Skip to Content

Illinois Travel Guide: Travel Tips for Visiting

As an experienced traveler, I’ve been fortunate enough to explore Illinois’s diverse landscapes and attractions.

In this Illinois travel guide, I’ll share my insights on the best things to do in Illinois, where to stay, how to get around, and essential travel tips to make your visit to Illinois a memorable adventure.

Best Things to Do in Illinois

1. Chicago

Chicago River sailboats near Civic Opera Building, urban beauty and architecture
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

Chicago boasts an energetic atmosphere steeped in a rich tapestry of history and cultural heritage. Nestled against the vast expanse of Lake Michigan, it stands as the United States’ third most populous metropolis. The city’s distinctive skyline and lively districts offer a plethora of attractions for every kind of visitor.

Home to first-rate museums such as the Art Institute of Chicago and the Field Museum, the city is a haven for art and history enthusiasts. A myriad of dining options, performance spaces, and live music spots provide an array of gastronomic delights and entertainment. Baseball aficionados can root for the Cubs or the White Sox at the historic Wrigley Field or the contemporary U.S. Cellular Field.

For those drawn to the outdoors, Chicago’s green spaces and conservation areas, like the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore and the verdant Lincoln Park Zoo, present ample opportunities for leisurely lakeside walks and invigorating forest treks. Chicago delivers a full spectrum of urban and natural experiences. Be sure to read our full Chicago travel guide to make the most of your trip.

2. Springfield

Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library in Springfield

Springfield, Illinois, is the capital city of the state of Illinois and the county seat of Sangamon County. It is located in central Illinois along the Sangamon River.

Springfield is home to several notable landmarks, including the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, the Dana-Thomas House, and the Lincoln Home National Historic Site.

It is also home to several universities and colleges, including the University of Illinois at Springfield, Lincoln Land Community College, and Benedictine University.

3. Starved Rock State Park

Lush Greenery in Starved Rock State Park, Illinois
Mykhaylo/Wirestock Creators / Adobe Stock

Nestled along the Illinois River, Starved Rock State Park is a must-visit for nature enthusiasts. With its lush forests, majestic canyons, and gushing waterfalls, the park offers a variety of outdoor activities such as hiking, fishing, and birdwatching.

Covering over 2,630 acres, the park features 18 canyons and 13 miles of trails that take you through breathtaking landscapes, offering picturesque views of the river and surrounding areas.

Visitors can enjoy year-round events, including guided hikes, wildlife programs, and seasonal festivals. The park transforms into a snowy wonderland in the winter, providing cross-country skiing and ice-climbing opportunities. The park’s visitor center offers exhibits on the area’s natural and cultural history, providing valuable information to enhance your visit.

4. Galena

Grant Park in Galena, Illinois during daylight
Unknown Unknown325/Wirestock / Adobe Stock

Step back in time as you stroll through the historic town of Galena. Renowned for its well-preserved 19th-century architecture, the charming village has numerous boutiques, art galleries, and restaurants, making it an ideal destination for a leisurely getaway.

The town’s Main Street, lined with beautifully restored red brick buildings, offers over 100 shops and eateries to explore, showcasing a range of unique items, artisanal products, and local cuisine.

Galena’s rich history comes to life with various historical sites and attractions, including the Ulysses S. Grant Home, the Old Market House, and the Galena & U.S. Grant Museum.

The town also boasts a vibrant arts scene, with numerous galleries and studios showcasing the works of local and regional artists. For outdoor enthusiasts, the surrounding area offers ample opportunities for hiking, biking, golfing, and even hot air balloon rides.

5. Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site

View of Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site
Zack Frank / Adobe Stock

Immerse yourself in ancient history at Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Once a thriving Native American city, the site boasts earthen mounds and remnants of structures that provide a glimpse into the lives of the ancient Mississippian culture.

Covering 2,200 acres, the site contains 80 mounds, the largest of which is the 100-foot-tall Monk Mound. Visitors can climb the mound for panoramic views of the surrounding landscape.

The on-site Interpretive Center offers interactive exhibits and displays, providing insights into the history and culture of the Mississippian people. Additionally, the site hosts special events and programs throughout the year, including archaeology days, storytelling sessions, and guided tours.

With its rich history and unique archaeological features, Cahokia Mounds is a fascinating destination for history buffs and curious travelers.

6. Garden of the Gods

Camel Rock Garden of the gods in Illinois
dvande / Shutterstock

The Garden of the Gods offers a breathtaking panorama of unique rock formations, cliffs, and dense forests in the Shawnee National Forest.

The park’s main attraction is the 0.5-mile Observation Trail, which takes you through fascinating sandstone formations such as Camel Rock, Anvil Rock, and Devil’s Smokestack. The trail also offers awe-inspiring views of the surrounding wilderness, making it a perfect spot for photography enthusiasts.

The area’s geological wonders date back over 320 million years, and the park is home to various flora and fauna, making it a great destination for nature lovers. The Shawnee National Forest also provides hiking, rock climbing, horseback riding, and camping opportunities, allowing visitors to immerse themselves fully in the region’s beauty.

7. Anderson Japanese Gardens

Wooden bridge and lake at Anderson Japanese Gardens, Rockford, Illinois
Victahh1/Wirestock Creators / Adobe Stock

Experience tranquility and serenity at the Anderson Japanese Gardens in Rockford. The beautifully designed gardens cover 12 acres and feature traditional Japanese elements such as koi-filled ponds, tea houses, and meandering pathways, making it a perfect spot for relaxation and reflection.

Carefully crafted by landscape architect Hoichi Kurisu, the gardens promote peace, harmony, and a deep connection to nature. As you wander through the gardens, you’ll encounter a variety of features, including waterfalls, ornamental bridges, and meticulously pruned trees and shrubs.

The garden’s plants and flowers are carefully chosen to provide a visual feast throughout the changing seasons, ensuring a captivating experience for visitors all year round.

In addition to its stunning landscapes, the Anderson Japanese Gardens offer a range of cultural and educational programs, including tea ceremonies, origami workshops, and traditional Japanese music performances. These events allow visitors to immerse themselves in Japanese culture and further enhance their experience of the gardens.

8. Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum

Building exerior of Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum in Springfield, Illinois
JHVEPhoto – stock.adobe.com

The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum is a world-class institution in Springfield, Illinois. It is dedicated to the life and legacy of the 16th President of the United States, Abraham Lincoln, and contains an extensive collection of his papers and artifacts.

The museum features interactive exhibits that highlight the critical events of Lincoln’s life, from his early years as a lawyer and politician to his election as President and his leadership during the Civil War.

Visitors can see authentic artifacts such as his famous top hat, the Emancipation Proclamation, and the gloves he wore to his second inauguration. The library also offers an expansive research facility for scholars and historians to explore Lincoln’s life and career.

Read Also: Things to Do in Joliet

Where to stay in Illinois

Illinois offers a wide range of accommodations to suit every traveler’s needs. Here are my top recommendations for places to stay during your visit:

  1. Chestnut Mountain Resort (Galena)
  2. Eagle Ridge Resort & Spa (Galena)
  3. Hotel Baker (St. Charles)
  4. Goldmoor Inn (Galena)
  5. The Herrington Inn & Spa (Geneva)>
  6. Hilton Garden Inn O’Hare (Des Plaines)
  7. Pere Marquette Lodge & Conference Center (Grafton)
  8. Inn at 835 (Springfield)
  9. Harrah’s Joliet Casino & Hotel (Joliet)
  10. The DeSoto House Hotel (Galena)

How to Get Around in Illinois

Getting around Illinois is relatively easy, with various transportation options available. While public transportation is limited outside major cities, renting a car is convenient for exploring the state’s diverse attractions. RentalCars.com is a great resource for comparing car rental options and finding the best deal for your visit.

Mode of TransportationDetails
PlaneMain Airports: O’Hare International, Midway International. Other Airports: 18 public airports, including Springfield, Peoria, Rockford, Moline, Bloomington-Normal.
TrainChicago Transit Authority (CTA) trains: Blue Line ‘L’ from O’Hare (45 mins), Orange Line from Midway (25 mins), both to downtown Chicago.
BusGreyhound Lines: Express routes to Chicago from 20 major US cities; services other Illinois destinations.
CarInterstate Highways: I-24, I-39, I-41, I-55, I-57, I-64, I-70, I-72, I-74, I-80, I-88, I-90, I-94. Toll Roads: I-PASS or Pay-By-Plate available.
Driving LawsSeatbelts are mandatory, helmets for motorcyclists, no texting, hands-free calls only. Speed limits: 70 mph rural, 65 mph urban.
Source: Enjoy Illinois

Travel Tips for Visiting Illinois

Illinois offers a unique blend of natural beauty, rich history, and cultural attractions. To make the most of your trip, consider these essential travel tips:

Be Prepared for Changing Weather

women packing a gray suitcase

Illinois experiences a wide range of weather conditions throughout the year. Be sure to check the forecast before your trip and pack accordingly. Layered clothing is smart, as temperatures can fluctuate significantly during the day.

Embrace the Great Outdoors

Bell Tower in Naperville, Illinois
Mike M Martin / Shutterstock

Illinois is a treasure trove of natural beauty, with many state parks, forests, and natural areas to explore. Whether you’re an avid hiker or a casual stroller, there’s something for everyone here.

Trails range from easy, paved paths to challenging, rocky terrain, offering stunning views of Illinois’ unique landscape. Illinois has it all, whether you’re looking for a peaceful retreat in the calm of nature or an invigorating workout with a view.

Don’t Overlook Small Towns

North view over Island Park in Geneva, Illinois
Roscoe Kramboe / Shutterstuck

While cities like Chicago and Springfield are popular destinations, don’t hesitate to venture off the beaten path and explore the charm of small towns like Galena, Grafton, or Geneva. These towns often have unique attractions, local shops, and a friendly atmosphere.

Protect Yourself with Travel Insurance

Travel Insurance Form and Travel Documents
photobyphotoboy / Adobe Stock

Unforeseen events can occur during your trip, so investing in travel insurance is wise. VisitorsCoverage.com offers a variety of insurance options to suit your needs and ensure peace of mind during your visit to Illinois.

Overview and Travel Essentials
Overview
Location
Illinois
Time Zone
CST (UTC-6)/CDT (UTC-5)
Driving Side
Right
Measurement System
Imperial
Internet TLD
.us
Travel Essentials
Currency
USD $
Electrical Standards
Type A & B, 120V, 60Hz
Emergency Numbers
917
Language Codes
EN
Mobile Country Code
1
UNESCO World Heritage Sites

Map

Our Top Travel Guides

More from ViaTravelers

View our Illinois Pictures & Images for more stunning visuals of Illinois.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

    ↑ Top