Cambridge, MA Travel Guide

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Free Things To Do in Cambridge, MA

If you have extra time, Massachusetts Institute of Technology is worthwhile.
  • #1
    Things to do in Cambridge, MA
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    #1 in Cambridge, MA
    Shopping, Sightseeing, Free
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND
    Shopping, Sightseeing, Free
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND

    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.

  • #2
    Harvard University
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    #2 in Cambridge, MA
    Museums, Sightseeing, Tours, Free
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND
    Museums, Sightseeing, Tours, Free
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND

    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.

  • #4
    Massachusetts Institute of Technology
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    #4 in Cambridge, MA
    Sightseeing, Tours, Free
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND
    Sightseeing, Tours, Free
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME 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.

  • #7
    Mount Auburn Cemetery
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    #7 in Cambridge, MA
    Parks and Gardens, Sightseeing, Free
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND
    Parks and Gardens, Sightseeing, Free
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME 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.  

  • #8
    Longfellow House Washington's Headquarters
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    #8 in Cambridge, MA
    Historic Homes/Mansions, Sightseeing, Tours, Free
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND
    Historic Homes/Mansions, Sightseeing, Tours, Free
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME 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.

  • #10
    Harvard Semitic Museum
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    #10 in Cambridge, MA
    Museums, Free
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND
    Museums, Free
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME 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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