10 Best Places to Visit in Illinois
If you want to explore the American Midwest, head to Illinois. The Land of Lincoln is home to teeming cities as well as rural farmland. You can relax on the shores of Lake Michigan, and you can also tour small villages with an abundance of history. Illinois is home to the Windy City, Abraham Lincoln and so much more. An overview of the best places to visit in Illinois.
10. Anderson Japanese Gardens [SEE MAP]
gabe popa / Flickr
The third largest city in the state is Rockford, which is where you’ll find the Anderson Japanese Gardens. Many declare this site the best Japanese garden in the United States, and it is certainly an incredible place to spend the day. Only open between May and October, the seasonal gardens are perfectly maintained.
More than just plants, the landscaping is carefully and methodically planned, with natural water features, bridges, pagodas and lanterns helping to create a breathtaking masterpiece. Pick up a map from the Visitor Center, and be sure to snap a picture on the Cypress Bridge leading to the Garden of Reflection.
9. Champaign-Urbana [SEE MAP]
Christopher Schmidt / Flickr
The main campus of the University of Illinois, the state’s largest university, is located in the city of Champaign-Urbana. This destination is a shining example of a college town. Technically, Champaign-Urbana is two distinct cities, but they blend together into one metropolis.
Embrace the spirit of higher education by checking out the Spurlock Museum, an eclectic collection of fascinating artifacts from across the globe. Whether you’re searching for some tasty coffee or you’re doing your weekly shopping, the Market at the Square is a lively, fun place to hang out, particularly on Saturdays.
8. Tunnel Hill State Trail [SEE MAP]
Trails for Illinois / Flickr
In the southern tip of the state is the Tunnel Hill State Trail, a lesser known but incredible destination in Illinois worth checking out. The trail is just under five miles, and it passes through a number of long tunnels.
Much of the area that the trail covers is reclaimed strip mines or agricultural land, and there is some terrific scenery. Whether you walk, jog or bike the crushed gravel trail, you will pass through gorgeous ravines and alongside streams and bluffs. To get to the trailhead, begin in the town of Vienna.
7. Lincoln’s New Salem [SEE MAP]
One of the most influential American Presidents is undoubtedly Abraham Lincoln. Whether you’re an American history buff or a fan of Lincoln’s presidency, pay homage to the great man with a visit to Lincoln’s New Salem.
This national landmark is a perfect reconstruction of the original New Salem, also in Illinois, where Lincoln lived between 1831 and 1837. At Lincoln’s New Salem, you can tour 23 open buildings. Many of them are log cabins, and many contain one or more guides wearing period costumes.
The furniture, outfits and even the horses are accurate to the time period, and this can be a fantastic way to get a feel for Lincoln’s role in Illinois.
6. Shawnee National Forest [SEE MAP]
Daniel Schwen / Wikipedia
When the great outdoors is calling, answer it with a trip to Shawnee National Forest. Located in the southernmost part of the state, this national forest was once completely covered in the Laurentide Ice Sheet. Fortunately, that ice sheet melted millions of years ago, and the Shawnee National Forest is now perfect for hiking, camping, swimming and photography.
The biggest attraction at Shawnee is the Garden of the Gods, a stunning rock formation that you might recognize from the Illinois quarter. A short observation trail surrounds the Garden of the Gods and makes it easy for visitors to take in its beauty from all angles.
5. Cahokia Mounds [SEE MAP]
Just outside of St. Louis, on the other side of the state border, is Cahokia Mounds State Historic Park. The Cahokia Mounds are a fascinating landmark formed by American Indians who lived there more than 800 years ago. The mounds are believed to signify the largest pre-Columbian city north of Mexico.
There are 69 remaining mounds which are now covered in grass. The largest of these mounds is Monks Mound, and it is more than 100 feet tall. Another interesting part of Cahokia is Woodhenge, a large circle formed by 48 wooden posts that aligns with the solar calendar, which makes it very similar to Stonehenge in England.
4. Starved Rock State Park [SEE MAP]
On the banks of the Illinois River is Starved Rock State Park. The park is less than 100 miles from Chicago, which means that it receives plenty of city visitors for the day as well as out-of-town travelers. Starved Rock State Park boasts sandstone canyons that are formed because of glacier melting.
Some of the canyons, specifically Wildcat Canyon and French Canyon, even have waterfalls. Hiking is a great way to experience the Starved Rock State Park, and the best view in the park is accessible via a trail that leads to the Lover’s Leap Overlook. As you hike, be on the lookout for deer and migrating birds.
3. Galena [SEE MAP]
Ron Cogswell / Flickr
For history lovers, there are few places in Illinois more interesting than the city of Galena. Situated on the banks of the Mississippi River, Galena is known as the City That Time Forgot. In the 19th century, Galena was a major port, but now tourism is its major economy.
Strolling down Main Street is the best way to explore Galena, since countless mom and pop stores housed in 19th century buildings line the street. You can also use the pedestrian bridge to cross the Galena River or explore the home of former President Ulysses S. Grant, who lived there before the Civil War.
2. Springfield [SEE MAP]
Daniel Schwen / Wikipedia
The capital of the state is Springfield, another city that once served as the home of Abraham Lincoln. This is the best place to visit in Illinois if you’re interested in all things Lincoln, and there is definitely no shortage of options.
There’s the Lincoln Home National Historic Site, where he lived for more than 17 years. Also worth visiting for a few hours is the extensive Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library & Museum. Many visitors also make time for the Oak Ridge Cemetery, one of the most visited cemeteries in the world, where Abraham Lincoln and most of his family were laid to rest.
1. Chicago [SEE MAP]
There is no question that Chicago is the most popular destination in Illinois – and even the entire Midwestern United States. This enormous city has so much to explore, but many of the highlights can be found in one area known best as the Loop. Millennium Park is located in the Loop, and it is there that you can spot the reflective sculpture known commonly as The Bean. Also in the Loop is the Chicago Institute of Art, arguably one of the top art museums in the country.
Chicago’s architecture and skyline is world famous, and a walking tour can show you landmarks such as the Aon Center, the curved Chase Tower and the mid-century Federal Center, which was constructed by Mies van der Rohe.
Map of Illinois
© OpenStreetMap © MapTiler © Touropia
15 Best Small Towns to Visit in Illinois
According to the most recent census, Chicago makes up about a quarter of the population of Illinois. That’s a big city with a big draw. But the majority of the state is made up of cornfields, suburbs, rolling plains, and tight knit communities.
The American Midwest is on full display in this list of the 15 best small towns to visit across the state:
Source: flickr Galena
Consistently ranked as one of the best places to visit in the American Midwest, Galena is a big draw for honeymooners, foodies, and city dwellers who need a little rest and relaxation. It used to be a mining community and now is one of the top two tourism stops in Illinois. Just about 3,500 people call Galena home and they know first-hand that there is plenty to do.
Visit the former home of U.S. President Ulysses S. Grant, spend an afternoon at one of ten nearby golf courses, or maybe a full day at one of the two wineries in town. On the Galena River you can boat, canoe, or kayak, and just 13 miles from town flows the mighty Mississippi. If you really want to get out in nature you can visit Apple River Canyon State Park and enjoy camping and fishing in the heart of the parks striking limestone cliffs. If you’re visiting in June, be sure to check out the annual Great Galena Balloon Race.
Source: flickr Mount Emblem Windmill, Elmhurst, Illinois
Elmhurst’s most popular resident is undoubtedly Carl Sandburg, a Chicago poet who brought a lot of positive attention to the city and the state. Visit the Elmhurst Historical Museum to view some of the poets’ archives.
The town was founded in the 19th century and attracts a large number of artists – and their wealthy patrons. Elmhurst College has a reputation as a progressive liberal arts school, and the reputation spills over into town. If you’re looking for a sleepy town to get lost in, or maybe start the next great American novel, give Elmhurst a try.
Source: flickr Galesburg Railroad Museum
This is small town at its best. Shaped by the rolling praires that surround it, Galesburg is a step back in time. No matter your age you’ll feel nostalgia and the beauty to be found in simple living when you visit. For most of its history, it has been a railway centre for Illinois.
If you’re travelling with a family, you’ll love the Galesburg Railroad Museum and the Discovery Depot Children’s Museum. The railway has shaped the town and you can see the influence today. Visit Lake Storey Recreational Area for swimming and picnicking in the summer, and in winter try ice skating and cross country skiing. Each August there is a Civil War re-enactment during Heritage Days.
Source: flickr Gunsmith, Nauvoo Historic District
If you’re into interesting history, it doesn’t get better than Nauvoo. In the 1840’s it was home to the Mormon Church, when they sought refuge and a plot of land to live undisturbed by the United States government. It was here that founder Joseph Smith was killed by an angry mob – an event that led to the migration of the church to present day Utah.
There are more than 60 restored historic buildings in Nauvoo including the Browning Home and Gunsmith Shop, several museums, the former home of Brigham Young, a working blacksmith shop, and a downtown area where you watch candle making, bread making, and a variety of other pioneer demonstrations.
5. Arlington Heights
Source: flickr Muller House, Arlington Heights
The City of Good Neighbours is an historically agricultural town. Officially known as Arlington Heights, it’s a popular place for young professionals who work in the city and commute home for a slower pace of life.
It’s also a family friendly place – be sure to check out Kids Adventure Hunts which lets parents and children explore the downtown area by following clues and taking pictures of their discoveries. For nightlife, try the Metropolis Performing Arts Centre which produces both theatre and musical performance.
6. Mount Carroll
Source: flickr Carroll County Courthouse
Just ten miles from the Mississippi River is Mount Carrol. Though firmly a Midwestern town, it’s often referred to as “the New England of the Midwest,’ thanks to its distinctive architecture. The perfect place for walking or biking, it’s everything you want a small town to be.
They’ve got an active community playhouse, a wildly popular bowling alley, a historic (and beautiful) grain mill on the Wakarusa River, and a strong arts and music scene. What’s incredible about Mount Carroll is that it looks basically the same as it did 50 years ago. Enjoy the eclectic atmosphere, fantastic coffee shops, and great local food during your visit.
Source: flickr Arcola, Illinois
The best places for intriguing shopping are the Amish towns of Arthur and Arcola. Send heirloom and handmade gifts home from your trip through Amish country, and you’re sure to be a hit. The appeal of these towns is a simpler way of life. Here, horse drawn buggies share the road with cars, the food is hearty, and tradition is everything.
Check out the Amish own coffee shop, followed by the Amish bakery, and then take a visit out to see the popular quilt shows at Rockome Gardens. There’s always a festival in Arcola – see if you can time your visit to attend the Horse Progress days, the Raggedy Ann Festival, the Amish Country Bicycle Tour, or Oktoberfest. Be sure to take home some Amish fudge. You won’t be sorry.
Source: flickr Fulton
The heritage of Fulton comes from the Dutch, and the influence is evident all over town. Each May the town hosts the Dutch Days festival and they are home to one of the only authentic Dutch windmills in the United States. It was manufactured in the Netherlands and then shipped to Fulton in 2000.
Quaint is the perfect word for Fulton, but then, so are charming and idyllic. You can see what pioneer living was like when you visit Heritage Canyon, see the history of the area at Martin House Museum, and check out everything else the town has on offer – Andresen Nature Centre, the historic downtown, two gorgeous national scenic by-ways, and the Great River Bike Trail.
9. Bishop Hill
Source: flickr Steeple Building, Bishop Hill
It seems Illinois has a history of attracting large groups looking for freedom of some kind. Nauvoo attracted both the Mormons and then later a group of French communists, and Bishop Hill attracted a group of Swedes hoping to form a utopian society under the guidance of Erik Jansson.
The city was added to the National Register of Historic Places in the 1970’s and the town is home to artists, craftsmen, galleries, boutiques, and good restaurants. This country village is an ideal place to enjoy a mix of the old and the new. Check out the Midsummer Music Festival if you’re travelling in June.
Source: flickr Greenville
Greenville is one of the oldest communities in Illinois, and they take their heritage seriously. Downtown is old-fashioned and unique. Local artists have made murals around town as part of a restoration project. There’s a large stone memorial that marks the exact spot where both Stephen Douglas and Abraham Lincoln made speeches while they were running for president in 1858.
If you want a little more history, be sure to visit the American Farm Heritage Museum and Hills Fort, aimed at preserving agricultural history. Now, Greenville is a college town filled with festivals. Here you can find the Graffiti Car Show, the county fair, the World Powered Parachute Championships, and the Agape Music Festival – point of town pride for almost 40 years.
11. Alto Pass/Jonesboro
Source: flickr Alto Pass, Illinois
Ranked on the list of 100 Best Small Town Getaways are Alto Pass and Jonesboro. Topping of the list of fabulous attractions are top notch outdoor activities, great wineries, and agri-tourism. The orchards there are famous for peaches and apples. Nearby is Shawnee National Forest and many huntsmen come here in season for turkey, goose, and bear hunting.
There’s also rare bird watching available and an annual rattlesnake migration – which isn’t so much something you want to go and watch, but rather something to be fascinated by. If you want more outdoor activities there’s Giant City State Park, the Trail of Tears State Forest, the Ozark Hills, and Cypress Creek National Wildlife Refuge. Recently several wineries have joined forces to create the Shawnee Hill Wine Trail.
Source: flickr Woodstock
If you’re a fan of American movies, you might recognize Woodstock from movies like Planes, Trains and Automobiles as well as Groundhog Day. It’s listed on the National Register of Historic Places and was named a “Preserve America Community” by the White House. There is great shopping alongside a nostalgic and yet buzzing atmosphere.
Spend the day walking about town and soaking up the relaxation. They’ve got phenomenal hand-crafted pottery, leather goods, handmade jewellery, fine art, antiques, and more. The restaurants are eclectic and sure to leave you talking. At Christmastime come for Woodstock’s Victorian Christmas celebration complete with horse drawn carriages and carollers in period dress walking the streets.
Source: flickr Elsah
Almost impossible to find, Elsah is tucked away in a ravine, surrounded by thick woods. On either side of the ravine are large bluffs with a view down to the Mississippi River. Simply put, it’s gorgeous. And because of its location, it has remained a small town, been able to maintain most of its historic charm, and become known as an amazing place to observe the American Bald Eagle.
Native Americans once settled here and geologist love to study the pre-historic rock formations nearby. It’s really a rather dramatic oasis in the midst of the flat Midwestern plans. Stroll tree shaded streets and enjoy the towns architecture and beauty.
Source: flickr Wheaton
Elmhurst is known as a fantastic place to receive a public liberal arts education. Nearby Wheaton is known as a more conservative and traditional college town. Proud of its traditions and community covenant, the atmosphere here isn’t like your typical college town. The community enjoys the Wheaton French Market that has a decidedly European feeling as opposed to Americana.
The civic pride is on full display during the Prairie Path Clean-up, when the entire town gathers to take care of a 61-mile stretch of highway through town. Free outdoor concerts, summer vintage car shows, and the Wine and Cultural Arts Festival, make Wheaton a small town cultural mecca.
Source: flickr Swaminarayan Temple in Bartlett
The area now known as the Village of Bartlett was once a settlement for Potawatomi, Ottawa, Miami, and Cherokee tribes. Over the centuries, it’s also been claimed by the French, the English, and the Spanish. But it was a wealthy benefactor named Luther Bartlett who brought the railroad in and made modern day Bartlett what it is.
You can check out the 19th century Bartlett Depot Museum at the original railroad station. Locals love baseball and the town has the distinction of having the largest Little League program in the country.
21 Incredible (and Diverse!) Places to Visit in Illinois in 2022
Also known as the heart of America, Illinois is a state that has it all, from the large-city metropolitan vibes in Chicago to gorgeous nature and mountains. These are the best places to visit in Illinois!
Explore American history in Chicago, along the most historic highway in the US- Route 66, and visit Abraham Lincoln’s home.
Best places to visit in Illinois
The main destination that people head to when they visit Illinois is Chicago, which certainly has a special place on our list, but there is so much more to do and see throughout the state.
In this article, we have compiled a list of the best places to visit in Illinois with a little bit of something for everyone!
Did we miss any amazing Illinois destinations? Let us know in the comments!
Best Places to Visit in Illinois
Morton Arboretum, nestled in Lisle, is an absolute mecca for those who want to appreciate the full splendor of Illinois’s diverse flora.
The 1,700 acres of land it is situated on is home to 200,000 cataloged plants, 16 miles of hiking trails, 9-mile paved routes for driving or cycling, the award-winning Children’s Garden, Maze Garden, and more.
Learn more about amazing plant life through an extensive educational program perfect for people of all ages or visit the Sterling Morton Library, which features over 27,000 botanical and horticultural materials.
Other must-visit sites here are the Walnut Collection, Ginkgo Collection, Maple Collection, and the Fragrance Garden, filled with fragrant flowers, fruits, and lush foliage.
Let the kids loose in the 4-acre Children’s Garden and head to the May Theilgaard Watts Reading Garden, where you can delve into one of the library’s many historical and contemporary books.
Perched on the bluffs overlooking the Mississippi River, charming Quincy is packed with fine architecture, tree-lined streets, and rich heritage.
Explore the local history and culture in Quincy Museum or History Museum on the Square, catch a great performance at Quincy Community Theater, step back in time at All Wars Museum, and admire Villa Kathrine, a Moorish-style courtyard mansion built-in 1900.
Quincy, IL – Sabrina Janelle Gordon – Shutterstock
Ben Bumbry Riverview Park is one of Quincy’s easiest and quickest fresh air getaways, where you can find grills, picnic tables, restrooms, a basketball court, and playground equipment.
Don’t forget to check out John Wood Mansion to marvel at Greek Revival architecture; visit the Quincy Art Center to view contemporary Midwestern art; sip a glass of local beer at Quincy Brewing Company, and dig deep into Native American heritage in Indian Mounds Park.
Operating by the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency, Lincoln’s Tomb is the final resting place of Abraham Lincoln, the 16th President of the United States, his wife Mary, and three of their four sons.
Built-in 1874 and nestled in Oak Ridge Cemetery, it is the second most visited cemetery in the nation.
At the entrance, you will see the bronze bust of Mr. Lincoln, where you can stop and rub his nose for good luck or leave a penny and make a wish.
The tomb was significantly restored in 1900-1901 and again in 1930-1931 due to design and construction flaws.
In 1876 thieves tried to steal Lincoln’s body, which led to the transfer of President Lincoln’s remains beneath the floor of the burial chamber after the first restoration.
In 1960, the Lincoln Tomb was designated a National Historic Landmark, and in 1966, it was added to the National Register of Historic Places.
Get lost in the outdoors at the Lake Katherine Nature Center and Botanic Gardens, home to prairie, wetlands, woodlands, gardens, and a 10-acre Lake Katherine.
This 85-acre restored natural refuge is the perfect place to discover some of nature’s wonders, learn through education programs and celebrate important milestones amidst a natural setting.
Check out the 1-mile Lake Loop Trail to get around the lake, explore native flora in botanical gardens and admire the large 30-foot-tall and 300-foot-long man-made waterfall nestled among rock formations.
Please note that swimming, fishing, hunting, littering, and the operation of motor vehicles are prohibited at Lake Katherine.
The preserve offers ample opportunities for wildlife spotting as well, as it is home to 14 different types of butterflies and moths, 16 different types of dragonflies and damselflies, snakes, turtles, frogs, salamanders, deer, coyotes, squirrels, and other small rodents.
Named as one of the premier Japanese gardens in North America, Anderson Japanese Gardens, designed by John R. Anderson and Hoichi Kurisu, will make you reconnect with nature and inspire the mind.
Here you can appreciate the 12-acre award-winning landscape made up of koi-filled ponds, winding paths, gentle streams, a bevy of Japanese maples, cascading waterfalls, cloud pines, rhododendrons, azaleas, magnolias, raked gravel gardens, beautifully trained pines, and more.
Be ready to marvel at master craftsmanship and 16th-century traditional architecture throughout the garden, which constantly ranks as one of the best day trips from Chicago.
Docent-led tours are available for groups of all ages so you can deepen your garden experience and find your inner zen.
After touring the gardens, pop over to Fresco at the Gardens, which will treat you to a delicious breakfast or lunch made from fresh, organic, and locally grown ingredients.
Mississippi Palisades State Park
Trace the footsteps of Native American pathfinders who explored the bluffs and rock palisades of the Mississippi River a thousand years ago at the 2,500-acre Mississippi Palisades State Park.
Get up close and personal with the park’s rich flora and fauna through its rugged 15-mile trail system or camp under the starry skies in the campground, which features showers, flush toilets, water, and two sanitary dump stations, and picnic in one of the six picnic shelters.
Mississippi Palisades State Park
Get your daily dose of adrenaline by rock climbing Sentinel Area, Twin Sisters, or Indian Head, cross-country skiing and sledding during winter months, and enjoying boating on the Mississippi River.
Whether you’re a seasoned angler or a first-timer, here you can definitely bet on your next great catch, which can range from catfish and carp to bluegill and bass.
Bloomington, home to the “Main Street of America,” also known as Route 66, woos visitors with its captivating heritage and culture.
Delve deep into the area’s history in the McLean County Museum of History, housed in the early 20th-century old McLean County Courthouse; tour the grounds of David Davis Mansion State Historic Site, a three-story Victorian mansion once home to a close ally of Abraham Lincoln; or catch a great show at The Castle Theater or Bloomington Center for the Performing Arts.
Get a real taste of local produce at the Bloomington Farmers’ Market, interact with exotic animals at the Miller Park Zoo, and witness restored military and civilian aircraft at the Prairie Aviation Museum.
Before leaving, make sure to check out Ryburn Place at Sprague’s Super Service which commemorates Historic Route 66 to take home a piece of historic Bloomington with you.
Following the West Branch of the DuPage River, Naperville Riverwalk is the crown jewel of the quaint city of Naperville.
This two-mile linear park, created in 1981 to honor Naperville’s 150th anniversary, is the ideal place for family hangouts and relaxation.
The Riverwalk is packed with 1.75 miles of brick paths, fountains, manicured walking paths, scenic bridges, recreational facilities, meeting and event areas, outdoor sculpture and artwork, and celebratory memorials.
Admire 158 feet tall Millennium Carillon in Moser Tower built to commemorate the third millennium; explore the new Millennium Wall; take part in community events in Riverwalk Amphitheater; enjoy the twists and turns of Riverwalk Millennium Labyrinth and witness Shanower Memorial dedicated to lives that were lost on September 11, 2001 attacks.
Fuel up at Riverwalk Eatery and go for thrilling water adventures at Paddleboat Quarry and Fishing Pier.
Starved Rock State Park
Those after awe-inspiring natural beauty and outdoor thrills should definitely pay a visit to Starved Rock State Park, tucked away in North Central Illinois.
The park is best known for its seasonal waterfalls, breathtaking bluffs, and rugged canyons.
Explore the majestic bluffs and 18 canyons by hiking 13 miles of well-marked trails, learn about the Park’s cultural and natural history in the Visitor Center, organize a picnic at developed picnic areas, and enjoy canoeing, paddle boating, and fishing on the Illinois River.
Starved Rock State Park
Winter months create the ideal conditions for adrenalin-filled adventures.
Try your hand at waterfall ice climbing around Starved Rock with Vertical Adventure, soak up the views on a hike through Lasalle Canyon that will reward you with a 25-foot icy waterfall, marvel at huge amphitheater caverns by hiking twin-trails Ottawa Canyon and Kaskaskia Canyon and cozy up at historic Starved Rock Lodge.
The gorgeous riverfront city of Peoria deserves special attention as it boasts a rich history and diverse collection of cultural attractions.
Quench your thirst for art and science at the Peoria Riverfront Museum, which features Sculpture Garden, Dome Planetarium, Peoria Holocaust Memorial, Giant Screen Theater, and more.
The Peoria Civic Center is home to Peoria’s biggest shows and performances, where the whole family can enjoy live music, sports, and community events.
Tour the historic Pettengill-Morron House Museum to witness many original furnishings of the Pettengill and Morron families, escape into nature in Laura Bradley Park, admire lush greenery in Luthy Botanical Garden, interact with many exotic animals in Peoria Zoo, and take in incredible views of the Illinois River while driving along scenic Grand View Drive.
Adventure lovers shouldn’t miss visiting Jubilee College State Park to take advantage of the 40-plus miles of multi-use trails often used for hiking, mountain biking, and horseback riding.
You’ll find the perfect mix of adventures and history in this small Illinois town.
Appreciate the unique landscape in Anderson Japanese Gardens, admire various masterpieces from the 19th, 20th, and 21st century at the Rockford Art Museum, let the kids loose in Discovery Center Museum, and explore tropical and colorful plants in Nicholas Conservatory & Gardens, the third-largest conservatory in Illinois.
You can visit the Burpee Museum of Natural History to check out fossils and life-size models of fully restored dinosaur skeletons.
Here the Windows to Wilderness permanent hands-on exhibit will certainly make you experience the Rock River Valley environment through a new set of eyes.
Dig deep into the history of the Rockford region in the 148-acre Midway Village Museum, enjoy a stunning performance in Coronado Performing Arts Center, or head to Rock Cut State Park, which features campsites and trails ideal for hiking, mountain biking, horseback riding, cross-country skiing, and snowshoeing.
Fabyan Forest Preserve
Nestled south of Geneva on the Fox River, Fabyan Forest Preserve was once part of the large 600-acre country estate of George and Nelle Fabyan, who lived there from 1905 to the 1930s.
Here you can witness a Japanese garden, a Dutch windmill, and a restored Fabyan Villa Museum featuring period furniture and diverse artifacts collected by the Fabyans.
Outdoor enthusiasts will love this place for its kayaking and fishing opportunities on Fox River, paved hiking and biking trails, picnic shelters, and picture-worthy spots.
Fabyan Forest Preserve
The Japanese Garden is a serene oasis where you can appreciate the tranquility of Japanese-style gardens and reconnect with nature.
Guided tours are available from May through September to enhance your harmonious experience. Another must-see site here is the 68-foot vintage Fabyan Windmill which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Travel 15 miles west of the Chicago Loop to find this lovely city of Elmhurst.
Experience great outdoors at Great Western Prairie, enjoy the latest releases in The York Theater that dates back to 1924, bike along 35-mile Salt Creek Greenway Trail, dive into Elmhurst’s deep history in Elmhurst History Museum housed in Glos Mansion, and savor produce at the peak of freshness at Elmhurst Farmers’ Market.
Art lovers can explore the diverse art scene at Elmhurst Art Museum or visit the Lizzadro Museum of Lapidary Art to witness the marvelous collection of businessman Joseph Lizzadro, which includes everything from jade carvings, mosaics, and organic gems to gemstones, cameos, and fossils.
Make sure to take aside an hour or two to tour the 48-acre Elmhurst College Arboretum, which is home to 850 trees and numerous varieties of shrubs and perennials.
Shawnee National Forest
Discover Illinois’s full potential of natural wonders in Shawnee National Forest.
Spanning 280,000 acres in Southern Illinois between the Mississippi and Ohio rivers, the Park is a combination of rugged bluffs, forests, sparkling lakes, thundering waterfalls, sandstone rock formations, and other unique geological features.
Shawnee’s centerpiece is the Garden of the Gods, where you can marvel at scenic rock formations from stunning vantage points.
Shawnee National Forest
After soaking up mesmerizing scenery, head to hiking the 160-mile River to River Trail that will take you through hills, cliffs, forests, and wetlands, admire gorgeous Cedar Lake and picturesque Jackson Falls, and get close and personal with the area’s flora and fauna in Cave in Rock.
Thrill-seekers can certainly bet on action-packed adventures as the Park offers a plethora of exciting opportunities, such as kayaking, fishing, biking, ziplining, swimming, horseback riding, camping, canoeing, and many others.
Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site
If you ask locals what must-see attractions in Illinois are, chances are Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site will make their top five list.
Known for being the largest prehistoric Native American settlement north of Mexico, this 2,000 acres of land is a UNESCO World Heritage site that tells the story of the people who called this amazing site home more than 800 years ago.
Featuring over 120 large man-made mounds built by early Mississippians and Native Americans, here you can step back in time as you explore 70 of those ceremonial and burial grounds.
Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site
The highlights of the park are the 100-foot-tall Monks Mound, Grand Plaza, Twin Mounds, Mound 72, and Woodhenge, a large circle made of 48 wooden posts aligning with the solar calendar (very similar to Stonehenge).
Visit the Interpretative Center to learn more about one of the most cultured prehistoric native civilizations through audiovisual presentations, artifacts, and graphics.
A diverse shopping and dining scene, art centers, sprawling parks, and museums combine to delight visitors in the quaint city of Alton.
Indulge in breathtaking art at Jacoby Arts Center, enjoy birdwatching at Audubon Center at Riverlands, take a picture with the World’s Tallest Man Statue of Robert Wadlow, and quench your thirst for gambling in Argosy Casino and treat yourself to mouth-watering steaks at Tony’s Restaurant.
Prepare to be captivated by the rich culture and natural history of the Mississippi River in the National Great Rivers Museum.
Alton, IL – RozenskiP – Shutterstock
After touring the museum, you can head to the adjacent Melvin Price Locks and Dam to take in the best views of the River and see how towboats and barges make their way through this structure.
Round off your day with a little shopping at Alton Square Mall or strolling along the Homer M. Adams Parkway, lined with many department stores.
Matthiessen State Park
Nature enthusiasts can set off to explore Matthiessen State Park, packed with 5 miles of well-marked trails, prairie land, cliffs, canyons, bluffs, streams, and waterfalls.
Tucked away in LaSalle County, three miles east of Oglesby and four miles south of Utica, the park is the perfect place to explore the region’s unique geology and enjoy recreation opportunities.
Matthiessen State Park
Hiking enthusiasts will love hiking those scenic trails to get up close and personal with the area’s rich flora and fauna, such as rock doves, cedar waxwings, raccoons, red-tailed hawks, black huckleberry, bur oak, etc.
The park also features picnic areas in the Dells Area, a field archery range with a sight-in area and four separate targets, an equestrian campground for horseback riders, 6 miles of cross-country ski trails, and a radio-controlled model airplane field near the Vermilion River Area.
Gorgeous Springfield is the capital of Illinois where Abraham Lincoln lived and worked prior to being elected to the House of Representatives.
Those who want to get a glimpse into Lincoln’s life should visit The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, housing more than 1,500 original signed Lincoln documents.
Lincoln Home National Historic Site, the only home he ever owned, and Lincoln’s Tomb and War Memorial State Historic Site at Oak Ridge Cemetery, the final resting place of Abraham Lincoln and a few of his family members.
Take part in the International Carillon Festival in Thomas Rees Memorial Carillon, enjoy the great outdoors at Adams Wildlife Sanctuary and witness countless Civil War artifacts in the Daughters Of Union Veterans Civil War Museum.
Rounding out the list of must-see attractions are Dana-Thomas House, Old State Capitol, Washington Park Botanical Garden, Illinois State Museum, Illinois State Capitol, etc.
Tunnel Hill State Trail
Named after a 543-foot-long tunnel and situated at the southern tip of Illinois, Tunnel Hill State Trail is a dream destination for any outdoor enthusiast.
Spanning 45 miles from Harrisburg to Karnak, the trail winds through Shawnee National Forest, Cache River State Natural Area, and seven towns (including ghost towns), allowing you to take in terrific scenery along the way.
Trail in Illinois
The northern section of the trail is covered with strip mines, ravines, agricultural fields, rocky streams, and wooded bluffs, while the southern part brims with ponds, streams, bottomland woods, and marshes.
Being part of a former railroad founded by Civil War General Ambrose Burnside, Tunnel Hill State Trail is crossed by River to River Trail, American Discovery Trail, the Trail of Tears National Historic Trail, and the U.S. 76 bicycle Route.
Galena, once a thriving port in the 19th-century, now is the perfect place for history buffs, so if you are one, it will feel like heaven to you.
Tour the grounds of Ulysses S. Grant Home, the former home of Civil War General and 18th President of the United States, Ulysses S. Grant.
Gaze deep into astounding Greek Revival architecture at Washburne House, and get a glimpse of history at the Galena/Jo Daviess County Museum.
Galena, IL – Nejdet Duzen – Shutterstock
Another must-visit site is the Horseshoe Mound Preserve, which will leave you breathless with awe with its breathtaking views of the three different states, the Galena River Valley and the Mississippi River.
To mark your Galena trip as a complete one, stroll through Main Street lined by colorful historic buildings and independent boutiques, learn about the town’s architecture by taking a Galena Trolley Tour and sip a glass of signature wine in Galena Cellars Vineyard.
Chicago, also known as the Windy City, beckons visitors with a plethora of world-class attractions.
Whether it’s museums, nightlife venues, innovative art installations, or Michelin-caliber restaurants, there’s something to keep you busy in the birthplace of the skyscraper.
Admire unique masterpieces at the Art Institute of Chicago, take in the magnificent views of the city from the soaring 1,030-feet-high viewing platform at 360 Chicago Observation Deck, kayak on the Chicago River with Urban Kayaks, find serenity at the Morton Arboretum, enjoy late-night jazz at the Green Mill and learn more about the city at Art Institute of Chicago.
Your Chicago trip won’t be complete without visiting Millennium Park, getting some surf at North Avenue Beach, savoring restaurant-quality dishes during Taste of Chicago, exploring wide-ranging collections of succulents and cacti at Garfield Park Conservatory, and walking or biking Bloomingdale Trail—a.k.a. The 606.
Did we miss any of the best places to visit in Illinois? Let us know your favorite places in Illinois in the comments. Thanks!