How to visit the Boston Athenaeum in Boston, MA

Our city is home to one of the oldest independent libraries in the US.


The library has more than half a million volumes.

Photo by the BOStoday team

Just steps away from the Massachusetts State House is an equally historic local landmark — though this one is more of a hidden gem.

The Boston Athenaeum at 10 1/2 Beacon St. is a five floor membership library open to the public for tours + day visits.

Quick history lesson:
The organization has been around since 1807, making it one of the oldest independent libraries in the country. It grew out of a group called the Anthology Society that aimed to add more culture to 19th century Boston.

What to see:
The George Washington Library is one of the Athenaeum’s main attractions, and for good reason. About 45% of the first president’s personal book collection is housed in a replica of his Mount Vernon book-press on the fourth floor.


It’s pronounced “a-thuh-NEE-uhm.”

Photo by the BOStoday team

The fifth floor reading room is another can’t-miss destination. The library’s main reading room is silent, so keep it hush hush when you explore the rows and rows of books. Fun fact: the collection ranges from bestsellers and new releases to more obscure finds + rare books.

What else to know:
An ongoing renovation project (with a price tag of $17 million) is expanding the library to 14 Beacon St.

We can expect the updated space to be open by mid-November, complete with a spacious new lobby, a cafe for both members + visitors, and even more reading nooks.

For now, this means the first floor is closed to visitors as well as other spaces on a rotating basis.

How to visit without a membership:

If you do want to splurge on a yearly membership, you’re free to read in any of the library’s spaces and check out up to six books at a time. Talk about a book lovers dream.

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