Confused About Manila’s National Museums? Here’s a Mini Guide

If you’re thinking of visiting the newly renovated National Museum of Natural History in Manila, you might find yourself confused about the complex for three main reasons:

Kate was here. I was the first person to enter Manila’s National Museum of Natural History when it officially opened to the public on May 18, 2018, International Museum Day.

1. The National Museum Complex has three main museums—National Museum of Natural History, National Museum of Fine Arts, and National Museum of Anthropology. Now say that again three times in a row. Instant tongue twister! The façades of each building are also similar.

2. If you’re a Filipino like myself and you grew up visiting the museums in Old Manila as part of your school field trips, note that these museums underwent several name changes (which I will discuss below). When I researched and wrote about them for a travel magazine, I too was confused by the name changes. In fact, whenever I browse through Instagram and look at the hashtags and captions, I notice that people are still confused because they often tag the wrong museums.

3. These three museums are collectively referred to as National Museum of the Philippines or the National Museum Complex. Some journalists use National Museum Trifecta or just National Museums. The social media manager of the National Museum uses “NM” to refer to any of the three museums, so it further adds to the confusion. The official website also needs an update; they are still using the previous names.

To make things a little less confusing for you, here’s a mini guide.

National Museum Complex: 3 Main Museums

1. National Museum of Natural History

P. Burgos Drive, Rizal Park, Manila
Free entrance. Open Tuesdays to Sundays, 10am to 5pm.

Formerly called: Building of the Office of the Secretary of Agriculture and Commerce

Formerly called: Department of Tourism Building

Quickie: It was originally constructed as the Agriculture and Commerce Building by Filipino Architect Antonio Toledo in 1940. Dominic Galicia Architects won the pitch in 2013, beating four other firms vying to reconstruct the building. The billion-peso project was finally unveiled to the public on May 18, 2018.


Highlights you may recognize from social media or your school field trips:
• Tree of Life, a central elevator system inspired by the double-helix DNA
• Replica of Lolong, the world’s largest captive crocodile that measured 6.17 m long
• Skeleton remains of Lolong
• Submarine with replicas of underwater creatures dangling from the ceiling

Kate’s tips: If you hate long lines, go on a weekday at around 10am. Leave your selfie sticks, backpacks, and big bags at home (not in the car, as thieves may break your window!). There’s a separate long line where you need to check in your big bags, umbrellas, and bulky camera gear.

2. National Museum of Fine Arts

P. Burgos Drive, Rizal Park, Manila
Free entrance. Open Tuesdays to Sundays, 10am to 5pm.

Formerly called: National Art Gallery

Formerly called: Senate Building

Formerly called: National Library

Quickie: It was originally designed as a public library by by Ralph Harrington Doane, the American consulting architect of the Bureau of Public Works, and assisted by Antonio Toledo. Construction began in 1918, and unveiled to the public in 1926. The 1934 Constitutional Convention was held in this building. It was reconstructed in 1946, a year after the bombing of Manila. The senate moved out of the building in 1996, and renovation started in 2003 to transform it into the National Art Gallery.

Highlights you may recognize from social media or your school field trips:
• Juan Luna’s “Spolarium” that measures a colossal 4 x 7 meters
• Felix Resurreccion Hidalgo’s “Virgenes Cristianas Expuestas al Populacho”
• Vicente Manansala’s “Planting of the First Cross”

Kate’s tips: Brush up on your knowledge on 19th century Filipino artists such as Juan Luna, Fernando Amorsolo, and Felix Resurreccion Hidalgo, so that you’ll appreciate their artworks more when you see them in the museum.

3. National Museum of Anthropology

Free entrance. Open Tuesdays to Sundays, 10am to 5pm.
P. Burgos Drive, Rizal Park, Manila

Formerly called: Museum of the Filipino People

Formerly called: Department of Finance Building

Quickie: This museum division was founded in the early 1900s, but the records were destroyed by World War II. The museum was revived in the 1960s, thanks to Dr. Robert B. Fox, chief anthropologist of the National Museum who discovered the fossilized Pleistocene skull of the oldest man in the Philippines inside the Tabon Caves of Palawan. Several other archeological digs and discoveries have been displayed in the museum.

Highlights you may recognize from social media or your school field trips:
• An Ifugao house model in the courtyard
• San Diego shipwreck, a Spanish galleon that sank off Fortune Island in Batangas in 1600
• Fossilized Pleistocene skull of the oldest man in the Philippines

Kate’s tips: Whether you’re a foreign tourist in Manila for the first time or a Pinoy looking to rediscover your roots, this museum will help you appreciate our diverse ethnicities. Check out Filipino artifacts such as weapons, household tools, and musical instruments from decades to centuries past.

Bonus Museum: National Planetarium

Open Tuesdays to Sundays, 8:30am to 4:30pm.
Gallery is free. Ticket rates for planetarium shows: ₱30/student, ₱50/adult, and ₱40/senior citizens and PWD.
Children below 4 years old will not be admitted to the Planetarium show.

In the same way the Jonas Brothers (shout-out to the millennials loving this reference!) had a Bonus Jonas—Kevin, Nick, and Joe’s little brother named Frankie, who they didn’t want to feel left out of the trio circa 2005—the National Museum Complex also has a little brother in the area.

The National Planetarium, also known as the National Museum Planetarium or NM Planetarium (so many nicknames, just like his three older brothers!) was put up in 1975. Growing up, I remember this place going through several closures and re-openings. The 16-meter dome is located in Rizal Park between the Japanese Garden and Chinese Garden on Padre Burgos Drive, a short walk from his older bros.

To those who have been to all the museums, which one did you like the most? Share your thoughts in the comments section below. While you’re at it, tell me who your favorite Jonas brother is. Mine is Nick.

  1. I am a tourist in the Philippines amd I have been confused thinking the 3 museums is just one museum, having all its’ names just being changed, when it’s actually 3 different museums. I look forward to visit these museums in the next few days

  2. This mini guide will surely help me ‘when’ I eventually visit NM. 🤗 Because i’ve been planning for a long time to visit and see what’s really inside the National Museum. Sadly, I can’t find someone who will accompany me kasi diba mas masarap naman talaga gumala ng may kasama. However, my bestfriend already visited it before and my boyfriend is busy on his classes now a days while some of my friends were either busy or have somewhere to go whenever I invite them. What a sad life. Gusto ko talaga maka-punta dun, not just because of the buzz going on on social media but also because I’m really into art, although if you’ll ask me I’m not very knowledgeable when it comes to art histories.😅 But I do appreciate every artwork that I can see. Nung bata ako lagi akong “Best in art”, sa lahat ng subjects na meron sa school sa Art subject lang talaga ko nag-eenjoy minsan sa TLE kasi gumagawa din kami ng kung ano anong art dun. 😅 Kaya sabi ko talaga sa college mag-Aarchitectural ako, but I wasn’t able to pursue my dreams due to financial problem. Thats why I also love to see different architectures. Kaya if one day nag-decide ako na pumunta na lang mag-isa, i’ll go first to “National Museum of Fine Arts” 😍 and next is the “National Museum of Natural History” because the central elevator system that is inspired by the double-helix DNA is really something. I’ll take note also all you’re advice with regards to visiting NM for that thank you! 🤗 (sabay ko na rin pag-visit sa Rizal Park! Haha sa tanda ko di pa ko nakapasyal dun 😂)

  3. Hi!
    This article is really helpful, I thought it was only me getting confused.

    By the way, i have a niece who’s really fond of museums. I would love to bring her here.

    With a kid with me, do you mind recommending the most convenient itinerary, where should we go first?


    1. Thanks, Nilika! I suggest you start with #1: National Museum of Natural History first. Look for the interactive, kid-friendly installments. Then try the Planetarium because it’s the most fun for kids.

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