Tucked away in the countryside of the American Midwest, Champaign, Illinois is a vibrant city with a welcoming, small-town atmosphere. Home to the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, the compact city is bursting with life from both its permanent residents and lively student population. The university brings more than just a colourful social and entertainment scene to Champaign.
There are also various museums, arboretums, and other public facilities and attractions for visitors to enjoy. Whether you’re into art, science, history, or nature the university has plenty for you to explore. Beyond the university, Champaign is home to a flourishing art scene, a large community of talented craftspeople, and plenty of local hospitality ready to welcome you into the city’s distinct culture.
When you want a moment to yourself, Champaign’s parks and green spaces make it easy to escape into the peace and calm of nature. From the fishing lakes of the inner-city parks to the woodlands of the nearby nature preserves, there’s plenty to enjoy for those who appreciate the great outdoors.
In this article, I’ll take you through the array of experiences, activities, and attractions awaiting in this charming city. You’ll be able to plan an ideal itinerary of the best things to see and do in Champaign, Illinois. So, let’s jump right into discovering everything that this eclectic little town has to offer.
- Champaign, Illinois
- 20 Things To Do In Champaign
- 1- See What’s At The Spurlock Museum
- 2- Look Around The Champaign County History Museum At The Cattle Bank
- 3- Browse The Krannert Art Museum
- 4- Wander Around The University of Illinois Arboretum
- 5- Enjoy A Zen Moment At Japan House’s Gardens
- 6- Admire The Mabery Gelvin Botanical Gardens
- 7- Browse The Museum of the Grand Prairie
- 8- Explore Busey Woods
- 9- Learn Something New At Anita Purves Nature Centre
- 10- Learn About The Universe At William M. Staerkel Planetarium
- 11- Look To The Stars At Champaign Urbana Astronomical Society Observatory
- 12- Challenge Yourself At Champaign-Urbana Adventures in Time and Space
- 13- Raise A Glass At Riggs Beer Company
- 14- Have A Drink At Cloud Mountain Kombucha
- 15- Browse Urbana’s Market at the Square
- 16- Relax In Crystal Lake Park
- 17- Climb To New Heights At Urbana Boulders
- 18- Stop By The Abraham Lincoln Historical Marker – 8th Judicial District
- 19- Ride Along To Monticello Railway Museum
- 20- Explore River Bend Forest Preserve
- 20 Things To Do In Champaign
20 Things To Do In Champaign
1- See What’s At The Spurlock Museum
Any fan of ancient and world history will want to visit the jewel of Champaign’s museum scene.
The Spurlock Museum is packed with artefacts from cultures around the world, from the local region to Africa and Asia.
Visitors can explore exhibits on the empires of ancient Greece and Egypt, as well as smaller tribes and communities.
Along with the stunning array of displays, the museum also hosts a wide range of events and talks offering visitors the chance to dive even deeper into the rich history of humanity.
Go to 600 S Gregory St, Urbana, IL 61801, United States.
2- Look Around The Champaign County History Museum At The Cattle Bank
If you’re more interested in focusing on the history of the local area, then head over to the Cattle Bank.
Housed within a charming, historic building, the compact Champaign County History Museum is jam packed with exhibits on the development of the area and the local community.
As well as historic artefacts and paraphernalia from notable citizens, the Cattle Bank also has art by creators from across the county.
With such dedication to representing the local community through history, it’s no surprise the Cattle Bank has won several awards for being an outstanding museum.
Head over to 102 E University Ave, Champaign, IL 61820, United States.
3- Browse The Krannert Art Museum
For anyone who appreciates art, whether you prefer contemporary or traditional, the Krannert Art Museum is an absolute must visit.
The expansive art museum contains a number of gallery spaces, with every available surface covered in masterpieces and sculptures.
From contemporary, abstract, and impressionist innovations, to works that celebrate the traditional styles and classical skills of art and creativity throughout history, there’s such a huge diversity of work on show here that there is sure to be something to capture your fascination.
Head into 500 E Peabody Dr, Champaign, IL 61820, United States.
4- Wander Around The University of Illinois Arboretum
It can be difficult to feel connected to nature when you’re standing in the heart of a modern city, but the University of Illinois Arboretum offers a slice of natural beauty right at the heart of town.
The Arboretum contains several gardens, each manicured and landscaped in its own distinctive style.
In each one you can enjoy an array of vibrant plants and flowers.
If you just want somewhere to take a walk in the fresh air, the Dr Frank W. Kari Walkway winds through trees surrounding a small lake.
Go to 2001 S Lincoln Ave, Urbana, IL 61802, United States.
5- Enjoy A Zen Moment At Japan House’s Gardens
Perched on the edge of the arboretum lake, the manicured gardens of Japan House are a gateway to a world of tranquillity and calm.
The gardens have two distinct sections, a ‘Dry Garden’ of raked sand and white pebbles, and the ‘Tea Garden’ full of seasonal plants and distinctly Japanese ornaments.
The building itself serves as a classroom for the university, but also often holds public events, allowing visitors the chance to experience various aspects of Japanese culture.
Stop by 2000 S Lincoln Ave, Urbana, IL 61802, United States.
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6- Admire The Mabery Gelvin Botanical Gardens
If you have the time and means to head a little outside of the main town, then you can also enjoy the Mabery Gelvin Botanical Gardens.
Covering eight acres, the beautiful garden is full of stunning plants and intricately landscaped ornamental gardens.
Free to enter, it’s ideal for anyone on a budget at 650 N Lombard St, Mahomet, IL 61853, United States.
7- Browse The Museum of the Grand Prairie
The Mabery Gelvin Botanical Gardens originally began as a small garden out the back of the Museum of the Grand Prairie.
This little local museum is dedicated to celebrating and documenting the history of the local region, from as far back as the ice age through to the modern day.
The Museum of the Grand Prairie has no entry fee, so don’t worry about fitting it into your budget.
Find it at 950 N Lombard St, Mahomet, IL 61853, United States.
8- Explore Busey Woods
When you want to feel like you’ve escaped into the wilds of nature but don’t really want to venture too far from civilisation, take a walk through the 59-acres of Busey Woods.
Trails wind through a forest teeming with wildlife and local plants.
Keep your eyes open for the many bird species and herds of deer that call the Busey Woods home, all well within the city limits.
Go to 1505 N Broadway Ave, Urbana, IL 61801, United States.
9- Learn Something New At Anita Purves Nature Centre
At the edge of Busey Woods, the Anita Purves Nature Centre provides some insights into the flora and fauna you can spot within the forest and local area.
There are exhibits to explore inside, as well as landscaped habitat gardens that make a welcoming home for butterflies and hummingbirds.
Head into 1505 N Broadway Ave, Urbana, IL 61801, United States.
10- Learn About The Universe At William M. Staerkel Planetarium
The second-largest planetarium in Illinois, William M. Staerkel Planetarium should be on the radar of any space or science nerd visiting Champaign.
On Friday and Saturday nights, the planetarium opens its doors for the public to enjoy a range of guided stargazing sessions and laser shows.
If you’ve ever wanted to learn about the constellations you can spot in the night sky, and how they shift throughout the year and between the hemispheres, then this is the perfect opportunity.
Find it at 2400 W Bradley Ave, Champaign, IL 61821, United States.
11- Look To The Stars At Champaign Urbana Astronomical Society Observatory
Alternatively, head to the Champaign Urbana Astronomical Society Observatory for a more hands-on experience.
A couple of miles south of Champaign, the observatory suffers less light pollution and so can offer a clearer look at the stars, while the skywatching events are free to attend.
They let visitors try out their various telescopes for themselves as they’re guided to spot notable astrological bodies.
Since the observatory’s demonstrations are live, they do depend on the weather being suitable, so make sure to check that the event is going ahead before you journey out.
Head out to County Rd 700 E, Champaign, IL 61822, United States.
12- Challenge Yourself At Champaign-Urbana Adventures in Time and Space
Looking for an activity to entertain your whole group? Book a session at Adventures in Time and Space.
With a wide range of completely immersive escape rooms to tackle, you and your friends can have a blast working together to solve puzzles and conquer the challenges set before you.
From haunted cabins to alien spaceships and fantasy adventures, you’ll have tons of options to choose from so there’s sure to be something you’ll love.
Go to 302 N Broadway Ave Suite 100, Urbana, IL 61801, United States.
13- Raise A Glass At Riggs Beer Company
You can’t get more authentically local than the products of the Riggs Beer Company.
Not only is their range of tasty beverages brewed onsite, but the main ingredients come from their own family farm.
If you want to learn about absolutely every step of the beer creation process, book a guided tour or tasting.
If you just want a delicious drink, their taproom is open from Thursday through to Sunday.
Head over to 1901 S High Cross Rd, Urbana, IL 61802, United States.
14- Have A Drink At Cloud Mountain Kombucha
Not a fan of alcohol? No problem.
Head over to Cloud Mountain Kombucha instead to enjoy a totally different kind of fermented brew.
At Cloud Mountain you can enjoy a range of sparkling teas across a broad spectrum of flavour profiles.
Served in pints straight from the tap, or mixed into mocktails, you get the whole experience of a trip to the bar without any unwanted side-effects.
Find them at 300 S Broadway Ave Suite 142, Urbana, IL 61801, United States.
15- Browse Urbana’s Market at the Square
If you want a bit more of a selection of local products to try, swing by Urbana’s Market On The Square.
Operating throughout the summer from May through October, the lively, open-air market hosts stalls laden with a wealth of local produce, baked delicacies, and craft goods.
Whether you want to get a taste of some super fresh food or pick up some locally handmade soaps, candles, or jewellery as souvenirs, it’s worth anyone’s time to pay the Market At The Square a visit.
Stop by 401 S Vine St, Urbana, IL 61801, United States.
16- Relax In Crystal Lake Park
Crystal Lake Park is perfect for anyone who enjoys spending their time on or around the water.
Visitors can set up on the fishing pier for an afternoon’s angling or rent a boat and spend your day drifting around the lake.
If you prefer to stay on dry land, then take a leisurely stroll through the tree-lined walking trails or stop for an al fresco lunch at one of the many picnicking areas.
Go to 206 W Park St, Urbana, IL 61801, United States.
17- Climb To New Heights At Urbana Boulders
When you’re looking for something active to do, but don’t want to brave the outdoor weather, head over to Urbana Boulders.
The indoor climbing gym is packed with a range of bouldering problems to suit all experience levels, from complete beginners to seasoned pros.
Complete newbies can book themselves onto a one-hour introduction course, or just throw yourself in and figure it out for yourself.
Roll on over to 1502 N Cunningham Ave Suite A, Urbana, IL 61802, United States.
18- Stop By The Abraham Lincoln Historical Marker – 8th Judicial District
Standing by an otherwise unremarkable crossroad a couple of miles west of Champaign is a small stone marker carved with the face of Abraham Lincoln.
The marker was erected to commemorate the president passing through this way on a political tour and is somewhat of a hidden gem.
Head out to County Rd 0, White Heath, IL 61884, United States.
19- Ride Along To Monticello Railway Museum
Train fanatics will definitely want to make the trip out to the Monticello Railway Museum.
The packed museum is full of train cars and engines from throughout rail history alongside a collection of artefacts and paraphernalia.
Throughout the year, the museum also offers visitors the chance to take rides on some of the vintage trains.
It’s well worth checking ahead to see if any such events will be taking place during your visit.
Go over to 992 Iron Horse Pl, Monticello, IL 61856, United States.
20- Explore River Bend Forest Preserve
Much of the landscape around Champaign is farmland, but if you want to delve into the wilds then you just have to hop across to the River Bend Forest Preserve.
Covering 280-acres, the preserve is riddled with walking trails leading through the trees and around the largest lake in the county.
Venture out to 1602 Mid America Rd, Mahomet, IL 61853, United States.