back in time in a traditional horse-drawn carriage known as Calesa. With the calesa, you can see Vigan’s well-preserved architecture really well from the high carriage, and the slow ride lets you feel like you’re a part of the city’s history and culture. While it’s fun to walk around the cobblestone streets of the city, it’s a less exhausting and a fun activity to try.

Watch the Dancing Fountain at Plaza Salcedo

The Musical Dancing Fountain Show is among the spectacular events that you should definitely not miss when visiting Vigan city. Before 7:30 in the evening, people would gather around the large fountain to witness the free, 30-minute symphony of lights, water and sounds. If you’re visiting during the peak season, say on a weekend or a holiday, make sure you’d come around earlier as the area usually gets packed few minutes before the show.

Explore Calle Crisologo

Who would dare miss exploring the famed Calle Crisologo in this Spanish colonial town of Ilocos Sur? Walking around its narrow cobblestone alleys towered by two-storey brick houses with some standing still from the 18th century would surely give one a walk back in time. While most of these houses have been transformed into commercial spaces, some of it remained untouched.

There isn’t a specific “ideal time” to visit and explore it. It exudes a distinctive atmosphere and beauty in each time of the day, in any season. You may explore around the streets for a gastronomic adventure or shopping for local crafts and souvenirs.

Spend the Night in a Museum Hotel

Staying in a museum hotel transcends an ordinary accommodation. These museum hotels like Hotel Luna, offer a unique blend of historical charm but with modern comfort. From antique furnishings to architectural details, each corner serves as a living exhibit; not to mention that some of these museum hotels actually have galleries showcasing the works of famous Filipino artists like Juan Luna. This turns one’s stay into a historical journey. Such an overnight stay provides not only comfort and hospitality but also a chance to be part of Vigan’s living history.

Other Places to See in Vigan City

  • Baluarte: A wildlife sanctuary owned by Chavit Singson offering a chance to see various animals up close, including birds, reptiles, and other exotic animals. Entrance is free.
  • Syquia Mansion: A museum that is a former residence of former Philippine President Elpidio Quirino’s wife. Explore the historical artifacts and learn about the life of the Quirino family.
  • Crisologo Museum: Located in the ancestral home of the Crisologo family, this museum showcases memorabilia and artifacts related to the political contributions of the Crisologo patriarchs.
  • Vigan Cathedral (St. Paul Metropolitan Cathedral): A prominent landmark and a significant religious site in Vigan, this cathedral features a distinct baroque architectural style.
  • Bantay Church and Bell Tower: Also known as St. Augustine Parish Church, this historical church is located on a hill and offers a panoramic view of the surrounding areas. The adjacent Bantay Bell Tower provides a unique vantage point.
  • Pagburnayan Jar Factory: Witness the traditional art of pottery-making at Pagburnayan, where skilled craftsmen create beautiful clay pots using traditional methods.
  • Bantay Abot Cave: A unique geological formation resembling a cave, Bantay Abot Cave offers a scenic view of the coastline. It’s a popular spot for photography and relaxation.

How to Get There

By Air

The nearest airport to Vigan is Laoag International Airport located at Laoag City, Ilocos Norte which is a 2-hour drive to the city. Philippine Airlines has regular commercial flights daily from Manila and Cebu City while Cebu Pacific flies from Manila to Laoag. From there, you can hail a taxi or a tricycle (Php 200.00+) outside that could take you to the bus terminal. Then, take a bus to Vigan City from the terminal.

By Land

The cheapest way to get to Vigan City is through hopping on a commuter bus. This, however, may take 8 to 9 hours. From Cubao, you may take a bus from PartasDominion Bus LinesViron Transit, and St. Joseph/Aniceto Transit station. These liners have regular trips daily directly to Vigan City.

Bus liners like Florida, Fariñas, Philippine Rabbit Bus LineBaliwag, Maria de Leon, and RCJ Transit have regular daily trips from Manila to Laoag also pass through Vigan.

Getting Around Vigan City

  1. Walking: The best way to absorb the city’s rich heritage is by strolling through its cobblestone streets. Many of the key attractions, such as Calle Crisologo, are easily accessible on foot.
  2. Calesa: These traditional horse-drawn carriages can be found near popular tourist areas, offering a unique and leisurely way to explore the city for only Php 250.00.
  3. Renting a bike: Some accommodations like Hotel Felicidad and local shops provide bicycles for rent. Rate ranges from Php 100.00 to Php 150.00 per hour.
  4. Tricycle: A common mode of transport in Vigan, tricycles are convenient for short-distance travel or reaching destinations beyond walking distance. Tricycle terminals are scattered throughout the city, and fares start at Php 20.00.
  5. Car Rental: For those seeking flexibility, renting a car provides the freedom to explore Vigan and its nearby attractions at your own pace. Car rental services are available within the city.
  6. Local Buses and Vans: Vigan City Terminal serves as a hub for local buses and vans, offering transportation options for those looking to explore areas beyond the city limits.
  7. Guided Tours: Opting for a guided tour is a great way to explore Vigan in the most hassle-free way. Several tour operators provide walking tours, calesa tours, and day trips to nearby points of interest.

Sample 2 Days, 1 Night DIY Vigan Itinerary for First Timers

Day 0: 11:00 PM – Depart from Cubao for Vigan

Day 1: Exploring the Heritage District
8:00 AM – Arrival in Vigan City, check in to your accommodation.
9:00 AM – Breakfast at a local cafe
Late Morning to Afternoon: Heritage Walk
10:30 AM – Museum Hopping at the Heritage District
Places to visit:
Vigan Museum
Syquia Mansion
1:00 PM – Lunch at Café Bigaa
Places to Visit:
2:30 PM – Pagburnayan Jar Factory to witness pottery-making
Vigan Cathedral
3:00 PM – Snack time at Irene’s Empanada
6:00 PM – Dinner at Café Leona
7:30 PM – Watch the Dancing Fountain at Plaza Salcedo
9:00 PM – Stroll around Calle Crisologo, back to hotel

Day 2: Nature and Culinary Experience
5:00 AM – Rise and shine to explore the empty Calle Crisologo
7:00 AM – Breakast
8:00 AM – Get ready for the day/ pack up
9:00 AM – Baluarte, a wildlife Sanctuary
12:00 PM – Lunch at Calle Brewery
1:30 PM – Museums and Souvenir Shopping
Crisologo Museum
Burgos Museum
3:00 PM – Back to Calle Crisologo for souvenir shopping
4:00 PM – Depart for Manila
12:00 MN – Expected time of Arrival in Manila

Vigan City Travel Guide Useful Tips

  1. If you opt to commute to Vigan city, it is best to take the overnight bus to save energy and time.
  2. Wear comfortable clothes and footwear when exploring Vigan City especially Calle Crisologo.
  3. Spend at least two days in the city. This will make you appreciate the place more as you get to witness its various vibes in different times of the day.
  4. The streets lights at Calle Crisologo are turned off at exactly 6:00 AM. If you wish to photograph it uncrowded, the best time to roam around is between 4:00 AM to 5:00 AM.
  5. Pack or wear footwears. You’ll be doing a lot of walking in your Vigan city exploration.
  6. Wear comfortable clothes especially if you’re visiting during the dry season as it may get really hot and humid during these times.

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Anne Elizabeth Gumiran, also known as Queenie, is a 20-something, full-time public school teacher, a part-time travel blogger and a freediver. She started putting her stories of adventures and misadventures into words and pictures in 2017 and continues to do so as she shares her advocacy, Sustainable Traveling.

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