The Boston Public Library in Massachusetts, USA.

Boston Public Library

Top choice in Back Bay

Founded in 1852, the esteemed Boston Public Library lends credence to Boston’s reputation as the 'Athens of America.' The old McKim building is notable for its magnificent facade and exquisite interior art. Pick up a free brochure and take a self-guided tour; alternatively, free guided tours depart from the entrance hall (times vary; see the website for the current schedule).

This original BPL building, inspired by Italian Renaissance palazzi, features Daniel Chester French’s enormous bronze doorways, flanked by iron gates and lanterns. From there a marble staircase leads past Pierre Puvis de Chavannes’ inspirational murals. The staircase terminates at the splendid Bates Hall Reading Room, where even the most mundane musings are elevated by the barrel-vaulted, 50ft coffered ceilings. Nearby, the Abbey Room is named for the painter of the 1895 murals that recount Sir Galahad’s quest for the Holy Grail. The 3rd floor features John Singer Sargent’s unfinished Judaic and Christian murals, which were criticized for anti-Semitic messages.