13 Top-Rated Things to Do in South Bend, Indiana

Written by Brad Lane
Updated Dec 24, 2023
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Author Brad Lane enjoyed a reporting trip throughout Indiana and looks forward to visiting South Bend again.

South Bend is the fourth-largest city in Indiana and a permanent fixture in American history and culture. Today, it blends its history with a thriving community and offers dozens of tourist attractions and places to visit, including easy escapes into beautiful natural surroundings.

Statue and dome at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana
Statue and dome at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana

The city sits along the southernmost bend of the St. Joseph River and was synonymous with manufacturing at the turn of the century, thanks to industry leaders like the Studebaker corporation. During that same time, the small Catholic university known as the University of Notre Dame was quickly expanding to become the world-renowned institution it is today.

South Bend residents show pride in their city and its historic past and throw great events to celebrate their culture. Greek festivals, art fairs, and jazz festivals take place in South Bend throughout the year, giving more reasons to visit this vibrant city.

Plan a few extra days for sightseeing when visiting, and discover the best things to do with our list of top-rated attractions in South Bend, Indiana

See also: Where to Stay in South Bend

1. University of Notre Dame

University of Notre Dame
University of Notre Dame | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

Founded in 1842 and chartered by the state legislature in 1844, the University of Notre Dame has remained a physical and cultural presence of South Bend ever since the school's inception. During a visit to Notre Dame today, noting the collegiate Gothic architecture and the sprawling campus often filled with backpack-clad students, it's impossible not to feel the academic and spiritual powers at play.

Community members and tourists have many fun things to do on campus, including free admission to the impressive Snite Museum of Art. You can find nearly the entire city enjoying the athletic atmosphere at Notre Dame Stadium come Saturdays in the late summer and fall, home of the Fighting Irish football team.

An important stop for many on campus, including those who appreciate fine architecture, is the Basilica of the Sacred Heart — a stunning Roman Catholic church that can take your breath away. Another family-fun attraction on campus can be found at the Compton Family Ice Arena, with daily public skating times.

Read More: Best Weekend Getaways in Indiana

2. National Studebaker Museum

National Studebaker Museum
National Studebaker Museum | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

The American car manufacturer Studebaker has a long history connected to South Bend, much of which is on display at the National Studebaker Museum. This acclaimed museum and educational space is open seven days a week, except on major holidays.

Classic Studebaker models, military vehicles, and the world's largest collection of U.S. Presidential Carriages are displayed in the museum. The Barouche that Abraham Lincoln used the night of his ill-fated theater attendance is a special highlight of the museum. The collection also includes an extensive archive of design and development drawings.

Various events and programming fill the Studebaker National Museum calendar throughout the year, including speaker series and an annual Hall of Champions dinner and reception. The museum also facilitates the Concours D'Elegance at Copshaholm, featuring hundreds of vintage automobiles on outside display.

Address: 201 Chapin Street, South Bend, Indiana

3. Potawatomi Zoo

Potawatomi Zoo
Potawatomi Zoo | John Hritz / photo modified

On the east side of the city, adjacent to Potawatomi Park, Potawatomi Zoo is the oldest animal park in Indiana. With nearly 500 animals spread across 23 acres, this family-friendly attraction allows for educational and hands-on experiences alongside many viewing opportunities.

Resident animals at the zoo include armadillos, Ankole cattle, and American bison. The park also features a variety of big cats, including leopards, tigers, and lions. Different educational programs at the zoo include Zoo Camps and family programs. Other popular attractions are the Potawatomi Zoo Train, the Endangered Species Carousel, and a Zoo Farm Feeding Area.

The zoo is open seasonally between April and October. Zoo admission is relatively inexpensive compared to most animal parks, and children under two years old receive free admission.

Address: 500 South Greenlawn Avenue, South Bend, Indiana

4. Basilica of the Sacred Heart

Basilica of the Sacred Heart
Basilica of the Sacred Heart | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

The Basilica of the Sacred Heart is near the north end of the University of Notre Dame campus and is the mother church of the Congregation of the Holy Cross in the United States. It has a significant role in the Catholic faith, and this Gothic-inspired church is also an incredible piece of architecture and functional art.

With time in the daily schedule reserved for private events and services, the basilica is open to the public year-round. Anyone with interest is welcome to enjoy public masses at the basilica. During the school semesters, the basilica is open from 9am to 9pm, though public hours may vary. Volunteer tour guides are also available for a docent-led tour.

Self-guided tours are available and are a good way to appreciate the intricate art, construction, and collection of 19th-century stained glass windows. It's hard not to crane your neck up throughout the holy space.

On the grounds outside, the Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes is an impressive spiritual shrine built of boulders from surrounding farms. This beautiful shine is pretty throughout the day, but it comes under the special glow of candles at night.

Address: 1 Holy Cross Drive, Notre Dame, Indiana

5. The Morris Performing Arts Center

The Morris Performing Arts Center
The Morris Performing Arts Center | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

Beginning as a vaudeville house in the early 1920s, the Morris Performing Arts Center followed the act of many prominent theaters across the country. Narrowly avoiding the wrecking ball during the mid-20th century, this historic venue was saved when the South Bend community rallied behind it, ultimately restoring it back to its original glamour in the year 2000.

Now listed on the National Register of Historic Places, this stunning theater and performance space attracts a wide variety of first-class talent and attractions. Shows and performances at Morris range from comedians to world-famous musical acts. The Morris is also well known for its Broadway and symphony performances.

Address: 211 North Michigan Street, South Bend, Indiana

6. The History Museum

The Oliver Mansion
The Oliver Mansion | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

The History Museum is next to the National Studebaker Museum and is one of the oldest institutions of its kind in the state. The informative exhibits, vivid displays, and artifacts of the museum tell various stories of Indiana, ranging from the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League to the evolution of architecture at Notre Dame.

Another exhibit at the History Museum includes an extensive collection of ornate miniature lamps. And seven full-scale dioramas at the museum paint an immersive picture of the people of the St. Joseph River. The History Museum is open seven days a week, excluding major holidays.

Within the facility, the Kidsfirst Children's Museum makes this educational space fun for the whole family. This engaging part of the museum caters to young children with several replica playsets from the 1800s, including a one-room schoolhouse and trading post.

The Oliver Mansion and Oliver Gardens are also on the property of The History Museum and can be a fun part of any visit. Daily guided tours of this 38-room mansion provide some historical perspective on 19th-century elegance.

Address: 893-941 Thomas Street, South Bend, Indiana

7. South Bend Museum of Art

South Bend Museum of Art
South Bend Museum of Art | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

This downtown art museum features three stories and five galleries representing Indiana and regional artists. The museum also has works from across the nation on display. The halls of the South Bend Museum of Art are easy to navigate, and while visiting, it's common to find yourself immersed in the artistic atmosphere.

Regular and special events, like First Fridays and outdoor Art Festivals, also make it easy to enjoy artistic treasures within the community. The museum can be found within the Century Center, which is also home to major conventions and events in the area, including political rallies, professional seminars, and holiday musical shows.

Address: 120 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, South Bend, Indiana

8. Compton Family Ice Arena

Compton Family Ice Arena
Compton Family Ice Arena | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

Adjacent to the Joyce Center on the south edge of the University of Notre Dame campus, the Compton Family Ice Arena appeals to students, faculty, and members of the community. It's home to the Fighting Irish hockey teams and provides everyday opportunities for the public to use the ice.

Learn to Skate clinics are offered throughout the year. Various intramural leagues, like broomball and hockey, also have reserved time on the schedule. Public skating is offered most days of the week from 12 to 1:30 pm — but be sure to check the schedule ahead of your next visit.

Address: 100 Compton Family Ice Arena, Notre Dame, Indiana

9. East Race Waterway

Rafting at the East Race Waterway
Rafting at the East Race Waterway

South Bend offers a unique white water rafting experience at the heart of the city on the St. Joseph River, near the banks of the Century Center. The waves and white water on this section of the river, known as the East Race Waterway, are controlled by headgates and submerged obstacles, offering a wide range of difficulty for different riders.

Visitors are required to wear rubber-soled shoes and clothes that can get wet, but rafts and all safety equipment are provided. Riders must meet height and age requirements to raft the white water park. Kayaks are also permitted on the water, but visitors must bring their own vessel.

The run is approximately 2,000 feet long and generally runs as Class 2 rapids. Most rides take approximately five minutes from start to finish, with some moderate maneuvering required. Single-ride passes and multiple-ride passes are available for a day visit. Season passes are also available for those wanting to visit throughout the year.

10. Snite Museum of Art

Snite Museum of Art
Snite Museum of Art | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

This museum is on the University of Notre Dame Campus, near Notre Dame Stadium, and provides free admission to all members of the public. The Snite Museum of Art features a wide collection of Renaissance, medieval, and 19th-century artworks.

Photographs, paintings, sculptures, and elements of design are around every corner of the museum. Modern and contemporary art is also on display, as well as African, Native American, and Mesoamerican works. Projects from graduate students also adorn the walls and rotate each semester.

A new addition to the museum's collection includes the Charles B. Hayes Family Sculpture Park, located a few blocks south of the museum in a sprawling natural space. This charming outdoor space encompasses a large grassy lawn and several eye-catching works by sculptors from across the world.

Address: 100 Moose Krause Circle, Notre Dame, Indiana

11. Potawatomi Park

Potawatomi Park Conservatory
Potawatomi Park Conservatory | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

Potawatomi Park contains a dense collection of cultural attractions on the eastern edge of the city on the opposite side of the St. Joseph River from downtown. Large, shady trees punctuate much of the space at Potawatomi Park, providing bountiful sitting space for a picnic or afternoon in the park.

The Potawatomi Zoo, Indiana's oldest animal park, is within the park and has nearly 500 animals within its care. Fun activities offered by the zoo include rides on the Zoo Train or a trip around the Endangered Species Carousel. And on the southeast side of Potawatomi Park, the Potawatomi Conservatory features year-round tropical plants and waterfalls.

Visitors to Potawatomi have access to a splash pad, a performing arts stage, and universally accessible playground equipment. Two large picnic pavilions are also available to rent, holding up to 100 guests. And, the entire parkland is also a great place for an unplanned picnic, with tables throughout the shaded space.

Address: 500 South Greenlawn Avenue, South Bend, Indiana

12. Tippecanoe Place Restaurant

Tippecanoe Place Restaurant
Tippecanoe Place Restaurant | Joe Ross / photo modified

Originally built in the late 19th century by Clem Studebaker and family, Tippecanoe Place is now a historic home where you can grab a fine bite to eat. With approximately 40 different rooms and intricate woodworking throughout, Tippecanoe Place sets the mood for an elegant affair — and the fresh ingredients make for an excellent meal.

Featuring menus for lunch, dinner, and a Sunday brunch, Tippecanoe Place allows for casual dress and an upscale experience. Reservations are strongly encouraged at this popular restaurant in the city. Self-guided tours of the urban castle are always a welcome addition to any meal.

Address: 620 West Washington Street, South Bend, Indiana

13. Military Honor Park & Museum

Military Honor Park & Museum
Military Honor Park & Museum | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

West of the city and near the South Bend International Airport, Military Honor Park is a nice place to visit to pay your respects and learn more about United States military history. The museum includes artifacts and memorabilia from the five different branches of the U.S. military.

On the grounds outside, this non-profit military museum displays an impressive collection of decommissioned aircraft, artillery, and armor, including a tank. The museum is only open on the weekends, but the impressive outside displays can be appreciated throughout the week.

Address: 4300 Terminal Drive, South Bend, Indiana

Where to Stay in South Bend for Sightseeing

Catering to downtown visitors and those traveling to South Bend to visit the University of Notre Dame, many great hotel options can be found spread throughout the city. What you want to see and do in South Bend should help decide what hotel is right for you, and whether it's visiting the campus or catching a performance downtown, there is a wide variety of mid-range and budget options that all deliver on a good night's sleep.

Mid-Range Hotels:

  • North of the city and the Notre Dame campus, the Inn at Saint Mary's is a fantastic boutique hotel with a stylish décor and relaxing ambience. Besides a convenient location, the Inn at Saint Mary's also offers dependable service, clean facilities, and a delicious breakfast.
  • At the heart of the Notre Dame campus, the Morris Inn is another upscale hotel at an affordable rate, which provides rooms and suites, as well as a great restaurant and fireside terrace.
  • For one of the best stays in the heart of downtown, The Oliver Inn is a gorgeous bed and breakfast with 15 rooms available, all of which exude a unique sense of class and comfort.

Budget Hotels:

  • South Bend has plenty of budget-friendly hotels to choose from, and places like the Sleep Inn South Bend Airport, on the west side of the city, do a good job balancing low rates with great service. This nationally recognized hotel brand delivers on cleanliness and comfort to make for a refreshing stay.
  • Near the Notre Dame Campus, hotels like SureStay Plus Hotel by Best Western live up to their name, and alongside a great overnight rate, visitors can expect free Wi-Fi, free breakfast, and a good night's sleep.
  • Another option close to campus, the Microtel Inn & Suites by Wyndham South Bend has a good reputation for well-kept facilities, friendly front-desk service, and affordable rates.

Map of Things to Do in South Bend, Indiana

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