If former first lady of the Philippines Imelda Marcos ever kicked off her beloved shoes, it would have been here in Rizal Park. Set in the heart of Manila’s commercial district just south of historic Intramuros, this is one of the largest urban spaces in Asia. With its ornamental gardens, fountains, manicured lawns and paved walkways stretching across some 60 hectares, the park provides a haven of calm for locals and visitors alike.
Also known by its previous name Luneta, this impressively designed park has been a popular spot for relaxation for the past 200 years. As the place where national hero José Rizal was executed by the Spanish, it also holds great historical importance and was formally renamed in his honour.
The park is divided into three sections by Roxas Boulevard and M Orosa Street. To the west of the middle section is the Rizal Monument, marking the spot where the former doctor and novelist was shot dead by firing squad. Twenty-four hours a day, an honour guard in full regalia watches over the bronze and granite memorial that contains the freedom fighter’s mortal remains.
Eight life-size sculptures re-create the final hours of Rizal’s life, and if you come in the evening (Wednesday through Sundays at 8pm), they form part of a 30-minute audio-visual dramatisation of the hero’s execution. Close by, you’ll find the Central Lagoon, fringed with busts of Filipino martyrs and boasting a dancing fountain that transforms into a choreographed display of colour and sound after the sun goes down. On the north side, you can switch into more meditative gear as you explore the sedate Japanese and Chinese ornamental gardens.
The far-western section of the park is home to the Quirino Grandstand. At the opposite end of the park, across M Orosa Street, visitors can take in an assortment of sights, from the gigantic 3D relief map of the Philippines to the Orchidarium, a rainforestlike sanctuary featuring exotic plants and trees as well as an enchanting butterfly house. There’s also a playground where kids can let off steam for a small fee. The rest of Rizal Park is free to enter and easy to reach. If you’re coming by light rail, get off at United Nations Station, which brings you out at the park’s south-east corner.