Planning a trip to New York City?
Families might recognize the American Museum of Natural History 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 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.
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 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.
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 in seeing 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.
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. Self-guided 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.
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. I hated to miss a single gallery, but I was pretty worn out myself at the end of the day.
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. You'll find Shake Shack behind the museum, which has good burgers and shakes, but expect crowds all day.
We bought hot dogs from the cart across the street. We wanted something quick and cheap on our way to The Met, and it's an NYC thing. Once was enough for me, but it was one of my 7-year-old's favorite meals in the city.
Ways to Save
Don't pay full price! There are several options that will help you save on admission at the American Museum of Natural History.
Do you have young children? Kids under age 2 get free admission to the American Museum of Natural History.
Viator.com sells discounted tickets to the American Museum of Natural History. It's also a good place to find independent guided tours.
The American Museum of Natural History is included in these money-saving passes, along with the Empire State Building, Statue of Liberty and many more. If you’ll be visiting several popular New York City attractions, one of these passes will probably save you money.
- Go New York (formerly Explorer Pass) – Choose 3, 4 or 5 activities from a list of 80+ attractions.
- CityPASS – Bundle and save on admission to 6 popular destinations.
- New York Pass – Choose a number of days and do as many of the 100+ activities as you can in that time.
- Sightseeing Pass – Choose a number of days or a number of attractions. It’s the most flexible pass option.
We have used both Go New York and New York CityPASS. Both work well, but they work differently. Click the links below to read more about each pass and decide which is the best fit for your interests and budget.
- Tips for Getting the Most From Your Go New York Pass
- Tips for Getting the Most From Your New York CityPASS
Disclosure: We received complimentary CityPASSes and Go City passes on different NYC trips for the purpose of review. However, we would have visited the Natural History Museum with or without a pass. All opinions are my own.
The American Museum of Natural History is a great museum for families. I recommend watching Night at the Museum with your kids before your trip. Do a little research to identify your top exhibits in advance.
Buy your tickets online in advance to avoid the ticket line. Buy through the official website, Viator.com or a bundle-and-save pass like CityPASS. The American Museum of Natural History is included in all the popular discount passes.
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.
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.
How Long: At least 3 hours
Amenities: dining, gift shops