Best College Towns: Discovering the Top College Towns
College towns offer students and young professionals the perfect blend of academic and social opportunities. From lively bars and restaurants to world-renowned museums and theaters, these vibrant communities have something for everyone. Whether you’re looking for a quiet place to study or a nightlife scene that doesn’t stop, these are the best college towns in America.
This list of the best college towns will highlight the top college towns across the country. From Athens, Georgia, to Boulder, Colorado, and so much more, there is sure to be a college town on this list that will appeal to you.
And if you are a sports fan, many of these college towns are also very big when it comes to football and all that goes with enjoying a Saturday game day experience. From tailgating to parades to watching the game with family and friends, the college football experience in some of these towns is worth living there all by itself.
Outside of sports and what is happening on the campus, there is also plenty of energy and local events as well that come with a college town. All of this combines for an excellent place to live and enjoy life.
After you decide which college town is best for you, take advantage of our lists of the best moving companies and best real estate websites. Both of these lists will help you get settled and ready to experience all that a college town has to offer.
Top 15 College Towns:
1. Ithaca, NY
Primary College: Cornell University
Highlights: A population of just over 30,000, a lower-than-average cost of living, and a high walkability score.
About College Town: This charming town is home to two prestigious institutions of higher learning – Ithaca College and Cornell University. With a population of just over 30,000, it’s one of the smaller contenders for best college towns in America. But don’t let its size fool you – Ithaca has a lot to offer.
The town has a high walkability score and a lower-than-average cost of living, making it an attractive option for students. Plus, there’s no shortage of things to do in Ithaca. The natural beauty of the area is unparalleled, with dense forests, waterfalls, and picturesque gorges.
2. Madison, WI
Primary College: University of Wisconsin
Highlights: Situated between two lakes, offers ample opportunities for waterfront fun, and has plenty of shops, cafes, art galleries, and bars.
About College Town: Madison, WI, is one of the best college towns in the country. Situated on a beautiful strip of land between two lakes, Madison offers ample opportunities for waterfront fun. From Memorial Union Terrace, you can watch the boats sail by and grab a beer with fellow Badgers.
Downtown Madison is also very walkable, with plenty of independently-owned shops, cafes, art galleries, and bars. Whether you’re looking for a laid-back place to relax or an exciting place to party, Madison is the perfect destination.
3. Charlottesville, VA
Primary College: University of Virginia
Highlights: Stunning Blue Ridge Mountains, an open-air pavilion, and plenty of art galleries and restaurants.
About College Town: If you’re looking for one of the best college towns in America, you need to check out Charlottesville, Virginia. This historic town is home to the University of Virginia, founded by Thomas Jefferson himself. The breathtaking campus is surrounded by the stunning Blue Ridge Mountains, and students can take advantage of the nearby Monticello and Shenandoah National Park – all of which offer excellent hiking opportunities.
Downtown Charlottesville is a lively spot for entertainment, with an open-air pavilion for live music and plenty of art galleries and restaurants. Cavaliers are truly lucky to have such an amazing place to call home during their college years.
4. Gainesville, FL
Primary College: University of Florida
Highlights: Sunny weather all year, plenty of outdoor recreation opportunities, and some favorite local spots.
About College Town: The University of Florida, which is one of the largest public universities in the nation, is located here. Students at the University of Florida enjoy sunny weather all year round, tailgating, and socializing. However, Gator Nation pride isn’t just felt on campus; it’s felt throughout Gainesville.
This city has plenty of outdoor recreation opportunities for those who love to hike, swim, or be in nature. Some of the favorite local spots include La Chua Trail, Ginnie Springs, Sweetwater Wetlands Park, and Carson Springs Wildlife Conservation Foundation.
5. Ann Arbor, MI
Primary College: University of Michigan
Highlights: Vibrant and charming, has great food, and a passionate university community.
About College Town: If you’re looking for the perfect college town, look no further than Ann Arbor, Michigan. This vibrant and charming community has everything you could want in a college town – great food, plenty of things to do, and a passionate university community.
Wolverines will find no shortage of things to do in Ann Arbor. Whether you’re looking for a late-night bite at one of the many greasy spoons or cheering on the football team at a raucous game, there’s always something to do.
6. Chapel Hill, NC
Primary College: University of North Carolina
Highlights: 64,000 residents, free public transportation, and a historic movie theatre.
About College Town: Looking for one of the best college towns in the Southeast and in the country? Look no further than Chapel Hill, NC. This vibrant town is home to more than 64,000 residents, more than half of whom are students at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill.
The town’s economy relies heavily on the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill and the UNC Health system, making it a great place for students and professionals alike. Chapel Hill offers free public transportation that connects the Carolina campus to other parts of town, making it easy to get around.
Also, there is no shortage of entertainment and recreation options in Chapel Hill, from a historic movie theater to an annual art fair each October. The town also has several greenways and walking trails, perfect for outdoor lovers.
7. Austin, TX
Primary College: University of Texas at Austin
Highlights: Has a population of nearly 1 million, 38% are college students, and a unique city culture.
About College Town: If you’re looking for a college town that has it all, look no further than Austin, TX. With a population of nearly one million people, 38% of which are college students, Austin is one of the best places in America to get your degree. The city is home to major institutions like the University of Texas at Austin, St. Edward’s University, and Concordia University Texas, making it a great place for academics.
But Austin isn’t just a great place to learn – it’s also a great place to play. The city’s motto, “Keep Austin Weird,” speaks to its diverse and unique offerings. So if you are looking for something fun, unique, and a little weird, Austin may be the right choice for you.
8. Boston, MA
Primary Colleges: MIT and Harvard University
Highlights: Two dozen colleges and universities, many museums, and vibrant food and nightlife scene.
About College Town: Looking for one of the best college towns in America? Look no further than Boston, MA. This thriving city is home to more than two dozen colleges and universities, making it a hotbed of opportunity for students from all over the world.
Whether you’re looking to explore history at one of Boston’s dozens of museums or take in the sights and sounds of the city’s vibrant food and nightlife scene, there’s something for everyone in this bustling metropolis. And with major events like the Boston Marathon, Boston Pops Fourth of July spectacular, and the Boston Pride parade taking place throughout the year, there’s always something new and exciting to experience in Boston.
9. Bloomington, IN
Primary College: University of Indiana
Highlights: Near the state park, has local breweries, and offers exciting sports events every year.
About College Town: When it comes to college towns, Bloomington, IN, is definitely towards the top of the list. This gorgeous forested town is home to Indiana University and is full of things to do. From the nearby state park to the local breweries, there’s always something to do in Bloomington.
Home to Indiana University, the town is all things red and white and offers some exciting sports events every year, especially for basketball fans when the basketball season comes around.
10. Boulder, CO
Primary College: University of Colorado
Highlights: Scenic walking and biking paths, a thriving culture of innovation, and easy access to ski resorts, mountain biking trails, and several National Parks and State Parks.
About College Town: Nestled at the base of the Rocky Mountains, Boulder, Colorado, is one of the most beautiful and vibrant college towns in America. Home to the University of Colorado Boulder, the city is known for its scenic walking and biking paths, thriving culture of innovation, and abundance of outdoor recreation opportunities.
Whether you’re an adventurous outdoor enthusiast or just looking for a place to relax and take in the beauty of your surroundings, Boulder has something for everyone. With easy access to top ski resorts, mountain biking trails, and several National and State Parks, there’s no shortage of ways to get outside and enjoy the fresh Rocky Mountain air.
11. Annapolis, MD
Primary College: United States Naval Academy
Highlights: Steeped in history and colonial charm, offers delicious seafood, and features the Severn river.
About College Town: Welcome to Annapolis, Maryland. This charming college town is steeped in history and colonial charm, making it the perfect place to explore and learn about America’s maritime past. From the United States Naval Academy to historic City Dock, there’s plenty to see and do in Annapolis.
And of course, there are the delicious seafood dishes the city is famous for. Whether you’re watching the sunset over the Severn River or enjoying a crab cake at one of the many waterfront restaurants, you’re sure to love living in Annapolis.
12. Tuscaloosa, AL
Primary College: University of Alabama
Highlights: Football culture, antebellum architecture, and Southern cuisines.
About College Town: Nowhere embodies college football culture quite like Tuscaloosa, Alabama. On game days, the city is transformed into a sea of crimson and white as passionate fans tailgate and cheer on their beloved Alabama Crimson Tide.
But there’s more to Tuscaloosa than just football. This historic city is home to a wealth of antebellum architecture and Southern cuisine. It’s also one of the best college towns in the country, with a thriving academic community and a vibrant nightlife scene.
13. Eugene, OR
Primary College: University of Oregon
Highlights: Home to Nike HQ, beautiful hiking and kayaking spots, and the vineyard-filled Willamette valley.
About College Town: Eugene, Oregon, is one of the best college towns in the United States for a number of different reasons. Home to Nike HQ and the University of Oregon, Eugene has everything a student or young professional could want. The town is surrounded by beautiful hiking trails and kayaking spots, and biking along the two rivers that flow through vineyard-filled Willamette Valley is a must-do.
14. Berkeley, CA
Primary College: University of California
Highlights: Creative vibe, great weather, and a huge range of art and culture.
About College Town: This vibrant city on the eastern shore of San Francisco Bay is known for its left-leaning politics, activism, and young, creative vibe. There’s more to the nightlife here than just frat parties – students at the University of California, Berkeley have a huge range of art and culture at their fingertips. And with a mild climate, it’s possible to enjoy nature all year round.
15. Athens, GA
Primary College: University of Georgia
Highlights: Plenty of nightlife, nature, and southern hospitality.
About College Town: There are few places in the United States that can rival the charms of Athens, GA. This vibrant college town is home to the University of Georgia, one of the most successful football programs in the country. But Athens is about more than just football. It also has plenty of nightlife, nature to explore, and all the southern hospitality you can handle.
Best College Towns Conclusion
There is no doubt that college towns offer a unique and exciting experience for students and young professionals. With so much to do and see, these vibrant communities are the perfect place to call home. Whether you’re looking for a quiet place to study or a nightlife scene that doesn’t stop, these are the best college towns in America.
And while there is plenty to see and do on campus, living in a college town also encourages a lot of new businesses that you can take advantage of as well. Whether it is new restaurants, nightlife, family-friendly activities, or whatever, college towns tend to encourage plenty of new things to try and do around town.
Have you visited any of these college towns before? If you have, please feel free to share your feedback below in the comments.
Kyle has a background in sports, fitness/health, and business. However, he also has a passion about researching all topics, and is dedicated to making lists that will help make your life easier.
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