An important economic and cultural center, South Bend lies right in the north of Indiana, just a stone’s throw from the border with Michigan. While several big businesses are based here, the Midwest metropolis is most known for being home to the University of Notre Dame and its famous Fighting Irish football team.
Named for its setting along the St. Joseph River’s southernmost bend, the city flourished around the turn of the century thanks to its thriving manufacturing companies. Although de-industrialization did hit hard, the prestigious institute of higher education and its pretty campus helped South Bend retain its relevance and attract students and jobs to the area.
From exploring historic buildings and outstanding art museums to attending thrilling sporting events at the university, there is a wide variety of things to do in South Bend. In recent years, its downtown has also spruced up considerably with top-class concert halls, arts centers and other attractions making the city an enthralling place to visit and explore.
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12. East Race Waterway
Loads of fun for beginners and experts alike, the exciting East Race Waterway sees you shoot your way down a set of roaring rapids, right in the heart of downtown. As the equipment is provided, all you have to do is worry about navigating its numerous obstacles, drops and the coursing current.
The first artificial whitewater course in North America, it was established back in 1984 along the abandoned East Race canal. Since then, thousands of kayakers and rafters have delighted in the epic experience which takes roughly five minutes to complete and stretches 1,900 feet in length.
While waiting to go again, you can always wander along the gorgeous green banks of the St. Joseph River or cheer on some of the other people attempting the course. As lots of lifeguards and support staff in kayaks line the route, it is very safe though you are almost certain to get wet at some point.
11. South Bend Chocolate Factory
Sure to appeal to those with a sweet tooth, the South Bend Chocolate Factory has some terrific tours for you to enjoy with tasty samples of course being handed out along the way. Set just a short drive southwest of the center, its old brick building also includes a museum and a gift shop where you can pick up boxes and bars to take home.
Founded in 1991 by Mark Tarner, the company now produces over 500 different kinds of chocolate and sweets and operates eleven stores across Northern Indiana. One of the most popular things to do for families is taking a tour where you learn all about the history and origins of chocolate before seeing how it is produced in the factory and tasting some of the brand’s best-loved products.
Afterwards, guests can explore one of the world’s largest collections of chocolate memorabilia in its museum before buying gift bags and other goodies to give to friends and family.
10. Snite Museum of Art
Boasting an astonishing array of paintings and photos, sculptures and prints is the Snite Museum of Art. Part of the University of Notre Dame campus, its arresting works cover countless centuries and hail from almost every corner of the globe.
While a small collection of Indian antiquities and artifacts was started at the university in 1875, the museum itself only dates to 1980 when the Snite family donated funds for its founding. Nowadays, its galleries display more than 30,000 art pieces and installations with the institute being particularly known for its Italian Renaissance paintings and Mesoamerican objects.
In addition to all this, major works by renowned artists such as Georgia O’Keeffe, Francois Boucher and Joan Miro can be viewed beside African and Native American artworks. Outside, there is also a super sculpture park for you to amble about before exploring the rest of the college’s leafy grounds.
9. Compton Family Ice Arena
Also located on the campus is the Compton Family Ice Arena. At its rinks, you can either watch one of the university’s Fighting Irish hockey teams play or skate about its slick surface yourself.
Opened back in 2011, the arena and its two sheets of ice replaced an earlier rink at the Joyce Center that its nationally ranked hockey teams had since outgrown. Game nights at the intimate venue are a memorable affair as the constantly cheering fans create an intoxicating atmosphere.
From all its seats, spectators can enjoy perfect views of the puck being passed about with plenty of concession stands dotted here and there. Other than catching an action-packed game, you can always skate around the impressive arena when the rinks are open most afternoons to the public.
8. Grotto of Our Lady Lourdes
Just a short walk across campus from the arena is yet another of the university’s top attractions: the lovely Grotto of Our Lady Lourdes. Lying right beside the Basilica of the Sacred Heart, the smallish shrine makes for some fabulous photos and viewing, especially when lit up at night.
Made out of great big boulders and stones collected from local farms, the gorgeous grotto was built in 1896, replacing an older wooden one erected a couple of decades earlier. Dedicated to Our Lady of Lourdes, the serene sanctuary is the ideal spot for prayer, meditation and outdoor masses.
Overlooking the popular pilgrimage site is a small statue of the Virgin Mary while a kneeling statue of St. Bernadette gazes up at her reverently from down below. After lighting a candle in the shrine’s cave and basking in its beauty, you can visit the basilica and golden dome right next to it.
7. Notre Dame Stadium
If on the other hand, you are after an exhilarating sporting event like no other, then the nearby Notre Dame Stadium is definitely the place to head to. One of the oldest and most iconic venues in college football, it hosts the frenetic and thrilling games of the university’s Fighting Irish team.
Modeled on the massive Michigan Stadium, it first opened back in 1930 with numerous renovations and extensions having taken place over the decades. Come game day, more than 77,000 fervent fans now pack out the stadium with huge tailgating parties also being held outside. Presiding over everything is a phenomenal 134-foot-high mural known as Touchdown Jesus.
Aside from roaring on the Fighting Irish in the enormous arena, you can also take behind the scenes tours with concerts and other sports events taking place from time to time.
6. Morris Performing Arts Center
Back in the center of South Bend is another fantastic venue to hit up if you’re after a top-class show or concert. At the Morris Performing Arts Center on North Michigan Street, you can enjoy a packed schedule of musicals, theater productions and dance performances in its elegant auditorium.
Now recognized as a National Historic Landmark, it was originally unveiled in 1922 as a vaudeville house before later becoming a movie palace. Restored to its former glory in the year 2000, it boasts some exquisite Spanish Renaissance Revival-style architecture with the concert hall’s rich rose, blue and cream color scheme being just as striking.
During the year, the opulent arts center puts on countless spectacles ranging from stand-up comedy nights and big-name music acts to ballets, Broadway shows and symphony orchestras.
5. The History Museum
For those interested in learning more about the city and state’s storied past, a trip around the History Museum is an absolute must. Located just a fifteen minute walk away from the Morris, its extensive artifacts and exhibits occupy a large complex right next to the Studebaker National Museum.
The second-oldest historical society in Indiana, it was established in 1867 with thousands of photos, dioramas and displays now making up its collection. These look at everything from local history in the St. Joseph River Valley to innovation in the area, the university and even the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League.
The museum’s undoubted highlight however has to be the 1895 Oliver Mansion that lies on its leafy grounds amidst some lovely landscaped gardens. The Romanesque Queen Anne house has 38 rooms full of fine furnishings, period pieces and original artworks for you to explore that highlight how the wealthy used to live around the turn of the century.
4. Potawatomi Zoo
Long a firm favorite with families, the Potawatomi Zoo is home to hundreds of awesome animals from all around the world. Situated just a short drive across the St. Joseph River from downtown, its spacious enclosures sprawl across a huge site with play areas, a petting zoo and a train also on offer.
One of the oldest zoos in Indiana, it was founded in 1921 with roughly 500 animals, birds and reptiles of more than 130 different species now inhabiting its exhibits. As you wander around, you’ll therefore see everything from alligators and anteaters to Amur tigers, okapi and white rhinoceroses.
After ambling around its African, Asian and Australian Outback exhibits, you can feed and stroke alpacas, donkeys and goats in its small petting zoo. Guests can also take a scenic trip aboard its train or hop on one of the amazing handcrafted animals of its endangered species carousel.
3. Basilica of the Sacred Heart
Certainly one of the most beautiful buildings in the city, if not the state, the Basilica of the Sacred Heart rises dramatically above the rest of the college campus. While it exhibits some striking Gothic Revival architecture, its fabulous frescoes and stained-glass windows are the real show-stoppers.
Now one of Northern Indiana’s major tourist attractions, the breathtaking basilica and its 230-foot-tall bell tower were built between 1871 and 1888. Its elegant interior positively sparkles as hundreds of golden stars dot its bright blue ceilings and rays of light beam through all the colourful windows.
Other than taking in all of the church’s fine frescoes of saints, angels and other religious figures, you can also visit its museum which contains glittering treasures and ancient icons. It is also well worth attending a mass at the basilica as the hymns together with its enormous organ sound so magical.
2. University of Notre Dame
As you may have gathered, the University of Notre Dame is home to many of the city’s main sights, its most important institutes and arenas. While it does of course have countless attractions for you to check out, it is also renowned for being one of the prettiest college campuses in the country.
Covering a huge area on the northeastern outskirts of South Bend, the prestigious institute of higher education was established back in 1842. Plenty of historical halls, libraries and residence buildings, all exhibiting exquisite architecture, now line its pristine green quads.
Besides strolling about and taking in the lively atmosphere, make sure to stop by the Snite Museum of Art or watch the famed Fighting Irish football team play. Yet other highlights include its massive Touchdown Jesus mural, the Basilica of the Sacred Heart and its gold-domed main building.
1. Studebaker National Museum
When visiting South Bend, the superb Studebaker National Museum is not to be missed as its three floors are full of fantastic old vintage vehicles and shiny classic cars. Although most of its engaging exhibits focus on the history of the American automobile company, others cover the evolution of the industry and its impact on the city’s economy.
From 1852 to 1963, the manufacturing company founded by the Studebaker brothers made buggies, electric cars and gasoline-powered vehicles in what became known as ‘Wagon City’. In the museum, visitors can peruse dozens of well-done displays and historic photos that document the corporation’s growth, decline and its numerous makes and models.
On show are around seventy sparkling classic cars with WWI and WWII military vehicles displayed alongside Presidential carriages that once carried Abraham Lincoln and others around.