New York is well known for its incredible array of World Class Museums. Some of the finest works of art and historical artifacts are housed in the hallowed halls of New York Museums and Galleries. There are few places on earth that can Rival New York for grabbing a slice of culture. One such museum is the American Museum Of Natural History.
The Museum gets top billing on any tour guide, Attraction Pass, Things to Do List, and Guide book. The Museum has been the star of many films and TV Shows and has garnered worldwide fame. But is it really worth your time or is it just a collection of old Stuffed animals? We find out in our American Museum of Natural History Review New York City. We take a look at what the museum is really like, who it suits, and show you What To See At The Natural History Museum
If you are wondering if this Museum is really worth your precious time and money we show you exactly what to expect so you can decide if this will be part of your New York City Itinerary.
- Attraction: American Museum of Natural History
- Cost: Adults: $23 Seniors (62+): $18 Children (6-12): $13
- Special Exhibitions: +$5 for one +$10 for all
- Location: 77th Street Central Park West – MAP
- Visit Duration: 4-8 Hours
What is The American Museum of Natural History?
The Natural History Museum is one of New York’s oldest and most renowned Museums. Focusing on the Natural World the museum is mainly a collection of preserved animals (yes basically Stuffed) set in natural settings in a huge array, showing how the creatures lived in the wild.
The Collections is astounding, it covers a vast amount of living creatures, far more than any Zoo could manage, and sets them in incredibly intricate and life-like settings. The feeling is you are peering through a thousand windows into a snapshot of the creatures in the wild.
On top of the Dioramas, there is a whole lot more going on inside the Museum. Over half of the Museum is dedicated to other displays and exhibits. All are still based around the natural world. The Museum looks at Space and our place in it, along with the earth sciences, geology, gemology, and mineralogy. It showcases the Oceans, The huge spectrum of life on the planet, the origin story of ourselves, and the diversity and majesty of the life that inhabited the earth before our arrival.
There really is so much more than a collection of stuffed animals and there are exhibits of interest for nearly everyone.
Who does The American Museum of Natural History Suit?
The Museum is pretty heavy going. While the individual Exhibits are interesting and quite light, the whole experience is pretty heavy going. With over 34 million specimens and 2 million square feet of exhibition space visiting the museum takes a toll.
This sort of cultural enrichment is not for everyone. Some people are looking for more light-hearted entertainment. A few observation decks, a look around the park, dinner a show, and some nice drinks. We all travel differently, and heavy museums just are not some people’s cup of tea.
There are a few Museums in New York that really can work for everyone, the 911 museum is a real must-see for example, and the MOMA is high on culture but low on stuffiness! But the Natural history museum is a real museum for real museum lovers. If the idea of traipsing around a load of stuffed animals just sounds like a chore, then you probably won’t enjoy the experience. Traveling is not about doing things that bore you, just because a guidebook tells you it’s a must-see!
However, if you have an interest in the natural world, for example, you enjoy nature documentaries, then the Natural history museum is a real joy. It is literally packed with amazing things to see and rammed with information about the exhibits, you have to try pretty hard not to learn something! Many of the most rewarding parts of the museum are the less celebrated and finding these little gems is all part of the fun.
The Museum is great for families. It can be tough going on younger kids or those with short attention spans but there are always carrots to keep them going. Whatever your kids are into there will almost certainly be something in the museum to hold their attention and keep their mood up. For many, simply plan to visit the Fossil Halls last as the carrot of meeting a T-Rex can keep most kids going through even the dullest parts of any museum! Of course, this only holds true if your kids have an interest in nature, otherwise, this will be a grinding experience for them. Parents are always best placed to understand the interests and desires of their kids, but if any of our “Things to See” list items are likely to inspire your kids we think you will all have a great time at the Museum.
How long does it take to visit The American Museum of Natural History?
However you cut it, the Museum is a half-day experience. You could easily spend longer but for most people, their attention will start to wane, and even the hardiest Museum-goers will start to flag after a few hours.
While you can probably crack off a highlights reel visit in a couple of hours you will miss so much that it really isn’t advisable. And even then by the time you have got to the Museum, purchased tickets, and explored the highlights the majority of half a day will have already passed, so it is much better to set aside a good half-day of your trip and take your time. If you really can’t afford that much time out of your trip, we really don’t think the museum is the right attraction.
The reality is even half a day is far too short a time to even scratch the surface. But on short city breaks most people will be unable or unwilling to spend longer in one place. This does mean that on return trips you can go back to the Museum and still find a heap of stuff you missed the first time around!
Currently, the Natural History Museum Requires advanced time slot booking to ensure social distancing can be adhered to. You can either book direct or via our favorite booking platform Tiqets.com. You can check the timeslot availability below and book directly through Tiqets.com.
Another option is by using an Attractions Pass. New York has so many great paid attractions if you are planning on visiting a few you can save a lot of cash by using one of the Cities attraction passes. There are several available and we go in-depth on the passes in our City Pass Comparison page here.
What To See At The Natural History Museum
Of course, the only way to really understand if the Museum is right for you is to know what is actually on display so you can decide if this is of interest to you.
For our list of top exhibits and things to see we are concentrating on the permanent Exhibits. This way everything we mention will always be there for every visitor. However, the Museum hosts an ever-changing array of temporary and special exhibitions. These can range from special focus themes to touring exhibits and artifacts. Any special Echibiitons will be heavily promoted and you can decide if these are to your taste when you visit.
Some are included with the standard entry but most of the time they are at an additional cost.
10 – Halls of Human Culture
There are several halls devoted to the planet’s most successful animals, us. These focus on the more primitive side of our cultures and show how tribal and native cultures lived in the distant, and not-so-distant past.
There are African, Asian, South, and Central American halls, along with native American halls. Our favorite is the Pacific hall which focuses on the Polynesian cultures including recreations of the famous easter island figures and other south pacific artifacts.
The Human Culture Halls take up a large portion of the Museum but are not our favorite exhibits. They are still worth checking out though as they shine a light on how we existed before our more sophisticated cultures began to develop.
9 – Mignone Halls Of Gems and Minerals
Beneath the surface of the earth is a boiling cauldron of immense heat and awesome pressure and these forces conspire to create some of the most dazzling and inspiring treasures in the universe. The Halls of Gems and Minerals is a staggering display of just how beautiful these creations really are.
The Re-imagined halls are newly opened (Previously known as the Harry Frank Guggenheim Hall) are even more stunning than before. Giant 12-foot amethyst Geodes, the Priceless Saphire the Star of India, a 632 carat Emerald, a 3000 slab of iridescent Labradorite, and over 5000 glimmering jewels, gems, and crystals.
The Stunning array of Earth’s majestic jewels is really laid bare and it exposes our obsession of valuing only a few of these so intensely when there are so many stunning gemstones available. The Hall is literally a gold mine of riches and is one of the more secret treasures of the Natural History Museum.
8 – Author Ross Hall Of Meteorites
The Hall of meteorites is another hidden gem of an exhibit. The (shooting) Star of the show is the incredible Ahnighito a fragment of the Cape York Meterotire recovered from Greenland in the late 1800s. This incredible fragment appears to be a huge rock but on touch, it is clearly metal, iron in fact, and weighs an incredible 34 tons, and has supports bored down into the bedrock below!
The Haul is filled with amazing exhibits of space rocks, all genuine fragments, and meteorites from the depths of space. While some of these are little more than unassuming rocks or lumps of solidified metal, with a little thought, the realization of where they have come from and what their journey represents to our planet is quite profound.
To be able to get up close and actually touch some of these objects from beyond is really powerful and we love the exhibit.
There is also the Willamette Meteorite on display over in the Rose Center for Earth and Space. A very visually striking lump of iron from the cosmos.
7 – Giant Screen Shows
There are two giant screen theaters at the Museum, the Hayden Planetarium and the Samuel J. and Ethel LeFrak Theatre. These show an everchanging selection of films around various natural history topics.
The Planetarium Film is projected on the domed room of the theater and is usually a space-themed show, currently Worlds beyond Earth. Using stunning imagery and state-of-the-art projection this theatre takes you on a journey through the stars.
The Giant Screen Theatre is a more traditional theatre space. The 40×66 foot screen is a real monster and the films are protected in stunning resolution. The Topics are usually visually stunning and more grounded than the Planetarium shows, currently showing Volcanoes: Fires of Creation.
The Shows are charged at a small extra and can be added to your ticket at purchase. These vary in length from about 20-40 mins so seeing all the shows adds quite a bit to your day!
6 – Rose Center for Earth and Space
The Hayden Planetarium is the centerpiece for the Rose Center for Earth and Space but there is a lot more going on there. The Big Bang Theater offers a shorter Planetarium experience (included in the ticket price). There is also the Cosmic Pathway detailing the timeline of creation, each step corresponding with an epoch of the history of the universe (try and find the size of human history right at the end of the walkway to appreciate how small of a moment we represent!)
There is an exhibit that details the scale of the cosmos to try and help you understand our place in the unthinkable large universe but also comprehend the realm of atomic tinyness. The Hall of planet earth details the geology of the most important corner of the universe for us humans. This showcases the extraordinary geology of our planet.
The center could stand on its own as an attraction and still justify a hefty entry fee, we have certainly paid for lesser attractions in the past. So it’s great to get the Center as just a small part of the overall experience.
5 – Hall Of Biodiversity
This glorious world of ours has produced an incredible diversity of life, something we are all aware of, however, the Halls of Biodiversity and the Spectrum of life display in particular really punches home that message.
The spectrum of Life is a 100 ft long display of over 1500 specimens of earth’s incredible creatures. from the tiny ant to giant sharks and every possible species in between. A mixture of existing and extinct species the display has so much detail and wonder you can lose hours inspecting the different classifications and the interactions between the different genus’s
It really is a marvel of both Museum Curation and the spectacular variation the Evolution of life has produced. The whole hall is merely a footnote to the Museums’ itinerary but is fitting of being a museum in itself.
Other Displays in the hall include Sumatran Tigers, the long-extinct Dodo, and the intricate wonders of a tropical rain forest. As well as an exhibit on the endangered species the world faces losing.
4 – World Famous Diaramos
We are down to the top 4 and quite frankly we have only been touching on the accouterments of the museum, the garnishes that add to the meal, we have still to even begin to address the main ingredients…but that starts here. If this we a meal, we are getting to the Steak!
The Habitat Diaramos is what the Museum is best known for and they are a fantastic display of the wonders of nature. There are several halls each detailing different families and geographical ecosystems.
There are stunning Bird and reptile halls showcasing bird species from around the world, the New York Area, and the great birds of North America, featuring Golden and Bald Eagles along with California Condors. The Reptile Hall features turtles, Tortoises, Aligaotrs and Crocs, Frogs Lizards, and Snakes, and the imperious Komodo Dragon.
Then there are the Mammal halls, featuring Dioramas of all the most stunning Mammals the Animal Kingdon has gifted us with. It is hard to even start a list as just about everything we could imagine was present.
The Star is naturally the Hall of African Mammals. Here all of the Earth’s Remaining Mega Fauna are on display. Center Stage is the herd of African Elephants, including a hulking great Bull Elephant. There are Displays featuring Giraffes, rhinos, Hippos, Lions, Ostrich, and Gorillas to name a few.
These Dioramas hit a mixed vibe with us. On one hand, they are remarkably constructed. The level of detail and Taxdermatry is astonishing. It really is like looking at a live snapshot of the real environment.
However, the fact these were once living breathing animals, cut down in their prime (and sometimes well before) sits horribly wrong with us. The simple truth is these are a product of before our time when this sort of barbarity was acceptable and commonplace. We cannot judge the times of the past based on our own much improved moral code. However, there is still something just a little uneasy about the lives lost to stock this marvelous collection.
In the end, what’s done is done and not displaying these exhibits would be even more of a crime so we just enjoy this quite unmatched display of Earth’s wonders for what it is. Still, when you look into the eyes of the unnervingly human-Esque Gorilla display a chill can run down your spine!
3 – Milstein Family Hall of Ocean Life
It is hard to ignore the Ocean Life Halls’ main attraction. The Lifesize Model of a Blue Whale suspended from the ceiling, The Largest animal to have ever lived: The Whales is one of the museum’s proudest icons.
On top of this, the Hall is surrounded by an array of ocean-based Diarama’s from Giant Squid, Whale Sharks, Dolphins, Coral Reefs, Polar oceans, and Kelp forests featuring Sea Otters.
We adore the Ocean Hall, based mailing on our love for all things oceanic. It feels very different from the rest of the museum the low mood lighting and subdued atmosphere make the hall very relaxing.
2 – Anne and Bernard Spitzer Hall of Human Origins
This is a small hall with very little fanfare or promotion but we find it one of truly seismic importance. The Hall takes you on a journey of where we came from showcasing dioramas and Fossils casts of the Steps we took along the Evolutionary path to where we are today.
It’s a breathtaking look back into our very own existence. The experience is deeply moving as you stare right in the face of our very own creation. Important fossils have been recreated detailing the path our species took to evolve, and how we came to be. It is intensely powerful stuff!
The Hall is fairly small with only a few displays and people may be tempted to skip it. But this is a huge mistake as it is probably the most important exhibition in the Museum
We could easily end this article here. The exhibits discussed this far easily put the Museum ahead of any rival anywhere in the world. It is a Stunning collection and one no one should miss. Young and old, boy or girl, there is interest and knowledge for everyone. However, the museum is not done. There is still a floor to go and despite how amazing the exhibits have been so far they are about to be blown out of the water completely. Jurassic Park is still Science fiction and until it becomes scientific fact, here is the next best thing. Welcome to Jurass… The Fossil Halls!
1 – Fossil Halls
Of all the creatures that have walked the earth none harbor more intrigue, awe, and wonder than the “Terrible Lizards”. By a sheer miracle of chance and quirk of the natural process, some of these incredible creatures have been preserved for us to wonder at to this day.
The Museum houses the largest collection of dinosaur fossils anywhere in the world. And while not all of this is on display a huge number of complete and stunning skeletons are there to provide awe and wonder to all who come. Just about every dinosaur I dreamed of meeting as a child is present. And you really can come face to face with some of the most fearsome and wonderful creatures the planet ever managed to produce.
Without a doubt, the Star is the T-Rex, it always is, right? This is an impressive skeleton, actually recreated from two specimens, and is presented in a fearsome pose. There is a Stegosaurus, Triceratops, Apatosaurus/Brontosaurus, Alloasaur, Velociraptor…all the Species we loved as children.
There are other Fossils too including a woolly mammoth, Ancient Sharks, Pterosaurs, and an array of Mammals and Reptiles.
A New Addition to the Collection is the giant Titanosaur, one of the largest known dinosaurs to have lived. At 19 feet tall and 122 feet long this colossal skeleton barely fits in the purpose-made hall that houses it. It must have been a truly stunning animal when it roamed the earth. A harmless herbivore it is still a stunning sight to behold.
The Fossils halls are really the crowning glory of the museum and the perfect bribe for dragging your kids around a stuffy museum. The Fossil Specimens are really stunning and a fantastic way to really appreciate the scale of these enormous creations. There is an awful lot going on in the halls with so many specimens, it easily consumes a good couple of hours just wandering around the Fossil Halls.
So Is The Museum Worth the Visit?
The American Natural History Museum is really one of the finest collections we have visited anywhere in America. We have hit all the big museums in the country, Chicago, San Francisco, San Diego, etc… and nothing comes close.
The intricate and realistic Diaramas, The awe-inspiring Fossil halls, and the varied and wonderful ancillary halls, all conspire to make an interesting, informative, and thought-provoking visit.
The Museum is not only worth it, in both terms of cost ($23 is a bargain) and time spent, it is simply a must-see. There is nowhere like here anywhere on earth and we just think most people will get so much out of a visit.
Of course, it’s not for everyone. You need to commit a good half-day as a minimum. There is no nipping in and out of the museum, there is just so much to see. The experience is not a light-hearted one either this is heavy museum-going and if you are looking for lighter more fun activities then this is pretty hardcore museuming.
Kids may play up and get bored as there is a lot to see. But on the whole, the exhibits really reach out to most kids. You may get some groans in the gem halls or human Culture displays, but standing next to lions, tigers, and elephants, or staring down a T-Rex Skeleton are usually BIG hits!
Check Availability and book directly on Tiqets.com below, or check out the different Attraction Passes available for New York here. Passes are great value if you are planning on visiting several Attractions.
Have Your Say
Let us know your thoughts and experiences on Visiting the American Natural History Museum. Did you enjoy your visit? What were the highlights? Did we miss something you particularly enjoyed? Maybe you felt let down in some way? Whatever you have to say just fire away in the comments below. f you have any questions, again just leave a comment and we will get right back to you.