Boston Museums Walking Tour, Boston (Self Guided)

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
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

Walking Tours in Boston, Massachusetts

Create Your Own Walk in Boston

Create Your Own Walk in Boston

Creating your own self-guided walk in Boston is easy and fun. Choose the city attractions that you want to see and a walk route map will be created just for you. You can even set your hotel as the start point of the walk.
Cultural Walk in Boston

Cultural Walk in Boston

Through Boston's many theaters, cinemas, museums, art galleries, and concert halls, you can discover another side to this great city. Some of these cultural venues date as far back as the beginning of the 20th Century, and how well a show is received by audiences here can often determine whether it will succeed on Broadway. Take our tour to see the best artistic parts of the city.

Tour Duration: 3 hour(s)
Travel Distance: 7.7 km
Kids Entertainment Tour in Boston

Kids Entertainment Tour in Boston

When it comes to the best entertainment for kids, Boston's got a winning combination: Swan boats, fresh ice cream, unique plants and animals, delicious cookies and much more. There's also the chance to make learning fun with the use of hands-on science exhibits. Take our Kids Entertainment Tour to discover the most fun you can have in Boston.

Tour Duration: 2 hour(s)
Travel Distance: 5.7 km
Boston Nightlife Tour

Boston Nightlife Tour

Boston is one of the most sparkling and vibrant cities for nightlife in the US. Bostonians, tourists and Hollywood stars alike flock to the dance clubs here. Become one of the in-crowd by taking our tour of the best nightlife spots in the city of Boston.

Tour Duration: 1 hour(s)
Travel Distance: 2.1 km
Boston Famous Historical Sites Tour

Boston Famous Historical Sites Tour

Boston is one of the oldest cities in the USA. Its beginnings date back to September 1630 as the "City on a Hill". Through the centuries, the city has witnessed many historical turns of events such as the Boston Tea Party, the Battle of Lexington and Concord, and the Battle of Bunker Hill. All left marks not only in Boston's history but also on the architectural structure of the...  view more

Tour Duration: 2 hour(s)
Travel Distance: 4.4 km
Historical Cambridge Walking Tour

Historical Cambridge Walking Tour

If you're a history buff, the Cambridge district of Boston has a number of great historical architectural artworks to visit. Inside the walls of these places you can see history in action and find some great stuff that's not in the history books. Take our tour to discover the amazing facts and sights of Cambridge.

Tour Duration: 2 hour(s)
Travel Distance: 3.7 km
Boston Places of Worship Tour

Boston Places of Worship Tour

Boston's many great churches are among the most precious of the city's numerous architectural jewels. What makes these artworks special are their unique styles, elegant facades and centuries of history. Take our tour and experience these must-see wonders of Boston.

Tour Duration: 3 hour(s)
Travel Distance: 5.3 km

Useful Travel Guides for Planning Your Trip

Boston's Marblehead Eateries

Boston's Marblehead Eateries

With such a diverse variety of dining cuisines and styles, the little town of Marblehead has something to satisfy every budget and culinary palate. You won't find any neon here, none is allowed in town and there are no fast food or drive-thrus establishments either. Most are quaint and...

Tips for Exploring City on Foot at Your Own Pace

Whether you are in Boston for a quick stopover or have a few days to see the city in more detail, exploring it on foot, at your own pace, is definitely the way to go. Here are some tips for you to save money, see the best Boston has to offer, take good care of your feet while walking, and keep your mobile device – your ultimate "work horse" on this trip - well fed and safe.

Saving Money with City Passes

To save yourself time and money visiting Boston's multiple sights, you may want to resort to the so-called city passes, such as the Boston CityPASS or GO Boston Card.

A city pass combines all or multiple Boston's top highlights, tours and experiences in one prepaid attractions pass, using which you can save incredible amounts on general admission fees as compared to purchasing tickets separately. Often, a city pass also allows you to skip lines at major attractions, thus saving your precious time.

Staying at Walk-Friendly Hotels

Since you're keen on exploring cities on foot (we assume that you are, and this is why you're here), it is important that you stay at a hotel close to the city's major attractions. It saves you time and energy. Here are a few of Boston hotels conveniently located for a comfortable stroll: Boston Omni Parker House Hotel, The Bostonian Boston, Ames Boston Hotel, Curio Collection by Hilton.

Taking Care of Your Feet

To ensure ultimate satisfaction from a day of walking around the city as big as Boston, it is imperative to take good care of your feet so as to avoid unpleasant things like blisters, cold or overheated soles, itchy, irritated or otherwise damaged (cracked) skin, etc. Luckily, these days there is no shortage of remedies to address (and, ideally, to prevent) these and other potential problems with feet. Among them: Compression Socks, Rechargeable Battery-Powered Thermo Socks for Cold Weather, Foot Repair Cream, Deodorant Powder, Shoes UV Sterilizer, and many more that you may wish to find a place in your travel kit for.

Travel Gadgets for Your Mobile Device

Your mobile phone or tablet will be your work horse on a self-guided walk. They offer tour map, guide you from one attraction to another, and provide informative background for the sights you wish to visit. Therefore it is absolutely essential to plan against unexpected power outages in the wrong place at the wrong time, much as to ensure the safety of your device.

For these and other contingencies, here's the list of useful appliances: Portable Charger/External Battery Pack, Worldwide Travel Charger Adapter, Power Converter for International Travel Adapter, and Mobile Device Leash.

Exploring City on Guided Tours

We have a strong bias towards exploring a city on foot, at your own pace, because this is how you get to see things up close with a maximum freedom. You decide how much time you wish to spend at each attraction and don't have to worry about following a crowd. That said, however, we also understand that some of you may want to go with a guided tour. If that is your case, here are some guided tours to consider. Be ready to fork out a bit of money, though, as a guided tour of Boston typically costs somewhere between US$35 and US$80 or more per person:

- Board a hop-on hop-off trolley to enjoy sightseeing of Boston in comfort listening to a live on-board commentary from a local expert, and be able get on and off at any of the stops along the route as often as you like. The tickets are valid for one or two days.

- Pack your “very best of Boston” experience in just one day with the help of a fully narrated sightseeing tour covering all of the city's key historic attractions, including those in the neighboring Massachusetts cities of Cambridge, Lexington and Concord, dating back to the times of the American Revolutionary War.

- Feel the spirit of Boston on a guided, 2-hour walk through the Downtown area on the popular Freedom Trail visiting the locations of great historical importance for the United States. If you're a history buff, this tour is definitely for you!

- Summon your guts and sense of adventure to dig deep into the ghastly side of Boston on a scary, yet fun and informative frightseeing tour set to bring light to some of the darkest corners of the city and relay the stories of the unfortunate souls and sinister characters that once walked the streets of Boston.

- Pedal your way around Boston on a 3-hour educational and fun bike tour to appreciate the city's most spectacular sights while stopping at some of them for a bit of rest, watching the surroundings, and learning interesting facts about the attractions en route from a knowledgeable group leader.

- Spend another three hours in a most tasteful way on a walk led by an expert guide to explore the culinary scene of Boston. Along with the freshest seafood food and other delights, you will acquaint yourself with Boston's Little Italy, learn the history of this neighborhood and some fascinating facts about its most favorite dishes.

Day Trips

If you have a full or half day to spare whilst in Boston, why not use it to explore some of the out-of-town destinations like Cambridge, Lexington and Concord, New England coast, Salem, Martha's Vineyard, or Plimoth. For as little as circa US$50+ to US$105 per person you will get a chance to discover several nearby Massachusetts cities that left mark in the American history, stand on the legendary battlefield and visit other locations that played a prominent role in the American Revolutionary and Civil Wars, capture the beautiful scenery of the New England coast replete with postcard-worthy beaches, harbors, wetlands, rugged cliffs and lighthouses, travel along the rocky coast of Maine to one of the most iconic lighthouses in the U.S., learn the fascinating history of the Salem Witch Trials, see the birthplace of the American Navy, explore Boston's original Martha's Vineyard, or step back in time for a glimpse of life of the Pilgrims back in the 1600s with a chance to interact with the costumed actors reenacting the Pilgrims' daily chores in the English colony. For any of these tours you will be picked up either straight from your hotel or a designated place in Boston and transported by a comfortable air-conditioned coach to the destination of your choice and back again.