Check out cosmopolitan university town Champaign
Popularly known as the home of the University of Illinois, and bordering its twin city of Urbana, Champaign is characterized by leafy suburbs, diverse attractions ranging from the Staerkel Planetarium to Wyldewood Cellars winery, and a developing local arts scene. The town adds about 30,000 people to its population every fall as university students return, and visitors are treated to a hip, micro-urban atmosphere that's miles away from the rural Illinois imagery of cornfields and dust tracks. Complete with an abundance of sporting events and more restaurants than you would expect from a city this size, Champaign is a good access point for university conferences and business travel, almost equidistant from Chicago, St. Louis and Indianapolis.
Things to see and do
The combination of cute sidewalk cafes, and an abundance of brew pubs and thrift shops make Downtown Champaign a hive of activity. Enjoy specialty martinis and Mediterranean-inspired tapas, and then head around the corner to vintage shops where you can come away with one-of-a-kind finds. Downtown nights should include a stop at JT Walker's Brewery for a robust dinner and samples of Champaign brews, followed by live, local music.
Krannert Art Museum
Part of the College of Fine and Applied Arts at the University of Illinois, the Krannert Art Museum is open six days a week and is arguably the best art museum south of Chicago's world-renowned Art Institute. The museum's permanent collection contains pieces from throughout world history, stretching all the way back to the fourth millennium B.C., and into the present-day.
State Farm Center
Home of basketball, big-name musical acts and other large-scale events, locals still call this Champaign institution by its traditional name, Assembly Hall. With its retro 1950s-look flying saucer, the structure is a prominent part of the Champaign-Urbana skyline. Several Champaign hotels, including Hilton Garden Inn and Hawthorn Suites by Wyndham, can be found within sight of the venue.
Where to stay
The majority of Champaign hotels are located on the north end of the city, along I-74. These lodging options range from two- to four-star hotels, and their location means that guests are on the doorstep of the largest retail district in the city. Guests are also 10 minutes from Downtown Champaign and the Illinois Terminal, a transportation hub where you'll find local bus services Greyhound and Trailways, as well as Amtrak trains.
Champaign also has a good sprinkling of hotels south of Springfield Avenue, representing brands like Wyndham and giving you handy access to the university campus. There's even a couple directly on the site, like the I Hotel at the Conference Center. The area is also within brushing distance of the University of Illinois Arboretum and the massive football arena Memorial Stadium.
The Pygmalion Festival
The first annual Pygmalion Music Festival rocked Champaign in 2005, and it continues to grow every year, showcasing live indie rock music from local and national acts, in a variety of venues across town. Revelers can also take part in Pygmalion's two-day handmade craft and vintage fair, as well as a free literary festival. Pygmalion is held every September.
Roger Ebert's Overlooked Film Festival
Founded by Champaign-Urbana native and Pulitzer Prize-winning film critic Roger Ebert, Ebertfest takes place every spring at the historic Virginia Theater in downtown Champaign. Ebert died in 2013, but his family made sure to keep the festival alive, which showcases independent and culturally relevant films. Q&A sessions follow each Ebertfest screening, with some big names taking the stage to discuss their work.
Best time to visit
Summers in Champaign mean a smaller population, fewer crowds and lovely weather (temperatures reaching the 80s), but in the fall, the city shows off its true grandeur. The abundant foliage in Champaign transforms the town into a golden sunset and you can still enjoy averages of 40-50 degrees through September and October.
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