Thanks to endowments from pioneering industrialists of the past and the ingenuity of local artists today, Pittsburgh museums cater to every kind of visitor. Whether you’re seeking boundary-pushing art, interactive science exhibits, or a slice of Pennsylvania history, here are 9 museums to keep you busy on your next trip to the ‘Burgh.
For those who appreciate the finer things:
Frick Art and Historical Center
Visiting the Frick Art and Historical Center (7227 Reynolds St., 412-371-0600; Tues.-Sun. 10am-5pm; center, museums, and greenhouse free; Clayton guided tours $12 adult, $10 student and senior, $6 child; reservations recommended) is like stepping back in time to the Victorian age. Set on the estate grounds and mansion of the late industrialist, Henry Clay Frick, the house has been transformed into a museum to display the Frick family’s impressive art collection. Collections include Renaissance art, Baroque sculptures, decorative arts, Chinese porcelain, photographs, costumes, and more. Don’t forget to visit the Car and Carriage Museum on the grounds as well.
Carnegie Museum of Art
When Andrew Carnegie conceived of Carnegie Museum of Art (4400 Forbes Ave., 412-622-3131; 10am-5pm Tues.-Wed. and Fri.-Sat., 10am-8pm Thurs., noon-5pm Sun.; $20 adults, $15 seniors, $12 students and children 3-18) in the 1880s, he envisioned a collection of “the Old Masters of tomorrow.” The city’s premiere and largest modern art museum also houses a notable collection of post-Impressionist paintings, European and American decorative arts, and late-19th-century American art. The Hall of Sculpture features Greek and Roman reproductions. Check the website for visiting exhibitions from around the world. Your admission also gets you into the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, in the same building.
For kids (and the young-at-heart):
Carnegie Science Center and Highmark Sportsworks
Filled with kid-friendly and hands-on exhibits, the Carnegie Science Center (1 Allegheny Ave., 412-237-3400; 10am-5pm daily; $20 adults, $15 seniors, $12 children) features several floors of permanent and visiting exhibitions that intend to spark curiosity, allowing visitors to conduct experiments and figure out how things work—everything from the human body to giant robots. Admission includes entrance to the attached Highmark SportsWorks, a fun activity-based complex designed to let visitors explore the physics behind sports. There are nearly 30 different interactive experiences, where visitors can race a virtual Olympic sprinter, climb a 25-foot 117 rock wall, or attempt to pitch a fastball.
Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh
With part of the building located in a disused U.S. Post Office and part in the former Buhl Planetarium, the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh (10 Children’s Way, Allegheny Square, 412-322-5058; 10am-5pm daily; $16 adults, $14 seniors and children, children under 2 free) holds 12 permanent exhibits, including puppets from the television show Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood; the Makeshop, a DIY maker space where kids and families can explore woodworking, circuitry, and sewing; and the fantastic Waterplay exhibit, where children can pump, move, channel, and dam various flows of water. (Bring bathing suits for this one!) Kids love to explore The Attic and The Garage, where everyday activities and objects become learning experiences.
Carnegie Museum of Natural History
The Carnegie Museum of Natural History (4400 Forbes Ave., 412-622-3131; 10am-5pm Tues.-Wed. and Fri.-Sat., 10am-8pm Thurs., noon-5pm Sun.; $20 adults, $15 seniors, $12 students and children 3-18) is ranked as one of the top five of its kind in the United States. Visitors come to check out the world’s largest collection of Jurassic-era dinosaur bones and the world’s first specimen of a T. rex. In the jaw-dropping Hall of Minerals and Gems, a dimly lit gallery, spotlights bounce off of sparkling jewels in glass cases. Don’t miss the Fluorescence and Phosphorescence Room, an amazing exhibit lit only by the natural glow of these fascinating minerals. Other major exhibits include Polar World, which houses a life-size igloo, and the Hall of Ancient Egypt, where you can see a real mummy and its sarcophagus. Your admission also gets you into the adjoining Carnegie Museum of Art.
Senator John Heinz History Center
The Senator John Heinz History Center (1212 Smallman St., 412-454-6000; 10am-5pm daily; $16 adults, $14 seniors, $6.50 students and children 6-17, children 5 and under free) is Pennsylvania’s largest history museum and a Smithsonian Institution Affiliate. The museum does a great job of bringing Pittsburgh and Western Pennsylvania history to life and bringing it into a context that’s relevant and engaging for its visitors, especially children. On the museum’s third floor is Discovery Place, a hands-on historical exhibit specifically designed for younger guests. Kids also love sitting in the driver’s seat of the restored 1949 streetcar trolley, which is in the ground floor’s Great Hall, where you’ll find Kidsburgh, a small play area built above Reymer’s Old-Fashioned Deli. Admission to the center includes entrance to the Western Pennsylvania Sports Museum (on the 2nd and 3rd floors), a must-see for any black-and-gold sports buff.
For seekers of the wonderfully wacky:
Andy Warhol Museum
As the country’s largest museum dedicated to a single artist, the Andy Warhol Museum (117 Sandusky St., 412-237-8300; 10am-5pm Tues.-Thurs. and Sat.-Sun., 10am-10pm Fri.; $20 adults, $10 seniors, students, and children, free for children 2 and under) is a particularly unique feather in Pittsburgh’s cap. To explore the building properly, start on the top floor, where temporary exhibitions are generally held. As you work your way down, you’ll encounter pieces both obscure (Jesus punching bags, oxidation paintings made of urine) and familiar (Campbell’s soup cans, Brillo boxes). Don’t miss Silver Clouds, a room where metallic balloons float freely. A theater that regularly screens films by and about Warhol and his entourage is on the ground level. The basement holds a café and the city’s only vintage photo booth. An archival collection housing thousands of pieces of Warhol’s personal ephemera is also onsite.
The Center for Postnatural History
There’s history, and then there’s postnatural history. If you have an appreciation for the weird and freaky, The Center for PostNatural History (4913 Penn Ave., Garfield, 412-223-7698; noon-4pm Sun. or by appointment; free, donations accepted) is a must-visit. Postnatural history is the study of the origins, habitats, and evolution of organisms that have been intentionally altered by humans. Meaning: Humans have messed with nature, and the results are fascinating. Past exhibits have included a collection of photos of lab rats, a genetically modified mosquito, and a BioSteel goat (I dare you to find out what that is).
The oddly named Mattress Factory (500 Sampsonia Way, 412-231-3169; 10am-5pm Tues.-Sat., 1pm-5pm Sun.; $20 adults, $15 seniors and students, children under 6 free) is one of Pittsburgh’s longest standing contemporary art museums—as well as one of the coolest and quirkiest. The museum supports emerging artists and features room-sized installation art that is unconventional and unexpected, almost always resulting in thought-provoking exhibitions. The museum has 17 permanent continuous installations. Some of the most stunning of these are James Turrell’s odd and unsettling works of neon and light. Don’t miss Pleiades, an entirely dark room where a presence of light may or may not appear. Another can’t-miss is Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity Dots Mirrored Room; entering it may just change your perspective on reality itself. On Tuesdays, admission is half price.
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