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Harvard Square Guide: 4 Tourist Stops You CANNOT Miss

There are many reasons to visit Harvard Square, Harvard being the least of them. Sure, the buildings are pretty and whatnot, but I barely notice them as I’m trudging through a snowdrift and anticipating frostbitten toes. (Shoulda worn my Uggs.)

If you’re visiting Harvard Square in the summer – prime tourist season – skip the boring tourist tours and take my patently far more awesome tour.

Guide to Harvard Square

Other Tourists

John Harvard's desecrated foot

Hey tourists, have you ever thought about sightseeing the other tourists? Because I can promise you, they’re infinitely more entertaining than any rando not-actually-a-student Harvard summer school student. See tourists through local eyes by noting how large and homogenous tour groups are – all old people! Haha! All Korean teenagers! Haha!

Maximize your tourist-watching joy by sitting on the steps of University Hall, the backdrop of the John Harvard statue. Watch tourists grope and grasp John Harvard’s foot with glee. Laugh inside, or openly – thousands upon thousands of students have urinated on that thing. I know this, and have seen this, as a fact. But that shouldn’t keep you from indulging your own tourist whims, after all, urine is sterile! Isn’t that comforting?

The Homeless

Real panhandler, circa 2007 when I was there for pre-frosh weekend.

So I might get flack for being insensitive and all that, but panhandlers are part of what make Harvard Square well, Harvard Square. If the homeless have a religion, then the Square is their mecca, their promised land, their Willy Wonka Candy Factory.

Bazillions of naive tourists = ka-ching!

I haven’t seen a lot of turnover in three years since I’ve been here – there are the same characters day after day, working the same areas with well-worn schtick.

See if you can spot: the guy who wants beer money; the war vet in a wheelchair; the long haired dude with a cheek growth who will stop you on the street; and the guy who plaintively calls “Will you please help me?” when it is dead quiet. The most famous is the Spare Change man who stands outside of Au Bon Pain and solicits you in a charming sing song to buy his papers. He was in Good Will Hunting. Sources tell me that he’ll befriend you if you’re a repeat customer.

Feel free to drop a bill if you must, but if you want to make sure your money goes to its intended purpose, I’d encourage you to check out the Harvard Square Homeless Shelter. Run by Harvard students, it does great work with an incredibly dedicated team of volunteers. If you’re a business, consider donating money or leftover food to a very worthy and well-run cause.

Au Bon Pain

PSA over, some of my quirkiest – if not fondest – memories were sitting in the back corner, near the bathroom, in the big Harvard Square Au Bon Pain by the T stop. If you drop by here late at night – around 9pm-midnight – this is a prime hangout spot for Cambridge’s less well-adjusted. If you want to feel somewhat unsafe, and occasionally heckled, or just observe the human condition, this is it. Your other option would be an elitist, all-male Harvard final club, but you can’t get into those as a tourist, and they aren’t really open during the summer, anyway. Ha. I’m so clever.

The Charles River

The Charles River

Only worth seeing if the weather’s nice, otherwise Boston might look a little depressing. Worthy stop: the bridge where Matt Di Pasquale ’08 dropped trou for an Ivy League nudie mag (NSFW) photoshoot. Just please don’t blame me if you’re arrested for deciding to follow suit and unsuit.


8 Responses to “Harvard Square Guide: 4 Tourist Stops You CANNOT Miss”

  1. I’m glad I decided to catch up on the SE archives that I’ve missed in the last few weeks. Cause I wouldn’t have seen your intern Meat & Eat. Which would mean I probably wouldn’t have ever found your awesome blog.

    Anyway, any food recommendations? (I mean, ABP can’t really count, esp since you can get that at many non-Harvard Sq locations)

    Posted by wunami | July 10, 2010, 8:10 pm
  2. I’m going to do a post in the future with Harvard Square food recs! So keep an eye out of for that – it’ll be up in the following week. Or maybe tomorrow, since I have time.

    Posted by Lingbo Li | July 10, 2010, 10:06 pm
  3. Oi i think its funny to see that picture.. yes i am the pan handler with the lawn gnomes sign.. i was a squater out there “homeless” but for the past 3 years been working for the middle east in cambridge as well as working demolition.. just wanted to say i love the pick an brings back memories..

    Posted by Chaser | June 5, 2011, 10:39 pm
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Lana Lingbo Li

I'm a world traveler / enthusiastic eater who's now blogging and producing videos over at HelloLana.com. Visit me there!

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