The Best Things to do in Cambridge, MA

The 15 Best Things to do in Cambridge, Massachusetts

Cambridge is so much more than Boston’s neighbor or the home of the historic Harvard University. Like Boston, it is indeed a college town, being home to other prestigious schools, including the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). But there’s a great deal to explore beyond the campuses.

From Harvard’s many museums to music venues that have hosted legendary acts, Cambridge is bursting with culture. In one day, you can tour the oldest college in the US, explore a house that once was home to both one of the greatest writers in American history and our nation’s first president, eat the best ice cream in the US, and see a show at a historic theater that kickstarted American folk music.

Wondering what to do in Cambridge during your visit? We’ve compiled a list of the best things to do in Cambridge to help you plan a trip filled with all things history, science, and art! Choose a few of the Cambridge activities from this list, and you’re bound to have an amazing time during your stay along the Charles River.

The 15 Best Things to do in Cambridge, MA

1. Study the World at the Museum of Science

Sitting atop the banks of the Charles River is one of the coolest Cambridge attractions, the Museum of Science. This massive museum offers tons of hands-on, interactive exhibits to teach you about the wonders of the world.

The Museum of Science features permanent and temporary exhibits, so you’ll never get the same experience twice. From studying the growth of artificial intelligence to exploring the Arctic with a virtual drone to stepping back to the time of the dinosaurs, all sorts of sides of science are covered in this museum.

In addition to the exhibits, you can also step inside the five-story dome screen of the Mugar Omni Theater to see incredible IMAX movies, journey into space in the Charles Hayden Planetarium, watch films come to life in the 4D Theater, or check out live demonstrations featuring real scientists and live animals.


2. See a Classic Movie at the Brattle Theatre

Cool Things to do in Cambridge, Massachusetts: Brattle Theatre

There’s just something special about seeing a movie at the Brattle, which is what makes it one of the most unique things to do in Cambridge. It began as a live performance space, dating back to 1889, before being revamped into an art house cinema in the mid-1950s, though some live performances would continue on here over the years.

Today, this one-room theater continues as an art house cinema. Though you can see first-run films and classics alike, their main specialty is a repertory programming format, meaning that you can see movies from the same director, actors, genre, or subject over the course of a programming block. 

You’ll likely see a lot of movies here that you have never heard of before or at least can’t see in theaters anywhere else. So, if you’re a movie buff who loves being introduced to all kinds of films, you’ll find a home here at the Brattle. Grab a seat in the first row of the balcony for the best seat in the house. 


3. Tour Harvard University

Cambridge, Massachusetts Bucket List: Harvard University

Dating back to 1636, Harvard University was the first college founded in the American colonies. You’ll find that Harvard is filled with many of the top things to do in Cambridge when you visit here, and one of the best ways to do some Cambridge sightseeing is by taking a guided tour.

Harvard offers free public tours throughout the year, with a current student as your guide to give you insight into the Harvard of the past and present. Stroll across the iconic Harvard Yard (which, no, you can’t park your car in), get a look at the many libraries, and see the historic spire of the Memorial Church. 

Along the way, you’ll see the bronze sculpture of John Harvard, who was not actually Harvard’s founder but, instead, its first major benefactor, having donated half his estate and a collection of more than 400 books to the school. 


4. Watch the Head of the Charles Regatta

Must do things in Cambridge, Massachusetts: Head of the Charles Regatta

Checking out the Head of the Charles Regatta is one of the coolest things to do in Cambridge. What’s so special about this annual event? This competition is the world’s largest three-day rowing event, where more than 11,000 athletes from schools and clubs all over the world come together to face off in 55 different race events.

This weekend-long regatta, which takes place every October, got its start in 1965 and has only grown. Though many colleges compete, it’s not just a race for students. You’ll also find events for rowers aged under 17 all the way up to over 80. From club races to singles to pairs, there are so many events for all different types of rowers. 

Grab yourself a prime spot to cheer on your favorite competitors and get swept up in the fun. As the regatta takes place over the third weekend in October, you’re also visiting Cambridge at a perfect time to enjoy the fall foliage, which is particularly striking against the Charles River.


5. Explore Mount Auburn Cemetery

What to do in Cambridge, Massachusetts: Mount Auburn Cemetery

You might think spending some of your trip in a cemetery is a bit strange, but Mount Auburn isn’t just some cemetery. These beautiful grounds offer one of the best sights in Cambridge. And it’s a truly historic sight. This cemetery was the first rural cemetery in the US and is today a National Historic Landmark.

With tranquil water features, a diverse array of flowers and trees to ensure that something is in bloom with every season, and stunning monuments, it’s much more than what you’d imagine a cemetery to be. It’s a garden, an arboretum, and a place to connect with nature. There are over 15,000 plants at Mount Auburn, making it as much a botanical garden as it is a cemetery.

Please keep in mind that you’re walking through hallowed ground when you explore Mount Auburn. There may be funerals going on or people visiting their loved ones, so please be respectful and quiet.

If you’re visiting with a group, you may want to take advantage of the cemetery’s group tour offerings. While self-guided tours are always free, you can book a private tour for an added fee. These tours typically last 90 minutes and are led by a cemetery staff member or a volunteer docent. They can cover a wide range of topics, from history to architecture, depending on your group’s interests.


6. Go Thrifting in The Garment District

Best Things to do in Cambridge, Massachusetts: The Garment District

Love finding something old and making it new again? Then, a visit to The Garment District is one of the must-do things to do in Cambridge. This Cambridge tradition dates back to 1986, when it started as an offshoot of a textile company. 

Every Saturday morning, the company would put out a few piles of clothing for the public to explore and buy by the pound. It became known as By the Pound, and The Garment District opened a few years later to complement the growing business. The building itself dates back to 1893 and today houses The Garment District, By the Pound, and, a more recent addition, Boston Costume

The Garment District strives to be the ethical answer to fast fashion. Instead of their clothes finding their way to landfills, all clothing that comes to The Garment District is either steamed and tagged to be put out for sale or is selected to be for sale at By the Pound.

You truly never know what you’ll find at The Garment District. With over 12,000 square feet of retail space and more than 40,000 items, from clothing to shoes to accessories, you may just find that statement piece you didn’t know you were looking for! 


7. Tour the Longfellow House

Cambridge, Massachusetts Things to do: Longfellow House

There’s so much history at the Longfellow House, which is what makes it a perfect fit for your Cambridge bucket list. This National Historic Site was the home of beloved poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, one of the most prolific writers of the 19th century. He spent almost 50 years in this Georgian mansion, starting in 1837.

But Longfellow’s history at the house isn’t its only claim to fame. From July 1775 to April 1776, it served as our future first president, General George Washington’s headquarters during the Siege of Boston.

Throughout the year, you can enjoy the two acres of grounds, including a vibrant garden, free of charge. The east lawn is the home of the Longfellow Summer Arts Festival, featuring concerts, poetry readings, and other events all summer long on Sunday afternoons.

The house itself is open during community events and for guided tours with National Park Rangers from May through the end of October. You can take the regular guided tour or journey deeper on Deep Dives into diverse topics regarding the site’s history and collections. The house also features an exhibit gallery, which is frequently changing and includes items from the house’s museum collection.


8. Spend a Day at the MIT Museum

You might expect that a museum tied to MIT would be all about science. But you’d only be partially right. The MIT Museum, one of the best things to do in Cambridge, is about so much more. It takes a look at our world through the lenses of science, history, and art. 

The museum houses a collection of more than one million items, ranging from historic devices dating back to the school’s founding in 1861 to today’s cutting-edge technology. Exhibits are constantly changing, so you’ll never have the same experience twice. Learn about the breakthroughs in genetic technology, the marriage of music and science, how our seas are changing, and much more.

The museum also hosts daily activities and special events. Take a Gallery Tour with a museum educator, go on a Collection Exploration into a specific museum collection, make scientific discoveries in the Learning Labs, or become an engineer in the Maker Hub. 

Special events range from talks with celebrated scientists to musical compositions in honor of the vibrations of amino acids. If you’re traveling with just adults, be sure to check out the monthly After Dark Series, where you’ll enjoy entertainment and fun built just for an over-21 crowd.


9. Get a Scoop at Toscanini’s Ice Cream

Cool Things to do in Cambridge, Massachusetts: Toscanini’s Ice Cream

With two locations in Cambridge, it’s easy to find your way to Toscanini’s. This family-owned ice cream shop has frequently topped lists of where to get the best ice cream in and around Boston. The New York Times even ranked them as the world’s best ice cream, which is why getting a scoop (or more!) here is one of the most unique things to do in Cambridge.

Back in 1981, a group of friends and families came together to serve up ice cream in an 800-square-foot shop on Main Street, where they scooped for free, the love of their shop keeping them going. In time, the shop grew and added staff members they were able to compensate thanks to the support of the Cambridge community.

All ice cream is homemade in the store. Although the original location closed in 2018, it reopened in 2022 after adding a second location around the same time the first closed. The business now operates both on Main Street and First Street.

While you can find some classic favorites on the menu, like French Vanilla and Cookie Dough, the shop is more well-known for its gourmet concoctions, like its Burnt Caramel, Banana Bourbon, and Kulfi, a cardamon ice cream with pistachios and almonds. Flavor options change often and depend on the location.


10. See a Show at Club Passim

Unique Things to do in Cambridge, Massachusetts: Club Passim

Cambridge is filled with music venues, many of which have historic roots, but perhaps none more so than Club Passim. Seeing a show at this iconic venue is one of the most fun things to do in Cambridge.

Not familiar with the name Club Passim? If you’re a folk music fan, you may have heard of its former name, Club 47, having taken its name from its previous location at 47 Mount Auburn Street. But since 1963, it’s been a fixture on Palmer Street.

Before being known as Club Passim, Club 47 was where folk artists got their start. Joan Baez played Club 47 in 1958 while she was a Boston University student, and she continued to perform there throughout the ‘60s. 

Bob Dylan also performed there in the early ‘60s, where he was said to have played for free just to say that he played Club 47. Other performers who have graced the stage include Joni Mitchell, Bonnie Raitt, and Pete Seeger.

Later in the 1960s, the club fell on hard times and closed in 1968, only to reopen a year later as Passim, later Club Passim. Passim itself is now a nonprofit that runs a music school and cultural exchange program. In addition to still seeing live performers at Club Passim, you can also sign up for a workshop at the music school.


11. Marvel at the Harvard Art Museums

Fun Things to do in Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard Art Museum

Harvard doesn’t just have one art museum. It has three. And visiting the Harvard Art Museums is one of the best Cambridge activities. 

The Fogg Museum, which opened in 1895, is the oldest of the three. Once you enter through the enchanting Italian Renaissance-inspired courtyard, you’ll discover a collection of galleries that will walk you through the history of Western art, beginning in the Middle Ages and ending in the present day. It’s also home to the Wertheim Collection, one of the US’s best collections of Impressionist and post-Impressionist art, and the Boston area’s best collection of Picasso pieces.

Cambridge, Massachusetts Bucket List: Harvard Art Museum

The Busch-Reisinger Museum was founded in 1903 as the Germanic Museum, and though its name has changed, it continues to be focused on art from German-speaking countries. Here, you’ll find unique works of Austrian Secession art, German expressionism, and works related to the Bauhaus, a form of Germanic art from the early 20th century.

Opening in 1985, the Arthur M. Sackler Museum is dedicated to Asian, Middle Eastern, and Mediterranean art. It also houses the History of Art and Architecture Department at Harvard and the Media Slide Library.

The museums hold many events, including Spotlight Tours with current students, Gallery Talks with curators, and workshops for all different forms of art.


12. Visit the Harvard Museum of Natural History

What to do in Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard Museum of Natural History

The Harvard Museum of Natural History, one of the top things to do in Cambridge, was started back in 1998 as the public face of the school’s three research museums: the Harvard University Herbaria, the Mineralogical & Geological Museum, and the Museum of Comparative Zoology. As a result, the Harvard Museum of Natural History focuses on a wide array of sciences, allowing you to venture into worlds you’ve never discovered before.

Today, the museum is the most-visited attraction at Harvard. It presents the collections of the three museums, as well as cutting-edge research from scientists at Harvard. Throughout the museum, you can unearth these collections through their permanent galleries and temporary exhibits. 

See Harvard’s famous Glass Flowers, learn about surprising new discoveries in our evolution, discover the misunderstood world of sharks, and much more. The exhibits showcase the museum’s historical artifacts alongside hands-on activities and multi-media presentations. The museum also offers classes and workshops for kids, adults, and families.


13. Admire the Exhibits at the Peabody Museum of Archaeology & Ethnology

Another museum associated with Harvard University, the Peabody Museum of Archaeology & Ethnology is one of the best sights in Cambridge, thanks to its immense collection. The museum is home to anthropological materials from across six continents, including over 1.2 million cultural items and 500,000 photographs.

The Peabody views itself as an ethical steward, meaning that the museum attempts to provide access to and care for the communities to whom the museum’s collection holds cultural value. In this way, they strive to offer a learning experience that is diverse, inclusive, and respectful.

The exhibits are often changing, allowing you to dive deep into unique cultures every time you visit. Discover the Indigenous tribes of the Americas, learn about the world of colonial Harvard and the role the Indian College played in its early years, and see how the world has eaten across time and continents. 

You can always take a self-guided tour of the museum. Or you can take a tour with a Harvard student between October and April.


14. Stroll through the Arnold Arboretum

Unique Things to do in Cambridge, Massachusetts: Arnold Arboretum

As with many Harvard institutions, the Arnold Arboretum, one of the best things to see in Cambridge, is historic. It’s the oldest arboretum in North America, having been established in 1872. Though it also functions as a botanical research center, it’s also a free public park, and you’re going to want to add it to your Cambridge bucket list!

Though Cambridge is Harvard’s home, you’ll actually find this massive 281-acre preserve in the Jamaica Plain and Roslindale neighborhoods of neighboring Boston, but it’s more than worth the trip. The Arnold Arboretum considers itself a museum of trees. It’s a place to learn about plant life and to feel connected to the natural world.

The arboretum houses one of the world’s most comprehensive collections of temperate woody plants. Here, you’ll find a focus on the plants of eastern North America, as well as eastern Asia. There are over 15,000 unique plants housed here. While you’re free to explore on your own, you can also take a guided tour or join one of the arboretum’s many events, including meditation sessions, family hikes, and in-depth talks about unique species of plants.


15. See a Performance at the American Repertory Theater

Cambridge, Massachusetts Bucket List: American Repertory Theater

The American Repertory Theater, aka A.R.T., is a not-for-profit theater at Harvard and one of the best Cambridge attractions. At this theater, the goal is to truly immerse you in everything you’re seeing on stage. Each work performed at this theater is meant to transform the boundaries of live performances and often showcases those who have too often been left behind in the world of theater.

A.R.T. has been a fixture at Harvard since 1980. Since its founding, the theater has won numerous awards, including Tony Awards, Pulitzer Prizes, and more than 100 Elliot Norton and IRNE Awards. 

Although A.R.T. is a professional theater that puts on shows that have gone on to tour the US and play in places like London’s famous West End, the theater also has showcases of student and local community members’ work, as well as workshops and conversations with local artists. 

There you have it! The 15 best things to do in Cambridge, MA. What’s your favorite thing to do in Cambridge? Let us know in the comments!


Planning a trip to Massachusetts? Check out our favorite books and travel guides!


SHARE THIS ON PINTEREST


Author

  • Jacqueline Gualtieri

    Jacqueline is a writer and editor pursuing the freelance life to explore the world. Born and raised in New Jersey, she spent her college years in Boston before settling down with her partner and puppy in Monterey, California.

    When she’s not writing, you can often find her planning her next trip. Road trips are her favorite, whether it’s driving across the country or simply exploring a new city in her own backyard. She loves uncovering the history of every new place she goes.

    Jacqueline has a restless passion for learning and makes it a goal to pick up a new skill every year. She’s picked up embroidery, crocheting, knitting, and cross-stitching, but she’s hoping to master more languages to help her in her travels. She’s also a published author, with short stories and poetry appearing in several anthologies.

    View all posts

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *