Walking With Dinosaurs at the National Museum of Natural History

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Growing up in Virginia, my classmates and I were often taken on field trips into Washington, DC, to explore the variety of cultural riches on offer. My favorite museum was (and still is) the National Museum of Natural History, thanks to its amazing collection of dinosaur fossils. Part of the Smithsonian Institution, the Museum opened in 1910 and “is dedicated to inspiring curiosity, discovery, and learning about the natural world.” (Quote source.) With over 127 million artifacts spread across the area of 18 football fields and the most visitors of any museum in North America, I’d say it fulfills its mission!

Dinosaur Hall is understandably the most popular section of the museum, with fearsome, fully-intact specimens looming over passers-by, their sharp claws and monstrous teeth enough to send shivers down your spine. The exhibit leads you on a journey through time, illustrating how the world’s animal life evolved over the millennia and how many became extinct. A glass-enclosed Fossil Lab provides a glimpse into the field of paleontology, as experts carefully extract fossils from rock before your eyes.

If you are hoping to get up close and personal with these dinosaurs, make haste as the exhibit is closing April 28, 2014ย to undergo major renovations and won’t reopen until 2019.







This is what North America looked like before the last ice age. I wish those Woolly Mammoths were still roaming the Great Plains!

But the Natural History museum has a lot more to offer than just dinosaur bones. Theย Kenneth E. Behring Family Hall of Mammals is home to an impressive collection of 274 animals, beautifully preserved and presented in astonishingly life-like positions. Big cats are frozen mid-leap, their startled prey just out of reach; a gangly giraffe dips its long neck for a drink; a hippopotamus opens its mouth wide to show off its impressive tusks. Animal lovers young and old are sure to be delighted!




This white rhinoceros was originally donated to the museum by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1909.




This Downton Abbey fan enjoys browsing the National Gem Collection, the star of which is the infamous Hope Diamond. Currently weighing in at 45.52 carats, this grayish-blue diamond is literally the stuff of legends. Originally discovered in the early 17th century, the diamond was given to Louis XIV of France, who had it cut down (from a mind-boggling 112 carats) and incorporated into the crown jewels. It was stolen during the French Revolution and resurfaced in England some 20 years later where it was sold to George IV of England. After King George’s death in 1830, Henry Philip Hope purchased the gem, which thereafter bore his name. Evalyn Walsh McLean, an American mining heiress, acquired the diamond in 1912 and had it set into the stunning necklace we see today.

In addition to dazzling jewels, the Hall of Geology, Gems and Minerals contains a vast array of minerals, rocks and ores, including nine Martian meteorites and a one pound piece of Californian gold. Recreated mines illustrate how precious materials are retrieved from the earth and the dangers involved. I was amazed by the endless variety in shape and color of the many minerals on display.

I wasn’t as impressed with the section of the museum dedicated to ocean life as when I was a kid, probably because the 45-foot whale hanging from the ceiling seemed somehow smaller. The gallery also looked completely different, having undergone major renovations and reopening as the Sant Ocean Hall in 2008. While it may be hard to compete with childhood memories, I did enjoy watching the colorful fish flit around the new 1,500 gallon aquarium.

More interesting is the Hall of Human Origins, which delineates the evolution of mankind over the past six million years. Several skeletons of early humans are on display and interactive exhibits show how we are related to other living things. Did you know that the genetic make-up of humans is 60% similar to that of banana trees and 98.8% similar to chimpanzees? The gallery also includes several creepily realistic models of what our early-human ancestors would have looked like, as well as a photo booth so you can picture yourself as a neanderthal. (Feel free to Insert your own joke here about an ex-boyfriend.)

National Museum of Natural History
Address: 10th St. & Constitution Ave. NW, Washington, DC
Entrance Fee: None


Have you been to any of the Smithsonian museums in DC?

Which exhibits do you like best?


18 thoughts on “Walking With Dinosaurs at the National Museum of Natural History

  1. I haven’t been to any of the museums in DC because we’ve never traveled there before, but going there is definitely on my list. I love museums and history, so this would be a perfect place to visit! I’d also love to visit Washington during the spring as I heard there is quite the impressive display of cherry blossom trees there ๐Ÿ™‚
    Lauren recently posted…The Forbidden City Exhibition at the ROM (Royal Ontario Museum), TorontoMy Profile

    • If you love museums, DC is definitely the city for you! There are dozens within the Smithsonian Institute – which are all free! – and a few private art collections as well. I’ll be sharing posts soon about a few of my favorite museums here and will post about the cherry blossoms as soon as this winter ends and they burst into bloom!

    • The giraffe is my favorite too ๐Ÿ™‚ I’ve been to NYC’s Natural History Museum and remember enjoying the visit. We’re lucky to have access to so many cultural and scientific riches!

  2. Great photos! I *love* all of the Smithsonian museums. I’d heard about the planned renovations, but thanks for the reminder. I’m actually expecting a visitor the last weekend of April, and she’s never been to DC, so we will be checking out many museums, including Natural History. Personally, my favorite in DC – although not a part of the SI – is the National Gallery of Art. The number and diversity of fantastic exhibits I’ve seen there over the years is astounding. The one problem with living in the DC area – we get spoiled by all these wonderful free museums, so when I travel to other cities and am suddenly faced with a museum entrance fee, I get a bit miffed! ๐Ÿ™‚
    Daina recently posted…How Well Do You Recognize Foreign Languages?My Profile

    • Thanks, Daina! I’ve been showing multiple visitors around since we’ve been back in the area and it’s fun to play tourist along with them! I also love the National Gallery of Art and hope to dedicate another post to its beautiful collection. My next post is going to be on the Spy Museum, which is always a crowd favorite, but sadly a little expensive. You’re right that it’s easy to get spoiled by all those that are free!

      • Looking forward to your post on the Spy Museum! I’ve only been once, and that was thanks to a coupon. I was a bit surprised as to how crowded it was, and how much reading it required – which was made more difficult my the aforementioned crowds. If you’ve not yet checked out the “American Cool” exhibit at the Portrait Gallery, I do recommend it if you find the time! And I am definitely looking forward to my out-of-town visitor, as otherwise nowadays I often just don’t find the time to check out all the museums.
        Daina recently posted…How Well Do You Recognize Foreign Languages?My Profile

    • Isn’t it amazing?! I highly recommend spending a few hours inside! I feel like I learn something new on every visit!

  3. This was absolutely awesome, Heather! My father, though deceased now, was a history teacher for almost 30 years. He told me the National Museum of Natural History was a must visit destination for me. While I haven’t made it there yet I most definitely will. Obviously the Dinosaur Hall is huge in my interest list. There is scene early on in the movie Jurassic Park where the movie them starts playing when they see the dinosaurs for the first time and I still get incredible goosebumps everytime I watch even that clip. Ok, I’m going scroll back up and stare and the pictures some more. Thank you! ๐Ÿ™‚
    Mike recently posted…Leftover Thanksgiving Sandwiches, Easy and DeliciousMy Profile

    • Thanks so much, Mike! That really means a lot. I know the scene you’re talking about, it really is a thrilling moment! I can’t wait to see what NMNH does with its already impressive Dinosaur Hall – and I hope you get to see it in person some day! ๐Ÿ™‚

  4. I enjoyed our visit to DC- just wish my knee hadn’t hurt so much.
    Hopefully in May I’ll be walking better and we’ll get to explore
    some more. Great article.

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