Enter the American Museum of Natural History on Central Park West, pass the statue of President Theodore Roosevelt, and there, towering above you in the main hall, is one of the most impressive displays of dinosaur anatomy on the planet. It’s a replica of a Barosaurus
skeleton, and at some 45 feet, it’s the tallest dinosaur exhibit in the world.
Everything about the AMNH exists on a grand scale, which is befitting for an institution whose mission is nothing less than the study of everything in the natural world, including the universe and the taxonomy of all known creatures, living and extinct.
The AMNH’s holdings comprise more than 30 million specimens, only a portion of which can be displayed at any one time. You can easily get lost meandering through the massive museum’s 46 permanent exhibition halls, which is a pretty wonderful way to spend an afternoon.
A few of the can’t-miss highlights of the astonishing collection:
The museum’s displays of ancient fossilized bones are justifiably among its most fabled attractions. Head up to the 4th floor and start your journey through the fossil halls by watching the short orientation film that explains how all the ancient skeletal creatures you are about to see are connected on the evolutionary tree (those are the dulcet tones of Meryl Streep, by the way). Walk the progression of species, including the predatory Tyrannosaurus rex
, the horned Triceratops
, and the looming mammoth. Suspended from the ceiling in the Hall of Vertebrate Origins are the terrifyingly huge jaws of the Carcharodon megalodon
, a 10-milllion-year-old ancestor of modern sharks whose mouth could easily encompass several of the awestruck children below.
In the Milstein Hall of Ocean Life hangs the museum’s famed blue whale—94 feet long, 21,000 pounds, and suspended over the floor by what seems like magic. Inside the diorama cases that surround this leviathan, you’ll find walruses, dolphins, and a grim battle between a sperm whale and a giant squid, forever grappling for survival in the dark ocean depths.
The Rose Center for Earth and Space takes you on a journey into a different kind of darkness—the ever-expanding outer reaches of our universe. The displays here include an ingenious and enormous model of the solar system, scales that allow you to find out how much you would weigh on Saturn, and a real relic from outer space: the 15.5-ton Willamette meteorite. The 492-seat Hayden Planetarium offers a mesmerizing, high-tech space show that leaves audiences in awe. The show Dark Universe,
now playing at the planetarium, explores the mysteries that still exist in the universe and the future of cosmic exploration (you must purchase either a Super Saver or Museum +1 ticket to view the film).
In the Anne and Bernard Spitzer Hall of Human Origins, you can learn about six million years of human evolution by perusing fossil hominid skeletons. Kids will get a kick out of the anatomically correct models of an Australopithecus couple whose 3.5-million-year-old fossilized footsteps were discovered in Tanzania. They will also get chills from a diorama showing Peking man being stalked by a huge and hungry-looking hyena.
The museum’s animal dioramas, many of which date back to the earlier half of the 20th century, are among its most enduring pleasures. The Akeley Hall of African Mammals, with its central group of eight intimidating African elephants, is as spectacular as ever. Kids love to spot the smaller animals hidden in the grasses and forests of these meticulously recreated environments.
The 43 dioramas in the Hall of North American Mammals are open to the public again after a yearlong project that restored them to brilliant condition. The fur of the towering Alaska brown bear has been retouched and refluffed. The battling male moose are clashing with renewed splendor. And the painted Grand Canyon that serves as a backdrop for a crouching cougar has fresh depth and vibrancy.
The sparkling treasures in the Guggenheim Hall of Minerals are tucked into one of the museum’s less-visited areas, but don’t give them a pass. You’ll find intricate natural formations of stibnite, pyrite, hematite, and quartz, as well as a 4.5-ton block of iridescent azurite-malachite ore. Keep going and you’ll reach the Morgan Memorial Hall of Gems, home to the 632-carat Patricia Emerald and the Star of India, a 2-billion-year-old star sapphire that weighs in at 563 carats, the world’s largest. J.P. Morgan donated the Star to the collection in 1900. In 1964, it was one of several gems stolen from the museum in a nighttime raid by a cat burglar known as “Murph the Surf,” but it was later recovered from a locker in a Miami bus station.
Includes admission to the Museum and Rose Center for Earth and Space
Included admission to the Museum, Rose Center, and choice of Space Show, IMAX, or Special Exhibition
Includes admission to the Museum, Rose Center, IMAX, Space Show and Special Exhibitions.
Good for kids?
Children of any age will find something to captivate them here. Especially beloved by the younger set are the massive dinosaur fossils on the fourth floor and the Milstein Hall of Ocean Life, where a life-size blue whale hangs from the cavernous ceiling, presiding over dioramas of walruses, sharks, dolphins, and polar bears.
Did you know?
Restoring the Dall sheep in the Hall of North American Mammals required the animals to be put in a freezer to kill insects that were infesting their horns.
The AMNH is anything but a dusty showcase for past achievements. The museum is a cutting-edge research facility where more than 200 scientists in fields ranging from anthropology to astrophysics are hard at work every day, setting out on 100 field expeditions each year.
Additional Information American Museum of Natural History