While I certainly visited numerous science museums when growing up, it wasn’t until my visit to the world famous Field Museum of Natural History in the city of Chicago that my appreciation for the non-humanities oriented museums developed.
On my last visit to Washington D.C. we had visited the Smithsonian Museum of American History, so on this trip we opted for the Natural History Museum (the two are located right next door to each other on the capital’s Mall).
The Natural History Museum is free (which always gets the visit off to a good start) as are all of the other Smithsonian museums in Washington. We arrived about 3 PM and as the museum closes at 5:30, our time was more limited which meant picking and choosing which areas of the museum we wanted to visit. As is the case when visiting any major museum, there’s usually too much to see and not enough time to see it all if you want to visit other attractions.
We entered the museum on the Constitution Avenue side so we had to go up the escalator in order to arrive at the main entrance which is where the stunning rotunda is located. The African Bush Elephant is most likely the first thing you will spot upon entering the rotunda due to its immense size. Seeing stuffed mammals such as this makes me all the more anxious one day to go on an African safari.
D was most interested in heading to the Fossils, Dinosaurs, and Early Life section of the museum first. It features reconstructions of fossils dating back 230 million years ago which is unimaginable to think about. My favorite parts about this area was the placement of reconstructions up high; to me this kind of museum placement definitely extends an air of creativity, not to mention keeps with the constructions themselves since I doubt many of them were still, sedentary creatures.
Afterwards we moved onto the Mammals Hall which was grouped according to geographic locale, so there were African, Asian and Australian sections. Obviously an institution of the caliber of the Smithsonian Natural History would offer visitors an extremely well informed and educational experience and yet I can’t recommend this museum enough for the younger visitor demographic. History, geography, natural science-it is all found here.
A major attraction of the Natural History Museum is the Hope Diamond which is located in the museum’s Geology, Gems, and Minerals section. This was one of the last areas we visited as we were nearing closing time and so we rushed more quickly through it than we would have liked. For anyone not familiar with this famous gem, the Hope Diamond is the largest deep blue diamond in the world and is famous for its incredible clarity and color. It’s over a billion years old and once belonged to King Louis XIV of France in the 17th century. It also served as the inspiration for the famous necklace in the 1997 film Titanic. The Hope Diamond is the Natural History Museum’s equivalent of the Mona Lisa painting in Paris’ Louvre-located in much too small an area for the number of people flocking around it. I much preferred some of the other jewelry pieces found in adjacent rooms; less famous but equally striking.
On a personal note I was thrilled to see the presence of the Korea Gallery, even if no one was there when we passed through. While small, it had some interesting anthropological relics on display.
Other permanent exhibits in the museum include Egyptian mummies, an insect zoo, ocean hall and a section on human origins. While we didn’t partake as that obviously does cost money, the museum is also home to an IMAX theater playing both science oriented documentaries as well as a mainstream movie (The Hobbit currently).
Any of the Smithsonian museums offer a first class experience and yet if you’re looking for one that will appeal to all family members, the Natural History Museum is probably the best fit. http://traveltalesfromtheredheadedtraveler.blogspot.com/
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