Pittsburgh really is an amazing city. It’s beautiful. It’s safe. It’s green.
And it has culture.
A few months ago, we were doing something in the the city’s eastern neighborhoods when we drove by the Cathedral of Learning. My littlest was in awe.
For those of you not familiar with the city, the Cathedral of Learning is a towering, gothic work of architecture that functions as a home for classrooms and admin offices for the University of Pittsburgh. The university is one of the oldest in the country, but it saw one of its biggest booms of growth after WWI.
There was suddenly a shortage of classrooms for all the new students, and there wasn’t a lot of space to build new facilities. To solve the problem, they built up rather than out. The result was a 535-foot tall building–the tallest educational building in the world until Moscow State University built their Main Building in the 1950’s. Today the Cathedral is still holding its own as number two.
Cathedral of Learning Nationality Rooms
My child was impressed by its height and intricate design, but the Cathedral of Learning hides other treasures inside its walls. Aside from massive study areas that make you feel like you’re at Hogwarts, it also has the Nationality Rooms.
These rooms have been donated to Pitt by ethnic communities in the tri-state area. (That’s western Pennsylvania, eastern Ohio and northern West Virginia.) Some came right around the time of the Cathedral of Learning’s construction. Others are still being built. (Right now, Iran’s room is under construction and the Finnish community is raising funds to make their designs into reality.)
While many of these rooms hold art, artifacts and straight history, the Nationality Rooms are not mini museums. They are, with few exceptions, functioning classrooms.
I told my child about these rooms and all the cultures they could explore inside that dizzyingly tall, cool-looking building. And they wanted to go. Badly.
This week, we finally made it happen. Luckily for us, visiting the Cathedral of Learning’s Nationality Rooms just happens to be insanely frugal.
Cathedral of Learning: Hours and Tours
There are a few different ways you can tour the Nationality Rooms. The first is with an actual guide. In order to do this, you have to have ten or more people and schedule your visit ahead of time.
You can also tour the rooms with an audio guide. You take the headset with you and can learn about each room as you go.
For either of these options, you pay $4 per adult and $2 per kid aged 6-18.
We just walked in and asked if we could look around. While a guided tour may be awesome, my children weren’t ready for all that. They were happy to give us a map of the first and third floor–which is where the Nationality Rooms live–and let us go on our merry way for free.
The Cathedral of Learning is open for tours from 9a to 2:30p Monday through Saturday and 11a to 2:30p on Sundays. If you want to just go look around like we did the rooms are open until 4p.
Because these are functioning classrooms, it’s best to go on a weekend. We didn’t, and we missed seeing about 50% of them because there was a class or recitation in session.
While there’s some we’re excited to go back for, we weren’t disappointed at all by our trip. Fifty percent is still a lot. We saw Israel, Africa, Poland, India, France, Greece, Syria, Armenia and more.
Some of the larger rooms had buttons you could press to get part of the audio tour, but what my kids seemed to enjoy most was sitting in all the different kinds of chairs. Age-appropriate cultural exposure, I suppose. And we were lucky enough to be able to give it to them without leaving our own city–or dropping big bucks.
For more information about the Nationality Rooms straight from the University of Pittsburgh, click here.