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.
I chose to visit this museum during winter break with my four sons ages 14, 11, 4 and 4. My sister and her four kids (ages 12, 10, 6 and 5) joined us. We parked along the street right in front of the museum on the Constitution Avenue side (if you'd like to do the same, for sure get there by 9:45am and put the parkmobile app on your phone ahead of time so you can pay and refill your meter from your smartphone from inside the museum).
We were there by 9:40 and there was already a line out front. By the time the doors opened at 10am the line was all the way down the block and it stayed that way all day (by the time we left at 1pm I couldn't even see the end of the line!). This is really due to the slow process of going through security, so just be prepared and maybe bring something for your kids to do while they wait, I heard a woman say they waited in line for 45 minutes to get inside. I should also mention, though, that I've come in the spring and fall on a week day and walked right in so I'd say it's more of a holiday/summer concern.
While I was in line, the man behind me saw I had a cooler lunch bag with me and asked if I was worried because the sign out front says NO FOOD. I told him that you just aren't allowed to eat in the museum but I've packed a lunch for my family every time I've ever come and we eat downstairs in the large cafeteria and I've never had a problem.
Once inside we headed straight to the new Q?ius lab on the groundfloor. It's designed with older children in mind (the website says 11 and up) and is set up with computers and microscopes with touchscreen experiences and items to touch and explore. The older children especially enjoyed the "collections" exhibit where you have access to thousands of collection items that you can put under microscopes. I appreciated that this area is cordoned off so that the older kids could enjoy their quiet experience while they younger children couldn't get over into the drawers and damage anything. My 14 year old son enjoyed this so much we had to drag him away. My sister was particularly impressed with the attentiveness of the staff. When her six year old son asked a question about a jaw, a staff member went and found a specimen for him and spent several minutes helping him to understand. My four year old boys were surprisingly amused for about fifteen minutes on the computers before I was needing to actively engage them and after about half an hour total they were done.
The large dinosaur exhibit is still under construction although they have a large temporary exhibit with much to see if you have dinosaur lovers in your family.
You walk through the mummies to get to the insect zoo - just be aware they there are REAL unwrapped mummies in cases down at the eye level of little kids. My four year old son was very disturbed by the infant mummy we looked at, so just be aware and steer your children past if you think it's a concern.
The insect zoo is always fun with a little tunnel to crawl through, a large home model with buttons to touch and every time I've been there, there has been a staff member out with some kind of insect to touch for those who are willing.
The museum is so large, we've never seen it all in one visit, but other exhibits my crew particularly enjoy are the gems and minerals (such great I Spy and opportunities for creative name-games here!) The newish mammal exhibit is VERY well done and I highly recommend the film there. It's short and fun and my kids love it. This time we also visited the activity room for young children, called Q?rius Jr. This hands on room had puzzles and puppets, microscopes and dress-ups, things to touch, books and a table with craft/stamping activities. There is always someone monitoring the door so kids can't escape and they only let in a limited number of people at a time so it's never too crowded. We enjoyed ourselves for quite a while before we headed home.
This museum is a wonderful resource for anyone curious about the world around us and just the nature of the exhibits and especially the two rooms for kids make it a very family friendly place to visit. We love it!
National Museum of Natural History has so much to learn, explore. The architecture design of the building by its self is amazing. We went this pass summer and it was amazing. The first thing you see when you walk in the door is the African Elephant that draws you in to want to see so much. As you walk around on the first floor you see the Once There Were Billions: Vanished Birds of North America Exhibit so many different birds in so many different sizes and colors. I'm no huge on human evolution theories but The David H. Koch Hall of Human Origins is interesting but it could walk away offended. There is so much to see and write that it would take days to describe everything there. They have something for everyone and i would highly recommend a trip to this Museum. Please wear a pair a comfortable walking sneakers since there are so many different levels to view. They do have a Cafe in case you get hungry but it is pricey. This is a free Museum. Enjoy and learn alots
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!