Culture + Style

Literally a Smart Vacation: Explore Literary Boston

Spend time admiring the remarkable collection at Boston’s Athenæm. (Photo: Lovely)

Hotels, theaters, churches: it seems every building in Boston has a rich history, and many claim a storied literary past, as well. Home to acclaimed writers Nathaniel Hawthorne, Louisa May Alcott and Henry David Thoreau, the city offers bibliophiles a varied selection of libraries, bookstores, and literary hot spots to peruse and get their academic fix.

Stacks and Skins

Declared a national Historic Landmark, the Boston Public Library’s McKim building is a spectacular example of classical Beaux Arts architecture. Head to the second floor to marvel at the barrel-arched ceiling and oak bookcases of Bates Hall, and make sure to see the stunning murals that line the walls in The Chavannes Gallery and The Abbey Room. Free tours of the McKim are offered each day, and private tours can be arranged, too.

Boston public library
Boston Public Library (Photo: Alamy)

If you’re a literature nerd, the Boston Athenæum is apt to be at the top of your list of things to do in Boston. Spend time admiring the remarkable fine art collection at the Athenæm; even the “anthropodermic bibliopegy,” which are books bound with human skin, are also worth seeing. The library houses a memoir of infamous highwayman James Allen, which is made from his flesh, a macabre practice frequently used in the 19th century when collecting and cataloguing the offenses of criminals.

Physics to Poetry

Bookstores abound in Boston. The brilliant MIT Press Bookstore isn’t just for students. Browse the meticulously organized selection of books that are perfect for the tech- or science-minded reader. If Wordsworth and Keats are more your style, pop over to Harvard Square and visit Grolier Poetry Shop, the country’s oldest continuously operated poetry shop, which has been visited by such luminaries as e. e. cummings, Mary Oliver and T. S. Eliot.

Grolier
Grolier Poetry Book Shop (Photo: Irena Ronan/Elizabeth Doran)

To find gifts or souvenirs, check out Black Ink in Beacon Hill. Shop the constantly changing inventory of quirky gifts for readers and writers, such as rubber stamps, funky paperclips and artistic papers. For most literature lovers, a successful day ends when they are weighed down with books and return to their Boston hotels for a quiet night.

Walk in their Footsteps

If reading the words of the giants of American literature leaves you wanting more, then try Boston By Foot’s Literary Landmark Tour. Stroll past the downtown homes and gathering places of Victorian authors Charles Dickens and Ralph Waldo Emerson, and check out the Parker House, the meeting place of the famed Saturday Club, which included Emerson, Hawthorne, and Longfellow.