Gay guide to Manila setting out practical safety tips, highlights of the city's gay scene, top places to stay, where to eat, and more!
“Be super careful in Manila boys…” was the blunt warning from our Filipino friends in London before we headed over, “…it's crowded, polluted, too much traffic and lots of thieves everywhere!”
But in all honesty, Manila is no different to any other big city we've been in.
Our first steps on the streets of Malate were tentative – taking our friends' words to heart, we ensured to leave all valuables in our hotel, avoided unlit streets, and stuck to taxis to get us around. But the paranoia that we'd built up was quickly broken down. Sticking to basic common sense, it's absolutely fine in Manila.
We ended up really enjoying the Filipino capital. It has a pretty exciting gay scene with a super friendly LGBTQ community that loves connecting with foreigners. Filipinos generally are the most affable and hospitable people we've ever met, which makes it so easy to quickly make local friends here. This was our favorite thing about Manila!
As the hub into the Philippines, Manila makes for a pretty sweet base to start exploring the rest of this phenomenal country.
Experience the gay clubs of Manila
If you don't feel confident heading out on the town by yourself, joining this gay clubbing tour is the perfect compromise! You'll instantly make new friends and get to experience all of Manila's best gay clubs on an epic night out dancing.
Is Manila safe for gay travelers?
Manila is just as safe for gay travelers as it is for straight. Filipinos are extremely friendly and charming people who love showing off their country to foreigners. Whether you're straight or gay will not make much difference as a foreigner, which is why we rate the Philippines as one of the most gay friendly nations in Asia.
However, this is our perception through our rose-tinted spectacles as foreigners visiting the country. We get a “pass” as gay foreigners but the situation for LGBTQ locals is different. Whilst the Philippines is ahead of the game in relation to LGBTQ rights when compared to most other places in Asia, it is nonetheless a very conservative and religious Catholic country. Therefore we advise against PDAs, particularly in rural areas.
To find out more, we recommend reading our interview with local boy Rione from Manila about what gay life in the Philippines is really like.
Stay connected in Manila…
…with a portable WiFi device! Internet connection is notoriously slow in the Philippines, but if you have your own device then you know you'll be able to do work and post photos to Insta to your heart's content. Best of all, these devices can be used with multiple phones, tablets or laptops, which is perfect when you're traveling with others.
Gay friendly hotels in Manila
We never had any problems booking a place to stay in Manila as a gay couple. We were always able to book a double bed with no one batting an eyelid. In fact, in most places, half of the staff were gay guys anyway! We've set out below the best of the gay friendly hotels in Manila for all budgets.
Sofitel Philippine Plaza Manila
In a nutshell
- Luxury 5 star resort on the edge of Manila Bay
- Incredible restaurant with 21 ateliers
- Huge outdoor pool surrounded by palms
- Fantastic spa, sauna and fitness center
If you want to feel like you're experiencing a tropical island resort in the middle of a big city – head to the Sofitel Philippine Plaza!
This incredible gay friendly five-star hotel is located on the edge of Manila Bay where you can enjoy views of water and city at the same time. We spent every morning on the waterside jogging trail before heading to the fitness center or tennis courts.
Afterwards it was time to relax amongst the tropical gardens surrounding the huge pool, or head to Le Spa for a massage and sauna session.
Sofitel Philippine Plaza Manila boasts an amazing restaurant called Spiral, where 21 different ateliers showcase divine cuisines from around the world. From rotisserie chicken to sushi, peking duck and pizza, we were absolutely spoiled for choice. That's not even mentioning the five other restaurants and bars where you can have snacks or cocktails.
Did we mention the Sofitel has a French influence? My Seby was in heaven with the service rituals and art de vivre on display here, as well as the lovely Lanvin toiletries in all the rooms. Speaking of, you can choose from luxury rooms, suites or apartments, all equipped with MyBeds that make you feel like you're sleeping in a cloud.
The only (possible) downside to staying at the gay friendly Sofitel is that you might never want to leave and explore what Manila has to offer!
Prices at the Sofitel Philippine Plaza Manila start from $120 per night:
STAY WITH A GAY LOCAL
Misterb&b is the Airbnb equivalent for the LGBTQ community. Unlike on Airbnb, you know your host is gay, voiding any nasty surprises when you check-in. It is also a great way to meet gay locals and discover the underground gay scene. Click below to get 10 € (or $10) off our first booking.
Sheraton Manila Bay
In a nutshell
- 5-star hotel in heart of city
- Close to famous shopping malls and one on-site
- Lovely outdoor swimming pool
- Gorgeous rooftop bar for sunset cocktails
Slightly closer to the city center than our previous choice and just as luxurious is the Sheraton Manila Bay. This 5-star gay friendly hotel is located in a gorgeous glass-fronted building that features amazing views over the city.
The rooftop lounge and bar (pictured) was our favorite spot for a sunset cocktail before heading out to enjoy Manila's gay scene. There's also an outdoor swimming pool with a cute fish fountain that's a real little oasis in the middle of the bustling city.
This is definitely the place to stay if you're looking for some serious retail therapy. The Sheraton Manila Bay is a 5-minute walk from The Robinson's Place Mall, a 15-minute drive from The Mall of Asia and there's even a four-storey shopping arcade right in the building!
With personal butlers available 24/7, you'll definitely feel pampered as well, since they can organize anything for you, from a city tour to a bubble bath. There are four different dining spaces and a small VIP gym so you can keep fit. We personally loved the little garden and gazebo which is another spot that makes you forget you're in the middle of a very busy city.
The staff at the Sheraton Manila Bay are one of the highlights, always so helpful, friendly and not at all bothered by two men sharing a bed. The rooms are spacious and lovely, with floor-to-ceiling windows to enjoy the city views.
Prices at the Sheraton Manila Bay start from $160 per night:
Red Planet Manila Binondo
In a nutshell
- Excellent budget option
- Clean, comfy private rooms and bathrooms
- In the heart of Manila's Chinatown
- Gay friendly and helpful staff
For gay travelers on a budget, you can't go past the charming Red Planet Manila Binondo. Red Planet runs excellent budget hotels throughout Asia (sign up for membership for even more discounts) where you'll still have all the amenities you expect from a hotel, without the hefty price tag.
Sometimes you want to save money but just don't fancy staying in a bunk bed in a hostel. We feel you! Luckily, the Red Planet hotels have everything you need when you won't be spending much time in the hotel (so more time for exploring) but still want a comfortable and private place to sleep.
The rooms are clean and cozy, with custom-made beds, a desk and a flat screen TV, as well as a private bathroom with complimentary toiletries. The Red Planet Manila Binondo is located in the heart of the world's oldest Chinatown, so you can bet it's filled with delicious places to eat! It's also walking distance from the Lucky Chinatown Mall and Cinema.
Staying here also means you're close to some of Manila's best sights, like Fort Santiago and the National Museum of the Philippines. The staff are super-helpful and attentive, only too happy to give recommendations or answer any questions you might have. We felt totally comfortable and accepted while staying here.
Prices at Red Planet Manila Binondo start from $46 per night:
Gay travel agents
Out Adventures is our favorite travel agent when it comes to gay travel. They organize gay group trips all over the world as well as bespoke itineraries. They can customise and tailor an itinerary according to what you want to see and do in The Philippines. If you're tight on time and want someone to organise everything for your gay trip to Manila from start to finish, we definitely recommend having a conversation with them!
Gay bars in Manila
The gay scene of Manila is pretty big, with loads of gay bars spread out across the city. Historically, the bulk of the gay scene was based in Malate but has since moved out to other parts of Metro Manila. One of the best ways to check it all out is on a gay tour of Manila where a fabulous local will take your hand and guide you through the labyrinth that is Manila's gay scene.
We've set out below some of the best gay bars in the Filipino capital to check out:
Catch 272 is a super hip Bohemian bar that's gay friendly and attracts people from all walks of life. It's got an artsy vibe, with regular live music or stand-up comedy. This is more of a fun spot for some food, a few drinks and time to just chill out with the cool bartenders than an epic party spot, although they do have cool events like Disney sing-alongs! The burgers in particular are great here and the best way to line your stomach before heading out partying…
Open: Catch 272 is open on Tuesday to Sunday from 7pm until late.
Location: It's located at 41 B T. Gener Street in Quezon City.
Located in what's called “the hipster capital of the Philippines”, Fred's Revolución in the Cubao Expo is a rustically cool spot for drinks, and just drinks. It's a tiny little bar with mismatched furniture, walls covered in pictures of Che Guevera and currency from around the world. While it's not really a place for tearing it up on the dance floor, they do have fun drag nights, so it's definitely a gay friendly place for getting a feel for local Manila.
Open: Fred's Revolución is open daily from 5pm until midnight.
Location: It's located at Shop 66 Cubao Expo in Quezon City.
If you like a sing-along then you'll love Jefz Cafe because it's a fabulous gay karaoke bar. Even if you don't want to get up and sing yourself, they have entertaining live music shows as well as the ‘Hot Male Body’ show every Friday night. Jefz Cafe attracts a large gay crowd of patrons who feel more like a family – seriously, you may just want to stay in Manila forever so that this can become your ‘local'!
Open: Jefz Cafe is open every day from 6pm until 4am.
Location: It's located at 1802 Maria Orosa Street in Malate, in the same building as Che'lu Bar.
Che'lu Bar – permanently closed – updated May 2022
Che'lu Bar is one of the longest-running and most popular gay bars in Manila's Malate district. There's a cozy terrace to sit and people watch if you arrive a little early, as it usually doesn't get busy until after midnight. But once it does, it gets PACKED! They host plenty of exciting events, from Pride parties to comedy nights and everything in between. It's the perfect spot for some drinks and dancing before hitting the gay clubs.
Open: Che'lu Bar is open seven days a week, from 9pm until 4am on weekdays and until 7am on weekends.
Location: It's located at 1802 Maria Orosa Street in Malate.
Mixed Nuts Bar – PERMANENTLY CLOSED – updated May 2022
In Manila, the term “Mixed Nuts” generally means ladyboys, so it's not surprising that's exactly what you'll find at the Mixed Nuts Bar! We don't usually like to use the term ladyboy as it can be offensive, but this bar brands itself the “home of the original international ladyboy” and as long as you're being nice, the performers don't mind the term. The gorgeous girls perform dance shows each night and there are often competitions for patrons to enter as well.
Open: Mixed Nuts Bar is open from 8pm until 4am every day of the week.
Location: It's located on the corner of Kalayaan Avenue and P Burgos Street in the Makati district.
Gay clubs in Manila
Manila has a pretty large gay clubbing scene, mainly dominated by Club Adonis and O Bar on weekends. We've set out the main ones below; expect to find plenty of exotic dancers and drag queens on the Manila gay clubbing scene!
If, like us, you feel overwhelmed by this massive city when you first touch down here (and can't be bothered investing tons of time on Grindr to connect with locals), we recommend doing a gay clubbing tour in Manila. It's a great way to instantly gain new friends whilst also heading straight to the hottest club taking place that evening.
O Bar is Manila's most famous and popular gay dance club that's been going strong for more than ten years. It's more of a mixed crowd in terms of ages, with some hilarious drag shows, which you sit and watch. Later in the evening, it becomes one large dancing area… then even later in the evening the dancing area becomes full of handsome topless guys dancing!
Open: O Bar is open Thursday to Sunday from 11.30pm until 6am.
Location: It's located on South Drive off Doña Julia Vargas Avenue in the Ortigas Center.
Club Adonis is an institution in the male entertainment industry. It's a very young local crowd here, think lots of students and their fans! Adonis is a staple on the Manila gay scene with lots of hot exotic dancers, live shows and the occasional drag competition. The bar staff are just as friendly and engaging as the performers, so try not to get too distracted…
Open: Club Adonis is open Tuesday to Sunday from 9pm until 5am.
Location: It's located on the second floor of the 55 Tanco Building on the corner of Timog Avenue and Tomas Morato Avenue in Quezon City.
Nectar is another fab gay club that we love partying at. It's focused on electronic dance music, with gay DJs and drag shows between DJ sets. As well as being a really fun, cool, hip place with really funny drag shows, they also host dating games for single gay guys. Nectar is also welcoming to all members of the LGBTQ community, with gender-neutral bathrooms.
Open: Nectar is open Tuesday to Saturday from 10pm until 4am (until 5am on Friday night/Saturday morning).
Location: It's located on The Fort Strip, on the corner of 5th Avenue and 26th Sttreet in Bonifacio Global City.
Gay saunas in Manila
There are several gay saunas in Manila to check out. They are particularly popular with local guys who are firmly in the closet and want some quick action. We've set out the main ones below:
Describing itself as the “first and oldest gay bathhouse in Asia” means you have to visit Club Bath while you're in Manila! Spread out over three floors are communal showers, a steam-room, a gym, a labyrinth, mini-bar, movie room, private cabins and a dark room. Overall, Club Bath is a more relaxed and chilled spot than some other gay saunas, but there's still plenty of opportunities for some cheeky fun.
Club Bath is located at 2456 FB Harrison Boulevard in Pasay City. It's open on weekdays from 6pm until 2am, on Friday from 6pm until 3am and on Saturday from 3pm until 3am.
Altermale (The We'reHouse)
Altermale (previously The We'reHouse) is one of the most popular gay male saunas in Manila. It features a dry sauna, maze, play-rooms, an entertainment theater, bar, lockers and massage service. This is definitely one sauna that's more about having fun than soaking in a hot tub! Altermale has regular events, as well as a different theme or party each day. You need to be a member to enter but can purchase this at the door and it's only about $4 USD for a year.
Located at 1852 Sandejas in Pasay, Altermale is open from 7pm until 2am Monday to Saturday and from 3pm until 1am on Sunday.
F Club (Fahrenheit Cafe and Fitness Center)
F Club is an incredible gay hub combining a bathhouse/sauna with a dance club and a restaurant! If you're looking to relax and have some fun then you can purchase a membership to enjoy the sauna facilities 24/7. These include 30 private rooms, a jacuzzi, sauna/steam room, cruise areas, massage services, and a large cinema room. Along with all this, there's a huge entertainment lounge which regularly hosts gay parties and events, like Mr Gay World Philippines. This is one spot in Manila you do not want to miss out on checking out!
F Club is open 24/7 and is located at 1204 Eulogio Rodriguez Senior Avenue in Quezon City.
Gay Pride in Manila and other events
The Manila gay scene is pretty exciting. In terms of gay events in Manila, the city rivals Gay Bangkok and Taipei, with many parties and Prides happening throughout the year. We've set out below the main ones to check out:
Metro Manila Pride (March)
Metro Manila Pride is the main gay Pride event. It takes place each March, attracting almost 100,000 people, making it one of the largest gay events in Asia. It's also famous for being the first gay Pride event to take place in Asia when it started back in June 1994. Unfortunately, in places like the Philippines Pride is still a protest, where participants make their voices heard demanding equal rights and freedom from discrimination.
White Party Manila (June)
Going strong for 20 years, Manila's White Party is the largest party of its kind, taking place in the streets of Orosa and Nakpil in Malate. It takes place in June to coincide with Pride around the world and the anniversary of the Stonewall Riots. Dancing with hundreds of other members of our fabulous gay family in the streets is an incredible experience, with fabulous DJs pumping out dance and EDM music.
Quezon City International Pink Film Festival (November/December)
The QC International Pink Film Festival is the largest of its kind in Asia and the only one in the Philippines, showcasing LGBTQ films from around the world. It's usually held over a week during November or December, with film screenings, forums and speakers on gay issues, then culminating in another Pride march at the Quezon City memorial. If you like film, honoring gay rights and fun times, then it's definitely worth timing your visit to experience the festival!
Quezon City Pride March (December)
The Quezon City Pride March is the one that takes place at the end of the Quezon City International Pink Film Festival. Both events are organized by the Quezon City Pride Council, the first in the Philippines created to enforce LGBT rights, gender-based policies and programs. The march is really fun and colorful, with a float competition, night party, rainbow booths, and a fashion show. When a city has two different Pride parades at two different times in the year, you know it's a city you gotta visit, right?
Things to do in Manila
We'll be honest, when it comes to sightseeing, we didn't expect much from Manila. We saw it more as a transport hub to get to Palawan and Boracay. We were, however, pleasantly surprised to discover that there's a whole bunch of fascinating things to see and do in Manila for gay travelers. We've set out below some of the main ones to check out:
There's actually four different branches of the National Museum of the Philippines, but our personal favorite is the National Museum of Fine Arts. This beautiful building in Rizal Park is a fantastic spot to learn about Manila's history through stunning paintings and other artworks, especially if you do a guided tour. If you really love museums then the National Museum of Natural History and the National Planetarium are also located in Rizal Park, so just a quick walk away.
Located within the historic walled part of Manila known as Intramuros is the Spanish citadel of Fort Santiago. It was built in 1593 during the Spanish colonization of Manila and was famously the prison of José Rizal, one of the national heroes of the Philippines. We recommend visiting it as part of a historic walking tour that also includes visits to Manila Cathedral and Casa Manila, as well as a horse-carriage ride around the walled city!
Learn to cook Filipino food
If you've been here for more than a minute, then you know we love food and learning to cook the local delicacies wherever we travel! The Philippines has loads of delicious foods to try and we learned how to make a lot of them by joining a fabulous local cooking class. Hosts Greg and Oscar offer these classes in their homestay, first taking you to a local market for ingredients then showing you how to make a delicious meal, including dessert!
San Agustin Church
San Agustin Church is the oldest stone church in the Philippines, completed in 1607, and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It's located in the walled city of Intramuros and has stood as a witness to Manila's history for hundreds of years. The church is a gorgeous example of Baroque architecture, with a museum attached that's filled with Spanish-era church vestments, furniture and religious artwork. You can explore it as part of a full-day museum tour if you're really into art and history.
The Masungi Georeserve is a conservation area in the Sierra Madre range east of Manila. It's filled with limestone karst peaks and montane rainforests, along with caves filled with rock formations. There's also a really cool attraction called the Sapot (which means cobweb) that features suspended netting and platforms you can climb on above the forest, along with hanging bridges, rope courses and eco-trails. It's great for a day trip from Manila as it's only half an hour away from the city.
Where to eat in Manila
The food of the Philippines has many influences from all around Asia, the Spanish and even the Americas. It's pretty varied with so much to try out. As the capital city with the largest population in the country, Manila is home to some of the country's best restaurants. We've picked out our favorite for you below:
Purple Yam is an incredible local restaurant that we loved to hit whenever we were craving some Filipino cuisine. It's situated in a lovely home, so it feels like you're just hanging out at a friend's house, but those friends are also amazing cooks! Most of the ingredients are local and the dishes absolutely melt in your mouth. Plus the waiters give you completely personalized attention. Pro tip, order their famous buko pie for dessert, you'll thank us later!
Cafe Ilang-Ilang is located in The Manila Hotel and is a wonderful spot to taste foods from all around the world in just one place. The restaurant has a huge selection of buffets along with live cooking stations, hand-rolled sushi, and the most amazing artisanal ice-cream station we've ever seen! The entire dessert section is pretty much paradise so make sure you have saved room before heading to Ilang-Ilang.
Market Cafe is another excellent restaurant located in a hotel, this time in the New Coast Hotel Manila. It's also a buffet restaurant, although they focus on Asian cuisines from China, Japan, Korea and the Philippines. The interactive kitchens are the best part, where the chefs put on exciting live cooking shows for you to watch them whip up their delicious dishes.
Plan your trip
We've put together some handy hints and tips to help you plan your own trip to Manila. Read on to find out everything the gay traveller should know before they go.
Travel insurance: Don't overthink this, it's simple: get travel insurance before you leave for Manila! You just never know when you might lose your luggage, miss a flight or sprain your ankle during a night of dancing, but having travel insurance means you are covered in case things go wrong. We always recommend Heymondo travel insurance as we've been using them for years and always had good experiences. Their coverage is very comprehensive and making a claim when you need to is quick and simple.
How to get there: Most international visitors will arrive in Manila by flying into the Ninoy Aquino International Airport, which is also known as the Manila International Airport or NAIA Airport. There are four terminals to the airport located in either Pasay City or Parañaque City and no metro/subway system between them. You can get into the city of Manila from the airport via a free shuttle bus or local taxis. We prefer to pre-book a private airport transfer as it can be a hassle figuring out public transport, especially if you are tired from a long flight.
Visa requirements: The Philippines allows visa-free travel for up to 30 days for most countries (Brazil and Israel get 59 days!). You will, however, need to show that you have a return/onward travel ticket and also ensure your passport has at least 6 months validity from the day you arrive. Make sure you check your personal visa requirements for the Philippines before making your travel arrangements.
Getting around: The main tourist areas of Manila are generally walkable but if you want to explore further then there is also an extensive public transport system. Along with the fun jeepneys and regular taxis there are also public buses, and an extensive rail system. Use this detailed guide for more info on getting around in Manila.
Power Plugs: Power plugs and sockets in the Philippines are a mix of the type used in North America and Europe. If you're traveling from elsewhere then we recommend bringing a travel adaptor so that you can charge any electronic equipment you'll have with you.
Vaccinations: Travellers to the Philippines should be up to date with all routine vaccinations (such as measles, mumps, rubella), while the CDC also recommends getting vaccinated for hepatitis A and typhoid. Depending on which parts of the country you are visiting/what you plan to be doing while there, you may need further vaccinations for things such as rabies. For more, check the CDC website and most importantly, consult your doctor or travel nurse before heading to Manila.
Currency: The currency used in Manila and the rest of the Philippines is the Philippines Peso (PHP). Prices will usually be displayed as PHP or P$. To give you an idea of conversions, $1 US converts to around 50 PHP, €1 to around 55 PHP and £1 to around 64 PHP.
Tipping culture: Overall, tipping is not usually expected in Manila and the Philippines as a whole since most places will include a 10% service fee in your bill. If a service fee is not included, then definitely give a tip – our advice is to use 10% as a ballpark figure, though this does depend on the service you have received.
Internet access: Most hotels offer free WiFi in Manila, while there are also free WiFi hotspots in the malls and airport. However, internet in the Philippines is notoriously slow, so we recommend renting a portable WiFi device if you want to ensure you have reliable online access throughout your trip. You can pick it up when you arrive in the country and the best part is you can connect multiple devices at once.
Accommodation: We always use Booking.com to find accommodation in Manila as they have the best selection at the lowest prices. Their online customer support is available 24/7 and they usually have flexible cancellation options – which is perfect if you like to be spontaneous while traveling, as we do!
Sightseeing and adventure: We've shared just a few of the interesting things to see and do in Manila, but for more, head to GetYourGuide. They always have an excellent selection of fun tours and activities (for great prices), plus it's easy to book online.
When to visit: The Philippines has two seasons: wet and dry, although the climate also differs depending where in the country you are. Manila is generally hot and humid year-round, although between January and April the weather is most enjoyable. This is also peak tourism season though, so if you want to save money you can travel during the off-season – if you can handle lots of rain and humidity!
Manila Gay Map
We've made a map showing the location of all the places we've talked about in this article to make it easy for you to plan your own fabulous trip to Manila:
For more inspiration:
- Read these interesting facts about the Philippines that you might not have already known
- As well as why the Philippines is so gay friendly
- Check out the time we became mermaids for a day on the island of Boracay in the Philippines
- Along with our gay travel guide to Boracay
- Discover how perfect the crystal-clear waters of Palawan are for kayaking and snorkelling
- And read our gay travel guide to Palawan and El Nido