Best art museums in Boston: discovering the city's artistic wonders

Get to the heart of Boston’s art scene with this guide to the best art museums and galleries in the city, from famous art institutions to off-grid galleries.

Boston is renowned for its rich culture and history, with some of the best art museums in New England to discover. You're never far from a masterpiece in Boston, with boutique galleries standing alongside world-famous museums boasting vast collections. With museums and exhibitions housing works from some of the most eminent sculptures and painters on the planet, you can pack plenty into even a short stay in the city.

There are plenty of hidden gems in Chicago for art fans too. Head to cultural districts like SoWa near East Brookline if you're looking to find works from emerging artists. For more traditional works, the Back Bay area has several galleries that have been around for more than a century. If you’re visiting Boston with kids, the Childrens Museum has plenty for little art lovers too. This guide wraps up the best art museums and galleries in Boston to make your trip planning a breeze.

Best art museums and galleries in Boston

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1. Discover one of America's best diverse art collections at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum

This is one of the finest art collections in the United States. American art collector Isabella Stewart Gardner spent decades curating the pieces you can see on show here today. The collection was so coveted that it became the target of the largest art heist in history 1990, the empty spaces where the stolen art once hung still visible in the gallery.

Highlights:

The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum is a work of art in its own right. The original building was inspired by Renaissance-era Venetian architecture, with an interior courtyard showcasing centuries-old sculptures along with majestic horticultural displays.

Address and opening hours:

25 Evans Way, Boston. Open Wednesday-Monday. Times vary. Closed Tuesdays

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2. Explore exhibits from across the world at the Harvard Art Museums

With more than 250,000 objects on permanent display, even the most discerning art lover will find something to enjoy here. Artworks are split between the Fogg Museum, the Arthur M. Sackler Museum, and the Busch-Reisinger Museum.

Highlights:

The Harvard Art Museums boast one of the most eclectic collections anywhere in the United States, with pieces from classical antiquity, Renaissance art, and contemporary art.

Address and opening hours:

Cambridge, MA. Open daily, 10:00 AM-5:00 PM.

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3. Head to Harvard Square for boutique galleries and collections from independent artists

This lively cultural hub of Cambridge, Massachusetts, is an iconic landmark that's been used as a location in many films and television shows.

Highlights:

If you're looking for art museums, Harvard Square offers plenty of rich pickings. There's the Ethelbert Cooper Gallery, the Cambridge Artists Cooperative, September Gray Fine Art Gallery, and more.

Address and opening hours:

Brattle St, Cambridge. Open daily. Times vary.

4. Immerse yourself in experimental art at Lighthouse ArtSpace

Searching for family-friendly art museums in Boston? This sprawling entertainment multi-plex has interactive exhibits celebrating everything from motion picture favorites to the works of some of the most iconic artists.

Highlights:

The Lighthouse ArtSpace Boston is one of the more unique art museums in the city, with rotating exhibits and exciting installations like its Immersive Disney Animation experience in 2023.

Address and opening hours:

130 Columbus Ave, Boston. Open Wednesday-Monday. Hours vary. Closed Tuesdays.

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5. Explore works from emerging artists at the MIT List Visual Arts Center

Boston celebrates the emerging artistic talent of tomorrow. MIT's design museum is one of the best in the country, offering visitors the chance to broaden their minds.

Highlights:

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology has its own dedicated arts faculty, with the MIT List Visual Arts Center offering an impressive range of public art collections and permanent exhibitions.

Address and opening hours:

20 Ames St, Cambridge,. Open daily, 10:00 AM-5:00 PM.

6. Marvel at works from the masters at the Institute of Contemporary Arts

This eye-catching building is located in the city's Seaport District, offering breathtaking waterfront views. Once you've finished exploring the inside of the museum, take a moment to see the sun setting over Boston Harbor.

Highlights:

The Institute of Contemporary Art was opened in 2006 and quickly established itself as one of the finest contemporary art venues in the world. Inside, you'll find works of newly-discovered talent, and pieces from modern-day masters, including Cornelia Parker, Mona Hatoum, and Christian Jankowski.

Address and opening hours:

25 Harbor Shore Dr, Boston. Open daily, Times vary.

Alternative arts museums in Boston

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8. Head to the historic Boch Center Wang Theater for live performances

Tucked away in the Boston Theater District, this live performing arts venue hosts a packed schedule of comedy, drama, and music events.

Highlights:

A Boch Center Wang Theater behind-the-scenes guided tour, allows you to discover the history of this venue and get up close to the exhibits.

Address and opening hours:

270 Tremont St, Boston. Open daily, 12:00 PM-6:00 PM.

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9. Keep little ones entertained with a visit to Boston's Children Museum

This popular museum on Children's Wharf has a rich range of interactive exhibits curated to stimulate young minds. Kids can learn, ask questions, and even roll their sleeves up to take part in creative activities during their visit.

Highlights:

Established in 1913, the Boston Children's Museum houses an incredible selection of permanent exhibits. Visitors can create their own masterpieces at the Art Studio, learn more about the natural world, and brave a three-story climbing challenge.

Address and opening hours:

308 Congress St, Boston. Open daily, 9:00 AM-4:30 PM.

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10. See how Boston teens are shaping the art scene at AFH

Artists for Humanity started in 2004 to address the lack of arts and entrepreneurial experiences for Boston’s teenagers. It encourages young people to create and thrive in the visual arts and creative industries, and prepares them for success.

Highlights:

AFH regularly hosts tours and open events to see the work on display and tour the impressive and important space.

Address and opening hours:

100 W 2nd St, Boston. Tours and event times vary, check the AFH website for details.

FAQs

Are there any free-entry days for art museums in Boston?

Many art galleries in Boston offer free-entry days. The Art Complex Museum offers free admission every day. Meanwhile, the Institute of Contemporary Art is free on Thursdays during evening hours. Students and children aged under 17 can also access Harvard Museum for free on Saturdays.

What are some unique and lesser-known art museums worth visiting in Boston?

There are plenty of hidden gems to discover in Boston. Located on Newbury Street, the Vose Galleries have displayed works from some of the greatest artists of all time. Today, this art museum is known for its permanent collection of American realist paintings. If you're thinking about investing in a piece yourself, the Praise Shadows Art Gallery in Brookline is also worth a visit.

Which art museums in Boston have works by famous artists?

The Museum of Fine Arts contains iconic pieces from renowned artists, including Jean-Francois Millet, John Singer Sargent, and Vincent van Gogh. Meanwhile, you'll find works from the likes of George Braque, Edvard Munch, and Oskar Kokoschka at the Institute of Contemporary Art.

Are the art museums in Boston wheelchair accessible?

Almost all of the major art museums in Boston are wheelchair accessible. Most major establishments are suitable for people with walkers, mobility scooters, and wheelchairs. What's more, many venues, like the Museum of Fine Arts, provide free admission for personal care attendants.

Are there any art museums in Boston that are suitable for children and families?

There are plenty of kid-friendly art museums in the city. The Boston Children's Museum is designed with younger visitors in mind. Meanwhile, venues like the Institute of Contemporary Art and the Museum of Fine Arts boast plenty of works that younger art fans will love. A Hop-on Hop-off Old Town Trolley Tour is a fun way to get around them too.