Category Archives: Pittsburgh

Tours of Cathedral of Learning Nationality Rooms

So cool that this exists! Frugal tours at Cathedral of Learning Nationality Rooms in Pittsburgh

The door to the Africa room.

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 room israeli mosaic

Floor mosaic in the Israel room.

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 nationality room india

The India room.

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.

Related Post: Free Tours of The Allegheny Observatory at the University of Pittsburgh

cathedral of learning nationality rooms france


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.


Free Date Night Ideas: Stargazing at Observatories

This is one of the coolest free date night ideas I've seen in a long time!

Looking for free date night ideas that are actually fun and romantic? I highly recommend checking out your local observatory–because what could be more romantic that looking up at the stars?

We actually did this last year, and it was really cool. We learned how telescope lenses were made, the history of modern astronomy and got to see the rings around Saturn.

The best part?

It was 100% free.

Free Date Night Idea: Stargazing at Your Local Observatory

We live in Pittsburgh, which just happens to have one of the most important modern observatories in recent history. But we’re not the only city to have an observatory, and we’re not the only city to benefit from free tours.

This is common practice at observatories all around the United States, so if you’re looking for free date night ideas, be sure to look up the one that’s local to you.

Here are some examples. If you don’t find yours on the list, just search ‘free observatory tour [your city here]”.

Allegheny Observatory in Pittsburgh, PA

Like I said, this is one we’ve tried and loved. We learned a ton, including that until the late 90s–when digital imaging became a common thing–every astronomical theory of what stuff was (meteor? planet? alien spacecraft?) and where it was when had to come through this observatory.

Every Thursday from April through October you can join a free tour from 8p-10p. Just be sure to call ahead for reservations.

There is also an extremely popular lecture series that runs throughout the entire year on one Friday per month. The topics are crazy interesting, and the presentation is followed by a tour of the building. All of it is free.

Learn how to make reservations here.

Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles, CA

Admission to the Griffith Observatory is free, and the opportunities to visit are more frequent. You can go Tuesday through Friday from 12p-10p or Saturday/Sunday 10a-10p. The observatory is closed to the public on Mondays.

While you’re there, you may notice the planetarium that runs different shows. These shows are not free, but they’re also not mandatory.

If you want to indulge, they won’t cost you much:

  • $7 for adults
  • $5 for seniors and students (bring your ID)
  • $3 for kids 5-12
  • Kids under five get in free as long as they sit on a parent’s lap.

Learn more about Griffith Observatory here.

Maunakea Observatory in Hilo, HI

The observatories at Maunakea are arguably the best situated in the world. That did come at a cost to native Hawaiian’s cultural and religious beliefs–a common theme in our country, apparently.

While the observatories are closed to the public, there is a free event every night of the year from 6p-10p outside of the observatories on the stargazing deck. Telescopes and stargazing pros, who will help guide you, are included.

Learn more about Maunakea’s free events here.

When the Observatory Isn’t Free

Most observatories here in the states are run by a university or other educational organization. They also typically have some type of free event for the public on a regular basis.

Not all of them do, though–especially when you travel outside the US. For example, the Sydney Observatory does offer stargazing tours, but they are not free.

Sydney Observatory in New South Wales, Australia

They are, however, affordable. A couple can get in for as low as $15.30 total, and the cost of admission includes not only telescope viewing but also a show in the planetarium.

The Sydney Observatory also has qualified astronomers on hand to answer any questions you may have during the visit, and a solar telescope–which allows you to look at the sun–for those who are visiting during daylight hours.

This level of affordability is common. Even if you can’t go for free, you can still chalk it up as a super cheap date night idea.



*This post contains affiliate links. You do not pay anything additional for using these links. In fact, sometimes they allow me to bring you even better deals! Thank you for supporting this blog.*

#PGH #Giveaway: Midnight Radio’s Holiday Spectacular

Just entered to win free tickets to this! My kids are going to love!

Happy Friday, everyone! I have some good news to brighten up your weekend. On top of tonight being Light Up Night in Pittsburgh, I have a super fun giveaway for all the families in the Burgh.

You may remember the AMAZING time we had at Bricolage’s escape room: the Imaginarium. (You can still enter to win your own tickets through Monday!) We were over the top impressed with the quality of the production from start to finish. Bricolage’s attention to detail combined with their experience made it the coolest thing I’ve done in quite some years.

Well, they’re also putting on a holiday show that’s fun for the whole family. Here’s a little bit of info on it:

Celebrate the season with Midnight Radio’s Holiday Spectacular and let us whisk you away to a simpler time when your credit cards weren’t maxed out and sharing a meal with family was gift enough. From hilarious Pittsburgh-themed spoofs on your favorite winter classics to traditional tales told with our signature radio-style twist, this holiday variety show has it all. Bring the whole family and kick off the season with our living room-themed lobby, local musical guests, eggnog, and raucous holiday fun!

A longtime fan favorite, our Midnight Radio series takes the form of a classic 1940s radio broadcast, complete with commercial parodies, live music, and Foley sound effects. In this show YOU are cast as the live studio audience, so play your part and don’t miss your cue when the applause sign flashes! This year, give us the gift of you and we’ll deliver a holiday celebration filled with fruitcakes and snowflakes.

It sounds absolutely fantastic. I’m a little bit bummed because our kids are under the recommended age of 8 so we won’t be attending. (That’s a personal choice, though. No one’s going to turn you away if you have a six-year-old with you.)

BUT I am absolutely thrilled because my inability to go means that I get to bring all of you yet another giveaway—this time for four (4) tickets! You’ll get to pick your dates from the following:

December 1st, 2nd, 3rd or 5th at 8pm

December 10th & 17th at 2pm (This time slot is recommended for those who want their kids to meet Mr. & Mrs. Claus!)

On top of the regular show, there will be a unique guest at each performance; you can check out the details for each date here.

If you want to enter for your chance to win this uniquely Pittsburgh experience, use the rafflecopter below to enter before 11:59p Eastern time on November 28, 2016! Happy holidays and best of luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Enter the Imaginarium: #Pittsburgh Escape Room

Wow this looks crazy cool! Enter the Imaginarium---an escape room adventure in Pittsburgh, PA

NEW! Enter to win another Bricolage giveaway: four tickets to the family-friendly Midnight Radio Holiday Spectacular!

The other week we had the opportunity to visit the Imaginarium in Harmarville.

Guys, it was the coolest thing I’ve done in a long time.

The Imaginarium Escape Rooms

The Imaginarium is an escape room. For those of you who haven’t visited one before, essentially you have to figure out puzzles with little to no explanation before time runs out. In the case of the Imaginarium, escaping one room leads to another.

If you like murder mystery parties, puzzles or Murder She Wrote, this kind of thing is right up your alley. The tour we took, The Inventor’s Paradox, had nothing to do with murder or anything horror-esque though. While it was creepy and involved enough for me to not take my young children, it wasn’t “scary.”

Note: The Imaginarium is recommended for kids ages 12+. Any younger than that, and you’ll have to buy 10 tickets to buy out the time slot.

The premise was that we entered the Imaginarium creator’s mind. Time plays a huge role in this experience as the creator is stuck in the past. Your goal is to release him.

We hurriedly looked around the rooms for clues, tried to use our wits to solve puzzles and in some cases, used blunt force logic to circumvent having to do mental gymnastics. (Okay, this last one was me. And while it sometimes worked, it was far from the most effective method.)

We were in there for an hour before we got buzzed out. It felt like way longer than an hour, though—in a good way.

Ultimately, we failed, though we did make it almost all the way through the second room.


Is the Imaginarium worth the spend?

When we sat down for dinner afterwards, we couldn’t stop going on about it. In a world where our entertainment is primarily digital, Bricolage did a great job creating an experience that was purely physical and exercised our brains in a way we don’t typically experience. I mean, most of the time if we have a question we can Google the answer. Every. Time.

The Imaginarium changes that.

The brain exercise wasn’t the only thing they did well, though. The rooms were extensively staged with real props—no small detail was left behind. The people they had manning the experience were so into it the performance that you really felt like you were entering another world.

I don’t normally advocate entertainment that costs $29.99 per ticket, but this one I do. For two reasons.

  1. It was over-the-top fun. Like I said, the coolest thing I’ve done in a very long time.
  2. While tickets might be expensive, it’s not really the kind of thing you can do twice. While they do have another experience, Chamber of Illusions, once you’ve solved the puzzles once the novelty will wear off. So I know you won’t be spending $29.99 per ticket every weekend.

Win Free Tickets

While it’s totally worth the spend, I do have a special treat for all of you today! You can use the Rafflecopter below to enter for a chance to win two (2) free tickets to The Inventor’s Paradox! This giveaway is open until 11:59 PM EST on November 21, 2016.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Best of luck! We had a fantastic time, and I know you will, too.

*We received free admission in order to facilitate this review. Regardless, all opinions are 100% honest and my own.*

Phipps Conservatory: Kids’ Education & Free Events

Defintely will be using this guide to save money the next time we go to Phipps Conservatory!

I’m not going to lie. Phipps Conservatory isn’t one of the Pittsburgh attractions our family frequents on a regular basis. There aren’t as many discounts as there are for some of the museums in the city, and while we have an amazing time when we do go once or twice a year, we haven’t been able to justify it as a regular, budget-friendly family activity.

Our opinion changed dramatically the other night. We were invited to an event at Phipps to learn more about the facility, specifically their education programs, and were blown away by all the free stuff they have going on.

Awareness is a huge thing. Until you know about something, you are incapable of allowing it to add value to your life. Now that we’re aware of all of these awesome programs, we’ll be having an amazing time at Phipps a lot more often.

The Greenest Building in the World

Seriously. In the entire world.


Courtyard outside of the greenest building in the world.

Our night started out in the Center for Sustainable Landscapes, which is the administration and education center for Phipps. It also serves as a research facility.

The building itself is the greenest building in the world, producing more energy than it uses. The science of it all is incredibly interesting. You can either learn more in this video that was made while the structure was being built:

Or you can actually take a free tour of the place. Which I highly recommend. Just be sure to call first as tours usually run Thursday-Sunday at 1p, but you don’t want the day you plan your trip to be the one oddity.

If you can’t do a tour, you can visit at anytime. We had a great time at the gardens right outside, but you can also spend some time up top on the living roof, which is free and open to the public.

Free Family Fitness Events

Let’s Move Pittsburgh is an initiative modeled after Michelle Obama’s program. Run out of Phipps, they have a ton of great stuff going on, but of note are their family fitness events.

Held once a month at the conservatory, they encourage everyone in the family from grandma to toddlers to get moving. They just wrapped up their yoga series, but will be starting Zumba this month. The events are 100% free, but you do have to RSVP. You can learn more about dates and upcoming classes/events here.

Education Camps for Children

While we were there, we got a sneak peek into Phipp’s education programs for children, and I have to say, I was impressed. The focus of these courses is very much on healthy and eco-conscious living. And the price per person (at least for the younger children, whom you have to accompany) is cheaper than admission to the conservatory.

For $20 (or $15 if you’re a member,) you can accompany your 2-4 year old as they spend an hour learning about different aspects of nature and healthy living via hands-on, age appropriate activities.

We learned about the life cycle of a butterfly and camouflage as it’s found in nature. Our instructor was amazing with the kids, explaining things at their level and supporting her lesson with exciting visuals.


First, the kids learned about why camouflage is necessary. Then, they got to do an art project where they painted leaves to help their Dead Leaf Butterflies hide from the birds.

Dead Leaf Butterfly Camouflage project at Phipps Conservatory

Then, they learned about how caterpillars start out as eggs, hatch, go into their chrysalises and then emerge as butterflies. All of this was demonstrated with grapes and apples. At the end, the kids got to make their own edible butterflies.


The Fall session is still going on. While the older kiddos’ sessions are full, the age 2-4 camps still have spots open. You can sign up for sessions on worms and their role in the environment, healthy eating and the fall harvest, and a course all about bees.

All of these happen before Thanksgiving. I’m pretty psyched to see what the next season will hold.

Discovery Programs

Phipps’ Discovery Programs are free, though you do have to pay for admission into the conservatory itself. This potentially makes it the most expensive per person option.

But if you have kids, these are also the most value-packed days to visit.

The night we went they were having a Halloween bash. The second we walked in, there was a magician performing, which seemed like it would have been pretty cool. But my child was all excitement as they screamed, “MOM, WE’RE IN THE JUNGLE!!!”

And proceeded to sprint away from me.

So we didn’t watch the magician, but we did see a lot of other cool things as we explored.

In the jungle, aside from regular features, there was also a table where the kids could pet real live, snakes. They got stickers from the booth, too, of their favorite jungle-dwelling animals.

Kids get to plant their own flowers to bring home every Friday at Phipps!

We brought home an Eyeball Flower that my little one got to plant themselves. This is a regular feature every Friday mid-morning to afternoon.

Other highlights included a play shopping center (regular feature) where kids can “buy” their own healthy foods, face painting, visiting the train that they currently have set up in the middle of the conservatory, Chex mix snack bags and our very own Pittsburgh version of a Japanese garden.


We’ll be back.

I’m so glad we had this opportunity to learn more about what Phipps has to offer. We’ll be back for sure for the free stuff, and now we know how to get the most bang out of our buck for education sessions and Discovery day admission.