Historical Cambridge MA Walking Tour, Boston

Historical Cambridge MA Walking Tour (Self Guided), Boston

Once a quiet New England farming village-turned capital of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, today's Cambridge, MA is a university town that dazzles visitors as the home of renowned Harvard University – alma mater of many intellectuals, literary geniuses, celebrities, and wealthy and powerful. Many of America’s elite have spent some time at Harvard, and their contributions to Cambridge have left a lasting imprint.

The town itself is a mishmash of historical haunts, student hang-outs, alternative art and culture venues, vintage clothing shops, bookstores and ethnic restaurants – in a few words, really cool.

Start at the immense Memorial Hall rising just outside of the Harvard Yard. An impressive architectural wonder, its main attraction is the Sanders Theatre, mostly open during concerts and other events. The nearby Fogg Museum recently underwent an extensive renewal, resulting in a magnificently lighted and curated space. While there are other excellent museums in Boston, this one must not be missed.

Continue with Harvard Square, a hub of activity and mixture of trendy stores, outdoor cafes and colorful local characters. From there, the route will take you past many important historic buildings lining Brattle Street, and finally land you at the Mount Auburn Cemetery – a great place to escape the big city while still getting amazing views of its Downtown.

To explore these and other facets of Cambridge's past and present, follow our self-guided walking tour.
How it works: Download the app "GPSmyCity: Walks in 1K+ Cities" from iTunes App Store or Google Play Store to your mobile phone or tablet. The app turns your mobile device into a personal tour guide and its built-in GPS navigation functions guide you from one tour stop to next. The app works offline, so no data plan is needed when traveling abroad.

Download The GPSmyCity App

Historical Cambridge MA Walking Tour Map

Guide Name: Historical Cambridge MA Walking Tour
Guide Location: USA » Boston (See other walking tours in Boston)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 8
Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 3.5 Km or 2.2 Miles
Author: anna
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Memorial Hall / Sanders Theatre
  • Fogg Museum (Harvard Art Museums)
  • Harvard Square
  • Brattle Street
  • Longfellow National Historic Site
  • Hooper-Lee-Nichols House
  • Elmwood House
  • Mount Auburn Cemetery
Memorial Hall / Sanders Theatre

1) Memorial Hall / Sanders Theatre

Completed in 1878, Memorial Hall is one of the older buildings on campus. Memorial Hall was funded by alumni who wanted a memorial on campus to honor Harvard men who fought and died for the Union during the Civil War. The building was designed by alumni William Robert Ware and Henry Van Brunt.

The building has a High Victorian Gothic design. The tower reaches 195 feet, making this an imposing and distinctive structure. The building has three portions: Annenberg Hall (originally known as Alumni Hall), Memorial Transept, and Sanders Theatre.

Annenberg Hall is a large open space that has mostly served as a dining hall. It is lined with pictures and sculptures of distinguished alumni and serves as a space of inspiration for students.

The Memorial Transept is the heart of the building. It has a marble floor and a towering 60-foot high gothic vault. It features black walnut paneling and stenciled walls, and large stained glass windows adorn the space above each exterior door. There are 28 white tablets engraved with the names of alumni who died fighting for the Union during the Civil War.

Sander's Theatre was modeled on Christopher Wren's Sheldonian Theatre. This part of Memorial Hall was completed in 1875. It has a seating capacity of 1,000 people and has been praised for its acoustics. It hosts lectures, classes, concerts, and ceremonies. Martin Luther King Jr., Winston Churchill, and Theodore Roosevelt have spoken in this theatre.
Fogg Museum (Harvard Art Museums)

2) Fogg Museum (Harvard Art Museums)

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
Harvard Square

3) Harvard Square

Harvard Square sees over eight million visitors a year. It's not only a hotspot for university students taking a break from their studies, but it's also a cultural melting pot, offering visitors an appetizing taste of everything.

This eclectic place is a wonderful setting to grab a coffee, browse through a bookstore, or listen to folk music.

There are restaurants to suit any taste, with cuisines from around the world. You can find Japanese, American, Italian, Middle Eastern, and Korean foods here. In nice weather, sit outside in a beer garden or outside on the street. Daedelus features a rooftop bar that's heated in the winter so that you can enjoy it year-round. At Santouka Ramen, you can sit at a communal table and feast.

Arthouse theaters play independent movies and show first-rate plays. For those seeking a challenge, the outdoor chess sets are also popular.

Street performers are usually entertaining in the square. Kids might be trying their hand at chalk street art. If you find yourself here after dark, there's good nightlife, great bars, and constant live music.

Check your calendar; you might get lucky and be in Harvard Square for a festival event; Winter Carnival, Chinese New Year, Mayfair, and Sparklefest gatherings are memorable ways to celebrate the seasons.
Brattle Street

4) Brattle Street

Known initially as the King's Highway and then Tory Row – ahead of the American Revolutionary War, Brattle Street in Cambridge, MA has been one of the finest residential streets in the U.S. for over 200 years. Today, the street is a home to many historic buildings, including the modernist glass-and-concrete edifice that once housed the Design Research store, and a Georgian mansion where George Washington and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, the poet, both resided (although at different times). Also on this street, in Elmwood House, centuries later lived another American poet, Robert Lowell.

In 1775, George Washington settled on Brattle Street and established his army headquarters in the abandoned mansions of seven wealthy loyalists – all of which have survived. In 1913, Samuel Atkins Eliot wrote about the seven Colonial mansions of Brattle Street's "Tory Row," calling the area "not only one of the most beautiful, but also one of the most historic streets in America. As a fashionable address it is doubtful if any other residential street in this country has enjoyed such long and uninterrupted prestige.”

Laden with stories of Puritanical trials, British Loyalists, and poetic talent mixed with beautiful architecture and well-manicured green space, over the centuries, Brattle Street has the given the world – courtesy of its residents – baking powder, Fig Newtons, Polaroid cameras, and Sadie Hawkins Day. Quite a remarkable achievement for just one street!
Longfellow National Historic Site

5) Longfellow National Historic Site

Just a few blocks away from Harvard Square, stands a historic house that weaves two prominent figures in American history into the same home. Originally, the property was built in 1759 for John Vassall, who fled the Cambridge area at the outset of the American Revolutionary War because of his loyalty to the king of England.

Later, for almost 50 years, this was the home of noted American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, while previously, for a time, it had served as the headquarters of George Washington. The last family to live here were the Longfellows, and it was here that Longfellow wrote Hiawatha and Evangeline. In 1972, the home was made part of the National Park Service.

Notably, all furnishings within the house are not reproductions or period pieces, but the real deal from Longfellow's days. Filled with the family's possessions, the house makes it feel as if the Longfellows have just stepped out for a walk in their cute little garden outside – the lovely, peaceful spot out back filled with greens and flowers with a pergola to sit for a rest. The first floor is totally intact from Longfellow's time including his personal belongings – the poet's writing desk and papers are there to see, like he was working on a poem just now.

Rather than rope off the rooms, the house has carpet runners that the guides ask you to honor. Wise!
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Hooper-Lee-Nichols House

6) Hooper-Lee-Nichols House

The Hooper-Lee-Nichols House is a historic Colonial American house in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and is the second-oldest house in the city. Now headquarters for the Cambridge Historical Society, the house was originally built in 1685 by Dr. Richard Hooper as a typical "first-period" farmhouse, although its ceilings were plastered, which was unusual for a modest dwelling. When Hooper died in 1691, his wife took in boarders and the property eventually started to fall into disrepair.

She in turn died in 1701, and the house continued its decline until 1717, when it was inherited by Hooper's son, Dr. Henry Hooper, who added a lean-to and rebuilt the chimney with cooking ovens. In 1733, he sold the house to Cornelius Waldo, who added a third story and wooden quoins at the corners. Waldo also installed larger windows. The result was a house that looked thoroughly Georgian. The property is open for tours on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 2 and 3 pm.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Elmwood House

7) Elmwood House

Elmwood, also known as the Oliver-Gerry-Lowell House, is a registered historic house in Cambridge, Massachusetts, known for its several prominent former residents, including: Andrew Oliver (1706–74), royal Lieutenant Governor of Massachusetts; Elbridge Gerry (1744–1814), signer of the US Declaration of Independence whose political tactics earned the term gerrymandering, and Vice President of the United States; and James Russell Lowell (1819–1891), noted American writer, poet, and foreign diplomat. It is now the residence of the President of Harvard University.

The house was built in 1767 by Thomas Oliver, Lieutenant-Governor of Massachusetts for a short period until he was forced to resign in September 1774. Although parts of Elmwood's interior have been altered, its exterior has not changed greatly over the years. It is a large, square, clapboarded structure in Georgian style with brick-lined walls and two interior chimneys.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Mount Auburn Cemetery

8) Mount Auburn Cemetery

Mount Auburn Cemetery was founded in 1831 as "America's first garden cemetery", or the first "rural cemetery", with classical monuments set in a rolling landscaped terrain. An oasis from the storm of Crazy Intense Cambridge, Massachusetts, this 174-acre cemetery reminds of Pere Lachaise Cemetery in Paris, with notable celebrities buried here, and is important both for its historical aspects and its role as an arboretum.

The area is a favorite location for Cambridge bird-watchers and houses a collection of over 5,500 trees, including nearly 700 species and varieties. Thousands of very well-kept shrubs and herbaceous plants weave through the cemetery's hills, ponds, woodlands, and clearings. The cemetery contains more than 10 miles of roads and many paths. As a sign of respect for the buried, no running/jogging is allowed on the grounds, only walking.

Upon arrival, make sure to stop by the chapel (there are two historic chapels in the area worth visiting) and pick up a map, if you want to find some important graves – as this can be difficult sometimes, because the markings are not distinct. Also, there are audio tapes available for self tours. At the end, you might want to climb to the top of the Tower and have a 360° look of the surroundings.
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.
Harvard University Walking Tour

Harvard University Walking Tour

The United States’ oldest institution of higher education (and, of course, among the most prestigious), Harvard was established in 1636. Reverend John Harvard, who bequeathed his entire library and half of his estate, is the University’s namesake. Presidents, billionaires and Rhodes Scholars are only some of the illustrious graduates; in fact, Harvard has more Nobel Prize-winning alumni,...  view more

Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 2.3 Km or 1.4 Miles
Beacon Hill Historic Houses Tour

Beacon Hill Historic Houses Tour

Boston’s historic neighborhood of Beacon Hill is quite a charm! One can spend hours here, admiring the elegant uniformity and restraint of the architecture; at times, perhaps, imagining people from the past in their horse-drawn carriages. Federal-style and Victorian row houses, narrow streets lit by antique gas lanterns, brick sidewalks and lavender-hued windows adorn the area, which is...  view more

Tour Duration: 1 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 2.1 Km or 1.3 Miles
Historical Churches Walking Tour

Historical Churches Walking Tour

Boston's great churches are among the most precious of the city's numerous architectural jewels. What makes them special are their unique styles, elegant facades and long history.

Starting with the Old North Church, which towers in the city’s North End, this journey surely feels like taking a step back in time. Legend was made there, in the very place that Paul Revere waited for...  view more

Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 3.6 Km or 2.2 Miles
North End Food Tour

North End Food Tour

Boston’s North End is famous primarily for its Italian food. By far not as big as New York's Little Italy, this one-square-mile waterfront community is the oldest in the city, and is packed to the brim with a cornucopia of Italian eateries – restaurants, cafes, espresso bars, pizza and sandwich shops – lined next to each other within just a few short blocks to ensure visitors both a...  view more

Tour Duration: 1 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 0.8 Km or 0.5 Miles
Boston Introduction Walking Tour

Boston Introduction Walking Tour

The capital of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Boston is one of the oldest cities in the United States and it had played a key role in the country's struggle for independence. Founded in 1630 by Puritan settlers from England, it witnessed many events of the American Revolution, including the Boston Massacre, the Boston Tea Party, the Battle of Bunker Hill, and the Siege of Boston.

...  view more

Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 2.3 Km or 1.4 Miles
Boston Shopping Areas

Boston Shopping Areas

One of the top shopping destinations in the US northeast, Boston has a strong network of interesting stores, galleries and boutiques to visit along with its many high-class shops, some of which are nestled inside historical buildings. Shopping here in more than one way mirrors the city itself: an amalgamation of classic and vanguard, the handmade and the high-end, and both local and international...  view more

Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 3.2 Km or 2 Miles

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...