The moniker The Noble and Ever Loyal City refers to Manila as a whole nowadays, but once upon a time it referred to Intramuros. For over 300 years of Spanish rule in the Philippines, Intramuros was the most powerful, most influential city in the entire country. It was truly the most prized jewel of the Spanish East Indies.

Intramuros was the seat of government and political power, as well as the center of religion, education, and economy in the entire country. While Maynila fell under Spanish rule in 1571, the iconic stone walls of Intramuros would start being constructed around 1590 in a process that took decades. Intramuros was home to the Spanish elite, the rich and powerful during that era. At its peak in the late 1800s, Intramuros had seven churches, a handful of colleges and universities, the seat of government, the real audienca, a hospital, a fort, and the homes of the elite, all in a space just slightly bigger than the SM Mall of Asia. And while the Battle of Manila wiped out most of the structures inside Intramuros, the Walled City still retains much of the grandeur and charm from ages past.

Places of Interest

The Minor Basilica and Metropolitan Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, more popularly known as the Manila Cathedral, is the most important religious structure in the Philippines. The cathedral serves as the episcopal see of the Archbishop of Manila, and is also considered as the Mother Church of the Philippines, along with Basilica of Sto. Nino in Cebu. This is the eighth structure to stand in this spot as the Manila Cathedral has either been destroyed by earthquake, fire, or war over the past 4 centuries. The current Manila Cathedral, whose design closely resembles the seventh cathedral, was finished and reopened in 1958.

The San Agustin Church is a Roman Catholic Church under The Order of St. Augustine. While the church was first erected in 1571, the current structure (the third church to stand on this spot) was completed in 1607. San Agustin Church is the only structure inside Intramuros to survive World War 2. It was named a National Historical Landmark by the Philippine government in 1976, and in 1993, it was one of four Philippine churches constructed during the Spanish colonial period to be designated as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, under the collective title Baroque Churches of the Philippines.

Fort Santiago is a citadel first established by Spanish forces for the then newly established city of Manila. Built in 1593, the defense fortress was an integral part of the structures of Intramuros. While the structures of Fort Santiago have morphed and changed over the centuries, the iconic gateway still stands to this day. Jose Rizal spent his last days as a prisoner in Fort Santiago, and the structure was the site of multiple massacres during the Battle of Manila. 

Admission: Php75 for adults; Php50 for children/students/seniors

The Baluarte de San Diego is one of the bastions built to defend Intramuros from invaders. The Baluarte was first built from 1591-1594 and was first known as Fort Nuestra Señora de Guia and was originally a circular fort. The fort was connected to the walls of Intramuros in 1593. The fort was never really finished, though and it was abandoned for a few years. In 1614, the bastion was built around the old fort, and while the structure has been damaged repeatedly through the centuries, the Baluarte still retains its form and character to this day. It now serves as a popular event venue.  

Admission: Php75 for adults; Php50 for children/students/seniors

The Parian Park was built in the area where one of the former parians, or Chinese enclaves, were located. Distrustful of the Chinese but unable and unwilling to fully remove them from Manila, the Spanish instead herded them into specific enclaves to control their movements and actions. Eventually, the parian was relocated time and again, each time getting pushed away from Intramuros until the last such enclave was founded across the river. The park features a faithful replica of the Parian Gate of Intramuros, once one of the busiest gates in the Walled City. 

The Baluarte de Dilao was a defensive structure that faced towards the outskirts of Manila. While the bastion has no actual stories to tell, it is a nice place to get a good vantage of the Manila City Hall, and its wide open architecture and replica cannons make it idea for families with children. 

The Aduana (Manila Customs House), also known as the Intendencia, was a Spanish colonial structure that housed several government offices through the years. The first building was finished in 1829, but was damaged in 1863 from an earthquake, which led to its demolition in 1872. Reconstruction of the building began in 1874 and was completed in 1876. The building was gutted during the Battle of Manila. It was repaired after the war and functioned as the Offices of the Central Bank of the Philippines, the National Treasury, and eventually the Commission on Elections. The building was gutted yet again 1979 by fire, and has remained abandoned since.

The Memorare 1945 monument was unveiled back in 1995 to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the Battle of Manila and the 100,000 civilian lives that were lost during that awful period in our history. 

The Plaza San Luis Complex is a cultural and commercial structure, composed of reconstructions of the bahay na bato (stone houses) structures that the Spanish elite lived in during the 18th century. While the structure is relatively new, great effort was taken to make the structures faithful to the spirit of the structures they are based on.

“Nuestra Chica de Intramuros is an enigma. A lady in a league of her own. Don’t ever try to figure her out, only she knows what needs to be known. She’s as coy as she is wise. She’s got secrets kept deep within her eyes. The truth of where she’s been, she’ll never say. Skin deep, she’s Chinese, Spanish, American, and Malay, but deep down she’s Manila all the way.”

“Intramuros” sticker copy, written by Kenny Tai

Edited by Carlos Celdran

Things to do

Step back in time and fantasize what it must be like to live as a member of the societal elite at the Casa Manila Museum. This recreation of an 18th century mansion showcases how the rich and powerful lived it up during the Spanish Colonial Period. “So what if Doña Susmaria has some European harpist performing at her dreadful parties? Does she have ICE? She does not!”

Plus points if you can figure out which antique pieces were “borrowed” by Imelda Marcos to be displayed in Casa Manila hehehe. 

Plaza San Luis Complex, Gen. Luna Street, Intramuros
Admission: Php75 for adults, Php50 for children/students/seniors

Of course Jose Rizal would have a museum somewhere in Manila. Why not in Intramuros, where he was incarcerated during the last days of his life? The Museo ni Jose Rizal has loads of memorabilia, his artworks and written works, and life-sized dioramas of his final moments. If you’re a Pepe Stan, this is your shrine.

Fort Santiago, Intramuros

Admission: Free with entrance fee for Fort Santiago

The relatively new Museo de Intramuros was built to resemble the old Mission House of the Jesuits. The museum is a showcase of ecclesiastical artifacts from the rather vast collection of the Intramuros Administration. Sometime this century, maybe that church besides the Museo will be finished and be good for something. We can only hope. 

Anda corner Arzobispo streets, Intramuros

Admission: Free

The San Agustin Museum has one of the best collections of religious artifacts in the entire country. Give it up to the Augustinian Order, who not only built the toughest church in the entire country (Survived six massive earthquakes AND The Battle of Manila) but were able to preserve most of their stuff from nature and invaders. The museum and its grounds are incredibly lovely, we have to say. 

Gen. Luna Street, Intramuros

Admission: Php200

The Bahay Tsinoy is a visual and graphic exhibition of the history of the Filipino-Chinese in Manila, from the early trading days during the Precolonial Era, to their struggle to assimilate into Manila during the Spanish Era, and their contributions to history from the American Era onwards. It’s a pretty comprehensive museum and we need more museums like this one. Just… Just don’t go alone as those life-sized dioramas are a bit creepy.

Anda Street, Intramuros

Admission: Php150

The iMake History Fortress Manila is a showcase of the old churches and structures that used to stand inside Intramuros, totally made out of Lego. The exhibit opened last April 2018 and is always a welcome stop in any tour. Especially during summer, because the airconditioning inside that chamber is INCREDIBLE.

Fort Santiago, Intramuros

Admission: Free with entrance fee for Fort Santiago

Drinking is such a component of Filipino life that it’s almost criminal that, before the Destileria Limtuaco Museum opened, we didn’t actually have an alcohol museum. The shocker. Anyway, Destileria Limtuaco, the brand behind the iconic White Castle Whiskey and those damned red bikinis, bought a property inside Intramuros and converted it into their museum, and the Walled City is better for it.

You have the option to check out the museum without sampling their interesting lineup of spirits, but why? Spend the extra hundred bucks and enjoy yourselves!

San Juan de Letran Street, Intramuros

Admission: Php100 (admission and tour only); Php200 (admission, tour, and spirit sampling)

When going around Intramuros, nothing beats going around in a Kalesa. The transport of choice during the Spanish Era, there’s something nostalgic about having a horse haul you and your party around the Walled City.

Note: Due to the ongoing pandemic, Kalesa fees are drastically lower and in a state of flux. Please negotiate your rate with the driver before riding a Kalesa. And do tip. The horses will thank you for it.

If you want to explore Intramuros by yourself, but walking is such a drag, why not ride a Bambike? These impossibly cool bicycles are made of bamboo and they give a light yet sturdy ride.

Book a ride from Bambike’s Facebook Page

Did you know?

At its peak, Intramuros had 7 churches, 4 schools, a hospital, a military fort, the Real Audienca (Sort of like a Supreme Court), the seat of government, the palace of the Governor-General, and the mansions of the societal elite, in an area just slightly larger than the SM Mall of Asia Complex.

Imagine having that many buildings inside SM MOA. Imagine all those church bells ringing at the same time. That’s how jampacked Intramuros was back in the 1800s.

Where to eat

Barbara's

Barbara’s is a huge heritage restaurant inside the Plaza San Luis Complex. Gorgeous Spanish Era-inspired interiors. They used to have a cultural show every night. Not a bad way to begin or end your Intramuros trip.

Plaza San Luis Complex, Gen. Luna Street, Intramuros

Illustrado

It’s basically Barbara’s but waaaaaay more refined and fancy. Ilustrado’s menu is also more targeted and upscale than Barbara’s. Expensive but damned good.

El Amanecer Compound, Gen. Luna Street, Intramuros

Ristorante Delle Mitre

The whole menu of Ristorante Delle Mitre is dedicated to various bishops and archbishops of the Philippines. Weird flex for the CBCP, but the food is solid and the prices are pretty good. 

Real Street, Intramuros (In front of San Agustin Church)

Patio de Conchita

It’s probably the fanciest carinderia in Metro Manila. The food is ridiculously cheap (Carinderia nga, eh!) but you’re eating inside a really quirky establishment. Oh, did we say the food is delish? It is!  

Beaterio Street, Intramuros

Batala Bar

Thank the heavens for Batala Bar, because God knows Intramuros needed a damned good watering hole. Local craft beers on tap, good bar chow, and ice cream, because why not.

Plaza San Luis Complex, Gen. Luna Street, Intramuros

Sky Deck

The Bayleaf Hotel’s greatest gift to humankind. Spectacular 360º views of Intramuros and Manila, backed up by a value-for-money buffet. Not a bad place to wind down.

Rooftop, The Bayleaf Hotel, Muralla Street, Intramuros

9 Spoons

This is where everyone ends up in if they can’t get seats at Sky Deck. Or if it’s raining. Still, the resto has gorgeous views of Manila to go with its solid food offerings. Their buffet’s pretty much on the money too.

The Bayleaf Hotel, Muralla Street, Intramuros

Happy Wings

A chicken and waffle place in Intramuros? Why not? In fairness to them, the food is pretty good, and it’s a wonderful place to hang out in. The waffles are, ugh, so good.

Arzobispo Street, Intramuros

Belfry Cafe

Once upon a time, the Manila Cathedral had to replace their frighteningly heavy bells with lighter ones. They placed the old bells in a special structure besides the cathedral. This used to be a souvenir shop before someone had the absolutely amazing idea to turn it into a cafe. Please, don’t ring the bell.

Manila Cathedral, Intramuros

La Cathedral Cafe

Honestly, the food and drinks are just okay. But look at that view! Look at it! LOOK! AT! IT! Best visited during the night because OMG that view.

Cabildo Street, Intramuros (Right behind Manila Cathedral)

Keep Exploring!

About the Manila Girls™

The Manila Girls are humorous and sarcastic personifications of popular districts and locations in Manila and beyond. While the Girls appear cute and adorable, their appearance and depiction reflect the current state of the areas they represent. Miss Escolta look dapper yet highly disheveled, Miss San Nicolas has a peg leg, Miss España gleefully jumps across flooded waters, and so on and so forth. The frankness of the statements the Manila Girls make stand in stark contrast to their cute appearance, making it easier to absorb the message the Girls are trying to convey. 

The Manila Girls are a creation of Kenny Tai under her Akim brand. 

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