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Harvard Yard Tour

Take a tour around the oldest university in the United States
Rating: 5 out of 5 by EveryTrail members
Difficulty: Easy
Length: 1.3 miles
Duration: Half day
Family Friendly

Overview:  Harvard University, founded in 1636, is the United States' oldest university. Over the years it has graduated some of the most... more »

Tips:  The best place to park for this guide is the parking garage underneath the Holyoke Center, which can be accessed from Holyoke Street; ... more »

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Points of Interest

1. Info Center

The events and information center is located on the ground floor arcade of the Holyoke Building, built in 1961. This is where you will want to start your tour. Feel free to grab any brochures that are available to learn more about the historical buildings you will be walking by on your tour. Some of the illustrated booklets may have a price.

... More

2. Lehman Hall & Dudley House

Dudley House is located within Lehman Hall. Lehman Hall is the adminstrative building for nonresident and off-campus students. Lehman and Dudley are referred to as one in the same.

Dudley House was named after Thomas Dudley (1576-1653), who was the second governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Dudley House was established in 1935 and now... More

3. Matthews Hall

Matthews Hall was built in 1872 as a gift from Nathan Matthews, who stipulated that half of the net income from the dormitory be given to aid students who needed help paying for tuition and board. This established 15 annual Matthews Scholarships, which have been used throughout the years to assist incoming Harvard students.

This dorm is believed ... More

4. Massachusetts Hall

Mass Hall is the oldest surviving building at Harvard and also the country's oldest dorm. The building, which was designed by two Harvard presidents (John Leverett and Benjamin Wadsworth), was built between 1718 and 1720.

Over the years it was used as a safe house for 640 American soldiers during the Seige of Boston and also as an informal... More

5. Straus Hall

This dormitory was built in 1926 by the three sons of Isidor and Ida Straus in memory of their parents, who were New York department store entreprenuers who died on the Titanic.

All the suites in the dorm have wood-burning fireplaces (look at the number of chimneys on the roof—it's same for many other dorms such as Wigglesworth, Lionel, Mower,... More

6. Harvard Hall—Three Times Is the Charm

The original Harvard Hall was constructed in Cambridge in 1642 and was known as Harvard College or Old College, but the building collapsed in the 1670s.

Harvard Hall was then built within Harvard Yard between 1672 and 1682 and lasted for nearly a century before a fire destroyed it in 1764 during a fierce storm known as a northeaster. The hall had... More

7. Hollis Hall

Hollis Hall was built in 1763 and is one of the oldest buildings at Harvard. Like Massachusetts Hall, it was used to house many of George Washington's soldiers during the Revolutionary War.

Hollis was home to some of Harvard's most famous alumni, including Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Wendell Phillips, Charles Francis Adams, John... More

8. Holden Chapel

Holden Chapel, built in 1744, is the third oldest building at Harvard University. It is nestled in the center of a group of freshman dormitories and is recognizable by its blue roof facade and small size.

The building was built after Mrs. Samuel Holden, widow of a former governor of the Bank of England, offered 400 pounds sterling for the... More

9. Stoughton Hall

The original Stoughton Hall was built in 1700 at a different location through funds from William Stoughton, the Massachusetts lieutenant governor who presided over the Salem witch trials. The original Stoughton Hall was constructed out of bricks from the Indian College building, which was abandoned in 1698 after it graduated just one Native... More

10. Holworthy Hall

Holworthy Hall was built in 1812 and named after Sir Matthew Holworthy, who gave 1,000 pounds to Harvard in 1678. It was the largest donation to Harvard at that time.

The dorm has a unique floor plan that connects double bedroom suites via a 10-foot-long hallway and shared bathroom. When the bathroom doors are open they create a "megasuite,"... More

11. Thayer Hall

Thayer Hall was built in 1870 and now houses freshman who share double and triple rooms. The dorm was originally a solution for students who had trouble affording housing outside the university.

Past residents of the hall include poet e.e. cummings, Steve Ballmer (Microsoft CEO), Arthur Schlesinger Jr. (Pulitzer Prize-winning author and advisor... More

12. Littauer Center of Public Administration

Built in 1939, this building was once the home of the Harvard Kennedy School. It now houses the government and economics departments as well as the graduate school of public administration.

Until 2007 the building also held the Littuaer Library but it has been relocated and replaced by the Fine Art Library on the first floor. The Fine Arts... More

13. Science Center

Built in 1973, this is where undergraduate science and mathematics are taught. The building was designed by Josep Lluis Sert, dean of the graduate school of design at the time, and financed by Edwin Land, who invented the camera. False rumors said the building was designed to resemble a Polaroid camera.

History of science, mathematics and... More

14. Memorial Hall

The architecture of Memorial Hall is, by far, the most amazing you will will see on this tour. The track purposefully goes around the entire building so you can really get a feel for how amazing this structure is.

The building was erected in honor of Harvard graduates who fought for the Union in the Civil War. Fundraising was conducted between... More


In this area you will find three distinct art museums— the Fogg Museum, the Busch-Reisinger Museum and the Arthur M. Sackler Museum—each with a particular focus.

The oldest museum, Fogg, opened in 1895 at the site of where Canaday Hall now stands. It was moved to its current location in 1927. The museum is known for its collection of paintings, ... More

16. Robinson Hall

Robinson Hall, completed in 1904 to house the Harvard architecture department, held the Harvard graduate school of design before the construction of Grund Hall in 1972. Now the building houses the history department.

17. Carpenter Center for Visual Arts

This building, built in 1962 by the famous architect Le Corbusier, was made possible by a $1.5 million donation from the Carpenter family.

The building houses the environmental studies department as well as the Harvard Film Archive, which is the largest collection of 35mm film in New England. It screens films on a regular basis.

The building's ... More

In 1931 Harvard President Abbot Lawrence and Dean of Faculty Clifford Herschel Moore created this facility on the site of the former home of William and Henry James. It served as a meeting place for male faculty members complete with food, drinks and beds. Long tables, meant only for distinguished faculty, were a main feature of the dining rooms... More

19. Dana Palmer and Warren House

The Dana Palmer House, built in 1822, is a small white house nestled between much larger campus buildings. It is being remodeled for office space.

The Warren House, built in 1833 for Harvard Latin professor Charles Beck and owned by Henry Clarke Warren, a Sanskrit scholar, is a Greek Revival home nestled between much larger academic buildings.... More

20. Mahindra Humanities Center

Formerly known as the Freshman Union, the Harvard Union and the Barker Center, what is now the Mahindra Humanities Center still serves as a social center of sorts.

It was built in 1900 by McKim, Mead & White through a gift by Henry Lee Higginson to provide a social space for students not associated with the exclusive Final Clubs made famous... More

21. Lamont Library

This building was the first university library in the United States. Through funding from Thomas W. Lamont at the end of World War II, the undergraduate library was completed in 1949.

As the library collection grew and space became limited, much of the collection was transferred to other libraries on campus, specifically to the much larger... More

22. Houghton and Pusey Libraries

The Houghton Library opened in 1942, making Harvard the first American university to construct a separate research facility to house delicate rare books and manuscripts. This air-conditioned building has controlled temperature and humidity to help preserve the collections.

Upon opening the library won many architectural awards for its innovative ... More

23. President's House (Loeb House)

The Loeb House, built in 1912, was donated to Harvard by then Harvard President A. Lawrence Lowell. During World War II, Harvard President James Bryant Conant let the U.S. Navy use the house as a virtual ship for its V-12 college training program.

The building served as the primary residence for Harvard presidents until 1971, when President Derek... More

24. Emerson Hall

Emerson Hall, built in 1905 and named after Ralph Waldo Emerson, is home to the philosphophy department. Make sure to read the philosophical inscription over the entrance to the building. This is where William James, the famous philosopher, taught while at Harvard. The building was designed by the famous architect Guy Lowell, who also designed the... More

25. Widener Library

This is the largest library at the university. In memory of her son, Harry, who died on the Titanic in 1912, Eleanor Elkins Widener donated $3.5 million for the creation of the library, which opened in 1915.

Widener holds more than 5.7 million volumes on more than 50 miles of shelves. By the 1930s the library found itself filled to capacity,... More

Harvard Yard is about 25 acres and holds some of the most historic Harvard University buildings. It contains 13 of Harvard's 17 freshman dorms, four libraries, five classroom buildings, central administration offices and several academic departments.

The western third of the Yard near the Johnston Gate onto Massachusetts Avevnue is called the Old... More

27. Sever Hall

Sever Hall, built between 1878 and 1880 and designed by H.H. Richardson (who also designed the Trinity Church in Copley Square), is used mostly for general purpose small classrooms and larger lecture halls. The building was constructed with about 1.3 million red bricks and is known for the elaborate carvings in the brick.

The exterior facades... More

28. Memorial Church

Harvard has a long history of building churches and chapels. Having quickly outgrown Holden Chapel, the university built a chapel inside Harvard Hall in 1766. That chapel was quickly outgrown (and Harvard Hall was needed for other uses), so a chapel was built in University Hall in 1814.

Appleton Chapel was built in 1858 thanks to a large donation... More

29. Weld Hall

Weld Hall, built in 1870 as a gift from William Fletcher Weld in memory of his brother Stephen Minot Weld, is a freshman dorm that holds 53 suites of double and single rooms. The dorm is known for its two towers with clerestory windows and has been home to famous people such as President John F. Kennedy, author Michael Chrichton, economist Daniel ... More

30. Boylston Hall

Boylston Hall, Harvard's first scientific building, was designed by Schultze and Schoen and built in 1858 for $50,000. In 1871 it was remodelled to add the top two floors. Originally chemistry was taught on the top floor. Chemistry lectures moved to the basement after a professor accidentally let molten iron escape from a crucible, which burned... More

31. Wigglesworth Hall

Wigglesworth, the second largest freshman dorm, was built in 1931. Harvard President Lowell wanted to shield Harvard Yard from the traffic of Massachusetss Avenue, so this dorm was built as three buildings, which almost look like three disconnected walls of chimneys.

The dorm is so close to Mass Ave and the trains that go by that the walls are... More

32. Grays Hall

Grays Hall opened its doors to freshman students in 1863, becoming the first building in Harvard Yard to have water taps in the basement and thus giving it the nickname "Harvard Hilton."

Today the dorm is still considered the most luxurious freshman dorm on the Yard with large common rooms and other expensive amenities. The dorm also has a room... More

33. University Hall & John Harvard Statue

University Hall, designed by Bulfinch and built in 1815, contained the Commons Dining Room until 1849. It is built out of white granite cut at the Charlestown Prison, making it Harvard's first stone building.

The building originally held the dining room, a library and a chapel but over the years all have been repartitioned into classrooms. It... More