8 Must-See University Museums

See Exhibitions from Monet to Einstein's Brain to Dinosaurs

Every year prospective students and their parents make the rounds to visit universities and go on interviews. While it's definitely important to visit the classrooms, meet the faculty and find out just how bad the cafeteria food really is, consider a visit to the university museum. These eight museums have world-class collections that represent the strengths of the university's resources. Even if you're not traveling the college circuit this fall, university museums offer opportunities to find enriching cultural experiences in sometimes unusual places.

  • 01 of 08
    Among the largest university art museums

    We've all heard the old trope that everything is bigger in Texas. As such, the Jack S. Blanton Museum of Art in Austin is one of the largest university art museums in the country. Part of the University of Texas, Austin, the museum has a trove of European Old Masters with a collection of over 17,000 works of art. The Blanton also has a truly incredible series of special exhibitions so potential visitors should always keep their eye on the museum calendar. Recent shows run the gamut from ancient to contemporary art and include drawings by Goya, a photographic survey of the 1990s and "The Crusader Bible", which displayed 40 unbound pages from an important Gothic manuscript.

    Blanton Museum of Art

    200 E. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.
    Austin, TX 78712
    (512) 471-5482


    Tuesdays - Fridays: 10am to 5pm
    Saturdays: 11am to 5pm
    Sundays: 1pm to 5pm


    Adults $9, Seniors (65+) $7, College students with valid ID $5Youth (13 - 21), $5, Children 12 & under Free

  • 02 of 08
    Blaschka Glass Models of Plants
    Harvard Museum of Natural History

    Among the most wonderful and weird museums in the entire United States is the Harvard Museum of Natural History (HMNH). It was established in its current iteration in 1998 but combines three other research museums with roots in the 1700s. If the museum feels at any point to you like a Victorian cabinet of curiosities, that's because it contains the collection from the old Harvard University Herbaria, the Mineralogical & Geological Museum, and the Museum of Comparative Zoology. I mean, where else can you see a real (albeit dead and stuffed) dodo bird?

    The real reason to visit HMNH is the Blaschka Glass Models of Plants or as the locals call them, the glass flowers. Blurring the line between fine art and research, these delicate and extremely beautiful glass models represent 830 plant species. Commissioned for research purposes in 1886, it took father and son team, Leopold and Rudolf Blaschka over five decades to complete all 4,000 models. The project began when Harvard Professor George Lincoln Goodale desired life-like representatives of the plant kingdom for teaching botany. Only papier-maché or wax models were available until he sought out the Blaschkas who had their studio in Dresden, Germany.

    Every Boston area kid has seen the glass flowers on a class field trip. When in Cambridge, these are truly not to be missed.

    Harvard Museum of Natural History

    26 Oxford Street Cambridge, MA 02138


    Open daily 9:00am to 5:00pm


    General admission includes all exhibits.
    Adults: $12.00 
    Non-Harvard students with I.D.: $10.00 
    Seniors (65+): $10.00 
    Children ages 3–18: $8.00
    Children under 3: Free 


  • 03 of 08
    Museum of Contemporary Native Arts – Institute of American Indian Arts

    Established in 1972, MoCNA has 7,500 pieces in its collection of contemporary Native art. Set inside a beautiful building in Santa Fe, New Mexico, the museum has a robust schedule of exhibitions and programs for both college students and the general public. It is also the only museum in the United States dedicated to exhibiting, collecting and interpreting work by contemporary Native artists.

    Museum of Contemporary Native Arts – Institute of American Indian Arts (MoCNA)

    108 Cathedral Pl, Santa Fe, NM 87501


    Monday, and Wednesday through Saturday, from 10 am until 5 pm, Sunday from Noon until 5 pm


    $10 for adults; half-price for seniors (62+), students with a valid ID, and NM residents; and free for members, Native people, veterans and their families, youth (16 & under), and NM residents visiting on Sunday.

  • 04 of 08
    The Hyrtl Skull Collection
    Mütter Museum

    If you're interested in medicine or just want to satisfy your morbid curiosities, go straight to Philadelphia and the Mütter Museum. With a mission and a collection specifically focused on the human body and disease, a few of the Mütter's highlight objects are Einstein's brain, the conjoined liver of Siamese twins and the jaw tumor of President Grover Cleveland. Yet no other object elicits as many gasps and gross-outs as the 9-foot colon of a man who suffered from extreme indigestion that killed him at only the age of 30.

    The original collection was founded by Dr. Thomas Dent Mütter in 1858 for biomedical research and education. Today the museum has 20,000 specimens though only a tiny portion of the collection is on display.

    There are 3,000 osteological specimens including many skeletons as well as the full skeleton of the world's tallest man. (7' 6"), 1300 wet specimens (things like tumors and cysts) and wax models that were once used for teaching. Kidney stones and gallstones are in the Lithics collection. And they have a vast collection of medical instruments, from the smallest suture needle to a model of the first pair of forceps used in childbirth, to a massive Iron Lung.

    Though the museum is connected to the College of Physicians, it has become one of Philadelphia's most popular tourist destinations. Art students love it for all the strange and interesting things to sketch. If you go during the weekday you can almost enjoy watching groups of school kids squeal in horror and delight as much as looking at the actual exhibitions.

    Mütter Museum of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia

    19 S. 22nd Street, Philadelphia, PA 19103


    Daily 10 AM – 5 PM, Closed Thanksgiving, December 24, December 25, January 1


    Adult  $16, Military with ID  $13, Senior 65 Years and up  $14, Students with ID  $11, Youth (6-17)  $11, Child (5 and Under) Free

    Continue to 5 of 8 below.
  • 05 of 08
    40-ton winged lion

    An important collection of art from the Ancient Near East, it was founded in 1919 by James Henry Breasted who coined the term "fertile crescent." With funds from John D. Rockefeller, Jr., it was conceived as a research laboratory to study the first formal societies in what we now call the "cradle of civilization."

    Thought it was opened to the public in 1931, the collection that is on display today grew in the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s during expeditions in Egypt, Israel, Syria, Turkey, Iraq, and Iran. Among the most famous pieces are the Megiddo Ivories, a giant bull's head from the Persian city of Persepolis and a colossal 40-ton winged bull or Lamassu similar to the ones destroyed by ISIS at the Mosul Museum.

    Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago

    1155 E 58th Street Chicago, IL 60637


    Tuesday: 10am-5pm, Wednesday: 10am-8pm, Thursday-Sunday: 10am-5pm



    Suggested Donation: $10.00 for adults, $5.00 for children under 12.

  • 06 of 08
    Smith College Museum of Art in the Berkshires
    Smith College Museum of Art

    Tucked away in a serene corner of the Berkshires is the Smith College Museum of Art where one can quietly commune with Impressionist painters Claude Monet, Edgar Degas, and Paul Cézanne. Founded in 1879, the museum has long been a part of Smith College which is known for its particularly strong arts programs.

    The museum has four floors of gallery space that house the permanent collection, the Cunningham Center for the Study of Prints, Drawings and Photographs, and special exhibitions. A strength of the museum's holdings is an extensive collection of more than 8,000 prints from the Renaissance to contemporary artists. As part of a women's college, the museum is also devoted to underrepresented female artists.

    Education is integral to the museum's mission. The museum hosts fabulous family programs and opportunities for Smith College students. In addition to a strong permanent collection, the museum hosts major traveling exhibitions like treasures from the Villa Opplonti near Pompeii which will arrive in Northampton in Spring 2017.

    Smith College Museum of Art:

    20 Elm St, Northampton, MA 01063


    Tuesday through Saturday 10–4, Sunday 12–4, Second Fridays 10–8, Closed Mondays and major holidays


     Adults $5, Senior Citizens $4, College students and children Free

  • 07 of 08
    Geological Museum
    University of Wyoming Geological Museum

    If you never shook that childhood fantasy of becoming a paleontologist then chances are you'll want to visit the University of Wyoming. Naturally, the museum is filled with fossils and absolutely amazing dinosaur bones that have all been discovered in North America. There's "Big Al" the allosaurus which was the most common carnivore in Jurassic Wyoming, a full stegosaurus found in the Morrison Formation of the Rocky Mountains and a terrifying tyrannosaurus rex skull.

    Geological Museum – University of Wyoming

    1000 E University Ave, Laramie, WY 82071


    Monday-Saturday, 10 a.m.- 4 p.m, closed Sunday




  • 08 of 08
    A design museum in Miami Beach
    The Wolfsonian

    People don't often go to South Beach looking for museums, but when it's too hot on the street go straight to this fantastic design museum in one of Miami's best art deco buildings.

    Dedicated to design and architecture from the 1850s to the 1950s, the four floors of the museum have exhibitions of furniture, ceramics, rare books, posters, magazines, textiles and industrial design.

    It began as a private museum in 1986 owned by Mitchell Wolfson who was born and raised in Miami Beach. Then in 1995, it became part of Florida International University.

    I recommend going on a Friday night when admission is free! The museum is open later than usual and it's the perfect prelude to a night out in Miami. 


    1001 Washington Avenue Miami Beach, FL 33139


    Monday: Tue, Thu, Sat -10am–6pm, Wednesday: Closed, Friday: 10am–9pm (free 6–9pm), Sunday: noon–6pm


    Wolfsonian Members: FREE
    Adults: $10
    Seniors, students with ID, and children 6-12: $5
    Children under 6: FREE
    Students, faculty, and staff of the State University System of Florida: FREE


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