College towns are catalogs of fun things to do

Richard Fiske and Patty Sheehan of Appleton, Maine, browse in a gallery of European artists hung in the traditional salon style at the Bowdoin College Museum of Art in Brunswick, Maine. Richard Fiske and Patty Sheehan of Appleton, Maine, browse in a gallery of European artists hung in the traditional salon style at the Bowdoin College Museum of Art in Brunswick, Maine. (Fred Field for The Boston Globe/File)
By Hilary Nangle
Globe Correspondent / February 1, 2009
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More than just stops on the college tour, New England's university towns are destinations unto themselves, featuring troves of free and reasonably priced attractions that provide big bang for the traveler's buck. With their independent shops and eclectic restaurants, they also offer a respite from the world of McChains.

Lectures, concerts, films, theatrical and dance performances fill college event calendars. And since the schools encourage the development of not only sound minds, but also sound bodies, athletic opportunities abound. While indoor facilities are usually limited to the college community, some schools have ski areas, skating rinks, snowshoe trails, and other facilities open to the public.

Bowdoin College

Brunswick, Maine Bowdoin has opened its arms to visitors with the renovation and reopening of two McKim, Mead, and White-designed architectural gems, combined with the updating of other campus arts facilities. The Museum of Art's stunning new brass-and-glass entry pavilion lures passersby into the expanded museum, which now houses 14 galleries of permanent and rotating exhibits. From there, stroll over to Hubbard Hall, home to the college's revitalized Peary-MacMillan Arctic Museum, which highlights the North Pole expeditions of Bowdoin grads Robert E. Peary and Donald B. MacMillan. Studzinsky Recital Hall, created out of the former Curtis Pool, is the college's premier performing arts venue.

Students and visitors consider the campus dining facilities to be a cut above the rest. Both Moulton Union and Thorne Hall are open to the public, serving breakfast for $6.75, lunch for $11.50, and dinner for $12.75. Jack Magee's, the campus pub and grill, serves sandwiches, salads, and lighter fare, with most choices $5-$7.

The Bowdoin website and newspaper list campus happenings, from lectures and concerts to athletic events. Advance tickets are necessary for some and fees vary. Hockey, basketball, and other sporting events are free, as are student-led campus tours, offered through the admissions office. Another source of area events is Five Rivers Arts Alliance (, which keeps tabs on the town's lively arts scene, with gallery and event listings.

Bowdoin's downtown campus makes it easy to explore other Brunswick sites including the Pejepscot Museum (159 Park Row, 207-729-6606,, highlighting local history; First Parish Church (9 Cleaveland St., 207-729-7331) where Harriet Beecher Stowe was inspired to write "Uncle Tom's Cabin"; and the Town Green, locally called the mall, with its ice skating rink.

Dartmouth College

Hanover, N.H. Dartmouth is woven into Hanover, and between the town, campus, and Norwich, Vt., just across the Connecticut River, there's plenty to keep a wallet-conscious traveler content. As at Bowdoin, arts are a strongpoint. The Hood Museum of Art's collection ranges from Assyrian reliefs to modern masters, including Picasso. Wander into the Baker-Berry Library for a real find: about 3,200 square feet of murals depicting the story of civilization in the Americas painted by Mexican realist artist José Clemente Orozco. The Hopkins Center for the Arts is the venue for concerts, plays, lectures, performances, and exhibits, some of which are free. When hunger strikes, Dartmouth's dining venues include a snack bar, cafes, and food court, all open to the public on a cash-only basis.

The college is equally rich in outdoor resources. The Dartmouth Skiway (39 Grafton Turnpike, Lyme Center, N.H., 603-795-2143) is a gem. Lift tickets (ages 19-64 full day $40; 13-18 $30; 6-12 and 65-79 $25) are downright cheap compared with nearby commercial areas. Too pricey? Try a skate on Occom Pond or a glide along the trails at the Dartmouth Cross Country Ski Center; both operate from the same lodge, where hot drinks and snacks, and skate, snowshoe, and ski rentals are available. Skating is free, but a pass ($10) is required on groomed trails.

Off campus, explore Hanover, then cross the bridge to Norwich to find the Montshire Museum of Science (1 Montshire Road, 802-649-2200,, adults $10, ages 2-17 $8), with exhibits detailing natural and physical sciences as well as ecology and technology; King Arthur Baking Education Center, Bakery, and Baker's Store (135 Route 5 South, 802-649-3361;, a must-stop for anyone who loves baking; and Dan & Whit's General Store (319 Main St., 802-649-1602,, where the slogan is: "If we don't have it, you don't need it."

Middlebury College

Middlebury, Vt. The town of Middlebury tends to be rather chichi and pricey, but there are bargains to be found. Two reasons it makes the budget cut: the Middlebury College Museum of Art and the Middlebury College Snow Bowl. The museum's collection includes antiquities and contemporary pieces from around the globe. It's located in the Mahaney Center for the Arts, along with a concert hall, theater, dance studio, and Rehearsals Cafe, an a la carte restaurant that's a good choice for lunch. Another tasty option for affordable food is The Grille at the McCullough Student Center.

Middlebury is also a great pick for those who like outdoor play. The college operates both the Middlebury College Snow Bowl (Route 125, 802-388-4356, adults $42 weekend/holiday, $28 weekday; students and seniors $30, $25, for skiing and snowboarding, and the Rikert Ski Touring Center (Route 125, 802-443-2744, full day $15, half day $10,, with 26 miles of groomed trails.

Off campus, the Henry Sheldon Museum of Vermont History (1 Park St., 802-388-2117,, adults $5, 6-18 $3, family $12) is a reasonably priced triple-header for history buffs. The 1829 Judd-Harris House recalls life in 19th-century Vermont, the Walter Cerf Gallery hosts changing exhibits related to art and history, and the Stewart-Swift Research Center is filled with 19th-century books and records. Don't miss the Frog Hollow: Vermont State Craft Center (1 Mill St., 802-388-3177,, a fabulous gallery with works by more than 200 Vermont artisans, or the Vermont Folklife Center (88 Main St., 802-388-4964,, dedicated to traditional arts and crafts. Be sure to check the docket at the magnificently renovated 1884 Town Hall Theater (68 South Pleasant St., 802-388-1436,

Williams College

Williamstown Few locations in New England rival the Berkshires as a destination for art lovers. The Williams College Museum of Art (15 Lawrence Hall Drive, 413-597-2429,, free) is one of the eminent college art museums in the country. Although its 12,000 works span the history of art, it is especially strong in modern and contemporary American art and world cultures. Temporarily on view at the museum, while the Chapin Library of Rare Books is closed for renovation, are original copies of the US Constitution, Bill of Rights, Declaration of Independence, and Articles of Confederation. Be sure to check into the '62 Center, the college's new arts center for theater and dance, to see what's on stage.

When hunger hits, visit the Paresky Center, home to The '82 Grill, serving pizzas for $7 and lunch and dinner specials for $9; the Eco Café, with baked goodies costing about $1; Whitmans' food court; Lee Snack Bar, selling inexpensive deli sandwiches, salads, and fried and grilled foods; and Grab and Go, if you want to eat on the run. Campus dining halls also are open for all-you-can-eat meals: $4.10 for breakfast, $10 for lunch, and $13.15-$14.25 for dinner.

Off campus, stay in art mode with a visit to the nearby Sterling and Francine Clark Institute (225 South St., 413-458-2303,, free Nov. 1-May 31), where the collection emphasizes French Impressionists and American and old masters. Farther afield, the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, or Mass MoCA, (1140 Mass. MoCA Way, North Adams, 413-662-2111,, adults $15, students $10, ages 6-16 $5) exhibits works by contemporary artists and doubles as a performing arts venue.

Hilary Nangle can be reached at

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