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Museums of Boston

By Cliff Calderwood
Publisher

As the premier historical city of the U.S. east coast you’d expect Boston to have its fair share of museums for residents and visitors alike. And Boston does not disappoint.

I’ve been told there are over forty major museums in Boston and the surrounding area — I haven’t visited them all… yet. But I’ve made a large dent in the collection and I’ll share six of my family favorites with you here and let you know what to expect.


Museum of Fine Arts– MFA:

The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston is one of the oldest art museums in the United States. It first opened its doors on July 4th, 1876 – the centennial birthday of the nation – with a collection of about 4,600 pieces of art. Today the building on Huntingdon Avenue in The Fenway area houses about 450,000 works. The MFA continues to have aggressive plans for growing exhibit space and collecting works, and is a must visit for art lovers and connoisseurs alike.

A visit to MFA is an all day immersion into art in its many forms from past and present cultures. Expect to see traditional European masters and ancient world artifacts from Egypt and classical Greek and the Roman period, along with displays of musical instruments and a highly regional textile exhibit. And when you need a break from staring at artifacts in glass cases or paintings on walls, relax in the popular Japanese garden or the garden court.

The collections are split over two floors with most American exhibits on the first floor and European galleries on the second – African and Asian collections are shared between the two levels. But within these two floors is fine art of the familiar and the not so familiar. Yes, you can see the Impressionist school and the Dutch and Italian masters but there’s plenty to delight for followers of the American schools and Native American art.

Make a point when passing through the domed rotunda to look skyward and take in the magnificent murals painted by John Singer Sargent during the last years of his life.

The MFA reserves plenty of gallery space for special and traveling exhibits and to get more information on current offerings visit their website here.

Museum of Science:

This is one of the more popular museums in Boston and a great place for families. We visit it at least once a year – sometimes more if the Mugar Omni Theatre has a not-to-miss IMAX film, or a special exhibit is visiting town such as Body Worlds 2 or last year’s Darwin exhibit.

The Museum of Science, Boston encompasses a wide range of topics in its exhibits. Creatures and wildlife are as generously represented as the mechanical or technology sciences. Popular permanent exhibits include the Theater of Electricity – experience the awesome power of lightening – Mathematica where you can enjoy the beauty and wonder of mathematics – and the fossils and life size dinosaur exhibits. Lots of interactive experiences and stuff to touch for young and old in the blue wing of the building.

Be sure to check out the Computer exhibit which contains the original displays from the Computer Museum of Boston which the MOS took over in 1999. And for those fascinated with astronomy the Charles Hayden Planetarium has daily shows exploring the wonder of our solar system and the universe.

The green wing is for nature enthusiasts and is as good a place as any to learn about New England habitats and the animals who call it home. A number of live shows are given throughout the day with staff so you can get up close and personal to reptiles and exotic animals and ask questions.

The museum has an interesting web site with a trip planner and a full list of current and upcoming exhibits and you can find it here.

Boston Children’s Museum:

Located at Fort Point Channel on Congress Street the Boston Children’s Museum is a hive of activity and the ultimate tactile and interactive experience for kids.

Favorite exhibits to check out include Arthur and Friends, yes, still going strong building reading and writing skills – the Construction Zone, exploring basic engineering and building skills – the Japanese House, teaching kids and parents about Japanese customs – and Johnny’s Workbench, a chance to learn and use work tools in a safe environment.

Kid Power is an interesting exhibit providing an opportunity to let your children and you get moving around and being active – like you need it I can hear you say! And if your kid likes playing with water and vehicles that travel on it then Boats Afloat provides the ideal learning experience about water and its properties. And one of my personal favorites is Science Playground where your child gets to think like a scientist by exploring and understanding and developing their curiosity – and its fun for parents as well.

This museum has many more exhibits and they themselves suggest “less is more." So plan not to see and do everything but focus on what the child wants to do and relax as a parent. The museum website has lots of suggestions to make a parent’s visit as enjoyable as their child’s so check out their tips section and their online guide to exhibits here.

In the summer months a lunch time break outside on the wharf with a trip to the familiar Milk Bottle stand for a sandwich or ice cream is as much anticipated by the kids as the museum visit. And yes, there is a “golden arches"right next door if they really do need a hamburger and fries.

M.I.T. Museum:

MIT MuseumWe visited the MIT Museum a few years ago on a dreary and nothing much to do day and now it’s become one of our favorites. They’ve invented a lot at M.I.T. don’t you know. Sometimes quirky but always entertaining this museum of science and technology continues to grow and expand, and is the place to visit if you want to learn about and experience robots and holograms.

This is not a huge museum and can be visited in a few hours although at our first visit we got so absorbed in the holograms that 2 hours passed by very quickly.

The major components of the museum include the Mark Epstein Innovation Gallery where you can see research and inventions on cars, cancer research, ocean exploration, and some ingenious devices invented by the late MIT professor Claude Shannon. Robots and Beyond explores Artificial Intelligence and opens the window on what it takes to build an intelligent robot that can interact with its environment and behave and respond in human-like ways. M.I.T has been studying A.I. for over 50 years and continues to perform pioneering work.

The Flashes of Inspiration exhibit celebrates the amazing work of Harold Edgerton in pictures, notes and equipment. Edgerton’s development of the electronic stroboscope and the famous captured image of the “milk drop"almost single-handedly connected science to art. The stroboscope allowed us to see what our eyes or traditional photography could never capture. In the exhibit Holography: The Light Fantastic you’ll experience twenty-three historic holograms from its applications in the field of medicine, engineering, architecture, and even abstract art.

The theme of science crossing over to art continues with Gestural Engineering which presents the work of Arthur Ganson. The sculptures are whacky, whimsical, and utterly mesmerizing. Ganson describes himself as “a cross between a mechanical engineer and a choreographer."This exhibit will definitely stretch your parameters of both.

There’s much more to discover at the MIT Museum but I’ll leave that for you to uncover yourself. For more information check out their website here.

New England Aquarium:

If a museum can be described as place to stretch the mind and explore new perspectives then the New England Aquarium wholeheartedly qualifies with its quality exhibits and engaging environment. It’s also a great place to take the whole family and you can even touch some of the exhibits – try that at the MFA.

The Aquarium continues to expand and offer fresh approaches to viewing one of the most vital resources on our planet – water.

Many of the Exhibits at the NEA focus on the New England habitat but you’ll also find representation of and Amazonian Rivers – can you say Piranha? And of course there’s the magnificent and giant ocean tank depicting a Caribbean coral reef - this still amazes me with sharks swimming alongside with what would normally be their… dinner.

Outside the huge tank other popular attractions are the penguin pool exhibit and the sea lion show on the Discovery boat anchored next door. Admission price includes the show and it’s a real crowd pleaser.

Additional options for a visit to the New England Aquarium include the Simons IMAX Theatre, which focuses on theme related films, and a whale watch trip out to Stellwagen Bank during the season from May to October.

If you’ll be visiting Boston with Children then this needs to be on your itinerary. Be warned though, during school or summer vacation weeks this place resembles a zoo and there’s a high energy buzz about the place.

More information to help planning your visit can be found here.

USS Constitution Museum:

The U.S.S. Constitution, also know as "Old Ironsides,"is a living history visit to a ship that survied the American Revolution.

The Freedom Trail completes its journey through the history of Boston and the nation in Charlestown. Here you can visit the Bunker Hill Monument and the USS Constitution or “Old Ironsides"in the Charlestown Navy Shipyard. While this historic ship is still officially on active duty with the Navy her berth – the shipyard – is operated by the National Parks Service.

At one time the ship had many artifacts and displays on its decks but this began to interfere with the atmosphere and desire to depict a ship ready to sail. So in 1976 everything was moved to a new facility just across from the USS Constitution. This has since been expanded as new collections have been added.

Built in Boston and launched in 1797 to provide protection for American ships sailing the North African coast, "Old Ironsides"saw it's most memorable action in the War of 1812 when it defeated HMS Guerriere in a 35-minute battle that in one event projected the United States into a super naval power. Today this historical ship is permanently docked at the Charlestown Navy Yard and offers free tours of the ship every 30 minutes.

The adjoining museum houses exhibits and displays detailing the history of the ship and the men who sailed her. The exhibit houses USS Constitution-related objects spanning more than 200-years and many personal items from past crew members including journals, letters and images.

One exhibit entitled “Sailors Speak: A Sailor’s Life for Me? "is an opportunity for children and parents alike to learn about a sailor’s experiences at sea and sample traditional sea-faring duties by taking part in fun and educational activities and many interactive exhibits.

In a second floor gallery is the Model shop, another fascinating area to tour and home to magnificent models built by members of the Shipwright Guild. Guild members are on hand to discuss and explain their work. I’m not sure my kids appreciate the pain-staking detail and hours of work that goes into the creation of each model but they always seem to be fascinated by the end result.

Touring the USS Constitution and Museum is free and for hours and more information check their website here.

This is just the tip of the iceberg don’t you know. There’s just no space to include the exquisite Isabella Steward Gardner or the wonderful collection at Harvard or the J.F.K. Library and Museum, but it’ll get you started and the resources below details these and many more to visit in Boston and the surrounding region.

Enjoy the Museums of Boston – it’s one of the best things about this historic city.

NEED A PLACE TO STAY?

For places to stay in Boston choose from the following link: Boston, Massachusetts

Other Resources:

21 Free Things to Do in Boston
More Museums of Boston
Boston Vacation Destinations and Attractions
Best of New England Museums

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