Beyond Somerville: Harvard Museums Educate and Entertain

The Boston area is home to several terrific museums, including two that are often overlooked, but that are well worth visiting. The Harvard Museum of Natural History and the Harvard Art Museums are located just over the border from Somerville in Cambridge, making them the perfect destination for a wintry morning or afternoon.

HMNH Inside

Image courtesy of the Harvard Museum of Natural History.

The Harvard Museum of Natural History reminds me a Wes Anderson film with its old-timey exhibits that are both educational and entertaining. If you go, don’t miss the Glass Flowers, 4,000 delicate models that were created between 1887 and 1936 by father and son Leopold and Rudolf Blaschka in Germany. I’m also partial to the Earth & Planetary Sciences Gallery, the Great Mammal Hall and the Zoological Galleries. If you visit before February 22, you can also catch Thoreau’s Maine Woods: A Journey in Photographs with Scot Miller.

The quaint yet extensive museum is located on Oxford Street at the back of the Harvard campus and is open daily from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. (except some holidays). Compared to other area museums, admission and memberships are a steal. You can also get into the museum for free if you are a current Harvard I.D. holder (and you can bring a guest); if you’re a Massachusetts residents every Sunday morning (year-round) from 9 a.m. to noon and on Wednesdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. (September through May); and active duty military are admitted free, and admitted with their families from Memorial Day, May 25, through Labor Day, September 7, 2015.

HAM Inside

Image courtesy of the Harvard Art Museums.

While the Harvard Museum of Natural History is a great place to bring kids, the Harvard Art Museums offer a more adult experience (that’s not to say you can’t bring kids, but my bet is they’ll like the animals better than the art). The renovated and expanded Harvard Art Museums (the Fogg Museum, the Busch-Reisinger Museum and the Arthur M. Sackler Museum) opened on November 16 last year and you can visit daily from 10 a.m.-5 p.m. (except major holidays).

Visitors to the Harvard Art Museums are greeted by the light-filled central courtyard upon entering and can enjoy peeks out to the surrounding streets on all levels, making the museum truly feel a part of the landscape. The extensive collection, ranging from the very old to the very new, includes Buddhist sculptures, Impressionist masterpieces and modern video art. And don’t miss Mark Rothko’s Harvard Murals, which is as much about the art as art conservation, and is on view until July 26.

Admission to the Harvard Art Museums is reasonable and as with the Harvard Museum of Natural History, there are a variety of ways to get in free. Harvard faculty, students and staff (plus one guest), youth under 18 and Cambridge residents can all get in free of charge. And all Massachusetts residents can visit for free on Saturdays from 10 a.m.-noon.

Beat Hotel Earth Bowl

My advice is to make a day of visiting the museums and grab lunch or dinner at one of Harvard’s many cafes and restaurants. You can read my reviews of Beat Hotel (pictured above), The Sinclair and Park or try one of our other favorites, Crema Cafe, Darwin’s, Tory Row, Russell House Tavern and Cafe Sushi, to name just a few. We also recently tucked into steaming bowls of pho at Le’s Vietnamese that really hit the spot on a brisk winter day.

Have you been to the Harvard Museum of Natural History or the Harvard Art Museums? What did you think? What’s your favorite Harvard Square restaurant?

Cover image courtesy of the Harvard Museum of Natural History.

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