Best known as home to prestigious Princeton University, Princeton, New Jersey, boasts a charming town beyond the Ivy League jewel’s historic campus. With a quaint downtown area and abundant greenways for lounging, Princeton encourages visitors to slow down and explore the area.
Given the university's draw, however, one of the top things to do in Princeton is to stroll around campus. Stately buildings and long expanses of lawn convey a studious vibe, particularly during the school year when students are scurrying to classes or reading in every open space.
The university offers organized tours, providing a rich mine of information about the many historic buildings and Princeton's role in early American independence and the civil rights movement. For instance, beautiful Nassau Hall served as the country's temporary capitol in 1783, since it was the largest academic building at the time. Its faculty room, designed as a replica of the British House of Commons, set the proper tone.
More Princeton campus attractions include University Chapel, a Gothic-style building where Martin Luther King, Jr. once delivered a sermon. The church's vaulted ceilings and spacious interiors impart the character of a Middle Ages cathedral, although the chapel was built in 1921. Stop into Frist Campus Center, a more modern building on campus, for a glimpse of the university's student life, one of the top things to do in Princeton for high school students considering enrollment. The TV lounge hosts frequent sports viewing parties, and casual classes in dance, yoga and even hypnosis are held in the center's smaller event spaces.
Much of Princeton shopping takes place in lovely Palmer Square, a cozy downtown area with historic New England-style buildings and an array of boutiques, as well as brand-name stores like Brooks Brothers and Kate Spade. Check out unique toys at Jazams or stylish jewelry at Dandelion. More Princeton shopping finds include designer-driven clothing stores like Zoe and Urban Grace.
Sweets lovers will be dizzy with the selection in Palmer Square, home to two artisan ice-cream shops and two chocolatiers. The Bent Spoon specializes in concoctions made with local, organic ingredients, while Halo Fete proudly sources its cream from a New Jersey micro-dairy. Swiss-styled chocolate from Lindt offers a wealth of treat choices, and Thomas Sweet Chocolate is a longtime local favorite.
In the heart of Palmer Square, Nassau Inn provides a captivating view of the square's artfully landscaped central green, as well as surrounding shops. Even if they are staying elsewhere, visitors can enjoy a frothy beverage at the inn's Yankee Doodle Tap Room, a frequent hangout for locals, who tend to gather there after Princeton University games and events. The space features a large Norman Rockwell mural, and names of university alumni are carved into the tabletops.
Princeton University's quiet, academic atmosphere blends well with the picturesque, lively downtown, and thanks to the city's position midway between Philadelphia and New York, Princeton is an easy day trip worth taking.