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Harvard Square is an intellectual and offbeat area with a mix of languages, ages, and cultures. Its streets are lined with coffeehouses, independent bookstores, cinemas, and music stores. The centerpiece of the area, Harvard University, is the oldest institution of higher learning in America, established in 1636. Its long list of famous alumni includes seven presidents of the United States. The campus is distinguished by a diverse collection of historic buildings and the acclaimed Harvard University Museum offers expansive collections. For information, visit the University Events & Information Center on Massachusetts Avenue.
Visitor’s Guide To Harvard Square
Located across the Charles River from Boston, Harvard Square is a popular meeting place in Cambridge. Situated just outside the gates of the Ivy League institution, “the Square” is often mistaken for Harvard Yard, the expanse of green lawn on the university campus. The square is formed by the convergence of Massachusetts Avenue, Brattle Street, Dunster Street and John F. Kennedy Street. The name also refers to the surrounding neighborhood and historic district.
Home to America’s oldest university, the triangular plaza has been a gathering place in the center of Cambridge since 1630 when the city was known as Newtowne. The village was the first capital of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Many of the original streets in the New World’s firstplanned English community are still in use. It was the setting for the first printing press in the Western Hemisphere. Daye Press published authors like Anne Bradstreet, the country’s first poet, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and T.S. Eliot. The moniker Harvard Square did not become popular until the middle of the 19th century. The plaza and surrounding neighborhood include historic buildings from every important period from Colonial times to post-war development. It would also be the focal point of abolitionist rallies in the 19th century and anti-war protests a hundred years later. Harvard Square draws history buffs as well as those fascinated by its art, food and cultural scenes.
The backdrop for scenes from numerous books, films and television shows, Harvard Square celebrates a wide variety of bookstores, eateries, music venues and theaters. It welcomes more than eight million visitors annually. There are quaint coffeehouses, fine dining establishments and an eclectic mix of shopping that includes trendy boutiques and modern big box retailers. The Garage is a shopping mall housed in a repurposed, multi-story parking structure. The Curious George Store is dedicated to the fictional monkey and provides parents with an assortment of kid-themed products.
In addition to its college student-fueled bohemian atmosphere, Harvard Square features a number of street performers and pieces of public art. Points of interest include the Harvard Square Subway Kiosk, the Out of Town News newsstand and the Igor Fokin Memorial, which is dedicated to all street performers. Other popular sites are the historic Brattle Theater and “The Coop” college bookstore that was founded in 1882. The theater screens a variety of independent movies. The outdoor chess tables always attract players and onlookers.
The Square is the center of the city’s nightlife with popular venues like the Oberon, Noir and the Sinclair. The Russell House Tavern, Border Café and Otto, known for its pizza, are top area restaurants. Annual events include the Winter Carnival, Chinese New Year, Mayfair and Sparklefest celebrations. The Square also hosts a number of food, music and other cultural festivals throughout the year.
You can reach Harvard Square by driving over the Anderson Memorial Bridge, which carries North Harvard Streetacross the Charles River. An older city laid out during the Colonial era, Boston streets are narrow and can become congested rather quickly. In addition to navigating traffic, you will also have to find a place to park, which can be at a premium in the city. Another option is to ride the subway system known locally as the “T.” The Red Line has a stop in the center of the square. The drawback to riding the subway is that you will miss the sites as you travel underground.
The Harvard Art Museums are comprised of three institutions, including the Fogg, Busch-Reisinger and Arthur Sackler museums. They feature a collection of nearly 250,000 pieces in a variety of media covering a vast range of styles and periods from around the world.
Peabody Museum of Archaeology is one of the oldest and largest institutions of its kind. It houses a collection of more than 1.2 million artifacts with a primary focus on the Americas.
Harvard Museum of Natural History displays a sampling of artifacts and other specimens drawn from the collections of the university’s three research museums.
Built in 1681, the Cooper-Frost-Austin House is the oldest extant residence in the city.
In addition to being the residence of the famous writer, the Longfellow House – Washington Headquarters National Historic Site served as headquarters for General Washington during the Siege of Boston.