Best Things to Do in Bloomington, Indiana

Home to Indiana University, this charming college town rolls out the red (and white) carpet to welcome guests with a winning mix of arts, culture, sports, scenery, food and fun.

Bloomington bleeds red and white — or Cream and Crimson, to be more accurate — for Indiana University. Which begs the question: What the heck is a Hoosier?

Theories abound, from references to the rough-and-ready country folk who settled in south-central Indiana during the early 1800s to a slangy "Who's here?" greeting iteration when visitors came calling. Whatever its origins, Indiana University adopted the term in 1923, christening its football team the "Scrapping Hoosiers." The nickname stuck; today, sports fans still flock to campus to cheer on their favorite Hoosier teams.

IU offers its own appeal, but there's a lot more to see and do here beyond the college borders. With a welcoming small-town vibe, arts and culture, international cuisine, outdoor recreation and natural scenery, "Btown" holds all the makings of a memorable getaway.

Bloomington Indiana
B-Line Trail. Courtesy of Visit Bloomington

What to Do

Bring your bike and set a course for adventure on the B-Line Trail. Punctuated with colorful murals and public art, the 3.1-mile converted rail trail runs from Switchyard Park south to Country Club Drive, passing art galleries, museums, restaurants and coffee shops along the way.

For a deeper dive into the city's vibrant cultural scene, explore the Bloomington Entertainment and Arts District (BEAD), a collection of nearly 100 restaurants and dozens of shops that radiate out from the Beaux Arts-style Monroe County Courthouse into a 60-block downtown region.

Visitors at Tibetan Mongolian Buddhist Cultural Center stupa
Tibetan Mongolian Buddhist Cultural Center. Courtesy of Visit Bloomington

A completely different kind of cultural experience awaits at the Tibetan Mongolian Buddhist Cultural Center. Founded in 1979 by the late Thubten Jigme Norbu (the Dalai Lama's brother), these serene monastery grounds maintain traditional stupa monuments to admire, peaceful walking trails, a gift shop, and yurts for overnight stays.

Two people doing yoga poses on dock at Lake Monroe Indiana
Lake Monroe. Courtesy of Visit Bloomington

In the summer, lake life abounds around Bloomington. Locals frequent Lake Monroe south of town—the largest land-locked body of water in the state—for boating, fishing and camping. A stunning nature preserve surrounds Griffy Lake to the north, and Lake Lemon serves as a year-round training ground for Indiana University Rowing Teams.

People walking through the stone Sample Gates at Indiana University in Bloomington
Sample Gates. Greg Whitaker

On Campus

With beautiful limestone buildings and lots of green space, Indiana University is the magnet that draws many to Bloomington. A required photo op, the Sample Gates bracket the west entrance into campus from Kirkwood Avenue. From there, stroll on to the Indiana Memorial Union, a campus gathering spot that houses quiet study nooks, event spaces, a bowling alley, a film auditorium and a food court.

Flanked by the landmark Showalter Fountain, the IU Auditorium draws big-name performers and touring Broadway productions, but don't sleep on Jacobs School of Music offerings like concerts, ballet, opera and jazz shows at the Musical Arts Center and Auer Hall as well.

Art exhibit in Sidney and Lois Eskenazi Museum of Art in Bloomington Indiana
Sidney and Lois Eskenazi Museum of Art. Brad Feinknopf/Otto

With an I.M. Pei pedigree, the recently renovated Sidney and Lois Eskenazi Museum of Art contains seven galleries of priceless works and a soaring totem structure outside the entrance that lights up at night. Across the street, the Lilly Library claims a collection of rare books, manuscripts and sheet music that includes one of the 14 original Gutenberg Bibles.

For souvenirs, the IU Bookstore inside the IMU and Greetings on Kirkwood carry all manner of Indiana University swag. It's also fun to hit the IU Surplus Store east of campus, where the general public is welcome to search for hidden treasures amid an ever-changing inventory of furniture, sports equipment, kitchen wares and other items outsourced from the dorms and campus buildings.

Dishes of food at Uptown Cafe Bloomington Indiana
Uptown Cafe. Courtesy of Visit Bloomington

Where to Eat and Drink

With kitschy wall-to-wall IU memorabilia, Nick's English Hut is a Bloomington dining OG famous for its burgers, stromboli and "Sink the Biz" fries to accompany a legendary drinking game. If pizza's more your jam, you can't go wrong with Mother Bear's — don't forget to bring a Sharpie to write your name on the wall at the 3rd Street location.

4th Street restaurants in Bloomington Indiana
4th Street. Courtesy of Visit Bloomington

Adventurous eaters should plan to take their taste buds on a trip to 4th Street, a walkable corridor of international restaurants covering cuisines from Burma, Greece, India, Korea, Thailand and Tibet. Nearby on Kirkwood Avenue, Uptown Cafe delivers an upscale Cajun experience. For breakfast, settle into the Runcible Spoon, a quirky casual eatery that feels like dining in a living room, for pancakes, biscuits and gravy, corned beef hash and other comfort fare.

FarmBloomington's farm-to-table comfort food has garnered this restaurant a reputation as one of the best in Indiana. Start the day with a Classic BTown Breakfast (eggs, bacon, roasted tomatoes and fries) or go all in at night with the Thursday Night Brisket or Friday Night Fish Fry.

Exterior view of Oliver Winery Tasting Room in Bloomington Indiana in fall
Oliver Winery. Courtesy of Visit Bloomington

Thirsty? Grab a bottle of the sweet Soft Red to enjoy with a picnic lunch on the bucolic Oliver Winery grounds north of the city on S.R. 37. Craft beer's the name of the game at Upland Brewing Company, or get to know the friendly local Cardinal Spirits with a seasonal cocktail at the distillery.

Lobby of Graduate Bloomington hotel in Bloomington Indiana
Graduate Bloomington. Courtesy of Graduate Bloomington

Where to Stay

Full of cheeky IU references at every turn, the Graduate Hotel puts guests in the heart of the buzzy downtown district within walking proximity of bars, restaurants and boutiques. Brave guests may want to reserve the Stranger Things-themed suite, and if the weather's nice, head to the rooftop to spend some time on the Jack and Diane Terrace.

Steeped in IU character and history, the Biddle Hotel and Conference Center in the IMU boasts cozy updated guest rooms and prime location for campus visits. Go Big Red — Indiana, we're all for you!

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