Top 10 College Towns to Visit in the U.S.

by Christina Garofalo

Top 10 College Towns to Visit in the U.S.

by Christina Garofalo

From sublime natural settings and historic architecture, to world-class art exhibits and spirited sporting events, these U.S. college campuses offer endless attractions — even for those without a college ID. Here’s what you need to know to plan an enriching trip to these illustrious institutions.

From sublime natural settings and historic architecture, to world-class art exhibits and spirited sporting events, these U.S. college campuses offer endless attractions — even for those without a college ID. Here’s what you need to know to plan an enriching trip to these illustrious institutions.

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Stanford University / Hotaik Sung/iStock
Harvard
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Cambridge, MA

As the oldest college in the U.S. (est. 1636) -- and as the university with the largest financial endowment in the world ($32 billion) -- it’s no surprise that Harvard’s campus offers tons to see, do, and explore: from the bars and restaurants in Harvard Square­ to one of the oldest anthropology museums in the world ($9 admission). After touring the library (the oldest and among the most extensive in the U.S.), visit the former home of poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (free), and sit by the Charles River and watch the rowing teams glide by.

As the oldest college in the U.S. (est. 1636) -- and the university with the largest financial endowment in the world ($32 billion) -- it’s no surprise that Harvard’s campus offers tons to see, do, and explore: from the bars and restaurants in Harvard Square­ to one of the oldest anthropology museums in the world ($9 admission). After touring the library (the oldest and among the most extensive in the U.S.), visit the former home of poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (free), and sit by the Charles River and watch the rowing teams glide by.

Cambridge, MA
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Getting There

Harvard’s campus in Cambridge is serviced by the MBTA commuter rail, as well as the green and red lines on the T, Boston’s subway system. The campus is about a 13-minute car ride from Boston. The average cost of a hotel in Cambridge is about $400 per night, but savvy travelers should consider staying in an Airbnb, which costs significantly less than a hotel (about $140 per night on average). 

Harvard’s campus in Cambridge is serviced by the MBTA commuter rail, as well as the green and red lines on the T, Boston’s subway system. The campus is about a 13-minute car ride from Boston. The average cost of a hotel in Cambridge is about $400 per night, but savvy travelers should consider staying in an Airbnb, which costs significantly less than a hotel (about $140 per night on average).

Providence, RI
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Providence, RI

Rhode Island School of Design's (RISD) eclectic enclave of urban buildings are peppered with murals, sculptures, and mosaics. Don’t miss the magnificent Fleet Library, which has won several design and architecture awards. Art enthusiasts will love RISD Museum ($10 admission), which touts about 86,000 works. Other on-campus exhibition spaces include the Chace Center’s Gelman Student Exhibition Gallery and the Sol Koffler Graduate Student Gallery (both free). Catch a flick at the RISD Film Society (free) or swing by the Carr Haus coffee shop for open mic events.

Rhode Island School of Design's (RISD) eclectic enclave of urban buildings are peppered with murals, sculptures, and mosaics. Don’t miss the magnificent Fleet Library, which has won several design and architecture awards. Art enthusiasts will love RISD Museum ($10 admission), which touts about 86,000 works. Other on-campus exhibition spaces include the Chace Center’s Gelman Student Exhibition Gallery and the Sol Koffler Graduate Student Gallery (both free). Catch a flick at the RISD Film Society (free) or swing by the Carr Haus coffee shop for open mic events.

Providence, RI skyline
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Getting There

Fly into Green Airport (10 miles south of Providence) or Logan International in Boston. RISD is about one-hour by car (or bus) from Boston, and three hours from New York City. On weekends, visitors can score free parking in RISD faculty lots. Additionally, Amtrak serves the Providence rail station, and the MBTA Commuter rail runs to and from Boston. As for accommodations, the average nightly price is $144 for an Airbnb, and $197 for a room at a three-star hotel.

Fly into Green Airport (10 miles south of Providence) or Logan International in Boston. RISD is about one-hour by car (or bus) from Boston, and three hours from New York City. On weekends, visitors can score free parking in RISD faculty lots. Additionally, Amtrak serves the Providence rail station, and the MBTA Commuter rail runs to and from Boston. As for accommodations, the average nightly price is $144 for an Airbnb, and $197 for a room at a three-star hotel.

Hoover Tower, Stanford University
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Palo Alto, CA

Stanford University's campus was designed by Frederick Law Olmstead (the same architect who designed Central Park). Its 8,180 acres feature beautiful oak, redwood, cedar, and eucalyptus trees. Here, tour Frank Lloyd Wright’s Hanna House and the Hoover Tower Observatory ($2 admission). The Cantor Arts Center’s galleries (free) include everything from ancient Egyptian artifacts to modern art from Roy Lichtenstein and Andy Warhol. Visit the Rodin Sculpture Garden to view the largest collection of Rodin bronzes outside of Paris.

 

Stanford University's campus was designed by Frederick Law Olmstead (the same architect who designed Central Park). Its 8,180 acres feature beautiful oak, redwood, cedar, and eucalyptus trees. Here, tour Frank Lloyd Wright’s Hanna House and the Hoover Tower Observatory ($2 admission). The Cantor Arts Center’s galleries (free) include everything from ancient Egyptian artifacts to modern art from Roy Lichtenstein and Andy Warhol. Visit the Rodin Sculpture Garden to view the largest collection of Rodin bronzes outside of Paris.

1920x1080_stanford2_istock.jpg
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Getting There

Without traffic, it's a 40-minute drive to Palo Alto from San Francisco. If you don’t have a car, consider taking the Caltrain (from San Francisco, the trip can take anywhere from one to two hours and will cost about $10 round-trip). The average nightly rate of a room in a three-star hotel is $400, compared to an average Airbnb rate of $127.

Without traffic, it's a 40-minute drive to Palo Alto from San Francisco. If you don’t have a car, consider taking the Caltrain (from San Francisco, the trip can take anywhere from one to two hours and will cost about $10 round-trip). The average nightly rate of a room in a three-star hotel is $400, compared to an average Airbnb rate of $127.

University of the South
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Sewanee, TN

The University of the South's sprawling, 13,000-acre campus features 60 miles of hiking and biking trails through verdant forests and scenic lakefront bluffs. The striking, Gothic-style All Saints’ Chapel was modeled after Oxford’s University Church and Paris’s Notre Dame (free guided tours upon request). Around Christmas, the popular Festival of Lessons and Carols service are based on one performed at Cambridge’s King’s College Chapel (free). Come summertime, the month-long Sewanee Summer Music Festival draws classical music performers from around the world (from $12).

The University of the South's sprawling, 13,000-acre campus features 60 miles of hiking and biking trails through verdant forests and scenic lakefront bluffs. The striking, Gothic-style All Saints’ Chapel was modeled after Oxford’s University Church and Paris’s Notre Dame (free guided tours upon request). Around Christmas, the popular Festival of Lessons and Carols service are based on one performed at Cambridge’s King’s College Chapel (free). Come summertime, the month-long Sewanee Summer Music Festival draws classical music performers from around the world (from $12).

University of the South
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Getting There

Sewanee is located 93 miles southeast of Nashville (one-and-a-half hours by car), and 52 miles northwest of Chattanooga (about one hour by car). Visitors can fly into either city. Expect to spend about $148 per night for a room at a three-star hotel, or around $155 per night on an Airbnb.

Sewanee is located 93 miles southeast of Nashville (one-and-a-half hours by car), and 52 miles northwest of Chattanooga (about one hour by car). Visitors can fly into either city. Expect to spend about $148 per night for a room at a three-star hotel, or around $155 per night on an Airbnb.

Tulane University
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New Orleans, LA

Set on St. Charles Ave. and opposite Audubon Park, Tulane University welcomes visitors through the neo-Romanesque-style Gibson Hall. The campus is speckled with majestic oaks and 80 eclectic buildings. Popular stops include Newcomb College Institute, the first degree-granting coordinate college for women in the U.S., and the Archive of New Orleans Jazz, which features an extensive collection of recordings, books, and photos. Catch a baseball game at Turchin Stadium and walk along the magnolia-lined McAlister Place Pedestrian Way.

Set on St. Charles Ave. and opposite Audubon Park, Tulane University welcomes visitors through the neo-Romanesque-style Gibson Hall. The campus is speckled with majestic oaks and 80 eclectic buildings. Popular stops include Newcomb College Institute, the first degree-granting coordinate college for women in the U.S., and the Archive of New Orleans Jazz, which features an extensive collection of recordings, books, and photos. Catch a baseball game at Turchin Stadium and walk along the magnolia-lined McAlister Place Pedestrian Way.

New Orleans, LA
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Getting There

Louis Armstrong International Airport is just 14 miles from campus. Amtrak also offers routes to New Orleans from a number of cities across the country. For your convenience, there's a shuttle that goes between Tulane and the airport, and you can purchase tickets in advance ($24 each way or $44 round-trip). In New Orleans, expect to pay about $176 per night for a room in a three-star hotel, and approximately $128 per night for an Airbnb.

Louis Armstrong International Airport is just 14 miles from campus. Amtrak also offers routes to New Orleans from a number of cities across the country. For your convenience, there's a shuttle that goes between Tulane and the airport, and you can purchase tickets in advance ($24 each way or $44 round-trip). In New Orleans, expect to pay about $176 per night for a room in a three-star hotel, and approximately $128 per night for an Airbnb.

University of Michigan Law Quad
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Ann Arbor, MI

University of Michigan is home to the country’s largest football stadium. Catch a game amid some 109,901 fans (tickets from $75). Buildings run the architectural gamut from the medieval-influenced, gargoyle- and ivy-draped buildings of Law Quad, to the Ross School of Business’ bold design. The University of Michigan Museum of Art underwent a $41 million renovation in 2010 ($5 suggested donation), and, each July, art fairs wind through campus.

University of Michigan is home to the country’s largest football stadium. Catch a game amid some 109,901 fans (tickets from $75). Buildings run the architectural gamut from the medieval-influenced, gargoyle- and ivy-draped buildings of Law Quad, to the Ross School of Business’ bold design. The University of Michigan Museum of Art underwent a $41 million renovation in 2010 ($5 suggested donation), and, each July, art fairs wind through campus.

University of Michigan
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Getting There

Detroit Wayne County Airport (DTW), also known as Detroit Metro, is about a 20- to 30- minute car ride from Ann Arbor. AirRide offers a shuttle service between the airport and Ann Arbor 13 times per day ($12 to $15 each way). We found rooms as low as $109 at the trendy Graduate Hotel in downtown Ann Arbor, which is located just one block from campus. Elsewhere, the average hotel rate is $152 per night, compared to an average Airbnb rate of $175 per night.

 

Detroit Wayne County Airport (DTW), also known as Detroit Metro, is about a 20- to 30- minute car ride from Ann Arbor. AirRide offers a shuttle service between the airport and Ann Arbor 13 times per day ($12 to $15 each way). We found rooms as low as $109 at the trendy Graduate Hotel in downtown Ann Arbor, which is located just one block from campus. Elsewhere, the average hotel rate is $152 per night, compared to an average Airbnb rate of $175 per night.

Cadet Chapel, Colorado Springs
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Colorado Springs, CO

As one of the nation’s only Air Force bases open to the public, U.S. Air Force Academy’s Colorado Springs campus affords visitors the opportunity to watch cadets march to lunch (every Monday and Friday at noon) and spot trainer aircrafts buzz overhead. The 18,500-acre campus spreads across the craggy, verdant base of the Rocky Mountains. In fact, you can spot the spires of the academy’s 150-foot-tall Cadet Chapel — which draws more than half a million people each year — peering out amid the mountains from miles away.

 

As one of the nation’s only Air Force bases open to the public, U.S. Air Force Academy’s Colorado Springs campus affords visitors the opportunity to watch cadets march to lunch (every Monday and Friday at noon) and spot trainer aircrafts buzz overhead. The 18,500-acre campus spreads across the craggy, verdant base of the Rocky Mountains. In fact, you can spot the spires of the academy’s 150-foot-tall Cadet Chapel — which draws more than half a million people each year — peering out amid the mountains from miles away.

Colorado Springs
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Getting There

You can either fly into Colorado Springs Airport or Denver International Airport (the latter of which is a one-and-a-half hour drive). In terms of lodging, expect to spend an average of $163 per night for a room in a three-star hotel, or $116 per night for an Airbnb.

You can either fly into Colorado Springs Airport or Denver International Airport (the latter of which is a one-and-a-half hour drive). In terms of lodging, expect to spend an average of $163 per night for a room in a three-star hotel, or $116 per night for an Airbnb.

University of Virginia
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Charlottesville, VA

Thomas Jefferson had a large influence on the University of Virginia’s award-winning architecture and design, which earned a UNESCO World Heritage designation in 1987 (in fact, it's the only U.S. college that has one). Academical Village — its great lawn surrounded by the university’s main buildings and capped by a majestic rotunda — has been a model for college campuses across the country. Free guided tours of the rotunda and the lawn are available. Art lovers will appreciate the Fralin Museum of Art (also free).

Thomas Jefferson had a large influence on the University of Virginia’s award-winning architecture and design, which earned a UNESCO World Heritage designation in 1987 (in fact, it's the only U.S. college that has one). Academical Village — its great lawn surrounded by the university’s main buildings and capped by a majestic rotunda — has been a model for college campuses across the country. Free guided tours of the rotunda and the lawn are available. Art lovers will appreciate the Fralin Museum of Art (also free).

University of Virginia
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Getting There

Fly into either Richmond Airport, Dulles International Airport, or Reagan Airport. From there, it is about two hours and 15 minutes by car from D.C. (or around three hours by bus) and an hour from Richmond (one-and-a-half hours by bus). The Graduate Hotel is located across from the university and has rooms from $119 per night, while the average price of an Airbnb is $204 per night.

Fly into either Richmond Airport, Dulles International Airport, or Reagan Airport. From there, it is about two hours and 15 minutes by car from D.C. (or around three hours by bus) and an hour from Richmond (one-and-a-half hours by bus). The Graduate Hotel is located across from the university and has rooms from $119 per night, while the average price of an Airbnb is $204 per night.

University of Washington
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Seattle, WA

University of Washington is one of only two universities in the country where football tailgates happen on boats (the University of Tennessee is the other). Watch -- or join -- the floating throngs of Husky fans as they glide over Puget Sound and Lake Washington before each game. Campus highlights include the Suzzallo Library and the Henry Art Gallery. In spring, countless cherry blossom trees burst into bloom. Climb the campus’s free outdoor rock wall for awe-inspiring views of the Cascade Range’s snow-capped mountaintops above the blossoms.

The University of Washington is one of only two universities in the country where football tailgates happen on boats (the University of Tennessee is the other). Watch (or join!) the floating throngs of Husky fans as they glide over Puget Sound and Lake Washington before each game. Campus highlights include the Suzzallo Library and the Henry Art Gallery. In the spring, countless cherry blossom trees burst into bloom. Climb the campus’s free outdoor rock wall for awe-inspiring views of the Cascade Range’s snow-capped mountaintops above the blossoms.

University of Washington
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Getting There

From Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, Shuttle Express offers 24-hour service to the university ($24.75 per person each way). You can also take the light rail ($5 - $7, one-hour ride). As for accommodations, we found rooms at the Graduate Seattle from $135 per night, compared to the average hotel rate of $225 and an average Airbnb rate of $107, respectively. 

From Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, Shuttle Express offers 24-hour service to the university ($24.75 per person each way). You can also take the light rail ($5 - $7, one-hour ride). As for accommodations, we found rooms at the Graduate Seattle from $135 per night, compared to the average hotel rate of $225 and an average Airbnb rate of $107, respectively. 

Yale University
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New Haven, CT

Yale’s illustrious, centuries-old campus is home to public art installations by Roy Lichtenstein; some of the world’s rarest manuscripts (including a Gutenberg Bible); and the second-largest collection of dinosaur artifacts in the U.S. ($9 admission). Visit the Yale University Art Gallery (c. 1832), which has 185,000-plus works on display (free); catch a performance at the acclaimed theater (from $35); and cheer on the men's hockey team at the stunning Ingalls Rink (from $10).

Yale’s illustrious, centuries-old campus is home to public art installations by Roy Lichtenstein; some of the world’s rarest manuscripts (including a Gutenberg Bible); and the second-largest collection of dinosaur artifacts in the U.S. ($9 admission). Visit the Yale University Art Gallery (c. 1832), which has 185,000-plus works on display (free); catch a performance at the acclaimed theater (from $35); and cheer on the men's hockey team at the stunning Ingalls Rink (from $10).

Yale University
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Getting There

Visitors can fly into New Haven airport or Hartford airport (45 minutes by car). Alternatively, take the Metro North from New York City’s Grand Central Station (about two hours; $14 each way). Also, Amtrak connects New Haven to cities along the Northeast. A room in a three-star hotel averages about $173 per night, compared to $106 per night for an Airbnb. 

Visitors can fly into New Haven airport or Hartford airport (45 minutes by car). Alternatively, take the Metro North from New York City’s Grand Central Station (about two hours; $14 each way). Also, Amtrak connects New Haven to cities along the Northeast. A room in a three-star hotel averages about $173 per night, compared to $106 per night for an Airbnb. 

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