Whether you’re an incoming student who grew up across the world or on the other side of University Ave., you’ll find things to do in Champaign-Urbana to keep you busy year-round and distract you from your homework as necessary.
Champaign-Urbana has plenty to do indoors, outdoors, and in between. And if you’re craving a daytrip—we understand some people occasionally want to do things outside of Champaign-Urbana, even if we don’t agree with them—that can be arranged, too.
Sometimes our Illinois weather might gently suggest staying indoors on a particular day. When those days roll around, you’ve got plenty of options.
The State Farm Center
If you’re into sports, you probably don’t need us to tell you that you can catch some great Fighting Illini games at the State Farm Center. If you’re not into sports, try the State Farm Center for the concerts or the contests. There’s something for everyone, assuming you like fun and a good stadium seat.
The State Farm Center almost always has some up-and-coming event, and you can check their website to see when the next game or concert is coming up. Whether it’s your favorite team or a band you’ve never heard of but has a pretty cool vibe, we predict you’ll have a good time.
Champaign-Urbana punches well above its weight when it comes to food. Midwest Living agrees, as evidenced by the fact that C-U won first place in the People’s Choice for Greatest Midwestern Food Towns. Was that award in 2017? Yeah, sure, but we’re still proud of it, and honestly, the food has only gotten better since then. For a more current C-U food review, check out this piece from one of our very own student bloggers.
Champaign-Urbana has dozens of local restaurants that you won’t find anywhere else, with tons of variety and cuisines from all over the world. You can’t get a breakfast burrito, fried chicken, shawarma, and a bubble tea all on the same block in every small Midwestern town, folks. Not that we recommend that as a frequent meal plan, but you get the point.
The Champaign Public Library & the Urbana Free Library
Is it lame to recommend libraries on a list like this? No. No, it’s not. Especially when the Champaign Public Library has been ranked in the top 5% of libraries nationwide (4.67% technically, but we don’t like to brag).
Both libraries offer all kinds of classes and events, from craft sessions to writers’ meet-ups and short-story contests, and both will allow you to check out more than just books. Visit your local library to try a new board game, check out a new instrument, or to sign up for the Kanopy streaming service, which offers indie movies, documentaries, and classic films that the bigger streaming platforms are tragically short on.
The Staerkel Planetarium
What’s better than looking at the majesty of the night sky while also enjoying the comforts of the indoors and reclining chairs? Not much. The Staerkel Planetarium offers different events and lectures designed to cosmically blow your mind, including presentations on the formation of planet earth and whether or not it really was an asteroid that killed the dinosaurs.
What better way to put that not-great test score into perspective than pondering what a multiple-choice test really means in the face of an unknowable and ever-expanding universe?
The Ice Arena
If you’ve never seen a hockey match, you owe it to yourself to buy a ticket and visit the ice arena sometime. You’ll be amazed at how fast people balancing on tiny knives can move.
Even better, after you’ve watched the experts in action, you can reenact the violence yourself by renting your own skates at the arena. Skate rentals are only a couple of dollars, which means you can enjoy the true Midwestern experience of slipping around on the ice without the fear of plunging through it (a real buzzkill, even for the Midwestern diehards).
The Krannert Art Museum
The Krannert Art Museum is the second-largest fine art museum in the state, and it’s right here on campus. Kind of weird that you haven’t already gone.
Whether you’re an established art snob or mostly only go into museums for the temperature control, you’ll find something that catches your eye. How could you not, when the museum has over 11,000 pieces of art from the 4th century BC all the way up to the present? It also doesn’t hurt that visiting the museum is totally free.
Champaign-Urbana has outdoor activities for all seasons and for all kinds of people. Looking for a rugged outdoor hike? Can do. A scenic fifteen-minute walk to stretch your legs? Of course. Petting zoos and corn mazes? All you have to do is ask.
Meadowbrook Park is 130 acres of woods and natural Illinois prairie, with a few quaint babbling brooks along the way for extra geographic diversity. If 130 acres sounds like a bit much, don’t worry; there are well-maintained paths along the way to make sure you can find your way out again. Those paths are also lined with sculptures, making Meadowbrook Park a must-see for connoisseurs of giant stone rabbits and abstract ironwork.
The most popular of these paths is a paved, approximately two-mile loop that’s popular with joggers, walkers, and kids on bikes who brake unpredictably. It’s a great place to go for some outdoor exercise or nature sightings, or to take your parents when you’re not sure what to do with them and want to show them something that will make your mom say, “Well, isn’t this nice!”
Champaign-Urbana has a healthy live music scene, and, fortunately for you, isn’t afraid to show it off. Festivals like Friday Night Live, Pygmalion, and Ellnora are all designed to showcase the many talents of our C-U inhabitants. You can find them outdoors, indoors, and in all different seasons (although we admit you’re going to have better luck with outdoor music in some seasons than others. Talking about you, winter).
If you’re interested in the live music scene, use this as an excuse to visit those local restaurants as well—maybe you’ll be the one to discover C-U’s next big talent.
The Arboretum & Japan House
The Arboretum and the Japan House are a two-for-one experience located just off campus. The Arboretum stretches over 160 acres but has a handy walking path that will lead you around a pond, past the Japan House, and under an impressive range of different trees (did you know that “arboretum” means “tree garden”? Keep that in your back pocket for trivia night). The Arboretum is a frequent and gracious host for all kinds of activities, including races, weddings, and community events. Come by sometime! It’s a nice walk, and if you’re lucky, you could star as a background character in someone’s wedding photos.
The Japan House itself has been closed recently due to COVID, but that only makes the anticipation of its grand reopening that much sweeter. Fortunately, the Japanese gardens around the house itself are still accessible to the public, so don’t use this as an excuse not to visit and drink in the gardens. When it’s open, the Japan House offers tours, Japanese tea ceremonies, and even some light shopping.
If you’d like to spend a little time outside but are not particularly interested in wandering too far from home, we’ve got you covered. Campus offers plenty of green spaces with enough grass to stretch out and pitch your spikeball net, including Illini Grove.
The Grove has grills, picnic tables, and a pavilion ready for an impromptu barbeque, but caters to the more active crowd as well with volleyball nets and tennis and basketball courts. It’s even got plenty of sturdy trees if you’re looking for a place to hang your hammock or slackline, or if you’re just trying to avoid the sun (or have a thrilling collegiate game of hide and seek).
With the mighty trifecta of the Urbana Market at the Square, the Champaign Farmer’s Market, and the Sustainable Student Farm all within a few miles of each other, you’ll never lack for seasonal vegetables or handmade dog bandanas. These produce and craft markets (although the Sustainable Student Farm keeps things strictly edible) are a great way to get to know the community and guiltlessly buy produce, pumpkin bread, earrings made of cool rocks, more jars of honey than you’ll probably ever eat, and more. After all, you’re supporting small businesses!
Listen, it’s autumn. There’s no shame in succumbing to that natural desire to pick an apple or look at a pumpkin, and Champaign-Urbana is the natural place to fulfill those fall cravings.
All kinds of orchards and fall festivals offer apple and pumpkin picking as well as tons of cider, baked goods, and other fall foods that are extremely hard to resist. We’ve got venues that offer haunted corn mazes, regular corn mazes, regular easy-to-navigate cornfields, and any other fall activity you’ve been craving. There’s a long list of fall activities to try in Champaign Urbana, so you really should get started right away.
Just a Drive Away
If you’ve got a car, try these places out. If you don’t have a car, it might be time to befriend that roommate with the slick ‘09 Honda Accord.
You’ve heard of it.
At one point or another, we’ve all looked around Champaign-Urbana and thought, “This is nice, but it could really use an old European-style mansion with fountains and sprawling flower gardens and maybe a few sculptures tucked away along a wooded trail.”
If you, too, have had that very specific thought, we strongly recommend visiting Allerton Park. The park is free to visit and offers beautiful little walking trails around the aforementioned house and gardens, as well as longer trails that go through the nearby woods.
Indiana Dunes has only been a national park since 2019, which means you can visit one of the country’s newest national parks and get those bragging rights just by taking a day trip off campus. Indiana Dunes is on the shore of Lake Michigan, so if you’ve ever wanted to go swimming with a view of the Chicago skyline, this is the place to do it. There are hiking trails, plenty of sand dunes to fall down, and more nature-viewing opportunities than you’d be able to experience here in town (not that we have anything against squirrels).
Chicago might look and act like it’s the capital of Illinois, but reality check: it’s Springfield, home of about 116,000 people, that’s the real boss around here. Springfield boasts the fascinating Lincoln Museum, as well as Lincoln’s tomb and the opportunity to see historic downtown Springfield and walk through Abraham Lincoln’s old neighborhood and even pop into his house for a visit.
The houses and streets of the old neighborhood have been preserved, and so has the interior of the Lincoln house, so you can wander around and bask in the abundant American history there. If you’ve not particularly into history, it’s also worth a visit just to be amazed by the Lincolns’ bold wallpaper and carpeting choices. You’d be surprised.
The next time you and your friends find yourselves wondering what to do over the weekend, why jump straight to watching a movie on your cramped (and, let’s face it, kind of dusty) laptop screen? With all the things to do in Champaign-Urbana, you can make every Friday night, lazy Sunday morning, or homework-procrastination session a memorable one.