Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts is truely a premier museum of art, featuring global and timeless collections, from Egyptian statues and tombs, to fine Benin Kingdom sculptures, to European masters like Renoir, and modern legends like Van Gogh and Picasso.
The Museum’s diverse, extensive, and eclectic artwork is presented inside a magnificent, stone palatial building on Huntington Avenue. Here, the Museum of Fine Arts not only curates and cares for the works, but through their many programs, tours, and activities, they help people of all ages understand, engage, and create art.
Check out our helpful guide for visiting Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts (MFA), packed full of ways to save on admission, tips for visiting, other nearby attractions, and much more.
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Tips for Visiting the Museum of Fine Arts
Before visiting the Museum of Fine Arts, look through the list of activities and tours, all free with admission. The tours can be as general as “Highlights of the Museum,” to tours that focus on a single tradition like “Art of the Ancient World,” to something even more specific like “Gaugain’s Lush Colors and Island Landscapes.” Each tours is led by friendly and wildly knowledgeable guides. Activities are a great way to get closer to the art and its creation.
The Artist Toolbox Cart series, for example, gives you the great opportunity of handling artists’ tools and view the results of their use on step-by-step demonstration pieces. Even more exciting, every Wednesday, there’s a free opportunity to sketch live models, and/or objects in the Museum of Fine Arts collection. A drawing instructor there will provide insights on technique and artist-model relationships.
If you want to go off on your own, but still enjoy the depth and auditory nature of a guide, you can rent the MFA Guide audio tour for six dollars for adults, and four dollars for kids seventeen and under. The Museum of Fine Arts offers these tours in English, German, Italian, French, Spanish, Russian, Chinese, and Japanese languages.
Additionally, Museum of Fine Arts accommodates visitors who are blind, low vision, deaf, or hard of hearing, with a free mobile MFA Guide, providing touch screens with a reading option, text transcripts, neckloops for hearing aids with T-switches as well as headsets. Furthermore, the Museum of Fine Arts supplies ASL videos for many starred stops, and its own mini tour as well.
If you read every word in an art museum, you’re apt to spend more time reading blurbs from gray plaques than actually experiencing art. On the other hand, according to a study conducted by the Louvre, the museum attendee spends a mere 15 seconds on the Mona Lisa on average. That’s right, a five-Mississippi on da Vinci’s masterpiece.
The tip for solving this “study versus breeze by” paradox is this: begin each gallery at the large plaque that reads, “In this gallery…” It’s not always by the opening you enter through, given the wandering nature of the halls, rooms, and side-rooms. It is, however, always worth it.
The Museum of Fine Arts does an excellent job at providing just enough context, whether political, historical, or rooted in an artistic trend, without ever imposing a rigid structure on the collection. Then, as you walk through the room, you can’t help but note an inherent logic that threads the pieces of art together, putting them in conversation with each other, and importantly, with you.
If you read the gallery plaques, you’ll find yourself noting the story element of the priest in the background of Steen’s “The Sacrifice of Iphigenia,” for instance. While you may not find yourself drawn to every piece, you’ll likely spend quality time with the ones that do, making for a much more meaningful experience of art.
Avoid the stern, yet fair admonishment of the museum staff by ensuring your camera’s flash is not on. Luckily, you can take non-flash pictures throughout the museum.
If you’re the artistic type, don’t forget to bring your sketchpad or drawing board (no bigger than 18” by 24”) and your pencils. Charcoal, watercolors, crayons, and pastels are not allowed. With its abundance of styles, from Japanese ink strokes to ornate Iranian design, there are endless hours of learning and emulating to do within the halls.
If Boston is in the throes of the notoriously harsh winter, don’t be afraid to bundle up in a bulky, warm jacket. The museum offers a complimentary coat and bag check service.
If you’re bringing children, view the available kids’ programs and activities. Schedule your visit around one of the MFA playdates, or let the MFA Kids’ Tour’s group of animated characters help bring art to life. You can also download the Art Connections activity cards to give the visit a game component. Furthermore, the Museum of Fine Arts has kid-friendly meal options in their Garden Cafeteria, baby-changing stations in bathrooms, and an area designated for nursing.
Best Times to Visit
Weekday afternoons, and evenings (open until 9:30 on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday) will give you the most space and quiet to enjoy the museum.
What to See
There are so many collections and exhibitions (always adding new ones) that we couldn’t do the MFA justice by listing them all. Instead, below is just a taste of some of the things we recommend you take some time to see during your visit.
John Singer Sargent
Thanks to Sargent’s ties to Boston, where he received his first solo show and multiple commissions, there is a uniquely extensive collection of his work that provides a sense of his artwork as a whole.
In the atrium, you can see his preliminary sketches, and then look up and see their realized paintings and friezes on the domed ceiling.
Furthermore, his large collection in the Art of the Americas is highlighted by “The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit,” and framed by the tall and elegant vases featured in the painting.
Kingdom of Benin
Recently, the Museum of Fine Arts accepted 34 pieces of rare West African works of art. Like the long-standing Egyptian collection, these pieces allow the Museum of Fine Arts and the viewer to reconstruct the characteristics of their civilization, and imagine the use of their recovered everyday objects and the meaning of palace artwork in their culture.
These intricately detailed, expertly carved wooden statues and high relief plaques not only reflect their way of life, they demonstrate the civilizations sophisticated artistic style.
Art of Europe
The Art of Europe is the largest collection in the Museum of Fine Arts, likely taking an entire day and you still won’t have really seen it.
The collection works its way through 14th and 15th century iconography, the Italian Renaissance, to the rococo of the 18th century, through the Flemish masters, to French Impressionism, and arrives at modernity, as depicted by Munch, Picasso and Gauguin. Simply walking through the collection will give you a sense of the arc of European history as a whole.
- James P. Kelleher Rose Garden might be the perfect place to see art outside the walls of the museum. A five minute stroll will take you from the Museum of Fine Arts into the Back Bay Fen where a profusion of petaled blossoms, white, red and pink, circle around a fountain, tumble off a trellis, or float suspended from an archway.
- Round out the day’s cultural experience with a trip to the sports icon–Fenway Park, home of the Green Monster. Even if the Socks aren’t playing, you can sign up for a one hour walking tour of Fenway. Just don’t call it a stadium. Even the security guards will correct you: “You mean the ballpahk?”
- The Boston Symphony Orchestra is world renowned, and the hall’s interior is stunning. You may forget which century you’re in. Now in 132 season, The Boston Symphony Orchestra performs excellent shows of a variety of styles.
Places to Eat Nearby
- The Museum of Fine Arts offers multiple dining options. Bravo’s couples a dark and classy ambience with a excellent cuisine for a sophisticated experience. The New American Cafe puts you in the center of the museum’s excitement and grandeur of the vast Shapiro Courtyard, while delivering amazing seasonal dishes. Fittingly located near the contemporary art, The Taste Cafe and Wine Bar features fine coffee, as well as a bite to eat– sandwiches, salads, desserts and gelato. Last but not least, The Garden Cafeteria, satisfies your favorites. It’s the perfect place for families to get burgers, pizza, sandwiches and more.
- In walking distance of the Museum of Fine Arts, El Pelon Taqueria cooks up delicious Mexican favorites. Their fresh guacamole is a must try.
- Less than a mile away, the highly-esteemed Island Creek Oyster Bar upholds the tradition of excellent Boston seafood, with mid-atlantic tilefish, grilled Maine salmon, lobster, and land-based dishes like New York strip steak, and roasted chicken that’s just as good.
- Re-living the collegiate experience? Or just plain living it? Boston students flock to Chicken Joe’s Inc. for cheap, but tasty subs and sandwiches.
Need to Know
- Saturday-Tuesday, 10:00 am-4:45 pm
- Wednesday-Friday, 10:00am-9:45pm
- Closings: New Year’s Day, Patriot’s Day, July 4th, Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day
- All holiday hours are subject to change without notice.
Directions & Address
465 Huntington Avenue
Boston, MA 02115
Public Transportation: Take the T: Green Line E train to Museum of Fine Arts stop. Orange Line to Ruggles Street stop.
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