A vibrant college town, the bohemian Bloomington lies in the center of the state, just an hour’s drive southwest of the capital Indianapolis. Thanks to Indiana University and its large student body, the city has a lively, youthful feel with plays, concerts and art shows all constantly taking place.
For just over two centuries now, the college has had a huge impact on the development and identity of B-Town with its gorgeous campus a considerable part of downtown. Here you can watch epic Big Ten sports events, visit its exquisite art museum or enjoy all the attractive old architectural treasures around you. Courthouse Square is the other main hub of activity in town as cool little bars and cafes lie next to loads of excellent ethnic restaurants and university bookshops.
Besides walking or cycling along the B-Line Trail that connects most of its main attractions, it is also well worth venturing out to see some of the things to do in Bloomington’s surrounding nature spots. Known as the ‘Gateway to Scenic Southern Indiana’, it lies near the lovely Lake Monroe and Hoosier National Forest; both of which offer up all kinds of fun outdoor activities.
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12. Eskenazi Museum of Art
Home to lots of phenomenal paintings and photos, sculptures and prints is the outstanding Eskenazi Museum of Art. Part of Indiana University, its distinctive I.M. Pei-designed building lies right in the center of the campus, alongside the arboretum.
What started in 1941 as simply a small teaching collection has since grown into a marvelous art museum containing approximately 45,000 artifacts and artworks. These impressively span countless centuries and hail from almost every corner of the globe.
When wandering about its galleries, you will therefore see everything from ancient busts of Roman emperors to arresting Oceanian carvings, Islamic vases and Expressionist pieces. After seeing many masterpieces by Monet, Picasso, Pollock and others, make sure to check out its incredible Japanese prints and Chinese porcelains.
11. Indiana Memorial Stadium
Just a short walk to the north of the art museum is the enormous Indiana Memorial Stadium. At the hallowed arena, you can watch the Hoosiers college football team play their action-packed games in front of 50,000 fervent fans.
Since being built in 1960, the hulking great stadium has been renovated numerous times with all the seats in its steep stands offering perfect views of the slick field-turf surface down below. Despite its staggering size, it is surprisingly only the tenth largest in the Big Ten Conference. Plenty of snack stands and concessions stalls are dotted about while exciting half-time shows also help keep people entertained.
Thanks to the exhilarating atmosphere, attending a game at ‘the Rock’ is almost a rite of passage for many families in the area with huge tailgating parties also taking place in the run-up to the match.
10. McCormick’s Creek State Park
A very peaceful and picturesque place to explore, McCormick’s Creek State Park can be found just twenty-five minutes drive northwest of downtown. Amidst its scenic confines, visitors can hike and horseback ride about with some fabulous fishing and camping also being on offer.
The oldest state park in Indiana, it was established back in 1916 to protect all its craggy limestone landscapes and pristine woods. Centered around the quiet creek and canyon of the same name, it has some fantastic waterfalls for you to hike to with other trails taking you by hidden caves or alongside the rambling river.
There is also an old quarry to stop by and a swimming pool, tennis courts and a recreation centre for guests to make use of. Much of its infrastructure was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the thirties with campgrounds and the cosy Canyon Inn providing outdoor lovers with accommodation should they want to spend longer in the park.
9. Bloomington Community Farmers Market
Loads of fun to peruse, the Bloomington Community Farmers Market is held each year from April through November at Showers Common, right in front of the City Hall. As well as a wide selection of fresh produce, it also has tasty baked goods, jams and Hoosier honey for you to pick up.
Ever since 1975, farmers have headed to the lively yet laidback market to sell their locally produced cheeses, milk, meats and maple syrups. Over thirty vendors now set up stalls with some displaying colourful crops from their fields and others delicious snacks, hot coffee and handmade crafts.
Very popular with locals and tourists alike, the bustling market is a lovely way to start the weekend with live music and other entertainment also often featuring. Very conveniently located along the B-Line Trail, it also runs a Tuesday market if you can’t wait til Saturday for your fruit and veg fix.
8. Buskirk-Chumley Theater
Just a stone’s throw away is the brilliant Buskirk-Chumley Theater which puts on all kinds of superb concerts and shows. Part of the Courthouse Square Historic District, the atmospheric old venue is a magical place to enjoy a performance with something new and interesting taking place all the time.
Originally opened in 1922 as a vaudeville house, it boasts some exquisite Spanish Mission Revival style architecture while a bright red neon marquee greets you at the entrance. Thankfully restored to its former glory in the nineties, its grand lobby and mezzanine areas now showcase some delightful Art Deco decor.
In the community theater’s intimate auditorium, you can watch everything from local ballet recitals and student stand-up comedy nights to concerts by big-name acts and shows by touring orchestras. Film festivals are also held here as are lectures, plays by local theater troops and Christmas specials.
7. Hoosier National Forest
If you’re looking to immerse yourself in nature and enjoy some exciting outdoor activities, then the humongous Hoosier National Forest is the ideal place to go. Within its vast, wild reaches amidst the rolling hills of south-central Indiana, outdoor aficionados can hike, bike, camp and rock climb with barely another soul in sight.
From Bloomington, it takes just over an hour’s drive to arrive at what is currently the only national forest in the entire state. Founded in 1961, it encompasses almost endless woodlands and rural areas with some pretty waterways also snaking their way about its karst landscapes.
Its untouched wilderness has more than 260 miles of trails for you to explore with horseback riding and wildlife watching being particularly popular pastimes. If you love views, head to the top of the Hickory Ridge Lookout Tower and gaze out over the forest’s gorgeous green canopy before you.
Back in the center of the happening college town is the aptly-named WonderLab: a top-class science museum that inspires awe and excitement through its fun hands-on activities. Long a firm favorite with families and school groups, it has two floors of interactive exhibits and experiments to try out.
What began in 1995 as a traveling outreach program run by volunteers has since grown into a state-of-the-art facility full of interesting science displays and engaging play areas. While some sections cover magnets and melody, others look at light, electricity, gravity and bubble-making.
In addition, there are also some amazing animal exhibits and an aquarium to ogle at and a two-story climbing maze that always attracts plenty of curious little climbers. Outside is a lush garden to stroll about with science shows, STEM workshops and animal encounters also being held at the museum which like many of the city’s sights lies along the B-Line Trail.
5. Monroe Lake
Not to be missed is massive Monroe Lake which offers up lots of fun watersports and outdoor recreation opportunities. Set just twenty minutes drive south of town, its scenic shores and sparkling waters are a very popular place to head, particularly during the sunny summer months.
The state’s largest inland body of water, the man-made reservoir was formed in the sixties following the damming of Salt Creek. Partly surrounded by the huge Hoosier National Forest, it has more than a hundred miles of sublime shoreline to explore with cozy campsites and sleek marinas dotted about alongside sandy beaches and verdant woodlands.
You can rent kayaks, pedalos and boats and paddle about the lake’s shimmering surface or go jet-skiing and windsurfing. Plenty of playgrounds and mini-golf courses also border the large reservoir as do hiking trails, fishing spots and family-friendly resorts.
4. Tibetan Mongolian Buddhist Cultural Center
Lying on the southeastern edge of the city in a very serene spot is the Tibetan Mongolian Buddhist Cultural Center. Besides ambling about the tranquil monastery and seeing one of the only traditional Tibetan stupas in the States, you can learn all about their rich heritage and religion through lectures, meditation sessions and summer retreats.
One of the oldest and largest centers of Buddhism in the country, it was established back in 1979 by Thubten Jigme Norbu; an Indiana University professor and brother to the 14th Dalai Lama. Tucked away amidst its leafy grounds are colourful temples and statues like the intricately detailed Tibetan Butter Sculptures which feature various deities, animals, flowers and other motifs.
While enjoying all the artistic and architectural treasures is already a very pleasant way to pass the time, it is well worth attending a class or ceremony if you can. This enables you to come away with an even greater understanding and appreciation for the ancient history and culture of Tibet.
3. Oliver Winery
After all the sightseeing and strenuous outdoor activities, why not sit back and sip a refreshing glass of wine at the award-winning Oliver Winery. Located just off of Interstate 69, some fifteen minutes drive north of downtown, it has terrific tours and tastings for you to enjoy at their fertile vineyard.
Originally the passion project of William Oliver, another professor at Indiana University, the winery has now wowed wine connoisseurs and casual drinkers alike for the last fifty years. At its secluded site, guests can see how their fruity reds, whites and roses are produced before sampling some either in its tasting room or on the terrace looking out over the gorgeous gardens.
Both the largest and oldest winery in Indiana, it now distributes its incredible collection of wines to over forty states all around the country.
2. Indiana University
Covering a huge part of the city center, Indiana University has a lovely park-like layout with lots of green spaces lying amidst all its historic halls and college buildings. Its flagship campus has a very lively, youthful feel with concerts, sports events and art shows taking place all the time.
Since being founded in 1820, the prestigious public institute of higher education has had a profound impact on the growth, development and identity of Bloomington. Once past its iconic Sample Gates entrance, you’ll find beautifully maintained grounds and dozens of impressive old libraries, some art galleries and museums.
To learn all about the university and life on campus, make sure to take one of its daily tours. These take you past sites such as the Old Crescent historic district and even into some of the students’ halls of residence. At the Memorial Stadium, you can watch the Hoosiers college football team play with action-packed basketball games held at the Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall.
1. B-Line Trail
A wonderful way to see yet more of the city and its scenic surroundings is to walk, run, jog or cycle along the B-Line Trail. Very popular with locals and tourists alike, it passes many of Bloomington’s main sights and connects several small parks, plazas and neighborhoods.
Stretching just over three miles in total, the multipurpose paved path was officially opened in 2009 as part of a project to rejuvenate downtown. Built atop an abandoned old railway line, it starts at the east side of Adams Street before slowly meandering its way to Country Club Drive where it joins up with the Bloomington Rail Trail.
Along the pretty route, you’ll find top attractions like WonderLab, the Community Farmers Market and Switchyard Park’s playgrounds and sports facilities. Benches, green spaces and public artworks also line the trail while countless coffee shops and eateries can be found nearby.