Step into the Smithsonian’s Natural History Museum and you’ll not only be in the largest of the 20 Smithsonian Museums but also the most popular. If you only have 6 hours in Washington DC, this is the one museum to visit. The Natural History Museum is located at 10th St, NW, at Constitution, Ave, NW, between the National Gallery of Art to the east and the American History Museum to the west. There are entries on the National Mall and on Constitution Avenue.
Once inside, there are many must-see displays for both adults and kids like the Hope Diamond in the mineral collection on the 2nd floor. Or meet Lucy, our 3.18-million-year-old ancestor whose partial skeleton on display here was found while archeologists were listening to the Beatles song of that name. But you’ll first have to get by Henry, the 11- ton African Bush elephant who greets ALL visitors near the info desk inside the front door where there are free maps of all displays and a friendly, patient staff to help with answers.
Ahead on the first level awaits a whale named Phoenix. Not a generic right whale, this is a 50-foot replica of an actual living right whale born in 1987 – suspended from the ceiling. You’ll view the model of Phoenix looking up as though you are standing on the ocean floor. The real Phoenix is very active and patrols the waters off America’s east coast from Florida to Canada.
But there’s more! At the butterfly pavilion you can enter a room full of brilliantly colored butterflies – they will gracefully float around you sometimes lighting on visitors on their way to visit their favorite blooms growing there in the chamber. You’ll be placed in a separate room upon leaving just to make sure no butterflies have become overly attached to you. We recommend you sign up for the butterfly visit before going to any other displays because sometimes there is a wait.
Near the butterflies, you could take in a tarantula feeding… or make straight for T Rex. Discovered in Montana by Barnum Brown one of the Smithsonian’s fossil hunters around 1908 this magnificent dinosaur skeleton is posed in a stalking position… waving its tiny arms with its 4 – foot jaws open and ready for prey. Nearby, is a display of another T Rex gnawing on a Triceratops. This area of the Natural History Museum is full of many other dinosaurs, like Allosaurus and Stegosaurus. You are welcome to touch a fossilized T Rex bone as well as view the glass-enclosed Fossil Lab where scientists are working every day to excavate fossils from rock.
It would take years on end to visit all the displays in the Natural History Museum, so most visitors stay for about two hours per visit then come back again and again. There are great gift kiosks near all the major displays but before you leave, make sure to stop at the main gift store on the lower level… packed with costumes, toys and posters all focused on natural history… you’ll find something for everyone on your list.
The Independence Avenue entrance is at 10th St. & Constitution Ave. NW between 9th & 12th Streets.
The Madison Avenue entrance is onside the inside of the Mall.