Table of Contents[Hide][Show]
- How to Get the Most Out of a Visit to NYC's Natural History Museum
- Top Things to See at the Natural History Museum
- T. Rex: King of the Dinosaurs
- Rose Center for Earth and Space, including the Hayden Planetarium
- Discovery Room [Temporarily Closed]
- Blue Whale and Hall of Ocean Life
- Dioramas and other Permanent Exhibits
- What to Skip
- Natural History Museum Admission
- How to Get To the Natural History Museum
- Best Times to Go the Natural History Museum
- Where to Eat at the Natural History Museum
- Night at the Museum
- Adults Only: The Natural History Museum Isn't Just for Kids
The American Museum of Natural History is one of the top attractions in New York City and it’s massive! Visitors will find everything from dino fossils to interplanetary exploration, from local to global animals, and everything in between. You could spend a week here and still have more to see. To know how to best spend your time, read on.
How to Get the Most Out of a Visit to NYC’s Natural History Museum
Would you go to Disney World and experience everything in just one day? Imagine trying to do that at the gold standard of natural history museums, the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. I grew up exploring every dusty corner of this museum. While its recent makeovers have made the museum sparkle, its immense size is no less imposing. Read how you can see the highlights of one of Manhattan’s top cultural institutions in a one (very full) day.
Before we get to the top things to see at the American Museum of Natural History, check out what is new. In May 2022, Northwest Coast Hall reopened. This is one of the first exhibition halls at the museum. New exhibits were developed with Indigenous communities from the Pacific Northwest Coast. The Northwest Coast Hall is reimagined for the 21st century, with the 63-foot-long Great Canoe moved into the hall (it used to be at the museum entrance, suspended from the ceiling) and over 1,000 cultural treasures. There are historic artifacts, works by contemporary Native American artists and exhibition text that helps visitors understand the context of the artwork. Be sure to check out the short video at the entrance.
Read More: NYC’s Hidden Gems: Secrets the Locals Know
Top Things to See at the Natural History Museum
Although every exhibit is noteworthy, there are five I consider essential for visitors (especially those who are visiting for the first time). These are:
- T. Rex
- Rose Center for Earth and Space, including the Hayden Planetarium
- Blue Whale and Hall of Ocean Life
- Discovery Room
- Dioramas and other permanent exhibitions
T. Rex: King of the Dinosaurs
The Tyrannosaurus Rex and Apatosaurus dominate the fourth floor of the American Museum of Natural History and are the museum’s number one attractions. A whole dinosaur wing attracts visitors and what’s amazing to me is how much these exhibits have changed since I was little. T. Rex is mounted now in a crouching attack position. You can see dinosaur fossils and walk on a glass floor over a recreated dig. And the 2016 Titanosaur dinosaur exhibit highlights the newest member of the fossil halls.
A special exhibition, T. Rex: The Ultimate Predator, commands an extra fee.
Rose Center for Earth and Space, including the Hayden Planetarium
Rose Center for Earth and Space includes the Hayden Planetarium, the Big Bang theater and the giant Willamette meteorite. The state-of-the-art planetarium, which replaced my childhood planetarium in 2000, is wonderful. But it can be scary for little kids. Before you spring for the extra ticket, consider how well your child handles the dark.
The planetarium, a 87-foot-diameter sphere that ‘floats’ in a glass cube, beckons Upper West Siders to the museum. If you want to go, get tickets when you arrive. Or ahead of time. They sell out early.
Discovery Room [Temporarily Closed]
If you are going to the American Museum of Natural History with a toddler or elementary school age child, don’t miss this interactive space. My kids loved finding the specimens in the baobab tree and assembling skeletons. You get a free, timed 40 minute pass at the Discovery Room entrance, on the 1st floor.
TravelingMom Tip: If you want to go here, stop by as soon as you get to the museum. Note that the Discovery Room is closed on Fridays.
Blue Whale and Hall of Ocean Life
No trip to the AMNH is complete without a visit to 94-foot-long model of a blue whale suspended from the ceiling of the Milstein Hall of Ocean Life. This was always our destination on hot days. It is the most heavily air conditioned part of the museum. And the dim lighting keeps it cool. The coral reef might be the only one your kids ever see.
One of my daughters was terrified of the sperm whale and giant squid diorama. It is the same diorama that inspired the Noah Baumbach movie title, The Squid and the Whale.
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Dioramas and other Permanent Exhibits
The dioramas in the mammal halls have animals depicted in their habitats. The Hall of African Mammals has elephants and the Water Hole features giraffes, zebras and gazelles. There are an overwhelming number of animals, so for an overview, stick to birds, or small mammals or primates. My kids liked to see the familiar animals at The Hall of North American Mammals.
The Hall of Biodiversity has a giant walk-through diorama. You can see extinct animals, like a Dodo bird, and endangered ones like a Siberian tiger. Go back and see dioramas you skipped. And see the figures from Easter Island (Rapa Nui) in the Margaret Mead Hall of Pacific Peoples, part of the Human Origins Hall.
See an IMAX film (a great chance to rest your feet) then spend more time in the Rose Center, walking the cosmic walkway to explore the history of the universe.
What to Skip
If you are pressed for time, or want to save money, stick to the permanent exhibits. The AMNH is one of the biggest natural history museums in the United States; the dinosaur exhibits are a long walk from the Hall of Ocean Life. Just seeing the dinos and some of the dioramas could be enough. On another visit, you could start with the planetarium and work your way over to the Hall of Biodiversity. But if your kid loves amphibians or fossil halls, you may want to see those.
We rarely spend any time in the Hall of New York State Environment. Not that it’s a ‘bad exhibit.’ But so many are more dynamic.
Natural History Museum Admission
Reservations for timed-entry admission are required. Currently, tickets are $23 for adults, $13 for kids ages 2-12 and $18 for teens with student ID. Special exhibits including the Hayden Planetarium and the Butterfly Conservatory (a recurring temporary exhibit) and IMAX movies cost extra.
The American Museum of Natural History is pay what you wish for residents of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut and offers access to the permanent exhibition halls.
CityPASS lets you skip the line. You can buy CityPASS ahead of time, and show your mobile ticket to get in. CityPASS includes general admission, the Hayden Planetarium Space Show or an IMAX movie. And you save money, depending on how many attractions you visit.
Another way to save money is through the NYC Explorer Pass, from GO City. This includes general admission to the museum.
How to Get To the Natural History Museum
The AMNH, on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, stretches from 77th Street to 81st Street on Central Park West. It is directly across Central Park from one of Manhattan’s other top cultural institutions, the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Don’t try to see both in one day.
The B and C trains stop at 81st Street, and you exit the NYC subway right into the museum. This subway station has tile work depicting animals in the museum. My kids always found this to be an exciting way to enter a museum. Note that you have to carry a stroller up stairs to get into the museum from the subway. [The station is not handicapped accessible].
The entrance on 79th Street and Central Park West at 200 Central Park takes you up the grand outdoor staircase.The infamous Theodore Roosevelt statue has been removed.
If you are going first to the space show, you can enter on 81st Street directly into the Rose Center.
The museum has a parking garage, a rarity in New York City. The hourly rates are quite expensive. However, if you park here for the entire day and then visit Central Park, another museum and a restaurant, you can stay here all day, from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m., for a much more reasonable rate.
Best Times to Go the Natural History Museum
Get to the museum at 4 p.m. You have an hour and forty-five minutes to see as much as possible. The crowds who arrived between 10 and noon are streaming out of the museum while you don’t have to wait online, or jostle to see the dinos or meteorites. You also can’t see the Discovery Room, but you can have a quick, focused visit. And you don’t have to stop for a snack.
Weekdays, the best time to visit is 2 p.m. School groups come in the mornings, and if they stay after lunch, they have to leave by 2 for 3 p.m. dismissal. This gives you several hours to explore the relatively quiet museum.
TravelingMom Tip: Check the NYC public school calendar. Camps take over the museum when schools are out, and local families also crowd the exhibits.
Where to Eat at the Natural History Museum
NOTE: CAFES ARE TEMPORARILY CLOSED. CHECK THE MUSEUM WEBSITE FOR REOPENING INFO.
The Museum Food Court, on the lower level, has the broadest choice. You walk around to different stations to collect your food, then pay to get to the seating area. There are always kid-friendly foods like pizza and burgers. And there are plenty of vegetarian and gluten-free options. That being said, it can get pretty expensive for a family.
If you want to bring your own food, you have to eat it in the student lunchroom, near the food court. This room is seemingly unchanged since I went to a New York City elementary school. I remember we dropped off our lunch boxes, toured the museum and returned for lunch.
The Natural History Museum has a cafe for a quick snack on the 4th floor, and one geared towards adult visitors on the first floor. This one has beer and wine.
In nice weather, you can eat in the park next to the Natural History Museum. Hold on to your tickets for re-entry.
Night at the Museum
NOTE: ALL SLEEPOVERS ARE TEMPORARILY CANCELED.
For those who can’t get enough of the exhibits at the American Museum of Natural History, the museum offers special sleepovers. This is for children ages 6-13, along with parents or caregivers. You could actually skip a night at a hotel and stay here. No, it’s not the Four Seasons, but it is a very cool way to see the museum.
I did this with my youngest daughter and we had dinner, saw a movie and got to wander around the museum free of the usual crowds. The highlight was seeing the planetarium show in our pajamas.
TravelingMom Tip: The museum sleepovers, which include breakfast, sell out early. When they return, plan ahead.
Adults Only: The Natural History Museum Isn’t Just for Kids
Building on the success of the family sleepovers, the museum offers adult-only sleepovers [ALSO CANCELED TEMPORARILY]. I haven’t done this yet, but it sounds like a great party. It includes a champagne reception, live music, dinner with beer and wine, snacks and breakfast.