The Cambridge Harvard University trek, a free self-guided tour mainly on the Harvard campus, will take you from 1h30 to 5h to complete depending of the time you’ll spend in the galleries and museums on your way.

You’ll see shady yards and secluded courtyards, respectable buildings, three museums, a gallery of design, a community garden, and many outdoor sculptures. You’ll also be able to say you went to Harvard University! (details and photos below the map; this tour has been revised in March 2019)

Highlights: Harvard Square, Harvard Yard, John Harvard statue, Carpenter Center for Visual Arts, Harvard Art museums, School of Design, Memorial Hall, Peabody museum, archeology museum, Austin Hall, Christ church, Old Burial Ground, Harvard Coop, Lampoon castle

A: Your tour starts at Harvard Square (go to the Square first if you took the T. and emerged at another exit). At its famous International Newspaper stand, you’ll see newspapers and magazines in many different languages. Don’t buy any now, though, except if you want to carry them; you’ll come back here at the end of your trek.

Once you got the feel of the Square- busy and unconventional, enter Harvard Yard by the corner entrance facing you. A few steps inside the campus will be enough to give you an idea of Harvard University: big lawns with trees, red brick buildings, students reading or playing ball games. It’s both relaxed and serious, a temple of knowledge where you’ll perhaps meet your next president with books under his or her arms.

Your first stop will be the John Harvard statue by Daniel Chester French. It’s not John Harvard however, the statue was made after a descendant of him. Nobody knows how John Harvard looked like! Besides, he was only one of the founders of the university, but he gave it his name! It is said that students touch the foot or the statue for good luck, but it’s a myth. It explains why the statue is also named “the three lies statue”.

The Harvard library is in the vicinity; it would be tempting to climb the stairs and go inside to have a look, but it’s not open to the public. Instead, enter Emerson Hall, a few yards away, home to the Philosophy Department. There are sometimes lectures on the 1st floor; if there are not any on the day you come, just pretend you’re looking for the calendar for the next ones! It’s an impressive building, inside and out.

B:  Next, you’ll reach the Harvard Art Museums on the other side of Quincy street. A major renovation completed in 2014 combined the Fogg, Bush-Reisinger and Sackler Museums; it means you now have three museums for the price of one! Western paintings, sculptures, and prints, particularly those of the German Expressionists, are on display here. They also have temporary exhibitions. Don’t forget to go to the 4th floor: it’s where restauration of artworks is done. You cannot enter the area, but you can look at it from behind glass doors; it seems a wonderful place to work, bright and spacious under skylights.

On the right of the museum, you’ll also find the Carpenter Center for Visual Arts.  It’s the only Le Corbusier building in the USA. You cannot miss it, it’s the only building around with a concrete façade. It’s home to students studios and temporary art exhibitions open to the public.

C: To see more art, the School of Design, also on Quincy Street across Cambridge Street, will be next. The 1st floor hosts works by students, or thematic exhibitions related to architecture. The visit is free.

In front of it, on your left, Memorial Hall: it’s a High Victorian Gothic building used for performances, conferences, and student acts.

D: Keep walking toward the Science Center to reach an open space with tables, chairs, food trucks, and rotating installations (games, in March 2017). It’s a welcoming place to rest for a while before you find a pathway a bit further on your right; it will lead you to your next stop, the Museum of Natural History and the Peabody Museum of Archeology and Ethnology.

E: The first museum has an impressive collection of fossils and stuffed animals; also there, temporary exhibitions, gemstones of all sorts and a gallery of glass flowers that were used for teaching (now a priceless treasure). The second showcases American Indian artifacts from the USA and beyond. The two are connected, and admission to one grants you access to the other. The buildings themselves have the retro charm of 19th century museums.

F: Once you’ve visited them, emerge from the Museum of Natural History main door; cross Oxford St; go under or next to the Hall in front of you;  you’ll see Austin Hall in the distance, behind lawns and big trees. It’s part of Harvard Law School, and one of the most prestigious law schools in the world.

G: Walk along Austin Hall on your left until you find a path on your right toward Mass Ave; cross Mass Ave; then the  Cambridge Common. You’ll  reach Christ Church, an elegant church whose doors are open to everyone. If you have a look inside, you’ll see it’s pretty there too. There is a path along it, on its left, with a view of Old Burial Ground, the only Cambridge cemetery for about 200 years. Further, there will be a quintessential New England street,  Farwell Place (the map here is not accurate as the pathway is not indicated); finally, Brattle Street, at the end of it. Take it on your left.

H: You are now in the business section of Harvard Square with cafes, shops, and street performers. If you want to buy souvenirs or books, the Coop will be further on your left and on Brattle Street. You don’t have to be a student to shop there, but you won’t get the discounts they have!

You can now stop your trek here if you wish, and just wander in the streets. The Harvard T.  stop where you started is close by.

I: If you want to explore more, though, take the John Kennedy Street at the end of Brattle Street; then Mt Auburn Street on your left.

After two blocks, you’ll see that the area on your right is under construction; there was there a community garden open to everyone; students were taking care of it, and had put panels explaining what was growing there. This garden was adjacent to Lowell House, one of the twelve undergraduate residential houses of the University. As this residence is also under construction, you won’t see its two pretty and secluded courtyards. However, I left this info here to give you an idea of what life Harvard University is; besides, as I don’t know yet if things will reappear one day, it could still be accurate!

A building you cannot miss, though, is the Lampoon Castle. It’s home to the Harvard Lampoon, an undergraduate humor publication. Seen from Mt Auburn St., it looks like a Prussian soldier. It got as many criticism as rave reviews for its unusual design. Wheelwright, one of the founder of the Lampoon, completed it in 1909, using a style adequately called “mock Flemish”.

On Linden St, a street facing Holyoke Place, look up in the air to see gargoyles. Find an alley on your right to visit another secluded and pretty courtyard, this one still accessible!

J: At the end of Linden Street, you’ll be on Mass. Ave; Harvard Square will be on your left. If it’s time for food and entertainment, there is everything you need around Harvard Square: restaurants, theaters, movies theaters, and clubs.

If however you now want to compare the Harvard campus to the MIT campus, you can take the T. to Kendall/MIT and follow the Cambridge/MIT trek.

Good to know: there are restrooms in the museums and at the Coop. Benches everywhere along your trek; plenty of food options around Harvard Square.

T-stop: Harvard Square (start and end)

Tips for the guide: they are welcome but as we live in a virtual world, it will be easier to follow the suggestions at the bottom of the page. Thanks in advance!

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