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The Smithsonian Museum of Natural History

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Everything you need to know about visiting the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History with kids.

Washington DC is packed full of fascinating, family friendly museums and all those which are part of the Smithsonian are totally free to visit. Perhaps the most popular and recognisable due to the Night at the Museum film is the Museum of Natural History, It's home to more than 126 million human, animal and plant artefacts. We spent a day exploring recently, here’s everything you need to know if you’re planning a visit.

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The first thing you’ll see when you arrive is the 14 foot tall, 12 ton African Elephant which will really set you up for the day.

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The first level is home to the Mammals Hall, Oceans hall and the Hall of Human Life, all of which are super interesting and educational.

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The Hall of Human Life was my favourite, it walks you through all ages of early man via models, educational films and some interactive exhibits all the way up to today.

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It covers population change, disease and the impact us humans have had on the planet and each other, it’s very educational and opened up some great conversations with my 7 year old.

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Oceans Hall is intriguing and made us realise just how little is known about the oceans. There’s a huge focus on protecting our seas and their creatures and has had a really lasting effect on Piper, she now comments on everyones recycling habits! You will also learn how scientists study marine life.

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There’s a 45 foot North Atlantic Whale watching over everything, a giant squid (little ones will love it!) and the 7 foot tall jaws of a megladon, eeeekkkk!

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The Mammals Hall is full of dead, stuffed animals, or models of animals, some of which look a little past their best but if you can’t make it to the Smithsonian zoo on your visit, little animal lovers will be in their element (maybe don’t tell them some are real!).

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Piper loved taking her own pictures and spotting the ones she recognised.

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Upstairs is the National Forest Hall which is also home to the amazing dinosaur exhibit (although this is closed for refurbishment until 2019 so they’ve moved the dinos downstairs).

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We got to watch museum staffers working on fossils in the Rex Room and learned about fossils on a fab retro arcade game.

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We channelled our inner jurassic park and explored everything about these historical creatures in the temporary exhibit – The Last of the American Dinosaurs which is open through 2018.

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They have various interactive stations around the museum with staffers demonstrating various small experiments, this one was fossil finding, where we sifted through various pebbles to find small fossils and plenty of fish poo! Everyone was extremely friendly and happy to answer Pipers many questions.

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The Minerals and Gems Hall is perhaps not as interesting for kids but grown ups will surely be blown away by the Hope Diamond, one of the biggest and oldest (and surely most expensive) in the world. In the flesh it’s a huge blue diamond surrounded by smaller white diamonds, the magpie in me couldn’t look away!

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There’s plenty of other interesting jewellery on display and some fascinating minerals and rocks – Piper raced me through this area!

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Then it’s onto the live bug zoo, I’m totally squeamish around bugs but Piper’s a huge fan so I swallowed my fear and let her explore the many creepy crawlies on display.

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They have daily tarantula feedings – terrifying for me, fascinating for Piper!

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For a small extra fee (around £5), there’s a lovely butterfly pavilion where you can walk through a small garden full of live butterflies. Piper spent ages standing as still as a statue waiting for one to land on her!

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They also have the Q?rius learning space which allows tweens and teens to engage in real life, hands on science experiments.

And finally, the main attrction for Piper - DumDum, (a Moai or Easter Island Head), located at the far entrance (on the mall side).

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The museum isn't as technologically advanced or as interactive as others we’ve visited in the USA but those tend to cost over £20 and I really love the history of this place.

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Make sure you have a wander through the Pollinator Garden on your way out. It showcases natural plant/pollinator partnerships and is so very pretty and fragrant, great for teaching kids about the pollination process.

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Additional Information

Entry is free and the museum is open every day except Christmas from 10 AM to 5:30 PM.

Over summer, the Smithsonian holds sleepovers in some of their museums but you need to plan well in advance, tickets sell out well in advance and kids need to be 8 or over. 

Smithsonian Museum of Natural History

10th St. & Constitution Ave. NW,  

Washington, D.C. 20560

(202) 633-1000

Closest metro Station is the Smithsonian Station

There is a café onsite which is fine but if you’re looking to save some money, you can always bring your own and have a picnic on one of the many beautiful open spaces outside the museums. 

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Have you been to the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History? We'd love to hear what you thought, just leave us a review of the SMNH or pop a comment below.

If you're looking for things to do in Washington DC with kids, you may also like our full review of the Smithsonian National Zoo.

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