Whether you grew up across the world or on the other side of Green Street, you’ll find things to do in Champaign-Urbana to keep you busy and distract you from your homework as necessary.
Champaign-Urbana has annual events that introduce you to new art, culture, and people all year long, and we’re sharing some of our favorites with you. This is by no means a comprehensive list; to explore more options and view a calendar of what’s happening in our area, head on over to the Visit Champaign County website. They know what’s up.
Cherry Blossoms at Japan House
People from all over the world come to Japan House to usher in a new spring season by taking in the fleeting beauty of sakura, or cherry blossoms. After emerging from the cold of winter, these delicate blooms last just a single week, reminding their viewers how transient life is. Japan House encourages the ancient tradition of celebrating under the 50 cherry trees that comprise our Sen Cherry Tree Allée, and you should take them up on the offer. Trust us, the experience will move you.
Black & African Arts Festival
With two days of festivities in September, the CU Black and African Arts Festival celebrates Black and African culture through live music and performances, local business vendors, and some very tasty food. The free event was brought to life four years ago as a way to expose and give a culturally diverse experience to CU and surrounding communities by expressing both the Black and African heritage. Suffice it to say it does all that and more, and we encourage you to join in the fun!
It’s no secret that Homecoming is a fan favorite on UIUC’s campus. The event kicks off when the Alice Campbell Alumni Center dyes our iconic fountain orange, and then it’s off to the races (literally!) with the Homecoming 5K race. The big celebration culminates with the homecoming parade and football game on Saturday. I-L-L, I-N-I!
CU celebrates Pride Fest each fall with programming all over Champaign, Urbana, and Campustown. This past year, the week-long event included its signature Pride Fest Parade and Fair, a “We Are Here” Queer BIPOC Block Party, Queer Homecoming Dance, Pride Nature Hike, SERVED! Drag Brunch, and a whole lot more. CU Pride Fest is hosted by Uniting Pride, which advocates for the equality, advocacy, and visibility of the LGBTQIA+ communities in Champaign County. Thank you, UP!
Since its inception in 2017, Champaign County Area Restaurant Week has celebrated our diverse and award-winning culinary scene. Last year, 39 restaurants across Champaign-Urbana and the surrounding communities participated, serving up Filipino, Indian, Cambodian, Thai, Laos, Mexican, Carribbean, Italian, Zambian, vegetarian, vegan, soul food, farm-to-table, and standard American fare. Is your mouth watering yet? Us too! You don’t need any other reason to attend.
The three-day festival known as Pygmalion is jam-packed full of music, art, literature, technology, and maker components. Close to 20 years old and held in a variety of venues throughout Urbana, this event is lauded for its creativity. Its planners view the festival as an “event of discovery,” where they hope to introduce attendees to new experiences (the good kind!).
Roger Ebert’s Film Festival, which was founded by Ebert himself over 20 years ago, “celebrates films that haven’t received the recognition they deserved during their original runs.” Although the Pulitzer Prize-winning film critic and UIUC journalism graduate passed away in 2013, Ebert’s influence on the festival continues thanks to his wife, business partner, and fellow film-lover Chaz Ebert. We consistently give Ebertfest, which is held every April, two thumbs up.
Boneyard Arts Festival
Each spring, Champaign-Urbana comes alive with creativity through the Boneyard Arts Festival. This three-day event brings together local businesses, organizations, and artists to showcase the very best art in town! Local venues like theaters, retail stores, cafes, and museums turn into galleries for the festival, with over 90 locations across the county. Boneyard, which started in 2002, not only showcases art but also the vibrant cultural traditions found in the CU community. You won’t want to miss it!
In addition to all those events you just added to your calendar, Champaign-Urbana offers daily options for all seasons and for all kinds of people. Looking for a rugged outdoor hike? Can do. A four-course culinary adventure? Of course. Petting zoos and corn mazes? All you have to do is ask.
The State Farm Center
If you’re into sports, you probably don’t need us to tell you that you can catch some great Fighting Illini games at the State Farm Center. If you’re not into sports, try the State Farm Center for the concerts or the contests. There’s something for everyone, assuming you like fun and a good stadium seat.
If you couldn’t tell already (see Restaurant Week), Champaign-Urbana punches well above its weight when it comes to food. Midwest Living agrees, as evidenced by the fact that C-U won first place in the People’s Choice for Greatest Midwestern Food Towns. We have dozens of local restaurants that you won’t find anywhere else, with tons of variety and cuisines from all over the world. You can’t get a breakfast burrito, fried chicken, shawarma, and a bubble tea all on the same block in every Midwestern town, folks. Not that we recommend that as a frequent meal plan, but you get the point.
The Arboretum & Japan House
The Arboretum and the Japan House are a two-for-one experience located just off campus. The Arboretum stretches over 160 acres but has a handy walking path that will lead you around a pond, past the Japan House, and under an impressive range of different trees.
As evidenced by its cherry blossom tradition, the Japan House aims to make the beauty of traditional Japanese arts and culture accessible to everyone. It offers tours, Japanese tea ceremonies, and even some light shopping. To experience the aesthetics of a traditional Japanese environment, be sure to explore the Japanese gardens around the house, too.
Champaign-Urbana has a healthy live music scene, and, fortunately for you, isn’t afraid to show it off. You can find live music at a variety of venues outdoors, indoors, and in all different seasons (although we admit you’re going to have better luck with outdoor music in some seasons than others. Talking about you, winter).
The Ice Arena
If you’ve never seen a hockey match, you owe it to yourself to buy a ticket and visit the ice arena sometime. Even better, after you’ve watched the experts in action, you can reenact the violence yourself by renting your own skates at the arena. Skate rentals are only a couple of dollars, which means you can enjoy the true Midwestern experience of slipping around on the ice without the fear of plunging through it (a real buzzkill, even for the Midwestern diehards).
Krannert Center for the Performing Arts
Host to world-renowned acts every year, Krannert Center is one of the finest performance facilities anywhere in the country. Even better? UIUC students never pay more than $10 for a ticket! For over five decades, Krannert Center has welcomed hundreds of thousands of patrons through its doors to witness the life-affirming power of the performing arts. Now that’s what you call “worth it.”
The Staerkel Planetarium
The Staerkel Planetarium offers different events and lectures designed to cosmically blow your mind, including presentations on the formation of planet earth and whether or not it really was an asteroid that killed the dinosaurs. What better way to put that not-great test score into perspective than pondering what a multiple-choice test really means in the face of an unknowable and ever-expanding universe?
The Krannert Art Museum
The Krannert Art Museum is the second-largest fine art museum in the state, and it’s totally free. Whether you’re an established art snob or mostly only go into museums for the temperature control, you’ll find something that catches your eye. How could you not, when the museum has over 11,000 pieces of art from the 4th century BC all the way up to the present?
Meadowbrook Park is 130 acres of woods and natural Illinois prairie, with a few quaint babbling brooks along the way for extra geographic diversity. If 130 acres sounds like a bit much, don’t worry; there are well-maintained paths along the way to make sure you can find your way out again. It’s a great place to go for some outdoor exercise or nature sightings, or to take your parents when you’re not sure what to do with them and want to show them something that will make your mom say, “Well, isn’t this nice!”
The Champaign Public Library & the Urbana Free Library
Is it lame to recommend libraries on a list like this? No. No, it’s not. Especially when the Champaign Public Library has been ranked in the top 5% of libraries nationwide (4.67% technically, but we don’t like to brag). Both libraries offer all kinds of classes and events, from craft sessions to writers’ meet-ups and short-story contests, and both will allow you to check out more than just books.
Campus offers plenty of green spaces with enough grass to stretch out and pitch your spikeball net, including Illini Grove. The Grove has grills, picnic tables, and a pavilion ready for an impromptu barbeque, but caters to the more active crowd as well with volleyball nets and tennis and basketball courts. It’s even got plenty of sturdy trees if you’re looking for a place to hang your hammock or slackline, or if you’re just trying to avoid the sun.
With the mighty trifecta of the Urbana Market at the Square, the Champaign Farmer’s Market, and the Sustainable Student Farm all within a few miles of each other, you’ll never lack for seasonal vegetables or handmade dog bandanas. These produce and craft markets (although the Sustainable Student Farm keeps things strictly edible) are a great way to get to know the community and guiltlessly buy produce, pumpkin bread, earrings made of cool rocks, more jars of honey than you’ll probably ever eat, and more. After all, you’re supporting small businesses!
All kinds of orchards and fall festivals offer apple and pumpkin picking as well as tons of cider, baked goods, and other fall foods that are extremely hard to resist. We’ve got venues that offer haunted corn mazes, regular corn mazes, regular easy-to-navigate cornfields, and any other fall activity you’ve been craving. There’s a long list of fall activities to try in Champaign Urbana, so you really should get started right away.
Just a Drive Away
If you’ve got a car, we’ve got one more destination for you. If you don’t have a car, it might be time to befriend that roommate with the slick ‘09 Honda Accord.
At one point or another, we’ve all looked around Champaign-Urbana and thought, “This is nice, but it could really use an old European-style mansion with fountains and sprawling flower gardens and maybe a few sculptures tucked away along a wooded trail.” If you, too, have had that very specific thought, we strongly recommend visiting Allerton Park. Donated to UIUC way back in 1946, the park is free to visit and offers beautiful little walking trails around the aforementioned house and gardens, as well as longer trails that go through the nearby woods.
The next time you and your friends find yourselves wondering what to do over the weekend, why jump straight to watching a movie on your cramped (and, let’s face it, kind of dusty) laptop screen? With all the things to do in Champaign-Urbana, you can make every Friday night, lazy Sunday morning, or homework-procrastination session a memorable one.