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A Local’s Guide to Visiting Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts

August 16, 2023
Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts

Whether you consider yourself to be an armchair Egyptologist or simply enjoy gazing at dreamy Impressionist landscapes, you’re sure to find an exhibit that interests you at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts (MFA). One of the largest museums in the U.S., it’s home to about 500,000 works of art, spanning more than 100 galleries, and regularly attracts more than a million visitors.

The history of the MFA

Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts

The MFA got its start in 1870, on the top floor of the Boston Athenaeum on Beacon Hill. It soon moved into its first building on Copley Square, opening its doors on July 4, 1876, as part of the nation’s centennial celebration. At that time, it contained only 5,600 works of art. 

The museum continued to grow, however, so in 1906, it revealed plans for a new, permanent home on the city’s outskirts. Designed by local architect Guy Lowell, the gleaming Beaux Arts building began welcoming visitors in 1909. New galleries, visitor facilities and other spaces like labs have been added over the past century, expanding its footprint to an impressive 221,000 square feet.

Fun fact: That makes it the fifth-largest art museum in the country!

In early 2023, renovations were completed on several Asian art rooms, and in 2021, new galleries were added for Dutch and Flemish art, as well as for treasures from ancient Greece, Rome, and the Byzantine Empire.

What to see at the MFA

Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts

The MFA strives to tell the complex story of the human experience over time and across cultures, so we can all gain a better understanding of the world around us. Its permanent exhibitions allow you to journey from the Giza plateau of ancient Egypt to the Acropolis of ancient Greece to 17th-century Dutch ports.

Along the way, you can appreciate 35 impressionist masterpieces by Claude Monet — the largest collection outside of France — as well as the world’s most comprehensive collection of work by John Singer Sargent. Other fascinating highlights include:

  • Over 1,000 works of Korean art, with some dating back to the 11th century
  • 1,200 musical instruments
  • 7,500 antique coins

A contemporary exhibit, “Stories Artists Tell: Art of the Americas, the 20th Century,” focuses each room on a different theme, from Native American perspectives on the Southwest U.S. to the intersection of art and jazz. There’s also a special exhibit called “Tender Loving Care,” which runs through July 28, 2025, and showcases 100 works that explore acts of care.

To enhance your viewing experience, download the MFA Mobile app from Apple’s App Store or Google Play, and bring headphones or earbuds with you.

Where to shop and eat at the MFA

Boston Chandelier

The Signature Shop, located right at the Huntington Avenue Entrance across from the ticket desks, is your best bet for finding a unique souvenir or thoughtful gift. If you’re a book lover, you can browse thousands of titles at the impressive Linde Family Wing Bookstore in the Druker Family Pavilion. There’s also a small shop for the Gund Gallery exhibitions in the Art of the Americas Wing.

As for refreshments, if you’re looking for a quick pick-me-up between galleries, head to Taste, a coffee and wine bar that also serves a variety of sweet and savory desserts. For kid-friendly fare like pizza, hamburgers and sandwiches, head to the garden cafeteria. During warmer months, you can eat outside in the courtyard. 

For a more leisurely dining experience, the New American Café in the Ruth and Carl J. Shapiro Family Courtyard offers a wide selection of creative North and South American dishes, along with wines and craft beers. 

Planning your visit to the MFA: Answers to your questions

Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts

Where is the MFA located?

The MFA sits on Huntington Avenue in Boston’s Fenway-Kenmore neighborhood, along with multiple universities, Symphony Hall, and of course, Fenway Park. 

At the heart of the neighborhood is Back Bay Fens, the oldest of the nine parks that make up the Emerald Necklace — a chain of over 1,000 greenways and waterways designed by Frederick Law Olmstead. 

It’s worth taking a stroll to appreciate both the history and the natural beauty of this popular spot. 

Local tip: If you happen to be in Boston during the month of June, be sure to stop by the Kelleher Rose Garden to see more than 200 varieties of roses in bloom.

Can I take public transportation to the MFA?

If you don’t want to worry about navigating Boston traffic or paying for parking, take the Green Line E train to the Museum of Fine Arts stop or the Orange Line train to the Ruggles stop and then walk about 10 minutes. 

However, if you’ll be driving, there are three parking lots near the museum with entrances on Museum Road. The daytime rates run $12-$36 for non-members and $8-$24 for members.

How do I get tickets to the MFA?

Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts

You can buy tickets online or in person at the museum. Adult general admission tickets are $27, and tickets for children ages 7-17 are $10 — it’s free for children up to 6. To view a special exhibition, you need to purchase a timed-entry ticket, meaning you’ll need to enter the gallery within your 30-minute time slot. However, it also gives you access to the rest of the museum. 

Looking to save some cash? If you’re a Massachusetts resident, you can visit for free on these four holidays each year: Memorial Day, Juneteenth, Indigenous Peoples’ Day, Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

Are there tours of the MFA Boston?

Yes, they do sometimes have guided tours as well as other hands-on activities. Be sure to check out the calendar to see what’s offered on the day of your visit.

How much time should I spend at the MFA?

Most visitors spend about 2-3 hours in the museum. I recommend downloading a map and planning out your “must-sees” in advance. 

You should also check and see if there are any gallery closures. If you need a break, head outside to the Calderwood Courtyard, which is open seasonally, or take a seat under the soaring glass ceilings of the Shapiro Family Courtyard and gaze up at the Chihuly sculpture “Lime Green Icicle Tower” (which looks exactly like its name!).

You can enter up to 30 minutes before the museum closes.  

Things to do near MFA Boston

Fenway Park Boston

With its prime location in Boston’s Fenway-Kenmore neighborhood, there are a few notable attractions nearby you can add on to your museum visit.

Less than a 10-minute walk from the MFA is another beloved Boston institution, the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. Built to resemble a 15th-century Venetian palace, the museum features an eclectic collection of art, decorations, furniture, and textiles gathered by Isabella herself during her travels around the globe in the late 1800s. 

You can also take a tour of Fenway Park, the oldest ballpark in Major League Baseball, or catch a game if the Red Sox are in town.

Boston’s MFA is not to be missed

Boston Common

A visit to the MFA should definitely be at the top of your Boston bucket list, especially if you love art. 

If you’re looking for some time in the sun after spending a few hours indoors at the museum, head over to Boston Common, the oldest public park in the U.S. Here are the 11 things you must do at Boston Common when you go.