Harvard Square, Cambridge

Even though Cambridge is separate from Boston proper, it is just as popular for people to visit and enjoy its wonderful historical significance. Over the years, the Harvard Square neighborhood has flourished, partly due to its proximity with Harvard University students and also its welcoming spirit for new residents. Everything revolves around the open space of Harvard Square, known for supporting the creative arts through street performances and media shops. Extending beyond that is the prestigious Harvard University campus, residential streets and scenic Cambridge Common park.

Harvard Square History

Harvard Square is in an area where some of Boston and Cambridge’s oldest neighborhoods once thrived. It began its life as a village called Newtowne when it was first settled by Puritans during the 1630s. Although most relics from days past are now gone, many of the street names and routes are from the original settlement, and a few buildings support design from the 18th century.

The modern history of Harvard Square is more detailed. What used to be just a hub and hangout for students, by the 1980s the Harvard Square Theater moved in to shake things up. Some decades old diners and cafes took up shop but have since closed to make way for more upscale dining options. Books stores also used to be a prominent part of the landscape but only a few remain, including the Brattle Book Shop. In the actual square, buskers of all talents have been permitted to perform since the 1990s and a small bronze statue has been erected there to commemorate their contributions to local culture.

Harvard Square Highlights

People into classic board games will enjoy a look through “The Games People Play” shop that features curiosities from around the globe. They can then venture back to Harvard Square and peek at the professionals playing chess outside, challenging some to impromptu duels. Harvard Square embraces many performing arts venues and museums as well.

Food is bountiful in Harvard Square, whether you are looking for street eats or fine dining. Rub shoulders at communal tables with the locals while grabbing lunch at the Crema Café, or sample some high-end American delicacies at Alden & Harlow or a beer at the Russell House Tavern. Once the sun goes down, the music turns up at places like the classic Club Passim, The Sinclair restaurant and three-storied Hong Kong nightclub.

Besides the Brattle shop, most books are bought at the Harvard COOP. This co-operative bookstore is shared by members of Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). It has been running since 1882 and is well stocked through multiple buildings.

Annual Harvard Square Events

There always seems to be something going on in the Harvard Square neighborhood, from concerts and magic shows to foodie gatherings and lectures. The neighborhood throws a great Oktoberfest celebration every October, complete with special parade featuring local artwork and performers. For more than 30 years there has been a lively MayFair in the square that has fun chalk drawing competitions and dance troupe demonstrations. Other new events include the Chocolate Festival in January and the Make Music Harvard Square in June.