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10 Nearby College Museums

Brush up on your studies without the pressure of being graded. Visit one of these college museums, all within a day's drive.

college museums

Harvard Museum of Natural History (Photo: Flickr / Yi-Chien Chang / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Colleges and universities are centers of creativity and discovery. That’s why it’s no surprise that many of them house interesting museums highlighting art, history and more. Lucky for us, the Northeast is packed with world-class colleges and universities and their impressive collections.

Here are 10 college museums within a day’s drive. Find maps to these museums, local guides and recommendations with the AAA TripTik Travel Planner, which can also be accessed with the AAA Mobile app.

Colby College Museum of Art, Waterville, Maine: Ski resorts are a big reason for visiting Maine when the weather cools, but the Colby College Museum of Art offers cultural motivation for exploring northern New England. Five wings with 38,000 feet of exhibition space connect guests with parts of the college’s 8,000 works, including pieces by American artists such as Winslow Homer and Georgia O’Keeffe. The collection also includes Greek and Roman antiquities, European art and early Chinese art. It’s open Tuesday through Sunday. Admission is free.

Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center, Poughkeepsie, N.Y.: Vassar College is said to have been the first university nationwide to have an art museum as part of its original plan. A 36,000-square-foot facility showcases a portion of its 19,000 items. See antiquities such as Roman tools, art from the Hudson River School of American painting, photography and European art from the 17th through 20th centuries. The museum is closed Mondays. Admission is free.

Harvard Museum of Natural History, Cambridge, Mass.: Exhibits at the Harvard Museum of Natural History highlight everything from Asian wildlife specimens to rare minerals and gemstones. And you don’t want to miss the “Glass Flowers” exhibit, featuring hundreds of plant models so realistic it’s hard to believe they’re made of glass. Admission is free for Massachusetts residents with proof of residency Sundays, from 9 a.m. to noon, and Wednesdays, from 3 to 5 p.m., and includes access to the adjacent Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology. Otherwise, admission is $15 for adults, $10 for children and students.

Mead Art Museum, Amherst, Mass.: The Mead Art Museum at Amherst College houses works of art and cultural objects spanning about 5,000 years of history. The museum has eight galleries featuring regularly changing exhibitions and a varied collection of African, American, European and Russian art. Admission is free.

Penn Museum, Philadelphia: Penn Museum is a common name for the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology. It’s the nation’s largest university museum, and exhibits include artifacts from ancient Rome, Greece and Japan. Guests encounter items like a 14-ton granite sphinx, 2-inch-tall Aztec figurines and everything in between. Admission is $10 for adults, children and students.

college museums

RISD Museum (Photo: Flickr / Hrag Vartanian / CC BY-ND 2.0)

RISD Museum, Providence, R.I.: The RISD Museum is known as Rhode Island’s leading museum of art and design, and it’s easy to see why. Founded in 1877 as part of the renowned Rhode Island School of Design, it’s home to roughly 100,000 objects including ancient art, Asian art, paintings, photographs, costumes, decorative art and textiles. Visit Thursdays after 5 p.m. or all day Sunday for free admission.

Princeton University Art Museum, Princeton, N.J.:  The impressive collection here includes works by Monet, Gauguin and Rembrandt – amassed over 260 years. Check out the Campus Collections for a look at portraits of noteworthy university figures and art commissioned by the school. The museum is located on campus, and admission is free. Stop by for highlight tours every Saturday and Sunday at 2 p.m.

U.S. Naval Academy Museum, Annapolis, Md.: The. U.S. Naval Academy is an undergraduate college for future officers of the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps. Should you visit, enjoy a guided tour, and be sure to check out the U.S. Naval Academy Museum in Preble Hall. Historical artifacts combine with multimedia to tell the story of the U.S. Navy and the academy’s part in preparing officers. Admission is free and the museum is open every day except major holidays. A valid government ID, such as a driver’s license or passport, is required for entry.

Williams College Museum of Art, Williamstown, Mass.: It makes sense that an institution consistently ranked as one of the nation’s best liberal arts schools has a great art museum. Its collection of nearly 14,000 works runs the gamut from ancient Egyptian to international modern and contemporary art. Admission is free. If you visit, budget some time to check out the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, just a five-minute drive away.

Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History, New Haven, Conn.: A massive brontosaurus skeleton and the opportunity to touch a 100-million-year-old fossil are two highlights of this museum. Guests can also enjoy aboriginal bark paintings, dioramas of North America and southern New England, and pieces of moon rock. Admission is $13 for adults, $6 for children, and free for Yale University students. Stop by the Yale University Art Gallery and the Yale Center for British Art while you’re in town. They’re both free.

Have you been to any of these college museums? Tell us in the comments. 

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