25 Surreal Places in Boston You Won’t Believe Really Exist
The enchantment is so real
Sure, Boston is home to the Red Sox — and storied Fenway Park, which is the oldest ballpark in Major League Baseball.
This might be a surreal experience time and again to some sports fans. But, the city boasts a whole roster of slightly more under-the-radar home runs.
This list of 25 unbelievable finds might just leave you amazed by their history, awestruck by their beauty, and maybe even a little shocked, too.
Where: 115 College Ave., Somerville
Like walking through a kaleidoscope, this museum (and home of Russian artists Nicholas Shaplyko and Ekaterina Sorokina) is a colorful homage to art as the song of beauty about the human body, soul, and creativity — a modern ode to the Italian Renaissance. Vibrant murals and individual works featuring celestial objects, mystical beings, flora and fauna, and more cover nearly every square inch. Fun fact: The building was originally the site of the West Somerville Unitarian Church, and apparently where Paramahansa Yogananda first introduced the philosophy of yoga to the United States in 1920.
All Saints Way
Where: Battery Street (North End)
This street-side folk-shrine is a veritable collage of saints and hails from Peter Baldassari, a Bostonian who has been collecting photos, statues, prayer cards, and other saintly trinkets for years. It’s in a private alley, but you can still glimpse much of the holy display from the sidewalk — that is, if Peter isn’t there to show you around; he’s been known to give personal tours.
Where: Mary Baker Eddy Library, 200 Massachusetts Ave.
See the world in a whole new way at this three-story, stained-glass globe — a three-dimensional perspective of the world that dates back to 1935, yet now enhanced by LED lights and a rich orchestration of words and music.
Where: 25 Evans Way
You may first notice the surreally beautiful courtyard of this museum, built to resemble a Renaissance-era Venetian palace. But, what’s also pretty unbelievable is its history. Its namesake, Isabella Stewart Gardner, was called “one of the seven wonders of Boston” and a” millionaire Bohemienne.” Traveling the world in the late 19th century, she eventually amassed a significant private art collection — so significant, it was the scene of one of the world’s most famous art heists in 1990. The 13 stolen works, including those of Rembrandt, Vermeer, Manet, and Degas, still remain missing in action.
Where: Back Bay Fens, 125 Fenway
Tucked away at the Fens, this secret garden features more than 1,500 roses and really does feel like an enchanted haven. You can stop to smell the roses, literally at this beautiful garden right here in Boston!
Where: Somerville Theatre, 55 Davis Square, Somerville
As the world’s only museum dedicated to the collection, preservation, and exhibition of dismal art — in all its forms — this place’s tagline is: “Art Too Bad To Be Ignored.” Located in the basement of Somerville Theater, you can catch anywhere from 20 to 25 of the “masterpieces” on display at any one time, with MOBA boasting about 700 in its permanent collection.
Where: 95 Forest Hills Ave.
Even if strolling through a cemetery isn’t exactly the surreal vibe you were seeking, this place still warrants a visit. The distinctive Victorian landscape design across 275 acres features meandering paths, scenic vistas, and a lovely lake. But, it’s the striking sculptures and architectural mausoleums, along with a miniature village of elfin dwellings by artist Christopher Frost, that really impart an otherworldly quality.
Where: Faneuil Hall, 1 Faneuil Hall Square
So, the quirky gold grasshopper is kind of weird. But, the gilded insect is also holding all sorts of artifacts — coins, newspapers, notes — that date back to 1763 when it was repaired by a local blacksmith, which makes it a veritable time capsule.
The Steaming Kettle
Where: 63 Court St.
This is no "little teapot." The massive copper kettle first made its appearance in 1873 as a marketing shtick from Oriental Tea Company. Now, it serves as of the nation’s oldest animated signs — yes, it actually produces steam. As is fitting, it currently hangs above a Starbucks in Government Square.
Scarlett O’Hara House
Where: Rollins Place
Spoiler alert: It’s not really a house. But, the faux façade featuring a painted plantation house with Greek Revival-style columns sure looks like the real deal — straight out of “Gone With The Wind.” The optical illusion was painted to cover an unsightly wall in the posh Beacon Hill ’hood. It’s still worth seeing, though, even if you can’t walk through the front door.
Where: 800 Boylston St.
The 360-degree views are on another level — literally — at this restaurant and lounge that’s 52 floors above Back Bay.
Where: 1 Science Park
You might mistake the Theater of Electricity for a mad scientist’s lab. That’s because it’s home to world's largest air-insulated Van de Graaff generator that sparks indoor lightning bolts and other dynamic phenomena. There’s also a totally out-of-this-world space experience; a “Light House;” giant rock garden; and a "seeing is deceiving" exhibit at the museum. And, that barely scratches the surface at this science-meet-surreal destination.
Where: The Colonnade Hotel, 120 Huntington Ave.
The rooftop pool at The Colonnade Hotel lets you soak in the views from 12 stories up. It’s only open for a few months during the summer. But, during peak season, you can even downward dog during yoga sessions on the pool deck for a new way to namaste.
Where: 6 Clearway St.
Hidden in plain sight, this hip fashion retailer is located in what seems to be a convenience store from the outside. Head inside to find the Snapple vending machine “door” — the secret entrance to all the cool-kid clothes beyond. Appearances really can be deceiving.
Where: 290-296 Hanover St.
This will not be your ordinary caffeine fix. The coffee shop was the first Italian caffé in Boston, and it has an impressive four levels of seating and three bars. But, the real treat is all the vintage coffee makers, espresso machines, mugs, posters, and more that are on display.
Where: 9 West St.
The indoor-outdoor antiquarian bookstore is stuffed to the gills with three floors of written stories (250,000 books, postcards, maps, and prints to be exact) — plus, an open-air sale lot. The family-owned place has been in operation since 1825.
Where: 690 Washington St.
A new take on dinner theater, this Chinatown restaurant is housed in a majestic, old movie palace — although you wouldn’t recognize the grandeur from the outside. Just like any good dim sum, though, it’s what’s on the inside that counts.
Where: Exchange Place, 53 State
A dreamlike reminder of Boston’s Victorian era and Gilded Age opulence, the staircase was originally built in the late 19th century for the lobby of the Exchange Building — and it really did lead somewhere then. Now, it’s preserved as the central feature of one of Boston’s tallest and largest office lobby atriums.
Where: 700 Boylston St.
There’s way more to this library than just books. Like something from a movie, the classic Renaissance Beaux-Arts building itself is a work of palatial grandeur — from the lions flanking the staircase, to the iconic Bates Hall reading room, and the sanctuary-like inner courtyard.
Where: 1 Harborside Dr.
The serene 20 x 20 glass cube, strung with additional pieces of shimmering glass inside, honors the passengers and crew who were aboard American Airlines Flight 11 and United Airlines Flight 175, the two planes that were hijacked and flown into the Twin Towers on September 11, 2001. Two glass rectangles are etched with the victims’ names and the departure time of their flights.
Where: Columbia Point Peninsula
This grand, fortress-like structure is actually what remains of the first comprehensive sewage project in the city of Boston. Didn’t we tell you earlier that appearances can be deceiving. Now, it shares the peninsula with many influential institutions, including the University of Massachusetts Boston, the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, the Edward M. Kennedy Institute, and the Massachusetts State Archives.
Where: 58 Tremont St.
The historic church was originally founded in 1686. But, for a new look at the sanctuary, take the Bells and Bones Tour that explores the church’s 18th century cellar crypt and allows you to climb the bell tower to visit the 1816 Revere bell, which was called the "sweetest sounding" bell that Paul Revere's foundry made.
Where: 10 ½ Beacon St.
The regal red doors are one thing. The majestic, nearly cinematic, interiors are another. But, this distinguished library and cultural institution that was founded in 1807 has yet another claim to fame: Among its rare collection of books is the 1837 Hic Liber Waltonis Cute Compactus Est, a narrative of the 19th century thief James Allen that was bound in his own skin.
Where: 44 Hull St.
This slim four-story home — only 10 feet wide and 30 feet deep — was actually built out of spite in the 1880s. Rumor has it that a fellow came home from the Civil War to find that his brother had built a large home on their shared, inherited land. So, he put up the Skinny House to block his brother’s view of the harbor and obstruct natural sunlight. It’s now privately owned, but you can still see the narrow 1,166-square-foot structure from the outside.
Where: 2450 Beacon St.
An engineering marvel with remarkable machinery, the museum is located on the site of the original Chestnut Hill Reservoir and pumping station. Cleary, it’s a steampunk lover’s dream.