10 Best Places to Visit in Illinois
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Are you planning your next vacation and looking for the best places to visit in Illinois? Look no further than our comprehensive travel guide. With so many must-visit attractions, Illinois offers a diverse range of experiences for every traveler. Whether you’re exploring vibrant cities, taking in breathtaking natural wonders, or immersing yourself in history and culture, Illinois has it all.

From the bustling cityscape of Chicago to the tranquil Anderson Japanese Gardens in Rockford, we’ve selected the top 10 must-visit attractions in Illinois to help you plan your itinerary. Discover the charm of historic towns like Galena, explore the outdoor adventures at Shawnee National Forest, and indulge in the vibrant culinary scene of the Quad Cities. With our Illinois travel guide, you’re sure to have an unforgettable vacation.

Explore Vibrant Chicago

Chicago, the largest city in Illinois, is a bustling metropolis that offers a range of exciting experiences. From iconic landmarks to unique culinary destinations, Chicago has it all.

One of the key attractions is Millennium Park, which features the world-renowned Cloud Gate sculpture, also known as “The Bean”. The park also hosts several events throughout the year, including concerts and festivals.

Navy Pier is another must-visit attraction in Chicago, with its stunning views of Lake Michigan and the city skyline. Take a ride on the famous Ferris wheel or explore the many shops and restaurants on the pier.

The Art Institute of Chicago is a world-class museum that showcases an impressive collection of artwork from around the globe. From classical masterpieces to contemporary works, the museum is a feast for the eyes.

Chicago is also known for its thriving culinary scene, with a diverse range of cuisines to choose from. Whether you’re looking for traditional deep-dish pizza or fusion cuisine, the city has it all. Be sure to check out the famous Chicago-style hot dogs and Italian beef sandwiches.

For a night out on the town, catch a show at the historic Chicago Theatre. Known for its marquee sign and iconic architecture, the theater hosts a variety of concerts, comedy shows, and theatrical productions throughout the year.

Chicago Attractions

Experience the vibrant energy of Chicago and discover all the exciting things to do in the city.

Marvel at Starved Rock State Park’s Beauty

When in Illinois, don’t miss the chance to experience the natural beauty of Starved Rock State Park, one of the state’s most stunning attractions. Known for its canyons, waterfalls, and hiking trails, your trip to Illinois will not be complete without visiting this astounding natural wonder.

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Starved Rock State Park

Make sure to plan for a day trip and take in breathtaking views of the Illinois River. A hike on one of the park’s scenic trails is an unforgettable way to explore Starved Rock State Park. Lace up your hiking shoes and hit the trails to discover the park’s beauty, including Eagle Cliff Overlook and LaSalle Canyon.

“Starved Rock State Park is a hidden gem that is waiting to be discovered. With its unique landscapes and rich history, it is truly a must-visit attraction in Illinois.”

Aside from its natural beauty, Starved Rock State Park is also an important site for Native American history. Discover the park’s fascinating heritage by visiting the park’s visitor center and the Illinois Waterway Visitor Center to learn about the history and culture of the area.

Scenic Hiking Trails in Starved Rock State Park

Starved Rock State Park is home to 20 hiking trails, each offering a unique experience for hikers of all skill levels. Whether you prefer a leisurely walk or a challenging hike, every trail showcases incredible natural beauty. Here are some of the most popular hiking trails in the park:

Hiking TrailDistance (Round Trip)Difficulty Level
French Canyon Trail0.8 milesEasy
Wildcat Canyon Trail2.6 milesModerate
LaSalle Canyon Trail4.6 milesModerate
Eagle Cliff Overlook Trail1.8 milesModerate

No matter which trail you choose, you’ll be rewarded with unforgettable scenery and a chance to connect with nature.

Starved Rock State Park is a natural paradise brimming with breathtaking vistas, hidden canyons, and majestic waterfalls. If you love nature and want to experience the best of Illinois’ outdoors, this park is a must-visit destination that guarantees an unforgettable trip.

Delve into History at Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum

Take a journey through time at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum located in the heart of Springfield, one of the most popular Springfield attractions. This museum stands as a testimony to the life and legacy of one of the greatest presidents of the United States.

Pay tribute to the man who was instrumental in the abolition of slavery and visit the museum’s many interactive exhibits, artifacts, and unique presentations that provide a deeper understanding of President Lincoln’s life. The variety of displays include items such as the famed flag that Abraham Lincoln was observing when he was assassinated. This item serves as a powerful and somber reminder of the historical significance of this great leader.

The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum is perfect for history buffs and travelers who want to enrich their knowledge of American history. Discover unique insights into the life of this legendary figure and the challenges he faced in a rapidly changing United States.

Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum

So, if you’re looking to explore Lincoln-related sites in Illinois, be sure to visit the state-of-the-art Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield.

Experience the Magnificence of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Architecture

If you have an appreciation for architectural beauty, Illinois has a treat for you. Experience the magnificence of Frank Lloyd Wright’s architecture as you explore some of his most iconic creations in the state.

Frank Lloyd Wright architecture is renowned for its organic design and integration with nature. Wright is considered one of the most influential architects of the 20th century, and his work can be found throughout the United States, with several gems hidden within Illinois.

Two of his most famous works are located in Illinois, the Robie House in Chicago and the Dana-Thomas House in Springfield. The Robie House showcases Wright’s Prairie School style, and it is considered a masterpiece of the modern era. On the other hand, the Dana-Thomas House, located in Springfield, is an example of Wright’s work in the Midwest. This house is known for its unique furniture and art glass.

If you appreciate architectural gems, mark these two locations on your Illinois itinerary and get ready to be amazed. Illinois architectural gems are not limited to these two examples. There are numerous other beautiful examples of architecture we recommend you discover on your visit.

Frank Lloyd Wright architecture

Discover the Charm of Galena

Travel back in time to the enchanting town of Galena, one of the most well-preserved historic towns in Illinois. Admire the captivating 19th-century architecture of the buildings, stroll along Main Street lined with unique shops, boutiques, and art galleries, and relish exploring the Grant Home State Historic Site, the former residence of Ulysses S. Grant.

Galena historic town

“Galena is a charming town with great history. Walking around the town will make you fall in love with the place. There are several shops and cafes to enjoy. The architecture is beautiful. The view is excellent. All in all, a must-visit.”

While in Galena, don’t forget to ride the Galena Trolley, traverse the magnificent hills, and visit the Helluva Half Mile, featuring more than 125 shops, restaurants, art galleries, and storefronts.

Explore the Illinois State Capitol in Springfield

As you venture through Springfield, take the time to explore the Illinois State Capitol, a majestic building that houses the legislative branch of the Illinois government.

The grand architecture and rich history of the capitol are sure to captivate you. Be sure to visit the awe-inspiring Illinois State Capitol dome, soaring an impressive 361 feet above the ground.

Inside, you’ll find the Lincoln Statue, a tribute to one of Illinois’ most famous residents and former president. Take a guided tour to learn about Illinois’ political history and the important role the capitol has played in shaping the state.

Make sure to add the Illinois State Capitol to your list of Springfield attractions.

Illinois State Capitol

Illinois State Capitol Facts:

Built1888
ArchitectCooley, Sweeney, and D.H. Burnham & Co.
StyleSecond Empire
Height361ft
Guided toursAvailable

Embrace Outdoor Adventures at Shawnee National Forest

If you’re an outdoor enthusiast, Shawnee National Forest is the place for you. Located in southern Illinois, this stunning wilderness area covers more than 280,000 acres and offers a wide range of outdoor activities.

Embark on scenic hikes and explore the many trails that wind through the forest. From easy walks to challenging treks, there’s a trail for every level of hiker. For a breathtaking view, head to Garden of the Gods, a unique rock formation that overlooks Shawnee.

If camping is your thing, set up your tent at one of the many campgrounds scattered throughout the forest. Enjoy the peace and quiet of the great outdoors while immersing yourself in nature.

And for those who love to fish and birdwatch, Shawnee National Forest offers plenty of opportunities to indulge in these activities. Cast a line in one of the many lakes and streams, or bring your binoculars and spot some of the over 250 species of birds that call the forest home.

Shawnee National Forest outdoor activities in Illinois

Shawnee National Forest is a must-visit destination for anyone who loves the outdoors. With its stunning natural beauty and endless activities to enjoy, you’re sure to have a memorable experience.

Experience the Allure of Route 66

Take a road trip along the legendary Route 66 to soak up the history and culture of this iconic highway. Beginning in Chicago and stretching over 2,400 miles to Santa Monica, California, Route 66 makes for an exciting and memorable journey. With Illinois being the birthplace of Route 66, it’s no surprise the state has some of the best roadside attractions to see along the way.

One of the must-visit Route 66 attractions in Illinois is the Cozy Dog Drive-In, located on Route 66 in Springfield. This place is famous for its delicious hot dogs on a stick and is widely considered the birthplace of the corn dog. Another retro diner to check out is the Riviera Restaurant, serving up classic diner fare since 1934.

Route 66 – Illinois road trip ideas

Don’t miss the chance to visit the Gemini Giant in Wilmington. This 28-foot tall statue of an outer space astronaut holding a rocket is one of the most famous Route 66 attractions in Illinois. Head to the historic town of Pontiac, which boasts the Route 66 Hall of Fame and Museum, showcasing the rich history of this iconic highway. Another highlight is the Standard Oil Gas Station in Odell, a well-preserved gas station that harkens back to the golden age of automobile travel.

A scenic drive along Route 66 will take you through quaint towns and stunning landscapes, making it an excellent choice for an Illinois road trip. Make sure to stop along the way and soak up the nostalgia and charm of this beloved American highway.

Unwind at the Magnificent Anderson Japanese Gardens

If you’re looking for a peaceful oasis amidst the hustle and bustle of Illinois, the Anderson Japanese Gardens in Rockford is the perfect place for you. This stunningly crafted garden features traditional Japanese landscaping, including serene waterfalls, tranquil ponds, and meditative Zen gardens. The beautiful fusion of Japanese aesthetics and Midwestern sensibilities is truly a sight to behold.

Explore winding pathways that lead to hidden gardens and charming bridges that cross over sparkling streams. Take a moment to breathe in the fresh air, listen to the soothing sound of trickling water, and let your senses be invigorated by the nature around you.

The Anderson Japanese Gardens is the perfect place to meditate, reflect, and reconnect with nature. Don’t miss out on this unforgettable Rockford attraction.

Anderson Japanese Gardens

Visit the Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historic Site

If you’re a history buff and want to learn more about one of the most prominent figures in American history, you don’t want to miss the Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historic Site. Located in Hodgenville, Kentucky, about four hours from Chicago, this site allows you to explore a replica of Lincoln’s birthplace cabin and its surrounding farm. The visitor center offers a variety of exhibits and interpretative programs that showcase Lincoln’s early life in a rural Kentucky setting.

This is also a great opportunity to explore other Lincoln-related sites in Illinois, such as the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield or the Lincoln Home National Historic Site in Springfield.

Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historic Site

Delight in Culinary Experiences in the Quad Cities

If you’re a foodie looking for the ultimate culinary experience in Illinois, the Quad Cities are a must-visit destination. The region, spanning both Illinois and Iowa, is renowned for its diverse and vibrant dining scene, featuring a wide range of local specialties and craft breweries.

One of the signature dishes you can’t miss is the Quad Cities-style pizza, famous for its unique malt crust and spicy sauce. It’s a local favorite and a must-try for any pizza lover visiting the area.

For a taste of the Midwest, head to one of the many farm-to-table restaurants, offering locally sourced ingredients and fresh, seasonal produce. Or, explore the region’s craft beer scene, with breweries like Bent River Brewing Company and Great River Brewery, serving up unique and delicious brews.

Don’t forget to save room for dessert – the Quad Cities are also known for their tasty and creative desserts, from the classic salted caramel ice cream to the innovative chocolate-covered bacon.

Quad Cities food scene

The Best Restaurants in the Quad Cities

RestaurantCuisineAddress
Bass Street Chop HouseSteakhouse1601 River Dr, Moline, IL 61265
Creative Arts and SushiSushi225 E 2nd St, Davenport, IA 52801
Hallowed GroundsCoffee Shop4619 34th St, Rock Island, IL 61201
Lagomarcino’sIce Cream Shop1422 5th Ave, Moline, IL 61265
Parkside GrillAmerican2307 5th Ave, Moline, IL 61265

These are just a few of the many great restaurants to try in the Quad Cities. Wherever you go, you’re sure to find delicious food and drink to satisfy your cravings.

Immerse Yourself in Art at the Art Institute of Chicago

Step into the world of art at the Art Institute of Chicago, one of the premier museums in the United States. Located in the heart of downtown Chicago, this world-renowned museum houses an impressive collection of artworks from a variety of cultures and time periods. From classical ancient artifacts to contemporary masterpieces, the Art Institute of Chicago’s vast collection offers a journey through the history of art.

The museum’s collection includes notable works such as Vincent van Gogh’s “The Bedroom,” Grant Wood’s “American Gothic,” and Georges Seurat’s “A Sunday on La Grande Jatte.” The Art Institute of Chicago also features special exhibitions throughout the year, showcasing the works of internationally acclaimed artists.

Art Institute of Chicago

Explore the Museum’s Diverse Collections

With over 300,000 artworks, the Art Institute of Chicago’s collection is one of the most extensive in the world. The museum boasts several collections, including American Art, Ancient and Byzantine, African, East Asian, Contemporary Art, European Painting, Modern Art, Textiles, Photography, and Prints and Drawings.

CollectionHallmark Works
American ArtGrant Wood’s “American Gothic,” Mary Cassatt’s “The Child’s Bath,” and Edward Hopper’s “Nighthawks.”
Ancient and ByzantineMarble statues from ancient Greece and Rome, ancient Near Eastern seals and tablets, and Byzantine icons and mosaics.
AfricanTraditional masks, sculptures, and textiles from various African cultures.
East AsianChinese and Japanese art, including ceramics, paintings, and calligraphy.
Contemporary ArtPablo Picasso’s “The Old Guitarist,” Jackson Pollock’s “Greyed Rainbow,” and Andy Warhol’s “Campbell’s Soup Cans.”
European PaintingVincent van Gogh’s “The Bedroom,” Johannes Vermeer’s “A Lady Writing,” and Rembrandt van Rijn’s “The Old Guitarist.”
Modern ArtHenri Matisse’s “Bathers by a River,” Pablo Picasso’s “Head of a Woman,” and Joan Miró’s “The Farm.”
TextilesEmbroideries, tapestries, and woven textiles from various cultures and time periods.
PhotographyClassic and contemporary photographs, including works by Ansel Adams, Diane Arbus, and Cindy Sherman.
Prints and DrawingsPrints and drawings from the Renaissance to the present, including works by Albrecht Dürer, Francisco Goya, and Edward Hopper.

Plan your visit to the Art Institute of Chicago today and experience the beauty and power of art for yourself.

Step into the Past at Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site

Immerse yourself in the fascinating history of the ancient Native American city at Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site, located in Collinsville, Illinois. This remarkable UNESCO World Heritage Site offers a glimpse into the rich culture of the Mississippians, who built this vibrant metropolis nearly 1,000 years ago.

Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site

The site covers over 2,200 acres and features 80 mounds, including the imposing Monks Mound, one of the largest earthen structures ever created. The mounds served numerous purposes, from religious ceremonies to elite residences, and archaeologists have uncovered numerous artifacts that reveal the city’s impressive technological achievements.

Discover the Interpretive Center

To fully appreciate the history of the site, make sure to visit the Interpretive Center, which boasts numerous exhibits that showcase the life and times of the Mississippians. You can also explore the reconstructed Woodhenge, an astronomical calendar made of wooden posts that aligns with the summer and winter solstices.

“The mounds of Cahokia are one of the most impressive earthworks in North America, and an important monument of American Indian culture.”

James Henry Breasted, pioneering American archaeologist

Join a Guided Tour

To gain a deeper understanding of the site and its place in history, you can join a guided tour led by knowledgeable and passionate interpreters. The tours cover different areas of the site and offer insights into the daily lives of the Mississippians, as well as the significance of the mounds in their culture.

Plan Your Visit

Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site is open year-round, and admission is free of charge. The Interpretive Center has a nominal fee, with discounts available for children, seniors, and military personnel. Keep in mind that the site is spread out across a large area, so wear comfortable shoes and dress for the weather. Don’t forget to bring a camera to capture the breathtaking scenery.

Conclusion

Now that you’ve discovered the top 10 must-visit attractions in Illinois, it’s time to start planning your trip. Whether you’re a nature lover, history buff, or foodie, Illinois has something for everyone. From the vibrant city of Chicago to the peaceful beauty of the Anderson Japanese Gardens, you’ll find a wealth of unique experiences to explore. Don’t forget to indulge in the local cuisine, explore the museums and cultural sites, and take in the stunning natural landscapes that this state has to offer.

So pack your bags and get ready to embrace the charm and allure of Illinois. Plan your itinerary, book your accommodations, and get ready for an adventure you’ll never forget. Illinois is waiting for you to explore its hidden gems and make unforgettable memories.

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