Most kids love dinosaurs, right? There's no doubt about that. Just take a look at kids clothes and toys; dinosaurs are a common theme. And it's not just kids that love dinosaurs; lots of adults do too (including me). So (most) kids and adults are going to love this place - the National Dinosaur Museum.
Located in Canberra, the National Dinosaur Museum is chock full of great dinosaur material to satisfy everyone from lightweight dino-lovers (Jurassic Park fans) to hard-core dino history and science lovers.
The museum claims to be 'the largest permanent display of dinosaur and other prehistoric fossil material in Australia.' I don't know if that's true, but I'd believe it because this place is impressive, and more comprehensive than, say, the Melbourne Museum in terms of this subject matter. Their website says they have 23 complete skeletons, and over 300 displays of individual fossils.
The first sight you get when you arrive is the dinosaur garden, a veritable cornucopia of dinosaur critters. You can wander around the garden for free, as the museum's entry fee only applies for the indoor exhibits.
Be warned though: the dinosaurs posing in the garden are quite large and realistic, so some younger children might not be all that keen to hang around. My two-year old son pulled the sun shade of his pram down over his head so that he couldn't see the dinosaurs and they couldn't see him, and stayed that way for much of our visit.
Most of the dinosaur statues are not really that threatening, but there are a few that are ultra-realistic, like the dinosaur that is being attacked by a gang of three raptors, which are pulling pieces of 'flesh' from its body.
Once you've had your fill of the dinosaur garden, it's time to head inside. You can do this via the regular way (steps or a ramp, catering for prams and wheelchairs), OR, even better, enter through the T-rex mouth. Watch your head on the teeth!
A lovely aspect of the museum is their generosity of spirit. They allow visitors to take photos and video throughout the displays, and seem to want to share their enthusiasm about their subject matter. The displays are very engaging and well designed for children, and they have provided lots of opportunities for interaction with specific displays.
The main area of the museum is upstairs, where the displays are located. Downstairs is the entry, a kids play area, and the museum shop. You need to pay the entry fee to get into the kids play area, but not for the shop. You then access the upstairs display either via the main staircase, or via an elevator behind the entry desk (accessed through the shop), so prams and wheelchairs are catered for.
It's a veritable wonderland of all things prehistoric
Upstairs, you won't be disappointed. There is a great variety of displays that are ordered by time period, and wherever possible the information includes Australian content.
The displays include animatronics (T-rex included, of course; my son wasn't happy), actual fossils and skeletons, 'hands on' displays that can be touched, and lots of explanatory information that is a great balance of informative and entertaining. However, they never tip the balance into cheap thrills; they don't need to. Here are some samples of what you will see, and believe me I had to really cull my photos to get this selection, there is so much to look at.
When you are finally full to the brim of prehistory, you should definitely check out the shop, which they claim (and I'm sure is) the largest stock of dinosaur products. Jewellery, toys, crystals, science sets, puzzles, t-shirts, books, models, magazines, posters, and much much more. I was lucky to get out with my purse only a little bit lightened, as my daughter could have easily carted home half the shop's contents.
Verdict (if you couldn't already tell) - the National Dinosaur Museum is a great way to spend a couple of hours with a family, particularly primary school aged children. Highly recommended and great value!