Five college towns that are too pretty to pass up

There’s something so iconic and charming about quintessential college towns. While most offer history and culture, others also boast beautiful architecture, green spaces, and monuments that are captivating. We’ve picked five college towns that are offer magnificent campuses plus surrounding attractions that are just as visit-worthy.

Princeton, New Jersey (Princeton University)

Home to the Ivy League school of the same name, Princeton is located equidistant between New York City and Philadelphia, and is one of the most beautiful campuses in the country. With a mix of architectural building styles, glass labs, neo-Gothic student dormitories and open spaces, visitors who meander around this gorgeous campus soon see that this East Coast university town is a must see.

Settle in at the Nassau Inn, a balance of historic charm and modern style in downtown Princeton. While in town, be sure to catch a show at McCarter Theatre Center, recognized as one of the nation’s premier regional theaters. An added treat will be attending a performance of the Princeton Symphony, which performs at the beautiful Richardson Auditorium, a historic landmark on the campus of Princeton University.

Madison, Wisconsin (University of Wisconsin)

The University of Wisconsin-Madison is connected to the state capitol by State Street, home to boutiques, restaurants and food carts.

Home to the University of Wisconsin-Madison, this breathtaking state capital is a unique blend between natural beauty and a youthful urban feel. When visiting, guests can spend afternoons pedaling over 200 miles of area bike trails or paddling on one of five lakes, followed by enjoying an award-winning show at the Overture Center for the Arts and dining on a meal from a James Beard Award-winning chef.

One lodging option to consider is Best Western Premier Park Hotel, located directly on Madison’s Capitol Square and in the heart of the city. Here, guests are steps away from the famed Dane County Farmers’ Market when it circles the Capitol Building from April to November. It’s a short walk to State Street, the city’s pedestrian thoroughfare connecting the university and Capitol. Grab a coffee, peruse charming local boutiques or stop at one of several free museums, including the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art, Chazen Museum of Art and Wisconsin Veterans Museum.

Charlottesville, Virginia (University of Virginia)

Charlottesville, Virginia, is home to the University of Virginia, founded in 1819 by Thomas Jefferson, the nation's third president.

Nestled against the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, Charlottesville is a true quintessential college town, and home to prestigious University of Virginia, founded Thomas Jefferson. The University’s centerpiece building, the Rotunda, is a UNESCO World Heritage site, plus visitors can also take a look into the room where Edgar Allan Poe lived when he was a student.

In addition to the University of Virginia, the Charlottesville area is home to the estates of three former U.S. presidents: Jefferson’s Monticello (also part of the UNESCO World Heritage site), James Monroe’s Highland and James Madison’s Montpelier. These historic sites are all open for tours, with new exhibits popping up frequently.

After you have had your fill of history, try on of the more than 30 local wineries along the Monticello Wine Trail and be sure to enjoy the views of the majestic Blue Ridge Mountains, which are prominently visible in the distance. If you have time, consider taking the scenic route down the Blue Ridge Parkway. Just don’t plan on revving your engine too much: the speed limit is 45.

Charlottesville is also home to the historic pedestrian Downtown Mall, featuring more than 120 restaurants, stores, and shops. If you’re looking for lodging that puts you in the middle of everything, try the Omni. If you want more of a boutique experience, look at  and The Clifton.

Bloomington, Indiana (Indiana University)

The Sample Gates are an iconic part of Indiana University but they've only been part of the campus in Bloomington since they were gifted to the school by Edson Sample, the former director of the Office of Scholarships and Financial Aid.

This glorious midwestern college town is home to Indiana University, and the school is celebrating their bicentennial this year with several activities are planned throughout the year. Commonly regarded as the door to campus, the majestic Sample Gates sit between Franklin Hall and Bryan Hall, and is known as one of the most beautiful places to see in Bloomington.

It’s a pleasure to stroll the campus to notice different architectural styles of buildings; you may even spot a gargoyle or owl. Be sure to check out the Old Crescent, comprised of historic buildings in the southwest corner of the IU campus.

Indoor spaces at IU are just as beautiful, which include Jordan Hall Greenhouse, the student center at Indiana Memorial Union, and the Eskenazi Museum of Art. While in town, enjoy delicious trendy spots like Social Cantina and Janko’s Little Zagreb.

After a day of sightseeing, plan your stay at The Graduate, located in Bloomington’s city center on iconic Kirkwood Avenue.

Berkeley, California (University of California at Berkeley)

Staying at the Doubletree at Berkeley Marina puts you near nightlife and views of San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge.

Berkeley, California is a vibrant and beautiful city, with travelers visiting for acclaimed restaurants, shops, museums and culture. Stroll through the Fourth Street shops and boutiques, at the Bay Street outdoor shopping center in Emeryville, or downtown in San Francisco. Catch a show at the Berkeley Repertory Theatre in the Downtown Arts District or stroll through landscaped grounds, historic architecture and redwood forests on the University of California, Berkeley campus.  

Be sure to take a self-guided tourof the UC Berkeley campus and visit Sproul Hall, the administration building that became an important location during the Free Speech Movement of 1964, Sproul Plaza, a gathering spot for students, or Sather Tower, a campus icon and the third-tallest bell-and-clock tower in the world.

When it’s time to turn in, try the DoubleTree by Hilton Berkeley Marina, which boasts views of San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge.

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