A first-timer’s guide to the American Museum of Natural History

Posted By Allison on May 18, 2015


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Families might recognize the American Museum of Natural History in New York City as the setting for the Night at the Museum movies. I admit that was one of the reasons my children (ages 7 and 10) were excited to visit this world-famous science museum.

It turns out that a lot of American Museum of Natural History doesn’t look all that much like the movie. You will spot some familiar exhibits and galleries (Dum Dum, where’s my gum gum?), but it’s not like stepping through the screen. It’s bigger and better!

Here are our top tips for families at the American Museum of Natural History.

A first-timer's guide the the American Museum of Natural History in New York City | tipsforfamilytrips.com

It’s huge!

The American Museum of Natural History has 45 permanent exhibit halls, plus the Rose Center for Earth and Space that are included in General Admission. You could spend days at the American Museum of Natural History exploring every exhibit. However, most families will succumb to museum fatigue within a few hours, or need to save some time and energy to visit other New York City attractions.

Check out the museum’s website before you go to plot your family’s priority attractions. We arrived at opening and headed straight for the dinosaurs at the top floor to beat the crowds. That gave us time to get a few stranger-free photos, but the museum is large enough that we didn’t feel overcrowded in any of the exhibits on a Tuesday in June.

A first-timer's guide the the American Museum of Natural History in New York City | tipsforfamilytrips.com

Exhibits

Our priority exhibits were the dinosaurs, African mammals, the Easter Island statue, primates, the blue whale and a planetarium show. They did not disappoint, and we saw a lot of other interesting exhibits about nature, world cultures, space and history along the way. The huge blue whale replica is especially impressive and shouldn’t be missed.

Many families will also enjoy the Discovery Room, which is filled with hands-on learning activities for children ages 5-12. My family missed it, but it’s something that my kids probably would have enjoyed.

Plan to pay a little extra if you are interested seeing in some special exhibitions or one of the IMAX or planetarium shows. The shows may fill quickly, so purchase tickets early in the day and arrive at least 15 minutes in advance of showtime for better seats.

A first-timer's guide the the American Museum of Natural History in New York City | tipsforfamilytrips.com

Consider a tour

Want to make sure you see the most famous and important museum exhibits… or everything about dinosaurs or whales… or see the exhibits that inspired the Night at the Museum movies? Try one of the free guided or self-guided tours. These tours include:

  • Highlights Tour
  • Dinosaur Tour
  • Whale Tour
  • Earth and Space Tour
  • Theodore Roosevelt Tour
  • Night at the Museum Tour

Free guided tours last 2-3 hours, and run on a schedule. If you’d prefer a self-guided tour, you can find them all on the museum’s website.

A first-timer's guide the the American Museum of Natural History in New York City | tipsforfamilytrips.com

Combine with the Metropolitan Museum of Art or Central Park

The American Museum of Natural History is located directly across Central Park from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, so you can do both on the same day. If the weather is good, walk straight through the park. The Met is on the other side, and there is a playground on the north side of it, if you’d like to take a play break before or after your visit.

Taking in two massive museums and a trek across the park will require a lot of energy, so keep your expectations realistic and pace yourself! I found that 2-3 hours was about all my 7-year-old could handle in each museum, and though I hated to miss a single gallery, I was pretty worn out myself.

A first-timer's guide the the American Museum of Natural History in New York City | tipsforfamilytrips.com

Where to eat

The American Museum of Natural History has several cafes and a food court. The food court offers a variety of family-friendly fare, including burgers, pizza, sandwiches, tacos, salads and sushi. There is a Shake Shack behind the museum, which has good burgers and shakes, but expect crowds all day.

We opted for the hot dogs from the cart across the street. We just wanted something quick and cheap on our way to The Met, and since we were in NYC, we wanted to say we’d tried it. Once was enough for me, but it was one of my 7-year-old’s favorite meals in the city.

Consider CityPASS

The American Museum of Natural History is part of the New York CityPASS, and includes General Admission plus one IMAX or Planetarium show at the Rose Center for Earth and Space.

If you are also planning to visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Empire State Building, Statue of Liberty, Top of the Rock or the 9/11 Memorial Museum, CityPASS can save you up to $70 per person. Read my full review of CityPASS here to see if it’s right for you.

Disclosure: We only promote products and destinations we have personally experienced and genuinely recommend. We received complimentary adult CityPASSes from NYC & Company and CityPASS. This post contains affiliate links. Using these links does not increase the price you pay, but does help us provide free content. Thank you for your support!

A first-timer's guide the the American Museum of Natural History in New York City | tipsforfamilytrips.com

Good to Know

Where: 79th Street and Central Park West, New York City. The museum is easy to reach on the B or C subway lines. Parking is available at the museum, starting at $24 for the first hour.

When: Open daily, 10:00 am – 5:45 pm. Closed on Thanksgiving and Christmas.

How Much: There are lots of ticket options, and price varies by age. Visit www.amnh.org/plan-your-visit/admissions-ticketing for detailed options.

The museum is included in several discount passes, including New York CityPASS, New York Pass, and Explorer Pass. All can be purchased at the museum.

How Long: At least 3 hours

Amenities: dining, gift shops

Website: www.amnh.org

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links.

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Allison
Hi there! I am the founder of Tips for Family Trips. I am a married mom of two children, ages 10 and 12, living near Salt Lake City, Utah. We took our first child on a two-week road trip when she was four weeks old and we have been traveling as a family ever since. We love to get out of the house to see and do fun things, both far away and in our own neighborhood.

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