We tackle the restaurants, museums and quirky characters of cool Makati and nearby Pasay and come back with a 48-hour itinerary.

Manila is not for the faint of heart. It’s chaotic and disorganized, but it’s also full of hidden gems, delicious food and great live music. Over the past few years, it’s seen an explosion of hip restaurants, bars and contemporary live music venues that, against the city’s historical buildings and traditional businesses, offer a uniquely charming experience. On this trip, we focus on Pasay, which houses a large part of Manila’s tourist favorites, and Makati, a burgeoning commercial district known for its hip bars and restaurants. Here’s how to do it:

Day One

8am: When in Manila, do as everyone else does—take a photo of the Rizal Monument at Rizal Park, otherwise known as Luneta Park (Roxas Blvd.). National hero Dr. José Rizal was executed on these very grounds, and the monument actually enshrines his remains. Head there on a weekday morning if you’re looking for some peace and quiet—it’s a hotspot on weekends.   

9am Walk to Intramuros, the oldest historic district in Manila, known as the Walled City because of the imposing stone walls constructed by Spanish colonialists in the late 16th century to protect the city from foreign invasion (oh, the irony).  Don’t miss the San Agustin Church, a UNESCO heritage site that boasts intricate baroque architecture. Do skip the exorbitant horse-drawn carriage tours—you’ll fare better walking around on your own instead. See if you can get yourself signed up for Walk This Way, a series of walking tours by Carlos Celdran. The artist/activist is something of a cultural icon and his commentary is saturated with irreverent humor. See our interview with him here

1pm Now that you’ve gotten self-education out of the way, it’s time for more shallow pursuits. Wile away your afternoon at SM Mall of Asia, supposedly the tenth largest shopping mall in the world. You’ll find high-street labels like Mango, Warehouse and Zara here, as well as a host of other smaller boutiques. Grab lunch at one of the 360 F&B establishments. For dessert, try Razon’s of Guagua—the fast food chain serves up a mean halo-halo, a Filipino dessert that’s reminiscent of chendol, with shaved ice, evaporated milk, boiled sweet beans, jelly and fruit, for PHP100 ($2.86).

6:30pm Time to head to the nearby Dampa, a popular agglomeration of wet market stalls and restaurants. Here, you can select fresh seafood from the stalls before taking your purchases to the nearby restaurants to be cooked up to your liking. We liked the lobsters grilled with garlic butter and the battered calamari. Good prices, too—PHP380 or $10.88 upwards for a kilo of shrimp. The place is mobbed at night, so arrive slightly before 7pm to snag a table.

8:30pm Head to the popular Rocket Room for drinks. Order one of their fun cocktails like A Girl With Violet Eyes (PHP225; $6.45), an interesting concoction of mixed berries, honey, apple rum, lychee and mint. The place does weekly DJ parties from Thursdays to Saturdays.

Alternatively, if you're looking for something even more relaxing, you can wind down with a spa treatment—if you’re not too stuffed from dinner, that is. The upscale Le Spa is reputedly one of the best sanctuaries in the city, yet a treatment there won’t burn a hole in your pocket—a 60-minute “Filipino Pride” massage costs just PHP3,000 ($86.15). If you’re looking for something even more affordable, head to similarly named beauty chain The Spa, where a 60-minute Swedish massage costs as low as PHP820 ($23.49) upwards—an unbeatable price, considering the impeccable service you receive. 

Day Two

9am Start your day with a strong cuppa from Yardstick Coffee.This third-wave coffee house is quirky, cheery and not crazily packed. We recommend the 12-hour cold brew (PHP16; $4.58), which is served in a cute glass bottle. There are also nibbles like waffles and soft-bake red velvet cookies (PHP50; $1.43 upwards).

11am Visit Ayala Museum, a small but well-curated gallery which showcases ethnographic and archaeological exhibits—we particularly liked the intricate dioramas (there are 60 of them) that narrate the country’s history. Sign up for a guided tour (PHP100, $2.86), or amble around on your own.

1pm Adjacent to the museum is the Museum Café or M Café. This pleasant hangout serves up an array of sandwiches, pizzas and pastas, as well as Asian fare like Hainanese chicken and even dim sum (PHP195; $5.58 upwards). The liquor menu is also pretty extensive, with wines, whiskeys and beers from PHP115 ($3.29) upwards. Plus, there’s free WiFi, which is indubitably a major draw for travelers. The café really comes alive at night, though, with DJs spinning live music on Thursday evenings. Alternatively, if you're hankering for some authentic Filipino fare, head to XO 46 Heritage Bistro and order dishes like herb-roasted pork belly (PHP685; $19.63) and milkfish braised in vinegar, sea salt and pepper corns (PHP365; $10.46).

3pm Hit the shops again at Greenbelt a sprawling mall where you’ll find luxury labels that you can’t get in SM Mall of Asia, like Prada and Balenciaga. Or venture further afield to Greenhills Shopping Center, a large market where clothes, electronics and even pearls can be purchased at a steal—don’t forget to bargain.

7pm El Chupacabra reputedly has some of the best street tacos in town. This buzzing little roadside joint is always packed and the tables overflow onto the street. Book ahead. The average price of each taco is just PHP80 or $2.29—the spicy chipotle shrimp version is especially tasty. Wash it all down with beer (PHP45, $1.29 per bottle).

9pm If you’re a fan of live music, SaGuijo Café + Bar is the place to be. This intimate boho hangout is a regular performance space for musicians of diverse genres, from pop and electronica to rap.


ESSENTIALS

Where to stay 

Sofitel Philippine Plaza is one of the most established in Manila, located 7km away from the Ninoy Aquino International Airport and with glorious vistas of Manila Bay. Furnishings are luxe—think lots of marble and mahogany—and service is stellar. Plus, in-house restaurant Spiral serves up an international buffet spread with 21 live cooking stations. Rates are from PHP6552 or $187.87 upwards for a Superior room.

Alternatively, there’s the Fairmont Makati, located just across the road from Greenbelt and within walking distance of many cool cafes. The sophisticated furnishings are all made from locally sourced materials, and their cute Writers Bar is styled like a library. A Fairmont room costs around PHP9200 or $263.80 upwards.

Getting there 

Cebu Pacific flies 25 times a week to Manila. It’s a budget carrier, so don’t expect any meals or inflight entertainment, but the cabin crew facilitates on-board games and giveaways. Plus, flights all land at Ninoy Aquino International Airport’s Terminal 3, which is by far the most pleasant terminal. Fares start from as low as $147 upwards. 

Visas

Singapore citizens do not require a visa to enter the Philippines, but citizens of most non-ASEAN nations do.

Exchange Rate

PHP34.87 = $1