Local’s Guide to a Tour of Cambridge

Boston University Bridge tour of cambridge

Check out the view of Boston from the BU Bridge while on your tour of Cambridge. Photo by Bill Damon

About Tour of Cambridge

Go on a walking tour of Cambridge! After three years at BU, the usual spots my parents and I go to seem a bit stale.

The North End? Been there, stuffed ourselves at Mike’s Pastries, and will definitely go back, but for now we’ve done that. Copley? It’s always so crowded on the weekends my parents can come visit. Back Bay, Fenway, the Pru? I’ve gone to school in Back Bay for so long, the tickets can get so expensive, and we have a mall back home.

So one day, my mom and I decided to follow the advice of some of my more local friends and hit all of the hot spots they had mentioned on a walking tour of Cambridge.

Don’t get lost – buy a map to help you with your tour.

The BU Bridge

Rather than shove my parents onto a crowded green line train or into a cab, I decided to take them on the scenic route and head over the Charles on foot.

The BU Bridge juts off of Commonwealth Avenue between BU’s Central and West Campuses and spits you out onto Memorial Drive—just a short walk from Harvard Square.

Though walking to Harvard Square does take a bit longer than public transportation, the view of the Charles River, the BU and MIT boathouses and Boston beyond is well worth the slightly lengthy trek. Once you make it over the bridge, start heading left on Memorial Drive and take a right at JFK Boulevard. You’ll pass the John Kennedy School of Government building and find yourself in Harvard Square.

Food Stop #1: Coffee at Crema Café

Crema Cafe

Crema Cafe

I hate to say it, but my mother and I are thoroughly and irrevocably addicted to caffeine. We weren’t even in Harvard Square for five minutes before we had to find something to make our headaches stop. We went into Crema Café at 27 Brattle Street, where I was given one of the creamiest and most delicious soy lattes I have ever had.

It was the perfect pick-me-up to prepare for the early morning (think 11 a.m.) walk around town.

Attraction #2: Harvard University and Harvard Yard

We took our drinks for a walk through America’s first university (at least, that had been the goal—I finished my coffee in about two minutes).

My mom and I chose not to take a guided tour of Harvard University. Instead, we to meandered through Harvard Yard to see the statue of John Harvard, the university’s founder and namesake, and quietly strolled through some of the classroom buildings.

If a guided tour of Harvard Square is more your style, there are plenty of tour options to choose from. A Harvard Square Ghost Tour is a must for visitors who visit during the fall—the changing leaves and colder air is the perfect complement for the spooky walk.

Food Stop #2: Grafton Pub & Grill

Named for the street it rests on, the Grafton Street Pub & Grill offers huge burgers, fresh salads, and golden brown fries. It has a dim, cozy atmosphere and comfortable chairs that are perfect for kicking back after walking from BU to Harvard and then some.

Personally, I recommend the toasted chickpea sandwich. It wasn’t quite the all-American pub faire I was expecting when I walked into the Grafton Street Pub, but it was just the right amount of spicy and fit nicely into my vegetarian diet.

Alternative Food Stop #2: Veggie Planet

Veggie Galaxy Cambridge

Located on Palmer Street just around the corner from Grafton Pub & Grill, Veggie Planet offers a unique menu full of locally sourced ingredients perfect for the vegetarian or vegan diner.

At Veggie Planet, customers are invited to create their own pizzas or rice bowls by choosing from a list of approved combinations. (My personal favorite is the Mexican Bean over brown rice, but who can say no to vegan pizza?)

Bonus: the restaurant shares a building with Club Passim, a folk music venue whose nightly shows help add to the restaurant’s hip and laid-back atmosphere.

Attraction #3: Massachusetts Institute of Technology

What’s a visit to Cambridge without seeing another top American university? My mom and I strolled through MIT on our loop back to Boston to take a peak at the stately buildings and see how a different campus functions.

There are some attractions on MIT’s campus—namely the Corridor Lab, which aims to show how daily technology works. Visitors to the interactive museum are invited to experiment with exhibits like an old Model T crank and sit in on a fiber optics demonstration.

Even better, the Corridor Lab is free and open to the public!

Food Stop #4 (if desired): Flour Bakery

If you’re in the mood for a sweet little something or (another) caffeine boost before your trek across the river, stop in at Flour Bakery on Mass. Ave. for some crisp almond biscotti or a blueberry scone. Surprisingly enough, I didn’t need to suck down an iced coffee or latte at this point in our tour of Cambridge, but after so much walking, I would recommend it.

Attraction #4: The Harvard Bridge

The Massachusetts Avenue Bridge spans the Charles River, connecting MIT to Boston. Once my mom and I had finished wandering through MIT’s campus, we decided it was time to head back to my school across the river and started heading down Mass. Ave.

This is the bridge that my family (and many locals, even) so cleverly calls “that bridge with the smoots” because of the hashmarks that were painted during an MIT fraternity prank in 1958.

Oliver Smoot, a 5’7” freshman at the time, lay on the bridge 365 times for a total measurement of “364.4 smoots plus or minus one ear.” Since the prank, Google has adopted the smoot as a unit of measurement that may be used in the site’s conversions. I love this bridge because it’s a part of what makes Boston so unique–how many university pranks have affected the way Google operates?


There’s a lot to see in the town across the river, so if you’re bored in Boston, use this local’s guide to a tour of Cambridge and see what you’ve been missing!


[pw_map address=”Cambridge, MA”]

– Katie Smith
contributing writer