Midwest Living Review
Champaign and Urbana are dominated by the big University of Illinois campus, which straddles the barely noticeable boundary line between these cities. And for many years, the university was the main reason people visited C-U, whether they were alumni on a nostalgia trip, parents sending their kids off to college, or Fighting Illini fans catching a basketball or football game. The campus is still the big draw, but these days, Champaign and Urbana also are drawing visitors with other attractions. Downtown Champaign was run-down and depressing some 20 years ago, but it has been reborn, with more than a dozen cool restaurants, bars, live music venues and coffee shops within a few square blocks. The wide sidewalks and alleyways are filled with tables during alfresco dining season, giving the neighborhood a lively, friendly vibe. The closer you get to the interstate highways, the more generic Champaign becomes, with more chain stores and big-box retailers. Downtown Urbana is not quite as energetic as downtown Champaign, but it's also showing signs of life, with several restaurants and a popular weekly farmers market. An art gallery is in the lobby of the old movie theater, and an art collective called the Independent Media Center occupies half of the Post Office building. It feels as if professors and artists have taken over the remnants of the old downtown, and are making it their own. Campus lies between the downtown areas, offering attractions such as the Krannert Art Museum, the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts, the Spurlock Museum, sculptures by Lorado Taft, sporting events and, of course, all those campus buildings. Travelers who want to avoid the crowds should consider a visit during summer, when most of the students are away. Visitors to Champaign should consider a side trip to the marvelous Allerton Park, about 25 miles west near Monticello. Champaign-Urbana has lots of lodgings, but most of the places to stay are corporate hotels and motels. Sylvia's Irish Inn is one of the new B&Bs, and the Illini Union is another good option for travelers who want to stay close to campus. Getting around Champaign-Urbana is easy by car, and many sites are within walking distance from one another. Parking isn't usually too difficult, though street parking spaces on campus fill during busy periods.