Spanning two city blocks, the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences is the most visited museum in the state. Located in the heart of downtown Raleigh, the museum is housed in the iconic SECU Daily Planet building. Focusing on the natural world, the Museum's mission is to illuminate the interdependence of nature and humanity.

More than just a home for natural objects, the Museum of Natural Sciences is a living research center that brings together various disciplines to create an interactive and interdisciplinary experience. With many awards and accreditations to its credit, including an affiliation with the Smithsonian, the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences is not only an engaging activity, but also a scientific institution. Certain attractions may be temporarily closed or require advance reservations. Hours/availability may have changed.



The origins of the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences date back to the late 1800s. After the State's geological and agricultural collections merged, State General Assembly established the mission of the organization to illuminate the natural history of North Carolina. The museum continued to grow from there, developing not only a strong foundation of collections, but focusing on research, conservation and education, as well.

These efforts were spearheaded by the Brimley brothers, who immigrated to North Carolina from England in the 1880s, seeking adventure in a new frontier. The brothers were avid collectors of interesting natural artifacts. One a hunter-naturalist, the other a scientist-collector, between the pair, they built up the collections and guided the development of the Museum for many decades. The Museum has also been honored throughout the years, with the Museum receiving the National Medal for Museum and Library Service in 2014, the highest honor that can be bestowed on libraries or museums, in recognition for service to the community.

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2.Permanent Exhibits

Permanent Exhibits  

The Museum's permanent collections provide myriad opportunities for education and exploration. These collections are split between two primary areas: the Nature Exploration Center and the Nature Research center. These exhibits provide an engaging environment through which to learn about the wonders of the natural world.

Nature Exploration Center

The Nature Exploration Center at the Museum of Natural Sciences host an abundance of exhibits to see and explore. Most of the exhibits focus on the natural wonders of North Carolina, highlighting the world in the community's own backyard. These include Natural Treasures of North Carolina and Mountain Cove, which examine some species found only in this particular area, and Nature's Explorers, which highlights the region's past.

From the near to the distant past, the Nature Exploration Center covers it all. Guests will want to be sure to check out Prehistoric North Carolina and Terror of the South, two exhibits highlighting the flora and fauna of the area in time before man. This includes the only full Acrocanthosaurus skeleton on display in the world, and a 1.5 million-year old sloth. The journey back in time continues in Underground North Carolina, an exhibit dedicated to the geology of the area, including highlights of the four major gemstones that can be found there - diamonds, rubies, emeralds and sapphires - the only state that can claim to be home to all four.

After digging beneath the surface, visitors can return to the waters' edge, to explore several exhibits highlighting the North Carolina Coast. These include Mountains to Sea, where guests explore habitat recreations and learn more about the flora and fauna found right at home. Coastal North Carolina and its Overlook above, highlight the coastal zones of the state, which include saltmarshes, barrier islands and maritime forests. The view from the overlook features an extraordinary blue whale skeleton, one of the finest on display in the country.

Moving from skeletonized animals to the real live things, the Nature Exploration Center features several exhibits with creatures of all shapes and sizes. The Living Conservatory highlights distinctive habitats, particularly the unique tropical dry forest and its inhabitants. The Arthropod Zoo showcases creatures that creep and crawl, and the Snakes of North Carolina exhibit live ups to its name - featuring some of the 40 species of snakes found in the state.

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3.Nature Research Center

Nature Research Center  

The Nature Research Center is home to a wide ranging array of science exhibits, hands on labs and multimedia experiences. To begin the journey, the SECU Daily Planet exhibit brings the world to each visitor. From the outside of the building, this scaled down globe is an interesting architectural element, from the inside, it is a three story theater which showcases the wonders of the world in exquisite detail. Guests can get up close and interactive with these wonders at the Naturalist Center, with hands on activities and collections that can be held and examined. If this exhibit awakens an inner scientist, the Citizen Science project provides an outlet, creating opportunities for everyday individuals to contribute to science in meaningful ways.

To continue to satiate this desire for science, visitors can head to one of four Investigate Labs to see scientists in action and get involved, as well. The Visual World lab transports guests using the latest technology, from robotics to virtual reality, to GIS mapping and more. In the Natural World lab, visitors can perform experiments, test hypotheses, and see nature through the eyes of a scientist. The Micro World enables explorers to learn about some of the smallest organisms around, and the smaller parts within, including isolating and analyzing DNA.

If the Micro World lab is of particular interest, the Nature Research Center has much more to entertain and educate for those mesmerized by the miniature. The Unraveling DNA exhibit educates and enlightens guests on the intricacies of microscopic DNA. If that weren't enough to satisfy the desire for miniscule minutia, the Center's Planet Micro examines the miniature microbe through immense models. Visitors gain a unique perspective on these tiny organisms by examining these giant representations.

In addition to these laboratories and micro exhibits, the Nature Research Center has even more to pique the interest. Ancient Fossils, New Discoveries exhibits the study of fossils from tiny microscopic organisms to fearsome prehistoric predators. From the travels of meteorites in Postcards from Space, to a dive into the depths of the oceans in Exploring Deep Sea and Our Changing Oceans, the Center seeks to illuminate and enlighten not only our world, but others as well. All of these exhibits and more are ready to be discovered at the Nature Research Center.

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Not only is the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences a well-established museum and center for the sciences, but it is also home to enough animals that it is practically a zoo. There are nine freshwater and five saltwater fish exhibits spread throughout the Museum, highlighting the species in and around the Appalachian Mountains and North Carolina coastline, with more than 100 different species of both fish and invertebrates.

Another 35 exhibits at the Museum make up the Living Collection of 50 different species of reptiles and amphibians. The aforementioned Living Conservatory and Arthropod Zoo also contribute to this cacophony of critters. There are so many animals, in fact, that the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences is home to its own Veterinary Services unit to care for this assortment of animals. Visitors can see them at work in the Window on Animal Health exhibit.

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After so much to see and do, one might think that would be all, but with a variety of events and activities, every visit can be a new experience. The types of events vary widely, from Introduction to Cells, North Caroline Wildlife, and Candid Critters in the Classroom, to CSI Dublin: Hunting a Potato Killer, there is something to satisfy every scientific interest. Events consist of several different types, including classes, lectures, movies, discussions and daily programs. The upcoming events calendar listed on the website is the best place to see what's on at the Museum and make the most out of a visit there.

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Education is a huge part of any trip to the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, however, there is more to offer educators and students alike even than can be found in the exhibits. Special events, workshops and resources for educators provide inspiration for those who shape young minds. Field trips to the Museum get students out of their normal environment, bring science to life, and create an interactive learning atmosphere. E-learning and outreach through online tools and virtual programs bring the Museum to the community.

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7.Plan Your Visit

Plan Your Visit  

Dozens of exhibits, hundreds of animals, and countless ways to learn, explore and investigate, the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences is an educational and entertaining activity for the whole family. The Museum is easily accessible from most freeways, with public parking available nearby (there may be a fee on weekdays). In order to make the most of a visit, visitors are advised to check the Museum's website to see what events and activities are taking place.

For those hoping to take home a museum momento, three different store showcase toys, books, keepsakes, educational activities and much more. Onsite dining ensures the family can spend a full day exploring the exhibits and getting lost in the learning.

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11 West Jones Street, Raleigh, NC 27601, Phone: 919-707-9800

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Things to Do in Raleigh: North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences

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