Illinois — Attractions
Chicago alone is enough of an attraction to absorb an entire vacation to Illinois. But this state also has small, historic towns along the mighty Mississippi River, dozens of wineries in the Great River Valley, and more than a couple of major amusement and water parks. Its scenic byways offer days of leisurely countryside cruising and cover the McHenry County farming region, follow the state’s massive rivers, and wind through its rolling hills.
Nearly all of Illinois’ attractions are found in and around Chicago, one of America’s greatest cities. From the beaches and paved paths around Lake Michigan to the iconic fountain at Grant Park, nature is never far from the urban pleasures of shopping along the Magnificent Mile or dining in Chicago’s gentrified neighborhoods. The free Lincoln Park Zoo, the impressive Art Institute, and a picture at Cloud Gate (“the Bean”) or the Ledge at the Willis (Sears) Tower are essential experiences. At night, the Goodman Theater and Lyric Opera host some of America’s top performing artists.
Address: Northern Illinois
Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library & Museum
The capital of Illinois is actually in Springfield, the hometown of legendary US President Abe Lincoln. His Presidential Library is one of the most significant in the country because of the priceless treasures on display, such as the original Gettysburg Address. The center is a fantastic look into the personal and political life of this iconic American leader.
Address: Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library & Museum, 212 N 6th Street, Springfield, IL 62701
John Hancock Observatory
From the observation deck on this landmark on the edge of Chicago, you can see into four states and across over 80 miles on clear days. Be sure and try the open-air Sky Walk for a cool high wire experience or catch the fireworks at Navy Pier when the city is hosting a special celebration.
Address: John Hancock Observatory, 875 N. Michigan Avenue, Chicago, IL 60611
One of the most charming historic towns in Illinois sits along the banks of the Mississippi River. Its 19th century downtown area is perfectly preserved as how it looked when the town was a major river port. There are several attractions in the area including the home of General Ulysses S Grant, the charming Old Market House, and the Washburne House. The downtown is full of quaint mom and pop shops with a trolley to get around.
Address: Northwestern Illinois
Starved Rock State Park
Arguably the prettiest of the 50 state parks in Illinois is Starved Rock, located just outside the town of Utica. There’s a great mix of Native American archaeological sites, colonial-era settlements, and natural beauty interspersed within the park’s 3,000 acres of recreation.
Address: Starved Rock State Park, Route 178 and Route 71, Utica, IL 61373
Lincoln Park Zoo
One of America’s greatest zoos is found right in the heart of Chicago and it’s free for all to enjoy. Animal-friendly habitats include the Regenstein African Journey, the Sea Lion Pool, and the Regenstein Center for African Apes. What really makes Lincoln Park Zoo stand out is that it feels more like an open air botanical garden than a concrete confinement and wildlife aside, it’s a lovely park to stroll on any day of the year.
Address: Lincoln Park Zoo, 2200 N. Cannon Drive, Chicago, IL 60614
This entertainment complex in the center of downtown Chicago covers 50 acres of lakefront promenade. With dozens of shops, restaurants, and pubs, many feature al fresco dining with stunning views of the lake. There’s an amusement park, a massive Ferris wheel, an IMAX theater, and even the Chicago Children’s Museum. Dinner and sightseeing cruises depart from the pier continuously day or night for cool view of the skyline, making Navy Pier one of the city’s most popular attractions for kids and adults alike.
Address: Navy Pier, 600 East Grand Avenue, Chicago, IL 60611
Great River Valley
This magical region of Illinois follows the river basin of the mighty Mississippi as it flows southward. One of the state’s most popular scenic byways, the Illinois River Road winds its way through hundreds of historic and natural attractions. By many accounts, this drive is one of America’s finest, especially in the Midwest region. Besides the old towns like Peoria, Ottawa, and Princeton, more than a dozen wineries are open to visitors. Throw in a handful of pretty state parks and you’ve got the makings of a classic multi-day road trip.
Address: central Illinois