Champaign-Urbana is a metropolitan area in central Illinois, composed of the towns of Champaign, Urbana, and Savoy. The community is the site of the main campus of the University of Illinois, one of the great public universities of the United States.


The University of Illinois' Beckman Institute, located on the Beckman Quad

Champaign-Urbana is a community of about 120,000 located amongst the corn and soybean fields about 150 miles south of Chicago. The area was first settled by Europeans in the early 19th century. Urbana was founded in 1833, Champaign in 1855 and the University in 1867. Starting out as a farming community, the area's development was largely influenced at various times through the years including the Illinois Central railroad, the university, now-defunct Chanute Air Force Base in nearby Rantoul and others. Today, the cities are growing, cosmopolitan and ethnically diverse, with a modern urban feel in the area's core.

Most residents of Urbana know that their town was there first, and that Champaign (originally named "West Urbana") started because a major north-south railroad was built three miles west of downtown Urbana, prompting the building of a second town along the tracks.

Today Champaign-Urbana is defined by some amount of traditional industry such as Kraft Foods, Hobbico, and others, a growing technology and information sector, and the University. The University is the county's largest employer and a very large institution of 43,000 students. It would be short-changing Champaign-Urbana to call it merely a college town. But there is no doubt that the center of gravity of the arts, entertainment, and intellectual communities rest with the University.

Champaign-Urbana is a very open-minded community with regard to social issues, in stark contrast to the much of the surrounding area. Urbana is seen as the more politically liberal and pastoral of the two, and Champaign is seen as having more of a big-city feel. Champaign-Urbana residents are proud of their oasis of culture and big-city amenities amongst the cornfields, of the less intense traffic, sprawl and lower cost of living here compared to major cities, the University of Illinois Fighting Illini sports teams, and its burgeoning arts scene.

Get in

By plane

Willard Airport (airport code:CMI), is a regional airport operated by the University of Illinois and located roughly 20 minutes south of downtown Champaign. The only commercial flights to Willard Airport are on American Eagle, which flies to and from Willard Airport to Chicago and Dallas.

A typical taxi fare between the airport and Urbana west of Vine Street is $14 for the first person and $10 for each additional person (not including tip).

Car parking at Willard Airport (short- or long-term) costs a maximum of $5 a day. In contrast, all parking at nearby (45 mins away) Central Illinois Regional Airport (airport code:BMI) in Bloomington, Illinois is free. This is due to land ownership differences (BMI is municipally owned and subsidized, whereas CMI is owned by the university and can not be crossed-subsidized by others). Passengers with car problems should contact the parking booth attendant for free assistance provided by Crash and Rescue (for example, jump starting a dead car battery).

It is possible to bicycle to Willard Airport from Champaign-Urbana via country roads. One can bike south on First Street in Champaign or Race Street in Urbana and then head west on County Road 1100 N which runs directly into the airport. The distance is 8.4 miles from downtown Urbana and 7.0 miles from downtown Champaign. There is an outside bicycle rack in front of the terminal.

The nearest major airports are in Chicago (O'Hare (ORD) and Midway (MDW)), Indianapolis, and Saint Louis. Land carriers such as Illini Shuttle, Greyhound, Burlington Trailways, and Amtrak connect Champaign-Urbana to these other cities and airports.

By train

Outside Illinois Terminal in downtown Champaign. This is the Amtrak station and also the Greyhound and local bus depot.

Champaign-Urbana is on the Amtrak system, and is served by three regularly-scheduled train routes, the 58/59 City of New Orleans, the 390/391 Saluki and the 392/393 Illini. All trains run Chicago to Carbondale and the 58/59 continues southward to Memphis, Jackson, and New Orleans. Here are the daily arrival/departure times:

The train is an excellent option for traveling between Champaign-Urbana and downtown Chicago for anyone flexible on time, with tickets costing as little as $15 each way if booked far enough in advance. Trip time to Chicago is about 2h 50m, and connects to the Amtrak national network there. Amtrak, the commercial bus lines (Greyhound, Burlington Trailways, Peoria Charter, and Illini Shuttle) and the municipal bus system (CUMTD, DMT) all arrive and depart from Illinois Terminal in downtown Champaign. Note the Amtrak service is subject to notoriously long delays (sometimes over an hour) because freight trains have priority over the tracks and there is only one set of tracks along most of the route between New Orleans and Chicago. It is not uncommon to sit for half an hour on the train with Chicago visible in the distance.

Trains rarely sell out except at peak times for student traffic.

By car

Interstate 74 runs east-west. 120 miles east is Indianapolis and continues to Cincinnati. To the west are the cities of Bloomington-Normal and continues to Peoria, Galesburg, and the Quad Cities of Davenport/Moline/Rock Island/Bettendorf. Interstate 57 runs north to Chicago and south into Southern Illinois, joining up with I-55 to Memphis. Interstate 72 runs east from Hannibal/Quincy, Springfield (Illinois) and Decatur (Illinois), terminating in Champaign.

By bus

All of the following buses and trains (Amtrak) arrive and depart at Illinois Terminal in downtown Champaign which is also a hub for public buses (CUMTD, DMT).

Get around

Most of Champaign-Urbana is laid out on a grid, aligned with due north, making navigation not too difficult. The exception is the oldest part of downtown Champaign, which is rotated East from the main grid. (This is because Champaign first developed parallel to the railroad).

However, be aware that street addresses can be ambiguous, if not given with the city name. For example, there are four Green Streets: East and West in Champaign, and East and West in Urbana. Therefore, if you drive eastward from Champaign to Urbana along Green, you will start out on West Green, go through East Green, and then you'll be back on West Green again—but in Urbana. Other examples are the two Washington Streets, which have nothing whatever to do with each other, and the two Elm Streets, one of which goes east-west, and the other, north-south.

By bicycle

Champaign-Urbana has a significant number of bicyclists who cycle for transportation and recreation. The flat geography of the community makes it easy to get around on bicycle. While there are few on-street bike lanes or marked bicycle routes and the University of Illinois campus bike path system is considered by some to be obsolete and a bit chaotic, traffic on non-arterial streets is usually light and conducive to bicycling.

The Bike Project Coop in downtown Urbana provides a shop for do-it-yourself bicycle repairs and also recycles and sells bikes at low prices. Two other bicycling organizations are the Prairie Cycle Club and Champaign County

Bike rentals are available from the University of Illinois' Division of Campus Recreation which rents bicycles (including tandems) to students as well as to the general public starting at $15/day for students and members to $20/day for others. Rentals are also available from Neutral Cycle bike shop.

The Champaign-Urbana Bicycle Map, published in 2008, shows recommended routes for bicycle travel in the community. It can be obtained at no cost at many locations in Champaign-Urbana.

The Champaign County Regional Planning Commission publishes maps of greenways and trails that includes bicycle paths in Champaign-Urbana and surrounding areas in Champaign County.

Every Champaign-Urbana Mass Transit District bus is equipped with a bike rack that will carry two bikes on the front of the bus (see instructions for use ). Additionally folding bikes may be carried on buses as per the transit district policy.

Bike theft is a constant concern. Many thefts occur each year of bikes that are either unlocked or only locked with a low quality cable lock. It is easy to avoid being a victim by properly using a high quality lock. Most thefts are likely crimes of opportunity, where a thief will quickly move on if they can't easily steal your bike.

By bus

Champaign-Urbana Mass Transit District (+1 217 384-8188) is an award winning municipal bus system. The adult fare is $1.00. Students, faculty, and staff of the University of Illinois need only show their university ID card to ride. Routes that serve campus with 10 to 15 minute frequency are the 1 Yellow, 5 Green, 10 Gold, 12 Teal, 13 Silver, and 22 Illini. Most community routes will drive through campus, but with limited frequency. iStops are designated stops for boarding and alighting that do not require passengers to pay a fare or show their ID card. These iStops are positioned along high density corridors found mostly in Campustown. Designated Stops require riders to show ID or pay a fare, but also designate where passengers may board and alight.

The front of every bus is also equipped with a bicycle rack that can hold two bikes.

Routes that serve the community are: 2 Red, 3 Lavender, 4 Blue, 6 Orange, 7 Grey, 8 Bronze, 9A and 9B Brown, 11 Ruby, 14 Navy, and 27 Air Bus. On evenings and weekends, the decennial series of the routes operate (i.e. 20, 30, 50, 60, 70, 100, 110, 120, 130, 220, 270) along with the 180 Lime which serves southwest Champaign and the 190 Plum which serves Parkland College on Saturdays. Community routes operate on 15 to 40 minute frequency, but vary by time of day. The 27 Air Bus runs every hour due to the length of its trip.

MTD's Hoppers run along the heaviest traveled portion of a route and operate at either 10 or 15-minute frequencies. This gives passengers the freedom to travel without a schedule. Hoppers connect downtown Champaign, downtown Urbana, and the University of Illinois. There are four Hopper routes: GOLDhopper, GREENhopper, ORANGEhopper, and YELLOWhopper. The GREENhopper is the only one of the four routes that only operates when the University is in session .

SafeRides is a late-night pick-up service provided to and funded by University of Illinois students. The Yellow, Green, Teal, Silver, and Illini run past 3AM during the academic year. Vans are dispatched through the night to safely transport small numbers of students (1-3) within the designated community zone until 6:30AM.

The 280 tranSPORT operates before and after all home men's football games. The Urbana tranSPORT serves the Parking Deck on University & Goodwin, Ceramics Building on Springfield & Goodwin, Krannert (east side) and Campbell Alumni Center (west side) on Gregory Street, Gregory & Goodwin, and ends at Memorial Stadium. The Champaign tranSPORT serves the Hill Street Parking Deck in downtown Champaign (north side), Green & Wright, and ends near the intersection of Peabody & Fourth.

In addition to providing service to Champaign and Urbana, the bus also serves the village of Savoy. The 334 West Direct operates within a designated area that is not served by fixed routes. It provides a connection from the outlying areas west of I-57 to fixed route service.

All buses had GPS locators installed a decade ago and have "Stop Annunciators" to meet ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) requirements for blind travelers. Transit vans are used for SafeRides, Direct Services, and for ADA Paratransit.

CUMTD has used GPS for a decade and uses it to track buses with a suite of STOPwatch services to provide real time information to passengers. STOPwatch.WEB provides arrival times for every bus stop in the District on STOPwatch.WIDGET is a downloadable application that tracks buses on your desktop. One of the most passenger-friendly utilization is STOPwatch@theStop, which provides real time "Next Bus Arrives..." signage at certain high-traffic bus stops throughout Champaign, Urbana, and the UI campus. Other STOPwatch services include STOPwatch.MOBI for smartphones and STOPwatch.SMS for texting. Learn how to use these services on MTD's STOPwatch page.

By car

Most of Champaign-Urbana is easy driving. However, the campus area is complex. Many streets are one way, traffic lights are set to favor pedestrians, parking is limited, and some streets are restricted to buses, so its easy to get sucked into frustrating loops. Hassles can be minimized by avoiding the rectangle inside Green Street, Fourth Street, Florida/Kirby Avenue, and Lincoln Avenue.

In general, there is little congestion to speak of. The exceptions:

There are Zipcars available in Champaign-Urbana.



Movie theaters

Live Performance



Annual Events




Champaign contains most of the chain restaurants in the area; Urbana has relatively few. There are four main concentrations in Champaign:






There are three "scenes" that contain most of the best known bars in town. These are campustown, downtown Champaign and downtown Urbana. Closing time is 2AM, set by local ordinances, but may be earlier based on individual businesses.

Since the real St. Patrick's Day often falls within the University's Spring Break, local bars often celebrate "Unofficial St. Patrick's Day" the 2nd Friday before. The event goes off much like a normal St. Patrick's Day, and attracts party animals from all over Illinois and other Big Ten schools. Be aware of it if you plan to travel to Champaign-Urbana in early to mid-March as parking can be scarce and drunk driving checkpoints are common.


Campustown contains roughly a dozen bars. Almost every bar has daily and weekly specials, too numerous to mention here. Here you can expect a clientele that is uniformly college-aged, if it is not Homecoming weekend. Most bars here have a pretty open floor plan and what seating there is tends to be in a loud and exposed area, in contrast to more of a "lounge" establishment. Most bar are 19+ to enter (sometimes with cover for those who are underage. Generally, all ages can be on the property for food and non-alcoholic drinks during the day and evening until 9PM.


Downtown Champaign contains maybe a dozen bars and is growing, vibrant scene. It has a more varied clientèle with people of all ages, although the median age still probably isn't any higher than thirty. The atmosphere is more upscale than campustown in almost all cases.

Maybe the most upscale establishments in downtown are Boltini, Soma, and The Wedge. These bars are new, have had the most thought put into their aesthetics, but still have drink prices pretty much in line with the other establishments and attract trendy as well as less trendy people.


Finally there is Urbana, whose bars are mostly contained within downtown. Ages of patrons are similar to downtown Champaign or older, and the atmosphere is a little more laid-back in comparison.

Coffee shops


Many national chains have a hotel in the area, though only a couple are within walking distance of campus. The area also has a fairly decent Couchsurfing community , but a lack of visitors. Because of this you are likely to find plenty of couchsurfers willing to host you in their homes and show you around the city.

Other hotels include:


Champaign-Urbana has large number of free Wi-Fi hotspots.

Go next

A number of day trips are an easy drive from Champaign-Urbana, but many day-trip destinations are notable for their eccentricity or are otherwise offbeat.

Routes through Champaign-Urbana

Chicago Kankakee  N  S  Effingham Memphis
Chicago Rantoul  N  S  Effingham Carbondale
Kankakee Rantoul  N  S  Tuscola Mount Vernon
Springfield Monticello  W  E  END
Peoria Bloomington  W  E  Fithian Indianapolis
Kankakee Rantoul  N  S  Tuscola Paducah

This article is issued from Wikivoyage - version of the Thursday, February 11, 2016. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.