Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History
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Do you always dream to see century-old fossils of ancient dinosaurs? Then you should consider visiting the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History. Located on the National Mall in Washington DC, this is without a doubt the most visited natural history museum worldwide.
In 2018 alone, the museum received more than 6-million visitors. Every year, millions of people flock the museum to get a closer look at some of the most intriguing specimens that the museum has to offer.
It is also a research facility that inspires discovery and provides knowledge about nature through its several education programs, research, and exhibitions. There are also several workshops, temporary exhibitions, guided tours, educational programs, and special events suited to children, families, and schools.
History and building
The Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History was founded in 1846 as part of the Smithsonian Institution. In 1910, the museum moved to an imposing 1.5-million square feet building with over 325,000-square feet of exhibition and public space. This was due to the growing number of collections. This Neoclassical building was designed by an architectural firm known as Hornblower & Marshall and the architect Charles Follen McKim. Its top part features an iconic dome with a design inspired by the Pantheon which is in Rome.
(Source: Flickr/ National Museum of Natural History building)
Today, the museum’s building houses two cafes, four stores, restrooms, gift shops an IMAX theatre and is fully accessible to the physically impaired. While the building is free to visit, you will need to pay to access the IMAX theatre and the Butterfly Pavilion.
Collection and Galleries
The museum’s permanent collection features over 126-million cultural artifacts and natural science specimens. These include over 30-million insects, seven million fish, 4.5-million plants, and two million cultural artifacts.
You can also find over 400,000 photographs inside the National Anthropological Archives. All these artifacts and specimens are displayed in galleries, multimedia, and interactive exhibits. The most popular displays include the vast collection of natural gems and minerals, dinosaur skeletons, artifacts of the early man, a live coral reef, and an insect zoo.
(Source: Flickr/ National Museum of Natural History collection & gallery)
“Must See” Permanent Exhibits
Although the museum appeals mostly to families, there is at least something for everyone who visits here. Below are some of the must-see permanent exhibits that will engage and inspire people of all ages:
Hall of Geology, Gems, and Minerals
The hall showcases a wide collection of some of the most significant and famous gems and minerals.
The Sant Ocean Hall
It demonstrates how the ocean is connected to all the other global systems and people’s daily lives.
Butterflies + Plants: Partners in Evolution
This enables you to get up-close views of how plants and butterflies have evolved and diversified over millions of years.
The Last American Dinosaurs
It shows the first accurate skeleton of a dinosaur in virtual motion. This is achieved through the use of scanning and digital technology.
It features a wide variety of live insects and exhibits about insects. To illustrate the type of insects that live in different environments, different habitats have been created.
Hall of Mammals
Houses over 270 mammals and hundreds of fossils on display in different types of environments.
(Source: flickr/ National Museum of Natural History exhibits)
Museum Hours and Tours
The Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History opens daily from 10:00 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. During the spring and summer, the closing hours get extended up to 7:30 p.m. Just like all the other Smithsonian Institution museums, entry is free. Being the most popular museum for families in Washington, DC, you are advised to arrive early in the morning or late in the evening if you want to avoid crowds.
The most convenient way to get to the museum is by using public transportation. If you choose to use the Metrorail, take the Blue or Orange lines to the Smithsonian station and then use the Mall exit. If you prefer using the Metrobus, you can use the 32, 34 or 36 routes.
If you’re in the area and want to see some sights that are not museum based then we would recommend Prince William Forest Park.