Looking for the top things to do in Illinois? Here are the best places to visit in Illinois for both adults and kids including fun cities, charming small towns and beautiful natural attractions.
Best Things to Do & Best Places to Visit in Illinois
Disclosure: This article contains affiliate links. This means that if you make a booking after clicking on these links, I may earn a small commission (at no additional cost to you). As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.
Best Places to Visit in Illinois
If your time is limited, below are my top 5 places to visit in Illinois. I have listed the remaining things to do and see by region.
Chicago (my hometown) is the best place to visit in Illinois for anyone that enjoys big cities. There are a lot of bucket list worthy things to do in Chicago including taking photos of The Bean at Millennium Park, taking in the views from an architecture river cruise and watching a baseball game at historic Wrigley Field. Read: 3 Days in Chicago: Weekend Itinerary and Best Things to Do in Chicago in the Summer
2) Starved Rock State Park
Explore Starved Rock State Park (one of the most popular attractions in Illinois) which has great hikes, stunning sandstone cliffs, canyons and beautiful waterfalls. Visitors can also enjoy outdoor activities year round, including horseback riding, ice climbing, cross-country skiing, as well as fishing, kayaking and rafting on the Illinois River.
Galena is a charming and historic small town. It is a great place to visit on a weekend getaway whether on a romantic trip or traveling with kids. A large portion of the city is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and there are many historical sights to explore including the Ulysses S. Grant Home, the Elihu B. Washburne House, Dowling House and the Old Market House.
Some things to do in Galena including shopping downtown at the many boutiques and antique stores, eating at local restaurants and wine tasting at local vineyards or exploring the lush rivers and hiking trails dotted throughout the area. Galena is close to Apple River Canyon State Park, an Illinois state park, where you can go hiking, fishing and more.
4) Shawnee National Forest
Nestled between the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers in southern Illinois, the Shawnee National Forest is full of natural beauty, making it ideal for outdoor recreation from hiking to climbing. The stunning Shawnee National Forest landscape features woodlands, hills, lakes, creeks, rock formations, cliffs and bluffs. You can also see wildlife such as bad eagles.
Shawnee National Forest is the best place to go hiking in Illinois with spectacular views. Trails include the long River to River Trail and the Rim Rock National Recreational Trail. The must see attraction is the Garden of the Gods wilderness area featuring ancient sandstone cliffs and formations. Climbers should not miss the Jackson Falls climb on 60 feet of sandstone cliffs and boulders that include numerous freestanding towers.
If you enjoy wine, The Shawnee Hills Wine Trail features 11 wineries located along a 35-mile scenic drive along highway 127 and highway 51 in the Shawnee National Forest.
Stay: Riverview Mansion Hotel (a unique boutique style mansion)
Visit Springfield, the historic capital of Illinois, where Abraham Lincoln lived prior to his presidency. Must see attractions include the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, the Lincoln Home National Historic Site (his family home) and Lincoln’s tomb in Oak Ridge Cemetery. It is also worth visiting the Illinois State Capitol as well as the Old State Capitol State Historic Site.
Top Things to do in the Chicago Area
Below are the top things to do in the Chicago area:
- See the Baháʼí House of Worship in Wilmette, one of eight Baháʼí temples in the world and the only one in of North America. The temple is open to the public and used as a devotional space for people of any faith. Even for those not interested in going inside, it is worth seeing the beautiful exterior.
- Admire homes designed by Frank Lloyd Wright in Oak Park (a suburb of Chicago) which is home to the world’s largest collection of designed sites by the famous architect. Take a walking tour of the Wright District, an area of prairie-style homes designed by Frank Lloyd Wright including the Frank Lloyd Wright’s Home and Studio, and Unity Temple, a Wright–designed church considered to be one of his most important structures.
- Explore the Morton Arboretum in Lisle (about 26 miles west of Chicago) which is home to more than 4,000 different types of trees among 1,700 acres and one of the best places in the Chicago area to see fall colors. The Arboretum is full of hiking and biking trails or you can just drive through.
- Visit the Chicago Botanic Garden in Glencoe (about 24 miles north of Chicago), one of the world’s great living museums and conservation science centers with 27 gardens and four natural areas. You can explore the Garden by walking or a tram tour.
- See the beautiful architecture of BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir Complex in Bartlett, a traditional Hindu place of worship built of intricate hand-carved Italian marble and Turkish limestone.
- Bike or hike the Fox River Bike Trail, a 40 mile long bike trail alongside historic railroad lines, crossing six bridges and passing through nature preserves and charming towns like St. Charles.
- Have fun at Six Flags Great America, a large amusement park located in Gurnee.
Read: Best Things to Do in the Chicago Suburbs for more things to do in the suburbs of Chicago.
Things to Do in Northern Illinois
Below are the top things to do in the rest of northern Illinois:
- Explore Matthiessen State Park, which is less crowded as nearby Starved Rock State Park but just as beautiful, with similar natural features such as canyons and beautiful waterfalls.
- Visit the city of Rockford. Must see attractions include Anderson Japanese Gardens (a large beautiful Japanese garden), Discovery Center Museum (a great family museum), Nicholas Conservatory and Gardens, Burpee Museum of Natural History, Tinker Swiss Cottage Museum and the Rockford Art Museum.
- Stop by Joliet, home to the Joliet Museum and the Rialto Square Theatre.
- Get your photo taken with the Gemini Giant, a fiberglass “Muffler Man” statue holding a rocket in Wilmington. Also check out nearby Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie, the largest tallgrass prairie restoration in North America.
Things to Do in Central Illinois
Below are the top things to do in central Illinois:
- Visit Pontiac, a small city located about 100 miles from Chicago on historic Route 66. Must see attractions in Pontiac include the IL Route 66 Association Hall of Fame & Museum, the Pontiac-Oakland Automobile Museum and the Route 66 Shield Mural.
- Stop by Litchfield, known for its Route 66 icons and lake.
- See Casey, a charming historic small town which is known for its huge roadside attractions (including 12 certified Guinness World Record World’s Largest attractions).
Things to Do in the Southern Illinois
Below are the top things to do in southern Illinois:
- See Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site, the largest pre-Columbian settlement north of Mexico and the only UNESCO World Heritage Site in Illinois.
- Visit Metropolis (the “Hometown of Superman”) to see its 15ft bronze statue of Superman. You can also visit the Super Museum, which has of the largest Superman collections in the world, including artifacts from various Superman movies and television shows.
- Check out the Popeye Character Trail in Chester (the “Home of Popeye” and birthplace of Popeye’s creator E.C. Segar). The trail is made up of a large bronze statue of Popeye and other character statues.
- See the Old Chain of Rocks Bridge, a historic bridge over the Mississippi River which is open for walking and biking. It is also the scenic endpoint of Route 66 in Illinois.
More Things to do in Illinois
- Drive the Illinois portion of historic Route 66, a classic American road trip with unique roadside attractions, classic diners, kitschy attractions and Route 66 nostalgia.
- Take a scenic road trip along Illinois’ Great River Road, a National Scenic Byway along Illinois’ western border and the Mississippi River, to explore charming downtown locales, scenic stops and historic landmarks.
So there you have it – the best things to do in Illinois. If there is an experience or place you think I should include please let me know in the comments below! What are your favorite places to visit in Illinois?
Need more travel bucket list inspiration? You might enjoy our other travel bucket lists:
- Best Places to Visit in the Midwest
- USA Travel Bucket List: 100+ Best Places to Visit
- Ultimate Travel Bucket List: 100 Things to Do Before You Die