The renowned Smithsonian Institution is the largest museum, education, and research complex in the world, featuring a jaw dropping network of about 23 cultural institutions that run the gamut of museums, galleries and even a zoo. It was now my last day in Washington D.C. and after having definitely made the most of my limited time in this incredible space of history and learning, I was now gleefully rubbing my hands together as I joined the queue to get into what is arguably the most famous jewel in the Smithsonian’s crown: the National Museum of Natural History.
With the mission to promote understanding of the natural world and our place in it, the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History is steward to a collection of more that 145 million specimens and artifacts, each one reflecting a moment in space and time, each collection giving us a glimpse into the story of Earth. The main museum building itself is a gorgeous work of architectural art, covering an overall area of 140,000 m2 with 30,200 m2 of that being dedicated to exhibition and public space. Entering through the main doors under the huge gleaming Rotunda (designed in the Beaux-Arts style), you are immediately greeted by Henry, the 4 m tall 11-ton taxidermized African Elephant that has been welcoming visitors to the museum since 1959.
From there you are free to tackle the museum and its incredible halls in any order that you would like. The Hall of Mammals take you on a global trip through the world’s largest collection of vertebrate specimens in the world, while the Insect Zoo and Butterfly Pavilion attempts to show off insect adaptation across different biomes such as freshwater ponds, mangrove swamps, deserts and a rain forest. The Ocean Hall features an incredible array of marine specimens and models, while the incredible Dinosaurs/Hall of Paleobiology asks you to jump back even further in time with its amazing collection of dinosaur skeletons.
The Hall of Human Origins tells the incredible story of the evolution of humankind, while African Voices is said to “examine the diversity, dynamism, and global influence of Africa’s peoples and cultures over time in the realms of family, work, community, and the natural environment”. To be fair, this one did feel slightly out of place, but hey, encountering mentions of South Africa in another country is always lots of fun!
The Hall of Geology, Gems, and Minerals is an incredible exhibit of all things polished and shiny, and the Hope Diamond and the Star of Asia Sapphire are just as astonishing as what you would have imagined them to be. The Bone Hall is as macabre as what you would expect, while the Hall of Fossils takes you on a fascinating journey through time and planetary changes. And although we didn’t know it just yet (COVID was still to strike), the temporary exhibit of Outbreak: Epidemics in a Connect World proved to be just about right on the money.
All in all an incredible place of knowledge, history and learning, and certainly one of those museums that you probably need to visit over the space of multiple days just to be able to absorb everything on offer. Highly recommended and well worth visiting, even if just to dine under the gaze of 16 m long Mega-toothed Shark! ;)