I wasn’t sure what to expect before I visited Indiana. I’ve visited America’s east coast, I’ve visited her west coast, but the furthest I’d ventured inland was to Chicago for just three days.
People were confused. “Why Indiana?” Instead of giving them my spiel about attending a conference, I quite simply responded, “why not?“
America’s heartlands are often overlooked for the bright lights, beaches, and big geographic attractions. If you visit the centre of the country, you’ll find something else that’s big – heart.
Don’t laugh, it’s true. No place exemplified this more than Bloomington.
Known affectionately as “B-Town” by locals, Bloomington is a big-little city with a burgeoning food scene and diverse cultural offering. Whether its live music, art or natural beauty, you’ll found it in town or just outside.
There’s more to Bloomington than simply being a college town. Crimson and cream or signs of Hoosier pride will be seen year round but being home to Indiana University just adds to the diversity of the city. Oh, and they’re very proud of Lil Bub, their own hometown celebrity cat!
For me, it was the cultural aspects of Bloomington that peaked my curiosity. The Dalai Lama visits Bloomington. His nephew lives nearby and, while there, spends time at the Tibetan Mongolian Buddhist Cultural Center which offers Tibetan cultural programs and Buddhist educational lectures. You can tour the Dalai Lama’s personal quarters – when he’s not visiting – and share a meal with the visiting monks.
Have you ever wanted to see works by Pablo Picasso or Jackson Pollock but cringed at the thought of the immense lines at the big city museums? Stop by the Indiana University Art Museum to see these and thousands of other works of art.
While on campus, you can hold an Oscar at The Lilly Library or explore human sexuality through the ages at the Kinsey Institute, or even just enjoy wandering through the stunning campus grounds which feels like it’s the setting of the American version of Harry Potter’s Hogwarts.
Whether you want to enjoy some drinks along Kirkwood Avenue – with three of the highest grossing bars in the nation – or explore the university campus; enjoy a taste of Bloomington or escape the city and get back into nature – Bloomington is sure to offer something that will charm and delight every type of visitor.
What to see & do in Bloomington
- Wander courthouse square and downtown Bloomington – there’s plenty to see and do downtown. From the historic Monroe County Courthouse to the speciality stores on Fountain Square Mall. Get outside and enjoy the city for all it has to offer.
- B-line Trail – a converted railroad, the 3-mile trail is perfect for biking and exploring the local art along the way.
- Tibetan Mongolian Buddhist Cultural Centre – devoted to the preservation of Tibetan culture, enjoy a meal with visiting monks and take part in their Tibetan and Buddhist programs.
- Wonderlab – get hands on at this science, health and technology museum. Perfect for the family!
- Oliver Winery & Vineyard – one of Indiana’s oldest and longest running wineries, take a stroll around the lake and take part in a tasting!
- See a show at the Buskirk-Chumley Theater – the historic theatre built in 1922 now shows classic films and live performances in the unique space.
- See the (C)olumn sculpture on Walnut – Bloomington has dozens of public sculptures but this is my favourite. Made of laser cut and powder-coated steel by Jiangmai Wu and Jon Racek, the sculpture is made from words about Bloomington, as submitted by the community.
- Hoosier National Forest – head outdoors to go hiking, biking, horseback riding or camping.
- Lake Monroe – the state’s largest inland lake is the perfect place to fish, swim or go boating under the blue Indiana sky.
- ArtsRoad 46 – three unique art communities connected by one road in the picturesque region of Southern Indiana. I highly recommend!
What to do on campus at Indiana University
- Take a Limestone tour of the campus – tour the stunning campus and learn just a few of the secrets hidden in the limestone.
- Visit the Lilly Library – see first edition Marvel comic books, hold an Oscar and revel in the incredible collection.
- Stop by the IU Art Museum – from Picasso to Pollock, local artists and from those further afield. A great space to spend an hour or two.
- Browse 2,000 years of human sexuality at the Kinsey Institute – take a self-guided or group tour to discover art, artifacts and photography that tell the story of human sexuality over the years. Truly fascinating!
- See a basketball game – basketball is the sport of choice for Bloomington. Come cheer on the Hoosiers!
- Be there on Game Day and cheer on IU’s Football team – IU’s Football team are an important part of college life. Come cheer them on on game day!
Where to Eat in Bloomington
- FARMbloomington – crowd-pleasing recipes using fresh and organic local ingredients.
- Mother Bear’s Pizza – the best darn pizza around (USA Today has named it as one of the best slices in the country!)
- The Chocolate Moose – my only regret was not coming back for seconds of this delicious soft serve.
- Runcible Spoon – Enjoy a cosy meal in a whimsical location. Oh, and be sure to grab a coffee (they roast their beans on site)
- BuffaLouie’s – An Indiana tradition in a historic building, The Gables. Their succulent wings will have your wanting seconds! You’ll see why USA Today selected BuffaLouie’s wings as one of the top ten wing joints in America.
- The Owlery – vegetarian food and craft beers. Be sure to try their vegan cupcakes!
- Little Tibet – a quirky but cosy restaurant serving incredible Tibetan, Thai and Indian food.
- Uptown Cafe – A Bloomington landmark since 1976, they serve Louisiana-style cooking at its finest.
Where to drink in Bloomington
Before you enjoy a cheeky drink, be sure to brush up on your John Mellencamp lyrics. The legendary rocker calls Bloomington home and “Small Town” is a popular favourite once the drinks begin flowing in the bars.
- Oliver Winery – Picnic on the rolling hills and enjoy a glass or two of Indiana wine in the Tasting Room. I highly recommend the Creekbed Catawba!
- Nick’s English Hut – be sure to play the famous “Sink the Biz” on a night out!
- The Root Cellar Lounge – a cosy speakeasy-style bar perfect for a night out.
- Bloomington Brewing Co. – One of Indiana’s first craft breweries creating robust beers with rich flavours.
- Upland Brewing Co. – The second largest brewing company in Indiana. Try their incredible Helios Pale Ale which won bronze in the World Beer Cup 2010.
- Cardinal Spirits – A craft distillery in downtown Bloomington which creates high-quality whiskey, gin, vodka, rum and liqueurs with a retro style. For the best value (and plenty of tasters) take the VIP Tour between Friday – Sunday.
Getting There & Away
The Indianapolis International Airport is the nearest major airport to Bloomington. Indianapolis Airport (IND) is serviced by most major destinations across the USA and some international locations. You can plan your journey to Indianapolis here.
When you arrive in Indy, the easiest way to get to Bloomington is by shuttle. I used Go Express Travel which cost me $18 online ($20 if you purchase it at the airport) and runs every two hours.
While in Bloomington, I stayed at the Courtyard Marriott which offered comfortable, basic facilities close to downtown Bloomington and a 10 minute walk away from Indiana University.
For a unique experience, you can stay on-campus at the upscale Indiana Memorial Union – Biddle Hotel, just minutes from all downtown Bloomington has to offer.
You can find other hotels in Bloomington here.
Make a Trip of It
Considered the gateway to scenic Southern Indiana, Bloomington is surrounded by quaint artist towns; the most well-known being Columbus – famous for the mid-century modern architecture of the Miller House & Gardens (above) – and the Brown County Art Colony based around Nashville. These are connected by the Arts Road 46.
A little further afield, the big city sights and racing history of Indianapolis is just 45 minutes away. While if you choose to cross the border, Louisville, Kentucky is a two-hour drive away and Cincinnati, Ohio is only two and a half hours drive away.
Due to the location of Bloomington, as well as the road trip opportunities, it may be easier to rent a car. In Bloomington, it’s easy to walk around or take a taxi.
Now it’s over to you
What are your top tips for Bloomington?
Let me know in the comments below!
Read more about Indiana:
I was in Bloomington for TMS Showcase with Visit Bloomington.
All thoughts and opinions are, as always, my own.