Manila’s iconic Rizal Park is spread out over some 60 hectares of open lawns, ornamental gardens, ponds, paved walks and wooded areas, dotted with monuments to a whole pantheon of Filipino heroes. It's an atmospheric place to take a stroll, particularly late afternoons, early evening and weekends.
As the place where José Rizal was executed by the Spanish colonial authorities, it's of great historical significance. Here you'll find the Rizal Monument (fronted by a 46m flagpole and guarded by sentries in full regalia), which contains the hero’s mortal remains and stands as a symbol of Filipino nationhood.
The park is divided into three sections. At the edge of the middle section is the Site of Rizal’s Execution; at the entrance is a black granite wall inscribed with Rizal’s ‘Mi Ultimo Adios’ (My Last Farewell). Eight tableaux of life-size bronze statues recreate the dramatic last moments of the hero’s life; at night these statues become part of a light-and-sound presentation dedicated to Rizal (admission P50; 7pm Wed–Sun). It’s in Tagalog, but they’ll do it in English if you have a big enough group (or pay them enough). At the opposite end of the park towards Kalaw Ave, keep an eye out for the drinking fountain shipped all the way from Heidelberg, Germany, where Rizal spent time studying at university.
Also in the middle is the Central Lagoon, a pool lined with busts of Filipino heroes and martyrs, and a dancing musical fountain that erupts in colourful explosions in the evening.
The long-running Concert at the Park takes place at the open-air auditorium; it’s free and starts at around 5.30pm on Sundays. At dawn, you'll find various groups gathered to practise t’ai chi or the local martial art of arnis, or arnis de mano, a pre-Hispanic style of stick-fighting.
Along the north side are several ornamental gardens and the Chess Plaza, a shady spot where regulars test each other and look for new blood with shouts to visitors of ‘Hey Joe, do you play chess?’
Across Roxas Blvd at the western end of the park is the Quirino Grandstand, where Philippine presidents take their oath of office and deliver their first address to the nation.
At the opposite end of the park across M Orosa St where the National Museum is located, you'll find a large statue of Lapu-Lapu (16th century national hero famous for slaying the Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan), the flower-fillled Manila Orchidarium, a gigantic three-dimensional relief map of the Philippines and an ostentatious children's playground.
The new visitors centre at the park's Kalaw Ave entrance has a good map detailing the park's attractions and info for upcoming events.