Last Updated on April 19, 2021
Last Updated on April 19, 2021
If you plan to visit Western NC, please check beforehand to see if the area is safe following the recent flooding. Officials have closed some sections of Pisgah National Forest (including Forest Heritage Scenic Byway and Blue Ridge Parkway stops) to keep visitors out of danger. Please respect signage and local guidance.
There are some truly wonderful museums in Raleigh, but the NC Museum of Natural Sciences offers just about all you’ll need in one space. It’s free to the public and located in the heart of downtown, which is great if you’re hoping to find more things to do in Raleigh before or after your visit.
The exhibits are engaging for hungry minds of all ages and a mix of top-notch programs join the fun, too. Inside our guide, we’ll offer an overview of the museum, ticketing information, and why you should keep coming back to the NC Museum of Natural Sciences!
Here’s how we’ve organized things:
- Quick Guide (Address, Contact Info, and Admission Info)
- NC Museum of Natural Sciences Background
- Ticket Info
- Exhibits (The Nature Exploration Center and the Nature Research Center)
- Virtual Programs and Community Outreach
- More Things to Do in Raleigh (Suggestions and Related Posts)
This post is part of our series on Central North Carolina (specifically Raleigh) and the best things to do in North Carolina. We’ve also featured the NC Museum of Natural Sciences among our favorite museums in North Carolina, especially children’s museums.
Address: 11 West Jones St, Raleigh, NC 27601
Phone Number: 919-707-9800
Hours & Admission: naturalsciences.org/visit/hours-admission
Note: Pricing, operating hours, or menus may change after publication.
The museum is open from Tuesday to Sunday from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm. Reserved, timed tickets are no longer required, but capacity remains limited. Visit the NC Museum of Natural Sciences website to see hours for specific areas of the museum and museum closures.
About the NC Museum of Natural Sciences (Background Info)
The North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences dates back to 1879, when the state’s agricultural and geological collections merged to create what is now one of the largest museums of its kind in the Southeast.
It is also the state’s most visited museum, with over 1 million visitors annually.
Another remarkable fact about the NC Museum of Natural Sciences is that they collaborate on exhibits with other institutions across NC. They also support other museums through their North Carolina Science Museums Grant Program.
NC Museum of Natural Sciences Exhibits
The museum is divided into two buildings: the older Nature Exploration Center and the newer Nature Research Center. These two buildings span two city blocks and are joined together by a pedestrian bridge accessible from the museum’s second and third floors.
See live animals and insects, life-size skeletons including a giant whale, engaging interactive exhibits, and a butterfly house.
The Nature Exploration Center
Permanent exhibits in the NC Museum of Natural Sciences’ Nature Exploration Center building include:
- Natural Treasures of North Carolina: this exhibit explores both current and extinct things native to NC.
- Coastal North Carolina and Coastal North Carolina Overlook: learn about NC’s coastal habitats and see one of the most impressive whale skeleton collections in the US.
- Mountains to the Sea: this area is filled with dioramas of life-like exhibits.
- Nature’s Explorers: learn more about the museum’s past and what the future holds.
- Underground North Carolina: view beautiful gems and minerals.
- Discovery Room: designed for younger visitors, this room allows them to get up and close with natural science.
- Terror of the South: say hello to the Acrocanthosaurus, a giant dinosaur.
- Prehistoric North Carolina: explore and learn all about prehistoric times in North Carolina.
- Tropical Connections: this area showcases species such as tree boas and poison dart frogs and promotes biodiversity.
- Mountain Cove: take a look at the plants and animals that typically hide under cover of darkness or camouflage.
- Snakes of North Carolina: come look at some of the 40 snake species native to NC.
- Arthropod Zoo: an exhibit filled with living insects and large models.
- The Living Conservatory (Butterfly Room): this replica of a tropical dry forest habitat is home to many butterflies and a two-toed sloth, among other creatures.
The Nature Research Center
The Nature Research Center building is newer but also offers many opportunities to immerse yourself in science.
- SECU Daily Planet: this three-story-tall theater plays clips that show the Earth in great detail.
- Investigating Right Whales: meet Stumpy, a whale struck by a ship that enacted change in Right Whale protected habitats.
- Exploring the Deep Sea: take a ride in the submersible to explore different sea life and see researchers hard at work.
- Our Changing Ocean: this 10,000-gallon aquarium exhibit replicates the rugged bottom habitat off the NC coast.
- Naturalist Center: take a look at its extensive collection of bones, fossils, and other specimens.
- Diversity of Life: learn about how scientists are exploring diversity.
- Window on Animal Health: watch highly-trained vets perform checkups on museum animals.
- Researching Weather: take a look at weather scanners from different parts of the country and past weather activity.
- Natural World Investigate Lab: partake in hands-on scientific lab experiments.
- Ancient Fossils, New Discoveries: this exhibit highlights microscopic specimens from the Ediacaran period.
- Postcards from Space: explore different meteorites and how they are classified.
- Planet Micro: here, you’ll walk through larger-than-life microbe models.
- MicroWorld Investigate Lab: this hands-on lab allows you to discover nature on a microscopic level.
- Unraveling DNA: learn about DNA barcoding and how much DNA you share with other species.
- Visual World Investigate Lab: here, scientists translate raw data into something they can understand.
In 2022, a new permanent exhibit and laboratory called “Dueling Dinosaurs” will be opening to the public. It will showcase the most complete fossils of a T. Rex and Triceratops ever found, the two of them locked together at the time of their death.
This exhibit comes with a state-of-the-art interactive display and the ability to witness the fossils up close as researchers study them.
The NC Museum of Natural Sciences offers a variety of interactive programs for small groups ranging from 8 to 30 people. These programs are flexible and can be taught at various locations, including, but not limited to, schools, camps, and libraries.
The presentations are also adjustable to all ages and abilities. Small group programs to choose from include the following:
- Story Time
- Growing Up in the Animal World
- Meet the Animals
- Animal Tracks and Signs
- Ant Picnic, Birds of a Feather
- Fossils and Prehistoric Life
- Music and the Brain
- Rocks and Minerals
- Tools of the (Scientific) Trade
There are two virtual program options for those who would like to learn more but aren’t able to come in. The first option is the Virtual Group Program, which gives students around the world the opportunity to hear from a Museum instructor.
The instructor tailors the video presentation to the current curriculum and can include live animals, activities, and other specimens.
The second option is an Individual Virtual Program where parents can sign their children up for interactive lessons.
More virtual program and events can be found here.
Ready to Visit the NC Museum of Natural Sciences?
The NC Museum of Natural Sciences has long been our go-to place in Raleigh, especially on rainy days, hot summer and cold winter days, and any other time we can’t get outside.
Based on all it offers, we don’t think that will change any time soon. We consider it one of the best things to do with kids in Raleigh and the fact that it’s a free attraction is why we’ll keep coming back to this amazing science museum.
Have you ever visited the NC Museum of Natural Sciences? We’d love to know what you thought of it. If you haven’t been yet, we hope you’ll make it out there soon and share your experiences with us!
More Things to Do in Raleigh
Because this Raleigh science museum is right in the heart of downtown, there are plenty of other fun and free things to do nearby! One favorite right next door is the North Carolina Museum of History.
Marbles Kids Museum requires admission but is only a short walk away if you are visiting with children. It can certainly provide a full day of fun.