Illinois is the Land of Lincoln, the site of the first McDonald’s and the first state to abolish slavery. With all these accolades, it’s bound to be a great state to visit.
Ronald Reagan, Michelle Obama and Walt Disney top the list of famous people from this state known for wide open spaces and big cities, alike.
There’s a lot going on in this state and there are plenty of places to immerse yourself in nature or have a night on the town in the glitz of the big city.
Let’s explore all there is to do in this place of beauty and fascination. Read on for a list of the most interesting and beautiful places to visit in Illinois.
As Frank Sinatra said, “Chicago is my kind of town”!
I realized this on my recent trip to Chi Town in the beginning of spring. I stayed on the waterfront and the night lights dazzling off the Chicago River were stunning! I got to visit the largest Starbucks in the world, explored the city by bike (with a tour and alone) and also stopped by the famous Field Museum.
By day, I explored the history and sights of the city and by night we ate our way down Michigan Avenue. When you visit, don’t miss Navy Pier, Cloud Gate, Daly Park, Willis Tower or a chance to take a terrific tour of the city by a knowledgeable guide by bike, Segway or on foot.
Chicago is exciting and beautiful, especially at night. Take a cruise down the Chicago River and learn about the amazing architecture and the people that have made this city so great.
Chicago is not only the best place to start your tour of Illinois, but a must see city if you are touring the United States. So, put this on your list of places to visit in Illinois, for sure!
Starved Rock State Park
Despite today being one of the most beautiful places to visit in Illinois, Starved Rock State Park has a horrendous past from which its named is derived.
Years ago, a skirmish arose after the Illinois and Pottawatomie tribes met for a tribal council meeting in which Chief Pontiac was stabbed. Vengeance against the Illinois by Chief Pontiac’s followers ensued. The Illinois took refuge on a great rock for fear of dying. They were then surrounded and starved to death on the rock, giving the park it name.
Today however, there is nothing horrible about this park. Waterfalls and nature abound from every view. Thirteen miles of hiking trails make this a favorite park to explore in all seasons.
Come camp in their 133 site campground that includes electricity at every site and then enjoy the park by day. Climb to the top of Starved Rock and try seeing one of the many resident bald eagles in the park. This park is to be enjoyed by all that visit Illinois and is great anytime of year.
Home to Abraham Lincoln and Route 66, Springfield, Illinois is not only beautiful and interesting but full of history and fun. Springfield is one of those places you can’t overlook when on your tour of great places in Illinois.
If you are looking for the quirky, then Springfield has you covered. Visit the Route 66 Drive-In for a sample of yesteryear fun. Stop by Recycled Records, the largest independent record stores in the nation. Lastly, take a tour of some iconic Route 66 stops such the Lauterbach Giant, The Historic Route 66 Brick Road and pick up a Horseshoe Sandwich at Maldaner’s.
Springfield is also home to the largest concentration of Lincoln Sites. Begin at the Lincoln Home National Historic Site and then move on to the Lincoln-Herndon Law Offices and Lincoln Tomb. Don’t miss The Lincoln Depot that started his Inaugural Tour to Washington D.C.
There’s so much to see in this town, you definitely need a few days to complete your tour!
Matthiessen State Park
Lovers of history, geology and WATERFALLS will love this fantastic state park in Illinois. Hike or snowshoe the trails depending on what time of year, or just come and sit on an outcrop and gaze at the marvelous view before you.
Don’t miss the 2.7 mile loop that winds through the canyons and cliffs of this gorgeous park. Fall is a magnificent time to visit as the leaves turn every shade of red, gold, orange and brown.
This is also a great place for families as children love the nooks and crannies, bridges and river crossings in this unique setting. Bring a picnic and make a day out of this little adventure in one of the best places to hike in Illinois.
You know if a town has a place called the”Heluva Half Mile”, it’s got to be good.
This little town isn’t considered one of Illinois’ best places to visit for nothing!
Galena is an old historic mining town that has been able to preserve its history through the red brick buildings that have graced the downtown area since the mid 1800’s.
Narrow, historic streets are flanked by retail and gastro delights of every kind. Choose from breweries, steakhouses and even Chinese food, if that’s what your craving. Walk the main street and grab a treat or start your holiday shopping. There’s so much to explore on this street, where a staggering 75% of its buildings are on the National Historic Registry.
If you’re up for a scenic tour, hop on the Galena Trolley Tours trolley. Here you can see historic homes and mansions, as well as the gorgeous hills and valleys that were missed by the glaciers during the Ice Age. Science and nature combined to make the perfect place to mine the town’s namesake, galena!
Willis Tower Skydeck
When my family and I gazed up at this 110 story American icon, I couldn’t believe I was about to tour the second tallest building in the Western Hemisphere. When I was young and it was the Sears Tower, it had the distinction of being the tallest building in the world. But, alas, technology and innovation have pushed the tower down to the 12th largest in the world, today.
This by no means takes away from it grandeur. Not to mention the view to the crystal clear Caribbean-like waters of Lake Michigan and the fortress of buildings in its foreground.
I thought riding up to the 103rd floor of the Willis Tower would be thrilling and it was. However, when you step out onto the clear floor of the Skydeck and look 1,353 feet below you, it is a thrill that can’t be topped.
Do yourself a favor and when you are in Chicago, pay the $30.00 to stand over Chicago with nothing but a thin sheet of glass. It is the most exhilarating thing you can do in the state of Illinois!
Anderson Japanese Gardens
Come walk through what has been said to be one of the highest quality Japanese gardens in the country, and one of the most beautiful places in Illinois. This serene and beautiful 12 acre garden is a great spot to relax and even meditate, whether you walk by waterfalls on winding pathways or relax by streams and gaze at the alluring koi ponds that dot the property.
Spending time at the Anderson Japanese Gardens is a great way to connect with a loved one or just immerse yourself in nature while you contemplate life.
Afterwards, you can enjoy some tasty dining at Fresco, where you can sit inside or outside, while taking in wonderful view of the gardens. This is a great place for a date night and you will be sure to impress with this pick.
Lincoln’s New Salem
Out of all the places that you can visit in Illinois, Lincoln’s New Salem will transport you back to Lincoln’s time more so than any other spot.
Lincoln’s New Salem is a replica of the town in which Lincoln spent his early adulthood and formed so many of the values and opinions that helped form America.
Visit the town blacksmith or the gentleman railsplitter and see how things were made in the earlier part of the 19th century. This is one of the top Illinois places to visit for history buffs, so don’t miss it!
You may already know of Machu Picchu, Teotihuacán and the Great Pyramids… but Illinois’ historic Cahokia Mounds belong in the same category as these great human feats due to their extraordinary scale and history.
The Cahokia Mounds are a 2,200 acre historic tract of land that is the most sophisticated prehistoric native civilization north of Mexico. At one time, more than 20,000 people lived, worked and raised their families in a society that was larger than London in A.D.1250.
Remnants of grand architecture from homes to public buildings can be found in 81 separate mounds on this ancient ground.
Come tour the interpretive Center and learn how the extraordinary Cahokia people kept such a thriving community prosperous for almost 1000 years.
If ever in the Chicago area, your visit would not be complete without a visit to Millennium Park, one of the best places to explore in Illinois. Set right off of great Lake Michigan and in the vibrant downtown Chicago area, there are so many things to explore and enjoy in this great city park.
Come see a concert at the Jay Ptritzker Pavillion in the summer and enjoy the surroundings of the beautiful and historical highrise buildings of Chicago. Walk around the park and taste the flavor of Chicago with a footlong hot dog or Frito Pie.
Of course, you can’t miss the crown jewel of the park with a deep look into “Cloud Gate” a.k.a. “The Bean”. This mirrored work of art that reflects all of the best parts of Chicago in its stainless steel finish is enjoyed by over 5 million visitors a year.
I never visit Chicago without getting a selfie of myself getting a selfie of myself in this iconic Illinois landmark.
Route 66 Motorheads Bar Grill and Museum
One of the most popular restaurants in Illinois is the outrageously fun Route 66 Motorheads restaurant. Come visit and get an experience like no other while you get a taste of America.
The All-American memorabilia that covers the walls speak of the days of yesteryear and adds such a fun element along with great tasting food to your road trip. Visit on one of the nights there is a great game of Bingo going or try out your favorite karaoke song for all to enjoy.
After tasting a bit of Americana, take a stroll through the Motorheads Museum and enjoy muscle cars, vintage signage from the old days and nostalgic pieces of Springfield and the state of Illinois.
Did we miss anything you would like to see in Illinois? We’d love to hear from you!
Leave what you’d like to see in the comments!