‘There’s no place like Manila.’ This lyric from the chorus of an old song still rings true. But in the Philippines’ sprawling capital – actually 16 cities spread shoulder to shoulder – it’s all about where you’re sleeping, shopping and playing. Manila’s neighborhoods tend to come with their own stories and characters. For those looking to sample the best contemporary corners of Manila, here are five of the coolest neighborhoods to visit.
Makati manages to pull off a weekend vibe most days of the week. The homier side of Manila’s business district, Salcedo, does the finer things with a handmade touch. The Salcedo Market is an outdoor extravaganza where you can find everything from bamboo-thread towels to organic Filipino coffee to Moroccan chicken curry. During the day, Washington Sycip Park is the place to lace up for a run.
Makati’s upscale malls, Glorietta and Greenbelt, offer fascinating people-watching and your pick of international dining. A few steps away, the excellent Ayala Museum is worth a visit for its remarkable dioramas and exhibitions. Just across from the museum, M Café is where a well-heeled crowd gathers for after-dinner cocktails. Come nightfall, Makati’s speakeasy bars The Blind Pig and Exit are the place to enjoy a well-mixed cocktail.
Top universities nearby send a constant breath of fresh ideas and youthful creativity through Maginhawa Street, probably the capital’s hottest foodie destination. Food trucks converge at One Fifty Maginhawa Food Park, diners are required to slip off their shoes and carry their own plates at Van Gogh is Bipolar, and the sushirrito (sushi + burrito) stakes a claim at Westwood.
You’ll have more compelling dining options than you can shake a stick at in UP Village, but it’s not all about food. Board game cafés, cat cafés, tattoo parlors, second-hand bookstores, local fashion boutiques, and vinyl stores all jostle for space on this up-and-coming thoroughfare.
The Fort has something much of Manila doesn’t: lots of space. If it weren’t for the tropical heat, you might feel like you were back in LA once you hit the wide sidewalks and broad avenues of Bonifacio Global City. Several hotels such as F1 Hotel Manila and Shangri-La at the Fort offer travelers the chance to stay in the heart of this fast-growing district.
Bonifacio High Street, a kilometer-long stretch of tempting retail and dining outlets, makes for some of the best shopping in the capital. To the southeast, Serendra Piazza has a slightly more intimate atmosphere, with a few small art galleries and excellent Filipino restaurants.
Beyond the malls, the towering skyscrapers all around are sprinkled with rooftop watering holes, after-office hangouts, and a growing crop of fine-dining restaurants. On weekend nights, the bars and clubs at The Fort Strip come alive. Here the party starts late, and runs even later.
Intersecting in Quezon City’s South Triangle, these two streets and those branching off echo something of old Manila’s fun-loving nightlife and residential atmosphere. Yoga studios, tattoo parlors and spas have popped up in the area, which is also one of Manila’s long-standing entertainment districts. Locals head to Timog Avenue for live music and comedy clubs.
Anchor your stay at locally owned Cocoon Boutique Hotel, a cozy sustainable hotel with inspired green interiors. Fuel up at Runner’s Kitchen, Uno, and Tiago’s. Grab a coffee at Yellow Tree, or pick up a book at Books and Borders. Too much indulgence? Walk it off amid the leafy lanes of Quezon Memorial Park.
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