Boston and Cambridge are so closely associated that many people believe they're the same place -- a notion that both cities' residents and politicians are happy to dispel. Cantabrigians are often considered more liberal and better educated than Bostonians, which is another idea that's sure to get you involved in a lively discussion. Take the Red Line across the river and see for yourself.
For a good overview, begin at the main Harvard T entrance. Follow our Harvard Square walking tour, or set out on your own. At the information booth (tel. 617/497-1630) in the middle of Harvard Square at the intersection of Massachusetts Avenue, John F. Kennedy Street, and Brattle Street, trained volunteers dispense maps and brochures and answer questions Monday through Friday from 9am to 5pm, Saturday and Sunday from 1 to 5pm. The website of the Cambridge Office for Tourism (www.cambridge-usa.org), which operates the booth, lists organized excursions and features a tour of its own; the narration is available for download for $5.
Whatever you do, spend some time in Harvard Square. It's a hodgepodge of college and high school students, professors and instructors, commuters, street performers, and sightseers. Stores and restaurants line all three streets that spread out from the center of the square and the streets that intersect them. If you follow Brattle Street to the residential area just outside the square, you'll arrive at a part of town known as "Tory Row" because many residents were loyal to King George during the Revolution.
The yellow mansion at 105 Brattle St. is the Longfellow House-Washington's Headquarters National Historic Site (tel. 617/876-4491; www.nps.gov/long), the longtime home of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-82). The poet first lived here as a boarder in 1837. When he and Fanny Appleton married, in 1843, her father made the house a wedding present. The furnishings and books in the stately 1759 home are original to Longfellow, who lived here until his death, and his descendants. During the siege of Boston in 1775-76, the house served as the headquarters of Gen. George Washington, with whom Longfellow was fascinated. On a tour -- the only way to see the house -- you'll learn about the history of the building and its famous occupants.
The house is usually open June through October Wednesday through Sunday from 10am to 4:30pm, but always check ahead. Tours begin at 10:30 and 11:30am, and 1, 2, 3, and 4pm. Admission is $3 for adults, free for children 15 and under.
Farther west, near where Brattle Street and Mount Auburn Street intersect, is Mount Auburn Cemetery. It's a pleasant but long walk; you might prefer to drive or take a bus from Harvard station.
Three important colonial burying grounds -- Granary, King's Chapel, and Copp's Hill -- are in Boston on the Freedom Trail, but the most famous cemetery in the area is in Cambridge.
Mount Auburn Cemetery, 580 Mount Auburn St. (tel. 617/547-7105; www.mountauburn.org), the final resting place of many well-known people, is also famous simply for existing. Dedicated in 1831, it was the first of America's rural, or garden, cemeteries. The establishment of burying places removed from city centers reflected practical and philosophical concerns: Development was encroaching on urban graveyards, and the ideas associated with Transcendentalism and the Greek revival dictated that communing with nature take precedence over organized religion. Since the day it opened, Mount Auburn has been a popular place to retreat and reflect.
Visitors to this National Historic Landmark find history and horticulture coexisting with celebrity. The graves of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Julia Ward Howe, and Mary Baker Eddy are here, as are those of Charles Bulfinch, James Russell Lowell, Winslow Homer, Transcendentalist leader Margaret Fuller, and abolitionist Charles Sumner. In season you'll see gorgeous flowering trees and shrubs (the Massachusetts Horticultural Society had a hand in the design).
Stop at the visitor center in Story Chapel (daily 9am-4pm Apr-Oct; closed Sun Nov-Mar and year-round during burials) for an overview and a look at the changing exhibits, or ask at the office or front gate for brochures and a map. You can rent an audio tour ($7; a $15 deposit is required) and listen in your car or on a portable player; there's a 60-minute driving tour and two 75-minute walking tours. The Friends of Mount Auburn Cemetery conducts workshops and lectures and coordinates walking tours; call the main number for topics, schedules, and fees.
The cemetery is open daily from 8am to 7pm May through September, 8am to 5pm October through April (call ahead in autumn to double-check closing time). There is no admission charge. Animals and recreational activities such as jogging, biking, and picnicking are not allowed. MBTA bus nos. 71 and 73 start at Harvard station and stop near the cemetery gates; they run frequently on weekdays and less often on weekends. By car (5 min.) or on foot (30 min.), take Mount Auburn Street or Brattle Street west from Harvard Square; just after the streets intersect, the gate is on the left.
Our Harvard Square walking tour describes many of the buildings you'll see on the Harvard campus. Free student-led tours leave from the Events & Information Center in Holyoke Center, 1350 Massachusetts Ave. (tel. 617/495-1573; www.harvard.edu/visitors). They operate during the school year twice a day on weekdays and once on Saturday, except during vacations, and during the summer four times a day Monday through Saturday. Call or surf ahead for times; reservations aren't necessary. The Information Center is open Monday through Saturday 9am to 5pm and has maps, illustrated booklets, and self-guided walking-tour directions in nine languages, as well as a bulletin board where flyers publicize campus activities.
Also on campus are two engaging museum complexes: the Harvard Museum of Natural History and Peabody Museum of Archaeology & Ethnology, and the Harvard Art Museums (see listings for details).
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)
The public is welcome at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology campus, a mile or so from Harvard Square, across the Charles River from Beacon Hill and the Back Bay. Visit the Information Office, 77 Massachusetts Ave. (tel. 617/253-4795), to take a free guided tour (weekdays at 11am and 3pm) or to pick up a copy of a self-guided walking tour. At the same address, the Hart Nautical Galleries (open Tues-Fri 10am-5pm) contain ship and engine models that illustrate the development of marine engineering.
MIT's campus is known for its art and architecture. The excellent outdoor sculpture collection includes works by Picasso and Alexander Calder, and notable modern buildings include designs by Frank Gehry, Eero Saarinen, and I. M. Pei. Gehry designed the Stata Center (http://web.mit.edu/evolving/buildings/stata), a curvilinear landmark that opened on Vassar Street off Main Street in 2004. Fumihiko Maki, a Pritzker Prize winner, designed the Media Lab complex, 20 Ames St. (at Amherst St.).
To get to MIT, take the MBTA Red Line to Kendall/MIT. The scenic walk from the Back Bay takes you along Massachusetts Avenue over the river straight to the campus. By car from Boston, cross the river at the Museum of Science, Cambridge Street, or Massachusetts Avenue and follow signs to Memorial Drive, where you can usually find parking during the day.
Hey There, You with the Stars in Your Eyes -- Two local colleges have on-campus observatories that allow the public a look at the skies above Boston -- through a telescope. This is a good evening activity for high school students as well as adults. The Judson B. Coit Observatory at Boston University, 725 Commonwealth Ave. (tel. 617/353-2630; www.bu.edu/astronomy/events), throws open its doors on most Wednesdays, year-round. The Harvard College Observatory, 60 Garden St. (tel. 617/495-9059; http://cfa.harvard.edu/events), schedules a lecture and quality time with a telescope on the third Thursday of each month.
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