CAMBRIDGE, UNITED KINGDOM - 2009/06/14: Fitzwilliam Museum at the  university city. (Photo by Olaf Protze/LightRocket via Getty Images)

LightRocket via Getty Images

Fitzwilliam Museum

Top choice in Cambridge

Fondly dubbed 'the Fitz' by locals, this colossal neoclassical pile was one of the first public art museums in Britain, built to house the fabulous treasures that the seventh Viscount Fitzwilliam bequeathed to his old university. Expect Roman and Egyptian grave goods, artworks by many of the great masters and some quirkier collections: banknotes, literary autographs, watches and armour.

The building’s unabashedly over-the-top appearance sets out to mirror its contents; this ostentatious jumble of styles mixes mosaic with marble, and Greek with Egyptian. The lower galleries are filled with priceless treasures spanning the ancient world; look out for a Roman funerary couch, an inscribed copper votive plaque from Yemen (c AD 100–200), a figurine of Egyptian cat goddess Bastet, splendid Egyptian sarcophagi and mummified animals, plus dazzling illuminated manuscripts. The upper galleries showcase works by Leonardo da Vinci, Titian, Rubens, the Impressionists, Gainsborough, Constable, Rembrandt and Picasso; standout works include the tender Pietà by Giovanni del Ponte and Salvator Rosa's dark and intensely personal L'Umana Fragilita.

The Fitz has a tragic footnote: although begun by George Basevi in 1837, he didn’t live to see its completion. While working on Ely Cathedral he stepped back to admire his handiwork, slipped and fell to his death.

One-hour guided tours (£8) of the museum are held at 2.30pm on Saturdays.

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