For those who love museums, Pittsburgh is a great place to explore.
We have world class art museums like the Carnegie Museum of Art, the contemporary Mattress Factory, and the Warhol Museum. We have the fantastic Science Center and Children's Museum that are family oriented. We even have the Fort Pitt Museum and Heinz History Center that focus on the amazing history of Western Pennsylvania from the very first settlements to the present.
But you probably knew this already.
We could actually spend a lot of time writing about all of the more mainstream museums in Pittsburgh and barely begin to scratch the surface.
Today we wanted to go beyond those and talk about a few Pittsburgh museums that you would never expect to find here. These hidden (and not-so-hidden) gems are what make our museum scene truly special, and on your next trip out we highly encourage you to visit one of these unusual finds.
To get started, we're going to begin with a few you've likely heard of before, and then go down the rabbit hole to some really unique spots you can find only in Pittsburgh and southwestern Pennsylvania! To read more about each museum featured in this list, click the link in the description to head to our full review.
The Nationality Rooms at the Cathedral of Learning
The Nationality Rooms at the University of Pittsburgh's Cathedral of Learning are perhaps the most unusual classrooms in the country.
These thirty or so odd rooms on the first few floors of the skyscraper are themed after institutions of learning from around the world and in different periods of time.
In one classroom you may find yourself in China, in the next Armenia, and onward to places like India, Russia, and Turkey to name a few. A paid ticket will get you a key that unlocks all the doors to explore on your own, plus an audio headset if you want to learn more about any specific rooms, and a few rooms on the third floor are open for free for all visitors.
The Nationality Rooms are located in the Cathedral of Learning in Oakland. Tours are unavailable when classes are in session as the rooms are active class rooms.
Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall and Museum
Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall is one of the most conventional museums featured on this list, but we rank it among the unusual as it is a museum that is hiding in plain sight.
You see, most people think of this gorgeous building in Oakland as one part memorial and one part concert hall. While this building is in fact those things, the corridors that surround the auditorium house a museum dedicated to those who served in the past wars of the United States of America.
With exhibits from as early as the Civil War to as recent as the war in Iraq, and everything in between, the museum does a fantastic job highlighting the stories of the soldiers and sailors who helped secure our freedoms.
Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall is located at 4141 Fifth Avenue in Oakland.
The USS Requin at the Science Center
Every science museum needs a historic submarine, right? Right.
The USS Requin is a Tench-class sub that was commissioned during the height of World War II. This submarine did not get out before the end of the war, but it did manage to have a quarter-century-long career in the military before being decommissioned in the 1970s and refurbished and transported to Pittsburgh in 1990.
While the sub is actively associated with the Carnegie Science Center, and admission is included with a ticket to the museum, those who want to tour this piece of history can do so with a separate $7 ticket. How many other places can you say you can tour a submarine for a few dollars?
Would-be explorers take note– this attraction on the side of the North Shore river trail is not for the claustrophobic!
The USS Requin is located at the Science Center at 1 Allegheny Avenue in the North Side.
Did you know Pittsburgh is home to the largest bicycle store / museum in the country, if not the world? Bicycle Heaven in the North Side is home to thousands of rare and collectible bicycles in its two-story warehouse and showroom.
With bikes such as Pee-Wee Herman's bike from Pee-Wee's Big Adventure, a tree growing around not just one but two bicycles, a 1960s style sprocket room, and so much more, this free museum in the North Side provides hours of entertainment for all visitors- bike enthusiasts or not.
Bicycle Heaven is located at 1800 Columbus Avenue in the North Side. Donations are recommended.
Johnny Angel's Ginchy Stuff
Johnny Angel is a local legend in Pittsburgh as his 50-year music career has a lot of highlights- continuing on to this day.
To share some of his favorite memorabilia and sell music products, including a selection of his massive record collection, Johnny Angel's Ginchy Stuff was born.
But to us, one of the best things about visiting this museum is talking to the local legend himself as he is often found around the store and museum on any given day.
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Johnny Angel's is located at 1800 Columbus Avenue in the North Side- just next door to Bicycle Heaven. The museum has been known to close unexpectedly for shows.
We like to call Randyland Pittsburgh's most colorful spot- if not the state's or even the country's.
This is the brainchild of Randy Gilson, a local artist who bought two houses in the North Side on credit card in the early 1990s.
He wanted to bring more color to the neighborhood, began to paint the houses in wonderful colors, arranged knick-knacks and other “trash” (his words) into artistic pieces, and created a place that is wacky, wonderful, and has to be seen to be believed.
Randyland is located at 1501 Arch Street in the North Side and has flexible hours based on Randy's schedule (open “most” days and closed during bad winter weather).
The Roberto Clemente Museum
The Roberto Clemente Museum is located in a rather unassuming firehouse in Lawrenceville and is home to one of the largest collections of items from the Pirates legend.
With pieces including one of Clemente's gold glove awards, autographed memorabilia, and even rare photographs, the museum is a testament to a player who is often credited as being one of the best Pirates of all time.
The Roberto Clemente Museum is located at 3339 Penn Avenue in Lawrenceville. Tours are available by appointment only and children are not allowed.
On its own, the Bayernhof would stand up as an amazing museum purely for the architecture as it is a miniature castle with ornate designs, secret passages, and so much more. But this isn't what makes the museum special.
The real treat of the Bayernhof is that it is home to an impressive collection of self-playing music machines- most of which still work!
From some of the world's first music machines, to those used to give silent pictures sound, and even more unusual items like dueling violins and a self-playing banjo machine, the Bayernhof is home to an astounding collection that the docents are happy to play for you on every single tour.
The Bayernhof Museum is located at 225 St. Charles Place in O'Hara Township just a few minutes east of the city off of Route 28. Tours are available by appointment only.
The Photo Antiquities Museum
The Photo Antiquities Museum is not not your traditional photography museum. While this one is home to many impressive photographs (including rare photos of Pittsburgh you'll not find anywhere else), the museum puts a focus on the history of photography itself!
The Photo Antiquities Museum walks you through the different eras of photography, with examples of how images were made (with images from the period to go along with it). By the end of the tour you'll have a great appreciation for how far we've come in such a short period of time. The Pittsburgh photos and temporary exhibitions are just an added perk!
The Photo Antiquities Museum is located at 531 East Ohio Street in the North Side. Tours are available by appointment.
For those who have a more, well, unusual sense of humor, the house-turned-museum Trundle Manor in Swissvale may be your cup of tea.
This home is the private collection of Mr. Arm and Velda von Minx- two artists with a style that's a goth-steampunk hybrid, and even those two unique styles is not doing them justice.
The decor ranges from a death ray mounted on the ceiling of their kitchen, to taxidermy hybrid animals, miniature carvings of famous figures (including a person mooning the queen of England), a tumor in a jar that sings, a zombie killer car in the driveway, and so much more.
Yes, this one is weird, and the couple is one of the nicest you'll ever meet.
Trundle Manor is located at 7724 Juniata Street in Swissvale. Tours are available by appointment only and require a cash or liquor donation. This tour is best suited for teenagers and above with a certain sense of humor and artistic appreciation. You know who you are.
The Living Dead Museum
One of the most famous movies to be filmed in the Pittsburgh region is Night of the Living Dead, filmed roughly 30 minutes north in Evans City. To honor the legacy of the movie, the zombie inspired Living Dead Museum opened up just a few blocks away from the popular filming locations.
This museum and store focuses on all things zombies and pays homage to The Night of the Living Dead and its sequel, Dawn of the Dead, with memorabilia, photographs, and zombie items everywhere. Check them out in October for their annual Night of the Living Dead festival as well!
The Living Dead Museum is located at 121 E Main Street in Evans City, approximately 30 minutes north of Pittsburgh.
The Center for PostNatural History
What is Post Natural History, you may ask? Well, it is another way for saying genetic engineering, and this unusual history center in Garfield covers things that have been genetically altered by man.
This branch of science started out innocent enough, with the likes of hybridizing flowers or creating new seeds that are resistant to disease and drought. But then things got weird with the creation of fish that don't have rib cages, alcoholic lab rats, and even a genetically engineered goat that produces spider's silk!
Yes, post natural history has a weird purpose, and this small museum in Garfield does a great job helping you go down the rabbit hole in a field of science you may not have know existed.
The Center for PostNatural History is located at 4913 Penn Avenue in Garfield and is only open for limited hours on Sundays.
The Old Allegheny County Jail Museum
Did you know that the historic Allegheny County Courthouse used to have an old jail attached? The Bridge of Sighs walkway that connects the building's two wings used to lead prisoners from the courthouse directly to the cell block.
But while the jail no longer exists, remnants of the past remain with the Old Allegheny County Jail Museum put on by the Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation. The museum features a section of the original cell blocks as well as artifacts from the jail's 100+ year history- including images from when it housed children to even a few escape attempts!
When visting be sure to talk to the docents who really bring the history of this place to life.
The Old Allegheny County Jail is located at 440 Ross Street in the Family Services Court downtown. The museum is open from 11:30am to 1pm on Mondays from February to October, excluding holidays.
The Western PA Model Railroad Museum
The only seasonal museum featured in this list is the Western PA Model Railroad Museum in Gibsonia.
Only opened in the holiday season (but not holiday themed!), this museum has a massive model train exhibit that traces the railroad journey from Pittsburgh to Cumberland, Maryland, as it was in the 1950s.
Visitors can easily spend a few hours experiencing many days on the railroad line thanks to the track lighting that changes a few times per hour, giving a unique look to every angle of the tracks.
The Western PA Model Railroad Museum is located at 5507 Lakeside Drive in Gibsonia. It is only open during the holiday season.
Saint Anthony's Chapel
Did you know that Pittsburgh is home to a chapel that has the most Catholic relics outside of the Vatican?
To see these you'll have to head up to Saint Anthony's Chapel in Troy Hill- a modestly sized chapel that packs in thousands upon thousands of relics as well as life-sized stations of the cross that truly help bring the story of Jesus' Crucifixion to life.
Do yourself a favor and visit for a guided tour as the docents give way more information than the relatively small guide books are able to provide.
Saint Anthony's Chapel is located at 1704 Harpster Street in Troy Hill.
The Kelso Museum of Near Eastern Archaeology
Sticking on the topic of religion for our next museum is the Kelso Museum of Near Eastern Archaeology at the Pittsburgh Theological Seminary.
This is another two-room museum that's located in the basement of a hall in the seminary. This one focuses on excavations of holy sites in modern day Israel, Jordan, and Syria that were led by the seminary in the last 80 years (as well as a neat exhibit on the history of written language).
Where else can you find that?
The Kelso Museum of Near Eastern Archaeology is located at 616 N Highland Avenue on the Pittsburgh Theological Seminary campus.
Maxo Vanka Murals at St. Nicholas Croatian Catholic Church
We have one more unusual religious oriented museum for you, and for this one we head to St. Nicholas Croatian Catholic Church in Millvale. On the surface this church does not appear any different than others in the city, but when you visit for a tour you quickly realize it is anything but normal.
The reason for this is that nearly all of the murals adorning the walls of the church are painted by Croatian artist Maxo Vanka.
The name may not ring a bell now, but in the 1940s Vanka was an acclaimed artist from Europe who worked on the murals in the church as his “gift to America.” They contain a fair bit of social commentary from the day, of which most is still relevant for today.
In the last few years the murals have undergone significant restoration work and are now ready for viewing in all their glory- an absolute must for those who love European art.
St. Nicholas Croatian Catholic Church is located at 24 Maryland Avenue in Millvale.
La Hutte Royal
What is La Hutte Royal, you may ask? Is it a house? Is it a museum? How about both! This house can only be defined as an oddity that you have to see to believe (or even understand).
It is the creation of a local who commissioned artist Thorsten Brinkmann to create a stunning work of art on the inside of the property. Google a photo of the artist, and you can get an idea of what you'll be getting yourself into this when you visit.
Beyond this, we cannot tell you any more at the request of the owner as the best part about it is the surprise. So schedule a visit to this one in Troy Hill (16+ only), do not read any more about it or the artist at all, show up at your appointed time, and enjoy what happens next.
You'll thank us later.
La Hutte Royal is located at 1812 Rialto Street in Troy Hill. It is only open for 16+. Advanced reservations required.
Go Explore a Few Unusual Pittsburgh Museums Today!
Overall, Pittsburgh is home to a pretty impressive collection of unusual museums, and more open up each and every year. Although this list is not a complete collection of the unique and unusual museums we have in the city, these are certainly some of our favorites.
As we visit more we'll be sure to update this guide to help encourage you to get out and Discover the Burgh!
Do you have a favorite unusual museum that is not featured in this guide? Comment below and let us know about it!