Top five free things to do in Metro Manila

The good things in life can sometimes be free, from ballets and open-air musical performances by some of the Philippines best, to open days at the national museum, says Carlos Celdran

by Amanda Lago

Tour guide and cultural activist Carlos Celdran picks his five favorite places to visit in Metro Manila that don’t cost a thing.

Rizal Park

Rizal Park. Photo by Ferdz Decena

The 58-hectare Rizal Park, also known as Luneta, is not just a historical landmark – it's where Philippine national hero Jose Rizal was executed in 1896 – but a rare green lung in the city where free concerts and ballets are regularly held. Catch a musical performance at the open-air auditiorium every Friday at 6pm, concerts by youth orchestras, chorales, or ballet companies every Sunday at 6 pm, or take a stroll around the Japanese or Chinese gardens, take the family for a picnic on the green.

Rizal Park is along Roxas Boulevard in Ermita, Manila, near Manila bay. It is about 30 minutes away by car from the Ayala Center in Makati. 

Plaza Miranda in Quiapo

Quiapo church. Photo by Anson Yu

To understand the Philippines is to go to Quiapo church, where Roman Catholic faith meets the occult and sorcery. Inside the church, you'll find devotees walking on their knees from the aisle to the altar, praying to the Black Nazarene, or queueing in the early hours of the morning for a chance to kiss the feet of the miraculous Nazarene. Outside the church is a whole new religion altogether, with vendors selling all kinds of amulets and love potions. Tell them what ails you and they'll have a folk remedy.  Quiapo Church is also just a 5-minute walk from the Masjid Al-Dahab, the largest mosque in Metro Manila. Plaza Miranda, a public square, sits at the center of this feast of faiths, and if you’re lucky, you’ll get to witness a fight for freedom too – it is, after all, a freedom park, where assemblies and protests can be held without need for local permits.

Plaza Miranda on FR Hidalgo st. in Quiapo is near the Pasig River, about 30 minutes by car from Roxas Boulevard and Manila Bay.

National Museum on Sundays

Photo by Ferdz Decena

If you missed the National Museum’s free admission bonanza last May, don’t fret. The museum offers the same no-cost access every Sunday all year round. See the works of infamous painter Juan Luna (and try to find the portrait of the wife he ended up murdering in a jealous rage!) at the National Art Gallery, or have a look at ancient Philippine artifacts from the Stone and Metal Age at the Museum of the Filipino People. The museum is open from Tuesdays to Sundays, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

The National Museum Art Gallery and Museum of the Filipino People are located along Finance Road in Manila, a 5 to 10 minute walk from Luneta Park and Manila Bay. 

Quezon Memorial Circle

CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Known as “the circle”, the park is home to a 66-meter-high shrine in honor of former Philippine President Manuel Quezon. Tourists can climb up the shrine to get a great panoramic view of the city. For added spectacle, the shrine lights up at night and the fountain fronting it breaks out into a waterworks display, making the entire scene truly photogenic.

Quezon Memorial Circle on the Elliptical Road in Diliman, Quezon City, is in the northern part of the metro, near SM City North EDSA. Depending on the traffic, it can be anywhere between 40 to 60 minutes by car from Manila Bay. 

Paco Park Presents every Friday

CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Historical Paco Park is considered one of the most beautiful parks in Manila, particularly perfect for a date night. The park holds regular free concerts called "Paco Park Presents" usually on a Friday at 6pm.  Expect to be serenaded by the angelic voices of the city’s best glee clubs and chorales against the backdrop of the Paco Park garden, its large fountain, and rustic stone walls. Paco Park's St. Pancratius Chapel is also a favorite venue for weddings.

Paco Park, in Paco, Manila is near Taft Avenue, a 10 minute drive from the National Museum, and about 30 minutes away from Makati, tel 632 3027381

Find out more about Carlos Celdran's walking tours.

Published October 2015