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Cambridge area guide

Get to know Cambridge area by area—the best local restaurants and bars, arts and entertainment and things to do in the city

Photograph: chensiyuan
Harvard Square neighborhood guide

Cambridge neighborhood guides

Central Square neighborhood guide
Things to do

Central Square neighborhood guide

Although undoubtedly gentrified, Central Square has kept its distinct, rather gritty, identity. Over the past decade or so, the former working-class area has become a desirable location for young professionals—high-priced condos and the ubiquitous chains have followed. On the plus side, so have some great restaurants and bars, making it a popular spot for going out. During the day, the square's sprinkling of unusual shops makes for an interesting browse.

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Harvard Square neighborhood guide
Things to do

Harvard Square neighborhood guide

It may be cool, but Cambridge is all about squares. The best known of these, and certainly one of the most popular, is Harvard Square. It's a people-watcher's paradise, as the bustle of bookish Harvard students, mohawked punks, camera-toting tourists, homeless panhandlers, buskers and harried businesspeople creates a diverse and colorful street scene. It is of course intimately tied to the university of the same name, which boasts a panoply of sights, monuments and eye-popping architecture within its modestly sized campus.

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Kendall Square neighborhood guide
Things to do

Kendall Square neighborhood guide

Harvard notwithstanding, some incredibly bright folks attend that other top Cambridge college, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Kendall Square. The architecture of its various buildings is wildly diverse, ranging from the neoclassical walls of Building Ten to some striking modern structures by the likes of I.M. Pei and Frank Gehry. At the heart of it all, cutting through the center of campus and radiating out from under the university's imposing dome, is the so-called "Infinite Corridor," a long passage—punctuated by unexpected art installations—that connects many of the institute's departments. MIT doesn't have the same connection with Kendall Square that Harvard has with its eponymous square, so the area lacks a striking identity. But you'll find some good bars and restaurants here, as well as a popular arthouse cinema, the Kendall Square Cinema.

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Guide to music venues on Massachusetts Avenue
Music

Guide to music venues on Massachusetts Avenue

Storied rock clubs, bare-bones bars and raucous DJ lounges are dotted along the Cambridge stretch of this major thoroughfare, which runs from Dorchester all the way to Lexington. Embark on a live musiccrawl from the mighty Middle East in Central Square to tiny Toad in Porter Square, stopping for burgersor other cheap eats along the way.

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Top Cambridge attractions

Harvard Museum of Natural History
Things to do

Harvard Museum of Natural History

This historic museum boasts a vast and slightly creepy collection of stuffed, bottled and dried creatures from around the globe, from llamas to coelacanths and butterflies. Fossil-mad children can gawp at dinosaur skeletons and admire the 42ft kronosaurus, a prehistoric marine reptile, while rock fans will head straight for the meteorites and gemstones. Your entry charge includes admission to the interconnected Peabody Museum of Archaeology & Ethnology.

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Peabody Museum of Archaeology & Ethnology
Things to do

Peabody Museum of Archaeology & Ethnology

The Peabody features fossils and anthropological artifacts from as far back as the Palaeolithic period, with exhibitions on North American Indians and Central America. In fact, the museum has so many artifacts that staff once discovered a rare Native American bear-claw necklace acquired by early 19th-century explorers Lewis and Clark languishing in one of its storage rooms. Connected to the Peabody is Harvard's Museum of Natural History, which exhibits dinosaur fossils, mineral and rock collections and a menagerie of life-sized stuffed animals that includes pheasants once owned by George Washington. A highlight of the museum is the world's only mounted kronosaurus, a 42ft-long prehistoric marine reptile.

Users say
  • 4 out of 5 stars
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Mount Auburn Cemetery
Things to do

Mount Auburn Cemetery

This is the final resting place for Oliver Wendell Holmes, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Charles Bulfinch and some 86,000 others. In fact, the cemetery is now so full that locals who want to spend eternity here often settle for cremation. But there's plenty of life too. There are 4,000 types of tree and 130 species of shrub alone on its 175 acres, and excellent free guided tours to help you distinguish them.

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Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts
Things to do

Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts

In the La Corbusier-designed Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts, the ground-floor main gallery and the Sert Gallery on the third floor host regular exhibitions by prominent international artists. The focus is on contemporary work, with a particular emphasis on photography.

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Restaurants in Cambridge

The Sinclair

The Sinclair

Finally, the music hall that Harvard Square deserves. Classier than Central Square's beloved (but borderline dilapidated) Middle East complex, the newly minted Sinclair has been attracting indie darlings since its opening thanks to NYC powerhouse booking crew, the Bowery Presents. The total package, the venue even has its own restaurant front-of-house.

Time Out says
  • 5 out of 5 stars
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Verna's Coffee and Donut Shop
Restaurants

Verna's Coffee and Donut Shop

The mom-and-pop stalwart cooks its heavy, dunk-worthy donuts fresh every morning, with favorites like apple cider, chocolate honey-dipped and butter crunch often disappearing well before 10am. One workaround? You can call ahead with your order. Another? They deliver. You’re welcome. 

Time Out says
  • 3 out of 5 stars
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Voltage Coffee & Art
Restaurants

Voltage Coffee & Art

Blame it on the alcohol: owner Lucy Valena started a mobile espresso bar back in 2008 thanks to a loan from the Sam Adams Brewery. Her venture has since morphed into a brick-and-mortar shop that doubles as an art gallery. (Exhibitions generally run for six weeks at a time.) The varieties of flavored latte include such enticing options as lime peel & agave or molasses & lemon zest. With white walls sporadically splattered in bright blues and pinks, Voltage looks colorfully modern, like an Apple store that fell into a fireworks display. Try out the “Atticus Finch”—you won’t be disappointed.

Users say
  • 5 out of 5 stars
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TW Food
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TW Food

Perhaps the most under-sung restaurant in Boston. For years, chef Tim Wiechmann has quietly celebrated his rock-solid relationships with regional fisherman, farmers and foragers, turning out two nightly tasting menus—one three courses, one six—that commend rather than obscure the daily sourced ingredients. Wine pairings are highly encouraged, as Wiechmann and his wife and co-proprietor, Bronwyn, highlight tiny and lesser-known vineyards; at the end of the meal, Bronwyn will happily tell you where to pick up a bottle of your new favorite rosé. Brunch is another find, with rutabaga eggs Benedict and what-the-hell desserts like maple pound cake and a daytime sundae.

Time Out says
  • 5 out of 5 stars
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Bars in Cambridge

Plough & Stars
Bars

Plough & Stars

The spiritual forefather of Greater Boston's thriving Irish pub business, the Plough has been going for some 30 years. In the daytime, it offers the best pub grub in town. At night, the tiny bar is transformed into a hotbed of clashing elbows and live music. Your chances of meeting a novelist just went up by 90%.

Time Out says
  • 5 out of 5 stars
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Beat Hotel

Beat Hotel

Whether or not you're drawn in by the ’60s bohemian theme, there’s plenty to like about the Beat Hotel. Like its South End sister the Beehive, this retreat from the bustle of Brattle Street features thoughtful cocktails and daily live music in a cavernous room with plenty of space for all. 

Time Out says
  • 4 out of 5 stars
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Phoenix Landing

Phoenix Landing

Deep house and Guinness may not seem like the most natural match, but Phoenix Landing pulls off the hybrid pub/club marvellously. The decor is unremarkable, but the no-frills atmosphere fits well with the gritty underground sounds that find their way through the speakers. The floor is tiny, but the variety is huge: hip hop, reggae, house, techno, drum 'n' bass, new wave and dubstep all have a home here.

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Brick & Mortar
Bars

Brick & Mortar

It’s still just as hard to find as its predecessor, the Enormous Room, but once you head through the nondescript door and up the stairs, the similarities end. A giant horseshoe-shaped bar and ample bar stool seating have replaced the low, rug-clad seating platforms and hybrid drink/bathroom line. The cocktails shine and the bar snacks (which include bacon-wrapped dates and deep fried house made pickles) are done just right. 

Time Out says
  • 5 out of 5 stars
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Cambridge music and nightlife

The Middle East

The Middle East

This sprawling venue is one of America's leading rock clubs, and a major player on the national and local music scene. A Middle Eastern restaurant as well as a club, it was the nurturing ground for Boston's alternative and indie music scenes, beginning in the mid-1980s in the smaller Upstairs room. 'Downstairs' was added later and, like many of Boston's basement clubs, was once a bowling alley. In the restaurant, musicians play the Corner without a cover charge, and in keeping with the Middle Eastern theme, there are also belly dancers. ZuZu, the venue's newest addition, sits in-between Upstairs and Downstairs, offering food, hip DJ nights and bands.

Time Out says
  • 4 out of 5 stars
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Comedy Studio

Comedy Studio

This Harvard Square spot carries on the tradition of top-notch Boston Comedy in seedy Chinese restaurants. Perched atop the Hong Kong, the Studio features stand-up comedy Wednesday through Sunday (magicians take the stage on Tuesdays). The shows move quickly, with several comics doing short, punchy sets. Each weeknight features numerous gems, but on the weekends you get the highest caliber of talent. Club owner (and frequent host) Rick Jenkins showcases ten of the best local comics, and there's always the potential for a drop-in from national acts like Mike Birbiglia, Gary Gulman or Joe Wong.

Users say
  • 5 out of 5 stars
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Improv Boston

Improv Boston

Five nights a week, Improv Boston is a clearinghouse for improv, sketch, and standup comedy. Wednesday night, you can get a sampling of all three at the Comedy Lab, which features experimental shows getting ready for a shot at the prestigious Friday night showcase. Recent offerings include "Twitterprov" "The Bigfoot Monologues,” and "Discount Shakespeare: As You Like It in 45 Minutes.” The Comedy Lab lets the top local talent breathe life into their weirdest comedy experiments, and you get to watch.

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Club Passim

Club Passim

This small, not-for-profit venue was once at the vanguard of the 1960s folk scene, and regularly welcomed the likes of Joan Baez and Bob Dylan. The club retains its relaxed, hippie-ish vibe, with plenty of singer-songwriters on the bill.

Time Out says
  • 4 out of 5 stars
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Shopping in Cambridge

Hubba Hubba
Shopping

Hubba Hubba

North of the Charles River and in need of a paddling? Hubba Hubba has got the wrist action you're looking for. The shop is best known for its independently designed S&M gear and fetishwear (with more than a pinch of punk). Shop owner Suzan Phelps has been helping locals spice up their wardrobes for over 25 years.

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Weirdo Records
Shopping

Weirdo Records

If stepping into this Central Square spot feels a bit like revisiting your first post-college apartment, you may not be surprised to learn that owner Angela Sawyer ran the business out of her tiny Somerville flat until 2009. No Beatles LPs here—Weirdo specializes in experimental and foreign music, from free jazz to Indonesian psychedelia. The store sports a colorful aesthetic, with bobble-head dolls lining the shelves and sky-printed fabrics adorning the walls. Sections display un-ironic titles like “New Sixties” and every price tag is affixed with the slogan, “Get your freak on.” Sawyer occasionally crams people in for concerts that feel, aptly enough, like intimate house shows.

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Oona's Experienced Clothing
Shopping

Oona's Experienced Clothing

After acquiring a new owner and a revamped interior a few years back, Oona’s went on to regain its former place as one of the best vintage stores in Boston. The unfortunate (and inaccurate) label of a “costume shop” has hurt Oona’s in the past, but another visit will show former nonbelievers that this is no longer the case. The feel is more Victorian dressing room than Halloween party store. The update is most evident in the men’s section, which has traded in its printed cowboy hats and fake mustaches for vintage Western shirts and Levis 501s. As far as the women’s section goes, the clothes are both affordable (starting at $30 for dresses and $20 for blouses) and beautiful. Everything in the store is thoughtfully handpicked—so you won’t be wasting time rifling through extra-large polyester shift dresses and little league T-shirts.

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Keezer's
Shopping

Keezer's

Established in 1895, Keezer's is the oldest second-hand clothing store in the country and a cherished local resource. Max Keezer started the company by going into Harvard dorms in order to buy barely worn fine clothing from allowance-starved heirs. As well as renting out formalwear (they outfit the Boston Symphony Orchestra), the shop sells second-hand and end-of-the-line men's suits, sports coats, overcoats and casualwear, all in good or mint condition, and with at least 75% off. Since stock comes from Neiman's, Louis Boston and Saks, you may find Armani and Zegna among the labels.

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