12 Top-Rated Things to Do in South Bend, Indiana
Along the southernmost bend of the St. Joseph River in Indiana, South Bend is the fourth largest city in the state and a permanent fixture in American history and culture. South Bend was made synonymous with manufacturing innovation 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 also quickly expanding in South Bend to become the world-renowned institution it is today. Between the rich industrial roots, prestigious collegiate connections, and abundance of surrounding natural attractions, South Bend is a city filled with many fun things to do.
Visitors and tourists can explore the Studebaker legacy at the National Studebaker Museum and gain some further regional insight at the adjacent History Museum. North of downtown, the Notre Dame campus welcomes the community with public ice arenas, sacred places of worship, and Fighting Irish sporting events. Other points of interest include the many fun things to do at Potawatomi Park and the adjacent Potawatomi Zoo. If you are arriving or departing from South Bend International Airport, a recommended first or last stop is the nearby Military Honor Park and Museum. Plan your visit with our list of the top-rated things to do in South Bend, Indiana.
See also: Where to Stay in South Bend
1 National Studebaker Museum
The American car manufacturer Studebaker has a long history connected to South Bend, much of which is on display at the National Studebaker Museum. Classic Studebaker models, military vehicles, and the world's largest collection of U.S. Presidential Carriages can be seen in the museum, including the Barouche that Abraham Lincoln used the night of his ill-fated theater attendance. 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.
Address: 201 Chapin Street, South Bend, Indiana
2 University of Notre Dame
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. Come Saturdays in the late summer and fall of South Bend, you can find nearly the entire city enjoying the athletic atmosphere at Notre Dame Stadium, 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.
3 Potawatomi Park
On the eastern edge of the city and on the opposite side of the St. Joseph River from downtown, Potawatomi Park contains a dense collection of cultural attractions. Alongside bountiful shaded space to enjoy a picnic, patrons to the park have access to a splash pad, a performance arts stage, and universally accessible playground equipment. Adjacent to the park, the Potawatomi Zoo, Indiana's oldest animal park, has nearly 500 animals on display. On the southeast side of Potawatomi Park, the Potawatomi Conservatory features year-round tropical plants and waterfalls.
Address: 500 South Greenlawn Avenue, South Bend, Indiana
4 South Bend Museum of Art
This downtown art museum features three stories and five galleries representing Indiana and regional artists, with works from across the nation also on display. Throughout the different rooms and exhibits of the museum, it's very easy to find yourself immersed in the artistic environment. Regular and special events, like First Fridays and outdoor Art Festivals, also make it easy to enjoy the artistic treasures. 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
5 The Morris Performing Arts Center
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 attraction. Shows and performances at Morris range from comedians to world-famous musical acts, as well as Broadway and symphony performances.
Address: 211 North Michigan Street, South Bend, Indiana
6 Basilica of the Sacred Heart
Near the north end of the University of Notre Dame campus, the Basilica of the Sacred Heart is the mother church of the Congregation of the Holy Cross in the United States. Playing a significant role in the Catholic faith, this Gothic-inspired church is also an incredible piece of architecture and functional art.
With time in the daily schedule reserved for private events or services, the Basilica is open to the public year-round, including public masses, and welcomes anyone with an interest. Self-guided tours are available and are a good way to appreciate the intricate art, construction, and collection of 19th-century stained glass windows. On the grounds outside, the Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes is an impressive spiritual shrine built from boulders of surrounding farms - and a great place for a few reflective moments in the day.
Address: 1 Holy Cross Drive, Notre Dame, Indiana
7 The History Museum
Adjacent to the National Studebaker Museum, The History Museum 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. Within the facility, the Kidsfirst Children's Museum makes this educational space fun for the whole family. On the property of The History Museum, the Oliver Mansion and Oliver Gardens can be a fun part of any visit, and daily guided tours of this 38-room mansion provide some historical perspective on 19th-century elegance.
Address: 893-941 Thomas Street, South Bend, Indiana
8 Editor's Pick Snite Museum of Art
On the University of Notre Dame Campus, near Notre Dame Stadium, the Snite Museum of Art provides free admission and a wide collection of Renaissance, medieval, and 19th-century artworks. Photographs, paintings, sculptures, and elements of design can be found throughout 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.
Address: 100 Moose Krause Circle, Notre Dame, Indiana
9 Potawatomi Zoo
The oldest animal park in Indiana, Potawatomi Zoo is located on the east side of the city adjacent to Potawatomi Park. Comprised of 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; American bison; and 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.
Address: 500 South Greenlawn Avenue, South Bend, Indiana
10 Compton Family Ice Arena
Adjacent to the Joyce Center on the south edge of the University of Notre Dame campus, the Compton Family Ice Arena appeals to students and visitors. Home to the Fighting Irish hockey teams, the Compton Family Ice Arena provides everyday opportunities for public use of the ice rink. Learn to Skate clinics are offered throughout the year, and various intramural leagues, like broomball and hockey, have reserved time on the schedule. Public skating is offered most days of the week from 12 to 1:30pm, but be sure to check the schedule ahead of your next visit.
Address: 100 Compton Family Ice Arena, Notre Dame, Indiana
11 Tippecanoe Place Restaurant
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 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, and a self-guided tour of the urban castle is a good addition to any meal.
Address: 620 West Washington Street, South Bend, Indiana
12 Military Honor Park & Museum
West of the city and near the South Bend International Airport, Military Honor Park is a nice place to pay your respects and learn more about United States military history. Within the museum, exhibits display 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, and 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 ambiance. 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, 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 America's Best Value Inn 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.