Boston is one of America’s most historic cities. Once the epicenter of American revolutionary spirit, it now offers a wide range of museums for all tastes, ranging from cutting-edge contemporary art to living sea creatures. Travel back in time with the U.S.S. Constitution or immerse yourself in the vast collections of Harvard University, the country’s oldest university.
Given Boston’s bevy of museums, My Modern Met has curated a list of don’t-miss institutions with options for audiences of all ages and interests.
Check out these amazing museums the next time you are in Boston, Massachusetts.
The Museum of Fine Arts
Just as the Metropolitan Museum of Art is to New York City, the The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston is the artistic crown jewel to Boston. Packed with masterpieces by famous artists, one can wander by works of Edgar Degas, Vincent van Gogh, El Greco, and Rembrandt. Founded in 1870, the permanent collections hold about about 450,000 works of art spanning thousands of years of world history.
Pro tip: Check out the museum’s world-renowned collection of Japanese artwork, including pottery and ukiyo-e prints.
The Boston Museum of Science
Are you interested in STEM? Then, the Museum of Science (MoS) is the place for you. Complete with the only domed IMAX theater in New England and a planetarium, the MoS is great fun for both kids and adults. Fascinating events are held throughout the museum. One can watch demonstrations of electricity at the world’s largest air-insulated Van de Graaff generator, or simply stroll through the beautiful butterfly garden. Exhibits on nanotechnology, computing, and even New England natural habitats are just some of the fascinating galleries to explore.
Pro tip: the museum is also an accredited zoo and houses over 100 animals, many of which have been rescued.
Harvard Art Museums
If you park your car in Harvard Yard (or at least as close as you can legally drive to campus), you will be close to some of the greatest treasures held by any American university. The Harvard Art Museums house the collections acquired by the institution over the past four centuries. These 250,000 objects are housed in three separate museums and four research centers. Among the collection are works by Old Masters such as Titian, influential American painters like Thomas Eakins, and modern works like those of famed symbolist Gustav Klimt.
Pro tip: The Fogg Museum is the oldest of the Harvard Museums, and it is where you will find the most famous names in Western art history.
New England Aquarium
Who says a museum has to be primarily paintings? The New England Aquarium—in contrast—features nature’s works of art. A leader in educating the masses about our oceans and the creatures within, the exhibits in the Aquarium will take you to waters both local and tropical. Countless tanks are filled with magnificent species of rays, jellyfish, and octopus. The Aquarium also has an IMAX theater and offers seasonal whale watches. This museum is worth a full day with kiddos, and can be quite busy so budget time or buy your tickets in advance.
Pro tip: As you move through the museum, take the option to step out back and look onto the harbor, where you may catch some local seal in action!
The Institute of Contemporary Arts
Founded in 1936, the Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA) is today housed in a modern building hanging over the water, designed by architects Diller Scofidio + Renfro. This is the museum to explore emerging artists and keep your finger on the pulse of contemporary genius. Closing soon is Virgil Abloh’s exhibit Figures of Speech. Coming soon on March 30, 2022 is Bárbara Wagner and Benjamin de Burca’s Swinguerra, examining underground cultures of dance.
Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum
In April 2021, Netflix released This Is a Robbery: The World’s Biggest Art Heist. This tells the story of one of the world’s most perplexing art thefts which took place at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in 1990 when two mystery thieves stole $500 million in artwork. Thankfully, many masterpieces of world art history were not stolen and remain on view at the museum, which draws its name from Isabella Stewart Gardner, a rich American woman who built a palace for her art collection at the turn of the century. Endowed by Gardner after her death in 1924, the museum has continued to expand its collections. Today you will find works by Rembrandt, Michelangelo, and John Singer Sargent.
Pro tip: the museum is still offering a $10 million reward for information leading to the return of the painting, so if you know anything, contact the FBI.
Paul Revere House
Boston has no shortage of famous former citizens, and no shortage of historical houses either. The former abode of Paul Revere—beloved son of Boston—is a very popular destination. Built around 1680 in the historic North End, it is a National Historic Landmark and a stop on the famous Freedom Trail walking tour. Revere himself owned the house from 1770 to 1800. Although he is most famous for his ride while yelling “the British are coming” (a story which is rife with inaccuracy), Revere was a prominent citizen of Boston in the colonial period and early Republic. He was, among other things, a prolific silversmith whose wares are highly valued today.
Pro tip: the Paul Revere House is best consumed as part of the Freedom Trail, a beautiful walk past many of Boston’s historic landmarks related to American independence and the Revolutionary war.
The Freedom Trail will also lead you past Paul Revere’s former home down to the water where one will find the U.S.S. Constitution. Still afloat even though it was initially launched in the 1790s, this battleship is known as “Old Ironsides” for its resilience. The ship was a product of the Naval Act of 1794 passed by the young American republic. It distinguished itself among boats in fights against pirates who targeted merchant shipping as well as in the War of 1812. The ship sailed on official duties throughout the 19th century until 1881, even delivering American items to the Paris Exposition of 1878. A museum now for over a century, the ship now sits in Charlestown Navy Yard and is staffed by active Navy who give tours and educate the public on Naval history.
Pro tip: the U.S.S. Constitution has its own online game entitled “It’s a Sailor’s Life for Me.”