Naturalis Biodiversity Center in Leiden, Netherlands


The 2021 winner of the European Museum of the Year Award is one of the largest museums of its kind, with impressive research record and diverse collections that focus on topics with universal appeal. It is not only an organisation with a long history but also with an agile ability to get transformed. It is a very resourceful museum with beautiful exhibitions and a multitude of public services and events. As such, it is a very popular museum that engages visitors with compelling ways and invites us to feel strong emotions about the world that connects us all and reflect on how we can protect its beauty, preserve its biodiversity and be informed and responsible citizens regarding climate change.


Naturalis is the national biodiversity centre of the Netherlands and one of the largest natural history museums in the world, thanks to its impressive research on global issues related to climate, food supply, the living environment, medicine and biodiversity preservation. Naturalis is a young family-oriented museum project based on an older museum with a 200-year history and several milestones. After a complete makeover that took ten years, everything is now new in Naturalis. Not only is the museum housed in an attractive new building, but also Naturalis has merged and digitized the collections of five institutes, mounted beautiful and engaging exhibitions, added many new spaces, and organized a multitude of interesting activities for different audiences.

Naturalis operates under the motto “Together, we discover the richness of nature”, which effectively combines love of nature and of connectivity. The spirit of this motto permeates exhibition galleries, laboratories, programmes, and all services provided by the museum staff. Love and emotion inform the museum’s approach to enhancing public awareness of the decline of biodiversity worldwide and value of nature and our relationship to it. The consistency of this approach makes this museum so memorable.

Taking Naturalis into the 21st century has been a multi- million-euro project, complex but masterfully executed. All eight exhibition galleries, each one with its own theme and style, together with life science areas, where visitors can ask museum scientists any question and observe research and conservation performed on site, are grounded on the “Big Five” mix of educational principles: wonder and curiosity; use of real objects, focus on real situations, and engagement by real researchers; relevance of nature for each visitor; inquisitive approach to learning; and encouragement of a science-aware attitude in search of truth and knowledge about the world.

Naturalis is not only a Dutch national museum but also
a collector, researcher, and disseminator of knowledge about nature’s amazing diversity in Europe and beyond. It is one of the leading biodiversity institutions in Europe, with an impressive Collections Tower, state-of-the-art research facilities, and diverse networks, both local and international.

The way Naturalis has been transformed makes it a global connector of humans and nature and an ambassador for nature’s preservation at a time when acute climate change affects all living systems on the globe. As an institution that can appeal to the minds, souls and hearts of visitors, it leads them towards new ideas of good and responsible citizenship related to nature and its protection. In addition, the redevelopment of Naturalis includes the construction of a local, regional, and international Information and Communication Technology (ICT) infrastructure for biodiversity information. The Distributed System of Scientific Collections (DiSSCo) is a new world-class Research Infrastructure (RI) for natural science collections, which unifies digitally all European natural science assets under common curation and access policies and practices.

Naturalis is a very popular museum full of emotion. Visitors show their love for Naturalis and feel relaxed and at ease there. The welcoming building, beautiful galleries, friendly staff, and an array of family-oriented facilities are key factors in engaging visitors.

Source: EMYA2021 Winners Brochure

“It's great that our museum is internationally recognized through this prize. Thank you so much! Fascination for the beauty and diversity of nature, that is the foundation of Naturalis. Thanks to our museum, we can share our love and passion for nature with the public. If people embrace nature, they will also take better care of it. And that is now more necessary than ever!”

Edwin van Huis, General Director of Naturalis Biodiversity Center, European Museum of the Year 2021

Photo captions and credits: 

First photo: Naturalis Biodiversity Center © Naturalis Biodiversity Center

Second photo: Naturalis Biodiversity Center © Mike Bink Photography