Bloomington, Indiana, is a small city with a lot of charm. It has a humble population of around 70,000 people but it is the home to Indiana University, which adds another forty thousand students to the population. The University dominates the town and brings in most of the exciting activities, but entertainment in Bloomington isn't confined to college football and basketball.
The town is considered one of the most pretty in the nation and the fall leaves change is stunning. If you're looking for a wild night out, some sports fun, the opera, or a good hike, Bloomington can offer it to you. After an intense day or night, there are plenty of great restaurants to enjoy. The official tourist page for Bloomington is: http://www.visitbloomington.com/
Sights and Activities
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The Hoosiers are a big deal here and catching a Hoosier game, be it basketball or football, is always fun. Incidentally, no one really knows what a Hoosier is.
- IU Football is a big deal in town and remember to come early if you want a good tailgating spot. The city boasts some of the best tailgating in the country. The better tailgating fields are located south of the Stadium and are grassy hills with lots of tree cover. The tailgating area north of the campus is just an asphalt parking lot. For most games it is possible to buy tickets on the day, but for more popular games, such as Ohio State University or the Bucket Cup against Purdue University, it is best to buy tickets far in advance.
- Basketball is a big deal for Indiana University for both the men's and women's teams. Watching a basketball game can be fun and very exciting. Remember to purchase tickets in advance, especially for more popular games.
Opera and Music
Indiana University has one of the best music departments in the country and that means some great music can be found here. The Opera puts on several professional-level performances throughout the year and the music department puts on several shows also. In the town itself there is a pretty good live music scene that is affordable. For more information about bars with music look under the drink section.
- Opera and Ballet department of IU puts on excellent shows every season and is considered world class. Because of its location in a small town world class performances can be seen at small town prices. For bigger shows in their opening weekend, it is best to buy tickets in advance. Usually during closing weekend it is possible to buy tickets at the door. Even though this is a small town people do dress up for the opera and ballet just like anywhere else.
- Music Department at IU is one of the best in the country and has several amazing performances every season. Many of them are free and open to the public.
Well's Library IU Campus
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There are several museums around town. Some are associated with Indiana University, others are not. Either way they are great places to visit.
Art And Design:
History and Heritage:
- Wonderlab Science Museum is a family-friendly science museum.
- Kinsey Institute was created to research sex, gender and reproduction. This world famous institute allows visitors to visit its gallery which has changing exhibits focused around sex and sexuality. Must be 18 to enter and is located on the IU, campus. It is open to self guided tours Monday through Friday 2:00pm to 4:00pm. There are public tours offered once a month. Admission is free.
Brown County State Park
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Hiking can be found outside of town, especially in Brown County. Some of the trails are more developed than others while some are pretty basic. Remember to watch out for hunters when they are in season.
- Brown County State Park located near Nashville is the flagship state park in the area. It has great hiking and mountain biking trails plus some nice lakes for canoeing or kayaking. The trails are clearly marked and once you get a few miles in you won't see many people, even during busy times. During the busy times of the year, the picnic areas can be quite crowded and lively. There is a nice playground and picnic tables for families down by the lake. The entrance fee to the park is $10 — it's inescapable but can be paid by credit card. You can only enter the park by car.
- Yellow Wood Forest is much less developed than Brown County State Park and the trails are not as clearly marked. On the plus side, it's possible to hike it for free. During hunting season remember to wear bright colored clothing. The park is located off of Highway 46 east of Bloomington.
Other Sights and Activities
- Town Square and Court House still look as they did when the town was first constructed. A walk around the courthouse shows many great public statues and monuments, some dating back to when the town was first founded. There are also several restaurants and shops located around the square ranging from a game shop, outdoor store to fine jewelry shops.
- Indiana University campus is a great walk with some nice wooded areas.
- Nightlife in this town is great, although knowing which bar is which is a good idea. Look at the drink section below for more details.
- Sink the Bismarck, usually called "Sink the Bis," is a local drinking game mainly played at Nick's. The game involves a glass floating in a bucket of beer. You have to pour more beer into the glass and if you sink the glass - by adding too much beer - then you have to drink the glass not the bucket.
- Ganden Monastery is a Tibetan Monastery located north and east of Bloomington and is open to the public although sometimes it can be closed and is best to check before hand.
- Tibetan Mongolian Buddhist Cultural Center and Kumbum Chamtse Ling Temple is a wonderful Buddhist temple and cultural center located south and east of town. The visitor center is open to the public and they have regular events throughout the week. There are also trails in the woods around the center. The center is located at 3655 South Snoddy Road, Bloomington, IN, Phone: 1-812-336-6807
- Nashville (Indiana) is about 30 minutes east of Bloomington and is a great little town and place to just hang out. Although in the fall it is very crowded on the weekends. There are plenty of restaurants and B and Breakfasts to enjoy there.
Events and Festivals
- Weekly Farmers Market features farmers and ranchers from all over the community and usually has some live entertainment.
- Lotus World Music and Arts Festival is a large music festival during which most of downtown is closed to make way for large stages. It is possible to buy tickets for individual events, for the entire festival, or just for an evening. The festival is usually held in late September or early October.
- Little 500, also known as the Little 5, started as a small Indiana University Bike race held on campus for undergraduate students and has turned into a massive event. Started in 1951, the race now hosts a week of events and includes a women's and men's race also. There are also concerts, giant block parties and house parties that have been known to host a petting zoo. Lance Armstrong said that the race was "the coolest event I ever attended." This event is held every spring.
- Fourth Street Arts and Crafts Festival is held every fall over labor day weekend and hosts artists from all over the nation to sell their wares. Admission is free.
- Chocolate Festival is a festival honoring a world wide favorite food.
The Monroe County Airport (IATA: BMG, ICAO: KBMG, FAA LID: BMG) is a small county-owned airport that is used for private aircraft and has no public use. This makes the closest option for flying the aiport in Indianapolis. The Bloomington Shuttle provides transportation to the airport in Indianapolis for a reasonable rate and has several pick up options around town.
There are no expressways approaching Bloomington so local roads are the way to go. 37 is the best way to get to Bloomington from Indianapolis or from the south. 46 is the best if approaching from the east and 48 to 43 from the west. 46 cuts across the town in a southwest to northeast direction.
The best option is to take the bus to Indianapolis and then catch the mine bus to Bloomington.
Driving around Bloomington is pretty easy. The main east-west streets are 10th and 3rd. Downtown, the main south street is Walnut while the main north street is College. On the east side of town, College Mall is the main street. The residential areas between downtown and the campus tend to have permit parking during the week days.
Many international rental companies have a wide selection of rental cars and these include Hertz, Avis, Dollar, Thrifty, Enterprise, Budget and Alamo/National. Most companies will require you are at least 25 years of age, although younger people might be able to rent cars at slightly higher rates and with some insurance differences as well. A national driver's license is usually enough, but an additional international one is recommended. Also note that it usually costs more to include lots of other extra things. For example extra drivers, GPS, the first full tank, SLI (Supplemental Liability Insurance), PAI (Personal Accident Insurance, usually covered already at home), road assistance/service plan, and drop-off costs for one-way rentals.
If you want to book a car, it is recommended that you book your car before arriving in the USA. This is almost always (much) cheaper compared to just showing up. Also, try and book with a so-called 'broker', which usually works together with a few or many car rental companies and can offer the best deal. Some examples include Holidayautos, Holidaycars and Sunny Cars. Some of the cheapest deals to book from Europe, includes Drive-USA, which also has a German version.
For more information and tips about renting cars and campers, additional costs, insurance, traffic rules, scenic routes and getting maps and fuel it is advised to check the USA Getting Around section.
By Public Transport
Bloomington Transit is a great bus system that can get you anywhere in town. Thursday through Saturday certain buses run till 2:00am, including the useful number 6 which takes you to the east part of town.
Walking around downtown and the campus is very easy and a good option for getting around town.
There are plenty of bike lanes in town but many of the local drivers tend to get confused about what they mean.
Bloomington has countless amazing restaurants, with most of the higher end ones located near the courthouse downtown. If looking for chain restaurants, the best options is out on college mall. There are several cheaper restaurants, aimed at students, located on Kirkwood and Walnut. If looking for international food 4th street is the place to go with restaurants ranging from Ethiopian to Tibetan.
- Runcible Spoon, called the spoon by locals, is a great place for breakfast, lunch and dinner. One of its claims to fame is having its own coffee roaster! On the weekends there can be a long line at brunch time so try to get there before 10:30 am. Runcible Spoon is located just east of Grant on 6th street.
- The Farm is a great downtown restaurant. Its main theme is to use locally grown and raised food that is in season. The menu changes regularly and the food is always stunning. The downstairs root seller turns into a late night dance club with a 5 dollar cover, its best to enter through the back. The root seller can also be rented for private parties. The farm is located at 108 East Kirkwood Ave.
- Taste of India is a great Indian restaurant located on the western end of the 4th street restaurants. It has an amazing weekday lunch buffet that is a killer deal and allows you to try Indian food from all over India. Taste of India is located at 316 East 4th Street.
- Puccini’s La Dolce Vita and Ashenda Abash are two connected restaurants, where you can order from either menu at both places. Puccini’s La Dolce Vita features fine Italian with mains around $20, while Ashenda Abash is an Ethiopian restaurant with mains around $15 (although the sample platters are the best deal if you have a small group). The restaurants' internal decór is amazing as well.
South of Campus
East of Campus
Although dominated by strip malls and chain restaurants, there are some hidden local gems scattered around in the area east of campus.
- Sobon is an amazing Korean restaurant with reasonable priced mains from $10 to $15. This also includes several vegetarian friendly entrees. Don't be fouled by its trip mall location, the interior is extremely nice and the service is excellent. There is plenty of free off street parking. Address: 1811 E 10th St, Phone: (812) 333-1004.
Remember when going for a night out on the town in Bloomington to bring two forms of ID with you everywhere. This town is very strict on carding and many places will not let you in unless you have two forms of ID with you, no matter how old you look. A credit card, library card or student ID is perfectly fine as a second ID. For people looking for something other then alcohol there are plenty of excellent coffee houses to explore, most offering free WiFi and awesome interior design.
- Brothers is the main bar for the over 21 Greek (Frat boy) crowd. Most people dress pretty yuppy and there is a nice upstairs area that is outdoors. The main room features several large tvs that always have the big games on. The place can get very crowded on a friday or saturday night. Address: 215 N Walnut St.
- Kilroys on Kirkwood or Walnut is one of the main undergraduate bars in town. On the weekends it gets jam packed with people and has loud top 40 music blasting. Both places serve standard bar food that can aid the drunken stomach. The Walnut branch, also called Sportz, has half priced food and drinks on Wednesday nights, which is nice on a summer evening when sitting in the outdoor patio area. Also, the Walnut branch can turn into a major sports bar with lots of TVs with whatever game you want on.
- Upstairs Pub is located literally upstairs of the Jimmy Johns near the intersection of Dunn and Kirkwood. This is more of a dive bar featuring cheaper beer in plastic cups. The bar has several pool tables in the back and good traditional jukebox. The bathrooms are a bit basic. Address: 430 E Kirkwood Ave, Phone: (812) 333-3003
Grad Student Bars
- The Vid is the local hipster/artist bar and has cheap drinks. It tends to be more of a late night joint although there are pool tables and darts available. The Vid is considered LGBT friendly. Credit cards are not accepted. However there is ATM in the bar.
- House Bar is a small house that has been converted into a bar. This local hipster artist hangout features cheap beer, with pints of PBR starting at $1, and a very nice outside area in the back. The interior of the bar is made up of small tables and some nice sofas. It is located north on Walnut, just south of the train tracks and is open late. The address 813 N Walnut St Bloomington, IN. Phone: 812-339-5646
- Nicks is a restaurant by day and a bar by night. It tends to attract law and MBA students although some undergraduates tend to show up. There are several TVs around the bar featuring live sports events. It is also the best place to play Sink the Biz.
- Crazy Horse is located just west of the Court House on Kirkwood. This bar has a full menu and usually has some good deals on drinks. It tends to attract an assortment of grad students and locals. Usually the TVs feature some major sporting event. There is also a nice outdoor seating area in front of the bar
- The Irish Lion is a classy pub located just east of Crazy Horse on Kirkwood. The bar has a very nice interior and good Irish food. If you're looking for tables, the downstairs area is better. The pub also serves half yards and yards of beer of anything on tap. Upstairs is a large banquet hall which is a great place to host events. This is one of the most fancy and upscale bars in Bloomington and is not pretentious at all.
- The Blue Bird is a great small live music venue. It features two large bars in the front and one small bar back by the stage. The pit area is sunk so it's still possible to see if you're stuck in the back. The majority of events have a small cover. It is located at 216 N. Walnut across the street from the Vid.
- Yogis Bar and Grill is a restaurant and sports bar. It has the standard greasy bar food plus giant projectors and countless TVs showing sports all the time. During the weekdays there are good drink and food specials. The bar has parking out front but for a big event the lot (and the bar) can fill up very quickly.
- Uncle Elizabeth's is a great dance club and gay bar located at 1614 W 3rd St. Phone: (812 331-0060)
- The Other Bar is a college bar that is gay and lesbian focused. The general music theme is techno. Address: 414 S. Walnut St, Phone: (812) 334-3232.
- Rachael's Cafe is a great coffee house that offers great vegetarian and vegan food. Some evening they have live music. The transvestite owner succeeded in creating the perfect welcoming atmosphere that every coffee house dies for. Open Monday to Friday 8:00am to 9:00pm, Saturday 9:00am to 9:00pm, and Sunday 9:00am to 7:00pm. Located at 300 E 3rd Street.
- Soma Coffe House has a great coffee house atmosphere plus great coffee, fruit juices, other drinks and vegan pastries. In the back room there are plenty of board games to choose from and the staff is very well informed about the town. If looking for food you can buy something upstairs at Laughing Planet and bring it on down. Soma is located just south on Grant off of Kirkwood. Address 322 E Kirkwood Ave, Phone: (812) 331-2770.
Because of football and basketball, there are a wide assortment of sleeping options in Bloomington, ranging from road side motels to cute B&Bs and mega chain hotels. When there aren't any major events, it is very easy to get discount rates. Most of the larger hotels are located north of the Stadium, just south of the bypass, while the bed and breakfasts tend to be located near downtown.
There is a very small internet bar/cafe culture in the USA. Even then most of the internet bars/cafes tend be located in major urban centers. Accessible WiFi networks, however, are common. The most generally useful WiFi spots are in coffee shops, fast-food chains, and bookshops, but also restaurants and hotels more and more have a network to connect on. Some of them might require you to buy something and you might need a password too, especially in hotels.
See also International Telephone Calls
The general emergency phone number is 911. The USA has a great landline phone system that is easy to use. The country code for the U.S. is +1. The rest of the telephone number consists of 10 digits: a 3-digit area code, and a 7-digit number. Any small grocery store or pharmacy has pre paid domestic or international phone cards. These phone cards are very cheap and offer good rates. The once ubiquitous pay phone is now much harder to find. Likely locations include in or near stores and restaurants, and near bus stops. The cellphone network in the states is slowly getting better but is still not as good when compared to other western countries. Cell phones tend to operate using different frequencies (850 MHz and 1900 MHz) from those used elsewhere in the world (2100 MHz). This used to prevent most foreign phones from working in America. Phones must be tri- or quad-band to work in the U.S. Fortunately, technology has meant that most phones should now be able to pick up one of the U.S. networks. Prepaid phones and top-up cards can be purchased at mobile phone boutiques and at many discount, electronics, office supply and convenience stores. A very basic handset with some credit can be had for under $40.
The US Postal Service is a very good and well priced mail system. There are post offices in every small and large town for sending packages internationally or domestically. Although some might keep longer hours, most are open at least between 9:00am and 5:00pm. If wanting to send a letter or postcard it is best just to leave it in a blue mail box with the proper postage. First-class international airmail postcards and letters (up 28.5 grams) cost $1.10. There are also private postal services like FedEx, UPS, TNT and DHL, which might be better value sometimes and are generally very quick and reliable too.