Campus Attractions at the University of Florida
By Florence Beth Snyder
The University of Florida (UF) in Gainesville is a preeminent research institution, but visitors can be forgiven for thinking they’ve stumbled onto a soundstage for one of those 1930s college musicals.
With its Gothic Revival architecture and 20 buildings on the National Register of Historic Places, UF’s 2,000 acres are a movie location scout’s ideal of what a university should look like. More than 50,000 students from more than 130 countries and all 50 states complete the picture of a campus straight out of central casting.
Any day is a good day for a self-guided walking tour of the university’s Historic District. A good place to start is the 157-foot-tall Century Tower, a moving tribute to UF alumni and students who perished in the World Wars of the 20th century.
One of only four carillon towers in Florida, Century Tower's 61 bells can sing a five-octave range. The carillon sits at the top of 194 steps and weighs an astounding 57,760 pounds. You can enjoy the Tower’s rendition of “Florida Chimes” on the quarter-hour from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. and listen anytime on YouTube.
The Plaza of the Americas is the focal point of the Roaring 20s-era landscape design by Frederick Law Olmsted’s sons, John Charles and Frederick Law Jr. It’s a great place to picnic and people-watch.
Just west of the Historic District is Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, the 88,548-seat venue where UF’s football team plays its home games. UF’s national reputation as a football school dates back almost a century, and the stadium is practically a shrine for those who wear the orange-and-blue of the “Gator Nation” and T-shirts bearing pictures of Albert, the school’s alligator mascot.
When the stadium is not occupied with practices and home games, visitors are welcome to jog around the concourse, run the steps, or just hang out in the stands and enjoy the Florida sunshine. On your way in, check out the life-size bronze statues of Heisman Trophy winners Steve Spurrier, Danny Wuerffel and Tim Tebow, as well as the Heavener Football Complex, which houses a museum highlighting Gator football history.
Ben Hill Griffin Stadium is nicknamed The Swamp, and not just because of UF’s alligator theme. The stadium’s bowled-in architecture is notable for steep stands that put spectators close to the field, and acoustics that amplify crowd noise to eardrum-shattering levels.
None of this bothers rabid Florida alumni, whose seats on the west side are shaded by the press box. The visiting team’s supporters have no place to hide from a broiling game day sun. It all adds up to a notorious home-field advantage for UF fans; they have the statistics to back up their brag that "ONLY Gators get out alive."
Tourists in search of more cerebral pursuits can always find interesting ways to pass the time at the UF Cultural Plaza, home of the Curtis M. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts, the Florida Museum of Natural History and the Harn Museum of Art.
The Florida Museum has been, since 1891, the official curator and champion of the Sunshine State’s rich and diverse natural history. In recent years, it has evolved in to an internationally recognized institution committed to “Inspiring people to care about life on Earth.”
Highlights include the Butterfly Rainforest, a live-action exhibit filled with free-flying butterflies and birds from around the world, along with up-close-and-personal looks at turtles and fish amidst an appealing tropical landscape.
If you dare to explore the darker side of nature, visit the Museum’s Bat Colony, home to 300,000 residents of the Bat House and Bat Barn. Every night is Halloween in that 15- to 20-minute window just after sunset and before total darkness, when temperatures are above 65 degrees, as they almost always are. An observation area is provided, but bring your own plastic protective gear because you never know what might fall from the sky.
The bats and butterflies are best appreciated in person, and once you meet them, you’ll want to see them again soon. Thanks to UF’s “Critter Cams,” you can, 24/7.
The Harn Museum of Art collection includes thousands of pieces of African, Asian, modern and contemporary art, as well as photography with significant representations of Ancient American and oceanic art.
The 40,000-plus square feet of exhibition space is surrounded by five peaceful garden spaces, and the Harn’s Camellia Court Cafe is a relaxing lunch spot for Museum-goers, or those stopping by the Phillips Center to buy tickets for an upcoming show.
When the Gators wish to commune with real ‘gators, they head to Lake Alice, a small and beautiful body of water where alligators allow people to watch and be astounded ... from a distance.
The Baughman Center at Lake Alice is a 96-seat miniature medieval cathedral built from Florida cypress, yellow pine and copper, featuring three shades of travertine marble flooring. Weddings, funerals and small musical performances bring guests to the pavilion, but most of the traffic comes from individuals who stop by to think and meditate in a serene and splendid setting.
When you go…
University of Florida
Gainesville, FL 32611