Boston Museums Walking Tour (Self Guided), Boston

Boston's rich historical past is carefully nourished by the city's many museums. Inside these museums you'll find unique works of art, scientific wonders and many other objects that illuminate the past. Take our walking tour to discover the best museums in the city.
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Boston Museums Walking Tour Map

Guide Name: Boston Museums Walking Tour
Guide Location: USA » Boston (See other walking tours in Boston)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 8
Tour Duration: 4 hour(s)
Travel Distance: 9.0 Km or 5.6 Miles
Author: anna
Gibson House Museum

1) Gibson House Museum (must see)

If you are a student or lover of Social History don’t miss a visit to the Gibson House Museum on Beacon Street in Boston’s famous Back Bay area.

This Italian Renaissance-style house was built in 1860 by Edward Clark Cabot, one of the city’s leading architects. It is a brownstone and red brick, six storey terrace house bought by Catherine Gibson following her husband’s death. It remained in her family, passing on to her son and grandson successively until he died in the early 1950s. The museum was opened in 1957. In 2001 the building was declared a National Historic Landmark.

Four of the six storeys are open to the public: the “false” ground floor, half below street level but with windows and doors opening onto the back courtyard; the ground floor, where you will find yourself in the entrance hall and dining room. A red-carpeted stairway leads to the upper floors and a narrow stairway leads to the kitchens. On the first floor are the largest rooms in the house, the music room and the library. On the second floor are a bedroom and a study (once a bedroom) separated by a bathroom and a dressing room.

Each room is tastefully decorated with the original family furniture, portraits, porcelains, ceramics and expresses louder than words the Bostonian upper-class way of life between the late 19th and mid 20th centuries.

Why You Should Visit:
Boston is all about its history and if you're interested in it at all in the slightest, this is a great destination to see life as it once was.
Aside from being an observer, you can really get the most out of the guided tour if you ask questions (so...don't be afraid to ask).

Arrive early and wait outside until tour time, then ring the bell for assistance.
They do not like to interrupt a tour in progress and will likely turn you away if late.
Special events are held throughout the year – check their site regularly!

Opening Hours:
Wed: 11am-9pm; Thu-Sun: 1pm-4pm
Visits are by guided tour only, Wednesday–Sunday
Tours begin promptly at 1pm, 2pm, and 3pm
Sight description based on wikipedia
Nichols House Museum

2) Nichols House Museum (must see)

Beacon Hill is the most exclusive area of Boston and if you want to know about how its upper-class residents lived between the 19th and early 20th century you can visit the Nichols House Museum to find out. The building was classified a National Historic Landmark in 1966 and really should be on your “must visit” list.

This museum is housed in one of the four-storey Federal-style terrace houses built on Mount Vernon Street in 1804 by Charles Bulfinch, a noted Boston architect. It became a museum in 1961 after the death of its owner, Rose Standish Nichols. Rose was the oldest daughter of Dr. Arthur Nichols who bought the house in 1885 for his family. She was also the first woman landscape designer in America, a pacifist and an active suffragette.

The house is elegantly decorated in 17th to 19th century European and American furniture, including oriental rugs, European and Asian art, Flemish tapestries and sculptures by the famous American 19th-century artist Augustus Saint-Gaudens. In the dining room, you will see fine examples of French faïence from Lunéville, rare Chinese porcelain, and lacquered boxes. The wooden furniture dates back to the early 19th century and was made by Thomas Seymour, Isaac Vose, and J.R. Penniman.

Why You Should Visit:
Great place to get a glimpse of Beacon Hill's mansions from the inside. Plus, incredibly knowledgeable tour guides, and hardly anyone there!
Recommended for anybody interested in Boston history, antiques, textiles, preservation, family dynamics, or killing a little time (so, basically, everyone).

Take note, there is no air conditioning in the summer.

Opening Hours:
Tue-Sat: 11am-4pm (Apr-Oct); Thu-Sat: 11am-4pm (Nov-Mar)
Tours are offered on the hour and last 30-45 minutes. The last tour is at 4pm.
Sight description based on wikipedia
Museum of African American History

3) Museum of African American History

Boston is closely connected with the Founding Fathers and the fight for the abolition of slavery in the United States, so it is only natural to find the Museum of African American History in this city.

The museum is devoted to the interpretation and preservation of the African American history from the arrival of the first slaves on the continent to their liberation. It was founded in 1963 in Boston and on Nantucket Island. In Boston the museum is housed in the African Meeting House, one of the first churches for African Americans built in 1806.

Here you will find documents, archives and photos which unfold the daily lives, worship, education of children and fight for freedom of the African American who lived in the Boston area, as well as archives and news cuttings from other African American communities across the U.S. In the nearby Abiel Smith School you will find temporary exhibitions and the museum shop.

Also part of the museum are two Black Heritage Trails, conducted by the National Park Service from Memorial Day weekend to Labour Day weekend. Outside of these dates you can follow the trail without a guide. On these trails you will visit historic sites where brave African Americans and white abolitionists met to plan strategies and held debates about freedom in America.

Operation hours: Monday - Saturday: 10:00 am - 4:00 pm
Museum of Science

4) Museum of Science (must see)

The Museum of Science (MoS) is a science museum and indoor zoo in Boston, Massachusetts, located in Science Park, a plot of land spanning the Charles River. Along with over 700 interactive exhibits, the museum features a number of live presentations throughout the building every day, along with shows at the Charles Hayden Planetarium and the Mugar Omni Theater, the only domed IMAX screen in New England. The museum is also an accredited member of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) and is home to over 100 animals, many of which have been rescued and rehabilitated from various dangerous situations.

The museum's Theater of Electricity contains the world's largest Van de Graaff generator, designed by Dr. Robert J. Van de Graaff himself and donated by MIT in 1956. The Current Science & Technology Center's live presentations are in a constant state of development, keeping up with the cutting edge of science & technology news, and offering several very informative and interesting "Updates in Science & Technology" presentations every day. Across from the Museum's gift shop lies a 24-hour Foucault pendulum.

Why You Should Visit:
Many in-house exhibits, like electric and mathematics, are outstanding.
The limited-time annual special exhibitions are often grand and elaborated.
The shows change and there is enough variety that you can see a lot of things and not get bored.
The interactive exhibits are a big hit with kids & adults, and the gift shop has some really cool items.

Go right when they open in the morning on weekends or visit during the week at an off-time (towards closing is less busy as well).
You might have to buy tickets online if you want to see a specific show (as well as save queuing), as they can sell out during busy times.
Oh, and make sure to stamp your hand when you enter so that you can go out and eat and return later.

Opening Hours:
Sat-Wed: 9am-5pm; Thu: 9am-3pm; Fri: 9am-9pm
Sight description based on wikipedia
MIT Museum

5) MIT Museum

One museum you really shouldn’t miss visiting while you are in Boston is the MIT Museum. MIT is the acronym of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and it is a dream of a museum for anyone who has ever dreamt of how the future might be.

The museum was founded in 1971 by Warren Seamus and was called the MIT Historical Collection. Warren Seamus’ idea was to make a collection to preserve technological artefacts for the enlightenment of future generations. The idea caught on and in 1980 the collection was taken over by the MIT Corporation Committee which enlarged and developed the exhibition for teaching programs.

Today the museum includes over 1800 pieces of holography – the largest in the world – including works by Harold Edgerton and Arthur Ganson. You will also find amazing examples of robotics from the first prototypes of automatic vacuum cleaners to the moving parts of creatures used in many science-fiction films.

There is also an exhibition of maritime history and the history of the MIT. Special exhibitions include displays of a mixture of art and technology. At the beginning of 2001 a new display was opened to celebrate the 150 years of the MIT Founding Charter. This exhibition boasts of 150 objects, documents and artefacts about the history of people, places and innovating ideas linked to the MIT, along with a huge video library where you can see short films about the Institute and interviews with the people who worked there.

Operation hours: Daily 10:00 am – 5:00 pm except major holidays; July and August only - Thursdays until 7:00 pm
Fogg Museum (Harvard Art Museums)

6) Fogg Museum (Harvard Art Museums) (must see)

The Harvard Art Museum comprises three sub-museums; the oldest and best-loved being the Fogg which houses a rich display of paintings and sculptures that you really must see.

In this wonderful museum, you will find examples of 19th/20th-century Western decorative art, paintings, photos, prints and sculptures, as well as drawings dating back to the Middle Ages. You can admire drawings and paintings from the Italian Early Renaissance, British Pre-Raphaelite, and French and American art.

The Maurice Wertheim collection displays Impressionist and Post-impressionist works by Cézanne, Degas, Picasso, Manet, Van Gogh, and Matisse.

The Grenville L. Winthrop collection plays an important role in research and teaching programmes. This impressive collection includes drawings, paintings and sculptures by notable artists such as Blake, Toulouse-Lautrec, Van Gogh, Sargent and Rodin among many others.

You will also see a lovely collection of silverware made of Neo-classical arts and crafts silver and antique furniture, including a 17th-century Essex County chair, an original Harvard school desk, and an 18th-century intricately carved writing desk.

Why You Should Visit:
Basically an art history textbook you can walk through because each room has an overview of the period and each work has a concise explanation of why it's relevant.
The works on display are incredibly well-lighted and the flow from one room to the next is effortless in a building anchored by an atrium that reaches to the sky.

Make sure to join to the guided tour which educates and illuminates the experience.

Opening Hours:
Daily: 10am-5pm
Peabody Museum of Archaeology & Ethnology

7) Peabody Museum of Archaeology & Ethnology (must see)

The Peabody Museum of Anthropology and Ethnology opened its doors in Divinity Avenue on the Harvard Campus in 1866 and is the oldest museum of anthropology with the largest collection of North American archaeology and ethnology in the world.

In this museum, you will find North American artifacts, including the largest collection of objects from the 1804 Lewis and Clark Expedition. In the Central American exhibition, you will see the most comprehensive documentation and artifacts relating to the Maya, Mesoamerican and Aztec civilizations ever collected. The South American Collection includes over 5000 ancient Peruvian textiles. There is also a rare collection of objects from Hawaii, Fiji, and Tonga.

The Asian, African, Oceanic and European Collections contain ten photographic archives documenting the culture of the natives of these continents. There are temporary and permanent exhibitions of ritual instruments, textiles and icons relating to the gods worshipped by our ancestors.

This truly amazing museum houses 275 meters of documents, 1.5 million artifacts, over 2000 maps, and more than 350.000 photos. If this isn’t enough to keep you happy, you can feast your eyes on a collection from over 80 countries of both human and primate remains and numerous fossils to be found in the Osteological Collection.

Why You Should Visit:
While not overly large, this museum has a number of pieces and displays that you probably won't really find anywhere else.
Curiosities from all over the world: shoes, head coverings, clothing, bowls, pottery, and other items from daily life are packed heavily into this space.
The signage is quite educational and easy to read. The lighting and cabinets are a bit dated but do not detract from the experience.

Free with the Harvard Museum of Natural History.

Opening Hours:
Daily: 9am-5pm
Sight description based on wikipedia
Harvard Museum of Natural History

8) Harvard Museum of Natural History (must see)

You will find the Harvard Museum of Natural History on the University Campus grounds and you really must visit this fine establishment which is divided into three distinct sections.

The first section is the Harvard University Herbaria, founded in 1842. It houses over five million specimens of botanical life-forms. If you’ve ever wondered what such-and-such plant is called, you can look it up in the International Plant Names Index, along with names of noted botanists, their publications and specimens. There is also a magnificent Ware Collection of glass models of plants – the glass flowers are particularly breath-taking.

In the second section you will find the Museum of Comparative Zoology, which is devoted to the evolution of animals and has a fossil collection of historical interest, including two pheasants owned by George Washington, a Mamo (a bird native to the Hawaiian Islands, now extinct) found by Captain Cook and a sand dollar (an extremely flat cousin of sea urchins) found by Charles Darwin.

The best part of the museum is the third section – the Mineralogical Museum, with its amazing collection of minerals, rocks, ores, gemstones and meteorites. The displays of amethyst clusters, moonstones, tiger’s eyes and aquamarines amongst other gemstones are staggering, as are the meteorite showcases with samples of the rarest objects from the universe you will ever see.

Why You Should Visit:
Old-school museum, well put together for its type and so dense that you'd have to have multiple visits and closer inspections of singular exhibits per visit.
There's just WAY too much to be enjoyed, which is obviously a good problem to have in a museum.

Don't miss the glass flowers – indistinguishable from the real things. You must see them before you die!
Keep in mind that with the same admission, one can also visit the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology.

Opening Hours:
Daily: 9am-5pm
Sight description based on wikipedia

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