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History at Your Footsteps: A Guide to Boston Museums

Museums elevate the everyday human experience, challenge our curiosity, and provide insight into the fundamental questions of life. As a Boston College student, it would be a waste to not take advantage of the history beneath your feet—especially when many museums in Boston offer free admission to students! Visit for your next class project, a snowy Saturday, or an evening date. No matter your reason, read this guide to find your next Boston adventure! 

Follow the Red Brick Road

Though it may be Boston’s most notable museum, The Freedom Trail is hardly its most traditional. A 2.5 miles path through the city, The Freedom Trail passes 16 historic locations and chronicles Boston’s role in the American Revolution. The route begins at Boston Common, continuing past the site of the Boston Massacre and the Old Corner Bookstore. Pop into buildings like the Old State House, where the Declaration of Independence was first read, and Faneuil Hall, where Samuel Adams and other patriots protested taxation without representation. 

The trail continues through Boston’s North End, following the footsteps of Paul Revere. From tours in his quaint house on North Square to Old North Church, home of the famous lanterns that warned “the British are coming,” relive Revere’s midnight ride as you reminisce about revolutionary Boston.

Finish your tour by climbing the steps of the Bunker Hill Monument, an obelisk commemorating America’s perseverance at the Battle of Bunker Hill in 1775. If you have extra time to continue exploring history and grab a bite to eat, check out this guide to other activities in charming Charlestown! 

Tried and True Artistry 

Boston has numerous museums to satisfy art critics, tourists, and scholars alike. The Museum of Fine Arts (MFA) is home to nearly 500,000 pieces of art, with some dating back 8,000 years. From a large impressionist collection housing Monet and Van Gogh paintings to a collection honoring Boston greats like John Singer Sargent, the MFA has revolving exhibitions featuring artworks from around the world. 

Many Boston-area universities have museums of their own too. The three Harvard University Art Museums feature masterpieces from ancient cultures of the Mediterranean to contemporary living artists. You don’t even have to leave the BC bubble to find a good museum—the McMullen Museum of Art on Boston College’s Brighton Campus holds a permanent collection of artwork depicting global history. Most recently, the museum received a $20 million donation of 30 pieces of artwork ranging from Pablo Picasso to Jack Butler Yeats.

Enter a Heist

One of the world’s greatest heists took place just four miles away from campus at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. In 1990, the museum was robbed of 13 pieces from its collection, and an estimated 500 million dollars worth of art are still missing to this day. Despite this mystery, the museum displays the magnificent remaining collection of Boston philanthropist Isabella Stewart Gardner. 

Gardner purchased a plot of land in the Back Bay Fens in 1899 to build a home for her growing art collection. Designed to imitate a Venetian palace, the museum is well known for its stunning courtyard, garnished with greenery and flowers year-round.

(Photo Courtesy of Riley Davis)
See the World in a New Light

Ever wondered what it would be like to have the world wrapped around you? Step inside the Mapparium, a stained-glass globe at the Christian Science Mary Baker Eddy Library. Continents and oceans are illuminated by LED lights and reveal the political boundaries of the world in 1935. Walk down the bridge in the middle of the sphere and look up to take in all of the globe at once.

Or, sit down for a show at the Charles Hayden Planetarium in the Museum of Science. Sandwiched between Boston and Cambridge at the top of the Charles River, the museum is home to over 700 exhibits, with something for everyone—whether it be your first field trip or an annual visit.

Down By the Harbor

A nautical city wouldn’t be complete without a few museums along the water. The Institute of Contemporary Art was founded as a sister institution to the MoMA in New York City with the goal of providing space for innovative art approaches in Boston. Today, the museum meshes modern styles with the iconic Boston waterfront to create a memorable experience. Be sure to check it out for free on Thursday nights!

Just north on the harbor lies the New England Aquarium. Check out the Giant Ocean tank, featuring a coral reef and hundreds of Caribbean reef animals, or go for a meet and greet with Atlantic harbor seals. From penguins and sea lions to turtles, sharks, and rays, the aquarium has been a caring home for ocean and marine animals for over 50 years.

January 28, 2024