6 college towns worth visiting

An archway on the Princeton University campus in

An archway on the Princeton University campus in Princeton, N.J. (Credit: Handout)

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An archway on the Princeton University campus in $entry.content.alttag

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It's autumn. The leaves have fallen on picturesque college campuses and their environs. Now is the time when high school seniors are seriously getting in the undergraduate state of mind - touring campuses, weighing programs, submitting applications.

But even if you don't have a prospective student in your midst, touring some notable colleges (and their surrounding towns) is worthwhile. The best college communities combine the intellectual stimulation of campus life with the history, scenery and culture of the surrounding area. This hip mix of academia and atmosphere makes for a pleasant weekend getaway.

PLAN YOUR VISIT

Start with a tour of the campus. You could do it on your own, but opt for the trained guides (usually students) who are savvy on both "gown and town." They'll walk you around the campus quads while giving you a sense of the neighborhood. Prospective students should sit in on the information sessions, too.

After the tours, take in the college museums. Attend a student concert or theater performance ... or find out if the home football, basketball or soccer team is playing. Eventually, head out the main gate to explore the town.

Here are six college towns within easy driving distance of Long Island that score A+ for their attractions on and off campus.

PRINCETON, N.J.: Princeton University, 100 Nassau St., 609-258-3060 princeton.edu

ON CAMPUS England's King George II chartered Princeton, and its ivy-covered neo-Gothic buildings resemble Oxford University. You can explore the 500 acres by free Tiger Transit shuttle, bike or on foot. Don't miss Firestone Library and the elaborate FitzRandolph Gateway. The oldest building, Nassau Hall, was once the Continental Congress capitol and bears a cannonball scar from the American Revolution.

FALL CAMPUS TOURS Depart from the Frist Center at 11:15 a.m., 1 and 3:30 p.m. Monday-Saturday. Information sessions at 10 a.m. and 2:15 p.m. Monday-Friday, 10a.m. Saturday.

EXTRAS Attend a Sunday Mass at the ornate chapel. Until Jan. 10, see the exhibit Ancient Ivories of the Bering Strait at the university's free Art Museum, which houses 72,000 works. For football fans, the Tigers play rival Yale at Princeton Stadium on Nov. 14.

OFF CAMPUS Charming Nassau Street has restaurants, shops and 18th century houses. The historical society in Bainbridge House offers Sunday walking tours of the town ($4-$7, 609-921-6748, princetonhistory .org). Morven Museum and Garden, once the home of Declaration of Independence signer Richard Stockton, is a decorative arts museum ($4-$5, 609-924-8144, historicmorven.org).

STAY Across the street from campus, the Nassau Inn is near Palmer Square shops and restaurants; rooms have 18th century decor ($159-$399, 800-862-7728, nassauinn.com). The Inn at Glencairn B&B is a restored Georgian manor decorated with antiques. Full gourmet breakfast included ($140-$199, 609-497-1737, innatglencairn.com).

CAMBRIDGE, MASS.: Harvard University, 25 Harvard Way, 617-495-1573, harvard.edu

ON CAMPUS

Founded in 1636, this Ivy League university is America's oldest. Historic landmarks with Colonial and Romanesque architecture fill the campus' 22 acres. Harvard Yard highlights include the 1720 Massachusetts Hall, now a freshman dorm, which once housed Continental Army soldiers. Wadsworth House was Gen. George Washington's headquarters. The John Harvard Statue doesn't really depict John Harvard, but join students and rub his shoe for luck, anyway.

FALL CAMPUS TOURS

Free tours depart from the Events and Information Center at 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. weekdays, 11 a.m. Saturdays. Prospective students also may attend a class and eat with students in Annenberg Hall. Book three weeks in advance to stay overnight with a student host (617-495-1551).

EXTRAS

Campus museums include the Sackler ($6-$9), the Harvard Museum of Natural History ($6-$9) and Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology ($5-$7.50.) End your visit at the Harvard Coop Bookstore to buy a Harvard Lampoon, America's oldest humor magazine.

OFF CAMPUS

Set on the side of the Charles River opposite Boston, Cambridge is known as that city's Left Bank for its blend of old and new. The 1960s counterculture lives on with evening performers, restaurants, shops and artisans in Harvard Square. Stroll Brattle Street to see restored Tory mansions.

Mr. Bartley's Burger Cottage is legendary with Cantabrigians (the locals) for the double cheeseburgers (1246 Massachusetts Ave., 617-354-6559). Catch disco-style performances of Shakespeare's plays at A.R.T. Theater (64 Brattle St., 617-547-8300) or top off your evening at a comedy show at Improv Boston (40 Prospect St., 617-576-1253, improvboston.com).

STAY

Many charming B&Bs surround Harvard - and they're less expensive than lodging 10 minutes away in downtown Boston. A Friendly Inn at Harvard Square, for example, offers free Wi-Fi, parking and continental breakfast for $107-$147 (617-547-7851, afinow.com). So does the Mary Prentiss Inn, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places ($129-$179, 617-661-2929, maryprentissinn.com).

ROCHESTER, N.Y.:  University of Rochester, 300 Wilson Blvd, 585-275-3221, rochester.edu

ON CAMPUS This 154-acre campus is nestled in an elbow of the Genesee River. Founded in 1850, it is one of the smallest top research universities in the country. Among the 158 buildings are the Wilson Commons student center and art gallery, which were designed by I.M. Pei with a six-story glass atrium. The Interfaith Chapel has 6,500 square feet of colored glass tiles on its walls. The newly renovated library with IT center has movable walls and is open 24/7.

FALL CAMPUS TOURS Free tours are held at 9:45 a.m. and 2 p.m. weekdays, 10 a.m. Saturdays, and can be booked online (information sessions one hour prior).

EXTRAS The university's Memorial Art Gallery houses centuries of art, ($5-$10). There, you can hear concerts with our continent's only full- size Italian Baroque organ.

OFF CAMPUS The third-largest metropolis in the state, Rochester is celebrating its 175th anniversary. Despite its industrial origins, Rochester abounds with unique museums. The Eastman Kodak founder's mansion became the George Eastman House International Museum of Photography and Film to archive and restore vintage photographs and movies ($6-$10, 585-271-3361, eastmanhouse.org). See classic films at its Dryden Theatre ($7). The quirky Strong Museum promotes the study of playing, with intergenerational hands-on games and exhibits ($8-$10, 585-263-2700, museumofplay.org).

Theater lovers should see a production of "A Christmas Story" at our state's most attended regional theater, GEVA (585-232-4382, gevatheatre.org). Comfort food is served in huge portions at the retro Highland Park Diner, which is a hidden treasure (960 Clinton Ave. S., 585-461-5040).

STAY Staybridge Suites is near campus and offers a free buffet breakfast and indoor pool ($109.99-$229.99, 877-238-8889, staybridge.com). The Strathallan Hotel has studio and one bedrooms with kitchenettes, or deluxe rooms with full kitchens ($129-$169, 585-461-5010, strathallan.com).

NEWARK, DEL.: University of Delaware, 210 S. College Ave., 302-831-8125, udel.edu

ON CAMPUS Philanthropist Pierre du Pont, whose name still dominates the region, provided the original land. The main campus is in Newark, with buildings in Wilmington, Dover, Georgetown and Lewes. You can wander the university's 350-acre working farm or see a musical performance at the Opera Theatre ($21). Alumnus and U.S. Vice President Joseph Biden has been known to make surprise appearances at home football games.

FALL CAMPUS TOURS Every two hours, 10:45 a.m.-2:45 p.m. Monday-Saturday, from the Visitors Center. Information sessions 45 minutes prior.

EXTRAS See the free Paul R. Jones Collection of African-American Art in Mechanical Hall. The free Mineralogical Museum in Penny Hall houses the du Pont family mineral gems.

OFF CAMPUS Shops, coffeehouses and restaurants line quaint Main Street. The Newark Arts Alliance has two galleries of art (free admission) with poetry readings and music events ($3-$8, 276 E. Main St., newarkartsalliance.org). UD has partnerships with Henry du Pont's former home, now Winterthur Museum and Country Estate ($5-$18, 800-448-3883, winterthur.org) and the Hagley Museum and Library ($4-$11, 302-658-2400, hagley.lib.de.us). At Hagley's du Pont Science and Discovery exhibit, you can try on an astronaut's spacesuit or climb into a NASCAR car.

STAY The Inn at Montchanin is a village and spa of 11 restored 1799-1910 buildings ($192-$399, 800-269-2473, montchanin.com).

ITHACA, N.Y.: Cornell University, 10 East Ave., 607-254-4636, cornell.edu

ON CAMPUS Once a farm, this large Ivy League campus is set on 745 parklike acres. The ivy-covered buildings are perched on a hilltop overlooking Cayuga Lake. Since it is bound by gorges, creeks and waterfalls, you can hear or see falling water from most places on campus. Get a good lake view from Uris Library atop Libe Slope. Of the 20 libraries, the Uris houses a handwritten copy of the Gettysburg Address, European witchcraft documents and a complete set of Shakespeare folios.

FALL CAMPUS TOURS Free tours depart from the Information and Referral Center every two hours between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. weekdays; 9 a.m.-1 p.m. Saturdays and 1 p.m. Sundays. Prospective students should catch the "Freshman Experience Tour" at 1 p.m. Monday-Saturday.

EXTRAS Visit the free Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art. On your way, listen to the famous alma mater, "Far Above Cayuga's Waters," chimed from the McGraw clock tower. Since locals insist that the ice cream sundae was invented in Ithaca, be sure to sample the flavors at Cornell's dairy. Walk the Cornell Plantations' network of trails and arboretums that blend with the quads.

OFF CAMPUS There are 150 waterfalls within 10 miles of town. See the 215-foot Taughannock Falls, higher than Niagara (Route 89). The 165-foot Buttermilk Falls tumble into a bubbly cascade (Route 13 South). In town, catch a performance at the Kitchen Theatre Company (116 N. Cayuga St.). Eat healthy at the popular Moosewood Restaurant and Café in its renovated brick schoolhouse (607-273-9610, moosewoodrestaurant.com).

STAY The William Henry Miller Inn is a B&B with a parlor, music room and carriage house - plus dessert buffet ($155-$235, 877-256- 4553, millerinn.com). The French country-style LaTourelle Resort and Spa has 54 rooms, some with patios and fireplaces ($149-$700, 800- 765-1492, latourelle.com).

ANNAPOLIS, MD.: United States Naval Academy, 121 Blake Rd., 410-293-8687, usna.edu

ON CAMPUS Founded in 1845, the academy stresses discipline and a love for sea and country. Security is tight. Valid photo ID required for visitors 16 and older. At noon, watch the Brigade of Midshipmen assemble for inspection or listen to the Drum and Bugle Corps at Tecumseh Court. Although the chapel is currently closed for repair, go to the separate entrance to see John Paul Jones' crypt.

FALL CAMPUS TOURS Experience "life on the yard" with the professional USNA Guide Service every 30 minutes 10 a.m.-3 p.m. weekdays, 9:30 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturdays and 12:30-3 p.m. Sunday ($7-$9). Admissions briefings for prospective students are held several times a day.

EXTRAS Among the Beaux Arts-style buildings, the newly refurbished free USNA Museum in Preble Hall displays 6,000 naval history prints, model warships, trophy flags and medals. Celebrate the stadium's 50th anniversary by attending the Nov. 14 Navy vs. rival University of Delaware football game. Buy a souvenir "Fear the Goat" T-shirt. Come evening, attend the traditional USNA performance by the glee clubs and symphony orchestra of Handel's "Messiah," Dec. 5-6.

OFF CAMPUS Visit the Annapolis Maritime Museum with its view of Chesapeake Bay and the harbor (410-295-0104, amaritime.org). Walk the Colonial cobblestone sidewalks in the historic town center to see the restored houses of Maryland Declaration of Independence signers. You'll find 20 galleries where you can watch artists at work along Main and West Streets. Learn about African-American culture at the free Banneker-Douglass Museum (410-216-6180, bdmuseum.com). For dinner, feast on blue crab at any of the waterfront restaurants.

STAY Adjacent to the academy, Gibson's Lodgings is a restored 18th century red brick B&B ($149-$259, 877-330-0057, gibsonslodgings.com). The Flag House Inn is a B&B decorated with nautical, British and Asian accents ($180-$300, 800-437-4825, flaghouseinn.com).

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