Walk in Boston # 18, venerable Harvard, is a self-guided tour mainly on the campus of Harvard University in Cambridge.
You will need between will 1h30 and 5h to complete it depending of the time you’ll spend in the galleries and museums on your way.
You’ll see shady yards and secluded courtyards, respectable buildings, six museums, a gallery of design and many outdoor sculptures. You’ll also be able to say you went to Harvard University!
Highlights: Harvard Square, Harvard Yard, John Harvard statue, Carpenter Center for Visual Arts, Harvard Art museums, School of Design, Memorial Hall, Adolphus Bush Hall, museum of the Far East, Peabody museum, Harvard Museum of Natural History, Collection of Historical Scientific Instruments, Austin Hall, Christ church, Old Burial Ground, Harvard Coop, Lampoon castle.
T-stop: Harvard Square, red line (start and end).
Car: not a really good idea in Cambridge even if you could find meters in some street. They are limited to two hours. For more time, use a parking app to find something and see where it leaves you compared to the walk as there’s nothing along it.
Good to know: there are restrooms in the museums and at the Coop. Benches everywhere along your trek; plenty of food options around Harvard Square.
A: Your tour starts at Harvard Square and go to the Square first if you took the T. and emerged at another exit.
At its famous International Newspaper stand, you’ll see newspapers and magazines in many different languages. Don’t buy any now, though, except if you want to carry them. You’ll come back here at the end of your tour.
Once you got the feel of the Square- busy and unconventional, enter Harvard Yard by the corner entrance facing you.
A few steps inside the campus will be enough to give you an idea of Harvard University: big lawns with trees, red brick buildings, students reading or playing ball games. It’s both relaxed and serious, a temple of knowledge where you’ll perhaps meet your next president with books under his or her arms.
Your first stop will be the John Harvard statue by Daniel Chester French. It’s not John Harvard however, the statue was made after a descendant of him. Nobody knows how John Harvard looked like! Besides, he was only one of the founders of the university, but he gave it his name! It is said that students touch the foot or the statue for good luck, but it’s a myth. It explains why the statue is also named “the three lies statue”.
The Harvard library is in the vicinity; it would be tempting to climb the stairs and go inside to have a look, but it’s not open to the public. Instead, enter Emerson Hall, a few yards away, home to the Philosophy Department. There are sometimes lectures on the 1st floor; if there are not any on the day you come, just pretend you’re looking for the calendar for the next ones! It’s an impressive building, inside and out.
B: Next, you’ll reach the Harvard Art Museums on the other side of Quincy street. A major renovation completed in 2014 combined the Fogg, Bush-Reisinger and Sackler Museums; it means you now have three museums for the price of one! Western paintings, sculptures, and prints, particularly those of the German Expressionists, are on display here. They also have temporary exhibitions.
Don’t forget to go to the 4th floor: it’s where restauration of artworks is done. You cannot enter the area, but you can look at it from behind glass doors; it seems a wonderful place to work, bright and spacious under skylights.
On the right of the museum, you’ll also find the Carpenter Center for Visual Arts. It’s the only Le Corbusier building in the USA. You cannot miss it, it’s the only building around with a concrete façade. It’s home to students studios and temporary art exhibitions open to the public.
To see more art, the School of Design, also on Quincy Street across Cambridge Street, will be next. The 1st floor hosts works by students, or thematic exhibitions related to architecture. The visit is free.
In front of it, on your left, Memorial Hall: it’s a High Victorian Gothic building used for performances, conferences, and student acts.
C: For now, continue on Quincy St. until Kirkland St. with a pretty church on your right.
Take Kirland St. to the left and then immediately to the right, Frisbie Pl.
You’ll walk along the Adolphus Busch Hall (named from the brewer and philanthrope) and its garden which can be visited free of charge on Wednesdays (1 to 5 p.m.) and Saturdays from 10 to 2 p.m.).
Continue to the campus (the map is not accurate here) then turn slightly left to reach two more museums, the Harvard Museum of the Old Near East (free, formerly the Semitic Museum and that’s what is engraved above the door) and the Peabody Museum of Archeology and Ethnology (entrance fee) with its collections of objects relating to American Indian cultures.
The Peabody Museum is connected to the Harvard Museum of Natural History (HMNH) with its impressive collection of stuffed animals and fossils, stunning stones, and gallery of glass flowers which were intended for teaching and is now a treasure trove invaluable.
These 3 buildings have the retro charm of 19th century museums
D: Coming out of the HMNH or walking along it on the right after the Peabody Museum if you don’t want to visit them now, you will reach Oxford St.
Go left towards # 1 and the Historical Collection of Scientific Instruments, a small and quite unusual museum with a free entrance.
Once seen, retrace your steps to the vicinity of the HMNH and turn left to pass under or next to the buildings that are there.
E: You’ll see Austin Hall in the distance, behind lawns and big trees. It’s part of Harvard Law School, and one of the most prestigious law schools in the world.
F: Walk along Austin Hall on your left until you find a path on your right toward Mass Ave; cross Mass Ave; then the Cambridge Common.
On the other side of Garden St, you’ll see Christ Church on your left, an elegant church whose doors are open to everyone. If you have a look inside, you’ll see it’s pretty there too.
There is a path along it, on its left, with a view of Old Burying Ground, the only Cambridge cemetery for about 200 years. Headstone are few because they came later and not everyone could have one.
Take the path to reach Farwell Place, a quintessential New England street (the map here is not accurate as the pathway is not indicated).
At the end of it, you’ll find Brattle St. Take it on your left.
You are now in the business section of Harvard Square with cafes, shops, and street performers. If you want to buy souvenirs or books, the Coop will be further on your left and on Brattle Street. You don’t have to be a student to shop there, but you won’t get the discounts they have!
You can now stop your tour here if you wish, and just wander in the streets. The Harvard T. stop where you started is close by.
G: If you want to explore more, take the John Kennedy St. at the end of Brattle St.; then Mt Auburn St. on your left.
After two blocks, you’ll see that the area on your right is under construction; there was a community garden there, open to everyone, but who know if it will reappear?
Take Holyoke Pl. on your right to go and see the Lowell House at the end, one of the twelve undergraduate residential houses of the University. Behind its door, and sometimes accessible, two pretty and secluded courtyards.
Back to Mt Auburn St, you’ll see the Lampoon Castle, a building looking like a Prussian soldier. It’s home to the Harvard Lampoon, an undergraduate humor publication. It got as many criticism as rave reviews for its unusual design. Wheelwright, one of the founder of the Lampoon, completed it in 1909, using a style adequately called “mock Flemish”.
H: On Linden St., a street facing Holyoke Pl., look up in the air to see gargoyles. Find an alley on your right to visit another secluded and pretty courtyard, this one more accessible!
I: At the end of Linden St., you’ll be on Mass. Ave and Harvard Square will be on your left.
If it’s time for food and entertainment, there is everything you need around Harvard Square: restaurants, theaters, movies theaters, and clubs.
If however you now want to compare the Harvard campus to the MIT campus, you can take the T. to Kendall/MIT and follow Walk in Boston # 4, sculpture and architecture at MIT.
Now, if you want to buy Harvard gear without having to carry it with you, Amazon will deliver it to you!
Before you go, don’t forget your guide and see how to thank him at the bottom of the page. Then enjoy the rest of your day!