9 Tips to Escape the Tourist Crowds in Bloomington, Indiana

Downtown Bloomington
Downtown Bloomington | © Yahala / WikiCommons
As a popular college town and tourist destination, Bloomington is easily one of the most-visited cities in Indiana as it has a lot to offer visitors. However, if crowded restaurants, exhibits, and attractions aren’t your thing, don’t worry. There are many ways to take in the best sights of Bloomington while still avoiding tourist crowds. Use these nine tips to help safely navigate through this bustling Midwestern city unscathed.

Don’t visit during the summer

Most people tend to visit Bloomington during the summer. Since the city is a huge college town, many believe that summertime is the best season for a trip; however, it’s quite the opposite. From college kids taking summer classes or simply working and staying in town to tourists from around the globe passing through, summertime is sure to bring hundreds of travelers. If you’re hoping for a low-key vacation without crowds, visit in the fall. Not only will college kids be back in school, but hotel rooms are on average 25% cheaper during fall.

Bloomington Fall © StevenW. / Flickr

Take a weekday trip

If you’re really hoping to enjoy a visit to Bloomington in peace, try booking your stay for mid-week, as opposed to the weekend. Most visitors come in on Friday or Saturday, making it more difficult to get into sought-after restaurants or events. Of course, that doesn’t mean you need to pass up restaurants you’ve been dying to try. Bustling eateries like Big Woods Bloomington, Runcible Spoon, Janko’s Little Zagreb, and Hinkle’s Hamburgers will be less crowded during the week, especially if you visit during off-peak hours.

Indiana University © StevenW. / Flickr

Don’t take the university tour

It’s nearly impossible to visit Bloomington without taking in some part of Indiana University. In fact, it would be pretty disappointing to spend time in this college town without taking a peek at this prestigious university, the architecture, or the stunning grounds.

While there are plenty of on-campus guided tours to show you around this 1,936-acre campus, you can skip the crowded excursions and map out your own adventure. Not only will you get to avoid some of the crowds, but you’ll also be able to ensure you only take in the sights you really want to see.

IU Bloomington © Jeff Hart / Flickr

Avoid game days

Basketball is a pretty big deal in the Midwest, and it’s a particularly huge deal at Indiana University. The season runs from the end of October to mid-March and can attract a lot of out-of-town visitors. Be sure to check in on their game schedule before planning your trip; otherwise, you may find yourself dealing with throngs of tourists.

IU Basketball © Chris Kuga / Flickr

Don’t stay downtown

While it can be fun to stay in the middle of all the action, if you’re looking for a more peaceful getaway, don’t stay directly in downtown Bloomington. Opt for somewhere more on the outskirts of the urban setting, such as Wampler House Bed & Breakfast. You can also plan a more natural excursion and camp in one of Bloomington’s parks or forests.

If you’re really looking to keep away from the crowds, you can stay in Bedford, a nearby town with quick access to the city. Here, you’ll find hotels and Airbnbs that offer a more quiet, relaxing stay but are a short drive from all the action.

Bloomington Nature © Sajith T S / Flickr

Take in rural sights

Bloomington may have amazing restaurants, shops, and urban activities, but there are also plenty of peaceful, rural retreats. Take in the more natural side of the city by exploring some of their top walking and biking trails.

The Hoosier National Forest also runs through Bloomington. This 201,047-acre forest is free to visit and offers miles of hiking trails and gorgeous, unforgettable scenery. Lake Monroe, Indiana’s largest lake, is another natural spot worth visiting. Rent a boat and spend the day on the water, enjoying a more peaceful adventure.

Hoosier National Forest © Carly Jane Casper / Flickr

Find Bloomington’s hidden gems

One of the most exciting ways to take in a new city is to stop following maps and guidebooks and just explore on your own. Instead of worrying about eating at all of the top-rated restaurants, simply pop into the first one that catches your eye (without a crowd lingering by the door). You’ll likely find some pretty incredible gems in this college town, hiding right in plain sight. Plus, you’ll probably save a few bucks by avoiding the more widely known spots.

Bloomington Brain © Bart Everson / Flickr

Visit small museums and eateries

Bigger isn’t always better. Sure, the on-campus museum and popular restaurants are bound to be packed. But who says you have to go there to have a fantastic trip? Bloomington is full of tiny museums, eateries, and attractions well worth exploring. Instead of touring the Eskenazi Museum of Art, check out the Elizabeth Sage Historic Costume Collection or the Wylie House Museum. Swing by a mom-and-pop shop you’ve never heard of for dinner, rather than waiting in line for an hour.

Bloomington is also bursting with local music venues, so find a small, swanky place like Bear’s Place where you can check out some lesser-known, up-and-coming acts.

Wylie House Museum © HornColumbia / WikiCommons

Plan ahead

If there’s a restaurant you’re dying to try, be sure to reduce your wait time by making a reservation, even if you’re visiting during the week. The same logic goes for any performance, event, or game you’re hoping to attend. Be sure to buy tickets ahead of time and show up early to avoid having to wait in long lines or deal with huge crowds.

IU Arboretum © StevenW. / Flickr