15 Best Things to Do in Urbana-Champaign, IL

Urbana-Champaign, IL
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It’s not always that you can find a small city offering the best of urban living, especially in this day and age.

Luckily, you can find that in Illinois, specifically in the twin cities of Urbana and Champaign.

It’s fascinating that these two cities are twin cities because they adjoin each other and share the University of Illinois’ main campus.

According to history, Urbana and Champaign came about because of a depot constructed in the former.

When an 1855 bill incorporating Urbana included the depot to its area’s limits, the people living there fought for separation and succeeded.

They called the area West Urbana, which they later changed to Champaign in 1860 after the county’s name.

Though geographically close, these two cities have something unique up their sleeves for the locals and visitors.

Urbana boasts well-maintained city parks, award-winning libraries, excellent schools, great neighborhoods, and a distinguished arts and culture program.

On the other hand, Champaign is the home of Yahoo!, Wolfram Alpha, and gigabit fiber optic-connected neighborhoods.

It hosts countless concerts, parks, art galleries, sporting events, museums, and street festivals.

Visit Urbana-Champaign to see twice the sights, enjoy twice the experiences, and feel twice the fun and excitement.

So, ready to conquer this part of the state?

Here are the 15 best things to do in Urbana-Champaign:

Admire the Collections at the Spurlock Museum

Exterior of Spurlock Museum
Daderot, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

The William R. and Clarice V. Spurlock Museum, also called the Spurlock Museum, contains nine permanent exhibits representing contemporary and historical peoples worldwide.

See the Campbell Gallery, home to special exhibits that serve as the beginning for special events, tours, and programs.

Sculptures inside Spurlock Museum
Daderot, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

These collections and their educational tours aim to help interpret cultural diversity, with more than 50,000 objects documenting human conditions through various periods and locations.

What’s even better about the museum is that it allows teachers to borrow artifacts from the museum’s Teaching Collection to support lessons with hands-on artifact experience.

The Spurlock Museum is at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.

Exhibit inside Spurlock Museum
Daderot, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

Visit the Krannert Art Museum

Achilles Displaying the Body of Hector at the Feet of Patroclus painting in Krannert Art Museum
Jean-Joseph Taillasson , CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

Serving the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and the East Illinois communities, the Krannert Art Museum offers engaging programs, fine art collections, and excellent exhibitions.

There are more than 11,000 artworks in its encyclopedic permanent collection, made possible with the help and contribution of donors, alumni, and museum members.

A sculpture at Krannert Art Museum
University of Illinois Library, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

You’ll be fascinated by this place because it doesn’t just tackle history but also exhibits contemporary artists and adopts new media and technologies.

When you explore the collections, you wouldn't feel time passing by.

It’s a genuinely engaging museum—one that’s worth your time.

Discover Illinois’ Natural History at the Anita Purves Nature Center

Still located within Crystal Lake Park, specifically on the northern end, is the Anita Purves Nature Center.

It opened in 1979 and underwent an expansion in 2015, allowing it to welcome more than 50,000 visitors each year.

The place boasts resident education animals and hands-on exhibits, with an observation room where you can watch the wildlife at the feeding station and hear them via the sound system.

On-site, there are environmental programs and numerous staff members in various locations who are ready to answer your questions.

Stop by the Nature Shop and find unique nature-related gifts.

When you shop, you’re not only getting your money’s worth but are also supporting local environmental education.

Go on an Exciting Nature Day Out with the Family at the Crystal Lake Park

Lake surrounded with autumn trees at Crystal Lake Park
dfletch000 / Shutterstock.com

Crystal Lake Park, located on W. Park St, Urbana, is a spectacular 90.4-acre park featuring numerous amenities, a scenic parkway drive, and a mature forest.

Busey Woods make up 59 acres of the park and is in the northern part.

Besides Busey Woods, the Crystal Lake Park Family Aquatic Center and the Anita Purves Nature Center border the north.

Exploring the south, you will find a playground, the Lake House, and the Labyrinth.

Crystal Lake Park has become a favorite picnic spot for many locals and visitors because of its relaxed atmosphere.

Rent one of the pavilions and celebrate special occasions or rent a boat and go fishing with the kids.

And if you have furry friends, they are welcome to enjoy the park with you.

Learn More about Plant Science at the University of Illinois Arboretum

Bright flowers at University of Illinois Arboretum
Ken Schulze / Shutterstock.com

See the majestic Arboretum of the University of Illinois, located on S. Lincoln Avenue in Urbana.

Marvel at this living laboratory, with facilities and plant collections to help different campus units' research, teaching, and public service programs.

The plants and flowers of the beautiful University of Illinois Arboretum
Dori, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

One hundred sixty acres of the university’s Urbana-Champaign campus have been transformed into gardens, habitats, and collections, specially designed for fine arts, applied arts, and plant sciences students.

However, the Arboretum is not just used for educational purposes but also as a venue for various occasions and celebrations such as weddings, sports, and group gatherings.

Visit the Ponds, the Noel Welcome Garden, Miles C. Hartley Garden, Sen Cherry Tree Allee, and the Master Gardener’s Idea Garden.

Wooden benches at University of Illinois Arboretum
Dori, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Find Out What’s Happening at the AMBUCS Park

Located along E. University Avenue, AMBUCS Park sits as a leased park from the Urbana-Champaign Park District.

It used to be called Woodland Park; however, the city changed it in 2000 after the Greater Champaign County AMBUCS service club.

Under the Urbana Park District, the park has added several features: a 75-foot wooden bridge, a wheelchair-accessible wooden boat, the ‘Ron Meyers Express’ wooden train, telephone boots, and elevated sandboxes.

Interestingly, it also has a softball field home to the Challenger League—a baseball program for physically-challenged youngsters.

With pavilions, open fields, paved paths, playgrounds, restrooms, and grills, the AMBUCS Park should give you a ton of fun.

Watch a Show at the State Farm Center

Exterior of State Farm Center
Ted Stelling / Shutterstock.com

One of the most exciting entertainment places in the Urbana-Champaign area is the State Farm Center.

It opened in March 1963 and, to date, has been attracting thousands of visitors for its construction and design.

At one time in its history, the dome was one of the world’s only two-edge supported domes.

Interior of State Farm Center
Rossdbrown, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The architect and distinguished University of Illinois alumnus Max Abramovitz designed the venue.

Consisting of 15,500 permanent seats, the State Farm Center is a great arena, comparable to those in major cities.

This number goes up to 16,500 when portable seats are placed on the floor.

Marvel at the Spring Wildflower Display in the Busey Woods

Busey Woods, located on the northern part of Crystal Lake Park, features a dense Oakland-Hickory Forest.

One of the things to look out for here is its stunning spring wildflower display—an unforgettable sight.

There’s also a 1/3-mile elevated boardwalk from which you can admire the birdlife of the forest.

Busey Woods is an excellent place for you to go hiking, biking, or running, thanks to the Busey Woods Loop, which spans 2.1 kilometers.

Beginner hikers will enjoy it here because the trail is an easy route, which only takes 29 minutes to complete.

Though a popular trail that attracts visitors and locals, you can still enjoy solitude here during certain quiet times of the day.

See the Home of the Illinois Fighting Illini at the Memorial Stadium

Front entrance of Memorial Stadium
Ethan Rubarts / Shutterstock.com

Here’s another essential landmark in Champaign.

The Memorial Stadium, located in Champaign City, was built in 1923 in honor of the men and women of Illinois who gave their lives for the nation during the First World War.

High angle view of Memorial Stadium's exterior
Pwojdacz, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

You can find their names on the 200 columns on the stadium’s east and west sides.

It can seat 60,670 attendees on two tiers of bleachers and has a newly-installed high-definition video that measures 36 feet tall by 96 feet wide.

The stadium was home to the NFL’s Chicago Bears in 2002 for one season while renovating the Soldier Field.

Aerial view of Memorial Stadium's field
Lectrician2, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Relax at the Alto Vineyards

Get swept away by the views and wines of the Alto Vineyards, located on the foothills of Alto Pass’ Shawnee National Forest.

Relax in the ambiance of Southern Illinois’ oldest and most award-winning winery, whose first vintage in 1988 won numerous awards in national and international competitions.

Explore all nine acres of grapevines, showcasing scenic views of its surroundings, before enjoying the live entertainment on weekends.

They opened their second wine tasting room in 2001 and now offer 20 wines, free wifi, beer, and more.

Go Ice Skating at the University of Illinois Ice Arena

Exterior of University of Illinois Ice Arena
FeyginFoto / Shutterstock.com

Located on E. Armory Avenue in Champaign, the University of Illinois Ice Arena has a storied history.

The university built it in 1931, and it has operated under Campus Recreation since 1977.

Spanning 55,000 square feet, it is the only ice arena in the Urbana Champaign area.

A hockey game in University of Illinois Ice Arena
Adam Jones from Kelowna, BC, Canada, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The place is not just for the university students but also for the public, where they can play drop-in hockey, join public skate and freestyle sessions, and participate in recreational hockey games called the Rat Hockey.

After a good session, grab some snacks and refreshments at the Center Ice Cafe.

Try their hot coffee and chocolate, fountain drinks, and smoothies.

Visit the William M. Staerkel Planetarium

If you want to discover the universe without leaving the planet, go to the William M. Staerkel Planetarium, inside the campus of Parkland College.

This planetarium is also the second-largest one in the state of Illinois.

This 50-foot dome with 128 seats offers an exciting way to learn about the planets and stars through a digital projection system.

The planetarium was the vision of the college’s first president, William Staerkel.

Explore the Champaign Public Library

Exterior of Champaign Public Library
Dori, CC BY-SA 3.0 US, via Wikimedia Commons

The Champaign Public Library serves as a vital community center where every community member is welcome.

For ten years, it has earned a star rating from the Library Journal and is among the top 5% of public libraries.

It has vast collections of books on all subjects for all ages.

Their main library is on W. Green St. in Champaign, while the Douglas Branch Library is on E. Grove St. in Champaign.

You can reserve their meeting rooms or check out their Friendship Bookstore.

Come here and use their wifi and computers for your research needs.

Learn about America’s Musical Heritage at the Sousa Archives and Center for American Music

A phonograph displayed inside Sousa Archives and Center for American Music
The University of Illinois Library, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

If you want to find out more about the music heritage of America, then the Sousa Archives and Center for American Music will amaze you.

Here, you will find diverse music and historical instrument collections.

The center hosts the largest collection of John Philip Sousa’s original compositions.

Stack of books inside Sousa Archives and Center for American Music
University of Illinois Library, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

It also preserves archival records in multimedia formats, documenting the country's local and national music history.

Even if you don't like music, you will still love the stories that this place tells.

Xylophone displayed in Sousa Archives and Center for American Music
University of Illinois Library, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Spend a Day Swimming at the Sholem Aquatic Center

Go to the Sholem Aquatic Center, located on Sangamon Dr. in Champaign, for a day of fun, splashing, and adventure.

The kids will love all the features of this destination, including its zero-depth pool, spray and play features, and the kiddie pool and slide.

If you want to exercise and test your swimming strokes, you can go to the 8-lane-25-yard lap pool.

Don’t miss the tube slide that will send you to the lazy river or the waterslides that let you twirl and spiral down into the pool.

You can also bask in the sun in the seating areas.

This place offers one of the best family destinations in Champaign.

Final Thoughts

Urbana-Champaign presents an endless offering of sights to see and things to do.

It is easy to see that the University of Illinois’ campus has contributed a lot to the community.

If you’re looking for a place to visit for your next vacation, visit the twin cities of Urbana-Champaign.