Best Boston Museums and Institutions

Art, science, children, history, sports—check out the city’s best creative and intellectual institutions, sure to satisfy any range of interests.


From art to science to history to children, Boston has got it covered on the museum front. The city’s world-class museums offer a wide variety of exhibits and themes. And if you have kids, don’t think you have to be tied down to just the one museum that caters especially to them (but don’t miss it!). Most museums in Boston offer special activity packs or materials geared toward children, so they can get as much out of a visit as you do.

Take a look at the city’s menu of museums, and pick your favorites—all are worth a visit.


Institute of Contemporary Art

Founded in 1936, the cutting-edge Institute of Contemporary Art is in a building as exciting as the works it exhibits. Right on the waterfront in the Seaport District, this is the go-to spot for some of the newest and most interesting art in the country. All media is represented, from video to sculpture, painting to photography, as well as performance and literature.

Institute of Contemporary Art, 100 Northern Ave., tel. 617-478-3100. Admission: $12 for adults, $10 for students and seniors, free for children 17 and under. Hours: Tue. and Wed. 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Thu. and Fri. 10 a.m. to 9 p.m., Sat. and Sun. 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum

The Gardner Museum is a time capsule museum, and it remains exactly as it was when Isabella Stewart Gardner died in 1924. The quirky, extremely wealthy and discerning Mrs. Gardner had a stunning collection of art housed in her 15th century Venetian-style palace in Fenway. Before she died, she mandated that her house and property become a museum, but it had to remain exactly as she left it. There are more than 2,500 paintings, sculptures, tapestries, pieces of furniture, manuscripts, rare books and decorative arts by artists such as Titian, Rembrandt, Michelangelo, Whistler and Sargent, among many others.

Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, 280 The Fenway, tel. 617-566-1401. Admission: $12 for adults, $10 for seniors, $5 for college students, free for children 18 and under. Hours: Tue. to Sun. 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Museum of Fine Arts

The Museum of Fine Arts, or MFA, as locals call it, is a massive, grand building that houses more than 450,000 works of art, and it is getting even bigger. The new American Wing is in the works, slated to open in November 2010. It’s impossible to attempt seeing even a fraction of the Boston museum in a day, so a game plan is in order for visitors on a schedule. Take a look at the Museum of Fine Arts Boston Web site before you go and try to map out what you’d like to see most, then you should cut that in half, because no doubt you’ll get distracted as you move from gallery to gallery. The Art of the Ancient World gallery alone has more than 70,000 works of art from Greece, Egypt and the Roman Empire tracing more than 7,000 years of history. It is really a world-class museum and worth some serious time for art lovers on your Boston vacation.

Museum of Fine Arts, 465 Huntington Ave., tel. 617-267-9300. Admission: $17 for adults, $15 for seniors and students 18 and older, $6.50 for children 7 to 17, free for children 6 and under. Hours: Mon. and Tue. 10 a.m. to 4:45 p.m., Wed. to Fri. 10 a.m. to 9:45 p.m., Sat. and Sun. 10 a.m. to 4:45 p.m.,


Boston Children’s Museum

The Boston Children’s Museum has been around for more than 90 years and they have what kids want: plenty of exhibits that include everything from Arthur and Friends to a Construction Zone to a Science Playground. The waterfront museum was remodeled in 2007 and is now Boston’s first “green” museum, which kids can learn about, if they take a break from exploring and having fun. An amazing three-story climbing structure, called the New Balance Climb, sits in the middle of the museum, and for those in the know offers stunning views of Boston Harbor.

Boston Children’s Museum, 300 Congress St., tel. 617-426-6500. Admission: $12 for adults, $9 for seniors children ages 1 to 15, free for children up to a year old. Hours: Mon. to Sun. 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Fri. 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.


Next: History, Science and Sport Museums


John F. Kennedy Library and Museum

The John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum portrays the life, leadership and legacy of President Kennedy in a stunning waterfront location. The building itself was designed by I.M. Pei and sits on the waterfront close to the University of Massachusetts-Boston campus. Among the exhibits dedicated to the 35th president, you’ll find a replica of the Oval Office.

John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Colombia Point, tel. 617-514-1600. Admission: $12 for adults, $10 for seniors and students, $9 for children 13 to 17, free for children 12 and under. Hours: Mon. to Sun. 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Museum of African-American History—African Meeting House

The African Meeting House on Beacon Hill was built in 1806 and was once the center of Boston’s 19th-century African American community. Here, William Lloyd Garrison founded the New England Anti-Slavery Society on Jan. 6, 1832. It was often called the Black Faneuil Hall. Rotating museum exhibits cover African American history, archeological artifacts and entrepreneurs.

African Meeting House, 46 Joy St., tel. 617-720-2991. Admission: free. Hours: Mon. to Sat. 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

USS Constitution and Museum

The USS Constitution, “Old Ironsides,” as the oldest commissioned warship afloat is affectionately called, makes its home at the Charlestown Navy Yard. Crewmembers give tours of the vessel, built in 1797, throughout the day. The Constitution is most renowned for fighting off five British ships in the War of 1812. After the tour, visit the nearby USS Constitution museum for exhibits, hands-on activities, and artifacts detailing the long history of the warship and take a walk around the Navy Yard to see what remains. Now part of the park system, the Charlestown Navy Yard was a thriving shipyard for 174 years. It was one of the first shipyards built in the United States, but before that, the British landed here before the Battle of Bunker Hill.

USS Constitution and Museum, Charlestown Navy Yard, tel. 617-426-1812. Admission: free. Museum hours: Mon. to Sun. 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. (Nov. 1 to March 31), Mon. to Sun. 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. (April 1 to Oct. 31). Ship hours: Thu. to Sun. 10 a.m. to 3:50 p.m. (tours every 30 minutes until 3:30 p.m. from Nov. 1 to March 31), Tue. to Sun. 10 a.m. to 5:50 p.m. (tours every 30 min until 4:30 p.m from April 1 to Oct. 31).


Museum of Science

The Museum of Science has more than 500 interactive exhibits, making this a family favorite, plus there’s an IMAX theater, a planetarium, live presentations and special exhibits. And that’s in addition to all the permanent exhibits, which include the popular Dinosaurs, How Your Life Began and the Human Body exhibits.

Museum of Science, Science Park, tel. 617-723-2500. Admission: $19 for ages 12 and up, $17 for seniors, $16 for children 3 to 11. Hours: Sat. to Thu. 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Fri. 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.


Sports Museum of New England

The Sports Museum of New England is an essential stop for sports fans. Exhibits cover New England’s historical highlights in boxing, hockey, football, basketball, soccer and baseball. Pretend you’re catching a fastball from Roger Clemens at one interactive exhibit, watch old footage of the Boston Garden (true fans still lament its demise, but you can sit in old Garden seats at least!) and learn about local high school and college teams. Don’t miss the Boston Bruins Hall of Fame portraits or the exhibit on the Boston Marathon.

Sports Museum of New England, on the 5th & 6th floors of the TD Banknorth Garden, 100 Legends Way, tel. 617-624-1234. Admission: $6 for adults, $4 for seniors and children 6 to 17, $15 for families of up to five members, free for children 6 and under. Hours: museum hours depend on the TD Banknorth Garden events, so check the Web site for current scheduled hours,

Destinations: Boston

Themes: Art and Museums, Family Travel

Activities: Museums

User Comments

Another favorite, just across the river in Cambridge, is the Harvard Museum of Natural History, Dinosaurs, meteorites, gemstones, and the world-famous Glass Flowers.

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