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If you’re gearing up to catch a game at your alma mater, or any other college this fall, you’ll want to take a look at our list of the most affordable—and most expensive—university towns to visit. Wondering how we landed on these particular cities? Pretty simple: CheapTickets calculated the average airfare, hotel and car rental rates for the 25 top college towns from Niche’s 2019 best college athletics in America list. We also gathered the best hotels, bars and attractions for the top five most affordable university towns to help you plan your next trip.

RELATED: Your college football tailgating playbook

1. Duke University

Congratulate yourself. If your hanging around the Duke campus, chances are you’ve got some pretty brainy friends. No need to spend a lot of dough here, in the country’s cheapest college town to visit. Stroll the 55-acre Durham Gardens (especially lovely in autumn); visit Burt’s Bees World Headquarters (which includes an observational hive); go for a run along the scenic American Tobacco Trail; and snap a selfie in front of Duke Chapel.

EAT A butcher and bakery turned full-service restaurant, Rose’s Meat Market and Sweet Shop now serves pan-Asian street food (think noodles and dumplings) and ridiculously tasting handpies, puddings, cakes and macaroons.

DRINK You’re gonna drink beer so you might as well do it at Fullsteam Brewery, a downtown tavern, brewery and hangout space featuring beers crafted, in part, with the help of local farmers.

STAY A self-proclaimed art hotel, the 21c Museum Hotel fuses contemporary works with cozy guestrooms. Hang out in an old bank vault surrounded by art, nosh on fancy bites at Counting House or just swing by to peruse the current exhibition.

2. Auburn University

This is Tigers town, so it might seem like everything revolves around football. But there’s plenty to do pre- and post-game, too. Go just outside of town for a breath of fresh air as you hike Chewacla State Park or the Louise Kreher Forest Ecology Preserve & Nature Center. Be sure to explore the downtown area town, too, especially the area around Toomer’s Corner at College Street and Magnolia Avenue. There you’ll find Toomer’s Drugs, an old-school diner, drug store and soda fountain that dates back to 1896.

EAT For Great Southern cooking, head to Pannie-George’s Kitchen, where you can fill up on favorites like fried green tomatoes, cornbread, collard greens and fried chicken. You’ll leave full without spending much.

DRINK Bar hop along College Street, where drinking establishments like Halftime, Avondale and Quixote’s ooze school spirit.

STAY The Hotel At Auburn University puts you within a ten-minute walk of Jordan-Hare Stadium. It’s an especially great pick for families, thanks to its outdoor pool and free Wi-Fi.

3. University of Maryland

Squished neatly between Washington DC and Baltimore (although closer to DC), the University of Maryland in College Park boasts a perfectly groomed campus and plenty of open green space. Do this: Check out the College Park Aviation Museum (if only for the fact that it sits next to the world’s oldest continuously operating airport), spend a few hours hiking Greenbelt National Park and test your pinball skills at Mom’s Organic Pinball Arcade (behind a market of the same name).

EAT Pizza, pasta and red sauce favorites are all served up in a cozy mom-and-pop atmosphere at Mamma Lucia.

DRINK A college bar where you can watch the game, nosh on some grub and guzzle from numerous beers on tap, Looney’s Pub offers a traditional Irish-American pub experience.

STAY Traditional accommodations abound; the College Park Marriott Hotel & Conference Center is among the better of the bunch.

4. Ohio State University

Rarely are college towns and big cities one and the same, but in Columbus you get the best of both worlds. Rubbing shoulders with the OSU campus is Short North. It’s main artery, High Street, is jammed with college bars, restaurants and indie boutiques. At Main Street Bridge, snap a selfie with the city behind you, then stroll the Scioto Mile, a 175-acre urban playground straddling downtown and the Scioto River.

EAT Chase a German sausage with a cream puff (yup, it’s a thing) at Schmidt’s Sausage Haus in the German Village. Wash it all down with a couple of beers and enjoy the oompah band!

DRINK There are bars aplenty on and near High Street. Alongside college taprooms like Mac’s Proper Pub and Thirsty Scholar sit more stylish entries including Two Truths and Denmark.

STAY The buzzy new Lofitel, a converted bank building, offers spacious rooms with skyline views and whimsical touches like chalkboards, bar carts and full-service kitchens. Pricey during peak weekends, we’ve found weekday rates for as little at $176/nightly.

5. University of North Carolina

You’ll frequently find Chapel Hill on “best college towns” lists. While University of North Carolina, founded in 1789 as the country’s first state university, ranks high academically, we suspect the designation might have more to do with it being such an outstanding sports town (go Tar Heels!). Or maybe because of its edgy music scene (hello, The Cave). And with both the mountains and the ocean just over four hours away in either direction, the great outdoors are never far away.

EAT Don’t leave town without indulging in some authentic Carolina ‘cue. Allen & Son Barbeque is the place to go, where you’ll want to order the hickory smoked chopped pork sandwich.

DRINK One of Chapel Hill’s coolest watering holes is the Crunkleton, a private club where old-timey barkeeps in shirtsleeves and bowties serve up modern interpretations of classic cocktails. Yes, it’s members-only but you’ll get in—just pay the $5 fee at the door and you’re in the club for life!

STAY The Franklin Hotel puts you right on Franklin Street, in the heart of Chapel Hill’s bustling dining and nightlife area. One of the best perks at this stylish property is the free car service—so feel free to imbibe at a game or a concert without worrying about how you’ll get home.

Most affordable college towns to visit

 

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