The top 5 universities and colleges in Illinois and the charming towns surrounding them
For all those parents who have a college-bound kid at home, our 4-day itinerary of the top schools in Illinois and the areas they call home is for you. Nosh on award-winning barbecue, visit Illinois state parks and perhaps even get in a round of golf will definitely make the process that much less stressful.
Duration: 4 Days
Ideal For: All
DAY 1: Southern Illinois University, beautiful parks and finger-licking barbecue
Begin your journey in Carbondale, home of Southern Illinois University. A breakfast stop at Carbondale’s Village Smithy Restaurant will get you off on the right foot as it serves delicious options from savory huevos rancheros to sweet Belgian waffles. Those looking to stretch their legs have plenty of outdoor choices including Giant City State Park in Makanda, less than seven miles from SIU’s campus. The park is filled with breathtaking natural beauty and offers a slew of hiking trails, including the Giant City Nature Trail, home of huge bluffs of sandstone formed 12,000 years ago.
SIU’s campus is bustling with student activity and lovely architecture. Guests can walk around the campus grounds and observe venerable architecture like the Shryock Auditorium, one of SIU’s original buildings that houses the two-ton Marianne Webb Reuter pipe organ. Shopping enthusiasts will appreciate Carbondale’s wide variety of stores, including TJ’s Fine Jewelry, 710 Bookstore, Plaza Records and Tickled Pink Boutique and Gift. After scoring some deals, satiate your hunger with a visit to 17th Street Barbecue in Murphysboro, which serves some of the most renowned barbecue in the state.
To prepare yourself for the second leg of your adventure, it’s recommended you begin your 200-mile drive to Champaign-Urbana, home of the University of Illinois. Should you stop in Champaign-Urbana during traditional business hours, you can grab dinner at Maize Mexican Grill, which serves authentic dishes made with traditional Mexican ingredients.
DAY 2: University of Illinois, Illinois State University, shopping in Bloomington and more things to do in Illinois
For breakfast, visit Cracked the Egg Came First, an establishment concocted by a University of Illinois graduate that serves a variety of small bites and breakfast sandwiches. Next, walk around the charming U of I campus, where you will encounter such landmarks as Altgeld Hall, a building considered one of the finest representations of Richardsonian Romanesque architecture in the state, and the Natural History Building, an example of High Victorian Gothic style that was constructed in 1892.
Before you head to your next stop, a lunch at Black Dog Smoke and Ale House in Champaign is recommended. Black Dog serves a variety of ribs, brisket and burgers in a restored train depot, and its burnt ends are acclaimed. The ensuing portion of your excursion takes you 54 miles northwest to Bloomington-Normal, home of Illinois State University. Illinois State’s campus is easily walkable and features a scenic tree-lined Quad and numerous gorgeous buildings. The cities of Bloomington and Normal have plenty of top-notch shopping options, including 316 Antique Mall in Normal and Alley Kats Arts and Antiques in Bloomington. Another attraction is the David Davis Mansion in Bloomington, a Victorian home that was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1972.
For dinner, Lucca Grill has been serving pizza and Italian dishes to Bloomington since 1936. This charming eatery will whisk your group back in time as its interior boasts an antique mahogany bar and historic tin ceiling. After dinner, it’s recommended you get some shut-eye as a 102-mile trip to Macomb awaits you.
DAY 3: Western Illinois University, delicious ice cream and plenty of Midwestern charm
The Old Dairy in Macomb has a slogan “Enjoy life, eat dessert first.” With a delectable variety of ice cream and desserts on its menu, this is a sensible line of thought. Those seeking a traditional breakfast though, will find it at The Old Dairy, which complements its sweets with a slew of omelets and breakfast options.
After eating, take a stroll around Western Illinois University’s beautifully landscaped campus, which contains more than 60 buildings on more than 1,000 acres, including nine residence halls, a 300-acre farm and an 18-hole golf course.
Enjoy Macomb’s Midwestern charm as you walk around its downtown square, visit shops and boutiques (like All In Vinyl and Boutique and No Place Like Home, a gift and boutique shop) and even take in a Farmer’s Market on Thursdays and Saturdays for fresh produce and homemade desserts.
With 185 miles of driving ahead of you (DeKalb is next on the list), it’s best to hit the road or hit the sheets for a good night’s sleep. Fuel up for either choice with a visit to Chick’s on the Square, a no-frills bar and grill known for its hearty American fare including pizza, burgers and fruity cocktails.
DAY 4: Northern Illinois University and shopping in DeKalb
After arriving in DeKalb, home of Northern Illinois University, grab some breakfast from the venerable Lincoln Inn, which has been serving hearty breakfasts and baked goods since 1969. Next, saunter around the NIU campus, which features such highlights as Altgeld Hall (also known as the Castle on the Hill), which was built between 1895 and 1899, and the Holmes Student Center, an expansive 16-story structure that holds the university bookstore, various dining facilities and Ellington’s, a student-run restaurant experience.
Spend your afternoon perusing DeKalb’s many boutiques and stores, including Cracker Jax, a shop that sells vintage jewelry, eclectic clothing, incense, gemstones, books, chic furniture and one-of-a-kind treasures. Another fun shop is Herbal Embers, which offers a variety of spiritual healing herbs, crystals, jewelry and locally crafted artwork.
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