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South Bend, Indiana. Not too far from the windy city, I’ve found myself in this small-ish town with an enormous amount of spirit, twice now. When you marry into a family of Notre Dame football fans, you soon discover that visiting South Bend is a priority. What I discovered was not only a town full of Fighting Irish, but a beautiful campus which rivals the best.
If you happen to think that a weekend trip only has a “little” football game on an ideal itinerary, you’d be mistaken. There’s so much to do and see that I’ve compiled a list of 15 things to do in South Bend during a Notre Dame football weekend.
15 Things to do in South Bend During Notre Dame Football Weekend
This list of things to do in South Bend, Indiana is your complete guide to a weekend of fun, and not just for football fans. Architecture lovers, keep your eyes peeled. Follow along as I show you what to put on your schedule during a game day weekend.
Fridays Before Home Game
When a Notre Dame home football game is on the calendar, you know the fun begins on Friday and that’s a good thing. There’s so much activity on campus, you’ll want both Friday and Saturday to enjoy it all with your family and friends.
Eat Inside the Great Dining Hall
The University of Notre Dame campus was surprisingly small compared to the colleges I have visited and attended. Walking the entire campus and seeing student life up close was incredibly easy. This was my daughter’s very first visit to a university, so we wanted her to get a feel for how college students live. We passed by co-eds throwing footballs back and forth. We spotted and walked around the dormitory areas. And most importantly, we decided to eat like a student!
While there were several fast food options on campus, we quickly learned there were two dining halls for students (and guests were welcome). We opted for the South Dining Hall. Its gorgeous gothic design made us feel transported into a fantasy novel.
The other dining hall is contemporary in style, so we actually chose to eat at the South Dining Hall twice. Once was for breakfast, where my daughter and niece fell in love with the personalized Notre Dame waffle makers. Once was for dinner, where a special candlelight dinner was held after the football game, a highlight of our trip.
Light a Candle at the Grotto
Situated at the far end of campus, you’ll discover the Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes, a beautiful reproduction of the famous shrine in France. The Grotto is simply stunning and surrounded by stone, including one from the original French grotto.
While there was a line to enter the Grotto, it moved quickly. What I remember most is how I felt. It truly was a spiritual experience being in this sacred place. The quiet was calming. Lighting a candle was an experience with my family I will never forget, and why visiting the Grotto is one of my favorite things to do in South Bend.
TIP: Visit The Grotto both during the day and in the evening. A nighttime visit is extra spectacular with the lit candles.
Join Students for Trumpets Under the Dome
The Fighting Irish do something extra special on Friday afternoons before a home game, and it’s called “Trumpets Under the Dome.” It’s during this tradition where you’ll join countless students, faculty, and visitors for a one of a kind experience.
Head to the Golden Dome on campus, the main administrative building where you’ll find many levels under the dome. The hallways and staircases will be packed, so get there a bit early. Soon you’ll spy the trumpets of the Fighting Irish band make their way to the center on the main level. They will then play two traditional Notre Dame songs, and I dare say it’s one of the most spectacular college traditions I’ve ever witnessed.
Watch this special event around 4 p.m. on Fridays before a home game.
Tour the Football Stadium
True Notre Dame fans will love to tour the football stadium in South Bend.
Beginning at Knute Rockne Gate, you’ll want to run out of the tunnel like the players do and take a photo by the “Play Like a Champion” sign that every Notre Dame football player slaps as he heads out on the field. When in South Bend…
Grab THE Shirt
For 30 years, Notre Dame has been selling one unique t-shirt each year. It makes for a unified look at football games. Called “THE Shirt”, purchases benefit various Notre Dame student clubs and organizations. It’s a must for your shopping list and can be found at the campus bookstore.
Attend Football Fridays at the Eck
The Eck Visitor’s Center isn’t just for alumni, and you will want to make it a point to stop by on Friday.
Open from 10 a.m. – 5 p.m., this is the place to grab some tailgating food (think hot dogs, chips, and soda), enjoy a bit of Irish nostalgia, and take part in a few photo opps. We couldn’t help but take a few photos wearing a real Notre Dame football helmet. While you pay for your food, there is no admission to visit the center, found next door to the bookstore.
Cheer the Team On at the Pep Rally
While locations change each Friday night, make it a point to join the cheerleaders, pom squad, and Leprechaun (yes, Leprechaun) at the Fighting Irish Pep Rally. You’ll cheer the team on while also getting up close to many football players, the coach, and more.
Attend the Midnight Drummer’s Circle
Friday night just before midnight, you’ll discover another tradition, though this one isn’t for the younger crowd due to its timing. The Midnight Drummer’s Circle will have you humming along to the fight song and more before calling it a night. While this is one tradition we haven’t yet seen in person, I can imagine how fun the campus event would be.
Day of Notre Dame Football Game (Saturdays)
After a good night’s sleep, morning comes and it’s game day. But before you get your tickets out, there are a few more things to do in South Bend.
Celebrate the Pre-Game Ritual of Tailgating
With lots that open at 7am, things get started early in South Bend, Indiana. By the time you arrive on campus, you’ll be surprised by all the fun taking place in and around the designated parking lots. The aroma is incredible. In addition to visitors tailgating, there are many pop-up food trucks and such on the sidewalks where you can purchase all types of food. And yes, even in the snow, the tailgating was so popular!
Purchase Foods Across Campus from Student Dorms/Organizations
There’s so much excitement going on around campus on game day that you’ll want to stroll along the sidewalks, especially by the dormitories. It’s there you’ll find tables and tents, set up by various student dorms and organizations, where food and drinks are being sold.
In other words, you’ll want to head to campus early. There is much to do, see, and eat!
Shop at Hammes Bookstore
From t-shirts and books to tailgating necessaries and even a Fighting Irish Kitchen-Aid mixer, Hammes bookstore has everything you never knew you needed, even though I know you likely will have made a few ND items before you arrive. Be prepared to spend a lot of time in here, especially if you love books.
There’s nothing quite like a campus bookstore and Hammes is no exception. I even found a little kid’s nook upstairs with some chairs,, making for a quiet area. Check for special events, as you never know who may be expected at the bookstore. I discovered that legend Daniel Ruettiger aka Rudy was set to be in the bookstore (and my husband didn’t know). I quietly arranged for a copy of his book to be signed by him for a surprise Christmas gift. The Hammes bookstore staff was AMAZING!
Attend Mass (Friday, Saturday, or Sunday)
Breathtaking both on the outside and inside, Notre Dame’s Basilica of the Sacred Heart is one site to behold. Mass is performed several times throughout the weekend, and even if you don’t have time to attend, be sure to stop by and admire the architectural beauty.
Walk Across Campus
Whether snow or sun fills your weekend, be sure to do one thing – walk across campus.
See “Touchdown Jesus” overlooking the grounds. Visit the pond. Step inside Morris Inn, the boutique hotel right on campus (where you’ll find many alumni stay). Dine at Legends.
Take photos. Admire the sculptures. Breathe it all in. For a small campus with just over 8600 undergrad students, Notre Dame is impressive.
Show Support During the Epic Player Walk
As Saturday goes along, don’t miss the epic player walk, as fans line the sidewalks along a predetermined pathway to cheer on the football players and coaches (along with band, cheer, and more) on their way to the stadium. You then follow in behind them.
Cheer on the Fighting Irish at the Football Game
The moment you’ve been waiting for – the big game!
We’ve enjoyed a game during a beautiful fall weekend. We’ve also enjoyed a game with freezing temps and snow at our feet (a quick trip to the mall for snow boots helped). No matter what, there’s nothing like the excitement of a Notre Dame football game. College football at its finest.
Sometimes football games can be too hot, too cold, or too long, especially for children or those needing to use the restroom often. Stamina is important for a football game, but not everyone has it. If you are attending one of those colder games like I did, feel free to leave after halftime and head to the student center, where you’ll find restrooms, Starbucks coffee, and television sets streaming the game. Just saying.
BONUS: Ultimate Taligating Hack
If there was one thing I learned from spending two different weekends on campus, it’s the locations of all the public restrooms. There weren’t as many as I would have thought, but my family became quite familiar with them. So be prepared, especially on game day weekends, and expect long lines. It was brutal, especially having my kiddo along with many nieces/nephews in tow. Those who experience incontinence will want to be prepared as well. Make sure to pack Depend® Fit-Flex® Underwear for the trip, with extra for game day and restroom lines just in case. The best part is that they are ultra-soft and comfortable, something that is important especially while visiting an outdoor stadium.
If you or a loved one experiences any level of incontinence, join me in a private Facebook group – The Incontinence Community. It’s incredible to see how others are managing their incontinence while traveling. For more resources, advice, and even funny stories, join the community here.
South Bend, Indiana. A trip experience that I’ve enjoyed twice, one of which was with extended family. Several generations who all thoroughly enjoyed their experiences on campus and in the town, all filled heart and tradition. I highly recommend it.
Sara Zielinski says
I love football.
Sara Phillips says
Oh my goodness! I’ve never been to South Bend or Notre Dame but now I’m ready to go explore. Sounds like the perfect place for a long weekend getaway!