It traces its roots to the University Botanical Garden, which was founded near Tøyen Manor in 1814. Museums for zoology, botany and geology were added approximately a hundred years later, when the university campus in central Oslo had become too small for such purposes. Major proponents were Waldemar Christofer Brøgger and Nordal Wille. For most of the twentieth century the museums and botanical garden were organized in five different entities; these were merged on 1 August 1999. The current name dates from 2005.
The Zoological and Geological museums are popular with families. Among the attractions is the Darwinius masillae fossil "Ida", a primate from Eocene.