Boston, with upwards of 19 million visitors per year in past years, is a popular East Coast city for tourists, filled with history, sports, parks, and other attractions, but if you have already done the Freedom Trail and know Faneuil Hall like the back of your hand, then maybe it’s time for some spots off the beaten path.
We’ve got you covered!
From lesser-known parts of town to museums and restaurants that tourists rarely go to, we hope you enjoy our top picks for off the beaten path locations in Boston and nearby Cambridge, Brookline, and Somerville.
- Located near Northeastern University, the Mapparium located inside the Mary Baker Eddy Library is one of our favorite off-the-beaten-path spots in Boston. This stained glass map of the world feels like being in an inside-out globe, and its vibrant colors are really beautiful and unique. It costs $6 to enter and regrettably, you’re not allowed to take photos inside (note: the photo we used is from the library’s website.)
- Everyone knows that Boston is the birthplace of the American Revolution, but if you’re in the mood for something patriotic and more than a little cheesy, there’s a small museum entirely dedicated to the Boston Tea Party in between downtown and the Seaport neighborhood. Admission is a bit steep, starting at $21.
- The Boston Athenaeum located intriguingly at 10 1/2 Beacon Street, was founded in 1807– making it one of the oldest libraries in the country. Today, it is home to 200,000 rare books and works of art, and the architecture itself certainly counts as a work of art itself! On a more grisly note, the Athenaeum also has a book made entirely of human skin— the memoir of career criminal George Walton, a Massachusetts native born in 1809. Note that the skin binding was at his own request. Still gross, though, we think. The Athenaeum is located right near the Freedom Trail.
- Right next to Boston Children’s Museum in Fort Point, there is a 40-foot tall Hood milk bottle that doubles as an ice cream store in the summer and a quirky landmark year-round. Originally built in 1930, it was one of the first structures of its kind built entirely out of wood.
- All Saints’ Way in the North End (located between 4 and 8 Battery Street) is an adorable and colorful alleyway filled with photos and icons of saints, collected by owner Peter Baldassari since he was a child. Today, people visit the delightful and colorful shrine from all over the world. For a definitive guide to the North End (including, of course, food!) see our post here.
Brookline, the town that borders Boston on three sides, is an oasis of calm and beauty. We’ve lived here for several years, and the area will always have a special place in our hearts! You can easily spend a day in Brookline (see our guide here), but if it’s off-the-beaten-path you’re after, check out these recommendations:
- While not necessarily off-the-beaten-path, if you’re in Brookline you can’t miss JFK’s birthplace. The historic home is located on a quaint and quiet street (Beals Street), near Coolidge Corner. We have an in-depth guide to visiting at our Brookline guide here.
- While you are in the Coolidge Corner area, be sure to stop in at the Coolidge Corner Theatre, a super unique, old-school Art Deco “movie palace” dating back to 1933. As one of the oldest independent Art Deco theatres in the country, there is much history found in the building. We love watching movies here, as the intimate setting of the smaller screens and seating areas make for a different yet very pleasant viewing environment. Plus, gotta love supporting local small businesses!
- On the line between Brookline and Chestnut Hill, check out the Metropolitan Waterworks Museum, located inside an old pumping station of the Boston Metropolitan Waterworks system, until it was decommissioned in the 1970s. It still contains three steam- and coal-powered pumps.
Cambridge is best known for being home to two of the best universities in the world– Harvard and MIT– but we would say that there is much more to Cambridge than this.
- The MIT Museum is a great museum for science lovers, including “holography, technology-related artworks, artificial intelligence, robotics, maritime history, and the history of MIT.” The museum is currently being redesigned in a new location at Kendall Square, and reopena in 2021. The museum is filled with artifacts pertaining to MIT’s storied history of intellectual excellence and scientific pursuits. We especially recommend the glass installation, as the MIT Glass Lab is very cool and world-renowned.
- Near the MIT Museum is the Kendall Square Rooftop Garden, on top of 4 Cambridge Center. This is quite the locals’-only secret– it is a super relaxing spot in the middle of a busy area. We love coming up here to get away from the hustle and bustle on the street and it is always a breath of fresh air. There are a few seats and tables to sit down and eat a snack or read a book.
- For very tasty diner treats with a twist, check out Veggie Galaxy. It’s decorated in a traditional diner style, but everything is vegetarian and can be made vegan upon request. Their jackfruit BBQ is delicious, but you absolutely can’t miss the milkshakes here, made with coconut milk. Yum!
Somerville, the next city up from Cambridge, is a quirky mix of artists, students and former blue-collar worker areas.
- One of our favorite things to recommend in Somerville is Sacco Bowl Haven— candlepin bowling! A great way to spend an evening with some friends, candlepin bowling is just different enough from regular bowling that it feels unique. Sacco also has an absolutely delicious selection of flatbread pizzas and beer on tap, so you really can’t go wrong.
- While Davis Square has many highlights of its own, if you venture up towards Tufts University you are bound to walk by the Museum of Modern Renaissance (pictured above!) and the Museum of Bad Art. This zany museum is filled with eclectic artwork and intriguing designs. The artists that created this place definitely highlighted non-traditional styles and concepts to an amazing effect. It is hard to miss as you are walking by, so be sure to check it out.
- Brooklyn Boulders (originally from Brooklyn but opened in Somerville in 2013) is a climbing gym designed to mimic an outdoor bouldering experience (without ropes or harnesses, eek!) But never fear, if you’d like to be strapped in, like us, they also offer tope-rope, auto-belay, and lead climbing as well.