16 Free Things to Do in Champaign, IL

Free Things to Do in Champaign, IL
Henryk Sadura / shutterstock.com

Champaign is a small yet vibrant city in Illinois, south of Chicago.

Founded in 1855, the city traces its origin and development to the arrival of the Illinois Central Railroad in the area.

It serves as home to the University of Illinois and several tech companies.

With a lively downtown and a great park system, the city boasts both urban comforts and fun and lovely outdoor leisure opportunities.

The city is also a thriving cultural hub and home to an active art community, offering plenty of entertainment, music, and festivals to experience.

If you’re a traveler who likes to make the most of your trips, the city has free attractions and activities—from visiting heritage sites to admiring its natural attractions.

Here’s a list of some free things to do in Champaign, Illinois, to help you plan your visit to the city:

Explore the City’s Downtown

Aerial view of Downtown Champaign
Henryk Sadura / Shutterstock.com

A visit to the city wouldn’t be complete without exploring its vibrant downtown.

Visiting this historic neighborhood lined with cultural landmarks, various shops, and institutions is a great way to experience the city.

Most of the establishments are housed in beautiful buildings and structures around Main Street, offering plenty of opportunities for sightseeing.

A brewery at Downtown Champaign
CU Wiki Users/BrianZelip, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Go on a leisurely walk around downtown and take in the lovely sights and sounds.

If you’re visiting during the Christmas season, you can enjoy the festive sceneries around as the neighborhood gets decked in holiday decorations.

Shops along Downtown Champaign
Beyond My Ken, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Check Out the Collections at the Krannert Art Museum

Spend a day of art appreciation at the Krannert Art Museum.

One of the largest in the state, this museum at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has over 11,000 art pieces from various time periods.

Admire the museum’s lovely façade and explore the sculptures in the outdoor garden.

Inside, stroll along the galleries and see its rich collection, from ancient Mediterranean artifacts and African art pieces to American and European art.

You can also check out their changing exhibitions throughout the year.

The Krannert Art Museum is located along East Peabody Drive within the university campus.

Take a Lovely Tree Walk at Hessel Park

Take your kids to Hessel Park and enjoy the lush greenery.

This lovely open park features over 20 acres of green spaces, walking paths, play areas for kids, a splash pad, and public art.

It is home to over 30 varieties of trees, which you can see and learn more about when you take a tree walk around the park.

You can see magnolia trees, native sweetgum trees, various types of oaks, and eastern cottonwoods, among others.

The park has a tree walk booklet that you can use to know more about the background of the park’s trees.

You can find Hessel Park along Grandview Drive.

Explore the Greenbelt Bikeway Trail

Enjoy biking across the city when you go on the Greenbelt Bikeway Trail.

Traversing almost 1.5 miles in the city, this trail goes through three city parks.

Hop on your bike and hit the trail for some fresh air and lovely nature views within the city.

Cycle through the parks, take a quick stop and enjoy the sights that each one offers.

You can access the Greenbelt Bikeway Trail via the north-end trail point along Parkland Way Drive.

See the Sculptures at West Side Park

The grounds of West Side Park
Kaveh k, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Get a glimpse of the city’s rich arts spaces when you visit West Side Park.

The 13.0-acre park features lovely green spaces ideal for leisure walks and exploring.

There are also walking paths and play areas for children.

The park is also home to several public art sculptures that you can admire.

Prayer for rain sculpture at West Side Park
Smallbones, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

Take a relaxing walk and try to see all the sculptures.

If you’re visiting in the fall, the park is also a great spot to enjoy the season’s colors.

You can find West Side Park along West University Avenue.

Enjoy a Family Farm Adventure at Prairie Farm

Take your family on a fun summer day out at Prairie Farm.

This facility is a replica farm featuring various farm animals, pastures, gardens, and plenty of family-friendly activities.

Tour your kids around and meet the farm’s resident sheep, cows, turtles, pigs, and goats.

Stop by the pond and see the lovely koi fish.

There are big trees that provide shade as well as wandering paths around, great for a summer day out with the family.

You can find Prairie Farm along West Kirby Avenue.

Go Fishing at Kaufman Lake

Spend a quiet day of fishing at Kaufman Lake.

Covering almost 30 acres, this park features green open spaces, picnic spots, and access to the lake.

Enjoy the beautiful scenery as you cast a line on the waters.

You can catch largemouth bass, channel catfish, bluegill, and redear sunfish.

You can also enjoy playing with your radio-controlled boats in the late or take a lovely walk around for some fresh air.

Kaufman Lake is located along West Springfield Avenue.

Visit the Champaign County History Museum

Exterior of the Champaign County History Museum
Beyond My Ken, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Enjoy a glimpse into the past when you visit the Champaign County History Museum.

Established in the 1970s, the museum has over 20,000 historical items, showcasing rich stories from the county’s past.

Explore the galleries and learn more about the area’s history through photographs and informative exhibits.

It also mounts seasonal art exhibits featuring the works of various local artists.

The museum is housed at the historic 19th-century Cattle Bank, the county’s oldest commercial building and a landmark listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

You can find the Champaign County History Museum along East University Avenue.

See the City’s Olympic Tribute at Dodd’s Park

If you’re a sports enthusiast, don’t miss out on Dodd’s Park to see Champaign’s Olympic Tribute.

The site honors the over 40 Olympic and Paralympic athletes of the county.

Stroll around and see the names of these outstanding athletes inscribed on the lovely granite platform.

You can also enjoy relaxing views of the surrounding countryside from the site.

You can find the Olympic Tribute at Dodd’s Park along North Mattis Avenue.

Play Pickleball at Centennial Park

Put on your tennis shoes and head to Centennial Park for some pickleball action.

Spanning almost 70 acres, this expansive park features lovely green spaces, tennis courts, and a pickleball complex.

Get active and play a round of pickleball with friends.

You can also enjoy exploring the park grounds, checking out the art sculptures, or just taking in the lovely sight of the greenery.

Centennial Park is located along West Kirby Avenue.

Admire the Champaign City Building

Exterior of the Champaign City Building
Beyond My Ken, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

While sightseeing in the city, stop by the Champaign City Building.

Serving as the city’s symbol, this beautiful structure traces its history back to the 1930s.

This public building houses various city government departments.

You can admire the building’s architecture, with its lovely art deco style elements.

You might find the structure’s silhouette familiar, and that’s because it also serves as the city’s logo.

The Champaign City Building is located along North Neil Street.

Experience the Parade of Lights

If you happen to be in the city during the Christmas season, don’t miss out on experiencing the magic of the city’s Parade of Lights.

This annual event is the city’s biggest holiday tradition, kicking up the community’s season festivities.

Head downtown and see the wonderful floats of the parade light up the streets.

Watch the marching bands go for some holiday cheer.

There are also various activities and pre-parade events happening downtown on the day of the Parade of Lights.

Relax at Heritage Park

If you’re looking for a spot to just enjoy the fresh air and clear your mind, head to Heritage Park.

Covering over 40 acres, the park offers a great spot for spending a quiet morning or an afternoon break.

The park has open spaces, paved trails, and a bikeway.

Take a nice stroll around and enjoy views of the park’s greenery.

The park is also home to a small, lovely prairie area offering relaxing nature views.

You can find Heritage Park along West Bradley Avenue.

Take Photos of the Historic Virginia Theatre

Side view of the Historic Virginia Theatre's exterior
LK Maitri / Shutterstock.com

See the beauty of the historic Virginia Theatre.

Opened in 1921, this downtown theater has served as a venue for thousands of performances.

The century-old theater’s movie screen has also seen the development of film technology across the decades, from silent films to high-definition movies.

Exterior of the Historic Virginia Theatre
Simone Williams - 3D Tour Gallery Photography, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Stop by the theater, marvel at its architecture, and learn more about its history and role in the area’s entertainment scene.

In 2003, it was listed in the National Register of Historic Places for its architectural and entertainment significance.

The Virginia Theatre is located along West Park Avenue.

Check Out Champaign’s Public Art

Go sightseeing and check out the city’s numerous public art pieces.

Champaign’s public spaces are home to many art pieces open for everyone to admire.

Discover the city’s art scene as you view these public art pieces.

Snap some shots of colorful murals and interesting sculptures to remind you of your vacation.

You can find these fascinating artworks in downtown as well as in various parks and facilities across the city.

Visit the Sousa Archives and Center for American Music

If you’re a music lover, check out the Sousa Archives and Center for American Music.

This center is part of the University of Illinois and was named after John Philip Sousa, a renowned American composer.

It is home to an extensive collection of music and instruments that document American music history and culture.

Take a tour of the center’s collection, which include gramophones and other musical artifacts.

You can also explore the center’s various informative exhibits.

The Sousa Archives and Center for American Music is located along South Sixth Street.

Other Things to Do Nearby

There are many other interesting sites that you can explore from Champaign.

Here are some of them:

Enjoy the Zen Gardens of Japan House

Exterior of Japan House
Japanteaurbana, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

If you’re a garden enthusiast or looking for more interesting spots to explore nearby, check out the beautiful gardens of Japan House, seven minutes from Champaign.

Fascinating Japanese gardens surround this facility nestled in the Urbana area of the University of Illinois campus.

Explore the grounds and immerse yourself in the tranquil space unique to Japanese gardens.

Enjoy the striking design of the dry garden and its wonderful views.

Stroll along the tea garden and admire the lovely evergreen shrubs and perennials.

The Japan House is a three-mile drive from downtown Champaign.

See the Spring Wildflowers at Busey Woods

When visiting in spring, take the opportunity to visit Busey Woods in nearby Urbana, five minutes from Champaign.

This 59-acre natural area covers an oak-hickory forest, offering opportunities to enjoy the calm and charm of woodlands.

You can admire its lovely display of various wildflowers in spring.

You can also go bird-watching as you stroll along the boardwalk.

Busey Woods is a 2.2-mile drive from downtown Champaign.

Visit the Spurlock Museum of World Cultures

Take a short drive to Urbana and visit the Spurlock Museum of World Cultures, five minutes from Champaign.

Located within the campus of the University of Illinois, this museum showcases various contemporary feature exhibits.

Visit the galleries and learn about the culture of various peoples across the globe in different time periods, from ancient Mediterranean, Egypt, Asia, and Europe, to the Americas.

You can see interesting artifacts on display from the museum’s collection, including ceramics, art pieces, and notable objects.

The Spurlock Museum of World Cultures is a two-mile drive from downtown Champaign.

Final Thoughts

If you’re thinking of visiting Illinois, don’t miss out on experiencing the fun in Champaign.

The city has lovely parks, relaxing nature spots, and a lively downtown, offering plenty of sites and attractions to explore throughout the year.

Get started on planning your visit, and don’t forget to try some of these free things to do in Champaign, Illinois.

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