College towns are full of energy, culture, and nostalgia, and are fun destinations for group tours. Whether the group is rediscovering an alma mater, connecting with other alumni, getting to know a nearby university, or cheering on a favorite college team, trips to college towns are filled with unique experiences.

At college towns across the Midwest, travelers can shop for game day gear, visit top-notch museums, take in performances by young artists, and discover the groundbreaking work being done inside the universities’ hallowed halls. But that’s not all—more fun can be found off campus, too, giving groups a full immersion into these beautiful and activity-rich towns. 

Ames, Iowa 

Is your group interested in agrotourism? Take a trip to Ames to spend time with the brilliant minds of the Iowa State University Cyclones. This university is a leading researcher in the agricultural bioengineering field, plus it’s within driving distance of major metropolitan areas like Chicago, St. Louis, and the Twin Cities. Learn about the future of biofuels at BioCentury Research Farm or tour the lovely 17-acre Reiman Gardens, which includes guided access to the Christina Reiman Butterfly Wing, Hughes Conservatory, and other areas.

Jack Trice Stadium, Ames, Iowa. Credit: Discover Ames
Jack Trice Stadium, Ames, Iowa,
Credit: Discover Ames

Groups also have the option to add an interesting program on butterflies, flowers, plants, or the latest exhibit. In downtown Ames—which is part of a network of revitalized and historic communities called Main Street America—visit the Ames History Museum and dine at the locally owned restaurants and eateries.

Ann Arbor, Michigan

The University of Michigan-Ann Arbor has one of the largest living alumni networks in the United States, and Wolverines can take a trip down memory lane with a group tour that suits all interests. Ann Arbor itineraries can include stops at the university’s many attractions, including the Nichols Arboretum, The Museum of Anthropological Archaeology, The Kelsey Museum of Archaeology, Museum of Art, and the Museum of Natural History.

Tour Michigan Stadium, aka “The Big House,” and see the team locker room, the press box, and premium seating, or bring a football and let your group experience the thrill of tossing the pigskin on the famous field. Interested in a history lesson? A short drive away from campus is the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library, which examines the life and legacy of the 38th President of the United States and former football player at the University of Michigan. 

University of Michigan Nichols Arboretum, Ann Arbor, Michigan,
Credit: Destination Ann Arbor

Bloomington, Indiana 

Home of the Hoosiers, Bloomington is often cited as one of the most beautiful college campuses in the U.S. A tour of the campus area includes plenty of history and culture. Stop by Wylie House Museum and get a guided look at the life of Indiana University’s first president, Andrew Wylie, and his family, then see the Ernie Pyle statue, which honors the Indiana University alumnus and Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist and war correspondent. Visit the lauded Eskenazi Museum of Art to peruse paintings by Monet, Picasso, and Pollock—plus many other notable contemporary artists, and be sure to commemorate the trip with a group photo at the iconic Sample Gates.

Columbus, Ohio 

Columbus doubles as the state capital and the home of The Ohio State University. For those not sure where to begin a tour, Columbus City Adventures offers themed tours of the city’s highlights. Sports enthusiasts will find plenty to interest them on campus, including touring Ohio Stadium, home to one of the best programs in college football history, and seeing one of the nation’s largest collegiate press boxes, the Steinbrenner Band Center, and much more.

Outside the stadium, see the statue honoring Olympic medalist Jesse Owens, and at the Jack Nicklaus Museum, follow the story of one of the greatest golfers of all time. Just south of campus, explore the brick-lined streets of German Village, a neighborhood established by German settlers hundreds of years ago. Today, this historical area offers plenty of shops and cafes to entertain groups, plus many community events, including holiday lights and markets. Across the Scioto River, spend a meaningful afternoon at the National Veterans Memorial and Museum.

Downtown Madison, Wisconsin, Credit: OVJ Photography
Downtown Madison, Wisconsin,
Credit: OVJ Photography

Madison, Wisconsin 

On the isthmus between Lake Mendota and Lake Monona lies the University of Wisconsin-Madison, home of the Wisconsin Badgers. In addition to being home to one of the top public universities for engineering, education, and public affairs, Madison is a small, walkable city full of activities. Explore the restaurants and stores along Capital Square and State Street.

Go behind the scenes of Badger sports with a tour of Camp Randall and the Kohl Center. Or, tour the Olbrich Botanical Gardens and catch a Broadway show at The Overture. And of course, it wouldn’t be a trip to Madison without splitting a pitcher of Wisconsin beer and some cheese curds on the Terrace at Memorial Union.

By Kate Lawless

Main Image: Camp Randall Arch, Madison, Wisconsin. Credit: Focal Flame Photography