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As an experienced traveler, I’ve been fortunate enough to explore the diverse landscapes and attractions Illinois offers. 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
- 2. Springfield
- 3. Starved Rock State Park
- 4. Galena
- 5. Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site
- 6. Garden of the Gods
- 7. Anderson Japanese Gardens
- 8. Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum
- Where to stay in Illinois
- How to Get Around in Illinois
- Travel Tips for Visiting Illinois
- Be Prepared for Changing Weather
- Embrace the Great Outdoors
- Don’t Overlook Small Towns
- Protect Yourself with Travel Insurance
Best Things to Do in Illinois
Chicago is a vibrant city full of history and culture. Located on the shores of Lake Michigan, it is the third-largest city in the United States. From its iconic skyline to its bustling neighborhoods, Chicago has something for everyone.
The city has world-class museums, including the Art Institute of Chicago and the Field Museum. There are also countless restaurants, theaters, and music venues offering a variety of cuisine and entertainment. Sports fans can cheer on the Cubs or the White Sox at Wrigley Field or U.S. Cellular Field. No matter what your interests are, there’s something for everyone in Chicago.
Chicago is also a great place to explore nature. The city has parks and nature reserves, such as the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore and the Lincoln Park Zoo. Whether you’re looking for a relaxing stroll along the lakefront or an adventurous hike in the woods, Chicago has it all.
From shopping and entertainment to culture and nature, Chicago has something to offer everyone. It’s no wonder why it’s one of the most popular cities in the world.
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.
Springfield is a vibrant and diverse city that offers a variety of activities and attractions for visitors to enjoy. From its charming historic downtown district to its numerous museums and galleries, Springfield has something for everyone.
3. Starved Rock State Park
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.
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
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
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 in the region’s beauty fully.
7. Anderson Japanese Gardens
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
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. The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum is a must-see destination for anyone interested in American history or the life of one of America’s most iconic figures.
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:
- Chestnut Mountain Resort (Galena)
- Eagle Ridge Resort & Spa (Galena)
- Hotel Baker (St. Charles)
- Goldmoor Inn (Galena)
- The Herrington Inn & Spa (Geneva)>
- Hilton Garden Inn O’Hare (Des Plaines)
- Pere Marquette Lodge & Conference Center (Grafton)
- Inn at 835 (Springfield)
- Harrah’s Joliet Casino & Hotel (Joliet)
- 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.
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
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
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
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
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.
- About the Author
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Kyle Kroeger is the Founder and Owner of ViaTravelers.com. He is a full-time traveler and entrepreneur. Kyle started ViaTravelers.com to help travelers experience a fully immersive cultural experience as he did initially living in Italy. He’s a converted finance nerd and Excel jockey turned world wanderer (and may try to get lost on purpose). After visiting 12 countries and 13 national parks in a year, he was devoted to creating and telling stories like he’d heard.
Plus, after spending more time on airplanes and packing, he’s learned some incredible travel hacks over time as he earned over 1 million Chase Ultimate Rewards points in under a year, helping him maximize experiences as much as possible to discover the true meaning of travel.
He loves listening to local stories from around the world and sharing his experiences traveling the globe. He loves travel so much that he moved from his hometown of Minneapolis to Amsterdam with his small family to travel Europe full-time.