Aerial view of a university campus in Chicago, Illinois.

Best College Towns In The Great Lakes Region

The best college towns in the Great Lakes region offer top-tier education, a diverse arts and culture environment, and proximity to epic outdoor experiences. College towns benefit from a diverse population, lands built on commerce, and a bustling scene for entertainment. These are some of the best college towns around the Great Lakes region because of their cultural relevance, economic growth, ancient lands, and history that provides such a rich environment that many of those who visit decide to stay and make it their home. 

Chicago, Illinois  

Square of Chicago University campus in Chicago, Illinois.
Square of Chicago University campus in Chicago, Illinois. Editorial credit: elesi /

Chicago is home to the University of Chicago and the School of the Arts Institute of Chicago, some of the most prestigious and sought-after academic experiences in the world. Check out Lake Superior, the largest of the Great Lakes, before grabbing a Chicago-style hot dog and seeing your reflection in Koon's big bean. Take a cruise on the river or watch a Cubs game before heading over to Chicago's Museum Campus, where three different academic institutions put their research on display. Check out world cultures and natural history, underwater worlds, and the deep, dark space life that exists beyond. Chicago offers pubs, breweries, and world-class dining experiences where visitors can get anything, including family fun with games at Dave and Buster's while chowing down on an iconic Chicago-style pizza. One of the greatest college towns, Chicago, Illinois, is the best college town in the Great Lakes region for its bustling boroughs, iconic dining experiences, scenic views, and valuable history.

Toronto, Ontario 

The University of Toronto campus in Toronto, Canada.
The University of Toronto campus in Toronto, Canada.

Toronto, Ontario, is home to several academic institutions, including York University, University of Toronto, and Ryerson University. Sitting on Lake Ontario, the 7,340-square-mile freshwater body of water, Toronto, Ontario, has become one of the best college cities in North America. Home of OCAD, the School of Art and Design, Toronto is a vibrant space filled with cultural and artistic opportunities. A business mecca with beaches only a few kilometers away, Toronto is home to some of the greatest quality of life in all of Canada. Check out the Steamwhistle Brewery before enjoying a Toronto Raptors basketball game in Drake's hometown city. Lakeshores along the downtown offer some of the most amazing scenic walks while the easily accessible transportation such as streetcars, subways, and trains makes Toronto, Ontario, one of the greatest cities for college life, where everything you could ever need is at the tip of your fingers. 

Notre Dame, Indiana

University of Notre Dame Main Building on Gameday
University of Notre Dame Main Building on Gameday in Notre Dame, Indiana. Editorial credit: RebeccaDLev /

Notre Dame, Indiana, adjacent to South Bend, Indiana, is home to the University of Notre Dame, Saint Mary's College, and Holy Cross College. Known for manufacturing Studebaker automobiles with roots in the Catholic church, Notre Dame is one of the most significant college towns in North America for its welcoming community, volunteerism, and philanthropy. The city is home to the Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes, the Basilica of the Sacred Heart, the Renaissance district, and the Midwest's technology campus. Notre Dame and South Bend have collaborated to make a friendly environment where you can enjoy the academics, nightlife, and beaches of Lake Michigan. An excellent site along Lake Michigan, Notre Dame hosts many outdoor activities like hiking, hunting, and fishing, making this coastal community one of the most diverse in the Great Lakes region.

Ann Arbor, Michigan 

University of Michigan Law School, Ann Arbor
Aerial view of the University of Michigan Law School in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Ann Arbor, Michigan, is an excellent college city known for its small cafes, large institutions, and grand outdoor escapes. Home of The University of Michigan, Ann Arbor is a short drive away from the majestic shores of Lake Michigan. A global hotspot for galleries, museums, and arts, as well as entertainment pulled in from local, regional, and international artists, Ann Arbor is one of the best college towns for its ability to attract new residents and diverse entertainment continually. Head down to the University of Michigan, grab a beer tailgating among the 10,000 people outside "The Big House," and cheer for the Michigan Wolverines as they play. Sitting on acres of land that offer amazing outdoor experiences and housing educational institutions known for their prestigious academics, Ann Arbor, Michigan, is one of the Great Lakes region's best college cities.

Madison, Wisconsin 

The cityscape of Madison, Wisconsin.
The cityscape of Madison, Wisconsin.

A short drive to Lake Michigan, Madison, Wisconsin, is world-renowned for its college-town appeal. Madison is home to The University of Wisconsin, a public land-grant university with a world-class education and a focus on public service. Enjoy the farm-to-table culinary experiences and take a walk through the abundant agriculture that the land has to offer. Spread over surreal landscapes, Madison offers outdoor opportunities, great shopping, and boutiques, as well as breweries and craft beer experiences. A college town for the ages, State Street, offers some of the best entertainment, dancing, music and unique food experiences. During the Summer Solstice, go for a night walk through the Arboretum for a one-of-a-kind experience. A community that grows as do their borders, Madison, Wisconsin, is making its way to becoming the best college town in the Great Lakes region.

Sault Ste Marie, Ontario/Michigan

ueen Street in downtown Sault Ste Marie, Ontario.
Queen Street in downtown Sault Ste Marie, Ontario. Editorial credit: Franklin McKay /

The "Twin Sault's', 'Sault Ste Marie, Ontario, is home to Algoma University and Lakestate University and sits on the International border of Ontario, Canada, and Michigan, United States. Nestled on the St Mary's River between Lake Michigan, Superior and Huron. The epicenter of Great Lakes activity and the traditional territory of the Anishnaabeg and Metis people, the Sault is the mecca for landscapes of the Canadian Shield and one of the oldest cities in North America. Originally called Baawaating, Sault Ste Marie, Ontario, is home to Shingwauk Residential School, which hosts learning opportunities, ceremonies, and land-based learning that cannot be offered anywhere else. Walk down the boardwalk looking over the United States before grabbing a farm-to-table meal at the Breakfast Pig. Offering numerous boutiques, shops, and culinary experiences, the downtown crawl across Queen Street is one that locals rave about. A rich history, outdoor experiences, and academic opportunities that are unique to the area are the reasons why Sault Ste Marie is one of the best college cities in North America.

West Lafayette, Indiana 

Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana.
Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana. Editorial credit: PLo777 /

West Lafayette is home to Purdue University and one of the best places to take in a college town experience. South of Lake Michigan, West Lafayette, and the birthplace of famous explorers Amelia Earhart and Neil Armstrong, is abundant with ingenuity and creativity. Embrace the beauty of the Midwest while engaging with a vibrant community and frequenting festivals and farmers' markets. Home to the oldest drive-in restaurant, famous pubs, and local breweries, West Lafayette is a hot spot for culinary experiences, nightlife, and entertainment. Take some time to relax in Chauncey Village, where an emphasis is placed on creating opportunities for visitors to experience all West Lafayette offers. Take in all of the cultures West Lafayette offers while enjoying outdoor activities like hiking, swimming, and fishing during the day. At night, shift to a vibrant and exciting downtown crawl filled with special events that create a community atmosphere everywhere you go. West Lafayette, Indiana, is one of the greatest areas for that college town experience in the Great Lakes region.

Places offering the all-inclusive college experience are some of the world's most sought-after living destinations. Boasting local institutions that contribute to the local economy and communities, college towns are the best places to start adult life and continue to achieve any goal imaginable. Known for their entertaining experiences, social liveliness and unique natural environments, these college towns are among the best in the world.

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