Visiting the American Museum of Natural History with Kids
An iconic landmark and popular tourist destination for all ages, the American Museum of Natural History, is one New York experience that exceeds expectations. If you’re visiting New York City, this is one stop you won’t want to miss. Below you’ll find an essential guide to help you make the most of visiting the American Museum of Natural History with young kids.
Visit the museum when it’s least crowded.
The museum is a popular destination for New Yorkers as well as tourists. It is busiest during school breaks, weekends and holidays (closed on Thanksgiving and Christmas). While the museum is open to visitors 7-days a week during the hours of 10:00 am to 5:45 pm, it’s best to arrive right when the museum opens on a weekday morning for the least crowded experience. If that doesn’t work for your itinerary, even early on a weekend morning will get you ahead of the rush.
Know your ticketing options: saving time vs. saving money.
You have several ticket options when visiting the American Museum of Natural History. Tips for purchasing tickets are outlined below:
- Pre-Order: You can pre-order museum tickets online and skip the line when you arrive, however, online tickets must be purchased for the full recommended donation price. Current pricing for adults, seniors and children is available on the American Museum of Natural History ticketing page. The base entry price does not include special exhibitions, the planetarium or IMAX movies.
- Attractions Pass: The museum is a participant in several NYC museum and attraction travel pass programs. (Visit the website for current promotions.) Attractions passes can be purchased online or at the museum itself. These passes give discounted rates for multiple NYC attractions and tours. This is a great option if you plan to visit multiple locations over a few days time.
- Pay What You Wish: The most budget-friendly option is to pay what you wish of the suggested donation price. You can only purchase this option at the museum ticket counter upon arrival. Pay What You Wish tickets do not include entrance to special exhibits. You must pay full price to be able to purchase add-on experiences. There is nearly always a queue, even right at opening, so arrive right at the museum opening. Especially if you plan to purchase tickets at the counter.
Strategize your time and check out the map to build excitement with your kids.
This museum is massive with four floors housing 45 permanent exhibits. On average you’ll spend 60-90 minutes per floor. This equals being able to explore 3-5 exhibits per hour accounting for travel time. When visiting with small children it’s best to pick two floors to explore with one bonus floor if everyone is feeling up to it. Or, select six exhibits with a few bonus exhibits if time permits.
Download the official American Museum of Natural History Explorer app or visit the museum website to decide which exhibits your kiddos are most excited to see. The app has added functionality once you are at the museum and connects to the museum wifi. It includes turn-by-turn directions saving you time trying to locate the elevators, stairwells or restrooms. The museum also has information kiosks with paper maps on floors one and two.
Fill up on delicious New York eats before and after you visit the museum.
A morning or afternoon at the museum requires a considerable amount of energy and walking, especially for little legs. Eat a big breakfast (or lunch) before visiting to maximize your time and stamina at the museum. While the museum has several small cafes, you’ll find tastier food, better prices, and less crowds at nearby restaurants. A few nearby New York favorites include:
Shake Shack — Although it’s usually crowded and a bit of a wait for a fast-food joint, the burgers are great and the shakes are even better! If you don’t see open tables after you order, don’t fret, the turn-over is quick!
Patsy’s Pizzeria — Patsy’s offers some of the best pizza in town with quality ingredients that the kiddos love. It’s also super family-friendly!
Irving Farm Coffee Roasters — This is a great place to grab a quick snack for the kids and a coffee for mom and dad to keep everyone going.
Peacefood Cafe — Whether you’re vegan or not, Peacefood Cafe has a great vegan menu. It’s perfect for those who are looking for a “clean meal” between all the pizza, hotdogs, dumplings and noodles.
For more toddler-friendly restaurants around New York City, check out FivePax. They have a list of the best local favorites for eating out with kids.
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Getting to the museum by subway.
The closest and most convenient subway station to the American Museum of Natural History is at 81st Street via the B or C trains. (Note, the B train does NOT run on the weekends.)
If you need an elevator for a wheelchair or stroller you will want to take the 1, 2 or 3 trains to the 72nd Street station. From there, you’ll walk or hop on the M7 bus (strollers must remain folded on NYC buses). For detailed directions, download the CityMapper app or use Google Maps.
Best ways to enter the American Museum of Natural History building.
If you’ve never been to the museum and aren’t bringing a stroller, enter through the iconic main entrance on Central Park West at 79th Street. There is a flight of stairs to enter here and you cannot take a stroller in through the revolving doors.
If you’re visiting with a stroller, head over to the Rose Center on 81st street between Central Park West and Columbus Avenue. While it feels a bit out of the way, the lines are often shorter at this entrance. This can help make for a smoother start to your visit.
If you use the ‘stroller-friendly entrance’, the Rose Center security will inspect your bags just inside the doors and direct you to the elevator. The kiosks and ticketing counters (where you can purchase pay-as-you-wish tickets) are at the bottom of the stairs.
Insider tip: There are restrooms and benches next to outlets at the back of the Rose Center. Use this time for a quick restroom break, to connect to the museum wifi, to finalize your route or even give your phone a quick charge if you need to.
Use the app to easily navigate the museum.
Download the official American Museum of Natural History Explorer App before you arrive! It’s a serious time saver and helps you make the most of your visit. It allows you to connect to the museum wifi for full access to all of the features, which is a huge benefit.
If the kiddos get tired, allow them to navigate the interactive map and let them guide your family to the exhibits. If you have a stroller, the turn-by-turn accessible instructions will save you time locating elevators and ramps. Just tap the wheelchair icon in the bottom right corner of the app.
Consider tours and information assistance upon arrival.
If you are seeking more information and/or education during your visit, the museum offers free guided tours several times a day. The guided tour schedule for the day is available at information counters. The staffed information desks can be found on the first and second floors of the museum. The employees can answer any questions about tours, exhibits, or services during your visit. A guided tour is best with older children. Being able to more freely explore is best when visiting the American Museum of Natural History with younger children.
Top 3 iconic exhibits you do not want to miss when visiting the American Museum of Natural History!
There is so much to see, do and explore at the American Museum of Natural History, but you won’t want to miss these particular exhibits.
1. The Blue Whale in the Hall of Ocean Life (First Floor)
The walk to the Hall of Ocean Life is a treat in its own right, but take a few minutes to explore the Hall of Biodiversity as you pass. Upon entering the Hall of Ocean Life, the elephant seals will stun toddlers with their enormous size. That is until they round the corner to view the gigantic Blue Whale suspended from the ceiling. Your kids will nearly fall over trying to lean back and take in the massive whale suspended above their heads. Sit down under the whale and look up for the best view!
2. African Elephants in the Akeley Hall of African Mammals (on the 2nd and 3rd Floors)
The animals throughout the Hall of African Mammals are stunning and easily recognizable to even the littlest kids. You’ll see giraffes, gorillas, lions, rhinoceros and more, but it’s the platform of elephants in the center of the room that is the show stopper. You can view them from above (on the third floor) but the second floor has the best view. Here you’ll get a real sense of just how enormous these magnificent creatures are!
3. Dinosaurs! (Fourth Floor)
The T-Rex, Apatosaurus, Triceratops and Stegosaurus fossils all live on the 4th floor. Understandably, this is the most crowded floor at the museum. You should make this your first stop to allow you to get an unobstructed few of the skeletons. Snap a few photos before the aisles are full of excited families with strollers and other visitors.
Other tips and information for visiting the American Museum of Natural History
- There are accessible restrooms on every floor (10 total in the museum). Use the app for turn-by-turn directions to the nearest one.
- A lactation pod is available at the back of the Rose Center on the lower level, but mothers are welcome to nurse their children anywhere they feel comfortable within the museum.
- If you wish to bring your own lunch or snack you can eat in the school lunchroom on the lower level. Be advised that the space is not formal and occasionally does not have tables or chairs available. A staff member can direct you to the nearest cafe to eat your meal if this is the case.
The American Museum of Natural History is a wonderful place to visit and enjoy with young kids. With a bit of planning, it will be an adventure the whole family will talk about for years to come.
Brittany is a freelance career coach, HR generalist and lover of coffee and baking! She is also a master packer, activity captain and runs an active website called Five Pax where she blogs about family travel and everyday moments of her endlessly on-the-go family of 5. She welcomes anyone to come and read about the beautiful insanity of raising her three kids in New York City!