Best Things To Do in Ann Arbor
Whether you're looking to cheer on the Michigan Wolverines at a college football game or kayak down the tranquil Huron River Water Trail, Ann Arbor... READ MORE
Whether you're looking to cheer on the Michigan Wolverines at a college football game or kayak down the tranquil Huron River Water Trail, Ann Arbor has something for you. Museum lovers will have plenty of options thanks to the University of Michigan's 16-plus museums, ranging from the Museum of Natural History to the Museum of Art. Or, if you'd rather enjoy a more natural form of beauty, head to the university-affiliated Matthaei Botanical Gardens and Nichols Arboretum, which feature photo-worthy forest views and rugged trails. Outside campus, the Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum is a hit among families with young kids, and Kerrytown is worth visiting for its farmers market, boutiques and tasty dining options. You can also get tickets to see a black-and-white movie at the retro Michigan Theater or stroll down Nickels Arcade, a historic shopping area dating back to 1918.
Updated September 28, 2020
- #1View all Photos#1 in Ann ArborMuseums, Free, Parks and Gardens, Sports, Tours, SightseeingTYPEMore than Full DayTIME TO SPENDMuseums, Free, Parks and Gardens, Sports, Tours, SightseeingTYPEMore than Full DayTIME TO SPEND
As the crown jewel of Ann Arbor, the University of Michigan boasts many of the city's top attractions. Start your visit by touring the manicured grounds of the campus, which was opened in Ann Arbor in 1837 (though the school got its start in Detroit in 1817). U-M has a total enrollment of about 48,000 students and stretches across a massive 3,207 acres. You'll find University of Michigan properties dispersed throughout Ann Arbor, though the main campus is centrally located within the city near parks, museums, bars and dining establishments.
When it comes to things to do on campus, you won't be left scratching your head. The university is home to 30 stunning libraries and more than 16 museums, including the Museum of Natural History, the Museum of Art, the Kelsey Museum of Archeology, Matthaei Botanical Gardens, Nichols Arboretum, the Herbarium and the Sindecuse Museum of Dentistry. Other points of interest include the William W. Cook Law Quadrangle (a 10-acre compound comprising pristine green space and impressive gothic-style buildings), the Gerald R. Ford Library and Hill Auditorium (a classical music concert hall). You'll even find a hotel and restaurants on the premises. Campus visitors praised the gorgeous architecture and were wowed by the sheer size of the university. They also enjoyed the many museums on-site.
- #2View all Photos#2 in Ann ArborMuseums, FreeTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPENDMuseums, FreeTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND
The Museum of Natural History was founded in 1956, though the university began collecting and storing artifacts and specimens as early as 1837. Then called the Exhibit Museum, it was officially renamed the University of Michigan Museum of Natural History in 2011, and in 2019 it moved into a brand-new facility on campus.
Popular exhibits include "Dynamic Space," "On the Trail of the Mastodons" (where male and female mastodon skeletons stand side by side), and "Under the Microscope," which explores life at the cellular level. There is also an on-site planetarium. Visitors to the museum were impressed by the detailed exhibits and huge amount of information in the new facility. They extolled the nicely designed space and said their children loved the hands-on activities dispersed throughout.
- #3View all Photos#3 in Ann ArborMuseums, FreeTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPENDMuseums, FreeTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND
The University of Michigan Museum of Art, or UMMA, opened in 1909 as a war memorial, alumni office and art space. Today, it is one of the oldest (and largest) campus museums in the United States, holding more than 21,000 pieces of art. Collections include Asian, African and Western art in all sorts of mediums, including photography, glass and metal. Permanent exhibits feature the works of artists like Claude Monet, Pablo Picasso and Andy Warhol. The museum also has an auditorium for lectures, film screenings and other events. Recent travelers found the museum to be comprehensive and informative. For many, UMMA's small size worked to their advantage; the manageable footprint allowed patrons to get through much of the collections.
UMMA is open from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and noon to 5 p.m. on Sunday. It is closed on Mondays and on university holidays. Admission is free of charge, and street parking is available. Other nearby points of interest include the Law Quadrangle, the Kelsey Museum of Archeology and the student union. To learn more, visit the University of Michigan Museum of Art website.
- #4View all Photos#4 in Ann ArborFree, Parks and GardensTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPENDFree, Parks and GardensTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPEND
The Matthaei Botanical Gardens and Nichols Arboretum are operated by the same organization on the grounds of the University of Michigan. The Matthaei Gardens feature 11 outdoor spaces with bonsai, medicinal plants and seasonal blooms, as well as approximately 3 miles of scenic trails. There is also an indoor conservatory that is open year-round – ideal if you are visiting during Michigan's icy months. At Matthaei's visitor center, you will find maps and other information, as well as restrooms and a snack bar. Recent travelers had nothing but positive things to say about the expansive grounds and gorgeous flowers, noting it is a great attraction for all ages.
Meanwhile, Nichols Arboretum is a joint operation between the City of Ann Arbor and the University of Michigan. It is a 123-acre property with varying landscapes, ranging from wetlands to forests to glacial grounds. At the arboretum, travelers can hike up to panoramic views and enjoy the tranquility of nature, without venturing far from civilization. Recent travelers remarked Nichols is a delightful hidden gem, and many said the Peony Garden – which typically blooms between late May and mid-June – is a must-see.
- #5View all Photos#5 in Ann ArborParks and Gardens, Hiking, Swimming/PoolsTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPENDParks and Gardens, Hiking, Swimming/PoolsTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPEND
The Huron River Water Trail covers 104 miles through Michigan's Lower Peninsula and welcomes more than 2 million visitors annually. The paddling zones of the river range from raging rapids to calm waters. Ann Arbor is the largest of five Trail Towns where visitors can enter the river, find amenities like parks and boat storage and frequent nearby campgrounds, hotels and dining establishments. While paddling is available in the spring and summer, visitors can cross-country ski, snowshoe and ice skate in the area if they visit in the winter months.
The Ann Arbor region of the Huron River Water Trail comprises miles 53 to 46. Popular launch points along this section include the Argo Nature Area and Livery, as well as the Gallup Park and Livery. At Argo, travelers can rent canoes, kayaks and multiperson rafts to paddle downstream through beautiful scenery, placid ponds and Argo Cascades, which features adrenaline-pumping manmade drops and pools. At Gallup Park, choose between canoe, kayak, paddleboat and rowboat rentals for your river adventure. On shore, the park features a 3-mile asphalt trail, playgrounds, fishing spots, picnic areas and concession stands.
- #6View all PhotosfreeKerrytown#6 in Ann ArborFree, Cafes, Neighborhood/Area, ShoppingTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPENDFree, Cafes, Neighborhood/Area, ShoppingTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND
If you are looking for an authentic Ann Arbor culinary experience, Kerrytown is the place to find it. Named after County Kerry in Ireland, the district was part of the original Ann Arbor village dating back to the mid-1800s. In the 1960s, developers added a central shopping and dining area to the eclectic neighborhood and called it Kerrytown Market & Shops. Much of the architectural character from decades past still remains; visitors can expect to find brick buildings and sidewalks, original exposed beams, converted 19th-century factories and more.
Kerrytown Market & Shops is home to some of the city's most beloved dining mainstays, including the Ann Arbor Farmers Market and Zingerman's Deli, a local institution that's served up premium deli sandwiches (including its famous Reuben), cheeses, olive oils, smoked fish and more since 1982. Among other meat, fish and produce markets, you'll also find sit-down restaurants with cuisine ranging from vegan to Korean, plus a Sweetwaters coffee shop location.
- #7View all Photos#7 in Ann ArborMuseumsTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPENDMuseumsTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND
Opened in 1982 in a historic fire station, the Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum is an interactive, family-friendly science center. It has attracted around 6 million visitors since its inception and aims to introduce children of all ages to the STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields of study. Favorite exhibits include the "H2Oh" water play area in the Concourse and the "Michigan Nature" experience, which features an interactive nature wall and geology samples. Recent travelers spoke highly of the museum, saying it has something for toddlers all the way up to preteens. They also noted that the facility was clean and well-maintained.
The Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum is open seven days a week, though opening hours vary by day. On Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays, the museum is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. On Tuesdays, the attraction opens up one hour earlier (9 a.m.), and on Thursdays, it stays open until 8 p.m. Sunday hours are noon to 5 p.m. Admission is free for toddlers 23 months and younger and $12.50 for adults and children ages 2 and older. Visitors who enter after 5 p.m. on Thursdays only pay $5 per person. To learn more, visit the Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum's website.
- #8View all Photos#8 in Ann ArborEntertainment and NightlifeTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPENDEntertainment and NightlifeTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPEND
The Michigan Theater opened in 1928 as a combined vaudeville stage and movie house. It has undergone a few renovations over the years, and today offers audiences with three screening spaces to view films and live concerts. The Main Auditorium holds 1,600 people, the Screening Room has 200 seats and the Annex Cinema holds 60. The theater offers programming 365 days a year, and past visitors praised the old-timey feel of the theater, as well as the curated list of films and live acts. Still, not all patrons appreciated the retro space, noting that the seats were too tight for taller viewers and not as comfortable as the plush chairs in more modern theaters.
General admission tickets for films are $10.50 per person, while students, veterans, senior citizens and groups of 10 or more can secure tickets for $8.50. Matinee showings between Monday and Friday (before 6 p.m.) cost $7.50 per person. Ticket prices for live events vary, and parking is available in multiple nearby garages as well as on nearby streets. To learn more, visit the Michigan Theater's website. (And if you do decide to see a show, be sure to look out for one of Ann Arbor's famous fairy doors at this spot – and a miniature box office window, to boot.)
- #9View all PhotosfreeNickels Arcade#9 in Ann ArborFree, ShoppingTYPELess than 1 hourTIME TO SPENDFree, ShoppingTYPELess than 1 hourTIME TO SPEND
Located in the heart of downtown Ann Arbor, Nickels Arcade is a cozy but upscale covered shopping area with a rich history. The indoor-outdoor complex began as a meat market owned by the Nickels family. After Tom Nickels inherited the market in the early 1900s, he repurposed the shop and expanded the facility to resemble the shopping arcades found in Europe at the time. Nickels completed the block in 1918 and different kinds of shops began opening within the complex.
Today, Nickels Arcade – which celebrated its centennial in 2017 – boasts both vintage and modern-day stores along its mosaic-tiled alley. Visitors can stop into the old-timey barbershop, which dates back to 1917, and grab a drink at the modern juice bar or coffee shop in the same trip. Recent travelers remarked that the block is worth visiting for a short stroll, and many praised the quality merchandise available at several of the shops – including VanBoven Clothing, which has been operated within the same family since 1927.
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