Don’t let the “college town” label deter you! Leave the stereotypes of greasy food, trashed fraternity houses, and tacky shops at home and come check out these standout college towns that are rich in tradition and offer unique attractions, cuisine, and shopping.

University of Vermont

Town: Burlington

Credit: Heipei/Flickr Creative Commons

Credit: Heipei/Flickr Creative Commons

Although it’s the largest city in Vermont, Burlington‘s mellow vibes create much more of a charming small-town feel than a city center. Populated with an eclectic mix of University of Vermont college students and professors, activists, artists, and families, Burlington is bursting with flavor and culture. On a nice night, enjoy one of the charming outdoor restaurants or cafés lining Church Street. Although it’s very relaxed, there’s never a shortage of things to do. In recent years, the beautiful Lake Champlain shoreline has been revamped and the remodeled recreation path is a popular spot for bikers, rollerbladers, and walkers. Don’t miss Church Street Marketplace, an award-winning open air mall that’s filled with trendy shops, sidewalk cafés, and street performers. Ranked as one of the most livable small cities in the United States, Burlington makes a perfect weekend getaway and is easily accessible by car, train, or plane. If you aren’t sold yet, the Ben & Jerry’s Factory is only 30 minutes away in nearby Waterbury with daily tours and tastings!

University of Virginia

Town: Charlottesville

Credit: Patrick Neil/Wikimedia

Credit: Patrick Neil/Wikimedia

Historic sites, fine dining, local vineyards, and a lively music culture are just a few highlights of the picturesque town of Charlottesville, Virginia. The vibrant downtown area is bustling with great bars, restaurants, and boutique shopping. A city rooted in history, make sure to check out Thomas Jefferson’s home at Monticello. Jefferson himself designed the grand buildings and grassy malls that make up the beautiful colonial-style campus of the University of Virginia. Outdoor enthusiasts will love nearby wilderness hiking trails, bike trails, or kayaking in the James or Rivanna River. When in season, locals and tourists alike flock to the orchards, excited to pick delicious fresh fruit. Tours and tastings at local vineyards on the Monticello Wine Trail are another popular option.

University of Michigan

Town: Ann Arbor

Credit: Andrew Horne/Wikimedia

Credit: Andrew Horne/Wikimedia

There’s a reason close to 40% of the University of Michigan’s undergraduate population are out-of-state students willing to pay private-school prices to attend this college. Consistently ranked as one of the best college towns in the country, Ann Arbor is home to more than just the esteemed U of M Wolverine football team. Filled with world-class museums, boutiques, fine dining, and a thriving live music scene, Ann Arbor has a small-town feel with the excitement and facilities of a big city. Nature lovers will be excited to learn that some of the best canoeing and kayaking in Michigan can be found on the Huron River, in addition to impressive hiking and cross-country skiing trails. If you come in the fall, attending a football game is a must. “The Big House,” as the University of Michigan football stadium is called, draws crowds of over 100,000 (it’s the biggest stadium in the country!). Even if you’re not a football fan, it’s worth experiencing the unparalleled spirit and mayhem that is a football Saturday in Ann Arbor.

Related story: Check out why Ann Arbor has the cutest, most charming Main Street you’ve ever seen!

University of Colorado

Town: Boulder

Credit: Eddyl/Wikimedia

Credit: Eddyl/Wikimedia

Located where the base of the Rocky Mountain foothills meet the Great Plains, the University of Colorado-Boulder offers spectacular scenery, perfect weather (it’s sunny more than 300 days a year!), and endless opportunities for the outdoorsy. Boulder’s dining scene should not be overlooked. Offering much more than the typical college town cuisine of cheap pizza and greasy burgers, many award-winning Boulder restaurants offer dishes made from local organic and sustainable ingredients. A trip to the city would be incomplete without a visit to Pearl Street Mall, the city’s hub for shopping, dining, and the arts. The red-brick pedestrian-only thoroughfare is filled with more than 1,000 shops and restaurants dotted with street performers and musicians. The unique pairing of bustling nightlife and breweries with some of the country’s best hiking, rock-climbing, biking, kayaking, and skiing definitely makes Boulder a college town worth visiting!

University of Texas

Town: Austin

Credit: Ed Schipul/Flickr Creative Commons

Credit: Ed Schipul/Flickr Creative Commons

Although not technically a college “town,” Austin, Texas is a thriving metropolis that is home to one of the biggest public universities in the country. New trendy restaurants, bars, and hotels, along with South by Southwest (SXSW), have increased Austin’s popularity in recent years. A multimedia conference and festival that celebrates the film and music industries, SXSW hosts a combination of panels of industry speakers every year, in addition to top-notch live concerts and film screenings. It’s impossible to talk about Austin without mentioning the heavenly southern barbeque and Tex-Mex spots you can find there. Fantastic breakfast tacos, pulled pork, and fried steaks will have foodies (or anyone really!) drooling. Head to Barton Springs Pool to escape the infamous Texas heat. Located in the heart of beautiful Zilker Park, the Barton swimming hole features a three-acre pool fed by underground springs. Filled with unique attractions, legendary live music, and a great restaurant scene, there’s no wonder thousands of “Longhorn” students are excited to call Austin their home.


Did we miss your favorite college town to visit? Let us know in the comments below!

About The Author

Marketing Intern

A rising senior studying Communication Studies and Digital Studies at the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, Kate is planning to enter the world of Public Relations and Marketing. Kate spent the past four months studying (and eating!) abroad in Florence, Italy! During her time there she traveled to 10 countries and explored 27 cities.

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