The Land of Lincoln has many wonders, though few visitors realize there is more to the state of Illinois than its shining star, Chicago. The Great River Valley is a fertile scenic byway with a countryside dotted with historic towns, while the southern plains reveal quiet farming communities and more than 50 state parks featuring equal amounts of nature and history.
Chicago is without a doubt the heart and soul of Illinois. America’s third-largest city has a laid back Midwest attitude to match its wonderfully deep and diverse range of attractions and entertainment options. Few tourists actually venture outside of the Windy City, and that’s okay given the sheer quantity and quality of things to do. From incredible nightlife and dining to world-class museums and a full contingent of teams from all the major professional sports in America, there’s no shortage of ways to spend your time in Chicago.
But those who rent a car and head out on one of Illinois’ five classic drives will be rewarded with a taste of the American Midwest, which is refreshingly devoid of tourism, crowds and high prices. People in Illinois are extremely friendly, and outside of Chicago visitors can find hotels, meals, and shopping are of great value.
With all the real highlights clustered in Chicago, the main attraction of exploring Illinois is its countryside as the Illinois River flows into the mighty Mississippi. Historic towns like Galena, wine-growing valleys, and beautiful state parks like Starved Rock ensure loads of reasons to stop the car and linger along the scenic byways.
In Illinois, the Amtrak train is a useful way to travel between a dozen towns in the state, but you will want to have your own car to get anywhere outside of these towns. If you only plan to stay in Chicago, a car is totally unnecessary as the city’s El train is both fun to ride and can get you anywhere you want to go.
- Walk or bike along the 18-mile paved path that runs next to Lake Michigan, through the heart of downtown Chicago
- Learn about the Native American heritage of Illinois by soaking in luxuriant scenery in Starved Rock State Park
- Rent a car and drive down one of Illinois’ five official scenic byways
- Visit the hometown of President Abe Lincoln and check out his Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield
- Roll through downtown Galena in a vintage trolley after a morning of antique hunting
- Catch some live blues, the home of the electrified Chicago blues scene
- Watch a professional baseball game at Chicago’s legendary Wrigley Field