Best Things To Do in Cambridge, MA
Cambridge, which sits just across the Charles River from Boston, has its own identity and charms entirely separate from the "Hub." From the world-renowned Harvard University to the city's many unique "squares," Cambridge offers plenty to see and do. Whether you're interested in history, architecture, art or just want to experience the city's wealth of fantastic restaurants and clubs, Cambridge delivers.
Updated November 15, 2017
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Iconic Harvard Square, a bustling epicenter of Cambridge, is packed with quirky boutiques, bookstores, restaurants, cafes, bars, buskers and, of course, students from Harvard University, which borders one side of the square. No matter the time of day or night, there is always a lively atmosphere. Simply wandering around people-watching can be entertaining by itself.
Visitors say Harvard Square "feels like a European square" with a "fun and energetic vibe." Additionally, many add that it offers a great place to hang out in the evenings.
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One of the world's most famous universities, Harvard has been educating students since the 17th century. It was named for John Harvard, a clergyman who died in 1638 and left the college his library and half of his estate. Visitors can walk the grounds to take in the gorgeous buildings, which span a variety of architectural styles over the centuries. There's the Georgian-style Holden Chapel, completed in 1744, University Hall, designed in 1815 by Charles Bulfinch, and the Romanesque-style Sever Hall, completed in 1880, among many others.
Recent travelers called the buildings "stunning," adding that a stop at Harvard was one of the highlights of their time in Cambridge. While visitors may not go into campus buildings, they can tag along on a free guided tour of the grounds. Tours provide an overview of campus history and offer fun tidbits. For instance, the 1884 statue of John Harvard by Daniel Chester French (the left foot of which many visitors rub for luck) is not actually a depiction of Harvard himself, but rather Sherman Hoar, a Harvard graduate who acted as the model for this sculpture.
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The world-famous Blaschka Glass Flowers receive a lot of attention at this museum – and rightly so – but there are a lot of other must-see exhibits at the Harvard Museum of Natural History (which also contains specimens from the Museum of Comparative Zoology, the Harvard University Herbaria and the Mineralogical & Geological Museum). After you've had your fill of the stunningly life-like collection of more than 4,000 glass models, which represent more than 830 plant species, make sure to check out the other galleries. Popular exhibits include the Great Mammal Hall, Birds of the World and Climate Change: Our Global Experiment.
Recent visitors – who called the museum "fabulous" and "great for all ages" – said they wished they would have set aside more time to explore all of the exhibits. Reviewers also described the experience as a great value thanks to the two-for-one admission to both the adjacent Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology and the natural history museum.
- #4View all Photos#4 in Cambridge, MA1.5 miles to city centerSightseeing, Tours, FreeTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND1.5 miles to city centerSightseeing, Tours, FreeTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND
Founded in 1861, MIT's emphasis on science and technology is clearly seen in its amazing architecture and sculptures. Take a guided or self-guided tour around the campus to see works by Pablo Picasso and Alexander Calder and buildings designed by I.M. Pei and other award-winning architects. Highlights include the domed Kresge Auditorium, designed by Eero Saarinen, which rests on just three points, and the curvy Ray and Maria Stata Center, designed by Frank Gehry. A free audio guide that focuses on 51 works of art and architecture throughout the campus, with commentary from artists, architects, scholars and curators, is available online. Visitors can access it here.
Past visitors enjoyed the campus' modern architecture but advised you'll get more out of a visit with a guided tour. Visitors who are not prospective students are able to join a student-led campus tour, which are offered after weekday information sessions end at 10 a.m. and 2:30 p.m., if space is available. Contact MIT admissions to inquire or stop by the Office of Admissions.
- #5View all Photos#5 in Cambridge, MAless than 0.1 miles to city centerMuseumsTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPENDless than 0.1 miles to city centerMuseumsTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND
The Harvard Art Museums are the combination of the formerly separate Busch-Reisinger, Fogg and Arthur M. Sackler museums, making it quite an "eclectic" experience, according to past visitors who say it's definitely worth a visit.
The 204,000-square-foot museum – designed by award-winning architect Renzo Piano – is quite a stunner, with a pyramid-shaped roof and glass ceilings. It spans seven levels and houses 250,000 pieces of art. Works on display include American and European paintings, sculptures and decorative arts, pieces by German expressionists, materials related to the Bauhaus and postwar contemporary art from German-speaking Europe. Several visitors were happily surprised at the collection of impressionist painters, including works by Claude Monet and others.
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For anyone curious about what the creative minds at MIT are up to, the MIT Museum is a great place to explore. The museum displays objects from its own fascinating collection and features rotating exhibitions on a variety of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, or so-called "STEAM"- based topics. In the "Robots and Beyond" exhibit, visitors can check out inventions from MIT's robotics lab, such as the 7-foot-tall M. Tallchief, a robot built for NASA and lent to MIT to test space suits, and Troody, a robot modeled after a carnivorous, two-legged dinosaur of the cretaceous era, designed to spark kids' interest in science.
According to recent visitors, this is the place to see MIT's latest inventions. Reviewers also appreciated the interactive displays.
- #7View all Photos#7 in Cambridge, MA1.6 miles to city centerParks and Gardens, Sightseeing, FreeTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND1.6 miles to city centerParks and Gardens, Sightseeing, FreeTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND
This beautiful and peaceful 175-acre cemetery was the country's first "garden cemetery" when it opened in 1831 and it's filled with artwork, sculptures and gorgeous landscaping. What's more, it's a National Historic Landmark. Famous names buried here include Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Mary Baker Eddy, Winslow Homer, Amy Lowell, Isabella Stewart Gardner and architect Charles Bulfinch. Along with its intricate gravestones, the cemetery is also home to plenty of flora and fauna. In fact, the Massachusetts Audubon Society named it an Important Bird Area for its warbler species. One of the most prominent structures in the cemetery is the 62-foot-tall Washington Tower, which is located at the highest point in the cemetery and offers stunning views of Cambridge and Boston.
Since there are more than 60,000 monuments in the cemetery, you'll want to pick up a brochure or audio guide (for a fee) at the cemetery's visitor center or download its free app from Google's or Apple's app store to get the story behind its fascinating structures. Visitors say the cemetery is "fantastic" and call it "an amazing arboretum, birder's paradise and history museum" all in one.
- #8View all Photos#8 in Cambridge, MA0.7 miles to city centerHistoric Homes/Mansions, Sightseeing, Tours, FreeTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND0.7 miles to city centerHistoric Homes/Mansions, Sightseeing, Tours, FreeTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND
This house has witnessed a lot of history. Not only did it serve as General George Washington's headquarters during the Siege of Boston (considered the beginning stages of the Revolutionary War), it was also the home of poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. One of a number of original Tory Row homes on Brattle Street, the house was built in 1759 by John Vassall, Jr. Longfellow lived here in 1837 as a boarder and later received the house as a gift from his father-in-law upon his marriage to Frances Appleton. For 45 years, Longfellow wrote and hosted luminaries, such as Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nathaniel Hawthorne and Charles Sumner, an abolitionist senator. Today, the house is owned and operated by the National Park Service and features well-preserved, original Longfellow family furniture.
Previous visitors said that for anyone who loves American history, this is a "must-see." They also praised the knowledgeable tour guides and the incredible preservation of the site.
- #9View all Photos#9 in Cambridge, MA0.3 miles to city centerMuseumsTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND0.3 miles to city centerMuseumsTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND
This museum focuses on Native American and Central and South American cultures. Its collection includes more than 5,000 ancient Peruvian textiles and the largest surviving assemblage of artifacts acquired from Native American people during the Lewis and Clark Expedition. Overall, the museum, which was founded in 1866, houses more than 1 million objects, making it one of the largest museums of cultural artifacts in the world. It spans the 10,000-year cultural history of six continents in its eight galleries. Highlights include full-size Native American totems, life-size casts of Maya monuments and a rare collection of West African masks.
Recent visitors said they were impressed with the museum, especially its collection of Native American artifacts. Reviewers also appreciated the two-for-one ticket that includes combined admission to the adjacent Harvard Museum of Natural History.
- #10View all Photos#10 in Cambridge, MA0.3 miles to city centerMuseums, FreeTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND0.3 miles to city centerMuseums, FreeTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND
Something of a hidden gem, the Harvard Semitic Museum, founded in 1889, boasts more than 40,000 Near Eastern artifacts, mostly from museum-sponsored excavations in Egypt, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Syria and Tunisia. Highlights include pottery, cylinder seals, sculptures, coins and cuneiform tablets. The museum rotates items in its collection in temporary exhibits, but recent examples include "House of Ancient Egypt," "Monuments from Mesopotamia" and "Ancient Cyprus."
Recent visitors called the small museum "informative" and "worth a visit" if you're interested in ancient civilizations of the Near East.
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