WATCH: Exploring the best of Harvard Square

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CAMBRIDGE — Even for non-students, living near a world-famous college has its perks. In the last few months alone, I’ve sat front row at a free lecture by Pulitzer Prize-winning author, Marilynne Robinson, had the rare opportunity to visit the storerooms below the Harvard Semitic Museum, and see a play at the A.R.T. that is now headed to Broadway.

Harvard Square is a vibrant intersection of culture, academia, and entertainment, and nowhere is that more evident than in the shops that have called Harvard Square home for years.

L.A. Burdick on Brattle Street sells handmade chocolates with special seasonal offerings. It also has a café where you can taste their delicious hot chocolates (their white hot chocolate is amazing-and I don’t even like white chocolate!), coffees, teas, and pastries. The warm atmosphere with pinstripe walls and old-world chocolate posters from Switzerland gives Burdick’s a cozy and classy feel.

Just up the road at Cardullo’s, a specialty food store, you can find the best gastronomical offerings this earth has to offer. One of the owners told me she thinks of the store as a treasure hunt where you can find the best things from all over the world – pasta from Italy, tea from China, French cheese, Belgian beers. They also carry some of the foods foreigners may miss most while here in the States — Cardullo’s sells Vegemite for antipodean hankerings and Digestives for Brits looking for a taste of home on their sojourn in the colonies.

On the other side of Harvard Square on Plympton Street, the Grolier Poetry Bookshop continues its decades-old commitment to selling poetry and holding readings for contemporary poets. The Grolier, as it is sometimes called, is the oldest continuously running poetry-only bookstore in the United States. The bookshop still hosts readings (Martín Espada was there last month), and some of the best-known poets of the 20th century, like Frank O’Hara and John Ashbery, got their start reading their poetry at the Grolier while studying at Harvard.

Even if you don’t go into any of Harvard Square’s many stores, the area has a lot to offer in the way of architectural and natural beauty. The nearby Charles River is a haven for runners, bikers, and people who just want to have picnic and play fetch with their dog. In the spring and summer, rowers add to the river’s appeal. The streets surrounding Harvard are quietly beautiful in the spring when blooming gardens enhance diverse architectural styles – Greek revival, English Palladian, Stick style, Georgian, and Colonial revival, among others. Walking the brick sidewalks of Brattle Street under a natural canopy of arching tree branches, it’s easy to see why people from all over the world come here not only to study, but to enjoy the unique beauty Cambridge has to offer.