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Free Things To Do in Ann Arbor

If you have extra time, University of Michigan Museum of Art is worthwhile.
  • #1
    Things to do in Ann Arbor
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    #1 in Ann Arbor
    Museums, Free, Parks and Gardens, Sports, Tours, Sightseeing
    TYPE
    More than Full Day
    TIME TO SPEND
    Museums, Free, Parks and Gardens, Sports, Tours, Sightseeing
    TYPE
    More than Full Day
    TIME 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.

  • #2
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    #2 in Ann Arbor
    Museums, Free
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND
    Museums, Free
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME 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.

  • #3
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    #3 in Ann Arbor
    Museums, Free
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND
    Museums, Free
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME 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.

  • #4
    View all Photos
    #4 in Ann Arbor
    Free, Parks and Gardens
    TYPE
    Half Day to Full Day
    TIME TO SPEND
    Free, Parks and Gardens
    TYPE
    Half Day to Full Day
    TIME 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.  

  • #6
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    #6 in Ann Arbor
    Free, Cafes, Neighborhood/Area, Shopping
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND
    Free, Cafes, Neighborhood/Area, Shopping
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME 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.

  • #9
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    #9 in Ann Arbor
    Free, Shopping
    TYPE
    Less than 1 hour
    TIME TO SPEND
    Free, Shopping
    TYPE
    Less than 1 hour
    TIME 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.

  • View all Photos
    Free, Monuments and Memorials
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND
    Free, Monuments and Memorials
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND

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