The United Kingdom's universities are among the best and oldest in the world, so it's no surprise that they're home to thousands upon thousands of treasures from around the world (that colonialism helped a bit, too). Still, as tourist destinations go, university museums are usually dramatically less crowded—not to mention much more intimate and quirky—than independent institutions. Here are some of our top picks, from London to Glasgow. Get your tweed jacket ready—and don't blame us if you accidentally become an academic.
University of Cambridge
Founded in 1816—two full centuries ago—by Trinity College alumnus Richard, VII Viscount Fitzwilliam of Merrion, the Fitzwilliam Museum is dedicated to "the Increase of Learning." With its near-encyclopedic collection ranging from ancient Greek and Roman art to early modern Dutch paintings, this beloved institution has provided just that for generations.
University of Oxford
It's not really fair to call the Ashmolean a "hidden gem"—founded all the way back in 1677, it's the oldest university museum in the world, and its enormous, encyclopedic collection rivals many of the world's most famous. But on the other hand, how could we possibly leave it off this list?
Pitt Rivers Museum
Founded in 1884 by adventurer, archaeologist, and awesomely-named person Augustus Henry Lane-Fox Pitt Rivers, the Pitt Rivers Museum is a bonanza of curiosities from around the world. If Amazonian shrunken heads, antique Japanese theater masks, and African medical instruments are your cup of tea, you probably want to budget a whole afternoon for this one.
University of London
Part of the Courtauld Institute of Art—one of the world's foremost schools for art history and art conservation—and located in London's stunning 18th-century Somerset House, the Courtauld Gallery hosts an incredible collection of Monets, Van Goghs, Gauguins, and Cézannes.
University College London
Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology
Founded 1892 by Amelia Edwards, a writer and collector of Egyptian antiquities, the museum was renamed for noted archaeologist and Oxford professor Sir William Flinders Petrie in 1913. Currently, the Petrie Museum houses around 80,000 objects—making it one of the most prominent ancient Egyptian collections in the world.
University of Glasgow
The oldest public collection in Scotland, the Hunterian now includes a zoology museum and an anatomy museum in addition to the original collection of archaeological curiosities bequeathed to the University of Glasgow in 1807.
Featured image via Flickr