For many people, the thought of their alma mater brings back a flood of memories, hopefully most of them good. In addition to being bastions of learning though, many are also a great place to tour.
When you’re visiting a new city or region, it may not occur to you to check out the local university, but you absolutely should. In many cases, the institutions themselves act as museums for preserving their storied past, which can be quite impressive. The main grounds themselves can also be unique and often times gorgeous. Here are some of my favorites.
The College of William and Mary
Virginia does not suffer from a lack of quality institutions of higher learning, the oldest of which is the College of William and Mary. The second oldest university in the country, William and Mary has been educating the best and brightest since 1693. The college has changed a lot in those three centuries, but much of its history has been thankfully preserved. The most interesting parts of campus are dubbed Ancient and Old Campus, based on their age. Both are located adjacent to historic Colonial Williamsburg and it is easy to stroll around on your own, or to join an organized free tour. Many of our founding fathers and early presidents were educated here and it is awe inspiring to trod upon the same cobblestones as Jefferson, Monroe and even Washington.
University of Virginia
Mr. Jefferson’s University, as it is sometimes described, is not your average state college. It is one of the top universities in the nation in just about any category and is the direct result of the Enlightenment ideals of Thomas Jefferson. Prior to the development of UVA, the concept of a liberal arts education was a foreign concept. Jefferson introduced this and many other revolutionary ideas in education at The University. In addition to its educational prowess, UVA also boasts one of the most gorgeous public areas at any university in the world. The Rotunda and Lawn area of the University was the original school and its designation as a UNESCO World Heritage site only further exemplifies its extreme importance. I love walking around this part of the University, which is virtually unchanged from Jefferson’s day, and reflect on the tremendous importance UVA has had in the history of the country.
Just to illustrate the fact that fascinating schools can be found almost anywhere, I want to highlight Berea College. Berea is unique for many reasons, not the least of which is the fact there is no tuition, seeking to aid extremely bright but underprivileged students. It was also the first school to be coeducational and racially integrated in the South. Berea is a great school to tour for the physical beauty of the campus and for a unique look at the student crafts program including the broomcraft, weaving, woodcraft and wrought iron production areas where students produce handmade items sold in a student crafts store on campus. Located south of Lexington, KY, visiting Berea is unlike any other college tour in the country.
As one of the oldest and arguably highest caliber universities in the world, Cambridge has no shortage of accomplishments and famous alumni. Like many other institutions, Cambridge flows easily into the town of Cambridge itself and it is exciting to spend the day walking around both the campus and the city and just soak up the history. Just be careful not to step on the carefully manicured lawns of the university.
One of my favorite activities in Cambridge is to punt on the River Cam, an iconic, but sometimes difficult, activity.
Have you visited a college or university on your travels? Which one was your favorite?