More than just archives for dusty artifacts, museums are a solid record of a country and their identity as a people. So instead of simply hitting the shopping malls when you visit a new place, duck inside a museum for some culture, history and yeah, a bit of airconditioning. Should you find yourself in Metro Manila, visit these five museums that not only celebrate a country’s history and art, but also have the added plus of being located in important heritage sites, and in beautifully designed buildings.
National Treasure: The National Museum of the Philippines
Recently restored to its former glory, architect Juan Arellano’s 1926 Classical Revival masterpiece—which used to be the former Philippine Congress—has, for the past decade, housed the National Museum. Established in 1901, it is not the oldest museum in the country (the oldest is in the University of Santo Tomas), but it is the country’s official repository.
Entering its great halls, with its intricately detailed spiral staircases and Neoclassical-style columns, is like walking into history itself. The main legislative building holds artworks of the old masters, Rizaliana, National Artists, specimens of flora and fauna, and other colonial and pre-colonial artifacts. Visit the main gallery with its piece de resistance—Juan Luna’s Spoliarium, a majestic monster of a painting (the lower part of the frame itself is nearly as tall as a human being) about the Philippines’ struggle under Spanish inquisition.
Must-see: Juan Luna’s The Spoliarium
Entrance fees: Adults, P100-P150; students, P30-P50
Museum hours: Wednesday to Sunday 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Address: P. Burgos Drive, Rizal Park, Ermita, Manila
Hidden Gem: The Lopez Memorial Museum and Library
Founded in 1960, The Lopez Museum has an informative and personal guided tour, as befits its intimate size in the mid-century-modern Benpres Building in the Ortigas CBD. There is an element of surprise in each gallery, as works by young artists are mixed with the museum’s own collection of older, established artists and National Artists—you’ll never know what awaits you.
In the current exhibition Grounded, sculptures and installations by Goldie Poblador, Josephine Turalba, and Toym Imao share space with paintings by Federico Alcuaz, Roberto Chabet, and Pacita Abad. This museum has an impressive number of works by old masters such as Juan Luna and Felix Resurreccion Hidalgo, historical documents and Filipiniana books. The galleries open to the library, where students and writers are welcome to research in.
Must see: Juan Luna’s Espana y Filipinas
Entrance fees: Adults, P100; students, P80-P60
Museum hours: Monday to Saturday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Address: G/F, Benpres Bldg., Exchange Rd. cor. Meralco Ave., Ortigas Center, Pasig City
Art Oasis in the City: The Ayala Museum
Located next to Greenbelt Park and within Makati’s bustling commercial district is the new four-storey Ayala Museum. What remains from the old museum are the galleon displays and the dioramas of Philippine history, which kids enjoy visiting. The third floor holds The Pioneers of Filipino Art exhibit, with Luna, Amorsolo, and Zobel. Don’t miss the Gold of Ancestors exhibit on the fourth floor, with its dramatic video presentation and beautiful collection of pre-colonial gold jewelry, armor, and burial pieces. Drop by as a quiet respite from a day of shopping.
Must see: The Gold of Ancestors Exhibit; and the Ayala Museum Gift Shop, with its exquisite stationery items, children’s books autographed by the artists, tribal jewelry and art books
Entrance fees: P350 for non-residents, P225 for Filipino residents, P125 for students
Museum hours: Tuesday to Friday, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Saturday to Sunday, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Address: Makati Avenue corner dela Rosa St., Makati City
Collector’s Dream: Pinto Art Museum
Located on rolling Antipolo property, Pinto’s first few galleries were put up in 2001. It stems from art patron Dr. Joven Cuanang’s private collection, which is so large and important he had to share it with the public. Works of noted contemporary Filipino artists such as Tony Leano, Mark Justiniani, Manny Garibay, Jose Santos III, Ferdie Montemayor, among many others are exhibited in various stucco-finish white pavilions designed by Leano that wind around breathtakingly landscaped gardens. With its multiple pavilions and galleries, fountains, an interesting souvenir shop, and a café, walking through Pinto is a treat unto itself.
Must-see: The 40-foot Salingpusa collective painting Karnabal that is so enormous it can only be viewed as a whole while sitting on arena-like seats
Entrance fees: Adults, P150; students, P75
Museum hours: Tuesday to Sunday, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Address: 1 Sierra Madre St., Grand Heights Subdivision, Antipolo
Children’s Wonderland: Museo Pambata
It may not be the most high-tech museum in the country, but it is a museum with heart. Museo Pambata (literally “Children’s Museum”) teaches kids Filipino history, culture, science, and eco-consciousness in exhibits of charming simplicity. For starters, the museum is housed in the historic, American Colonial-era Manila Elks Club, built in 1911. Highlights include an authentic Meralco tranvia (tram car) that children can actually ride, the pamilihang bayan (public market) with barbershop, butcher’s shop, and panaderia where kids can play make-believe, and the I Love My Planet Earth exhibit which shows, in comparative vignettes, how Filipinos had a more eco-conscious lifestyle in the past. Museo also holds story-telling sessions for children.
Must-see: My Body Works exhibit—kids can enter through an enormous human mouth and intestine!
Entrance fee: P100 per person; free for Manila residents with valid IDs on Tuesdays
Museum hours: Tuesday to Saturday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. (closed at lunchtime), Sundays from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.
Address: Roxas Blvd. corner South Drive (near the US Embassy), Manila