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The Best College Towns In Ohio

When it comes to the great state of Ohio, you’re not just stepping into a place; you’re diving headfirst into a culture.

And a lot of that culture is based on the college town. From the three C’s to small towns, colleges and universities are an important part of life in Ohio.

Ohio University, founded on February 18, 1804, stands as the oldest public institution of higher learning in the state, tracing its roots back to the very birth of Ohio itself in the Northwest Territory. It’s a place where education isn’t just a part of the town; it’s the town’s very essence. The school started with humble beginnings in 1808 boasting just one building, three students, and one professor, Jacob Lindley.

But through the years, colleges and universities have taken root across the state in sleepy small towns and bustling big cities, building a symbiotic relationship with the communities that surround them. For students, these towns provide a built in support system when young adults are taking their first steps into the wider world, and a cherished place to return to as an alumnus. For the towns, the students help drive the local economy and help to foster a sense of community.

There are some really spectacular college towns in Ohio, and we’re going to look at the very best.

Athens, home to Ohio University

athens ohio university
via Facebook

Athens was founded in 1804. It’s a charming, vibrant town nestled in the Appalachian foothills, known for its historic charm, arts scene, and stunning natural beauty. The town boasts a picturesque courthouse square with a historic feel, making it a great spot for a leisurely stroll. Ohio University, established in 1804, is the heart of Athens and boasts a diverse student body of around 20,000. One unique tradition at Ohio University is the annual “Palmer Fest,” a lively block party.

Must-Do: While in Athens, don’t miss spending a day on the water at Strouds Run, exploring the Kennedy Museum of Art, and savoring a meal at the iconic Bagel Street Deli.

Oxford, home to Miami University

oxford miami university ohio
via Facebook

Oxford, founded in 1810, is a town that exudes historic charm with its preserved architecture and a lively downtown. You can’t miss the beautiful and historic Miami University campus, featuring stunning red-brick buildings. Miami University, which was actually founded before the town in 1809, hosts over 19,000 students. The university is named after Myaamia people and the school was made possible by an ordinance signed by President George Washington in 1795.

Must-Do: Explore the Richard and Carole Cocks Art Museum, stroll through the scenic Uptown Park, and dine at the popular Bagel & Deli.

Kent, home to Kent State University

kent ohio
via Facebook

Kent, founded in 1805, is renowned for its role in the civil rights movement and offers a blend of history and modernity. The town features charming streets and a historic district that adds to its appeal. Kent State University, founded in 1910, has a student population of over 35,000. The annual “Black Squirrel Festival” is a fun tradition focuses on students, families, and the unofficial mascot of Kent State, the black squirrel.

Must-Do: Visit the Kent Historical Society Museum, enjoy the Cuyahoga River Water Trail, and grab a bite at the iconic Ray’s Place.

Gambier, home to Kenyon College

kenyon college gambier ohio
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Gambier is a charming village with a history dating back to 1824, and it exudes a tranquil and idyllic atmosphere. The town is home to the stunning Gothic Revival Kenyon College, which boasts a breathtaking chapel, the Church of the Holy Spirit. Kenyon College, founded in 1824, has around 1,700 students.

Must-Do: Explore the world famous Schnormeier Gardens, visit the picturesque Brown Family Environmental Center, and have a meal at the Village Inn.

Granville, home to Denison University

granville ohio small town
via Wikimedia Commons. CC BY-SA 4.0

Founded in 1805, Granville is known for its beautiful architecture and historic charm, making it a quintessential Ohio small town. The town features a quaint village green and charming, well-preserved homes. Denison University, founded in 1831, hosts around 2,300 students. Denison’s unique tradition is the “Silver Spoon” ceremony where seniors pass down silver spoons to underclassmen.

Must-Do: Visit the Robbins Hunter Museum, hike in the Denison Biological Reserve, and dine at the Granville Inn.

Oberlin, home to Oberlin College

oberlin ohio
Photo by Edsel Little.

Oberlin, founded in 1833, is known for its progressive history and vibrant arts scene, serving as a hub of cultural diversity. The town features picturesque streets and an iconic square with a historic town hall. Oberlin College, founded in 1833, has approximately 2,900 students.

Must-Do: Explore the Allen Memorial Art Museum, visit the Underground Railroad Center, and enjoy a meal at The Feve.

Yellow Springs, home to Antioch College

yellow springs fall foliage
via Facebook

Founded in 1825, Yellow Springs is a unique and artistic community with a rich history of activism and creativity. The town boasts a charming downtown area with colorful shops and cafes. Antioch College, founded in 1852, is a small institution. A visit to Yellow Springs is like stepping onto the set of one of those TV shows that features a quirky small town. Think Star’s Hollow but with better hiking and a college!

Must-Do: Explore Glen Helen Nature Preserve, visit the Yellow Springs Brewery, and enjoy a day at the farm at Young’s Jersey Dairy.

Akron, home to The University of Akron

akron ohio
via Facebook

Akron, a city with a rich industrial history, offers a blend of urban amenities and natural beauty. The city features impressive historic architecture, including the beautiful Stan Hywet Hall & Gardens. The University of Akron, founded in 1870, has a diverse student population. The city is known for its vibrant arts scene and innovation.

Must-Do: Explore the Akron Art Museum, stroll along the Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath Trail, and catch a Zips game.

Dayton, home to Wright State University

Dayton, known as the “Birthplace of Aviation,” has a strong aviation and innovation legacy. The town features historic sites related to the Wright brothers’ achievements, including the Wright Cycle Company Complex. Wright State University, founded in 1967, is a modern institution. Dayton is rich in aerospace history.

Must-Do: Visit the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force, explore the Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historical Park, and dine at The Pine Club.

Cincinnati, home to The University of Cincinnati

cincinnati ohio
Photo by Matt Koffel on Unsplash

Cincinnati is a bustling city along the Ohio River, known for its cultural diversity and vibrant arts scene. The city features impressive historic architecture, such as the stunning Cincinnati Music Hall. The University of Cincinnati, founded in 1819, is a thriving urban campus. Cincinnati is famous for its culinary delights.

Must-Do: Explore the Cincinnati Art Museum, take a riverboat cruise, and visit the oldest standing Skyline Chili.

Columbus, home to The Ohio State University

ohio stadium the shoe
Of course, you can’t talk about college towns in Ohio and not mention the biggest one of all. Columbus is the capital of Ohio, and much of our city’s identity is wrapped up in the Ohio State University. OSU, founded in 1870, boasts a sprawling campus. Buckeye football is a cherished tradition and visiting during a home game is a one-of-a-kind experience.

Must-Do: Visit one of the city’s many museums, catch a Buckeyes football game at Ohio Stadium, and grab a bite to eat at Buckeye Donuts.