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5 Must-See Boston Museums

Enjoy fine art or explore the science of bubbles at Boston’s top museums.

U.S. News & World Report

5 Must-See Boston Museums

Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum

Named after its creator, the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum is one of the city's most charming museums.(Getty Images)

Boston is home to some fascinating and unique museums, so deciding where to go and what to see can be overwhelming. U.S. News consulted some of the city's local experts about the top museums. They said whether you're interested in ancient Greece, contemporary art or just a family-friendly activity, Boston has a museum that specializes in what you're looking for – sometimes all in one place.

Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Museum of Fine Arts, Boston(Courtesy of Museum of Fine Arts, Boston)

With a staggering collection of approximately half a million objects, from ancient Egyptian artifacts to cutting-edge contemporary art, the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, or the MFA for short, is one of the city's must-see museums. Nicholas MacDonald, head concierge at Hotel Commonwealth, says, "People literally come to Boston and stay here just to visit that museum."

The collection is extensive, so there's certainly something to grab everyone's interest, from the works of Claude Monet (there's a gallery dedicated just to the Impressionist painter) to the mummies in the "Art of the Ancient World" gallery, a favorite with kids. Guided one-hour tours, regularly offered and free with admission, are an excellent way to explore the museum.

Suzanne Wenz, director of marketing communications and PR at the Taj Boston and Boston Park Plaza, says, "I'm a big fan of art and I think the Museum of Fine Arts should be on the top of someone's list when they are visiting Boston. It has a really wonderful collection of art from all periods and all styles."

Nina Senatore, guest experience ambassador at The Lenox Hotel, also loves the museum and says, "It's a phenomenal gift to the city of Boston and its people."

The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston is open Saturday through Tuesday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Wednesday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. General admission is $25 for adults, and $23 for seniors and students 18 and older with an ID. For those ages 7 to 17, admission is free during weekdays after 3 p.m., weekends and Boston public school holidays; otherwise admission for youths is $10. Admission is free for children 6 and younger. Wednesday nights after 4 p.m., admission is by voluntary contribution. Full-price adult, senior and student tickets are good for two days within a 10-day period.

Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum

Named after its creator, the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum is one of the city's most charming museums. Isabella Stewart came to Boston in 1860 after she married John "Jack" Lowell Gardner Jr., one of Boston's leading figures at the time. She quickly made her mark on the city, and the museum, which she had built in the style of a 15th century Venetian palazzo, was designed to hold her art collection. Her will stipulated the building and everything in it was to stay exactly as she left it, so visitors can enjoy it as she wanted.

"Isabella is probably one of the most interesting and colorful characters to come out of Boston's history," Senatore says.

There are more than 2,500 objects, dating from ancient Rome, medieval Europe, the Italian Renaissance, Asia, the Islamic world, 19th century France and America. Highlights include Titian's "Europa," Piero della Francesca's "Hercules" and John Singer Sargent's "El Jaleo." In addition to the art, the building itself is gorgeous, and its indoor garden courtyard is stunning.

Wenz says, "The collection that Mrs. Gardner has put together and seeing the art the way Mrs. Gardner wanted you to see it is really special and unique."

The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum is open Monday, Wednesday, and Friday through Sunday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Thursday from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Tickets are $15 for adults, $12 for seniors and $5 for students with an ID. Admission is free for visitors younger than 18 and those whose name is Isabella.

Boston Public Library (Central Library)

Boston Public Library (Central Library)(Courtesy of Boston Public Library)

Located in the Copley Square, the Boston Public Library is much more than a repository of books. Opened in 1895, the Renaissance Revival building is also an art museum of sorts. Walking through the main entrance hall on Dartmouth Street, visitors are greeted by two immense stone lions sculpted by Louis St. Gaudens. The corridor at the top of the stairs leads to Bates Hall, one of Boston's most glorious interior spaces and the library's main reference reading room. The 218-foot-long room, with a barrel-arch ceiling 50 feet high, is like something out of a movie.

Wenz calls the building "stunning and beautiful." She also touts the free art and architecture tours the library offers daily. Visitors learn about the murals found throughout the library, such as Sargent's series on the "Triumph of Religion," which was restored to its original brilliance after a cleaning and restoration in 2003. Other murals include work by French artist Puvis de Chavannes, who depicted the nine muses in "The Muses of Inspiration," and Edwin Abbey's "The Quest and Achievement of the Holy Grail."

The Boston Public Library is open Monday through Thursday from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., Friday and Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sunday from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.

Boston Children's Museum

Boston Children's Museum(Courtesy of Brian Phillips Photography)

Boston Children's Museum, founded in 1913, is the second oldest children's museum in the country. It offers a variety of hands-on exhibits, from the "Japanese House" – a two-story silk merchant's home from Kyoto, which was brought from Japan and assembled in Boston – to the ever-popular "Bubbles" exhibit – where kids can experiment with the science of bubbles.

"The museum entertains not just children," MacDonald says. "Adults always have a good time as well."

Kids love exploring the "New Balance Foundation Climb," a three-story climbing sculpture made of flowing curved platforms, in the lobby of the museum. While the sculpture is too small for adults, parents can follow along on the stairway and help guide their kids, while taking in some of the best views of downtown Boston and the harbor. A full schedule of special exhibits, festivals and performances is offered, making the museum a lively place to be.

Boston Children's Museum is open Saturday through Thursday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Friday from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Admission is $16 for adults, $16 for children 1 to 15 and free for infants younger than 12 months. On Friday, admission is $1 from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m.

The Institute of Contemporary Art/Boston

Not only does The Institute of Contemporary Art/Boston showcase an exciting collection of artwork, both in permanent and temporary exhibits, the building itself could be called a work of art. The stunning cantilevered building juts out over the Boston waterfront, reflecting the water and light in fascinating patterns. Over the years, it has displayed works by Edvard Munch, Andy Warhol, Robert Rauschenberg and Roy Lichtenstein, to name a few.

The museum's new permanent exhibit, "The Barbara Lee Collection of Art by Women," features 68 paintings, sculptures and photography by modern and contemporary artists, such as Ellen Gallagher, Rachel Harrison, Louise Bourgeois and Tara Donovan.

The ICA is open Tuesday, Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Thursday and Friday from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Admission is $15 for adults, $13 for seniors, $10 for students with an ID and free for kids younger than 17. Admission is free every Thursday from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. during ICA Free Thursday Nights.

To experience more of what Boston has to offer, check out the U.S. News Travel guide.

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