5 College Towns Worth Visiting Even If You’re Not In College

By Alice Ross | NORTH AMERICA

Aug 06

Planning a summer vacation? Consider adding a college town worth visiting to your list of possibilities. There’s one for every type of traveler. While one college town might attract a more outdoorsy set, another might appeal to urban explorers. Some might be taken with historical landmarks while others prefer cultural and culinary experiences. Fortunately, college towns tend to offer a little bit of everything.

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Since they usually have to appeal to a diverse group of students numbering in the thousands, even hundreds of thousands, there is usually something for everyone. Even better is that there is usually something for everyone that also happens to be budget friendly.

Whether you're into sports, science, or the arts, there will be something to discover in a university town. Here are 5 college towns worth visiting even if you’re not in college.

Boulder, Colorado: University of Colorado

Boulder Colorado

Foodies, intellectuals, and outdoor fans all get a kick out of Boulder, Colorado - home to the University of Colorado. It once had a distinctly hippy vibe, but it’s a bit more modern these days. It’s even been named the happiest city in the country and a Best Small City by National Geographic. It’s also been called America’s Foodiest Town and Most Artistic Town.

The city is extremely walkable and the Rocky Mountains are only a short drive away. You can take in the view from just about anywhere in the small city. It may be an outdoorsy small town, but it also excels at taking it easy. It’s a very laid-back artistic community consisting of people of all ages and walks of life.

Many central streets are lined with fine dining options, shops, and galleries such as the Pearl Street Mall. This four-block outdoor mall is a great destination for people watching. The city has a thriving arts scene, but the sciences are also celebrated. Consider visiting the National Center For Atmospheric Research for great views of Boulder. 

Austin, Texas: The University of Texas

Austin Texas college towns worth visiting

As far as college towns go, Austin, Texas is a lively one. After all, the city motto is “Keep Austin Weird.” And Austinites do. Not only is it the live music capital of the world, offering scores of venues for music of all kinds, but there are enough local eateries, coffee shops, and events to pack every day (and night) of your visit.

Hotels, both local and chain, abound, and the food truck scene leaves nothing to be desired. The city is a world apart from the rest of Texas, but that’s what makes it so special. Sure, you’ll still find cowboy hats and line dancing if you know where to look, but there are far more hipster beards and fanny-pack-wearing college students.

Even if urban centers, locally crafted goods, and nightlife aren’t your thing, Austin boasts all manner of outdoor activities. Natural swimming pools, kayaking on the lake, lounging in the park, and hiking the greenbelt are all favorite pastimes for locals and visitors alike.

If you're a history buff, be sure to check out the Texas State Capitol building. Consider taking a tour of the building and the beautiful grounds surrounding it. 

Charlottesville, Virginia: University of Virginia

Charlottesville, Virginia college towns worth visiting

A friendly, southern vibe marks this college town that's home to the University of Virginia. Picturesque pedestrian streets, local shops and restaurants, and a historic center make Charlottesville one of the prime college towns worth visiting. It’s also home to one of the largest pedestrian malls in the country.

But that’s not all that makes the town worth visiting. Thirty-plus Vineyards, the Blue Ridge Mountains, and Unesco World Heritage Site Monticello (Thomas Jefferson’s plantation) draw all sorts of visitors.

Shenandoah National park beckons outdoors people to hike, bike, and camp, while the University campus, part of which was designed by Thomas Jefferson, attract history buffs. Sunday Polo matches, fine dining, and live theatre all mark this college town as a unique, historic, artistic community.

Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)

Cambridge, Massachusetts

The cost of living in Cambridge, home of Harvard University and MIT, isn’t cheap. Fortunately, you don’t have to worry about it if you’re just paying a visit. Harvard Square is full of dining and entertainment options along with hours of intellectual diversion. Plus Boston is only a short train ride away, opening up all manner of historical and cultural access.

Cambridge itself is a tech hotspot. Major tech companies like Google and Microsoft research have a presence there. This is likely due to the caliber of intellectual students that the city churns out. It’s a supremely walkable city and arts and culture abound at every turn.

Art museums are plentiful, as are libraries, bookstores, and cafes. For outdoorsy activities, opt for kayaking on the Charles River, walk along its shores, or find the Cambridge Center Roof Garden. There are plenty of historic houses, taverns, and buildings to hunt down, making it one of the most vibrant college towns worth visiting.

Ann Arbor: University of Michigan

Ann Arbor college towns worth visiting

While University of Michigan games may be the center of the action during football season, Ann Arbor has a lot more to offer than that. In fact, it’s a fairly small town for being home to a big ten college. The historic downtown offers restaurants, museums, and art. There are also an abundance of bike paths and walking trails.

Much like in Austin, the campus is also right in the middle of the city, making campus and city life virtually indistinguishable. Museums and art galleries abound and events ranging from beer festivals to art fairs are popular. It’s even been called the number one place to live in the U.S.
There are also scenic trails for hiking and biking, making Ann Arbor a destination for both big city attractions and outdoor escapes.

From paddling on the Huron River to ice skating, specialty shops to musical theatre, this one of the top college towns worth visiting. Whether you’re a coffee snob or history buff, family man or foodie, an outdoor adventurer or culture vulture, there is something for you to enjoy during your visit.

Still Unsure About College Towns?

Hopefully, this short guide has helped inspire some ideas for your next excursion. You may be pleasantly surprised at how friendly and interesting a college town may be. Plus, you can't beat the cheap food and drinks.

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Another thing to consider in a college town is how accessible it is. Many colleges have everything you need within walking distance. They also likely have bus and coach stops located on campuses that run year round, not just during the school year.

Finally, some colleges rent out some of the buildings during the summer months. Oftentimes their accommodations include meals from the campus culinary schools. The facilities such as the library and theater may also be open. You may be inspired to learn a new skill or even return to academia.

Visit a College Town (But Ditch the Student Life)

However, sleeping in a dorm room may not be as enticing. If you want to visit a college town but also want to have a relaxing holiday, consider using a credit card to help with your travels. The top travel cards will let you earn points and miles for your purchases that can be applied to flight upgrades. You may as well earn something for the purchases you are already making.

Summary

Some of the college towns on this list are located in and/or very near large cities. Most of these places have a wide variety of activities to keep you going. Everything from hiking to sampling craft beer to window shopping can be done in a few days. If you strategize, you can avoid the school crowds while saving money. 

This article was contributed by one of our fellow bloggers.

Johnny Jet

Johnny Jet has traveled over 150,000 miles a year since starting his newsletter in 1995 and has visited close to 100 countries. He writes about how to maximize your credit card points, find travel deals and cheap flights, and benefit from insightful travel tips. John travels the world with his wife, Natalie DiScala, and their son Jack.

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About the Author

Hi, I’m Alice Ross, a long-term traveler who left the corporate world to travel the world. I chose to live life on my own phase and live day by day while immersing myself in new experiences, new knowledge, and new people in a different walk of life I met along the way.

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