6 Travel Tips: Visiting the National Museum of Natural History

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On a recent trip to Washington, D.C. we had the opportunity of visiting the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History. Actually, our kids insisted and who could blame them. After our experience, both kids and parents had a great time, spending 4 hours there in one visit.

If you’re considering a visit to the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History (and if you have kids, you really should), we’ve compiled a few tips to make your visit more enjoyable:

Travel Tip 1: Bring Water.
No drinks or food are allowed in the museum (excluding the 2 cafes where you can purchase items). The only exception is water so make sure to pack a bottle. Keeping hydrated not only keeps your energy up when walking around the exhibit, it will also stave off hunger for a bit. Plus bringing your own water helps to avoid buying expensive drinks on site.

Travel Tip 2: Arrive Early.
The National Museum of Natural History is a great hands-on museum, offering something fun and interesting for the whole family. This also means it is a popular museum. Plan to arrive early to avoid line-ups and large crowds (you’ll have to go through a security screening; that’s what the line-up is for).

Travel Tip 3: Print the Night at the Museum Tour Guide.
If you are like us and you are visiting the National Museum of Natural History to see some of the items from the Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian movie, then you’ll love the printable guide book from the Smithsonian’s website. It will highlight the features at the museum that are relevant to the movie and it also tells you where you can locate them. My son loved carrying his ‘map’ with him and being on the lookout. This guide isn’t available at the museum in a hard copy so if you want it, you’ll have to print it out at home before heading to the museum.

Travel Tip 4: Grab a Souvenir.
You’ll find pressed penny machines at the entrances and within the various gift shops. These make great inexpensive souvenir for the kids to collect ($1.01 US). You’ll find different penny imprints at the various machines so you can grab the ones that illustrate something that has meaning to your child or your experience. The Smithsonian also has its own souvenir token. You can pick these up at the gift shop ($1.00 US) and there’s one available for each museum (each museum sells only their token.) I love these tokens but I would love them even more if they had the museum name on them. Instead they have an image that the museum feels best represents each that particular museum (such as T-Rex on the National Museum of Natural History token).

Travel Tip 5: Eat Before Your Visit.
As mentioned earlier, there are two cafes within the museum (on the ground floor and the 1st floor) but the food is rather poor quality and highly expensive. We ordered a hotdog, just a hotdog. It was a standard size, warmed under heat lamps and it cost $6.95 US! But when you can’t bring food into the museum, your options are limited and they know that. Even with poor food and high prices, the cafes are quite busy and you might have difficulty finding a place to sit down after you grab your food. You are better off having a good meal before you head into the museum or cut your visit short and find a nice place to eat afterwards.

Travel Tip 6: Don’t Rush.
The Smithsonian has 15 museums within Washington, D.C. and most are free (some extra costs for special exhibits) so it’s easy to want to pack your day full of museum visits. Instead of rushing through the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History so you can hit a second or third museum on the National Mall, plan to enjoy the museum you are in. You’ll get more out of the experience if you let kids linger and interact versus just pushing them through. Plus young kids get tired. Even if you have all the energy in the world to do a marathon museum run, your kids will probably be beat from walking and interacting with the exhibits within the National Museum of Natural History. Instead, maybe hit the hotel pool or enjoy a little quiet time doing nothing.

Even after spending four hours within the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, we didn’t cover it all. And the museum is always updating exhibits and offering special exhibits. The museum offers so much for families that you’ll want to go again and again.

Photo credit: Smithsonian Institution

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