There are some New York landmarks that will never lose an ounce of their appeal. At the top of this list for me is the Natural History Museum, a behemoth of a museum located on the Upper West Side of Manhattan flanking Central Park. Here, visitors of all ages marvel at collections of 32 million specimens that make up the American Natural History Museum. On your first visit, you might hit the highlights, including the dinosaur skeletons or the astronomy exhibits, but beyond these popular options there are many more reasons to return.
Develop a Strategy
The website of the Natural History Museum makes it easy to research your visit. One decision to make is whether or not you want to include IMAX shows and a visit to the planetarium in your visit. These shows have designated start times, and sell out quickly, and can form the skeleton of your day at the museum. Once you have that decision made, focus on a few major exhibits. If you’ve never seen the Dinosaur exhibit, this is one of the most striking in the whole museum. Kids and adults are staring equally wide-mouthed at the complete skeletons of a Tyrannosaurus Rex, a Stegosaurus, and many more. The sheer size – never mind their extreme rarity – makes this exhibit very special.
The Natural History Museum has permanent exhibitions, such as the dinosaur fossils, the Hall of Human Origins, and the Hall of Ocean Life – but it is also offers new and fresh exhibits too. If you have already seen the basics of the permanent collection, a second visit could become even more appealing when you take a glance at the list of current exhibitions. Some of these options currently include the Inside Story of the Brain, the Butterfly Conservatory, and Journey to the Stars (an IMAX experience narrated by Whoopi Goldberg).
The museum is successful at getting the support of celebrities for these multimedia experiences, perhaps making the Natural History Museum even more attractive to your kids. If you’re planning a future trip to New York, the museum’s website also features listings for upcoming exhibitions. On a recent visit, exhibits I found particularly striking include the hall of meteorites and the Hall of Human Origins, which is home to the most comprehensive evidence of human evolution in the country.
Planning Your Visit
The Natural History Museum is complete with a series of restaurants and shops that can easily keep you busy from the minute they open until the minute they close. Even kids that are skeptical about museums will be fascinated from the moment they step into the atrium, where towering dinosaurs are permanently on display watching everyone purchase their tickets.
Adults will enjoy a trip to the Natural History Museum as much as families. However, adults might want to plan their visits to coincide with less busy times. For example, on weekends and during school breaks the museum will be filled with groups of children. If you would rather have the museum to yourself, plan a visit on a weekday during the regular school year.
If wandering around the museum doesn’t strike your fancy, why not join a public tour? These tours are available in a variety of categories, including museum highlight tours or tours on specific themes. Check the updated listings on the museum’s website for the times of public tours.
The one problem with the Natural History Museum is that it is only open from 10 am – 5:45 pm. Many other museums in New York City offer evening hours at least one day per week, but the Natural History Museum keeps these same hours 7 days a week. That means that if you’re going to maximize your trip, you will want to arrive early and have a strategy. Take a look at the website before arrival and choose your top three exhibits. This will help you to focus during the visit and not get distracted.
Keep in mind also that the museum is closed on Thanksgiving and Christmas Day.
The other tricky element of visiting the Natural History Museum is the ticketing system. Some visitors complain that tickets (priced at $16 for adults and $9 for kids, without any extras) are on the expensive side. The SuperSaver ticket that also includes admission to IMAX movies, the planetarium, and other special exhibitions costs $32 for adults and $20 for kids. The trick is – these are suggested prices. If you’re trying to plan a trip to New York City on a budget, it is possible to pay whatever you choose for admission. Just keep in mind that the admission price goes to support the scientific research of the museum.
Whether you want your kids to develop an interest in science or are simply looking to expand your own knowledge about the natural world, the American Natural History Museum is one of the finest destinations on the planet to do so.
Location: American Museum of Natural History, Central Park West at 79th Street, New York.
Subway: Take the B or C to 81st Street.
Photo credits: das sabrinchen via flickr (exterior); edenpictures via flickr (t-rex); thezartoliast.com via flickr (whale)
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Jessica Colley is a freelance travel and food writer based in New York City. She proudly called Dublin home from 2008 – 2010 and writes frequently about the city and Ireland. Three of Jessica’s favorite travel destinations are Ireland, Italy, and Berlin. Find her online at www.thegreatamericantraveldream.com and on Twitter @jessicacolley.