Blake Walsh

15 Free Things to Do in Cambridge, MA

  • Published 2023/03/11

The charming city of Cambridge in Middlesex County, Massachusetts, is located just a few miles from Boston.

This urban hub is known for having a rich history and culture, on top of being a destination for world-class educational institutions.

Cambridge is home to two of the world’s most prestigious universities, Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), which is why it is considered one of the centers of knowledge and innovation in the state and the country.

The number of residents of the city was approximately 117,090 residents in 2021.

While it is relatively small in population, it still makes for a friendly town that is easy to navigate.

Aside from its academic hubs, one of the standout features of Cambridge is its diverse neighborhoods.

You’ll be greeted with much enthusiasm in the streets of Harvard Square and Central Square, while nature spaces along Charles River provide serenity amid the bustling city.

Whether you’re after a day of sightseeing or want to relax and unwind, these 15 free things to do in Cambridge, Massachusetts, will make your trip unforgettable:

Explore Ancient Culture at Harvard Museum of the Ancient Near East

The Harvard Museum of the Ancient Near East (HMANE) offers free museum access when you are in Cambridge.

Taking you back to ancient times, this museum on Divinity Avenue holds around 40 000 archeological artifacts, including coins, sculptures, pottery, and cuneiform tablets.

Founded in 1889, the Harvard Museum of the Ancient Near East has a comprehensive collection of artifacts taken from various excavations, mainly from the eastern Mediterranean region and North Africa.

It also contains displays of a full-scale ancient Israelite home replica, Mesopotamian monuments, and real mummy coffins from the Near East region.

Visit the Cambridge Public Library

Exterior of the Cambridge Public Library

Daderot, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Cambridge Public Library, established in 1894, is a learning gem of the city.

Located on Broadway, the library boasts beautiful and historic architecture and is a source of knowledge for visitors of all ages.

From the moment you step inside the library, you’ll be captivated by its design and welcoming atmosphere.

The main reading room is a marvel of Victorian Gothic architecture, with warm wood paneling, intricate plaster moldings, and tall arched windows that let in ample natural light.

It’s the perfect place to curl up with a good book or enjoy the peaceful surroundings.

Adding to the main reading room is the library, which boasts several smaller reading rooms.

The library maintains a dedicated children’s room filled with books, games, and toys to keep young visitors entertained and engaged.

Walk around Harvard Square

The grounds of Harvard Square

LnP images /

In the heart of the city isHarvard Square, a historic plaza just a few blocks from Harvard University and considered one of the city’s most iconic and recognizable landmarks.

The triangular plaza, which borders Massachusetts Avenue, Brattle Street, and John F. Kennedy Street, was built in the late 19th century.

Since then, it has been a hub of activity, attracting visitors from all over the world who come to experience its unique blend of the past and culture.

News stand at Harvard Square

FrimuFilms /

Walking around Harvard Square allows you to admire its architecture as it takes you down memory lane.

It is surrounded by historic buildings, one of which is the iconic Harvard Bookstore, which has also been around for a century.

A wide range of modern amenities is available, including shops, restaurants, cafes, and cultural institutions like the Harvard Museum of Natural History and the American Repertory Theater.

Harvard book store at Harvard Square

m_sovinskii /

Drop by the Longfellow House-Washington’s Headquarters

Exterior of the Longfellow House

Jorge Salcedo /

Built in 1759, the Longfellow House on Brattle Street is an iconic landmark that has been a witness to Cambridge’s past.

Aside from being the residence of the famous poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, George Washington made the house his headquarters during the Siege of Boston in 1775.

Today, as a museum, the Longfellow House offers a unique look at 19th-century literature and arts.

It also holds a comprehensive collection of the history of Cambridge and the American Revolution, with its attractive gardens, historic rooms, and rich collections of artifacts and memorabilia.

Entrance door of the Longfellow House

Zack Frank /

Bike through the Minuteman Bikeway

The Minuteman Bikeway is a biking route in the city that opened in 1991, offering a recreational trail for cyclists and hikers.

With over 10 miles of paved bikeway, the linear park takes you through the picturesque Massachusetts countryside.

The track is surrounded by lush forests, rolling hills, and pristine wetlands, making it ideal for a leisurely bike or brisk hike.

Every type of rider can enjoy a ride on this trail as it welcomes all ages and skill levels.

Along the way, there are several rest areas and picnic spots where visitors can take a break.

You can also take your cameras or binoculars with you during the ride, as you can spot a wide range of bird species along Minuteman Bikeway.

Take Photographs at North Point Park

A trail at North Point Park

Jon Bilous /

Sitting on the banks of the Charles River is another famous site named North Point Park, a 14-acre park offering a peaceful escape from the busy metropolitan.

Located at Canal Park, the park was completed in 2007.

You can enjoy breathtaking views of the Boston skyline from the park’s riverfront promenade.

It makes for a terrific spot for photography, so you better bring your camera if you decide to visit.

North Point Park also has a fishing pier, where anglers can cast a line and try their luck at catching some of the river’s abundant fish species.

Canal at North Point Park

Jon Bilous /

Hang Out at Cambridge Common

Entrance gate of Cambridge Common

Jay Yuan /

Cambridge Common is a historic and gorgeous park at the intersection of Massachusetts Avenue and Garden Street, built in 1770.

This public park has served as the center of community life for centuries for locals of Cambridge.

During the colonial era, it was used as a training ground for local militia and as a common area for town meetings.

The grounds of Cambridge Common

Jay Yuan /

Today, Cambridge Common stands as a gathering place for the community, either as a venue for demonstrations or concerts.

During days when the grounds are free from events, it offers an oasis that restores one’s stressed days.

You can opt to hang around under shaded trees while enjoying a snack or go for an afternoon walk.

A monument at Cambridge Common

Jay Yuan /

Swim at McCrehan Memorial Swimming and Wading Pool

For some fun water adventure in Cambridge, you can head to McCrehan Memorial Swimming and Wading Pool.

Located at Norfolk Street, McCrehan Memorial Swimming and Wading Pool is an ideal choice to cool off during hot summer days.

It’s a community pool established in the 1930s and has provided locals with a fun and safe swimming space.

The pool features a spacious deck, diving boards, and a wading area for the little ones.

Whether you’re looking to swim laps or soak up the sun, you can find an excellent spot to be in the waters at McCrehan Memorial Swimming and Wading Pool.

Visit Mount Auburn Cemetery

Tombstones at Mount Auburn Cemetery

vagabond54 /

Another way to learn about the city’s olden days is through a free tour around Mount Auburn Cemetery.

Mount Auburn Cemetery is a historic cemetery located on the outskirts of Cambridge.

Established in 1831, it is one of the first rural cemeteries in the United States and a National Historic Landmark known for its rolling hills and monuments.

It spans over 175 acres and has 5,000 trees, including rare and exotic species.

Trail at Mount Auburn Cemetery

vagabond54 /

Visitors can explore the cemetery’s winding roads and paths, taking in the views of the surrounding countryside and the sculptures that dot the landscape.

This cemetery at Mt. Auburn Street is also a resting place for several notable individuals, including famous abolitionists, suffragettes, and prominent figures from Cambridge’s past.

If you drop by this area, you’ll learn about the history of the cemetery and the city through guided tours, self-guided walks, and interpretive exhibits.

A tower at Mount Auburn Cemetery

Wangkun Jia /

Take a Break at Harvard Yard

The grounds of Harvard Yard

Jay Yuan /

Harvard Yard is the historic heart of Harvard University.

The Yard is surrounded by some of the university’s most historic buildings, including Massachusetts Hall, which dates back to 1720, and is one of the oldest buildings in the United States.

This hub is also home to the John Harvard statue, a destination for tourists, and serves as a symbol of the university.

Going around this area, you’ll find a space of lush greens surrounded by red-brick buildings; each has its own story to tell.

Students sitting on colorful chairs at the Harvard Yard

travelview /

The Yard is a spot for picnics, games, and concerts during the warm months.

You’ll also often see graduation rites being held in this place.

In addition to its historical significance, the Yard is known for its landscaping, making it one of the most photographed spots in Cambridge.

People walking along the Harvard Yard

Jannis Tobias Werner /

View Art Exhibits at Cambridge Arts Council

If you want to discover the local art scene, check out the latest exhibitions from the Cambridge Arts Council.

This non-profit organization was established in 1974 and is the city’s leading arts promoter.

Located on Broadway, the council is open to everyone who wants to explore its art exhibitions from local artists, events, and educational programs.

These programs offer a unique look at the city’s bustling arts scene and allow visitors to experience the best of Cambridge’s cultural offerings.

The Cambridge Arts Council provides resources and support to artists and arts organizations, helping to ensure that the arts in Cambridge continue to thrive and grow.

See Historical Landmarks at Central Square

Buildings along Central Square

LnP images /

Central Square, located at the intersection of Massachusetts Avenue and Prospect Street, is an eclectic and traditional downtown neighborhood that has served as a melting pot of cultures, cuisines, and lifestyles since 1793.

Aside from the ethnic restaurants that feature various culinary wonders worldwide, it houses several historic landmarks and buildings.

A church at Central Square

Jon Bilous /

You can explore the antiquity of the neighborhood by taking a walking tour of its historic landmarks and buildings, which include the Central Square Theater and the Central Fire Station, both of which are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The neighborhood’s old buildings have also been restored to their original grandeur.

Aerial view of Central Square

Eric Kilby, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Admire the Architecture of Sanders Theatre

Exterior of Sanders Theatre

Jorge Salcedo /

Sanders Theatre is a historic performing arts venue on Quincy Street.

Built in 1876, it is one of the country’s oldest and most stunning theaters and is considered the epitome of grand Victorian architecture.

Designed by world-class architect William Robert Ware, the venue combines both classy and functional use with evident elements of Gothic and Renaissance styles.

Interior of Sanders Theatre

Bestbudbrian, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Inside, you’ll find intricate wood carvings and murals and stained-glass windows that cover its 1,166-seating capacity.

With its ornate architecture, Sanders Theatre should be on your list if you are interested in knowing more about arts and architecture in Cambridge.

Door of Sanders Theatre

chensiyuan, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Soak up the Local Vibe at Charles River Farmers’ Market

If you want to get a good feel of Cambridge’s local culture, you can head to the bustling Farmers’ Market, held every Friday and Sunday all year round at Charles Hotel.

Many locals and visitors drop by the place to support small businesses that showcase their own fresh and locally grown produce.

The weekend gathering is also a nice opportunity to meet new people, build networks, or just hang out.

If you’re lucky, you may stumble upon free samples of products at the Farmers’ Market while you enjoy great music from local performers and other fun activities.

Other Things to Do Nearby

Run along the Charles River Reservation

Enjoy a dose of near the city with a tour around Charles River.

Stretching along the banks of the 22-mile Charles River is the Charles River Reservation, which features a three-mile trail perfect for physical activities such as running and walking.

Opened in 1997, the Greenway extends from the Museum of Science in Boston to the Eliot Bridge in Newton and provides a unique opportunity for recreation and transportation in the state.

While you go for a nice run, you’ll be amazed by the incredible views of the river and the landscapes of Boston skyscrapers serving as your backdrop.

The pathway is also an excellent place to observe the abundant wildlife in its surrounding vicinity.

You’ll feel safe and comfortable with its well-maintained amenities, including drinking fountains and restrooms.

After exploring, you can sit on the benches or have a quick snack at the picnic areas.

Charles River Reservation is in Boston, a nine-minute drive from Cambridge.

Final Thoughts

Cambridge, Massachusetts, is a district with enticing culture, history, and recreation opportunities.

Whether you’re an architecture buff, a history enthusiast, a nature lover, or a typical traveler wanting to know more about the city, you will find something that appeals to you.

Pack your bags and take note of these free things to do in Cambridge, Massachusetts, for a budget-friendly trip!

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