Whether You Want Booze Or Just Explore, Here Are America’s Best College Towns

Emma Colton Deputy Editor
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America might be brimming with beautiful college towns, but only a few collegiate burgs have the perfect mix of booze, fun and beauty to rank as America’s best. Here is TheDC’s official list of colleges that have attractions for party-lovers, families, outdoorsy granola eaters and history buffs alike.

Youtube Screenshot/HotelVermont

Burlington, Vermont might be a hippie city filled with University of Vermont stoners, but if you look past the haze of weed, you’ll find a city filled with unrivaled bars, killer sailing and great coffee. And to boot, the city looks like Norman Rockwell painted it.

Best Bar: Burlington’s got some great bars that range from ratchet college hangouts to classy digs that serve Old Fashions and Mint Juleps. But one of its best alcoholic attractions only takes place once a year in the dead of winter: Hotel Vermont’s Ice Bar. Typically on a weekend in February, Hotel Vermont turns into an actual boozy ice castle filled with ice sculptures, ice shot glasses, and yes, miniature ice slides flowing with vodka shots.

Non-boozy destinations and attractions: Burlington is nestled right on Lake Champlain, which means in addition to kayaking, swimming and other water-related revelry, the collegiate city has some damn good sailing. So the morning after a night of drinking, go charter a boat, hoist the sails and take in the beauty of Burlington from the water. And after pretending to be Vermont’s Captain Ahab, you can always end the day with a thick-cut, locally raised steak at one of Burlington’s many restaurants.

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Arguably, the greatest college town  — and perhaps greatest American city — is Boston, Massachusetts. Serving as a hub during America’s founding (when Harvard University was turned into a barracks for the Continental Army), Boston has always held a quintessentially American feel. And the city has kept this tradition with wicked bars and party scenes, stellar sporting events and, well, just being badass.

Best Bar: Known as a bar where you can either have raucous fun with friends, or chill on the sidelines and people watch, Dillon’s Restaurant & Bar in Back Bay is the watering hole for college students and Bostonians alike.

Non-boozy Destinations And Attractions: Boston and sporting events are spiritually intertwined and eternally bound. So if you want to forgo a night of drinking, hit up Fenway Park or TD Garden and catch a game. Another bonus is Boston is a walkable city, so you get to spend that cab fare on a lobster roll while you stroll through Boston Common.

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Boulder, Colorado: Where the Rocky Mountains meet the Great Plains, and where University of Colorado at Boulder students and tourists get blazed, get drunk and have fun.

Best Bar: World Famous Dark Horse Bar and Grill is known as a kitsch bar that is decorated from floor to ceiling in turn-of-the-century antiques and Hollywood memorabilia. The bar’s ceiling is covered in topsy-turvy, upside down antiques and movie props, while the rest of the bar looks like an old-timey saloon.

Non-boozy Destinations And Attractions: If you have a hankering for the great outdoors, Boulder is the place that makes the outdoors great. The Flatirons in Boulder National Park is every hiker and mountain climber’s daydream. And for the less adventurous (read: less fit) Boulder visitors, Eldorado Canyon is an easy climb with great views.


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It’s almost football season, which means the school that will do anything to have good sports teams is prepping at Chapel Hill, North Carolina to another fabulous fall semester of sports, drinks and fun. Walking around the town, The University of North Carolina bleeds into the atmosphere, making Chapel Hill a legit college town.

Best Bar: Cheap beer brings hot co-eds and beefy UNC hunks head to He’s Not Here Bar. Home to a town-renowned deal called the Blue Cup — a 32 oz plastic mug of beer — the bar makes a killing on selling cheap potent potables. And according to Chapel Hill legends, the bar got its name because of manic fans calling for football studs at the bar, prompting bartenders to say “he’s not here.”

Non-boozy Attractions and Destinations: Southerners have green thumbs, plain and simple, and Chapel Hill is blossoming with gorgeous and historical plants. So even if you’re walking around UNC, or strolling through North Carolina’s Botanical Garden, make sure to stop and smell the flowers.

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Princeton, New Jersey, one of the few places in America where ascots are worn seriously and cupcakes sell for over $10 a pop. Even though Princeton might be a pretentious little town, it still has an awesome and historic atmosphere — and a chill bar scene. Plus, nothing beats Nassau Street on a Saturday afternoon — as long as you ignore the jerks trying to get you to sign petitions for Planned Parenthood or anti-fracking laws.

Best Bar: Hawking mostly craft beer made from local ingredients, Triumph Brewing Company is a common hangout for Princeton students and residents. And for baseball fans — but you better be a Philly or Mets fan, because after all, it’s Jersey — the pub runs specials for cheap beer and even cheaper hotdogs.

Non-boozy Attractions and Destinations: Princeton is a town for history buffs. Even though it doesn’t have as much history as Boston or Philly, this little farming town has a huge number of historic landmarks. Want to see where Washington kicked the Brits’ asses? Princeton Battlefield’s got your back. What about where Einstein lived and died? Yeah, Princeton has that too.

Youtube Screenshot/Im Shmacked

Ah, Madison, Wisconsin the town that throws sick college parties, has fantastic cheese, and even better beer. Madison has a low unemployment rating, which means happy people with money to burn. And the city even makes a point of being friendly toward its residents by making part of its downtown only accessible by foot — no cars while you shop, eat and drink.

Best Bar: If you’re looking for TVs or food, The Malt House is not the place for you. But if you want a whiskey powerhouse that’ll get you drunk on some smooth brown hooch, get your ass to Madison and drink up. And see if you can manage to plan your trip to coincide with homecoming or game day.

Non-boozy Attractions and Destinations: Madison does America right. An annual tradition called the Rhythm and Booms Festival is basically an excuse to fly F-16s across the city and then explode fireworks into the sky. And in the winter, grab your fishing rod, take a cue from stereotypical Midwesterners and go ice fishing.

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Home to some of the most beautiful students in the country, Athens, Georgia and the University of Georgia attract all of the lovely southerners — which means you are guaranteed a good time. 

Best Bar: The Allgood Lounge caters to locals and students who want to celebrate after the Bulldogs have a big win, as well as people who just want to get casually drunk on bloody marys on Sunday morning. The walls are covered in huge screen TVs and the tiki bar is always flowing with booze — just don’t forget to bring a designated driver.

Non-boozy Attractions and Destinations: Before you visit Athens, buy one of those kitschy “gone fishing” signs because you’re going to need it. Teeming with fish, Lake Chapman is bound to send you home with a tasty dinner. And just like most Southern cities, be sure to enjoy America’s unique vegetation, most notably the Spanish Moss hanging on the trees.

Youtube Screenshot/I'm Shmacked

Amherst, Massachusetts is shared by both a party-loving state school and an über-liberal liberal arts school. Yet the University of Massachusetts Amherst and Amherst College manage to live in peace and have concocted a seemingly flawless formula for a great college town.

Best Bar: Recommended by the majority of Amherst residents and students, the Moan and Dove bar is the go-to joint in town for a fun time and a draught beer. Like a lot of modern (hipster) bars, Moan and Dove brews its own beer and prides itself on pouring you a pint of the best stuff in The Codfish State.

Non-boozy Attractions and Destinations: Looking past the humdrum, albeit fun, reasons you should visit Amherst — pretty fall foliage, vacationing at bed-and-breakfasts run by sweet old women named Ethel, or going to history museums — the town has a high-end spa. So if you’re touring around and come across one too many hippies from Amherst College, go relieve your stress at The Elements Hot Tub Spa.

Youtube screenshot/ im shmacked

The shopping, the food, and you guessed it, the booze. Ann Arbor, Michigan is the place for students, residents and tourists alike to have a good time.

Best Bar: Self-described as Anne Arbor’s best kept secret, Babs’ Underground Lounge is a classy-yet-student-friendly bar that serves up top-shelf scotch, martinis, and naturally, beer. So while you’re sipping on your scotch pretending to be Don Draper, grab a pool cue and start a game of doubles with the locals.

Non-boozy Attractions and Destinations: Listen up, foodies, Ann Arbor is a hub of yummy restaurants. Hit up Main Street and make a food crawl of your day — you can always diet after you get home. And like most towns caught in the frigid tundra of the Northern Midwest, ice hockey games are a surefire way to embrace Ann Arbor’s college town glory.

(Photo Credits: YouTube Screenshot/Hotel Vermont, Getty Images, Youtube Screenshot/CLVRTV, Getty Images, Flikr/Creative Commons, YouTube Screenshot/I’m Shmacked, Getty Images, YouTube Screenshot/I’m Shmacked, YouTube Screenshot/I’m Shmacked)

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