Boston is a museum-lover’s dream. Where else can you visit the former haunts of the Founding Fathers, feed penguins, and see the works of French impressionist painters all in one day? So, whether you want to follow in the footsteps of revolutionaries or check out the site of the largest art heist in history, here are 11 must-see museums in Boston.
If you can’t get enough U.S. history:
Paul Revere House
Away from bustling Hanover Street, the gray wood Paul Revere House (19 North Square, 617-523-2338; seasonal hours, $5 adults, $4.50 students/seniors, $1 children) on a quiet cobblestone square was the home of midnight rider Paul Revere at the time of the American Revolution. The home, built around 1680, is the oldest building in downtown Boston. The Revere family lived in the building from 1770 to 1800; the building’s chimney was an addition made during their occupancy. It became one of the first historic home museums when it opened its doors to the public in 1908. Today, exhibits cover the Midnight Ride and Revere’s work both before and after the Revolution.
Old South Meeting House
The Old South Meeting House, (310 Washington St., 617-482-6439; daily 9:30am-5pm, $6 adults, $5 seniors/students, $1 children) which originated as a Congregational church at Milk and Washington Streets downtown, is where church and state mixed. Angry colonists met outside the building in December of 1773 to protest unpopular taxes thrust upon them by Britain. The protests grew into the Boston Tea Party. Today it’s a museum and still attracts politicians like Hillary Clinton who wish to speak about hot-button issues amid a historical backdrop.
Boston Tea Party Ships & Museum
No taxation without representation! Maybe it’s the historical reenactments and full-sized replica of an 18th-century ship, or maybe it’s the fact that you get to cathartically dump barrels of tea into Boston Harbor—the Boston Tea Party Ships & Museum (306 Congress St., 617-338-1773; daily 10am-5pm, $28 adults, $25 seniors/ students, $18 children) feels like a true taste of revolutionary America. It offers an immersive take on the events leading up to the Boston Tea Party with engaging actors playing parts of those involved, and even houses one of the surviving tea chests from the actual day. Take time after for tea and refreshments in the tea room, which includes samples of the most popular kinds at the time of the Boston Tea Party.
USS Constitution Museum
The USS Constitution launched in 1797 as one of the original six ships commissioned for the then-infant United States Navy. The ship won over the hearts of the American people after defeating five British warships and repelling countless enemy shells during a battle in the War of 1812. Spared from scrapping due to her everlasting popularity, she is now the oldest commissioned vessel in the world. You can see her at the USS Constitution Museum (Building 22, Charlestown Navy Yard, Charlestown, 617-426-1812; April-October daily 9am-6pm, November-March daily 10am-5pm, suggested donation $5-10 adults, $3-5 children), where, after a three-year restoration, the Constitution is back on water and ready for visitors. The onsite museum offers an interactive exhibit showing what life at sea entailed during the ship’s famous fights, while other exhibits detail the ship’s history and life in early America.
John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum
John F. Kennedy and his family have been viewed as the closest thing to an American royal family, and nowhere is it more apparent than Boston. While the Kennedy brand isn’t a major political machine anymore, Camelot roars on at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Dorchester (Columbia Point, Boston, 617-514-1600; daily 9am-5pm, $14 adults, $12 students/seniors, $10 children). Designed by star architect I. M. Pei, the Columbia Point complex was built after Cambridge residents opposed the project opening in Harvard Square due to the projected heavy volume of tourists. Seven permanent exhibits walk visitors through the Kennedy years at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. There isn’t much nearby the museum, but it’s worth the detour.
If you’re with the whole family:
Museum of Science
Located in Science Park in Boston’s West End and home to 700 exhibits, the Museum of Science (1 Science Park, 617-723-2500; daily 9am-5pm, $25 adults, $21 seniors, $20 children) draws schoolchildren from across the region to its planetarium while nighttime events like the “Beyoncé Experience” draw a decidedly more adult crowd to the same venue. Also an accredited zoo, the museum is home to over 100 animals—many of them rescued from precarious living situations. Currently undergoing an extensive renovation and expansion, the museum was the recipient of a $50 million donation by former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg in 2016, the largest gift in the history of the museum.
New England Aquarium
Whether it’s a brutally cold New England day or the peak of summer, it’s never a bad time to visit the New England Aquarium (1 Central Wharf, 617-973-5200; Mon.-Fri. 9am-5pm, Sat.-Sun. 9am-6pm, $27.95 adults, $25.95 seniors, $18.95 children). Over a million visitors stream in each year to see the four-story Giant Ocean Tank, which once held the crown as the largest circular ocean tank in the world. A replica of a Caribbean coral reef and hundreds of fish populate the tank and will be sure to pique interests of all ages, though those under the age of 12 seem to be the most prevalent!
An onsite IMAX theatre features a variety of ocean-themed films and gives the most lifelike experience short of walking outside and jumping into Boston Harbor. Be sure to save time for sea lion and penguin feedings. Longer visits should also include a whale-watching cruise, which sails from neighboring Long Wharf to the Stellwagen Bank marine sanctuary.
Boston Children’s Museum
Find Arthur the aardvark waving from a rooftop along Fort Point Channel, and you’ll have reached the Boston Children’s Museum (308 Congress St., 617-426-6500; Sat.-Thurs. 10am-5pm, Fri. 10am-9pm, $16 all ages, children under 1 free). This facility for the young and young-at-heart is the second oldest of its kind in the United States. From learning the inner workings of heavy construction to interactive exhibits like the bubble room and a real two-story town house from Kyoto, Boston’s sister city, the museum is a fine place to spend an afternoon indoors. Visit on Friday evenings after 5pm for Target Friday Nights and enjoy $1 admission.
Harvard Museum of Natural History
Harvard’s natural history museum (26 Oxford St., Cambridge, 617-495-3045; daily 9am-5pm, $12 adults, $10 seniors and non-Harvard students, $8 children) features permanent galleries with dinosaur fossils and other species as well as a variety of touring exhibits. The museum is extremely popular for its Glass Flowers exhibit: Over the span of fifty years, a father-son team from Dresden created 4,200 glass flower models representing more than 830 plant species. This and fifteen additional galleries offer a truly one-of-a-kind museum adventure.
If you’re an art aficionado:
Museum of Fine Arts
Home to a permanent collection featuring the likes of Renoir and Van Gogh, the Museum of Fine Arts (465 Huntington Ave., 617-267-9300; Mon.-Tues. 10am-5pm, Wed.-Fri. 10am-10pm, Sat.-Sun. 10am-5pm, $25 adults, $23 students, $10 children) is one of the world’s top museums. Over a million visitors pass through the neoclassical space each year to see contemporary, Egyptian, and Asian art—to name a few. The contemporary wing houses works that push the envelope just enough in this famously provincial city. The Art of the Americas wing is accented by a glass-enclosed courtyard featuring the museum’s New American Café—one of four onsite dining options. Plan to visit on a nicer day, as the Japanese gardens are serene spots to reflect on the MFA’s masterpieces.
Admission after 4pm on Wednesdays is free, and your ticket gets you $2 off at the nearby Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum within two days of your visit.
Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum
One would be hard-pressed to find a greater story and character than the late Isabella Stewart Gardner and her eponymous museum (25 Evans Way, 617-566-1401; Mon. 11am-5pm, closed Tues., Wed. 11am-5pm, Thurs. 11am-9pm, Fri.-Sun. 11am-5pm). Housing art collected by the socialite and her husband from their 19th-century travels around the world, the Gardner Museum was built to look like a Venetian palace. Its three floors of galleries and lush courtyard have become Boston’s nod to idiosyncrasy, as none of the collection can be rearranged or added to—or else everything (including the building) goes to Harvard, per Mrs. Gardner’s will.
Home to the empty gold frames from the largest art heist in history, the gallery also houses works by John Singer Sargent, Titian, and Rembrandt. Because of Mrs. Gardner’s affinity for the Red Sox, anyone wearing team memorabilia will get a discount on admission. Those named Isabella or visiting on their birthday get in for free!
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