Compared to the rest of the Philippines, Manila is not the cheapest place to be. Somehow, stepping out of the house in the city seems to automatically entail spending. But while going out can easily burn a hole in your pocket, don’t lose hope just yet. Check out these fun yet thrifty date ideas that prove it’s possible to enjoy both the city and quality time together, without breaking the bank.
Go on a photowalk in Manila’s most interesting old neighborhoods
For couples with a love for photography and finding little unknown corners of the city, walking aimlessly around the areas of Intramuros and Binondo, camera in hand, makes for the perfect date. Explore Intramuros and admire what remains of Spanish era architecture. Marvel at the reminders of how Manila once looked and snap away. The district of Binondo, on the other hand, is considered to be the world’s oldest Chinatown. And though it has become a mosaic of the traditional and the modern, its interesting and gritty aesthetic translates well onto film.
For overworked couples frazzled by big city living, take a few hours off for some silence, stillness, and refocusing of the mind at Ocean Sky Chan Monastery. The Monastery offers weekly Zen meditation classes of different levels, including a Beginners’ level for those completely new to the experience. The best part is that it’s all absolutely free as the organization runs on donations and volunteerism. For couples who are also interested in learning a new language together, the Monastery offers free Mandarin classes to their meditation students as well.
Kids at heart? Skip the fancy dinner date or crazy night club and spend the evening battling it out over different board games at Ludo BoardGame Bar and Cafe. Players can stay for as long as they want, with a minimum of one order per person. Their menu offers a variety of tasty appetizers and drinks, but their shelves display an even wider range (in the several hundreds) of games to enjoy. And don’t worry about not being a seasoned gamer. Their floor staff are adept and always willing to explain how each game works. Not sure about what to play? Simply explain to them what kind of game you’re in the mood for and they’ll find the perfect fit.
For a dose of culture, art, and history, take your partner on a museum excursion. Walk leisurely around the galleries of the National Museum, admiring the masterpieces of among the most prominent artists in the country’s history—it will literally cost nothing. For a date that falls on a Tuesday, include the Metropolitan Museum in the itinerary, to which admission is free on this day of the week. For couples with a bit more of a budget, visit on a Saturday afternoon (admission is 100 PHP— under $2 per person) when a free guided tour is offered at 2 p.m. A smaller museum with regularly changing exhibits is the Ateneo Art Gallery, which is open to the public and free for individual visitors or groups of less than 20 people. And finally, there’s the interesting Money Museum, imparting to visitors the history and evolution of the Philippine currency and economy—and yes, entrance is also free of charge.
Watch some of the best local bands perform up close
One of the greatest things about Manila is that the local music scene is very lively. Local artists and bands, both rising indie newcomers and chart-topping veterans, regularly play live gigs all over the Metro. But most of these restaurants and bars can charge big bucks for simply entering the venue. Add some food and drinks to that and you’ll be picking up a pretty hefty tab by the end of the night. Concerts are also abundant in Manila, but those aren’t very budget-friendly either. Thankfully, no-frills old-timer 70’s Bistro is just as good as its always been, serving up affordable menu items and only the best acts in the country. This hole in the wall charges a small door fee upon entering, but it all becomes worth it when you’re sitting a few feet away from local bands that sell out much more massive venues across the country. Just keep track of their social media updates to know when you and your partner’s favorite acts are taking the stage.
Ditch the typical Hollywood movie date at a mall cinema and opt for a more intimate indie film screening at the cozy Cinema ’76 Film Society. This micro-cinema, with its elevated seats and plush throw pillows, comfortably sits 60 people. They screen under-appreciated indie films that are quite hard to come by at regular movie houses. And with tickets costing only 150 PHP ($3) a piece, this offbeat movie date isn’t too heavy on the wallet either. 160 Luna, Mencias St., Brgy. Additional Hills, San Juan City, Metro Manila, (02) 398 1939
For a date that gives back, spend a Saturday morning with your significant other lending Project Pearls a hand at Helping Land in Tondo. This non-profit organization has been reaching out among the most impoverished communities in and around the Metro, conducting regular feeding and literacy programs, and providing scholarships to dedicated students. Their Saturday outreach activity is a two-hour program which involves feeding, learning activities, and wound care for the area’s children. They also hold a daily soup kitchen Mondays through Fridays and an after school program on Sundays. Make quality time with your SO more special by sharing it with children whose lives could be changed by it.