Looking to explore the Boston area and uncover some cool and unique places? You’ll never run out of things to do in Cambridge, one of the most historic and eclectic cities in Massachusetts!
Known for its world-class universities, impressive architecture, and international gastronomical scene, Cambridge is one of those bucket-list destinations that leaves you feeling inspired. Many come here as a day trip from Boston. Others, including those attending universities like Harvard and MIT, never leave! Once you see the Charles River covered in fall foliage, you’ll see why so many students choose Cambridge as a top university town in New England.
As a travel blogger, I’ve been to many unique destinations around the US, yet I chose Cambridge to live for the past four years. I love its proximity to Boston and appreciate all the cool and quirky things to do in Cambridge that can be enjoyed any time of year.
If you’re looking to see all that this city has to offer, this article has you covered. Here are the top 14 things to do in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
If you’re looking to discover the most unique places in Cambridge (and the world at large), be sure to follow me on Instagram: @Global.Viewpoint
1. Harvard Square
If there’s one thing you ought to do in Cambridge, check out Harvard Square.
This bustling, pedestrian-friendly area in Cambridge is filled with energy and charm. There’s no shortage of cool cafés, bookstores, and boutiques where you can easily peruse for half a day. You’ll also encounter street performers and really ‘smaht’ Harvard students, who aren’t afraid to let you know that they go to Harvard.
Spend the day eating, shopping, and hanging out as the local students do, and in the evening, you’ll have plenty of cool bars to choose from. With a great live music scene and lots of interesting locals and visitors from around the world to chat with, Harvard Square is a must in the heart of Cambridge.
2. Harvard Yard
While you’re exploring Harvard Square, the historic center of Cambridge, go for a stroll in Harvard Yard. This is the main campus of Harvard, the oldest university in the US. You can do a virtual tour with Harvard students or simply walk around the grounds by yourself. It’s a great spot for people-watching and there’s a whole lot of history to be learned as well.
When the weather’s nice, chairs are set up on the lawn where you can relax and take in the stately architecture, tree-lined walkways, and academic buildings and libraries. It’s easy to be inspired by such an elegant and prestigious campus, especially when it’s draped in crimson-colored foliage in the fall.
From there, many visitors are lured to The Coop, a famous bookstore filled with Harvard-everything: apparel, accessories, books, and other gifts, all marked with the Harvard emblem (and priced accordingly).
If you have time afterwards, make your way to Cambridge Common, a relaxing greenspace filled with historic monuments. This park is just steps away from Harvard Yard and offers more unique opportunities to learn history (as there are several historically-significant memorials and buildings sprawled around it). Interestingly, George Washington commanded troops on Cambridge Common during the American Revolutionary War.
Each of these public areas are perfect for spending time outdoors. It’s no wonder these are among the top things to do in Cambridge, MA.
3. Charles Riverboat Company in Cambridge, Massachusetts
Looking to do some sightseeing in Boston and Cambridge? Take a tour with the Charles Riverboat Company for the best views. This is the one and only boat company that does public and private cruises on the Charles River and Boston. It’s truly an unforgettable experience that you won’t want to miss when you’re in Cambridge.
Charles Riverboat Company offers several types of narrated tours, including architecture tours, fall foliage tours, cocktail and sunset cruises, and other sightseeing trips. One of the most popular ones is the Charles River Tour, which provides views of Harvard University, MIT, Boston University, Beacon Hill, the Charles River Esplanade, and more.
Relax and take in the scenic Boston skyline as you journey up and down the Charles River. You’ll quickly see why this is one of the top things to do in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
4. The Smoke Shop BBQ
Looking to eat at the best barbecue restaurant in Cambridge? Stop by The Smoke Shop BBQ for a bite to eat, and you’ll likely need to be rolled out afterwards.
This place offers a variety of award-winning meat dishes, including brisket and ribs, pulled pork, rotisserie chicken, smoked turkey breast, and chicken wings. Fun fact: The Smoke Shop BBQ also boasts New England’s largest whiskey selection (over 250 American whiskeys available).
The first location opened in Kendall Square in 2016, and since then they’ve opened new locations in Assembly Row, the Seaport district, and most recently, Harvard Square. Once you have a try, you’ll see why.
Side note: if you don’t eat meat, don’t fret! Cambridge is also known for having lots of vegan and vegetarian restaurants. Recently, they’ve been sprouting out all over the place, so this is a great destination if you fit into either of those categories. Here are a few popular restaurants to check out: Veggie Galaxy, Life Alive Organic Café, Whole Heart Provisions, and Forage Cambridge.
5. Harvard Art Museums – Top Things to do in Cambridge, Massachusetts
Art lovers take note. If you want to see some amazing art collections during your visit to Cambridge, the Harvard Art Museums have you covered.
These museums are a part of Harvard University, and there are three in all:
Fogg Museum: Founded in 1895, this is the oldest and largest of the Harvard Art Museums. It houses a collection of Western works, including paintings, sculptures, photos, and prints dating back to the Middle Ages.
Busch-Reisinger Museum: A museum dedicated to art from German-speaking countries in central and northern Europe.
Arthur M. Sackler Museum: The newest of the three art museums, which houses Asian art (East Asia, India, the Middle East, and the Mediterranean).
Overall, these museums contain more historic art than contemporary art. However, following a recent building expansion, more contemporary architecture and gallery spaces have been added to the property. This is definitely one of the top things to do in Cambridge, Massachusetts, particularly on a rainy day!
6. Fresh Pond Reservation
Looking for one of the best things to do in Cambridge involving the outdoors? Enjoy an outing on the Fresh Pond Reservation.
This park and reservoir feature a kettle hole lake that’s surrounded by 162 acres of beautiful greenery. There are over 2 miles of trails circling the lake, perfect for walking, running, and bike riding. In addition, you’ll also find a golf course in the park!
Fun fact: back when the Fresh Pond Reservation was privately owned, the ice from the lake was sold and shipped all around the US. Today, it’s a part of the Cambridge MA water system, which includes other reservoirs in nearby Lexington, Lincoln, Weston, and Waltham.
This is certainly one of the best hidden gems in New England, particularly if you’re looking for a nice place for leaf peeping in the fall.
7. Longfellow House in Cambridge, Massachusetts
Once the home of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow —an acclaimed poet — the Longfellow House is a must-see if you’re into history. It’s located on Brattle Street, which connects Old Cambridge and Watertown.
This home was used as George Washington’s headquarters during the Revolutionary War from 1775-1776 (during the Siege of Boston). Today, it’s a National Historic Landmark that offers daily guided tours. There are also several events throughout the year that are held at the Longfellow House, including concerts, reenactments, and poetry readings.
Tour the home and garden during any season, and you’ll be in for a treat. With so much charm and historical intrigue, it’s definitely one of the most unique things to do in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
8. Longfellow Bridge
While we’re on the topic of Mr. Longfellow, let’s talk about the famous bridge that’s named after him.
Built in 1906, the Longfellow Bridge connects Cambridge and Boston. It’s one of my favorite places in the Boston/Cambridge area to see the sunrise, as the reflections of the city skyline along the Charles River Esplanade are stunning.
If you’re looking for cool things to do in Cambridge that involve photography and sightseeing, walk across the Longfellow Bridge at sunrise and you’ll be amazed at what you see.
9. MIT Campus and Museum
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) is another popular place to check out during a visit in Cambridge. Interestingly, MIT was founded in 1861 to spearhead the country’s industrialization efforts in the late-1800s. Not only is it among the nation’s top universities, but it also has one of the coolest campuses, featuring an interesting mix of historical and modern buildings.
While you’re there, be sure to stop by the MIT Museum where science and technology meet. It’s definitely one of the best things to do in Cambridge, MA, and here’s why:
This museum offers all the things for which this Cambridge-based university is known for: robotics, holography, and more. Exhibits also cover the history of MIT, Cambridge’s maritime heritage, and other art and technology collections. In addition, the MIT Museum hosts a variety of community outreach events throughout the year, including the Cambridge Science Festival.
While you’re at MIT, don’t miss the Ray and Maria Stata Center by Frank Gehry. I’ve seen lots of cool and quirky buildings around the world, including others in Gehry’s collection. This one definitely stands out!
Though I’m drawn to the red bricks and colonial architecture of the Harvard campus, I really enjoy the unconventional buildings at MIT. It’s an interesting contrast for sure!
10. The Charles River Esplanade
On the south bank of the Charles River Basin, you’ll find one of the most beautiful parks in the Boston metropolitan area: the Charles River Esplanade.
This state-owned park spans the Back Bay side of the city, extending 3 miles from the Museum of Science to the Boston University Bridge in Cambridge.
Go for a walk, jog, bike ride, or even rollerblade along the Charles River Esplanade and you’ll have unbeatable views of Cambridge. It’s definitely one of the best free things to do in Boston and Cambridge!
11. Central Square
Known for its cool bars, ethnic restaurants, shops, and historic sites, Central Square is one of the most interesting places to visit in Cambridge. It’s smack dab between Harvard Square and Kendall Square, so it’s definitely a busy and bustling part of the city.
Central Square is listed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places and is home to historic churches like the First Baptist Church, Saints Constantine and Helen Greek Orthodox Church, and Christ the King Presbyterian Church.
In the pre-COVID world, this part of Cambridge was always bursting with energy. Theatre venues, live music, and even salsa dancing were just a few of the many fun things you could do here. I’m hopeful that those venues will be open again soon.
Though this part of Cambridge can be a bit dodgy at night, it still has a lot to offer visitors and locals alike.
12. Harvard Museum of Natural History
This is one of the coolest museums in Cambridge, particularly if you’re visiting with young children.
The Harvard Museum of Natural History houses a collection of 12,000 specimens, including dinosaur fossils, meteors, gems, and more. One of the highlights on display is the Kronosaurus, a prehistoric reptile that once measured 42 feet. This is the best-preserved fossil of its kind found anywhere in the world!
There’s a fee to enter this museum, and it includes admission to the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, another top thing to see and do in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
If you’re looking for a fun, family-friendly activity in Cambridge that includes interactive exhibits and hands-on learning opportunities, you’ll love this natural history museum.
13. Flour Bakery + Café in Cambridge, Massachusetts
If you love bakeries and want to be like a local, pay a visit to Flour Bakery in Cambridge. It’s truly a dream come true.
This trendy café is known for its homemade baked goods, including flour sticky buns, warm and crunchy baguettes, and brioches. Order a coffee and chocolate croissant in the morning, and in the afternoon, get a sandwich or a soup with artisan bread. You won’t want to eat anywhere else!
No matter the time of day, this hyped-up bakery on Massachusetts Avenue always seems to have a line. Don’t worry, it’s worth it!
14. Head of the Charles Regatta
If your visit to Cambridge coincides with the penultimate weekend of October, you won’t want to miss the Head of the Charles Regatta.
This is the largest 2-day regatta in the world, with over 10,000 athletes rowing in 1,900 boats down the Charles River. It occurs each year in late October, attracting more than 200,000 spectators.
Think of the Head of the Charles Regatta as the Boston Marathon of the boating world. As such, it’s definitely one of the coolest things to do in Cambridge, Massachusetts!
Best places to stay in Cambridge, Massachusetts
Planning to visit Cambridge soon and looking for a place to stay? Here are some of my favorite hotels in Cambridge:
The Charles Hotel: A beautiful hotel in Harvard Square with views of the Charles River.
The Hyatt Regency: A four-star hotel overlooking the Charles River and the Boston skyline.
Prospect Place Bed & Breakfast: A lovely bed and breakfast in the heart of Cambridge.
In addition to these hotels, these are the top rated Airbnbs in Cambridge. For more stays nearby, read next: 13 best Airbnbs in Massachusetts.
Best restaurants in Cambridge
In addition to the eateries I already mentioned in this article, here are some more restaurants in Cambridge that I recommend:
Pammy’s: A cozy restaurant between Central and Harvard Square that feels like an “American trattoria”
Meadhall: A pub with a wide selection of craft beer
Orinoco: A Venezuelan restaurant known for its arepas.
Other cool things to do in Cambridge, Massachusetts
Hope you enjoyed reading about these cool and unique things to do in Cambridge, MA! Hope you enjoy our amazing city and find plenty of reasons to return in the future!
I will be updating this article periodically with more cool things to do in Cambridge. So please let me know in the comments below if you feel other cool experiences should be included!
Thanks and happy travels! -Jon
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