First look: National Museum of Natural History in Manila

Free entrance for the newly opened museum cluster

Just in time for International Museum Day, The National Museum of Natural History finally opened its doors to the public on May 18, 2018, with the aim to feature the biodiversity of the Philippines, which not many know is actually at par with the Amazon and Madagascar.

The renovated structure completes the final third of Manila’s museum cluster, with National Museum of Fine Arts and the National Museum of Anthropology, within the Rizal Park along P. Burgos Avenue in Ermita, Manila city. The building was previously occupied by the Department of Agriculture and Department of Tourism.

The center of attraction is the Tree of Life, a towering structure in the main atrium (read: very Instagrammable). It’s built around an elevator shaft that soars to a glass-paneled dome ceiling. “A subtext to [our Tree of Life theme] is the double-helix DNA, the essential element of knowledge that the scientists of the National Museum of Natural History seek to mine with each specimen of flora or fauna that they collect,” said principal architect Dominic Galicia.

Here’s how to make the most out of your visit:


  • Get a head start: arrive 30 minutes before 10:00am. Admission is free for all, so expect a long line. Exploring the entire museum can take two to three hours. Last visitors will be admitted at 4:30pm, and the museum strictly closes at 5pm.
  • Pack light: to avoid the queue at the claiming counter, just bring a small bag. Big bags, monopods, selfie sticks, umbrellas, and tripods must be checked in before entering the galleries for security purposes.
  • Eat up: the museum doesn’t have an indoor restaurant, so don’t come in hungry.

Game Plan

  • Start from the top: the museum recommends that you start the tour from the galleries on the fifth floor and work your way down using an aesthetic ramp system. To go straight to the fifth floor, you’ll need to take a glass-paneled elevator at the bottom of the Tree of Life.

Don’t miss

  • Make sure you catch the replica of Lolong, the world’s largest captive crocodile (6.17 meters!) in the courtyard. To see his skeletal remains, head to the Ayala Reception Hall and look up the ceiling. Also, keep your eyes peeled for the newly-discovered rhinoceros remains that proves humans lived in the Philippines as early as 709,000 years ago—10 times earlier than what was previously believed.
  • Watch a documentary and look for the interactive sections on the third floor. For the kids and kids-at-heart, there’s a submarine replica and archaeological activities. “Don’t touch” signs will remind you that not everything is interactive.

For now, only seven of the 12 galleries are open. According to Museum Director Jeremy Barns, the remaining five will be ready in time for the birthday of the Philippines’ national hero, Jose Rizal, on June 19.

The National Museum of Natural History is located at P. Burgos Drive, Rizal Park, Manila. Open from Tuesdays to Sundays, 10am to 5pm. Free entrance for all.

Written and Photographed

Kate Alvarez

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