So what do you need to know when you are planning to visit the dinosaurs in Paris? And why should you visit the dinosaurs in Paris? We’ve got seven things that you need to know before you visit the dinosaurs at the French National Museum of Natural History, and realistically you need to know these things before you even book your tickets.
The Long and the short of the MNHN in Paris
- Official name: The National Museum of Natural History (Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle)
- Website: https://museumfrankfurt.senckenberg.de/en
- Location: rue Buffon, 75005 Paris (next to Gare d’Austerlitz)
- Opening times: Open every day from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. except Tuesdays. Closed on 25 December and 1 January. In the event of a heatwave, the Gallery may also close.
- Cost: Adults EUR 10.00; concession EUR 7.00; entry is free for persons under 26
- COVID-19: Online bookings (+ time slot) required. All persons aged 11 years or older must wear a face mask.
- Food and drinks: There is nowhere to buy food or drinks at the Palaeontology Gallery. There is a café in the Gallery of Evolution and three food stands located in the Jardin des Plantes.
- Shop: The shop was small (possibly temporary), but it had some of my favourite games and books, which I’ve rarely seen for sale.
1. It’s all in French
Logically, when you’re visiting the dinosaurs in Paris, everything will be in French. However, there is very little in the Gallery of Palaeontology and Comparative Anatomy that is in English. It is easy enough to understand which dinosaurs skeletons are on display as the names are the same. However, very little else is shown in more than one language.
Younger dinosaurs will not mind – they just want to see the fossils. You might like to know a bit more – which is difficult if you do not speak at least some French.
The website can be a little difficult to navigate, too, if you do not speak French.
2. It’s big
The Natural History Museum has various galleries. I (wrongly) assumed, that each gallery would be a floor or wing of one building. I was, therefore, a little annoyed when I had to book a separate time slot to enter a second gallery (entry to the second gallery is free, but, if I understood the comments of the staff at the door of our second gallery, most visitors only do one).
Each gallery is actually in a Totally. Separate. Building.
The dinosaurs are actually on the second floor of the Palaeontology and Comparative Anatomy Gallery, which is closest to the Gare d’Austerlitz metro. There is also a mezzanine level (officially level 2) above the dinosaurs so that you can look down onto them. That building itself is almost 80 metres long…
3. It’s full
There is so much to see in the Palaeontology Gallery, it is overwhelming. The building houses more than 650 skeletons (not just of dinosaurs) and 1,000 fossils. It is so full, I don’t even know where they would put any new exhibits.
It is difficult to take photos as the dinosaurs are so close together. At times, you really don’t know where to look.
On the plus side: you can get much closer to the dinosaurs in Paris!
4. It’s a wonderful time capsule
The French National Museum of Natural History was formally founded on 10 June 1793, during the French Revolution. The building that houses the dinosaurs in Paris – more specifically the Palaeontology and Comparative Anatomy Gallery – was designed by Ferdinand Dutert and opened to the public in 1898 in preparation for the 1900 World Fair. The architecture reflects the spirit of the era with metal beams and stone and decorations inspired by nature.
It is a gorgeous example of how museums once were. It was purpose-built to fit various dinosaurs and even now all the cabinetry and – it seems – most of the exhibits are just as they were when they were first installed over a century ago.
I love old museums and architecture, and this museum definitely has it. Former Heads of the Palaeontology Department include Georges Cuvier, who developed the palaeontology of vertebrates, while Othniel Marsh of the Bone Wars fame and Andrew Carnegie both made significant donations, Carnegie donating a cast of his favourite Diplodocus to the museum. However, it not only focuses on the past, it is stuck in the past.
However, this gallery really could do with an update. The famous Gallery of Evolution has recently reopened after a full overhaul and now boasts a light and airy layout, touchscreens and activities for visitors, language options, and great use of lighting. The Palaeontology and Comparative Anatomy Gallery could really do with a similar update, even if some of the specimens were no longer on display.
5. Comparative Anatomy may scare younger children
I think the best way to describe the Comparative Anatomy floor of the Gallery is a cabinet of horrors.
Some of the comparisons are fascinating – I have never seen so many whale skeletons in one place, so close together and easy to compare. There are skeletons of Steller’s sea cow that has been extinct since 1768, as well as the Tasmanian tiger, which died out in 1961. And, of course, there’s the skeleton of Louis XV’s rhinoceros.
However, jar after jar of animal brains or hearts or lungs are not for the faint-hearted. If your child understands what they are – and which animals they came from – they might not be as receptive to the knowledge the museum seeks to impart. There is a reason that they recommend the museum for children aged 6 and up.
6. Kids visit for free
Tickets to see the Dinosaurs in Paris cost EUR 10 for adults and EUR 7 for concessions. Visitors, who have a full-price ticket for another site (Jardin des Plantes, Musée de l’Homme or the Paris Zoo) that is less than 3 months old, are eligible for the reduced rate. Yes, I know it is more expensive than London, but it is cheaper than most natural history museums I know.
Entry is free for children and young adults under the age of 26. Just take a student card.
7. You can make a whole day out of your visit
We spent more than half a day at the museum and could have easily spent the whole day.
We visited two of the galleries – we saw the dinosaurs in Paris and the (very impressive) Gallery of Evolution. Within the Gallery of Evolution is the Children’s Gallery that was closed while we were there, I assume because of COVID restrictions because it is a very tactile exhibit. We didn’t even touch the Geology and Mineralogy Gallery, the Biology Gallery (separate buildings) or the special exhibits.
The Museum, with its 4 buildings is set up around the edge of the Jardin des Plantes. The Palaeontology Gallery is on the Seine side of the park, about 50 m from the Gare d’Austerlitz metro. The Evolution Gallery is the furthest away.
In between are (free) gardens which form part of the Jardin des Plantes. The whole garden, as well as the museum and other elements that we will discuss in a moment, were originally all part of the King Louis XIII Royal garden of medicinal plants. It was converted into the Museum of Natural History during the French Revolution.
As well as the 4 galleries of the Museum, the Jardin des Plants contains four greenhouses (Grand Serres), three of which contain plants from various habitats. The fourth is dedicated to the evolution of plants. It has several other thematic gardens and a labyrinth.
And then there is the menagerie: a mini zoo with various smaller mammals and birds, and some larger ones too. We did not see the Menagerie – we went to an evening opening of the Zoological Gardens instead (which was coincidentally built to house the Menagerie animals who got too big for the Menagerie and still operates under the same umbrella as the Museum), but you could definitely visit when spending the day in the Jardin des Plantes.
And if you are spending the day at the Jardin des Plantes and all the parts of the museum, or even if you are just going to visit the Paris dinosaurs, don’t miss out on our LDA’s favourite part: the Dodo Carousel. It is like a normal merry-go-round, but with extinct and endangered species instead of horses. Of course, there is a dinosaur (and the tickets were much cheaper than they were at Sacre Coeur!).
Should you visit the dinosaurs in Paris?
The French National Museum of Natural History is unlikely to be top of your list when you are planning a trip to Paris. However, it is definitely worth a visit, even if you are not visiting with a dinosaur fanatic. The whole Jardin des Plantes is a relaxing and fascinating oasis in the busy city and it deserves more attention than it gets – even if language barriers may make it difficult for many foreign visitors.
Will you be visiting the dinosaurs when you go to Paris?
Little Dinosaur Aficionado: “I loved the Dinosaurs in Paris. There were so many dinosaurs and you could get really close to them. And I loved the Dodo Carousel.”
Mamasaurus: I really enjoyed the MNHN and the time capsule that is the Palaeontology and Comparative Anatomy Gallery. It was wonderful to see so many fossils up close and the view from above was amazing. The building is gorgeous too – I love the early art nouveau architecture. It definitely was not what I first thought of doing when we were planning our trip to Paris, but I’m so glad we went. Next time, we’ll definitely be spending a whole day in the park and Museum.