Right into the heart of the capital Manila lies Luneta Park or Rizal Park, which marks the Kilometer Zero of the Philippines and the northern tip of Roxas Boulevard, overlooking Manila Bay. Built in the early 1700s, the park was the site of some of the turning points in Philippine history such as the execution of the national hero Jose Rizal and the declaration of the Philippine independence from USA.
Formerly called Bagumbayan (New Town) during the Spanish times, Luneta Park got its present name since it was in the shape of a half-moon or a lunette. On February 17, 1872, three Filipino priests (Jose Burgos, Mariano Gomez and Jacinto Zamora or collectively known as Gomburza) were martyred here after being accused of spearheading the 1872 Cavite uprising. On July 4, 1946, the Republic of the Philippines was declared as fully independent on this site.
In 1986, former Philippine presidents Corazon Aquino and Ferdinand Marcos used the park to stage political rallies. In 1995, the park was the venue of Pope John Paul II’s closing mass for the 10th World Youth Day. In 2005, the park’s Quirino Grandstand hosted the opening and closing ceremonies of the Southeast Asian Games. Amazing Race 5 also featured the park’s Rizal Monument.
The park’s Rizal Monument, designed by Swiss sculptor Richard Kissling, is among the country’s most famous landmarks. All foreign dignitaries are required to visit the monument to pay respect to the remains of Rizal buried in the monument’s mausoleum. The bronze statue, made in Switzerland and remodeled by national artist Juan Nakpil, is famously protected by the Kabalyeros de Rizal (Knights of Rizal) who do not move all-day or all-night long.
Across the monument is a flagpole bearing the country’s flag as well as the 0km marker, which serves as the Kilometer Zero or point of origin of all other cities in the country.
Near the monument is the Light and Sound Complex, which has Rizal’s mural and a marker honoring the heroism of the Gomburza. There is also the National Historical Institute, which contains many of the nation’s historical artifacts; the environmental art gallery of Artists’ Haven; and the National Library that contains ancient documents and books written in Pre-Hispanic Filipino form, Alibata.
Surrounding the Central Lagoon are busts of Filipino heroes, a Japanese Garden, a Chinese Garden, a Chess Plaza, and an open-air auditorium. The Butterfly Pavilion and the Orchidarium contains a collection of bromeliads, orchids, and many other flowers, as well as many butterflies and a replica of a rainforest. Along Taft Avenue is a giant relief map of the Philippines that shows the archipelago’s 7,107 islands. Nearby is the Lapu-Lapu Monument, which commemorates the country’s first defender. Lapu-Lapu defeated Ferdinand Magellan and his troop of Spanish conquistadors in 1521, delaying the Spanish conquest of the Philippines by over 40 years.
At the park’s rim, fronting Intramuros, is the Planetarium, Rizal Park Library, the former Department of Finance (now a part of the National Museum), the Canada-Philippines friendship area, and the Department of Tourism, from where to get a map to have a guided tour of Luneta.
Facing Manila Bay are Manila Ocean Park and Quirino Grandstand. In Roxas Boulevard, towards the US Embassy, is Museong Pambata (Children’s Museum), an interactive educational gallery that may keep both children and adults entertained especially if it is raining.
Nowadays, the park is a favorite place for dating and for family picnics because of its spacious grassy lawns and open-air concert hall that features live entertainment and music. The park also has a chess plaza, a skating rink, fountains, and playgrounds. Every Sunday morning, Filipino martial artists use the park to practice eskrima, a traditional martial arts form inherited from the Spaniards.
Horse-drawn vehicles or calesas are available for rent to tour the park, but be prepared to haggle. The standard rate is P50 per person for a 15-minute, one-way ride.
Luneta offers many places to eat. Small restaurants in the park sell inexpensive snacks. Jollibee, the country’s biggest food chain, is at the corner of Kalaw and Maria Orosa Streets. This branch is mostly manned by deaf and mute employees. In South Road, towards Manila Bay, is the Seafood Wharf Restaurant, which serves a wide range of seafood dishes. It also has a swimming pool and a tennis court.
There are many small stalls and hawkers inside the park, especially on weekends. These shops and peddlers sell an assortment of things, from balloons and toys to balut and native Filipino crafts. Be wary, though, that these sellers might charge tourists with twice or thrice the goods’ local price. The items, too, might be defective or of low quality.
Best time to go
The park is a public space, hence it is always open. The best time to go there, however, is early morning (before the tropical heat sinks in) or late in the afternoon, in time for viewing Manila Bay’s sunset or for exploring the park’s dining and entertainment. The park is jam-packed with frolicking couples, families and friends every weekend so visit on a weekday if you prefer less crowds. Most activities in the park, however, happen on weekends.
Fees and opening hours
Access to Luneta is free of charge, but the attractions inside it ask an entrance fee of P10 to P50. The museums charge more, ranging from P100 in National Museum to P350 in Manila Ocean Park (Click at the links of these museums to know more). Museums and attractions in Luneta are open daily except national holidays, between 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. The National Museum (open: 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.) is closed every Monday.
How to get there
Luneta Park is located between Intramuros, Roxas Boulevard, TM Kalaw Avenue, and Taft Avenue. Taxis (flag down rate: P30) from anywhere in Manila are the easiest means to get there. During rush hour (8-10 a.m., noon, 5:30-7 p.m.), the easiest way to get there is through LRT Line-1. The park is just at walking distance from the train’s UN Station.