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Founded in 1869, this classic museum contains a veritable wonderland of more than 30 million artifacts – including lots of menacing dinosaur skeletons – as well as the Rose Center for Earth & Space, which has a cutting-edge planetarium. From October through May, the museum is home to the Butterfly Conservatory, a glasshouse featuring 500-plus butterflies from all over the world that will flutter about and land on your outstretched arm.
On the natural history side, the museum is perhaps best known for its Fossil Halls containing nearly 600 specimens, including the skeletons of a massive woolly mammoth and a fearsome Tyrannosaurus rex.
There are also plentiful animal exhibits (the stuffed Alaskan brown bears are popular), galleries devoted to gems and minerals, and an IMAX theater. The Milstein Hall of Ocean Life contains dioramas devoted to marine ecologies, weather and conservation, as well as a beloved 94ft replica of a blue whale suspended from the ceiling. At the 77th St Lobby Gallery, visitors are greeted by a 63ft canoe carved by the Haida people of British Columbia in the middle of the 19th century.
For the astronomical set, the Rose Center is the star of the show. Its mesmerizing glass-box facade – home to space-show theaters and the planetarium – is indeed an otherworldly setting. Every half-hour (check website for specific times) you can drop yourself into a cushy seat to view Dark Universe, narrated by famed astrophysicist and Rose Center director Neil deGrasse Tyson, which explores the mysteries and wonders of the cosmos.
Note that while you can pay what you wish for general admission (in person only), in order to see space shows, IMAX films or ticketed exhibits you'll need to pay the posted prices for admission plus one show (adult/child $28/16.50) or admission plus all shows ($33/20).