The First-Timer’s Travel Guide to Manila, Philippines (from a Local)

The First-Timer’s Travel Guide to Manila, Philippines (from a Local)

NOTICE: Your health and safety come first. Please adhere to the WHO recommendations and avoid any non-essential travel at this time. If travel is unavoidable for you, then you can check the Flatten the Curve website for information on global travel restrictions.
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It’s been over two years since I wrote the first edition of this Manila travel guide. I decided to write it after hearing more than one foreigner describe Manila as the scariest city they’ve ever visited. I don’t know where they stayed or what happened that made them say that, but it inspired me to write a travel guide that put traveler safety first. I certainly didn’t want anyone visiting my home city and having a negative or even traumatic experience.

But the thing is, focusing so much on safety inadvertently put my city in a negative light. Without meaning to, I may have made it seem worse than it actually was. Sure, we have our share of taxi scammers and purse snatchers, but don’t many destinations around the world have those too? Surely Manila isn’t worse than any other third world metropolis? I wanted tourists to have fun in Manila but I realized after some time that putting so much emphasis on traveler safety wasn’t the right approach. It shed light on the negative instead of focusing on the positive aspects of my city and Filipinos in general.

Many travel bloggers have come to Manila and fallen in love with my city and its people, so much so that some of them are actually considering moving here. And they all said the same thing – when you’re here, you’re family. We Filipinos are known for our hospitality. Travel safety is a concern no matter where you go, but the chance to be welcomed like family isn’t something you can find just anywhere. I wanted the new edition of this guide to be a reflection of that.

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  1. Travel Restrictions
  2. Manila at a Glance
  3. Best time to Visit
  4. How to Get There
  5. Where to Exchange Currency
  6. Where to Stay
  7. How to Get Around
  8. Things to Do
  1. Day Trips from Manila
  2. On Filipino Food
  3. Where to Eat
  4. How Many Days to Stay / Sample Itinerary
  5. Budget / Summary of Expenses
  6. Travel Tips
  7. Poblacion Area Map


Because of the global pandemic, travel guidelines seem to change on a daily basis. Our friends at SafetyWing created a website that details containment measures, testing and treatment information, and travel restrictions around the world.

Before doing any serious planning, be sure to check the Flatten the Curve website for information on travel restrictions to the Philippines.


Manila is the capital city of the Philippines. Strictly speaking, it refers to one specific city but it’s also used as a blanket term for the whole metropolitan area. When people say “Manila”, they can either be referring to the actual city of Manila which is home to the capital’s most recognized attractions like Intramuros and Fort Santiago, or they can be using it to refer to the entire metropolitan area which consists of several cities like the city of Manila, Makati, Pasay, and Quezon City. Does this make sense?

According to Wikipedia, Manila is the most densely populated city in the world (as of June 2016). If you’ve ever driven through Manila’s rush hour traffic, then you won’t argue with that. The Philippines is a developing country with a dearth of well-paying jobs in the provinces. Many Filipinos flock to Manila looking for work which is part of the reason why the city has become so densely populated.

I’ve lived in Manila most of my life and I’ll agree it isn’t the prettiest city. But if you give it a chance, then you’ll find that there’s much to love here.


More often than not, Manila is a stopover for many travelers so there isn’t really a “best time” to visit. Just know that there are two seasons — dry and rainy. Dry season is from December-May while rainy season is from June-November. March-May is the hottest and most humid time of the year with temperatures frequently exceeding 40°C (104°F). July-September are the wettest months while December-February are the coolest, making it the most ideal time to visit. This holds true for most of the Philippines.

Climate: Annual Monthly Weather in Manila

For more on the weather in Manila, check out this climate data from I’ve also created the average temperature and annual rainfall graphs below. Best months to visit are colored in orange.

Average Temperature
Average Temperature in Manila, Philippines

Annual Rainfall
Annual Rainfall in Manila, Philippines


The majority of international flights will be arriving at Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) Terminal 1. Terminal 2 services Philippine Air Lines only, while the few airlines not served by Terminal 1 will land at Terminal 3.

Regardless of where you land, the best ways to get to your hotel from the airport are by UBE Express Bus, Grab, or private transfer. Personally, I always use Grab. There are metered and coupon taxis as well but I’ve never used them.

BY UBE EXPRESS BUS: A fleet of air-conditioned buses called UBE Express services passengers to and from the airport. Buses are equipped with onboard wifi and cost PHP 150 each way. You can purchase tickets at the airport kiosks when you arrive or you can buy them in advance through the UBE Express booking website. It services all three airport terminals and takes passengers to and from designated stops along several routes. You can follow the link for more detailed information about UBE Express and their bus routes.

BY GRAB: Despite being known as an app-based service, you’ll be able to book a ride with Grab even if you don’t have a smartphone or wifi connectivity. Grab booths can be found at these locations:

Terminal 1: Main arrival curbside
Terminal 2: Inner arrival curbside between Bays 7 and 8
Terminal 3: Secondary arrival curbside between Bays 5 and 6
Terminal 4: Curbside

BY PRIVATE TRANSFER: It’ll probably be more expensive but if you’d like to book a private airport transfer, then you can do so through Bookaway (to Makati only), Klook, or Get Your Guide.

Most travelers will probably fly to Manila but there may be other ways to get there depending on where you are. Check out Bookaway to search for route options available to you. You can click on the link or use the widget below.


The best place to exchange currency in Manila is at a licensed money changer. Their rates are generally 10-20% better than banks. The rate at the airport is terrible so be sure to change no more than USD 100 there. That’ll get you to your hotel and give you enough pesos to spend on your first day until you can find a money changer.

There are plenty of money changers in Manila, including malls, so you can ask your hotel where the nearest (and best) one is. Be wary of anyone who approaches you on the street offering a great exchange rate. These are scams so avoid them like the plague. Exchange your currency only at licensed money changers and be sure to count your pesos before leaving the counter.


In my opinion, the Poblacion area in Makati is the best place to stay in Manila. It’s located near the commercial business district so there are plenty of shops, restaurants, bars, and convenience stores in the area.

There are many hotels to choose from in Poblacion but I can recommend the three below based on personal experience. You can also check or Agoda for alternate listings in Poblacion/Makati.


A hip, centrally located hostel in Poblacion, Makati, Z Hostel is perfect for backpackers and group travelers. It’s clean and well-designed with mostly dorm-type accommodations. Over the weekends, it has a small roofdeck that turns into a lively bar with DJs and live music. You can make a reservation through or Agoda. Be sure to check both sites to find the best deal.

Check out my post on Z Hostel for more pictures and information. If you do decide to stay at Z Hostel, I’ve included an AREA MAP at the bottom of this post that indicates where it is in relation to other points of interest mentioned in this guide.
Z Hostel, Poblacion, Makati, Philippines

Dorm Room Rate: Starts at around PHP 749 per person a night with breakfast (as of Oct 2017)

BOUTIQUE: La Casita Mercedes

This is the type of place Ren and I love staying at when we travel. La Casita Mercedes is an old Filipino house that was renovated and reopened as a 7-room bed and breakfast in 2015. If you’re traveling as a couple and want peace and quiet, then this is a great place to stay. You can make a reservation through or Agoda. Be sure to check both sites to find the best deal.

Check out my post on La Casita Mercedes for more pictures and information. You can refer to the AREA MAP at the bottom of this post to see where it is in relation to everything else in this guide.
La Casita Mercedes, Poblacion, Makati, Philippines

Room Rate: Around PHP 2,000 per night with breakfast (as of Oct 2017)

BUSINESS: City Garden Grand Hotel

City Garden Grand Hotel is a 4-star hotel just a few minutes’ walk from Z Hostel and La Casita Mercedes. It’s central location makes it ideal for business or leisure travelers to Manila. Considering it’s a 4-star hotel in Makati, rates are reasonable with Standard rooms starting at around PHP 3,785 a night. You can make a reservation through or Agoda. Be sure to check both sites to find the best deal.

Check out my post on City Garden Grand Hotel for more pictures and information. You can refer to the AREA MAP at the bottom of this post to see exactly where it is in relation to everything else in this guide.
City Garden Grand Hotel, Poblacion, Makati, Philippines

Room Rate: Starts at around PHP 3,785 per night with breakfast (as of Oct 2017)


Commuter Apps

Booking rides through Grab is the best way to get around Manila. It isn’t the cheapest, but it’s the safest and most convenient. Downloading and using the app will require a constant internet connection which is why I’m suggesting you rent a pocket wifi device or purchase a sim card while you’re in the Philippines. For your convenience, I’ve listed the Grab location and approximate fare for each of the recommended destinations in this guide.

If you’re considering using anything other than commuter apps, don’t. As much as I would love to heap praises on our public transportation system, I can’t at this time. Here’s why:

Regular Taxis

Don’t get into a regular taxi. They don’t have the best reputation, even among locals. Many are rundown and smelly and we often hear about taxis being used to commit scams and thefts (or worse). With that said, I’m not saying all taxi drivers are evil. Many are good, honest people. But for your safety and peace of mind, then it’s best that you stay away from regular taxis for now.

Public Buses

Forget buses. Not only are many of them rundown, bus drivers are the worst. They drive like fucking maniacs. A kiwi friend of mine who lived in Manila for a year told me that he was never sure he’d get out of a bus alive. I’m sure he was exaggerating but you get my point.

Jeepneys (?)

Public jeepneys aren’t the most comfortable means of transportation but they’re an iconic part of Philippine culture so feel free to ride them at least once. It’s a memorable experience and the cheapest way to get around. I’ve never personally used it, but there’s a mobile app from that can help you navigate Manila’s often confusing public transportation system.


As much as I would love to recommend the MRT (subway system) as an ideal means of transportation for tourists, I can’t. At least not until they make improvements. The most common complaints include how scorchingly hot train stations are and how crowded trains get during rush hour (not enough trains!). The MRT has potential but until they address certain issues, it isn’t the best way to get around the city. Check out this video on an American’s thoughts on Manila’s MRT system.

Please be advised that my recommendations above reflect my personal thoughts and opinions at this time. They may change if improvements are made. I’ll be sure to update this page if they do because there’s nothing I want more than a public transportation system we locals can be proud of.


1. Tour Intramuros on a Bamboo Bike with Bambike Ecotours

Historic Intramuros is without a doubt the premier tourist attraction in Manila. Known as the Walled City, this 0.67 sq km walled area (0.26 sq mi) WAS the City of Manila during the Spanish Colonial Period. You can explore Intramuros on your own but one of the most fun ways to experience it is on sustainable bamboo bikes made in partnership with one of the Philippines’ most respected NGOs, Gawad Kalinga.

Check out my post on the Intramuros Tour with Bambike Ecotours for more pictures and information. If you’d like to visit Intramuros but don’t want to ride a bicycle, then you can check what other Intramuros tours (Klook | Get Your Guide) are available. They even have one on electric chariots (like Segways).
Bambike Ecotours, Intramuros, Manila

Length of Tour: 2.5 hrs / Cost: PHP 1,200 per person / Grab fare from Poblacion: Around PHP 348 each way (Destination: Casa Manila)

2. Do the Binondo Food Wok with Ivan Man Dy

Have you seen the Philippine episode of No Reservations with Anthony Bourdain? If so, then you might recognize Ivan. He was one of Anthony’s guides in Manila. A fun gastronomic tour that takes you through the back alleys of Binondo, there’s no better or more delicious way of exploring Manila’s Chinatown than this. Highly recommended.

Check out my post on the Binondo Food Wok with Ivan Man Dy for more pictures and information. If you’re interested in this tour, then you can book it through Klook.
Binondo Food Wok with Ivan Man Dy

Length of Tour: 3.5 hrs / Cost: PHP 1,600 per person inclusive of food / Grab fare from Poblacion: Around PHP 339 each way (Destination: Minor Basilica of St. Lorenzo Ruiz of Manila)

3. Marvel at Juan Luna’s Spoliarium at the National Museum

The National Museum is Manila’ foremost museum and houses what’s widely considered to be the most internationally renowned piece in Philippine art history — Spoliarium by national artist Juan Luna. A cultural treasure measuring a gargantuan 422 cm x 767.5 cm, this painting of dying gladiators received a gold medal at the Exposición Nacional de Bellas Artes in Madrid in 1884.

The National Museum is comprised of three buildings — The National Art Gallery which showcases visual artworks, the Museum of the Filpino People which houses important historical artifacts, and the Planetarium. Needless to say, you can spend an entire day visiting all three. The National Museum went through a major renovation in 2012 so the buildings look and feel brand new.

Check out my post on the National Museum of the Philippines for more pictures and information.
National Art Gallery, National Museum, Manila, Philippines

Suggested Length of Visit: 2-3 hrs / Entrance: FREE / Grab fare from Poblacion: Around PHP 321 each way (Destination: National Museum of the Philippines)

4. Enjoy the Manila Bay Sunset over Buckets of Beer at Mall of Asia (MOA)

Manila Bay is renowned for its sunsets and there are few better vantage points than Mall of Asia. Fronting the bay, its the third largest shopping mall in the Philippines.

To catch the sunset, head on up to the second floor around 5 PM and look for signs pointing you to Seaside Boulevard. There you’ll find a row of al fresco restaurants facing Manila Bay. Pick any restaurant that appeals to you and order a bucket (6 bottles) of San Mig Lights or Pale Pilsens. Kick back and enjoy the light show.

Interestingly, you can book a shopping experience at MOA through Klook. Follow this link for more information.
Mall of Asia, Manila, the Philippines

Grab fare from Poblacion: Around PHP 321 each way (Destination: SM Mall of Asia)

5. Satisfy Your Sweet Tooth at the Dessert Museum

If you’re going to Mall of Asia, then you may want to pay a visit to the Dessert Museum as well, especially if you like sweets and posting your #ootd on Instagram. It’s a fun and unique candy-filled attraction that boasts eight themed rooms, each inspired by a different dessert.

Walk-ins pay PHP 799 for a 2-hour curated tour with up to 6 free desserts, but you can get a discount if you purchase tickets in advance through Klook. Check out my post on the Dessert Museum for more pictures and information.
The Dessert Museum, Manila, Philippines

Length of Tour: 2 hrs / Entrance: PHP 699 / Grab fare from Poblacion: Around PHP 321 each way (Destination: The Dessert Museum)

6. Go Bargain Hunting at Greenhills Shopping Center

Greenhills Shopping Center (or “Greenhills” for short) is a bargain hunter’s paradise. You can find almost anything there like mobile phones, gadgets, jewelry, clothing, fashion accessories, watches, shoes, bags, etc. It’s also home to a good amount of quality knock-offs. Just be aware of any laws that your country may have about the importation of counterfeit goods before you go crazy buying fakes.

Like Mall of Asia, you can book a half-day shopping experience at Greenhills Shopping Center through Klook.

Grab fare from Poblacion: Around PHP 299 each way (Destination: Greenhills Shopping Center)

7. Watch Science come Alive at the Mind Museum

This place was fun. If you’re traveling with kids, then the Mind Museum is a great way to spend a couple of hours. Not only will they be learning about things like Bernoulli’s Principle, magnetic fields, and Einstein’s theory of gravity, but they’ll be doing it in the funnest way imaginable. The Mind Museum is located at the BGC (Bonifacio Global City) as well which is home to some of Manila’s trendiest bars and restaurants.

Check out my post on The Mind Museum in Manila for more pictures and information. If you’re interested in visiting the Mind Museum, then you can get a discount on the all-day pass if you purchase it through Klook.
The Mind Museum, Manila, the Philippines

Suggested Length of Visit: 2-3 hrs / Entrance: PHP 625 per adult, PHP 475 per child / Grab fare from Poblacion: Around PHP 264 each way (Destination: The Mind Museum)

8. Get a Massage

Massages are cheap in Manila and pretty good. You can get a full body massage for around PHP 350. Just be sure that you go to a LEGITIMATE massage parlor and not a sex den masquerading as one.

There are many legitimate massage parlors around so just ask your hotel where the nearest one is. If you’re staying in Poblacion, then I recommend Nuat Thai near A Venue Mall. You can refer to the map at the bottom of this post or ask your hotel for directions. You can also book a massage through Klook. Massages are hard work so be sure to give your masseuse a good tip (PHP 50-100).


If you’re staying a few days in Manila, then here are a few day trips you can take from the city.

1. Masungi Georeserve

This is the place that went viral on social media not too long ago. Located about 1.5 hours from Makati, Masungi Georeserve is a geological park and conservation area in Baras, Rizal. It’s home to a hiking trail featuring rope walls, hanging bridges, and unique viewing platforms suspended over limestone karsts and overlooking a lush tropical rainforest. If you had time to take just one day trip from Manila, then this should be it.

Check out my post on Masungi Georeserve for more pictures and information. You can get here by public transportation from Manila but the easiest way would be to hire a chauffeured car for the day. You can request a park visit through the Masungi Georeserve website, but if you want to have everything taken care of for you, including transportation, then you may want to book your visit through Klook.
Masungi Georserve, Baras, Rizal, Philippines

Length of Tour: Half a day / Cost: PHP 1,500 per person on weekdays, PHP 1,800 on weekends

2. Taal Volcano

A trip to Tagaytay is one of the most popular day trips locals make from Manila. Tagaytay is a holiday town about 2 hrs south of Manila which features cooler climates and a picturesque view of Taal Volcano.

Located in the middle of a lake, Taal Volcano is one the most active volcanos in the Philippines with 33 historical eruptions, though don’t let this frighten you. Like many Filipinos, we’ve been making weekend trips to Tagaytay for as long as I can remember and I don’t recall the volcano ever being a concern.

If this stunning view from Tagaytay isn’t enough, then you can go trekking on the volcano itself. I’ve done this once before. It’s fun but very hot so be sure to wear a hat and lots of sunscreen. You can book a trekking tour to Taal Volcano from Manila through Klook. Get Your Guide offers a few sightseeing tours to Tagaytay as well.
Taal Volcano, Philippines

Length of Tour: Whole day / Cost: Around PHP 2,850 per person

3. Taal Heritage Town

Have you heard of the historic town of Vigan in Ilocos Sur? Think of Taal Town as a mini-version of Vigan, but just 2 hours south of Manila. It’s home to a wealth of Spanish colonial heritage houses and the biggest church in Southeast Asia. If you don’t plan on doing a Taal Volcano trek, then it’s possible to pair this with a trip to Tagaytay.

Check out my Taal Heritage Town travel guide for more pictures and information. You can visit Taal Town on your own using public transportation, but it’s easiest to hire a chauffeured car for the day.
Taal Heritage Town, Batangas, Philippines

Estimated Time Needed: Whole day

4. Mount Pinatubo

If one active volcano isn’t enough for you, then you can pay a visit to Mt. Pinatubo as well. Many people may not remember it, but Mt. Pinatubo was the volcano that produced the second largest terrestrial eruption of the 20th century. Turning day into night, it erupted in 1991 and covered Manila in a blanket of ash.

Located in the Zambales Mountains, a trek to Mt. Pinatubo’s crater lake is one of the most popular hikes you can do from Manila. You can book a hiking tour of Mt. Pinatubo through Klook or Get Your Guide.
Mt. Pinatubo, Philippines

Length of Tour: Whole day / Cost: Around PHP 5,400 per person

5. Corregidor Island

If you’re interested in WWII history, then a visit to Corregidor Island is a must. Because of its strategic location at the entrance of Manila Bay, Corregidor has long been fortified with coastal artillery to defend Manila against attacks from enemy warships.

During WWII, it played a vital role in the liberation of the Philippines from Japanese forces. Today, it’s a popular tourist attraction featuring military installations used during the war.

You can book a guided full day tour to Corregidor from Manila through Get Your Guide.
Corregidor Island, Philippines

Length of Tour: Whole day / Cost: PHP 2,550 per person on weekdays, PHP 2,749 on weekends / Grab fare from Poblacion: Around PHP 211 each way (Destination: Esplanade Seaside Terminal)

6. Villa Escudero

Villa Escudero is a plantation resort in Quezon province about 2.5 hours south of Manila. It’s most famous for its Labasin Waterfalls Restaurant which you may have seen on social media. Diners get to eat Filipino food kamayan-style (with hands) while soaking their feet in shallow running water at the base of a manmade waterfall. Click on the links to book a Villa Escudero tour through Klook or Get Your Guide.
Villa Escudero, Philippines

Length of Tour: At least half a day / Cost: Starts at PHP 950 per person



Renowned food personality Andrew Zimmern once said that Filipino food will be the next big thing. I believe it with all the features on Filipino food I’ve been seeing more and more on social media. There are many delicious things to eat in the Philippines but in my opinion, these are the dishes that you absolutely must try. Follow the link for a list of 14 delicious things to eat in Manila.
Pork sisig


If street food is your thing, then you need to check out this guide. From fish balls to ukoy to the infamous balut, check out this post for a list of Filipino street food dishes you can try in Manila.
Filipino Street Food


Poblacion is one of the hippest and trendiest areas in Manila. It’s fast becoming a food and arts hub in the city, which is part of the reason why I think it’s the best place to stay in Manila. With all the interesting restaurants popping up in the neighborhood, it’s recently been the subject of many lifestyle shows and blog posts. Check out my post for a list of popular restaurants you can visit on a Poblacion food crawl.
Poblacion Food Crawl


This was the hardest section to write being a food lover from Manila. How could I narrow it down? These restaurants may not be the trendiest, but they made the list for what in my mind are the most important reasons — longevity, accessibility, price, and overall experience. Tailored for travelers getting their first taste of Filipino food, we chose restaurants that serve authentic Filipino cuisine and have withstood the test of time.

1. Blackbeard’s Seafood Island

There’s no Filipino dining experience more fun than a boodle fight. A tradition that started in the Philippine military, a boodle feast consists of a central mound of food – typically grilled Filipino food – piled high on banana leaves. Diners are seated around the spread and expected to eat kamayan-style, which means to “eat with one’s hands”. Many restaurants offer boodle feasts but one of the most popular is Blackbeard’s Seafood Island. They have many branches in Manila, including Mall of Asia.

Check out this video I made of the boodle fight we had to celebrate my mother-in-law’s 88th birthday. It’s a fun experience and a must-do for any first-time visitor to the Philippines.
Boodle fight

Expect to Spend: Around PHP 400 per person with drinks / Grab fare from Poblacion: Around PHP 321 each way (Destination: SM Mall of Asia)

2. Abe

Abe belongs to the iconic LJC group of restaurants that’s been serving excellent Filipino cuisine for over 30 years. It’s one of the first restaurants I think of when entertaining foreign guests. Popular dishes include the Lamb Adobo, Crispy Pork Adobo ni Lola Ising, Bamboo Rice (pictured below), and Sikreto ni Maria (sticky rice dessert with ripe mangoes and macapuno ice cream). For more adventurous eaters, I suggest trying the Betute (stuffed frogs) and Arobong Kamaru (sauteed crickets).

Check out my friend Gerry’s post on Abe’s Farm for more pictures and information. It’s from their provincial restaurant but the dishes are the same.
Abe restaurant, Manila, Philippines

Expect to Spend: Around PHP 800 per person with drinks / Grab fare from Poblacion: Around PHP 273 each way (Destination: Serendra Piazza)

3. Mesa Filipino Moderne

Like Abe, Mesa is one of the first restaurants I consider when entertaining guests from abroad. They aren’t as pricey and their food is just as good. While Abe serves more traditional cuisine, Mesa serves Filipino food with a slightly modern twist. Standout dishes include Baby Squid in Olive Oil (pictured below), Crispy Hito Flakes (catfish), Chicken Binakol (chicken soup flavored with coconut meat), and Baked Scallops.
Mesa Filipino Moderne, Manila, Philippines

Expect to Spend: Around PHP 500 per person with drinks / Grab fare from Poblacion: Around PHP 243 each way (Destination: Greenbelt 5)

4. Toyo Eatery

If you want a contemporary Filipino fine dining experience, then Toyo Eatery is the place to go. Helmed by Chef Jordy Navarra, they’re currently at number 43 on this list of Asia’s 50 best restaurants. Chef Navarra draws inspiration from the local culture and heritage to create contemporary, often playful interpretations of Filipino cuisine. For me, it’s the best Filipino restaurant in Manila right now. Check out my post on Toyo Eatery for more pictures and information.
Toyo Eatery, Manila, Philippines

Tasting Menu Price: Starts at PHP 1,000 / Grab fare from Poblacion: Around PHP 201 each way (Destination: Toyo Eatery – Makati)

5. Seaside Market on Macapagal Boulevard

If you like fresh seafood, then you’ll enjoy the Seaside Market along Macapagal Boulevard. A fish market to table concept, you’ll buy your seafood from the wet market then have it cooked by one of the many restaurants in the complex. Seafood doesn’t get any fresher than this.

The seaside market is close to notable areas like Intramuros, the National Museum, and Mall of Asia, so you may want to pair a meal here with a trip to one of those places. Check out my post on the Seaside Market Dampa in Manila for more pictures and information.
Seaside Dampa on Macapagal Boulevard, Pasay, Philippines

Expect to Spend: Around PHP 500 per person with drinks / Grab fare from Poblacion: Around PHP 299 each way (Destination: Seaside Market — Diosdado Macapagal Boulevard, Pasay)

6. Gerry’s Grill

Gerry’s Grill is arguably the most popular Filipino grill restaurant in Manila. The food is good and inexpensive, making it a favorite watering hole among locals. I suggest trying the Inihaw na Liempo (grilled pork belly), Inihaw na Baby Pusit, and the Adobong Puso Rice (pictured below). They’re also known for their Pork Sisig, a hugely popular bar appetizer made with chopped pig’s face, ears, and chicken liver. You can read more about it in my post listing 14 delicious things to eat in Manila.

Gerry’s Grill has plenty of branches throughout the city, including Mall of Asia and Greenhills Shopping Center. If you’re staying in Poblacion, then the Greenbelt 3 branch will be one of the closest to you. Greenbelt 3 is an upscale al fresco mall in Makati so it’s a great place to walk around and kill time. Follow the link for a list of Gerry’s Grill branches in Manila.
Gerry's Grill, Manila, Philippines

Expect to Spend: Around PHP 500 per person with drinks / Grab fare from Poblacion: Around PHP 238 each way (Destination: Greenbelt 3)

7. Jollibee

Jollibee is our local version of McDonald’s. It’s a hugely popular fast food burger chain that caters to the Filipino palate. More flavorful than typical American-style hamburgers, there are Jollibee restaurants all over the country (including the Mind Museum). Ask your hotel where the nearest branch is. I suggest getting the Champ. It’s their signature burger and the equivalent of a Big Mac.

Expect to Spend: Around PHP 170 for a burger with fries and a drink


As previously described, Manila is a stopover destination for most travelers so there’s no need to stay too long. If you won’t be doing any day trips from Manila, then three days should be plenty. You can extend your stay based on how many day trips you want to do.

Here’s a sample 4D/3N Manila itinerary I put together to help you plan your trip. I made it four days to give you time for one or two of the recommended day trips.


• Go on an Intramuros Tour
• Visit the National Museum
• Enjoy the sunset at Mall of Asia

• Visit Taal Heritage Town
• Enjoy the sunset at a restaurant in Tagaytay overlooking Taal Volcano

• Do the Binondo Food Wok
• Look for bargains at Greenhills Shopping Center

• Visit the Mind Museum and Bonifacio Global City (BGC)
• Get a massage
• Go on a Poblacion food crawl


Assuming you’re traveling with one other person, then a budget of around PHP 2,500 a day per person should be plenty. This takes into account accommodations, 2 daily meals (apart from free hotel breakfast), pocket wifi rental, and commuter app transportation. You can adjust your budget depending on which of the suggested tours you want to do and how much you want to shop. Here’s a quick breakdown of expenses:


This is highly subjective. It depends on several factors like hotel preference and number of travel companions. Let’s start at the low end and say PHP 750 a night per person.

Again, this is subjective, but based on my recommendations, we can say around PHP 800 a day per person.

If you’re sharing the cost with one other person, then you’ll be paying PHP 225 per day.

This is the most difficult to pin down because it obviously depends on where you want to go. Plus, there’s Manila’s notoriously horrendous traffic. Assuming you’ll be using Grab and following my suggested itinerary, then we can say around PHP 700 a day per person.

This comes out to around PHP 2,475 a day per person. Keep in mind that this estimate doesn’t include tour costs and miscellaneous expenses like shopping or car rental. If you plan on taking public transportation and not spending as much on food, then you can do it with even less. Ren and I are middle of the road travelers who enjoy good food and drink, so the recommended budget is a good baseline for travelers like us. Adjust accordingly based on your own travel habits.


1. Plan your Trip with Sygic Travel

I’ve been using this free trip planning app for several years now. It enables you to plot points of interest on a map, including your hotel, so you can see exactly how far you need to travel between points. You can then group attractions together per day based on their location. Check out my post on the Sygic Travel app for more information.

DOWNLOAD: iOS / Android

2. Rent a Pocket Wifi Device

This guide hinges on getting around using commuter apps so it’s imperative that you have wifi access. Many public places like your hotel and cafes do have free wifi but the connection isn’t as good nor as reliable. For that reason, I suggest renting a pocket wifi device (Klook | Get Your Guide) or buying a sim card so you have uninterrupted wifi access at all times. You can either pick them up from Ninoy Aquino International Airport or have them delivered to your hotel.

3. Check for Discount Passes

Klook is my favorite booking platform when it comes to finding deals on interesting tours and attractions in Asia. They often have the biggest selection at the best prices and their website is super easy to use. If you’re looking for deals on things like tours, airport transfers, and activities, then you can search through these lists of Manila attractions on Klook.

4. Get Travel Insurance

You may not need it as much in Manila but if you’re traveling to less developed parts of the Philippines, then I’d say travel insurance is a must. Much of our infrastructure isn’t as developed and if you go to places like Batad or Sagada where you can easily lose your footing when hiking, then having travel insurance will be a godsend.

We buy insurance from World Nomads or SafetyWing. They’re both leading travel medical insurance providers often used by many long-term travelers. Check out my article on why we buy travel insurance for more information. You can follow the links to get a free quote from World Nomads or SafetyWing.

5. Give around 10% Gratuity

As mentioned up top, the Philippines is a tipping country, a practice that we probably inherited from the Americans. However, it isn’t as regimented (or expected) as the US so you’re free to give whatever you want. Filipinos are generally nice so they won’t chase you down for giving them a bad tip.

When you get your bill, check if service charge has already been included. Most will be 10%. If so, then you can give an additional PHP 20 on top of it, more if you’re a large group. If service charge hasn’t been included, then leaving a 10% tip would be nice. You’re welcome to leave more if you’re happy with the service of course. It’ll be much appreciated.


Here’s a map I created to help familiarize you with the Poblacion area. It includes all three hotels as well as the restaurants recommended in our Poblacion food crawl guide.


As described up top, many travelers gloss over Manila. It may not be as beautiful as other destinations in the Philippines but I hope this guide convinces you that my city has a lot to offer if you give it a chance. If you have any questions, then please feel free to post them in the comment section below or join our Facebook Travel Group. We’d love to hear from you.

Thanks for stopping by and enjoy Manila and the Philippines!


These are some of the things we used to make this travel guide. If you’d like to see what other gear we use, then you can check out our “What’s in Our Backpack?” post. (NOTE: The following links are Amazon affiliate links.)


We were invited by City Garden Grand Hotel for the sole purpose of reviewing their hotel. They never asked to be included in this guide but I added them anyway to provide more choices to a larger demographic of travelers. Everything else on this guide was paid for by us and added at our own volition. No one asked to be added, no one knew they were going to be included.

This article contains affiliate links so we’ll earn a small commission if you make a purchase at no extra cost to you. We only recommend products and services that we use ourselves and firmly believe in. We really appreciate your support as this helps us make more of these free travel guides. Thank you!

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There are 61 comments for this article
  1. Abby ketcham at 8:11 pm

    This information is really very good. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Jade D'sa at 7:28 am

    Thanks for sharing such a detailed guide! Manilla sounds fabulous and I can almost smell the aroma of all that food!

  3. Lucas Sy at 3:00 pm

    We will have a mixed-used township soon in Mamila near Balintawak Market and Trinoma Mall, where we can experience urban lifestyle and recreation .This mixed-used township will consists of residential towers as well as shopping, dining, and healthcare establishments. It will be called Cloverleaf.

  4. Robert at 7:14 pm

    Thanks for the guide – offered me lots of ideas as a first timer – even if I don’t use them the basics were good – cheers

  5. Carrie at 6:34 am

    This is an amazing and thorough guide! Thank you so much!

  6. Greg B at 5:05 pm

    Thanks for the informative guide, detailed and varied! What is it like traffic wise from Poblacion to the airport…eg. approx how many minutes with and without peak hour?

  7. JB Macatulad at 6:41 pm

    You’re welcome Greg! Traffic is bad pretty much everyday except for Sunday. With traffic, I’d say about an hour to get to the airport from Poblacion, just to be safe. You should plan on being at the airport at least 3 hours before your flight. I suggest using Uber. Uber drivers use the Waze app to find the fastest routes. Hope that helps and let me know if you have any more questions!

  8. Deepalee Khare at 4:41 pm

    Amazing information 🙂

  9. Furqun Rathore at 11:09 pm

    For those who would like to explore the city of Manila, especially the district of Makati, I recommend to rely on the “motorbikes sharing” of An only one experience renting and driving scooters and motorcycles!

  10. Marianna at 6:19 pm

    I spent over 20 days in Manila in total. It is quite underrated city, I was told not to spend more than 3 days there. Well, it was mainly because of my local friends that I spent so much time there, however, each second was worth it.

    They took me all over the city, we explored rooftops and places where travelers don’t normally go. It is something different to stick with locals, who shows you hidden spots and their culture. I got one last recommendation – go, rent a motorbike and explore outskirts and places nearby! I did this through and had an amazing ride with my friends! :))

  11. Jane at 11:30 am

    This article is awesome! you can also visit One Rockwell West Tower,
    it is one of Makati’s premier social, recreational and sport hubs.

  12. Tabby at 3:34 pm

    Wow! love this. travelling to manila in a couple of weeks just for R&R and this really helped!

  13. DominicH at 1:51 am

    I’m off for four days next week with the potential intention of moving over there from the UK for two years – wish me luck!

  14. Ross at 7:14 pm

    Nice article. Manila and the Philippines generally is a great place. Cheap, tropical and the people are straight from the heart.

  15. John Martin at 7:48 pm

    I found your first timer guide very helpful. It has already provided peace of mind for my first trip. Thank you.

  16. Yunita Tresnawati at 7:51 pm

    This is very detail and complete. It is exactly answering all of my question. Anyway, i am Yunita from Indonesia, i have plan to viSit Manila this December

  17. Arifin at 11:47 am

    I am going to Manila next month for 3 days, and while I was searching for itinerary ideas, I stumbled upon your site and I have to say, your summary about Manila is really great and helps me a lot!
    Now I know what should I do in Manila, the capital city of my neighbor (I’m Indonesian, btw), a country that is often overlooked by my fellow Indonesian. Almost all of my friends have been to Singapore, Malaysia, or Thailand, but only one or two that have been to Philippines, so this country is rather mysterious for me; probably due to lack of information, or its dangerous reputation. Nonetheless, I am eager to give it a try and want to prove that it is a great destination, which I believe it is!
    One question though, regarding internet access, is it better to rent a pocket wifi or buy a prepaid sim card from Globe or Smart? The thing is, I will arrive in NAIA after midnight at 1.00 am, and I’m not sure if the shop selling sim card is still open at that time; what is your recommendation?
    Thanks in advance!

  18. JB Macatulad at 3:06 pm

    Happy to hear you’re going to the Philippines Arifin! Yes, the Philippines does get negative press at times, sometimes deserved other times not, but the country is undeniably beautiful with the friendliest, most hospitable people. 🙂

    I personally go with pocket wifi devices since my wife and I share it. I’ve never gone the sim card route so I’m afraid I can’t speak about it. Both should be good though so it’s really up to you. If you’re traveling alone, then getting a sim card might be cheaper. Whichever route you choose, you can arrange for them in advance through Klook so it’ll be ready and waiting for you when you arrive. Hope that helps and enjoy your trip!

    PS: We were just in your country not too long ago. We spent time in Jakarta, Bandung, Yogyakarta, and Bali. Love your country! 🙂

  19. Mark at 7:09 pm

    Hi was thinking of going to Minala for 3 or 4 days next July with wife and daughter. But I will also head to cebu for 9 or ten days. Is there somewhere else I can travel to before I head to cebu.

  20. JB Macatulad at 9:42 pm

    Hi Mark, Bohol is a popular option. It’s close to Cebu and you can travel between islands by ferry. Check out our Bohol travel guide if you haven’t already. Hope that helps and enjoy the Philippines! 🙂

  21. Diz at 10:05 pm

    Great read, especially for my so who’ll travel to MNL for the first time. He’s pumped about visiting the PHL so he can see where i came from (QC) 52 years ago. He requested to see Tagaytay and Hidden Valley and i suggested a we ride ATV in Tarlac. We’ll be there in 12 days, staying for 15 days, with side trips to Kalibo for ati-atihan and 3 days in Boracay. Thanks for your very thoughtful and helpful insights – quite articulate.

  22. JB Macatulad at 10:13 am

    That sounds awesome Diz! It sounds like you haven’t been back to the Philippines in quite some time? I’m excited for you guys, especially for your son. It’s great that you’re showing him his roots. I’m sure he’ll appreciate it. Have an amazing time in the Philippines! 🙂

  23. Mohammad Masud at 2:49 pm

    Hi your guides are really useful and I often recommend others to go through. It was pretty useful in Turkey. However, my last trip in Manilla was not great. Since I am a muslim I had been looking for restaurants of HALAL foods. As I did not get it I had to rely on sea food and vegetables. Please advice me the locations of Muslim restaurants where they offer halal foods.

  24. JB & Renée Macatulad at 9:46 am

    Happy to hear that Mohammad! I just did a quick Google search for halal-certified restaurants in Manila and found THIS ONE from TripAdvisor. We’ve eaten at several restaurants on that list and most of them are good. Where are you staying in Manila? I can recommend specific restaurants based on your location.

  25. LitoB at 4:00 pm

    Hi there. Great guide even for Pinoys like me who are based abroad but come home infrequently.
    I heard that Uber is no longer available in the Philippines. Also, how come you did not talk about doing a food crawl in the towns North of Manila, like Bulacan, Clark, San Fernando, etc…
    How about a feature on local desserts (halo-halo, suman, etc…)

  26. JB & Renée Macatulad at 5:48 pm

    Hi Lito, that’s correct. Uber isn’t available here anymore, just Grab. Yes, a Pampanga food tour is definitely worth adding to the guide. We’ve been meaning to do it but we just haven’t found the time. We’ll add it to the guide soon as we do. Thanks for the suggestion! 🙂

  27. Mohammad Masud at 4:08 pm

    Thanks JB & Renée Macatulad for your guidelines regarding halal restaurants in Manila. The HALAL GUYS restaurant at the ground floor in Mall of Asia was great. My tour in Phillipines was wonderful this time. You may add Anilao in your guide in DAY TRIPS FROM MANILA section. However, Anilao is for the divers. It was my first time and I loved it. Tanlines travel agency (owned by Filipinos) in Manila provides International standard trip to ANILAO. It costs me 6300 php which includes breakfast, lunch and travel to Anilao from Manila.

  28. JB & Renée Macatulad at 9:47 am

    That’s awesome Mohammad! Happy to hear that you enjoyed your stay in Manila this time. And thanks for the suggestion regarding Anilao. I agree that it is indeed great for divers, especially since it’s so close to Manila, but I feel it’s dearth of beaches limits its appeal. In any case, I may add it to a future update of the guide. All the best. 🙂

  29. Kris at 11:15 am

    I also visit the Philippines regularly. I would recommend staying in a place next to the SM (big mall), walking distance preferred to avoid sitting in traffic. And being close to the mall, all meals are covered, breakfast, lunch & dinner (and merienda) because of hundreds of restaurants to choose from. Try

  30. damian at 11:31 pm

    a lot of wonderful place to see! If you like the wind in your face rent a motorbike or a scooter in Philippines. Give a look at Book2wheel and start your adventure!

  31. Jason at 2:04 am

    Yeah I agree, rent a scooter just about anywhere in the country or grab a rental car and tour around. So much to find in Philippines.

  32. Helen Kam at 6:49 am

    This is a very helpful blog. Thank you
    We are 2 active retirees planning to visit Phillipines for the first time in Dec for about 7 days. We love food & sightseeing & learning about the history of the country. Any suggestions re an itinerary staying in 4 star accommodation? We speak Cantonese & ENGLISH. Would a private guide be worthwhile?

  33. JB & Renée Macatulad at 10:20 am

    Hi Helen, yes I think a private tour guide with car charter would be very helpful. That way you can enjoy the city at your own pace. Have you already booked a hotel room or are you still looking for recommendations?

  34. Don2x at 1:50 pm

    Thanks for your information.
    I Am currently living in the UK but soon I will be in the Philippines.
    I will use this guide ?

  35. Merry at 8:18 am

    There is big difference between travel bloggers and adventure writers. Travel bloggers are usually city people with no interest in outdoor hobbies like backpacking, bicycle, fishing, climbing, boating, motorcycles, clubs, churches, veterans, outlaws, cannibus etc. etc.
    Adventure writers are outdoors writers. Of the 7,600 islands, 7,590 are rocks no human has been on. Be for reals and don’t step on my island.

  36. Lisa at 10:52 am

    Sorry if this is a terrible question to be asking…my husband and I are planning on spending 10 days in the Philippines beginning December 27th. I am trying to determine if/how our trip might be impacted by the recent cyclone. I’d be grateful for any thoughts or advice you might have.

  37. Lisa at 2:33 pm

    Haven’t really planned the itinerary yet…hope to use your suggestions for Philippines and also Taiwan.

  38. Ryo at 3:20 pm

    What a nice and insightful article! I’ll be visiting MNL next month for 4D/3N and plan to stay in Makati, then your article will guide me and my partner there. Anyway speaking of best place to stay, friend of mine who currently work in Manila recommend us to stay at Ramada Encore Makati at Kamagong Street, San Antonio due to its affordable rates offer and the hotel is quite new. But after further research by googling it and looking on street-view about the environment of surrounding area, I feel confuse and doubtful there’ll be great area. Well actually as per my research I also prefer to stay around Poblacion as you suggested on your article. Any idea on that? Please share your opinion about that hotel and surrounding neighborhood.

  39. JB & Renée Macatulad at 9:17 am

    Hi Ryo, that area is actually not bad, but I agree with you, it’s not the most convenient place to stay. We have a friend who used to live there and that hotel is located in an up and coming part of Makati with a few interesting bars and restaurants, but not nearly as many as the Poblacion area. I’m not sure how safe it would be at night either since there won’t be as many people walking around as Poblacion. I’d definitely stay in Poblacion instead. It’s one of the hottest and hippest areas in Manila right now.

    Hope that helps and enjoy your trip! Let me know if you have any other questions. 🙂

  40. Heather at 8:13 pm

    Thank you for your info. It informed me better for my trip in May.
    I’m going to be traveling alone. Its my first time. Any other suggestions are welcome.

    Thank you,

  41. myladyboydate at 7:05 am

    Hi JB !

    Wow, what a nice and an interesting article ! Can really feel that you love you city and want to share it with the world ! And you did it well !

    Thanks a lot for that and let’s hope the Corona case will finish asap.


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