Located on the National Mall. The National Museum of Natural History is a free Smithsonian Museum that features animals from around the world, sea creatures, the Hope Diamond, and geology exhibits.
We spent several hours at this museum and still did not see everything. My son is very interested in dinosaurs and volcanoes and he was not disappointed! They have 2 full size dinosaur skeletons and a lot of other displays, a whole room dedicated to volcanoes and I really enjoyed the gems and crystals displays. We went into the butterfly exhibit, which you must buy tickets for, and it was really neat. It's a small space but there are plenty of butterflies buzzing around, one even landed on my son's nose! I joined Smithsonian through the magazine subscription and have already paid back my membership dues in discounts at the various museums. I definitely recommend joining before you go, plus you get a great magazine each month!
You just can't beat this granddaddy of all the Smithsonian museums for kids! While in DC, definitely budget half a day at least for the Museum of Natural History.
We loved the mammal hall, but spent even more time in the human history areas, learning about 'cave men' and other various early humans. It was fascinating. Upstairs, we saw the Hope Diamond (the kids thought it would be bigger!) and loved the mummy exhibit in the Egyptian hall. Who knew they mummified animals like cats and bulls?
The museum cafe is good but expensive, but a nice option for a healthy lunch (sometimes a novelty while traveling). On nice days, take it outside to eat on the steps and take in the scenes on the National Mall.
We love all the museums on the Mall but this one is a particular favorite, with all the animal bones and the exhibits. It is a huge museum, so it is easy to get lost in, especially with so many tourists, but if you all stick together your kids will love every minute of it!
Updated January 2015:
Today we made it to the Q?rus Jr. room - amazing hands-on science with enthusiastic educators. I wish this room were open on weekday mornings more often so that it would be easier take advantage of it with my preschooler - currently it's only open Friday mornings. Even after 3 hours in the city exploring museums, I had to pull my four year old away as he pleaded for just a few more minutes.
We enjoyed the skulls, baseball clothes, puzzles, skeleton and the microscope. Unfortunately, we only had about 20 minutes to explore today, but I know that we'll be back.
Today we also ate at the café for the first time. I prefer it to the cafeteria at the American History Museum next door. It is one of the better options in the area for kids.
Review from Summer 2014:
First, the building and the entrance with the elephant just feels special/grand - like a national museum should. The dinosaur exhibit is now closed - just a few weeks before our visit (and subsequent move to the area) - bummer. I thought it might not be worth it without the dinosaurs or that there might not be enough to see - I was wrong.
We started out in the hall of mammals. Totally impressive - even to my daughter who practically grew up at the zoo. But, on a weekend afternoon - too crowded. We moved on quickly - the hall of mammals will be at the top of the list for next visit.
My daughter really wanted to see the butterflies. Since I hadn't spent money on a entrance fee all day - I reluctantly agreed. (It's 6 dollars for adults/5 dollars for kids) We got an entrance time in 15 min - reasonable. My daughter thoroughly enjoyed every second that she was with the butterflies - if she hadn't, it might not have been worth it. There are a lot of butterflies in the enclosure. Some are bigger than I've ever seen before. The moth are especially impressive. I've been to a few butterfly enclosures - this one is probably the smallest, most expensive and most impressive.
While waiting for the butterflies, we spent 15 minutes in the nearby bug exhibit. The exhibits were very accessible for young children. There were many unique bugs that I had never seen before. We will definitely be back (probably many many times) to check it out. The section with the butterfly chrysalis' was a highlight for both me and my butterfly-lover.
We headed over to Hope diamond last and saw just enough to know that we had to come back. The crowds of adults here was unlike anywhere else in the museum (understandably.) The gems have always be highlights when we visit natural history museums - here is no exception.
I think the crowds make it possible to only really enjoy a few exhibits before needing a break - which is OK - you can come and go for free. I found the one dollar map very helpful in pointing me to the highlights of the museum efficiently despite the crowds.
This museum is fun for everyone...grammy, mom, uncle and three kids ages 8, 5, and 1! From the unbelievable Elephant in the entrance to the dinosaurs and stuffed mammals.
Definitely worth a trip while you are in DC. To top it all off, it's FREE (like most of the museums in DC!) For some reason, this really takes the pressure off of a mom. If the kids aren't happy, just leave! I love that! And, you can come back again...still for FREE!
Almost forgot to mention the app for smartphones called Meanderthal! Hilarious app that is put out for the museum. It morphs a pic of yourself into a neanderthal. Great laughs for all!
Are we in the "Night of the Museum" museum, mom? Yep! We fully expected the elephant to come to life and the animals to start talking. It was fun to be in such an old-looking building with an incredible variety of mammals, dinosaurs, rocks, gems, mummies, and more.
We started at 2pm, and the plan was: Oceans, Mammals, Rocks and Gems, Dinosaurs, and Butterflies. Well, we only got through Rocks and Gems by 5pm and we were all exhausted. This is a big museum and is best taken in little chunks!
The Oceans gallery was very nice but for some reason I was expecting to see live displays, like an aquarium. That is obviously not the focus of this museum and once I changed my expectation, I enjoyed it a bit more. The highlight was stopping at a small TV display showing the camouflage that marine mammals use. The kids were fascinated by it!
The Mammals Gallery was very large and had some great displays of animals in hunting poses with dramatic effects. There were several hands-on elements for younger kids to understand what they were seeing (like a display on how retractable claws work for large cats). We did notice how the theory of evolution was frequently discussed throughout this gallery, such as showing a drawing of an "early" giraffe that was much shorter than the present mammal.
The Rocks and Gems galleries was much more interesting than I imagined it would be. The kids were mostly enthralled with the very large examples of crystal clear turquoise, large quartz, mushroom granite, and more. There were whole glass cases dedicated to one mineral or gem with so many examples. I could have spent 10 minutes at each case, but of course that would get tiring!
The Hope Diamond is at the entrance to the Gems and Rocks gallery and it is impressive, but I think it is only to those who understand the value of a diamond. Otherwise, it just looks like a pretty necklace with a big, blue gem in the middle. I imagined Marie Antoinette wearing it around her neck and then I was quite impressed with the whole thing. It's all in the perspective.
We figured out that if you follow the gallery to the left of the Hope Diamond, you start with earthquakes, rocks, and other basic geology exhibits and then work your way around to all the gems. The gems and minerals get more and more impressive and beautiful until you end at the Hope Diamond. We didn't know that and thus started by going to the right of the Hope Diamond. So, we saw incredibly beautiful gems and then worked our way down to the more "boring" rock displays. By that time, we just walked quickly through, which was fine. The whole gallery is much larger than I ever expected. It just keeps going and going!
The one thing I wish we would have done differently on this visit would be to go downstairs to the cafe for some treat after spending a long time at the museum. We were all exhausted when we loaded into the car and then we hit very heavy traffic leaving the city. It wasn't until much later that we finally had dinner.
When you're waiting forever in line to get into an attraction you have time to look around and see what else you might want to do when you're done there. For us we made plans to head to the Natural History Museum. My husband and I talked about how to do it without worrying about the non-Christian views you know you'll find at this type of museum.
When time came we headed to the dinosaur fossils. Our kids (9, 8 and 5) loved seeing them up close, and it was fun telling them that these giant things were talked about in the Bible. They were able to get an idea of what Job might have been desciribing. The fossils were all differnt sizes, from really small to giant. In the Ice Age area we were able to show them just how big "Manny" (from the Ice Age movie) was as they had a fossil of a wooly mamoth. We were also able to show a larger cousin of Sid the Sloth.
In another museum close to home they were able to see a Mastodon skull, but in DC it came complete with the body so they were able to see just how big it was.
When we were done with the dinos we made our way up to the Hope Diamond which was well worth the look since it's a very famous diamond. It would have been nice if it wasn't cut down and turned into a necklace, but it was still gorgeous and larger than anything I'd be able to afford! We also enjoyed seeing the quartz rock and the natural sandstone formation that looked like a sculpture.
We didn't have a lot of time before close, so we walked through the nature photography exhibit and pointed out of favorite photographs, and then finished up in sea exhibit where they were able to see a very large squid!
I'd like to go back and see other areas of this museum some time.
As a lover of natural history museums in our country, may I just say that the entrance to our nation's capital's natural history museum is happy-dance worthy. Which I certainly did the first time I walked inside. I'm not proud of myself for it, but I've gotta tell ya, it was awesome! The live butterfly section(extra charge, of course) is so lovely. I mean, who doesn't want a butterfly to land on their clothes? And nose. On the second floor you can view the Hope Diamond. Yeah, it's behind bullet proof glass and surrounded by gun carrying security. But, you still have the opportunity of taking its picture. There's so much to see that the dinosaurs played second fiddle. I would never tell them that, though. Have you seen the size of their teeth?! Exactly.
The Natural History Museum is one of our favorite museums to visit when in Washington, D.C. at the Smithsonian. They have so much on display and different things then anywhere else. We can be there for a short visit and pick what we want to view or spend a whole day there seeing everything on display. You will not be disapointed with this one! Great for all ages too!
Like most of the Smithsonians, this one is loaded with great stuff - too much, in fact. My family's formula for success is to go to the museum for one, maybe two, exhibits, and then head outside for a picnic. Favorites of my 5 and 7 year old are the dinosaur bones (first floor); whale (hall of oceans); and the model of the prehistoric python (2nd floor). They have not been impressed with the Hope Diamond (too young maybe?) and we haven't seen the butterflies yet, though I suspect those will be a hit.
When I was in fourth grade, we took a class trip to all the Smithsonians and I was completely underwhelmed. It was deja vu when I took my kids. There are so many museum and monument options in D.C. that it becomes overkill for many kids. Unless you have older children or serious history buffs the excitment of it all wears off quickly. My advice would be to figure out what exhibits you want to see ahead of time and create a plan before you get there. Stick to the plan and get in and out quick before boredom sets in. Otherwise, you'll find yourself in front of the Hope diamond with a small child who says, "eh, it's ok. I thought it would be bigger." Like mother, like daughter though because I said the same thing.
We love visiting at least one Smithsonian when we are in DC, and this is definitely a favorite! Our almost four year old daughter loves the dinosaurs and all of the beautiful gems. Even when it is crowded it is fun. The giant elephant in the main entrance is also a big hit. It's amazing to see so many exhibits for free. Definitely check it out!
There are so many amazing things to see in this museum that I really feel you need to make more than one trip to take it all in. We asked everyone what they really wanted to see and did those galleries. Our favorite galleries were the dinosaurs and geology.
An amazing temporary display was a coral reef that was made of all crocheted items. Here they had a staff member set up with crocheted items and she even gave us a little lesson. On the other side of the display they had a scientist with a table of coral and fossils and the kids were able to touch them and ask questions.
We really wanted to visit the butterfly garden but were disappointed to find there was a fee for this and the line looked to be about 3 hours long. Luckily around the corner there were staff members that were out with bugs that the kids could hold and ask questions about.
It was insanely crowded and insanely hot in the galleries which put a damper on the experience. Look for off times to go and dress light or in layers. Eat before you go because the cafeteria is insanely priced and ended up being our most expensive meal of our entire vacation. I think this is how they make up for the free admission.
The bathrooms are also inconveniently located and then when we had to use the rest room, the only one on our floor was closed (although there was no sign telling us this) and we had to go down 2 flights to use the rest room.
So much history in one building. We loved the Smithsonian Natural History Museum as well as the other Smithsonian Museums. They are so clean and so full of History. So many neat things to look at and all the people working there were so friendly. We could have spent a couple more days at these museums they are huge and so full of interesting items.
This is by far my favorite Smithsonian museum. I love seeing the history perseved in such a way that it seems so real. The layout is perfect and easily navigated. If you see anything while in Washington D.C., make sure this is one stop that you don't pass up.
I have to admit by the time we got to the Smithsonian I was done. There are a lot of cool things to see, but it felt like information overload. I was ready to pack up and head back to the hotel and go swimming. You need about a month to tour D.C. so you can really appreciate all there is, but when you try to cram it all in a few days it's just too much.
I visited the Smithsonian Natural History Museum with three teens all of whom were very excited to explore the museum. Many of the exhibits were not there as the museum lends exhibits to other museums/schools. The teens thought it was just okay. Maybe if more exhibits had been on display we would have had a better experience.
I, not being a big history person, was not too excited about going to this museum. But, surprisingly, I actually enjoyed it a lot. It was a very good museum with a lot of information on everything it had on display. The kids really enjoyed the displays that you were allowed to touch, as they are always putting their hands on things. There were also some cool Dinosaur exhibits, and all of the kids really enjoyed that. My family is really big on history, so they all definitely loved it!
I think the Natural History Museum is beautiful and houses many important, interesting things. However, for preschoolers, it is a little over their heads. If you plan on devoting maybe an hour to two hours for this and just plan to walk through each exhibit quickly, then it would be fine. However, I would not expect your children to just hang around while you read ALL of the information that is contained there. Now, I do believe that all the information is wonderful and educational, but small children will not be interested in reading every word. As always with the Smithsonians, the caliber of the museum is amazing. Also, it is notable that they state some theories as fact. So, if that is something you are careful about, you may want to have a discussion with your children before viewing so that they can pick up some of the references.
DC is probably one of the greatest cities to live in with kids. There is so much FREE stuff to do, you really can't beat all of the Smithsonians and the Zoo, the historical sites, the National Mall, etc. I love the Natural History museum, there is SO much to see and do, it's really educational and the exhibits are just plain COOL. We always went on weekdays so it wasn't too busy, but avoid the big exhibits like the Hope Diamond and you won't encounter too much of a crowd (I saw it once on a non-busy day though, I mean it's something to see, it's just not that cool to wait in a line).