15 Best Things to Do in Harvard Square, MA

Harvard Square, MA
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A revered university established in 1636 serves as a strong dynamo that makes visiting Harvard Square in Cambridge, Massachusetts, such a delightful experience.

Boston’s crown jewel, Harvard University, as the oldest institution of higher learning in America, has spawned a slew of visitor attractions and plenty of exciting things to do.

Most of these are concentrated in and around the triangular plaza, Harvard Square.

This plaza is at the intersection of John F. Kennedy Street, Massachusetts Avenue, and Brattle Street.

This location is just a short walk toward the south from the university campus.

The Harvard Square area serves as a commercial hub not only for the Harvard students.

It is also a marketplace for the communities around Harvard University, like those in Western Cambridge and the inner suburbs of Boston.

Many residents of these communities consider the areas around Harvard Square as part of this plaza.

The most prominent among these is Cambridge Common, adjacent north of Harvard Square.

A 16-acre park, Cambridge Common, and its surrounding road corridors thus further expand the points of interest when visiting Harvard Square.

Find out what these are also in the following list of things to do in Harvard Square.

Take a Guided Walking Tour of the Harvard U Campus

Exterior of Memorial hall at Harvard University
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The campus of Harvard University is open to the public, and it’s easy to book its tour guided by Harvard undergraduates.

A walking tour takes just about one hour, but you will already experience the vibe of this world-famous Ivy League university.

Exterior of Lowell house at harvard university
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In this tour, you will learn about the rich history of Harvard, its historic buildings, as well as life in the historic city of Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Your tour guide will also give you insights into the elements that make Harvard unique and where some famous Harvard alumni started their quest for higher learning.

Winding up the tour, your guide will take you to the student-run The Harvard Shop, where you can buy gift items and souvenirs.

Students hanging out at harvard university grounds
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Stroll at the Harvard Yard

Students sitting around Harvard Yard
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This sprawling, wooded area is the oldest in the Harvard campus, surrounded by many historic buildings.

This 25-acre pastoral green space is an interesting counterpoint to the urban character of adjacent Harvard Square.

The yard began taking shape in the early 19thcentury when a lawn with paths and a pine grove and elms was laid out on its grounds which was a former cow pasture.

Students scattered around Harvard Yard
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The buildings that were subsequently constructed around the yard were set so that its visual coherence and scale is established.

Hence, the Harvard Yard serves as the unifying element of its surrounding buildings with diverse characters but similar in massing and size.

The yard is also endearing for its quadrangles and courtyards, where the features include a bronze statue of the university’s namesake and founder-benefactor, Rev. John Harvard.

Bronze statue of Rev. John Harvard
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Marvel at the Exhibits of the Harvard Museum of Natural History

Exterior and entrance of Harvard Museum of Natural History
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This museum on Oxford Street is the most popular public attraction in Harvard, drawing some 250,000 visitors each year.

One of the museum’s crowd-drawers is the two-story Great Mammal Hall featuring a large collection of mounted animals like a full-size giraffe.

The museum’s visitors also crane their necks in awe at the suspended whale skeletons on the ceiling.

A person looking at a skeleton artifact
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The museum’s wildlife specimens are from Africa, Central and South America, and Asia.

Climate Change, Evolution, and Earth and Planetary Sciences are the other themes of the museum’s exhibits.

All these exhibits came together through three Harvard research museums: the Museum of Comparative Zoology, the Mineralogical & Geological Museum, and the Harvard University Herbaria.

A skeleton display at Harvard Museum of Natural History
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Peek at Creations through the Ages at the Harvard Art Museums

Exterior of the Harvard Art Museums
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This museum on Quincy Street is the oldest in Harvard University, tracing back to 1835.

The Harvard Art Museums boasts about 250,000 art objects rendered in all media types.

These art pieces range from the antiquities to the present and were collected from

Europe, North America, the Middle East, North Africa, South Asia, East Asia, and Southeast Asia.

Name sign and entrance of Harvard Art Museums
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Three university museums and four research centers are the arms behind the Harvard Art Museums’ exhibits and collections.

The three museums are the Fogg Museum, the Busch-Reisinger Museum, and the Arthur M. Sackler Museum.

The four research centers include the Center for the Technical Study of Modern Art, the Harvard Art Museums Archives, and the Straus Center for Conservation and Technical Studies.

Name sign of Harvard Art Museums
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See a Mummy at the Harvard Museum of the Ancient Near East

Located on Divinity Avenue, this museum’s artifacts include Egyptian mummy sarcophagi, cuneiform tablets, cylinder seals, pottery, sculpture, and coins.

The museum displays plaster casts of the Laws of Hammurabi, the Black Obelisk of Shalmaneser III, and the Stele of Esarhaddon.

Also on exhibit in this museum is a full-scale model of an Iron Age Israelite house.

Many of the museum's artifacts are from museum-sponsored excavations in Egypt, Jordan, Iraq, Cyprus, Israel, and Tunisia.

Among these undertakings were the 1907–1912 first scientific excavations at Samaria in the Holy Land and excavations in Mesopotamia and the Sinai.

Catch an Orchestra Performance at Sanders Theatre

Exterior of the Sanders Theatre
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This theater is housed in the historic Memorial Hall of Harvard University on Quincy Street.

The Sanders Theatre serves as a venue for professional performance ensembles like the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra, Masterworks Chorale, and the Boston Chamber Music Society.

Top exterior of the Sanders Theatre
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This theatre has a 1,000-seat capacity and offers an intimate and unique 180-degree layout allowing unusual audience proximity to the stage.

The Sheldonian Theatre at Oxford, England, inspired the design of Sanders Theatre, which is also remarkable for its acoustics.

The theatre also functions as a major lecture hall, and the luminaries that graced its lectern include Theodore Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, and Martin Luther King, Jr.

Name sign of Sanders Theatre
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Watch a Film Classic at Brattle Theatre

Name sign and top exterior of Brattle Theatre
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Located on Brattle Street on the northwest flank of Harvard Square, this is a non-profit movie theater under the Brattle Film Foundation.

The theater is housed in the circa 1889 Brattle Hall, which is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

Brattle Theater, established in 1953, screens an eclectic mix of arthouse, foreign, and "recent rave" films.

Exterior of Brattle Theatre hall
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The theater also holds events, such as the Bugs Bunny Film Festival, Schlock Around the Clock series, the Oscar Party, the Art House Auction, and the Watch-a-thon.

A small movie house with one screen, Brattle Theater is one of the last holdouts in using a rear-projection system.

In this old system, the projector is behind the screen rather than behind the audience.

Listen to Live Music at Club Passim

Name sign of Club Passim
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If you’re a fan of American folk music, then Club Passim is a must-visit for you when on a tour of Harvard Square.

This club makes music in the basement of a vintage brick house on the corner of Church and Palmer Street.

A man playing guitar in Club Passim
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Starting as Club 47 in 1958 on Mount Auburn Street, it has the bragging rights as a club where folk-music icons in the mold of Bob Dylan and Joan Baez had their start.

As Club 47, it also helped in the rise of folk-rock music in the 1960s when the club began booking bands of this music genre.

Jazz and blues musicians also get their billing at Club Passim, where you can likewise enjoy drinks and tasty dishes from its kitchen.

A man holding a guitar at Club Passim
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Have an Italian Dinner at Toscano

This restaurant, which has an elder twin in Boston, is located on Brattle Street corner Story Street.

It swears to faithfully reproduce the Tuscan culinary traditions in its handmade pasta, house-made sausages, and pizzas crisped to perfection.

Toscano stands by too in its dishes with fine local and imported cheeses, fresh vine-ripened tomatoes, and wild mushrooms.

It also tempts patrons in its offerings of fish and game-cooked alla griglia and is enhanced with hickory, oak, and maple.

Tuscan tradition is likewise well expressed in the wine list of this restaurant, with choices like Chianti Reserva and Brunello di Montellocino.

To ensure wine quality, Toscano keeps a temperature-controlled wine room that can store up to 1,000 bottles from Tuscan and Italian vineyards.

Sip It Hot at L.A. Burdick Handmade Chocolate

This chocolate shop is located on Brattle Street and offers various chocolate drink specialties.

Its drinking chocolate is available in single-source dark, Burdick blend dark, as well as milk, white, and spicy dark chocolates.

A rich dark chocolate cake with walnuts, which this store branded as Harvard Square, is one of the most popular pastries on its menu.

Other store goodies here include chocolate-covered marzipan, truffles, bonbons, and chocolate bars.

This store has been making and selling these European-influenced pastries with stress on chocolate since1998.

Have Coffee at Bluestone Lane

Exterior of Bluestone Lane and shops beside it
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Whether breakfast, brunch, or lunch, this coffee shop on Brattle Street is a good choice in Harvard Square.

Bluestone Lane takes after the coffee culture of Melbourne, Australia, where premium coffee is part of the lifestyle.

The artisanal coffee Bluestone Lane offers is brewed from coffee beans sourced directly from Central and South American farms.

A cup of iced latte from Bluestone Lane
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Bluestone Lane boasts an expert coffee team in its New York state-of-the-art roasting facility to produce its signature coffee blends.

The Harvard Square location of this coffee shop chain also offers health-focused meals like its Avocado Smash, Green Baked Eggs, and Best Mate Bowl.

Shop for Artisan-Made Gifts at MOTTO

Since it opened in 1988, Church Street, MOTTO has consistently drawn Harvard Square visitors to its highly curated shopping experience.

The goods it offers include artisan-made jewelry, along with an eclectic stock of apparel, bags, home accents, and personal accessories.

MOTTO sources its inventory from the best contemporary designers not only in the US but also abroad to widen the choices for shoppers.

In this store, you will find high-quality picks on home and table ornaments, including paper goods and apothecary.

It also boasts a men’s department for choices of formal shirts, rayon blend socks, scarfs, among other items.

Discover Great Picks at Raven Used Books

This bookstore on Church Street is a great destination if you’re looking for affordably priced used books.

There are more than 1,000 books added to the stock of this store, so you’re likely to have a fresh selection to browse on.

The shelves of Raven Used Books are particularly strong in categories like art, philosophy, history, architecture, anthropology, political theory, religion, poetry, and literature.

If you have old books that you want to dispose of, bring them to Raven Used Books.

It is always on the lookout to buy good hardcover books and paperbacks.

Take the Kids to Cambridge Common

Statues at Cambridge Common
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Families with children visiting Harvard Square are wont to hop a short distance north to the 16-acre park Cambridge Common.

Kids will love this park for its Alexander W. Kemp Playground, where they can assemble loose wooden blocks for imaginative play.

The playground also provides slides embedded into hills that are part of the park’s landscape of valleys, stumps, wooden branches, and sand.

Toddlers will also be thrilled with the playground’s dish-shaped, multidirectional swing that several children can use at the same time.

Parents can join in, too, in a see-saw with multiple seats at each end.

Another playground special is a ground-level merry-go-round enabling wheelchair access.

Join the Fun at Beat Brew Hall

This pub is located on Brattle Street and offers the traditional beer hall experience wherein friends and strangers can join in communal tables.

Beat Brew Hall offers 24 top-tier beers on tap and unique cocktails mixed with herbs and in-house prepared syrups.

There are artisanal wines on tap as well, plus kitchen fare catering to meat-eaters and vegetarians alike.

Live music and billiards, in addition to a party lounge, further enliven the scene at the Beat Brew Hall.

Final Thoughts

Keep Harvard Square in mind if you’re visiting Cambridge, as it is a one-stop destination that can deliver all the things you look for in a pleasure trip.

Visits to the points of interest in the Harvard University campus are mind-enriching, while Harvard Square offers striking choices in shopping, dining, and entertainment.

With such perfect fusion, awarding a five-star rating to Harvard Square after a visit should be a no-brainer.