Offbeat Harvard Square

Harvard Square is overflowing with cafes, bookstores, record shops and street musicians. Although many Cantabrigians rightly complain that the area has lost its edge, Harvard Square still has a thriving counterculture, if you know where to look. This route takes in some of the square's offbeat spots, both old and new.

Raven Used Books

Beloved by scholars, dilettantes and anyone who likes to browse, this used-bookshop is a trove of nonfiction treasures, especially on history, art and culture. Pop in for a quick look, but don't be surprised when you're still there an hour later.

Club Passim

Back in the day, Club 47 hosted the likes of Joan Baez, Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell on its storied stage. Now known as Club Passim, the basement joint still hosts top folk music acts.

Brattle Square

Close to the historic Brattle Theatre, this intersection is a main stage for street performers. Tracy Chapman played here in the 1980s and Amanda Palmer busked as a living statue in the 1990s. Puppeteer Igor Fokin performed here until his unexpected death in 1996. Look for the tiny memorial sculpture erected to honor him – and by extension, all street performers.

The Garage

You can feel the grit at this parking garage turned mini-mall. Some of the shops change frequently but a few long-standing institutions – especially Newbury Comics and Chameleon Tattoo & Body Piercing – attract a steady stream of goths, punks and other loyal shoppers.

The Pit

In the center of Harvard Square, Out of Town News has been selling newspapers and magazines from around the world since 1955. The sunken area nearby, aka 'the Pit,' is a popular spot for street artists, skateboarders and counterculture youth to congregate.

Smith Campus Center

The plaza in front of the Smith Campus Center has hosted an ongoing chess tournament for 30 years and counting – look for the 'Play the Chessmaster' sign. It's also a top spot to take in the buskers, beggars and other Harvard Square goings-on.

Harvard Bookstore

The Harvard Bookstore is not just a bookstore, but a reading community. Come in to browse the stacks and check out discounted 'seconds' in the basement. Next door, Grolier Poetry Bookshop is a one of the country's most esteemed poetry bookstores, having hosted many famous poets since its founding in 1927.

Café Pamplona

For sustenance, make your way to this atmospheric Spanish-style cafe in a cozy backstreet cellar, which has been serving coffee and tea to Cantabrigian bohemians since 1959.

Key Features

  • Bohemian hangouts
  • Intellectual life

Getting There

Metro Take the red line to Harvard station for Harvard Square.