Top Natural History Museums
10 Top Natural History Museums
Explore everything from the evolution of the universe to 85 million-year-old dinosaur skeletons at exhibits offered at these natural history museums around the globe.
When the older kids refuse to step foot in a children’s museum and the younger ones will be bored to tears in an art museum, usually a happy medium is a natural history museum. Everyone in the family can surely find something that will interest them, from dinosaurs to Egypt to evolution. While almost every major city can boast a museum focused on natural history, here are some of the stand-outs, split between the United States and international cities (in no particular order).
Top Natural History Museums in the United States
The Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History is astonishingly the size of 18 football fields, with 325,000 square feet of exhibitions and public space. That means a game plan is in order. The museum’s Web site is a great planning tool with family guides you can download before you visit, to help get kids excited. Once there, head straight to one of the kids’ museum exhibits like the Discovery Room, for interactive displays. One of my favorite exhibits is the newly renovated Sant Ocean Hall. The showpiece here is Phoenix, a 45-foot-long model of a real North Atlantic right whale that has been tracked since birth.
10th St. & Constitution Ave. NW., tel. 202-633-1000. www.mnh.si.edu. Open daily, 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Free admission.
Sue, the world’s largest and best-preserved Tyrannosaurus rex fossil, is the big draw at the Field Museum, but of course, there is much more to see here. Check out the 19,000-square-foot “Ancient Americas” exhibit, which explores 13,000 years of human history. Make sure to take your kids to the PlayLab where they can dress up as animals, examine insects in amber, pull out drawers and discover hidden objects, among other interactive activities. On weekends, check out special interpretive station activities located throughout the museum—see what your name looks like in Egyptian hieroglyphs, dissect an owl pellet or put together a map of Africa.
1400 S. Lake Shore Dr., tel. 312-922-9410. www.fieldmuseum.org. Open Mon. to Sat., 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Sun., 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tickets: adults, $15; children ages 3-11, $10.
The American Museum of Natural History has 45 halls to explore, but the museum’s fossil halls are by far the most popular attraction. Housing the world’s largest collection of vertebrate fossils, the museum showcases nearly one million specimens. Other must-sees include the Hall of Human Origins, which traces human evolution and the Hall of Meteorites, which boasts a 34-ton iron meteorite fragment called “Ahnighito.” The Discovery Room is a great way to get an overview of the museum for families. There are behind-the-scenes displays and every major field of museum science and research, from anthropology to zoology, is explained.
Main Entrance at 79th St. at Central Park West, tel. 212-769-5100. www.amnh.org. Open daily, 10 a.m. to 5:45 p.m. Suggested general admission: adults $15; children $8.50.
The Carnegie Museum of Natural History, with 20 exhibit halls, was founded in 1895 by Andrew Carnegie. The Dinosaurs in Their Time exhibit (formerly the Dinosaur Hall) is the big crowd-pleaser, with two Tyrannosaurus rex skeletons posed in mid-fight. The Hall of Ancient Egypt boasts 2,500 artifacts, including the showpiece—a 30-foot royal funerary boat that is more than 3,800 years old. Make sure you check out a “family museum bag” from the Discovery Room for an interactive family museum tour. Themes include “Visit My Home,” which directs you through a Polar World snow house and ends in a Southwest pueblo. Puzzles, books and touchable materials help kids better understand the exhibits.
4400 Forbes Ave., tel. 412-622-3131. www.carnegiemnh.org. Open Tues. to Sat., 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Thurs., 10 a.m. to 8 p.m; Sun., noon to 5 p.m. Tickets: adults, $15; children ages 3 to 18, $11.
5. Ann Arbor
The University of Michigan Exhibit Museum of Natural History’s main attraction is the Hall of Evolution which traces 600 million years of life on Earth through fossils, models, and dioramas. In the Michigan Wildlife Gallery, there’s a large collection of native Great Lakes birds, mammals, reptiles and amphibians, with taxidermy mounts and habitat scenes. Great ways for families to explore the museum are the downloadable themed scavenger hunts on the Web site.
1109 Geddes Ave., tel. 734-764-0478. www.lsa.umich.edu/exhibitmuseum. Open Mon. to Sat., 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Sun., noon to 5 p.m. Free admission for groups of 10 or fewer.