A Guide to the National Museum of the Philippines

Situated across the historic Rizal Park in the center of Manila is a collection of four notable and imposing buildings that takes no effort to notice – these are the institutions that compose the National Museum of the Philippines complex, specifically the National Museum of Fine Arts, the National Museum of Anthropology, the National Museum of Natural History, and the National Planetarium.

All these four grand centers of excellence are under the care of the National Museum of the Philippines, which is the lead agency in the protection and safeguarding of important cultural, historical, and archaeological treasures throughout the Philippines. In addition to these four major branches of the National Museum, the institution also operates many different National Museum branches across the provinces. Here’s MNLgo’s guide to the National Museum complex in Rizal Park.

Spoliarium People Group Shot National Museum of Fine Arts Manila Philippines MNLgo

Don’t forget to charge your smartphones when visiting the museums!

National Museum of the Philippines: A quick tour of the Filipino culture and heritage

Many of the National Museum exhibits showcase everything Filipino and the museum pieces come from all over the country (some sourced abroad if the piece have its roots from the Philippines). Although the four buildings of the National Museum are all just a few minutes’ walk away from each other, a visit to all four may require at least half a day to more than a day to fully appreciate the Philippines as a whole.

With all the awesome things that you will learn inside the grand halls of the National Museum, I think it’s safe to say that whatever your tour schedule is or no matter how complicated your itinerary is, one thing’s for sure: no visit to Manila would ever be complete without a visit to at least one of the institutions of the National Museum of the Philippines. After all, entrances to any of the National Museum centers are now forever free. These four majestic buildings make up the National Museum of the Philippines complex.

Bust Jose Rizal National Museum of Fine Arts Manila Philippines MNLgo

Bust of the Philippines’ National Hero Jose P. Rizal at the National Museum of Fine Arts.

National Museum of Fine Arts

Probably the largest and the grandest building of them all is the Fine Arts building (formerly called the National Art Gallery) located along Padre Burgos Avenue. Due to its location just beside Rizal Park, it would be best to visit this first if you’re going on a museum run just so you can target the rest of the NM buildings in Rizal Park right after the Fine Arts building. The massive vertical columns at the entrance alone is enough to tell that something important is inside its halls.

The National Museum of Fine Arts showcases interesting pieces of contemporary art as well as historical and important artworks that take the viewer back in time, from the Filipino way of life during the Spanish colonial era to the devastation of Manila in the second World War. The museum also dedicates a prominent part of the grand lobby to the two most important Philippine works of art in history, and these are the Spoliarium and the Virgenes Cristianas Expuestas al Populacho which were painted by Filipino artists Juan Luna and Felix Hidalgo, respectively.

Spoliarium by Juan Luna at the National Museum of the Philippines Fine Arts Art Gallery Manila Philippines MNLgo

Juan Luna’s Spoliarium inside the National Museum of Fine Arts. Photo taken with a human for size comparison.

Good to know: The National Museum of Fine Arts building was previously the country’s old Legislative Building, which was eventually repurposed to be the grand museum that it is now, so aside from the cultural treasures, the buildings you’re stepping into also has a historical value and political importance of its own.

Ancient Burial Jars National Museum of the Philippines Anthropology Manila MNLgo

Ancient burial jars on display at the National Museum of Anthropology.

National Museum of Anthropology

A.k.a. the National Museum of the Filipino People, the halls of this museum is filled with important cultural artifacts found in the Philippines from as early as 24,000 BC, to the time the ancient Philippine Islands served as an important link to the Asian trade route (even way before the colonial occupation), to the time of colonial rule and war, to the Filipino way of living and ancient written script called Baybayin.

Some of the most fascinating relics you can find here are the fossilised skull of the Tabon Man (believed to have lived around 24,000 BC) which is one of the oldest human relic found in the country, the relics salvaged from a Spanish galleon which sunk off the Manila coast in 1600 and cargoes of wrecked merchant ships that took part in centuries of maritime trade, and the Manunggul Jar (burial jar) of the Tabon Caves that dates back to 8th century BC, among many others. You can easily find the Anthropology building after your visit to the Fine Arts museum as the two magnificent buildings are just next to each other, just after you cross Finance Road.

Baybayin Tablet National Museum of the Philippines Anthropology Rizal Park Manila MNLgo

Baybayin (ancient Philippine script) tablet on display at the National Museum of Anthropology.

National Museum of Natural History

Just across Rizal Park from the Anthropology building is the National Museum of Natural History which is the newest of the four museums. Its newly renovated neoclassical architecture comes with a modern twist: a spiral DNA helix structure in the middle of the building called the “Tree of Life”, and at its top is a marvelous glass dome roof. What’s cool about this sophisticated structure is that the Tree of Life also serves as an elevator serving all floors of the museum.

Being a natural wonder the Philippine Islands are, the museum showcases bits and pieces of important natural treasures of the country such as life-like models of the Tarsier which is the world’s smallest primate species, actual dried lava boulders shipped from Mount Mayon which is the world’s most perfectly cone-shaped active volcano, the remains of the largest crocodile ever held in captivity, and other natural wonders found in the Philippines.

National Museum of Natural History Manila Philippines MNLgo

The National Museum of Natural History.

National Planetarium

Nearest to the Rizal Monument and just along Padre Burgos Avenue is the National Planetarium. The halls featuring artworks and diorama of Philippine astronomical myths and and the vast space are free to enter, while the actual theater charges a fee of P50 for adults and P30 for students. The Planetarium features Asia’s first hybrid (analog and digital) projection system, making its shows more realistic and engaging.

National Museum Planetarium Manila Philippines MNLgo pub_dom

The iconic dome of the National Planetarium.

MNLgo Tip: Bags are not allowed inside the museum halls. If you have a bag with you, you can deposit it in the security counter – you are allowed to take valuables with you inside the museum. The museums are open business hours during Tuesdays to Sundays (closed on Mondays), so plan your visit ahead.

Getting there

The nearest train station to the Rizal Park where the museums are is the United Nations Avenue Station of LRT1. From the station, it’s an easy 5 to 10-minute walk to the park. The jeepneys and shuttles that pass through Taft Avenue (goes through the back end of the park) and Roxas Boulevard (goes through the front of the park) are a cheap way to get there. And of course, there’s always the option of taking the taxi for more convenience.

Location details

Pricing infoFree admission (except for the Planetarium theater)

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