The internet will be your best friend as you plan a visit to this fascinating institution. In addition to buying tickets online, you can check out the hundreds of exhibits and plot a path through the sprawling galleries that lets you explore topics of particular interest to you. To make the most of your time on a single visit, do a little homework.

Refreshingly, that will probably be the only part of this experience that does feel like homework. The point of the museum is to introduce children, the target audience, to important scientific concepts as painlessly as possible. From nanotechnology to dinosaurs, the moon (as a destination) to the sun (as an energy source), everything is fair game. Adults love this place, too—I especially like the Hall of Human Life, which explores biology and genetics; Mapping the World Around Us, where visitors learn how to create their own maps; and Catching the Wind, which uses the museum’s own turbines to illuminate wind energy’s role in green technology. What do all of these have in common? They use a full range of multimedia displays, participatory exhibits, and hands-on activities to teach without lecturing. Check ahead for details of regularly changing temporary exhibits. high-profile science-oriented touring shows usually make a stop here, so check ahead when you hear about one that interests you.

The IMAX Mugar Omni Theater ★★★ shows films that focus on the natural world, and the domed Charles Hayden Planetarium ★★ is also a high-def theater equipped with “immersive video” that schedules laser music shows.