Alright, everyone. I think it’s time that we all sat down and had a little heart-to-heart. We know that New England gets all the hype for being the heart of collegiate America, and that the Midwest has gotten its fair share of love as well. But one area that has been sorely neglected when it comes to discussions of America’s most beautiful campuses is the South. And really, when you put ungodly humidity and general lack of storybook snow aside, the South really is as pretty as it gets in the ol’ US of A. So grab your sweet tea, your bow ties, and get ready to don your best monogrammed Lilly Pulitzer, because we’re heading below the Mason-Dixon line to look at some seriously beautiful Southern gems.
5. Ole Miss
Located in Oxford, Mississippi, the University of Mississippi (known more commonly as Ole Miss) is a vision of Southern beauty. While most know Ole Miss simply as a football powerhouse, its massive campus is worthy of commendation as well. Iconic football stadium aside, tailgaiting in the Grove has become nothing short of a religious experience for Rebels fans. Beautiful landscaping is everywhere, and The Circle Historic District comprises eight buildings of the University, as well as a handful of monuments. The most famous of these is the gorgeous Lyceum Building, the oldest on campus and recognizable due its majestic columns. Oxford itself is home to plenty of shops, bars, and restaurants. A recent addition to Oxford student life is the Powerhouse: an aging industrial building that hosts several cultural events weekly—from comedy festivals to art shows.
4. Duke University
Two words: Gothic architecture. Located in Durham, North Carolina, Duke University is known for just that. You’ve probably seen the massive Duke Chapel on promotional material for the University, but be assured that the entire campus really is that pretty. If you’re a Blue Devils fan, you’ll no doubt recognize Cameron Indoor Stadium as well. And if you’re a literature buff, you’ll have no problem burning the midnight oil at Perkins Library. Now, only the West portion of the campus features the University’s trademark Gothic stylings, but East campus is still a real gem, with its newly renovated Baldwin Theater, consisting of signature architecture as well as acoustics.
Surrounding Duke University is the city of Durham, which is, admittedly, not the most desirable location for such a beautiful school; however, the Sarah P. Duke Gardens more than make up for that.
3. Washington and Lee University
I dare you to find a college that looks more dyed-in-the-wool Southern than Washington and Lee University. Nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains in the town of Lexington, Virginia, Washington and Lee is a tiny academic oasis. Before stepping onto campus, I’d never seen a college so aggressively green before, but Lexington’s daily rainstorms (this is the mountains, remember) ensure that the surrounding forest stays vibrant until the autumn. At Washington and Lee, you’ll see plenty of columns, and more bridges than you could possibly count. The Lee Chapel is known as a historic landmark on its own, and the college’s perfect landscaping is a sight to behold.
Washington and Lee is located right next door (I’m talking a literal hop, skip, and a jump) to the spartan Virginia Military Institute, so if a date with a uniformed cadet of either gender is on your mind, you shall not be disappointed. Lexington is the very picture of a small, Southern college town. Home to plenty of pretty churches, shops, restaurants, and the occasional horse-drawn carriage, Lexington will cause you to heavily suppress your urge to slump on a bench and say “Awwwwww!” when you first see it. The few pictures available of the Washington and Lee campus online simply do not do it justice, so if you’re nearby, I wholeheartedly recommend visiting.
2. The College of William & Mary
Located in the quaint, postcard-perfect town of Williamsburg, Virginia, The College of William & Mary is as charming as it gets. Its campus is crammed with buildings fashioned in the Colonial style, all of which blend in perfectly with the surrounding tourist destination of Colonial Williamsburg. Its main claim to fame is the Wren Building, which is the oldest academic building in the United States still in use today. From the College’s Sunken Garden to the Crim Dell Bridge, you’ll find plenty of Instagram-worthy locations and who knows? You might run into a historical reenactor in full costume at the local Wawa. The only problems you may run into on this wonderful campus is getting the heel of your show caught in its extensive cobblestone walkways. Yep, I said it. Cobblestone. Walkways. Beat that, colleges of America.
Beyond the campus, Colonial Williamsburg provides almost everything a college student could want—plenty of cafes, delis, and people-watching to go around. And if you have a taste for ginger ale from the bottle or freshly baked gingerbread, let me just say that you’re in luck. The College (and most of Williamsburg) is surrounded by a woodsy area, which conceal its colonial charms until you step inside.
1. The University of Virginia
Located in charming Charlottesville, Virginia, the University of Virginia is the breathtaking brainchild of Thomas Jefferson. The sprawling campus of UVa is properly called “Grounds” and has been known to cause tears of joy in those who behold it. Its standout feature is the Jeffersonian Academical Village, consisting of the gorgeous green Lawn and, of course, the Rotunda. As you will hear on any tour of UVa, the Rotunda is one of only three man-made structures in the United States protected as a UNESCO World Heritage Site (alongside the Statue of Liberty and Independence Hall). Most of the colleges you know and love have played copycat with the iconic Rotunda, including Duke University, Johns Hopkins, Rice University, and Vanderbilt University.
Beyond the confines of the Academical Village, grounds is home to plenty of beautiful buildings, most constructed in a similar style to those on the Lawn. You’ll see plenty of white columns and pleasant orangey-red brick around, most notably on Jefferson’s serpentine walls. Gorgeous gardens, colonnades, and covered walkways are everywhere you look, as are white graffiti from the University’s various secret societies. Just past grounds, a haven of restaurants and coffee shops known as “The Corner” is there to meet all your Star needs, and Charlottesville’s quirky Downtown Mall (featuring a farmers’ market every now and then) is only a short shuttle away.
So there you have it: the South’s top five most gorgeous collegiate offerings. Show them the love they deserve!