Things to Do in Massachusetts
Harvard University in Cambridge, located just north of Boston, is synonymous with prestige and accomplishment. This Ivy League university accepts only the best and provides a curriculum to students that challenges and inspires them to succeed (faculty and alumni hold over 45 Nobel Prizes!). The country’s first institution of higher learning ever established, Harvard University is a historical school that is also constantly looking toward the future and creating new innovations in education, science, technology, the arts and beyond. Looking at a list of notable graduates of Harvard University -- some of which include Barack Obama, Theodore Roosevelt, Rashida Jones, Norman Mailer, Helen Keller and John Quincy Adams -- it’s easy to see that the school has a rich and diverse heritage.
Luckily, you don’t need to be a straight A student to explore the campus, which is full of historic buildings, monuments, beautiful architecture and scenic green spaces.
Boston’s oldest residential neighborhood, the North End has been inhabited since the 1630s. Here you’ll find a large variety of historical and culturally attractions. There’s the Paul Revere House, the oldest building in downtown Boston built around 1680 and the place from which he left for his famous “midnight ride” in 1775. Some other historic stops in the North End include Old North Church, Copp’s Hill Burial Ground, Union Wharf, Ozias Goodwin House and Mariner’s House, allowing you to explore the city’s rich heritage as well as old world architecture.
Walking around the area, you’ll notice the smell of fresh baked bread and biscotti permeates the air. Because it has a large community of Italian Americans, the North End is also known as Boston’s Little Italy. Visitors are transported to Italy as they walk the neighbourhood’s narrow streets, full of attached brick buildings housing small shops, delis, butchers, salumerias, bakers, and wine bars.
When visiting Cambridge, Massachusetts, one not-to-miss attraction is the well-respected Massachusetts Institute of Technology. This private research university set on 168-acres (68 hectares), is home to five schools and 34 academic departments, research laboratories and innovative programs, and has a strong focus on technology, science and engineering. Although it’s an urban campus, you’ll see a mixture of interesting buildings and peaceful green spaces for an aesthetically-pleasing experience.
One reason many people enjoy touring the MIT campus is to take in the beautiful architecture. The Maclaurin Buildings refer to buildings 3, 4 and 10, which are typically shown in media and postcard shots, forming a U-shape around Killian Court. Building 10 is particularly interesting, with a colonnade facade and massive dome reminiscent of Rome’s Pantheon.
Also known as the Charter Street Cemetery, the Old Burying Point of Salem is the second oldest burying ground in the United States. It is estimated to date back to 1637. Victims of the infamous Salem With Trials were convicted nearby to the site. Jonathan Corwin and Jonathan Hawthorne, who were both Salem witch trial judges, are also buried here. As Salem was once a major shipping port for “the New World,” this cemetery is particularly historic. A Mayflower pilgrim, one of the first to enter the United States, was claimed to be put to rest here. The grave of former governor Samuel Bradstreet can also be found. The old tombstones remain in tact and uniquely carved from the 1600s, presenting a bit of history that has been preserved since that time. A visit is an opportunity to learn about colonial era history, including burial practices and the lives of some of the important figures laid to rest here.
Founded in 1848, the Boston Public Library contains over 23 million items, making it the second largest public library in the U.S., after the Library of Congress. Of those millions, about 1.7 million are rare books and works, including medieval manuscripts and incunabula (a book or pamphlet printed prior to 1501 in Europe). Among the rare books are also the personal library of John Adams, early editions of works by William Shakespeare, drawings from Thomas Rowlandson and musical archives from the Handel and Haydn Society.
The McKim Building, with its vast research collection, and the Johnson Building, where you can find the circulating collection, are two of the most important parts of the library. The McKim Building is even a National Historic Landmark. And while the library system technically includes a whopping 24 branches, the original Copley Square location offers plenty to see, including Bates Hall, the Chavannes Gallery, the Abbey Room and the Sargent Gallery.
Boston's John Hancock Tower soars nearly 800 feet above the city, and is not only Boston's tallest building but also the tallest building in all of New England. The 62-story John Hancock Tower was built in 1976 as the home of John Hancock Mutual Life Insurance, but in 2004 the company moved to a different Boston location. The building is now officially known as Hancock Place.
It's a glass-covered skyscraper in the shape of a parallelogram rather than a square or rectangle, and the blue-tinted glass panels beautifully reflect the city and scenery around the tower. There is an observatory deck at the top of the John Hancock tower, but it has been closed to the general public since the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. The observation deck is available for private events, however.
Dating back to 1800, Charlestown Navy Yard was among the most prolific, historic, and vital navy yards in U.S. history. It served as the home of many of the nation's elite warships for the purposes of resupply, maintenance, retrofitting, and service.
The navy yard's most critical role was during America's two largest wars before it closed for good in 1974. From the beginning, Charlestown Navy Yard remained a pioneer of shipbuilding technology and served as a center for electronics and missile conversions. During its almost 175-year history, its staff constructed, christened, and launched over 200 ships and serviced thousands more. After its closing, thirty acres of the yard were earmarked as part of Boston National Historical Park. Today, the U.S. National Park Service oversees this most critical portion of the shipyard.
The main hub of the Faneuil Hall Marketplace, bustling Quincy Market has attracted locals and visitors alike for nearly 200 years. This historic food hall, set inside a stately three-level Greek revival-style building, is packed with more than 50 shops, 14 restaurants, and 40 food court stops. There’s even a bar that’s an exact replica of the bar from the popular TV show Cheers.
Inside Quincy Market, the central corridor is lined with full-service restaurants, pushcarts, and New England souvenirs. Choose from chowder, bagels, Indian, Greek, baked good, and ice cream. Then, take a seat at one of the tables in the central rotunda. On warm evenings, tables spill outdoors from restaurants and bars fill up with people, creating a festive mood. The rest of the marketplace is made up of the North Market building, the South Market building, and Faneuil Hall. Along with restaurants, you’ll find an intoxicating mix of chain stores and unique shops.
More Things to Do in Massachusetts
Few historical events are as synonymous with Boston as the Boston Tea Party. It was during this 1773 demonstration that revolutionaries threw entire cases of British tea into Boston harbor in protest of the Tea Act, quickly evolving into the American Revolution.
Today, this iconic act of defiance has come to symbolize not only the resolve and persistence of the American people as a whole, but of Boston in particular. Nowhere is it more celebrated or better explained than at the Boston Tea Party Ships and Museum. This floating museum prides itself on stepping well beyond the typical, staid museum experience. Visitors are treated to a fully engaging display, complete with live actors, ship restoration displays and interactive exhibits.
Visitors can even join in a mock "tea dumping" protest if they like. The goal is to accurately transport visitors back in time to fully experience the Tea Party as it happened more than 230 years ago.
The heart and soul of downtown Boston, Faneuil Hall Marketplace is a bustling complex of restaurants, food stalls, shops, bars, and public spaces. Since it opened in 1976, this festive market and eating center draws both visitors and locals to its cobblestone plaza, teaming with shoppers, street performers, and people-watchers.
Faneuil Hall Marketplace itself if comprised of three historic 19th century buildings. Quincy Market, a three-level Greek revival-style building, sits in the center behind Faneuil Hall. Next to it is the North Market building and the South Market building.
The starting point of the Freedom Trail, Boston Common is the oldest park in the country. At 50 acres/20 hectares, the Common is the anchor for the Emerald Necklace, a system of connected parks that winds through many of Boston’s neighborhoods. The Common has served many purposes over the years, including as a campground for British troops during the Revolutionary War. Today, though, the Common serves picnickers, sunbathers, and people watches. In winter, the Frog Pond attracts ice-skaters, while summer draws theater lovers for Shakespeare on the Common.
Spend a day wandering freely in the Common. Walking paths crisscross its green, which is dotted with such monuments and memorials as the Boston Massacre Monument, the Great Elm Site, and the Robert Gould Shaw Memorial. Nearby sites include the Central Burying Ground and the Boston Athenaeum.
The Boston Public Garden is a 24 acre (10 hectare) botanical oasis of Victorian flowerbeds, verdant grass, and weeping willow trees shading a tranquil lagoon. At any time of the year, it is an island of loveliness, awash in seasonal blooms, gold-toned leaves, or untrammeled snow.
A statue of George Washington, looking stately atop his horse, greets visitors at the main entrance on Arlington Street. Other pieces of public art in the park, however, are more whimsical. The most endearing is Make Way for Ducklings, always a favorite with tiny tots who can climb and sit on the bronze ducks. But it’s the peaceful lagoon that draws visitors and locals a like to the Public Garden. For it is hear, you should take on the slow-going swan boats, a serene relic of bygone days.
The USS Constitution is a fascinating example of United States and military history. The 44-gun, Boston-built vessel hearkens back to 1797 when President George Washington ordered that six frigates be constructed at naval yards along the east coast.
“Old Ironsides," as it’s known today, is officially “America’s Ship of State” and one of the most popular and well respected military attractions in the country. Before entering, visit the onsite museum, which provides insight into US military history, including the War of 1812 and the general timeline of the USS Constitution. Once aboard the ship, free guided tours are offered year-round by knowledgeable navy personnel. Visitors are also invited to explore and photograph a large portion of the ship, including the main deck and the level below deck. Select summer visitors are invited to join in a special Constitution Experience.
Located in the Back Bay neighborhood of Boston, Copley Square is among the most beautiful public parks in the city. For more than 100 years, it has been a hub of downtown activity and historical significance for the sheer number of institutions built here since the 1800s. Many still stand today, including the stunning Boston Public Library, Trinity Church, Old South Church, the Fairmont Copley Plaza Hotel and New England's tallest skyscraper, John Hancock Tower.
The square is best known as the site of the finish line for the annual Boston Marathon, and there is a 1996 memorial here celebrating the race's 100th anniversary. It is also well known as a downtown commercial hub with a variety of upscale restaurants and shopping options. The onsite Copley Place mall includes high-end stores such as Louis Vuitton, Michael Kors, Porsche Design and Tiffany & Co.
Connecting Cape Cod to Buzzards Bay, the Cape Cod Canal was created as an artificial waterway in 1914. Today it is maintained by the United States Army Corps of Engineers and is utilized for both recreational and commercial boating. The scenic walkways on both sides of the canal are great for walking, jogging, or biking. Hiking the nearby trails, fishing, and picnicking are other activity options for along the water. It’s also a great place to relax and simply watch the boats pass by.
The canal is also home to two notable bridges, including the Cape Cod Canal Railroad Bridge — one of the longest vertical spans in the world. In total the canal runs more than 17 miles long. Those interested in the history and technology of the canal and its operation should be sure to check out the Cape Cod Canal Visitors Center.
Founded in 1660, the Granary Burial Ground is Boston’s third-oldest burial ground, and final resting site of some of the most famous Bostonians to ever walk the earth, including three signers of the Declaration of Independence, Paul Revere, and five victims of the Boston Massacre. With as many as 2,345 graves, few cemeteries anywhere else in the world hold such a high percentage of notable people in such a small space, and for this reason it is routinely featured as a highlight along Boston’s famous Freedom Trail.
Still, there is something timeless about visiting historic cemeteries, and perhaps this is why so many choose to stroll the green lawns of Granary Burial Grounds, thinking of the times before ours, and, perhaps, the time to come afterwards. Notable burials among the Granary Burial Ground include John Hancock (a statesman and signer of the Declaration of Independence), Samuel Adams (also a statesman and signer of the Declaration of Independence).
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