30 Items and Galleries You Should Not Miss When Visiting The 3 National Museums in Manila

The tourism in Manila is slowly coming back to life after almost a year of shutdown due to the covid-19 pandemic. Some of its popular attractions have been reopened to public with the implication of health protocols for public safety. These sites include the historical Fort Santiago, Casa De Manila, and the Baluerte de San Diego of Intramuros. This was followed by the San Agustin Museum showcasing one of their newest exhibits (Check: San Agustin Museum Lenten Exhibit 2021).

Museum lovers will have another great reason to rejoice as National Museum recently announced the official reopening of three of their major museums; The National Museum of Fine Arts, National Museum of Anthropology, and the National Museum of Natural History. Starting March 2, 2021, all of the central museums will reopen to public but with stricter guideless in observance with the current pandemic. Here are the following guidelines to be implemented

  • The Museum will open every Tuesdays to Sundays (excluding religious Holidays)
  • The morning session will be from 9am to 12nn/ the afternoon session from 1pm to 4pm
  • Number of visitors for each museum will be limited only to 100 visitors per session
  • Cut-off time to arrive per session – morning (11 am)/ afternoon (3pm)
  • There will still be NO Entrance fee for all the museums
  • Visitors are REQUIRED to prebook online at reservation.nationalmuseum.gov.ph one day prior to the planned visit
  • Walk-in visitors (without prior reservations) are NOT allowed enter
  • Group reservation are only limited to 5 persons
  • Only those people ages 15 to 65 are allowed to visit (Bring your ID for verification)
  • Health protocols will be implemented (physical distancing, wearing of masks and face shields)

Exploring these museums can be a little overwhelming. We’re listing down 30 important items or galleries that you should not missed from these museums.

1.The Spoliarium 

National Museum of Fine Arts
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Probably one of the biggest painting you can find in this musuem. Spoliarium is a masterpiece created by Juan Luna. It measures four meters in height and seven meters in width. The painting basically depicts the bodies of dead gladiators  being dragged from a Roman arena. This is one of the first work of art that will welcome the visitors.

2. The Treasures from the Wreck of San Diego

National Museum of Anthropology
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One of the first galleries that you will encounter upon entering the Museum is the “San Diego : 500 Years of Maritime Trade”. The gallery will take you back in time during the Spanish period as it features some memories from the galleon San Diego. The wreck of San Diego was discovered in 1992, 400 years after it sunk and they recovered more than 34,000 artifacts including those items that are commonly used in trades such us Chinese porcelains, Japanese Katanas, canons and gold coins.

3. The Tree of Life

National Museum of Natural History
DSCF7386tPossibly one of the most iconic attractions of the National Museum of Natural History is the photo-worthy Tree of Life! The structure covers the entire six-story building with a design inspired by DNA. It even has an elevator that you can ride to get a nice panoramic view of the building.

4. The Old Retablos from Bohol

National Museum of Fine Arts
P5115175tThe Luis I. Ablaza Hall houses religious Art from the 17th to 19th centuries and one of the most interesting highlights in this room is the old retablo recovered from an old church of Bohol. The wooden retablo along with other religious sculptures were particularly taken from the Church of San Nicolas de Tolentino, Dimiao, Bohol.

5. The Entwined Spheres Gallery

National Museum of Anthropology
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This particular gallery will feature one of the oldest and most diverse forms of craft work in the Philippines, the baskets and mat weaving. Located on the 4th floor of National Museum of Anthropology, the Entwined Spheres will showcase a huge collection of old mats from various indigenous groups in the country and baskets that are used by the natives in many different and surprising ways.

6. The Philippine Biodiversity Gallery

National Museum of Natural History
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National Museum of Natural History houses a huge collection of animals, (both replicas and petrified) and dioramas showcasing the rich biodiversity of the Philippines. The image above features the collection of the diverse wild vertebrates in the Philippines from mammals like tamaraw to reptiles like Panay Monitor lizard as well as unique bird species like the Philippine Magpie Robin and many more.

7. Arts of Juan Luna and Felix Hidalgo

National Museum of Fine Arts
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Juan N. Luna and Felix Resurreccion Hidalgo were both considered as masters of the 19th century. A gallery in this museum is dedicated entirely of their works. Some of the notable fine arts in this area includes the famous  Governor Dasmariñas and La Barca de Aqueronte by Hidalgo; The Parisian Life, La Bulaqueña by Luna and more.

8. Garing (Ivory) Exhibit

National Museum of Anthropology
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On the second floor of the National Museum of Anthropology comes a small hall with a gallery filled with precious collection. Garing or Ivory will showcase various items that are made from Ivory which happens to play a big role in Philippine trade history.

9. Lolong

National Museum of Natural History
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Lolong is definitely something not to be missed when visiting the National Museum of Natural History. Lolong was caught in a Bunawan creek in the province of Agusan del Sur in the Philippines. Lolong is displayed in two different galleries in the Museum. One gallery displays the texidermied skin of Lolong while the skeleton can be seen hanging in Ayala Hall

10. The Sculptures and Paintings of Rizal

National Museum of Fine Arts
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There is also a gallery in the museum that is entirely dedicated to our national hero. This gallery features the work of art created by Jose Rizal himself and paintings and sculptures dedicated to him. One of the most interesting work of art here is the terra cotta sculpture made by Rizal when he was exiled in Dapitan, Zamboanga. This sculpture aptly named as “Mother’s revenge” depicts the image of a mother dog attempting to battle against a huge crocodile after taking her child.

11. The Baybayin Gallery

National Museum of Anthropology
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The National Museum of Anthropology features a gallery dedicated to Baybayin. This gallery will display real artifacts showcasing this pre-Hispanic Philippine script. These include jars, plates, and bamboo crafts with Baybayin encryption. There’s also the so-called Monreal Stones or Ticao Stones (limestone tablets with Baybayin characters written on them).

12. The Mangrove Installation

National Museum of Natural History
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In Gallery IX, you’ll find a life-size diorama of a Mangrove forest. This huge installation doesn’t just recreates the Mangrove ecosystem but also educates people the importance of such trees in our environment for us and for the animals that use mangroves as their main habitat. Along with the Mangrove trees replicas, you’ll also find various texidermied species that are commonly found in such environment.

13. The Progress of Medicine In the Philippines

National Museum of Fine Arts
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There is also a hall in the museum dedicated to The Progress of Medicine in the Philippines, a set of four large paintings by National Artist Carlos “Botong” V. Francisco . They were specially commissioned for the entrance hall of the Philippine General Hospital in 1953. Declared a National Cultural Treasure in 2011, these important works are on indefinite loan to the National Museum by the University of the Philippines to secure their preservation for future generations.

14. Biodiversity and Rice Climate Change Exhibit

National Museum of Anthropology
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Rice being the most common staple food in the country, it is not surprising why this has become an integral part of our rich history. The Biodiversity and Rice Climate Change gallery will showcase a wide variety of rice grains as well as some artifacts and a huge collection of flora and fauna specimens.

15. The Marine Realm

National Museum of Natural History
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If you find the underwater world fascinating, this gallery is surely a great fit. Located on the same floor with the Mangrove Gallery is the so-called Marine Realm. This gallery allows you to explore the deep ocean and get a chance to witness some life-size replica of some of the Philippine sea creatures including the well known Whale Shark or Butanding. There’s also a replica of Manta Rays and Dolphins on display.

16. Drawings of Fernando Amorsolo

National Museum of Fine Arts
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A gallery in NM of Fine Arts is dedicated to the country’s first ever National Artist, Fernando Amorsolo. Amorsolo was known for his oil paintings of rural life made in the classical style. He also made a number of commissioned portraits of individuals and families at the peak of his career (including an Unfinished Portrait of a Lady displayed in another gallery along with some of his masterpiece). This gallery in particular showcases over 100 drawings by Amorsolo, who made a series of black-and-white pencil and ink sketches and oil studies of his subjects prior to making the final artwork.

17. Hibla ng Lahing Filipino Gallery

National Museum of Anthropology

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A country is often being identified based on their traditional costume and this gallery will exhibit different indigenous fabrics. It aims to enrich the citizens’ knowledge on tropical fabrics and the culture of weaving. It also features an old foot loom from La Union, Tausug Loom, and many more.

18. Ultramafic and Limestone Karst Forest

National Museum of Natural History
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The Gallery VII houses mini replicas showcasing the ultramafic and limestone karst forests in the country. The image above is a replica of the Limestone Karst Forest in Quezon Protected Landscape which can be found in between Pagbilao and Atimonan. The gallery also features a replica of a cave filled with limestones, stalagmites and stalactites as well as the animals that can be found in such environment.

19. Sculptures of Guillermo Tolentino

National Museum of Fine Arts
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This gallery is dedicated to another National Artist and one of the most renown Filipino Sculptors in history, he is no other than Mr Guillermo Tolentino. This gallery will showcase some of his famous sculptures and memorabilia. This includes  bust statues of Manuel Quezon, Emilio Aguinaldo and more. It also includes the famous Commonwealth Triumphal Arch.

20. The Burial Jars in Kaban ng Lahi

National Museum of Anthropology
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The Kaban ng Lahi gallery features the importance of burial practices associated with the death of early Filipinos in the southern Philippines and other parts of the country.Here, you’ll find unique anthropomorphic burial jars made of earthenware with design and form of human figures recovered in Ayub cave in Maitum, Saranggani (formerly South Cotabato) in 1991 by the National Museum and more.

21. The Rainforest Gallery

National Museum of Natural History
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Another interesting gallery on the fourth floor of NM of Natural History is the Gallery VI featuring the Lowland Evergreen Rainforest. Much like the Mangroves replica, this gallery will feature life size representations of different plants and animals that you can find on Philippine rainforest. The installation is even accompanied by realistic sounds.

22. Sculptures of Isabelo Tampico

National Museum of Fine Arts
20160511_151305tOne of the most dominant works of art that can be seen in NM of Fine Arts is the collection of academic and neo-classical sculptures created by Isabelo Tampinco. Tampinco is known for his various works for churches including the famous facade of Manila Cathedral, the Old Senate hall,  carvings inside the Church of San Ignacio in Intramuros, High relief on the molave door of the Santo Domingo Church and more.  His sons Angel and Vidal followed in his craft and their works are also featured in the museum.

23. Lumad Mindanao Gallery

National Museum of Anthropology
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As what the title suggests, this gallery aims to  raise awareness of the significance of the Mindanao natural reserves and resources of the lumad identity. It features over 300 items from 13 major lumad groups. It is said that National Museum’s Anthropology and Archaeology Division spent more than 2 years to prepare this exhibit, curating all the items that express Lumad’s beliefs and practices, weaves, crafts, clothing and embroidery, traditions, artistry and the world’s view to the lumads.

24. The Philippine Eagle

National Museum of Natural History
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What’s National history of the Philippines without the country’s national bird? This texidermied Philippine Eagle is indeed a sight to behold. The gallery will not just display information about the Philippine eagle but also raises awareness about this critically endangered animal.

25. The Spiral Staircase

National Museum of Fine Arts
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If you are looking for an Instagram-Worthy shot, there is no better place in this building to shoot other than the spiral staircase. The building itself is already a masterpiece and this creative spiral staircase is definitely an eye catcher!

26. The Portraits of Indigenous Women

National Museum of Anthropology
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There’s a gallery in National Museum of Anthropology that  features an interesting collection of portraits showcasing different indigenous women in our country. The image above features a Mandaya woman from Davao smoking tobacco.

27. Minerals and Energy Resources Gallery

National Museum of Natural History
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On the uppermost gallery of National Museum of Natural History, you’ll find another interesting display. You’ll find some life-size replicas depicting different mining procedures, Philippine geology and life through time. There’s an intricately detailed diorama of a Geothermal power plant, a life-size diorama featuring how Underground mining looks like and more.

28. The Old Senate Session Hall

National Museum of Fine Arts
20160511_164254_Richtone(HDR)tOne of the most interesting highlights of NM of Fine Arts is the Old Senate Session Hall. This Hall was originally designed to be a library in the early 1920s during the American colonial period, when the architect Juan Arellano revised the plans of Ralph Harrington Doane in order to convert the building to the seat of the legislature.

29. The Marble Hall

National Museum of Anthropology
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National Museum of Anthropology may not have a huge painting like the Spoliarium in National Museum of Fine Arts or that huge installation like the Tree of Courtyard of National Museum of Natural History but it will welcome you in its glossy Marble Hall. The building was designed by Antonio Toledo in 1940. The building once houses the Department of Commerce and late the Department of Finance until it was turned over to the National Museum in 1990s.

30. Collection of Petrified Woods

National Museum of Natural History
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Located in Natural Inheritance Gallery (Level 2) of the National Museum of Natural History is a huge collection of Petrified woods from all over the world. Of course, it includes our very own species of trees. The collection of wood comes in different sizes.

Note: The galleries, artifacts, and images presented above are based from my recent visits to the National Museums prior the pandemic. Exhibitions might be subject to change. 

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