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The American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) is a hub for all things science: biology, ecology, zoology, geology, astronomy and anthropology. Spanning many city blocks on the Upper West Side, with four floors, 42 permanent exhibits, a planetarium and an IMAX theater, this behemoth of a museum attracts approximately five million visitors each year.

To say the museum is massive is an understatement, and the exhibits can feel like a maze if you don’t have your bearings. How to cope? Check out the AMNH website ahead of time to plan your visit and prioritize what you want to see. If you’ve only got an afternoon, you can probably choose 4-5 exhibits safely. Factor in extra time for a show at the Hayden Planetarium (a must, in our opinion).  

If you need some help getting started, here’s what we suggest:

EARTH & SPACE

The Rose Center for Earth and Space

Astronomy is a key component of the research done at the AMNH. The outer space aspects of the museum are contained in a massive wing known as the Rose Center for Earth and Space. The dominant feature of this grand, multi-exhibition center is the Hayden Planetarium, where digital reproductions of the night sky and special lectures are popular.

Dynamic Earth Globe, Gottesman Hall of Planet Earth

Take a seat in the granite amphitheater and see earth from an alien’s POV on this massive projected globe.

ENVIRONMENT

The Dzanga-Sangha Rainforest, Hall of Biodiversity

This diorama painstakingly replicates one of the most biodiverse forests on the planet and stresses the importance of conservation.

Giant Sequoia, North American Forests

It took more than 1,300 years for the giant to grow and 13 days to cut it down. This slice came from a Sequoia that was 331 feet tall and measured 90 feet around the base of the trunk.

ANIMALS

Dioramas, North American and African Mammals

These habitat dioramas capture mountain lions, jaguars and grizzly bears (oh my!) and set them against magnificent landscapes painted by James Perry Wilson.

The Blue Whale, Milstein Hall of Ocean Life

This 94-foot fiberglass mammal is a museum staple (it’s pretty much everyone’s favorite part.) Suspended in air, it reminds us of the larger mysteries of the sea.

The Reticulated Python, Reptiles and Amphibians

Coiled around a tree, this 25-foot-long snake is bone-chilling, to say the least.

DINOSAURS

Tyrannosaurus Rex, Hall of Saurischian Dinosaurs

At 65 million years old, the fossilized bones of the original thunder thighs are arranged in a walking position giving visitors honest perspective on the size of these prehistoric creatures .

Pterosaur skeletons, Hall of Vertebrate Origins

If you’re afraid of birds, you ain’t seen nothing yet. These old birds wingspan is more than three times that of Michael Phelps, so their skeletons are quite a crazy site.  

Bonus tips to make your visit go smoothly:

  • Make sure to have breakfast or lunch before your time at the museum. Brunch at Isabella’s  (359 Columbus Ave at 77th St) is always a good bet, and located right across the street from the museum. There is also a Shake Shack (366 Columbus Ave) and Le Pain Quotidien (50 W 72nd Street) nearby—both New York fail-safes.
  • Check your coats at the coat check in the museum so that you don’t have to lug them around all day.
  • Use the self-service electronic kiosks to buy your tickets instead of waiting in the (long) “regular” ticket line—most people don’t bother to look for these, so you’ll save time.
  • If you’re meeting someone, plan to meet on the steps outside. Meeting inside is going to be difficult!
  • Download the free AMNH Explorer App to your iPhone to learn about exhibits and get turn by turn directions inside the museum if you tend to get lost.

image via flickr