10 Essential American Museum of Natural History Tips

March 14, 2019

The American Museum of Natural History is a New York City staple. As the backdrop of the movie, “Night at the Museum,” this historic destination has educated visitors from around the world since 1869.

Between its status as a pop culture icon and an NYC landmark, it should come as no surprise that this museum is a top tourist destination. As a result, you’ll need to do a bit of planning prior to visiting.

Before you go, read through these American Museum of Natural History tips to help organize your trip.

Get to the museum before the crowds!

1. Beat the Crowds

Depending on when you schedule your trip to New York City, the museum may or may not be filled with tourists. Crowds tend to flock to the museum on the weekends, during school breaks, in the summer, and throughout the winter holidays.

If you’re not a fan of crowds, one of the most valuable Museum of Natural History tips I can provide is to visit on a weekday. Or, if this isn’t possible, enter the museum right when it opens at 10:00 am to beat the crowds.

2. Buy Museum Tickets Online

Since the museum is a massive phenomenon, the tourist crowds and ticket lines can also be a bit overwhelming. To skip the lines and go straight to the exhibits, buy your American Museum of Natural History tickets ahead of time online.

On my recent trip to the museum, I arrived five minutes after the doors opened. The ticket lines were already wrapped around the Theodore Roosevelt Rotunda and main entrance! Fortunately, I already purchased my tickets and skipped the line.

When buying your tickets, review each ticket type. Certain ticket types include access to special exhibitions, films, and space shows in the Hayden Planetarium, while others do not.

3. Download the AMNH App

Growing up in the New England/Tri-State area, I’ve had the privilege to visit the museum several times throughout my life. My most recent visit was far more enjoyable since I downloaded the American Museum of Natural History app before my trip. It’s a game changer!

The museum’s app helps you accomplish a variety of things including finding particular exhibits, organizing an itinerary, and accessing your tickets.

During previous visits, I’d often get lost trying to find a bathroom, specific exhibit, or hall. (After all, this museum is massive. It’s easy to get lost.) Now, using the app, I was able to follow step-by-step instructions on how to get from point A to point B.

Also within the app, I was able to enter my topics of interest and receive personalized exhibit recommendations.

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And if you followed our American Museum of Natural History tips and purchased tickets in advance, you can also link the reservations directly to the app for your convenience. No need to worry about accidentally losing printed tickets!

4. Getting to the Museum

The American Museum of Natural History is located in the Upper East Side directly next to Central Park at 56 West 81st Street, New York, NY 10024.

There are several ways to get to the museum, but I personally recommend taking the subway. The 81st Street stop on the B or C trains is only two blocks west of the museum. And, the 1 train stops at Broadway & West 79th Street for another convenient destination.

Note: If you need wheelchair accessible stations, take the 1, 2, and/or 3 train to the 72nd Street Station and connect on the northbound M7 bus from Amsterdam Avenue.

Other ways to get to the museum include:

  • Taxi - Convenient, but pricier than a subway. Depending on where you’re coming from, this may not be an affordable option.
  • Uber/Lyft - Similar to a taxi, these rides can be convenient but expensive. If you only have a short distance to travel, this is a great way to get to the museum.
  • Bus - Several buses stop at or near the museum, including the M7, M10, M11, M79, M86, and M104 buses.
  • Driving - If you prefer to drive, park at the museum’s garage located at 81st Street between Central Park West and Columbus Avenue. There is an hourly rate for the garage, with a maximum parking fee of $49

If you’re confused about where to go, rely on Google Maps or ask a local. Contrary to popular belief, New Yorkers are quite friendly and willing to help!

For the best visit, know what to bring into the museum.

5. What to Bring to the Museum

With 4+ floors filled with exhibits, prepare to spend the entire day exploring everything at the museum. As such, you’ll need to bring a few things for an enjoyable experience.

Before you go to the museum, be sure to pack:

  • Your Tickets (printed or linked to the app or Apple Wallet)
  • Phone with a charger or external battery
  • Wallet/Purse
  • Valid ID
  • Cash/Credit Cards
  • Camera, if desired

In addition, you’ll want to wear comfortable clothes and shoes ideal for walking. I do not recommend wearing any type of shoes that are uncomfortable in the slightest way. With how much walking you’ll be doing, sneakers or flats are your best bet. Leave the heels or dress shoes at home.

Speaking of leaving things at home, among the important Museum of Natural History tips on our list is understanding what not to bring, such as:

  • Selfie Sticks
  • Tripods
  • Luggage
  • Oversized Bags
  • Carry-ons

6. Entering the Museum

For the safety and security of guests, staff, and the exhibits, the museum requires every visitor to pass through a security checkpoint. This process includes opening your bags for security guards, removing items such as cell phones from your person, and walking through metal detectors in a single-file line.

Due to this thorough process, the line to enter the museum can be a little long. This is why I strongly recommend arriving to the museum as close to opening as possible and purchasing tickets in advance.

close up of Mammal Halls display at the American Museum of Natural History in NYC, New York, USA7. Have a Museum Plan

There is so much to see and do at the museum! From the Milstein Family Hall of Ocean Life (my personal favorite) to the Anne and Bernard Spitzer Hall of Human Origins, you’ll want to see it all.

Yet, this may not be possible depending on a variety of factors including exhibit closures or your schedule. For instance, I learned the Hayden Planetarium was closed for repairs ahead of my trip and revised my plans to accommodate this.

Using the museum’s app, make a plan of exhibits you must see during your visit. I recommend planning your day floor-by-floor. If you hop from exhibit to exhibit, you may wind up going up and down the stairs/elevator all day, which is super exhausting.

Of the American Museum of Natural History tips listed here, this recommendation is ideal for tourists visiting with families or groups. Letting everyone know your intended order of exhibits also ensures everyone stays together and doesn’t get lost!

8. Get Ready to Walk… A Lot

Have I mentioned how big this museum is? I have? Good.

Thankfully, the museum also understands just how much walking is involved and offers places to rest throughout. So you don’t run through the museum, miss half the exhibits, and get a leg cramp, schedule enough time in your itinerary to fully experience the museum.

For reference, on my last trip, I entered the museum at 10:00 am and left at 2:00 pm, and still didn’t see all of the exhibits!

First-time visitors deserve to experience the museum’s wonder at their leisure. While there is a whole lot of walking involved, it’s in your best interest to not rush through your visit.

evening view of the main entrance to the American Museum of Natural History with uplighting in NYC, New York, USA

Eating before entering the museum saves you time and money.

9. Eat Beforehand

The museum offers three dining areas/cafes throughout the building. However, these areas are a bit small and on the pricey side.

That said, the Upper East Side is home to a wealth of diners, restaurants, coffee shops, and more. Instead of paying top dollar for some snacks and a drink, grab breakfast or an early lunch at a restaurant beforehand.

Not only will you save money in the long run, you’ll also be fueled up for a full day at the museum.

10. Quick American Museum of Natural History Tips for Kids

If you’re visiting NYC and the American Museum of Natural History with kids, it’s imperative to be prepared. To ensure your family has a memorable time at the museum, keep these fast tips in mind:

Make Way for Meltdowns
I continue to harp on the point, but the museum is gigantic. For a kid, the number of exhibits plus the seemingly never-ending amount of walking inevitably leads to a meltdown.

As their parent, you know how to keep meltdowns at bay or how to handle them. Whatever this means for your family, come prepared!

Talk to Kids About Museum Behavior
While most patrons will understand the occasional child tantrum, it’s still good practice to keep kids on their best behavior. Remind kids about museum etiquette such as using indoor voices and not touching or climbing on the exhibits.

Answer Their Questions
The American Museum of Natural History is an extraordinary learning experience, especially for young minds. As a result, your kids will likely have questions. Be sure to answer these as best you can to keep their interest and spark their curiosity. And, if you don’t know the answer, there’s always a museum docent around who does!

Gift Shops
Of course, the museum has gift shops. It’s up to you as the parent to determine if this will be part of your museum experience or not. Discuss this beforehand with your children so expectations are set and emotions won’t run high when they see that dinosaur stuffed animal they have to have!

Hands-On Activities
In certain places in the museum, hands-on experiences are available for guests. During my stay, I touched a dinosaur skull and learned more about the human brain under a microscope. Encourage your children to take advantage of these opportunities and expand their understanding of the world around us.

Plus, the museum has several children and family programs each day too.

Explore the American Museum of Natural History on Your Trip

Visiting NYC anytime soon? Make sure a trip to the museum is on your “must see” list!

With these Museum of Natural History tips in your back pocket, you’re prepared for an educational and entertaining visit.

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