Visiting the Butterfly Pavilion at the National Museum of Natural History

girl holding butterfly in washington, dc

My daughter is the “Nature Girl” in our family and dreamed of holding a butterfly. Thankfully, this is an easy dream to fulfill when you live near Washington, DC! One Tuesday in the middle of winter, I loaded up my kids (I was pregnant with #4, so only had 3 at the time) and took the Metro into the city to visit the Butterfly Pavilion at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History.

Visiting the Butterfly Pavilion at the National Museum of Natural History in Washington, DC.

We arrived and quickly got our tickets since tickets are always required and often sell out (especially if you choose to go on a Tuesday when admission to the exhibit is free). My children absolutely loved walking into the warm 80 degree climated-controlled environment and being surrounded by butterflies. They were everywhere!

You slowly walk through the exhibit looking for butterflies in the plants, in chrysalises, flying above you, and if you’re lucky, they’ll land right on you…they call those hitchhikers! Haha. The squeals of delight still bring a smile to my face.

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The exhibit ensures you have the opportunity to see the butterflies up close and personal.

Butterfly Pavilion DC

As you walk through the exhibit, there are informational plaques and opportunities for hands-on feeling the texture of a chrysalis.

(FYI: We learned that you don’t call it a cocoon, cocoons are what moths spend for protection in the pupa stage while a chrysalis is what protects a butterfly.)

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There are eight butterfly varieties found in the Butterfly Pavilion, but with 300 butterflies flying around, it’s like a scavenger hunt if you try to identify them all! 

(They offer a printable of all eight varieties on their website.)

Butterfly Pavilion DC4

We came to the pavilion this day for one reason and one reason only…for my daughter to hold a butterfly! We had visited a different butterfly sanctuary before and she never got to hold one, much to her disappointment. Thankfully, if you come with the same dream of holding a butterfly…a member of the museum staff will make sure it happens!

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My daughter was in heaven.

Girl holding butterfly

Her love of butterflies continues and has only grown since this visit, especially as she’s watched a caterpillar form a chrysalis and hatch into a butterfly right before her eyes in her own hatching kit.

After our visit to the Butterfly Pavilion, we walked around the corner to their indoor Insect Zoo, just in time for the kids to hold some crazy looking insects and crawl through a human-sized termite model!

This makes a wonderful winter day trip when you want to warm up or come in the spring/summer when you can also visit the museum’s outdoor butterfly garden!


*Although the Natural History Museum is free to enter, there is a small fee for this exhibit.
*Tickets are required, but can be reserved ahead of time. Tuesday is free admission and is first-come, first-serve.
*The Butterfly Pavilion is closed on Monday.
*This is a permanent exhibit.
*There is stroller parking outside the exhibit.

Visit the Butterfly Pavilion in the National Museum of Natural History.


Written by: Caroline M. Harper
I create fun interactive virtual tours and escape rooms for kids by curating the best stories and facts that spark their curiosity. I started the Field Trip Club in 2011 to help families make stress-free memories together.

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