Things to do in Harrisonburg for students

Students sitting outside by fountain in Harrisonburg

Known for its picturesque landscapes and friendly community, you’ll never run out of fun things to do in Harrisonburg. Harrisonburg attractions range from historic sites and modern art galleries to a bustling downtown area and music venues. This vibrant city offers a mix of cultural experiences and academic excellence, making it an ideal destination for international students.

Harrisonburg is home to James Madison University, where international students can expect a diverse and inclusive environment. There are more than 400 student clubs and organizations, so there are plenty of opportunities to pursue the activities you enjoy as part of student life. These clubs also make it easy to make friends with both American and other international students.

Stepping out of the academic routine is also essential in Harrisonburg. Making the most of the wide range of stuff to do in Harrisonburg, VA will complement your educational journey. Your time as a student isn’t solely about your studies. It’s about growing personally and academically while enjoying every bit of your experience, and the wide range of activities in Harrisonburg allows you to do just that. Harrisonburg’s charm lies in its ability to strike the perfect balance between a rich academic life and an exciting social scene. It’s a place to live, learn, and create lasting memories.

If you’re wondering what to do in Harrisonburg as a student, read on for a comprehensive guide to all the sites you won’t want to miss.

Dive into academic excellence

Studying in Harrisonburg offers the opportunity both to study at a prestigious academic institution and to experience an exciting all-American experience on campus.

James Madison University International Study Center offers an excellent academic experience within a college that combines the advantages of studying at a large public university with the feel of a small, friendly community. During your studies, you’ll develop close working relationships with teaching staff while studying an innovative, lively curriculum.

Student life centers around the University’s huge, scenic campus, with mountain views to the east and west—while only being 2 hours from Washington, DC.

And, of course, you’ll want to experience all the things to do in Harrisonburg itself. Strike a balance between diving into academic excellence at James Madison University and exploring this small, intimate city community, and you will enjoy growing both personally and academically during your studies.

Cultural experiences

Some of the top Harrisonburg attractions include the cultural experiences on offer. These student-friendly spaces offer creative, enriching experiences that will complement your time in the classroom. Here are some of the cultural experiences to make sure you enjoy: 

  • Forbes Center for the Performing Arts: The cultural heart of James Madison University is the Forbes Center, which hosts an impressive lineup of concerts, plays, and dance performances. It's a place where art comes to life, offering students a chance to immerse themselves in diverse forms of creative expression.
  • Virginia Quilt Museum: For those with an appreciation for the craft of quilting and regional history, the Virginia Quilt Museum is a must-visit. Here, students can explore an array of beautifully crafted quilts, each telling a story about the area's rich cultural heritage.
  • artWorks Gallery: Managed by the creative minds of James Madison University students, artWorks Gallery showcases a rotating selection of artwork—exhibits change every three weeks. This student-run gallery, with its moveable walls and large windows, provides a space for budding artists to display their talents.

Nature and parks

Harrisonburg is a haven for students who love the outdoors. Those looking for outdoor Harrisonburg activities will benefit from ample opportunities to unwind, exercise, and enjoy the great outdoors. 

Here are some top picks of nature and parks in Harrisonburg: 

  • Edith J. Carrier Arboretum: This serene oasis is a perfect retreat for students from busy campus life. Wandering through the arboretum’s beautifully landscaped gardens and wooded pathways provides a great way to reconnect with nature in a peaceful environment. 
  • Purcell Park: Ideal for an active day out, Purcell Park offers walking trails, playgrounds, and sports facilities. Whether you're looking for a jog, a game of soccer, or simply want to relax outdoors, this park has something for everyone. 
  • Hillandale Park: Known for its range of recreational amenities, Hillandale Park is a hotspot for outdoor activities and community events. With sports fields, playgrounds, and walking trails, it's a popular destination for students looking to stay active. 
  • Shenandoah National Park: For more adventurous students, Shenandoah National Park is a must-visit. Located along the picturesque Blue Ridge Mountains, the park offers stunning hiking trails and an opportunity to observe diverse wildlife. It's a perfect getaway for camping, hiking, and soaking up the natural beauty of Virginia.

Eateries and delights

From quaint coffee shops and local eateries to international cuisine, Harrisonburg’s food scene is a testament to the city's diversity and vibrancy. The wide range of Harrisonburg restaurants serve up a variety of cuisines that are sure to satisfy any craving.

You’ll go home still talking about the food in Harrisonburg, Virginia. Here are some of our favorite places to eat:

  • Magpie Diner: Blending traditional diner charm with modern culinary twists, Magpie Diner is the go-to spot for comfort food in a nostalgic, retro setting
  • Greenberry's Coffee Co.: Known for its in-house roasted beans, Greenberry's is a haven for those seeking high-quality coffee in a welcoming setting.
  • Black Sheep Coffee: A local favorite, Black Sheep Coffee offers specialty coffee, a cozy atmosphere, and dedication to quality. It’s the ideal spot for students seeking a quiet corner to study or catch up with friends.
  • Mr. J's Bagels & Deli: This popular deli is renowned for its freshly baked bagels and variety of deli-style offerings, making it a perfect choice for a quick breakfast or a hearty lunch.
  • Starbucks: The global coffeehouse chain, known for its consistent quality and range of coffee, teas, and snacks, offers a familiar space for students.
  • Taj of India: For those craving rich, flavorful Indian cuisine, Taj of India offers a wide range of curries, tandoori dishes, and vegetarian options, bringing the taste of India to Harrisonburg.
  • Billy Jack's Shack: Famed for its innovative and delicious burgers, Billy Jack's Shack menu caters to all palates, from meat lovers to vegetarians.
  • Jimmy Madison's: Jimmy Madison's diverse menu offers everything from casual bites to more upscale meals.
  • The Thunderbird Café: Known for its unique dining experience, The Thunderbird Café is a local gem worth exploring for its ever-changing menu and quirky atmosphere.
  • Vito's Italian Kitchen: A popular choice for Italian food, Vito's Italian Kitchen serves up classic Italian dishes, pastas, and pizzas in a friendly, welcoming atmosphere.

Entertainment venues

For students exploring things to do in Harrisonburg, the city’s entertainment venues offer opportunities for gaming, watching movies, or even roller skating—there truly is something for everyone. 

Here's a rundown of some must-visit places:

  • Ruby’s Arcade: Situated in downtown Harrisonburg, Ruby’s Arcade offers the opportunity to try out classic and contemporary arcade games. It's the perfect place for students to unwind and engage in some friendly gaming competition.
  • Court Square Theater: This cultural gem in downtown Harrisonburg is a central point for arts and entertainment. Hosting everything from indie movies to live music and theatrical performances, Court Square Theater is a focal point for students interested in immersing themselves in the local arts scene.
  • Funky's Skate Center: For a throwback to classic roller-skating fun, Funky's Skate Center is the go-to spot. It’s a fantastic way to enjoy some retro vibes, whether you're a seasoned skater or just looking for a fun night out with friends.
  • Massanutten Resort: Just a short drive from Harrisonburg, Massanutten Resort is a four-season resort offering a wide range of activities. From skiing in the winter to waterpark fun in the summer, it provides both indoor and outdoor recreational opportunities in a picturesque setting.

Study at James Madison University

In the heart of Harrisonburg, Virginia, James Madison University stands out as an exceptional destination for international students, blending top-tier education with a vibrant city life. Here's why JMU should be on your radar:

  • Highly Ranked: James Madison University is renowned for its academic excellence, ranked as the #1 most recommended public university in the U.S. by students (Times Higher Education / The Wall Street Journal, 2021). It holds the #124 spot as a national university (U.S. News & World Report, 2024) and is the #64 top public school in the U.S. (U.S. News & World Report, 2024).
  • STEM Focused: The university offers 15 STEM-designated degrees, catering to a wide range of interests and career aspirations in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.
  • Vibrant student life: Harrisonburg is known for its warm, welcoming atmosphere, diverse community, and an abundance of activities. From exploring Harrisonburg restaurants to outdoor adventures to a wealth of student clubs, students will never run out of things to do in Harrisonburg. James Madison University offers the opportunity for balance between academic rigor and a fulfilling social life.

Want to know more? James Madison University International Study Center offers a variety of programs, including direct admission and pathway options. You’ll also want to take a look at entry requirements, learn more about the visa process, and make sure you understand the University fees in order to make the application process smoother.


What is Harrisonburg, Virginia, known for?

  • Harrisonburg, Virginia is known for its dynamic cultural landscape, thriving arts community, and diverse range of Harrisonburg restaurants. The city is also a gateway to natural wonders, notably Shenandoah National Park.

Why is Harrisonburg called ‘The Friendly City’?

  • Harrisonburg is also known as "The Friendly City" thanks to the warm and inviting nature of its community. Its residents are known for being friendly, extending warm hospitality to local people and visitors alike.

Is Harrisonburg worth a visit?

  • Yes, Harrisonburg is worth visiting for its vibrant cultural experiences, friendly atmosphere, and proximity to Shenandoah National Park. Where it’s exploring Harrisonburg restaurants, immersing yourself in the local arts scene, or pursuing outdoor adventures, there are plenty of fun things to do in Harrisonburg.