Welcome To The ‘Dead Zoo’: A Guide To The Natural History Museum In Dublin

natural history museum dublin
Photos via Shutterstock

the Natural History Museum (The National Museum of Ireland – Natural History) is arguably one of the best museums in Dublin.

Free to enter and home to four floors of exhibits, including Irish Fauna and Mammals of the World, there’s endless things to see at the National Museum of Ireland – Natural history.

Nicknamed the ‘Dead Zoo’, the Natural History Museum in Dublin is a fine place to whittle away a few hours, with each floor packed with interesting features to explore.

Below, you’ll find everything from what to see here and when it’s open to the many unique corners of the ‘Dead Zoo’ that are awaiting your arrival.

Some quick need-to-knows about The Natural History Museum in Dublin

Although a visit to The National Museum of Ireland – Natural History is fairly straightforward, there are a few need-to-knows that’ll make your visit that bit more enjoyable.

1. Location

You’ll find the museum on Merrion Street in the heart of Dublin 2. It’s a 3-minute walk from the National Gallery of Ireland, a 4-minute walk from Merrion Square and a 10-minute walk from St Stephen’s Green.

2. Opening hours

One of the four National Museums of Ireland (NMI), the Natural History Museum in Dublin is open 7 days a week at the following times:

  • Tuesday to Saturdays: 10am to 5pm
  • Sundays and Mondays: 1pm to 5pm.

3. Admission

Admission to this outstanding cultural attraction is free. Recently reopened after extensive modernisation, it’s well worth a visit. With no admission fee, you can visit several times and enjoy different exhibits and galleries on each visit, avoiding a cultural overload!

4. Home of lots to see and do

The Natural History Museum has four floors of exhibits including Irish Fauna, Mammals of the World, Fish Birds and Reptiles, and finally, Insects Shells and Crustaceans. Wherever your interests in nature may lie, there are fascinating exhibits on so many diverse creatures. It’s an amazing place to learn more about our natural world. 

About The National Museum of Ireland – Natural History Museum

Museum of Natural History dublin
Facade of the museum by William Murphy. Licensed by CC BY-SA 2.0

The Natural History branch of the National Museum of Ireland is the country’s leading cultural institution. It occupies a building that dates back to 1856 and was an extension to Leinster House which housed the Royal Dublin Society.

The original Natural History Museum in Dublin was built to accommodate the society’s zoological and geological specimens that were collected during the 19th century.

The museum opened to the public in 1857and became part of the Museum of Science & Art, Dublin in 1877 when it was combined with collections from the Royal Irish Academy and Trinity College Dublin. 

Permanent exhibitions 

Nicknamed the “Dead Zoo”, the Natural History Museum in Dublin has an amazing collection of animal exhibits. Most belong to permanent displays with some temporary exhibitions that provide fresh interest for regular visitors. 

On the ground floor. permanent exhibitions focus on Irish fauna including Giant Irish Deer, mammoths and brown bears that once roamed Ireland’s shores! More familiar birds and animals are also on display.

Upper balconies

The first floor is dedicated to Mammals of the World. From elephants and whales to rats and anteaters, visitors can examine skeletons and stuffed creatures from all over the world. 

The second floor balcony has displays of fish, birds and reptiles while the third floor balcony showcases insets, shells, crustacean and Blaschka models of marine invertebrates made from glass.

Things to see and do at The National Museum of Natural History

There’s plenty to explore at the Museum of Natural History, with displays that’ll capture the imagination of young and old alike.

Below, you’ll find where the nickname the ‘Dead Zoo’ comes from along with the many exhibitions on offer.

1. Irish Fauna

national history museum dublin
National History Museum Dublin by Kieran Guckian. Wiki Commons / CC BY 2.0

The Irish fauna displays are displayed in a huge tile-floored open space with life-size skeletons of larger creatures and glass-fronted display cabinets of smaller more fragile exhibits.

The diorama of a badger family is particularly captivating and dates back to 1911. It’s hard to imagine that Ireland once had woolly mammoths, spotted hyenas and brown bears, but archaeological evidence has uncovered some unexpected post-Ice Age evidence. 

See and learn about peregrine falcons, owls, native insects, trout and a very rare lobster, among other items in the museum collections.

2. Mammals of the World

exhibitions at the museum
Ireland’s National History Museum by MrFinland. CC BY-SA 3.0

Get up-close to the toothy African Hippo, among other amazing examples of larger mammals preserved by taxidermy. Other animal exhibits in this section include all different types of monkeys and primates.

Learn how the Tree Pangolin, native to the African Congo, rolls itself into an armour-plated ball when threatened with attack. 

Remarkable anteaters from South America survives with the lowest body temperature of any land mammal and check out the Oribi exhibit which once roamed the salt pans of Angola.

Other more familiar mammals include rodents, hamsters and squirrels from all over the globe. It’s a remarkable world!

3. Giant deer and the ‘Wonder Cabinet’

dead zoo dublin
The giant Irish deer by Sean MacEntee. Licensed CC BY 2.0

One of the first things to catch the eye of visitors are the Giant Irish Deer skeletons at the entrance to the museum. Look up at the massive elk-like antlers – one has a span of 3.5 metres!

The Wonder Cabinet is the place to get up-close to some real and replica specimens in a new interactive zone at the Natural History Museum in Dublin.

Inspired by the Victorian Cabinets of Curiosity (every serious collector had at least one!) the Wonder Cabinet has some of the most interesting exhibits in the museum. 

Check out the Loggerhead Turtle that washed up on a beach in Co. Galway after an epic Transatlantic swim. There’s also a giant fossil shark tooth and jaw of a tiger shark. You can handle some of the replicas. 

4. Regular events

natural history museum dublin
Photos via Shutterstock

The museum hosts many regular events to encourage engagement and learning. Check out their calendar of events and attend a talk, join a tour or be part of a fun activity.

Events are not just for children – there are lots of adult activities where you can engage with like-minded visitors and learn more from the knowledgeable museum staff and curators. 

One of the most popular events is the Open House where you can join in the discussion with staff and learn about the challenges of looking after Ireland’s oldest museum.  

Things to do near The Natural History Museum

The Museum of Natural History is a stone’s throw from many of the best places to visit in Dublin, from parks and historical sites to museums and more.

Below, you’ll find everywhere from Merrion Square and the National Gallery of Ireland to St Stephen’s Green and the Little Museum of Dublin.

1. Merrion Square (4-minute walk)

Merrion Square
Photo by Giovanni Marineo (Shutterstock)

Nearby Merrion Square is the largest and grandest Georgian squares in Dublin. Most of these historic buildings have plaques detailing their rich and famous residents including Daniel O’Connell and W.B.Yeats. The central park area has a statue of Oscar Wilde reclining on a rock. Artists often display work for sale on the railings. 

2. National Gallery of Ireland (3-minute walk)

National Gallery of Irelanddublin
Photo by Al Teich (Shutterstock)

Art lovers are in for a treat with 2500 paintings and 10,000 other media on display at the National Gallery of Ireland. Pick up a free audio tour guide or join a tour (weekends only) and see this renowned collection of Irish artworks. 

3. Stephen’s Green (10-minute walk)

St Stephens Green in Dublin
Photo left: Matheus Teodoro. Photo right: diegooliveira.08 (Shutterstock)

In the heart of the city, St Stephen’s Green is a green oasis with many national monuments and sculptures reflecting Ireland’s history and heritage. Awarded the Green Flag, it’s a lovely place to stroll or sit and people-watch in a park that has witnessed 400 years of Dublin’s past. The excellent Little Museum of Dublin is minutes from its gates.

4. Trinity College (13-minute walk)

the long room trinity college
Photos via Shutterstock

Part of the University of Dublin, Trinity College is a stunning building and campus. Founded in 1592, it is Ireland’s leading university and it’s home to the Long Room and the Book of Kells.

FAQs about the National Museum of Ireland – Natural History

We’ve had a lot of questions over the years asking about everything from ‘Is the Museum of Natural History free?’ to ‘What is there to do inside?’.

In the section below, we’ve popped in the most FAQs that we’ve received. If you have a question that we haven’t tackled, ask away in the comments section below.

Do you have to pay to go to the Natural History Museum in Dublin?

No. A visit to The National Museum of Ireland – Natural History is absolutely free, which is incredible, as you’ll discover when you visit.

What is there to see at The Museum of Natural History in Dublin?

Nicknamed the ‘Dead Zoo’, The Museum of Natural History is home to four floors, each of which is laden with interesting animals to admire.

Gillian Birch is a travel writer and published author. She has travelled the world and uses her personal journals and memories to write about her many travel experiences, particularly those that involved adventures in Ireland.

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