The American Museum of Natural History in New York is one of the worlds’ great museums. There is so much to see and do at AMNH that I am convinced you can spend an entire week at the museum and still not see half of it. Fortunately if you focus on just a few collections, you can see some incredible things and feel like you saw everything you came to see in one or two days. For me, my focus is (almost) always on the dinosaurs and other prehistoric fossils. The AMNH collection is fantastic, spanning every time period and almost every dinosaur family, and some of the dinosaurs that are exhibited are truly iconic in paleontology.
website: American Museum of Natural History
There are an awful lot of what can reasonably be called “highlights” at the AMNH. The “wows” start early–while in the ticket line in the Theodore Roosevelt Rotunda, it is hard not to marvel at two wonderful dinosaurs engaged in an epic battle: a Barosaurus rears up to defend its’ young from an Allosaurus attack. The Barosaurus mount is the tallest dinosaur mount in the world, and the display is a real highlight.
The fourth floor houses the rest of the dinosaur exhibits, and this venerable museum was among the first in the world to display dinosaurs. The Allosaurus on the fourth floor was one such early display. Built from a skeleton originally bought by famed fossil hunter Edward Drinker Cope during the “Bone Wars” period of American paleontology, the Allosaurus stands in a feeding pose atop the spinal column of some unfortunate sauropod. It is a great exhibit, and has stood the test of time: on the AMNH dinosaur app one can see a photo of the same exact display mesmerizing schoolchildren back in 1912!
The Tyrannosaurus rex at AMNH is a real beauty and demands attention; the Stegosaurus is also a great specimen. There are a number of great fossils in the large halls here. One of my favorite exhibits involves a growth series of Protoceratops skulls. The skulls range from very tiny to quite large, and show some of the amazing changes that these creatures went through over the course of their lives. Discovered by legendary AMNH paleontologist Roy Chapman Andrews, the extensive Protoceratops display also contains some complete adult fossils as well as a nest of eggs.
In addition to the great Protoceratops display, there are a number of other really good ceratopsian fossils to see. The Triceratops is very nice, the Styracosaurus is particularly beautiful. There is also a great Centrosaurus fossil in the exhibit.
For me, an exhibit that really draws my attention is the display of a large Apatosaurus fossil, the first large sauropod to have been displayed in a museum anywhere. Posed to be “walking” down a real dinosaur trackway, the tracks were made by a large sauropod dinosaur and discovered in the Paluxy River in Glen Rose, Texas. The trackway is very impressive, showing the sauropod footprints along with those of a large theropod. While the trackway was certainly not made by an Apatosaurus, it does make for a very beautiful display.
One of the more dynamic dinosaur displays is the Cretaceous dromaeosaurid Deinonychus. The fossil is posed in a way that makes it appear to be jumping into an attack. The “terrible claw” for which it is named is sure to make an impression! This was my son’s favorite dinosaur during our visit.
In addition to the absolutely fantastic collection of dinosaurs, the AMNH also has a wonderful collection of sea reptiles and pterosaurs. One of the nicest looking pterosaurs on display is the Tupuxuara, the headcrest on this creature really stands out. There are some great prehistoric creatures from the Permian and early Triassic as well, including nice examples of Dimetrodon, Edaphosaurus, and a really cool Triassic archosaur Prestosuchus.
In 2016, the AMNH has seen large crowds come to see the newest dinosaur on display: a 122′ titanosaur called Patagotitan. This creature was found fairly recently in Argentina and is now one of the largest dinosaurs on display anywhere in the world. This impressive dinosaur has received a lot of attention in the media and is certainly a highlight of the dinosaur collection.
IF I DON’T LIKE DINOSAURS, WILL I ENJOY MY VISIT?
If you don’t enjoy a visit to the American Museum of Natural History, I don’t think natural history is really your thing. If you are interested in space science, The Rose Center for Earth and Space, which includes the world-famous Hayden Planetarium, is particularly spectacular. If you like animals, the Hall of Biodiversity is a colorful and memorable trek through the history of life on this planet. The mammal, bird, reptile and amphibian halls have so much to explore, you could easily spend a day just walking through those. If anthropology is more your thing, the human origins and cultural halls are very interesting and well done. The AMNH is an enormous institution with vast holdings, of which only a small percentage are on display, yet what is on display can seemingly go on forever.
WHAT COULD BE BETTER?
The AMNH is such a large and complex organization that it is probably inevitable that some things could be better. If you don’t like big crowds, the AMNH can be a daunting place. Try to avoid weekend visits, and come early in the morning. As far as dinosaurs are concerned, one of the challenges of displaying this incredible collection is very simply a lack of space. With so many important and interesting fossils to display and such limited room, many of the displays are less dynamic than you might find in some museums. Few dinosaurs are displayed engaging with other dinosaurs, and some of the poses are not as dynamic as they might be. Still, there is so much to see here that any dinosaur lover will undoubtedly have a wonderful time. It is a magnificent collection of dinosaurs, sea reptiles and pterosaurs. There are far too many to remember, so be sure to bring your camera!
DID MY CHILDREN ENJOY THEIR VISIT?
Yes, absolutely. My oldest son particularly enjoyed the sheer number of dinosaurs that he saw at AMNH that he had not seen on display anywhere else. One word of warning though: if your children are not *really* into admiring dinosaur fossils but would rather climb on things and play in the dig pit, then the AMNH might disappoint. There are lots of interesting things to read and some nice hands-on computer stations that older children enjoy, but this is not really a dinosaur exhibit that is geared toward young children. Still, I think that most children will find some very memorable displays at AMNH. Just be prepared for the younger ones to get a little antsy in the crowded dinosaur halls.
HOW MUCH TIME SHOULD I PLAN TO SPEND THERE?
I have been to the AMNH at least five times now, and I don’t think I have ever gotten out of there in under three hours. Typically we visit the museum and eat lunch in their massive cafeteria, then go back to more of the museum. I would recommend at least four hous, otherwise you will feel like you rushed through this amazing place and missed a lot of it. The only exception would be for those with small children (kids under five). In that situation, I would recommend a two-hour visit with a targeted focus on one or two areas to explore.
The AMNH is one of the greatest dinosaur museums in the world, and a must-see stop when you are in New York. The museum and its faculty have been inextricably linked to many of the most legendary American paleontologists of their time. The museum purchased most of the collection of early dinosaur hunter Edward Drinker Cope, including the great Allosaurus on the fourth floor. AMNH also financed numerous expeditions and employed paleontology luminaries like Barnum Brown and Roy Chapman Andrews, and many of their greatest discoveries are waiting for you to visit them in this wonderful museum.
Rating Aspects of the Museum’s Dinosaur Displays:
Number of Dinosaurs on Display: (10 out of 10)
Fossil Displays/Creativity/Visual Layout/Overall Scene: (8.0 out of 10)
Unique/New/Famous/Important Fossils on Display: (10 out of 10)
Educational Materials/Display Information/Signage: (9.5 out of 10)
Activities/Play Areas for Children: (6 out of 10)