National Museum of Natural History
- Type: Museums
- Time to Spend: 2 hours to Half Day
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With more than 126 million artifacts on display, this robust Smithsonian museum attracts millions of visitors each year. Some of the museum's highlights include tarantula feedings in the O. Orkin Insect Zoo and the replicas of giant whales and other marine life in the 23,000-square-foot Sant Ocean Hall. You can also venture to the IMAX Theater for a show or the Butterfly Pavilion for some fluttery fun with multi-colored bugs. And no stop at the Museum of Natural History would be complete without stopping by the Hall of Human Origins, which traces the history of human species over the past 6 million years and displays life-size models of early human faces generated using modern forensic techniques.
While the museum's famous Dinosaur Hall will undergo a five-year renovation beginning in April 2014, a temporary exhibit in the Rex Room will afford visitors the chance to take a behind-the-scenes look at specialists inspecting a new Tyrannosaurus rex specimen on loan from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Although the National Museum of Natural History is free to roam, the IMAX and Butterfly Pavilion do charge a separate admission. IMAX and Planetarium screenings cost $9 per adult and $7.50 for children between ages 2 and 12; for $6, you can explore the Butterfly Pavilion (kids ages 2 and 12 can enter for $5). The museum welcomes visitors daily between 10 a.m. and 5:30 p.m., with extended hours in the spring and summer months. This museum is almost always crowded, but it's especially busy on summertime weekends. Plan to visit during the week to escape the masses.
If you're interested in exploring more of the Smithsonian's free museums, head to the Smithsonian Castle, which serves as the institution's national headquarters and offers information about each museum. For further information and visiting hours for each museum, consult the Smithsonian's "Plan Your Visit to the Smithsonian" page.