Boston is very accessible from MIT, and vice-versa. The Red Line subway runs from downtown Boston over to Kendall Square, which is tolerably close to much of the Institute. You can also take the #2 bus across the Harvard Bridge from Back Bay Boston right up to the front entrance at 77 Mass Ave. (You can also walk across the bridge – but it’s 364.4 Smoots + 1 Ear long, about a half mile of wind-tunnel-like breezes across the unobstructed Charles River Basin in winter) If you stay in Cambridge, you can take either the same bus or the same subway the opposite way to MIT.
But staying in Boston OR in Harvard Square is likely to be expensive. You could stay elsewhere in Cambridge cheaper, I’d think. The Hyatt Regency abuts the MIT campus, and isn’t terribly expebnsive (we stayed there, despite our proximity, because the Arisia SF convention was held there). There are other hotels and motels you can stay at in Cambridge as well. Heck, you could stayout of town – say at the Holiday Inn in Somerville, walk to the Sullivan Square stop on the T, and ride into Cambridge on the red line. A bit of a commute, but might be cheaper.
As for what to do, I could write a book. On the MIT campus alone you’ve got the MIT museum, the Hart Institute of Naval Architecture ship museum, the gallery in the lobby of Building 10, “Strobe Alley”, and the travelling, ever-changing show that’s MIT itself. Or you could go up to Harvard, which has a couple of things to see, I hear. Or go into Boston and see lotsa stuff.
I hate to pick a nit, but it’s the #1 bus that runs up and down Mass Ave. And the Orange Line uses the Sullivan Square stop, not the Red Line, and does not go to Harvard. You would need to take the Orange Line to Downtown Crossing, then take the Red Line outbound to MIT or Harvard.
But staying near Sullivan Square isn’t a bad suggestion at all. The #86 bus runs from Sullivan up to Harvard (and beyond), and the CT#2 runs from Sullivan to MIT (and beyond). The CT#2 only runs on weekdays until 7 pm, while the #86 runs daily until midnight.
Has she looked into whether she would be eligible for a preferred rate because she’s attending a conference at MIT?
As to what else she might do, it would help to know what her interests are.
Kendall/MIT is easy to get to from a variety of places, as the folks above me have said. Certainly, the Red line (subway) that runs to Kendall is probably the easiest, so you’d just need to look for something along the red line. There’s a Best Western Tria out at the last stop of the red line near Alewife station that’s nice, fairly cheap, and just a 15 minute subway ride to MIT.
There’s plenty to do in Boston without a car. Anyone can find enough to do for two days.