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Five Under-the-Radar Boston Landmarks You Should Check Out

It's a good time to take a detour.


Boston is chock full of weird stuff: The skinny house in the North End, the Ether Dome at Mass General, and, of course, the Leif Erikson statue on Comm. Ave. You can easily knock out a couple of these landmarks on a long walk through the city—but what about the other, more unusual sights that require their own special trip? For folks with a little extra time on their hands this season, here are five unusual Boston sights worth taking a detour for.

Madonna Queen of the Universe Shrine, East Boston

Did you know there’s a giant statue of the Virgin Mary standing over Boston? Perched atop a hill in East Boston, the 35-foot-tall Madonna Queen of the Universe Shrine seems to rise out of nowhere. She was built back in 1954 by members of the Catholic order of Don Orione, which operates a nursing home right next to the statue. Made of bronze and copper, the statue was designed by Italian-Jewish sculptor Arrigo Minerbi in tribute to the Don Orione order, which protected him during the Holocaust. You can get there by heading to the intersection of Breed and Leydon Streets in Orient Heights, then climbing just over 100 stairs up the hill. At the top, turn to see Mary in all her glory. Get closer and you’ll take in a panorama of the city, the harbor, and the planes taking off at Logan.

Brook Farm, West Roxbury

In the 1840s, Transcendentalist New Englanders including Henry David Thoreau and Nathaniel Hawthrone spent time at Brook Farm in West Roxbury. It was an experimental utopian community founded by Unitarian minister George Ripley and his wife Sophia, where residents shared their daily work in order to live a fuller life. The community shuttered in 1847 due to money troubles (and a fire), but lives on in The Blithedale Romance, a fictionalized version of Hawthorne’s experience there. Read the book, then visit the site and hike some of its trails.

The Original Dunkin’ Location, Quincy

Way before the sugarplum macchiato hit the menu, there was the good-old fashioned Dunkin’ Donuts on the Southern Artery in Quincy. Built in 1950 as the first-ever Dunkin’ location, the place sold just doughnuts and coffee. It’s still open for business in all its midcentury glory, though it’s been renovated with retro flair to hearken back to the old days. You can nod to the past, too, by ordering a small black coffee and dunking a plain cake doughnut into it.

The Overlook Shelter in Franklin Park, Roxbury

Frederick Law Olmsted is the father of landscape architecture. He’s responsible for some of the country’s most beautiful green spaces, including New York’s Central Park and Boston’s Emerald Necklace. He only dabbled in designing buildings (as opposed to parks) a few times—and the ruins of one of his only creations lie in Boston’s Franklin Park. The remains of the Roxbury puddingstone overlook shelter can be found in the northern part of the park. The spot was originally meant to be a place where visitors could watch events happening in the nearby Playstead. Today, the ruins are a little overgrown but still a joy to explore. More recently, they were home to some Emerald Necklace public art: one of Fujiko Nakaya’s fog sculptures.

A Miniature Village in Forest Hills Cemetery, Jamaica Plain

Jamaica Plain’s 275-acre Forest Hills Cemetery is worth visiting for its natural beauty alone—the place was founded as a lush garden cemetery and arboretum in 1848. But you’ll want to make a special trip to discover a miniature stone village, located on the White Oak Ave. path near the cemetery’s Tower Street Gate. It was put there in 2006 by artist Christopher Frost, and features concrete replicas of the homes of some of the people buried there. See if you can find the little house of Ralph Martin, a wagon driver who died in Boston’s Great Molasses Flood in 1919.