The best-known exhibit at the Harvard Museum of Natural History is, by far, the Glass Flowers ★★★. From 1887 to 1936, German father and son Leopold and Rudolf Blaschka created the 3,000 astonishingly accurate models of 847 plant species, and they have entranced museum visitors for decades. In 2014, the HMNH introduced the Blaschkas to a new audience with the opening of Sea Creatures in Glass, an exhibition devoted to marine invertebrates. These models predate the Glass Flowers, but they show the same artistry in every waving tentacle.
To reach the Blaschka collections, visitors must climb (or ride) to the third floor of the museum. Take it slow and explore the galleries, especially if you’re traveling with kids; they may not care about glass models, but they’re sure to find a friend in the zoological collections ★★, which preserve creatures of all sizes, from insects to dinosaurs. Thoughtfully curated and dotted with engaging interactive, hands-on, and multimedia displays, the museum is just the right size for a visit of a half-day or longer.
From the third floor, you’ll have direct access to the galleries of the Peabody Museum of Archaeology & Ethnology ★. Rather than trying to define “ethnology,” I’ve described this museum to young visitors by saying that it’s like a natural history museum with people instead of animals. You might see dazzling contemporary and historical photographs, items recovered during an archeological dig, or an artifact of an indigenous culture, such as a magnificent totem pole. In the engrossing Hall of the North American Indian, 500 artifacts from 10 cultures tell hundreds of stories.
Both museums schedule numerous special events and programs; check ahead. The websites provide copious information to help all visitors, especially families, make the most of their time.