23 BEST THINGS TO DO IN ILLINOIS YOU CAN’T MISS

If you’re looking for an excellent destination for road trips, look no further than the Prairie State. With its rolling hills, lush forests, charming small towns, and top tourist destinations, Illinois offers something for everyone.

With museums, outdoor adventures, Wrigley Field, botanical gardens, historic sites, family-friendly activities and so much more — you’ll never run out of things to do in Illinois.

Here are 23 of the best things to do in Illinois that we know you and your crew will love.

23 BEST THINGS TO DO IN ILLINOIS YOU CAN'T MISS

WILLIS TOWER SKYDECK

The Willis Tower Skydeck is a top attraction in Chicago, offering visitors amazing views of the city from its 103rd floor. So whether you’re looking for a romantic spot to take in the scenery or an unforgettable family outing, the Skydeck is definitely worth a visit.

There’s more to do at the Skydeck than just admire the view, though. You can also step out onto The Ledge, a glass-floored observation deck that extends four feet beyond the edge of the building. If you’re feeling brave, you can even walk around the perimeter of The Ledge!

And don’t forget – true Chicagoans still call it the Sears Tower!

Read More: 47 BEST THINGS TO DO IN CHICAGO YOU CAN’T MISS

ILLINOIS ROUTE 66 HALL OF FAME AND MUSEUM

The Illinois Route 66 Hall of Fame & Museum is a great place to learn about the history of the Mother Road. With images, videos, and artifacts from the early days of Route 66 to the present day, it’s like taking a journey down America’s Main Street.

One of the highlights of a visit to the museum is the Bob Waldmire Experience exhibit. Bob was a famous Route 66 artist and historian, and this exhibit features his work as well as personal items from his life.

Another must-see exhibit is the Road Yacht. This unique piece was built by Bob Waldmire and is a replica of an old-time riverboat. It’s definitely worth checking out!

MILLENNIUM PARK & CLOUD GATE

Millennium Park is a 24.5-acre public park located in the Loop area of downtown Chicago. It was completed in 2004, and is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the city. The park features a number of popular attractions, including the Cloud Gate, Jay Pritzker Pavilion, and Buckingham Fountain.

The park has been praised for its architectural design and has won numerous awards, including the prestigious Parkitecture Award from the American Society of Landscape Architects. It is also one of the most heavily used parks in the city, with over 25 million visitors since it opened. If you’re visiting in the summertime, be sure to stop by for one of their impressive and free Music in the Park concerts for a picnic! 

The Cloud Gate, affectionately and more commonly referred to as “The Bean,” is an impressive sculpture by Anish Kapoor located within Millennium Park. The sculpture is 66 feet long and 33 feet high, and is made of 168 stainless steel plates. It was installed in 2004.

The Bean has been described as “the most photographed object in Chicago.” It has become a popular tourist destination and is one of the most popular attractions in the city. In 2006, it was voted the best public artwork in the United States by Americans for the Arts. I remember during the “great Polar Vortex” when temperatures reached -20 degrees, folks were still out there taking pictures! Chicagoans and tourists alike absolutely adore The Bean.

A visit here is one of the best things to do in Illinois!

Read More: 39 PHENOMENAL AND FREE THINGS TO DO IN CHICAGO

ERNEST HEMINGWAY’S CHILDHOOD HOME

Oak Park, IL, is the childhood home of American writer Ernest Hemingway. The home is now a museum and open to the public. Hemingway lived in the home from birth in 1899 until he was six years old. The home is now filled with memorabilia from Hemingway’s life, including his desk and typewriter.

The home also has a collection of Hemingway’s books and manuscripts. Visitors can learn about Hemingway’s life and writing through exhibits and tours of the home. 

Oak Park itself is a charming Chicago suburb filled with quality restaurants, cafes, and intimate theaters. 

CHICAGO CUBS AT WRIGLEY FIELD

I was lucky enough to grow up seeing the Chicago Cubs play at the delightful Wrigley Field countless times. The Field retains old-time charm with its ivy-covered walls, and there are truly no fans like Cubs fans. 

The Cubs were known for not winning a World Series until 2016, when the streak (or curse) was finally broken. As a result, the surrounding neighborhood, known as Wrigleyville has been revamped with unbeatable energy. If you’re visiting during Game Day – the bars are sure to be packed with fans.

Constructed in 1914, Wrigley Field has been the scene of many memorable moments in Cubs history. The ivy-covered walls and hand-operated scoreboard are just a few of the unique features that make this stadium so special. And, of course, the fans are some of the most passionate in all of sports.

If you’re lucky enough to catch a game at Wrigley Field, you’re sure to have an amazing time.

MAGNIFICENT MILE IN CHICAGO

If you’re ever in Chicago, be sure to check out the Magnificent Mile, a mile-long stretch of high-end shops, restaurants, and hotels.

There’s something for everyone here, so whether you’re looking to splurge on some new clothes or take in a fancy dinner, the Magnificent Mile is definitely worth a visit. And if you’re looking for a place to stay, there are plenty of luxurious hotels to choose from.

Plus, you can pass over the incredible Chicago Riverwalk that offers unbeatable views of Chicago’s famous architecture. 

CHICAGO BOTANIC GARDEN

The Chicago Botanic Garden is one of the world’s most beautiful living museums, and it’s a great place to visit for anyone who wants to learn more about plants and nature. The botanical garden has 27 gardens and four natural areas, all of which are situated on 385 acres of land with six miles of lake shoreline. Additionally, the garden has a renowned Bonsai Collection, that even locals go out of their way to see.

Additionally, the Regenstein Learning Campus is the new centerpiece of the Chicago Botanic Garden. This 26,700-square-foot facility includes indoor and outdoor classrooms, a nature laboratory, Grainger Wing, Astellas Atrium, and ITW Kitchen. The new Nature Play Garden, with its rolling hills and series of multisensory gardens, provides areas for learning, gathering, and hiding.

 If you’re looking for an enjoyable and educational day out, the Chicago Botanic Garden is definitely worth considering.

ULYSSES S. GRANT’S FORMER HOME

The Ulysses S. Grant Home State Historic Site is located in Galena, Illinois, and is the former home of the 18th president of the United States, Ulysses S. Grant. The home was presented to Grant as a gift from the citizens of Galena following his return from the Civil War.

The home is now managed by the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency and has been open to the public since 1904. It even features original furnishings from when President Grant lived there!

Read More: 19 AWESOME THINGS TO DO IN GALENA IL YOU’LL LOVE

GARDEN OF THE GODS

Who says the midwest doesn’t have any real nature?

The Garden of the Gods is a geological park located in Shawnee National Forest in Southern Illinois (this isn’t the one in Colorado Springs). The park features striking red sandstone formations, including towering spires, hoodoos, and monoliths. The rocks were formed over millions of years as sedimentary rock was deposited and then eroded.

The Garden of the Gods was designated a National Natural Landmark in 1972. It is open to the public year-round and offers hiking and biking trails, picnic areas, and camping facilities. Visitors can also enjoy fishing and birdwatching in the park.

This is a popular destination for visitors looking for a taste of “real” nature when in the Midwest, and it is well worth a visit for anyone interested in geology or the great outdoors. 

THE LINCOLN HOME NATIONAL HISTORIC SITE

The Lincoln Home National Historic Site is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Illinois. Located in Springfield, it was the home of President Abraham and Mary Todd Lincoln from 1844 to 1861, and it is now a museum open to the public.

The home has been restored to its original condition, and visitors can see how the Lincolns lived and worked. There are also exhibits about Lincoln’s life and presidency. The Lincoln Home National Historic Site is a must-see for any history buff!

Looking for more? Just a couple blocks away you’ll also find the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library & Museum, which offers exhibits about Lincoln, and a replica of his boyhood cabin.

THE HOME ALONE HOUSE

“KEVIIIIN!”

If you’re a fan of the movie Home Alone, then you’ll definitely want to check out the house where it was filmed just outside of Chicago. While the exterior shots of the house were filmed in Illinois, the interior scenes were shot on a soundstage in Los Angeles. Nonetheless, the home is still open to visitors and is definitely worth a visit if you’re a movie buff.

In 2021, Airbnb remodeled the interior of the home to match the movie set, and a few lucky guests got to live out their Kevin McCallister winter fantasies!

DOWLING HOUSE

If you’re looking for a unique and beautiful place to visit while in Galena, IL, be sure to check out the Dowling House! This stunning mansion is open for guided tours, and it’s definitely worth checking out.

The Dowling House was built in 1826 by John Dowling. The house is made of limestone and features intricate details, like carved woodwork and stained glass windows. At one time, it was the only trading post in all of Galena.

One of the coolest things about the Dowling House is that it’s been restored to look exactly as it did when the Dowlings lived there. You can wander through all of the rooms, including the ballroom and bedrooms, and get a feel for what life was like during the 1800s.

Read More: 19 AWESOME THINGS TO DO IN GALENA IL YOU’LL LOVE

LINCOLN’S NEW SALEM

Lincoln’s New Salem is a reconstruction of the village where Abraham Lincoln lived from 1831 to 1837. The village is located in Petersburg, Illinois, and was reconstructed in the 1930s as part of a project by the Civilian Conservation Corps.

The village is open to the public, and offers visitors a chance to learn more about Lincoln’s life and his early years as a politician. There are several exhibits and displays throughout the village that tell the story of Lincoln’s life in New Salem.

One of the highlights of a visit to Lincoln’s New Salem is a tour of the restored blacksmith shop. The blacksmith shop was where Lincoln learned the trade and practiced his skills. It is also home to one of the largest collections of Lincoln memorabilia in the world.

If you’re looking for a unique and interesting way to learn more about Abraham Lincoln, be sure to visit Lincoln’s New Salem!

NAVY PIER

Navy Pier is a great place to spend an afternoon or evening. There are plenty of activities to keep you busy, from rides and games at the pier’s amusement park to concerts and movie screenings at the pavilion. And with so many restaurants and bars, you’re sure to find something to your taste.

If you’re looking for some beautiful views, be sure to walk along the pier’s promenade. You can also catch a ride on the Ferris wheel for a bird’s-eye view of Chicago.

If you’re a theater buff, grab tickets for a show at the pier’s acclaimed Chicago Shakespeare Theater. There are also plenty of cruise options that begin at the pier, from speed boat taxis to elegant sunset dinner cruises. 

Details: 600 E Grand Ave, Chicago, IL 60611

SHEDD AQUARIUM

The Shedd Aquarium is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Chicago, and for a good reason. It’s home to a staggering 32,000 animals, making it one of the largest aquariums in the world.

The aquarium is housed in a beautiful Art Deco building on the shores of Lake Michigan, and its exhibits range from local fish to exotic sea creatures from all over the world.

There’s something for everyone at the Shedd Aquarium, from educational shows and talks to thrilling exhibits that bring you face to face with sharks. No matter what time of year you visit, there’s always something exciting happening at the Shedd Aquarium.

Details: 1200 S DuSable Lake Shore Dr., Chicago, IL 60605

LINCOLN PARK

If you’re looking for a great place to visit in Chicago, look no further than Lincoln Park. This huge park offers something for everyone, from playgrounds and nature trails to sports fields and museums.

One of the best ways to enjoy Lincoln Park is by renting a bike or taking a walk along the famous lakefront path. You can also visit some of the park’s popular attractions, like the free Lincoln Park Zoo or the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum.

Details: 500-5700 N Lake Shore Dr., Chicago, IL 60614

ANDERSON JAPANESE GARDENS

The Anderson Japanese Gardens are a place of peace and beauty, offering visitors a glimpse into the traditional culture of Japan.

A stroll through the gardens takes you past tranquil ponds, rustling bamboo forests, and delicate cherry blossoms. There is even a teahouse where you can rest and enjoy a cup of tea while taking in the sights and sounds of the garden.

Whether you’re visiting for a few minutes or spending an hour or more, the Anderson Japanese Gardens are definitely worth a stop on your next trip to Rockford.

Read More: 18 BEST THINGS TO DO IN ROCKFORD IL YOU’LL LOVE

MERMET SPRINGS

Mermet Springs is a spring-fed quarry located deep in Southern Illinois. The 8.5-acre quarry allows visitors a taste of marine life – in the Prairie State!

The water visibility at Mermet Springs is exceptional and can range from 15 feet to over 60 feet. However, due to the unpredictable nature of Illinois weather, the temperature of the water can be anywhere between 40-80 F.

The Illinois River cuts through the area, providing a beautiful backdrop for visitors, and is a great place for those new to diving or who are returning wetsuit vets. Visitors can enjoy swimming, diving, kayaking, and fishing in the clear waters of Mermet Springs.

STARVED ROCK STATE PARK

Starved Rock State Park is a beautiful natural area in Illinois that features stunning cliffs, canyons, and waterfalls. It sadly gained its name from a Native American tribe who was chased up a cliff by an opposing tribe and left to starve.

Today, however, the park is a popular destination for hikers, campers, and nature lovers and offers plenty of opportunities for outdoor recreation for all different abilities and interests. There is a beautiful lodge with a bar and restaurant overlooking the bluffs, and it is a popular spot for weddings.

Visitors can also rent comfortable cabins or book a site for camping.

CAHOKIA MOUNDS STATE HISTORIC SITE

The Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site is the site of a pre-Columbian Native American city located across from modern-day St. Louis on the Illinois side of the stunning Mississippi River. The park is around 3.5 square miles and contains about 80 mounds, but the ancient city was much larger. The site was occupied from 1050 to 1350 CE and was at its peak around 1100 CE.

The ancient city covered 6 square miles and includes about 120 man made earthen mounds in a variety of shapes and sizes. Unfortunately, the civilization dwindled and disappeared by 1350 CE. The Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site is now a popular tourist attraction and Native American UNESCO World Heritage site.

I grew up visiting this site and camping in the nearby forest preserves. Today, visitors can enjoy scenic views of the Mississippi River, picnic areas, walking trails, and a museum with exhibits on the history of the site. 

ART INSTITUTE OF CHICAGO

The Art Institute of Chicago was founded in 1879, making it one of the oldest and largest art museums in the world. Known for its world-renowned collection and popular among visitors, the museum hosts around 1.5 million people each year.

The museum’s curatorial departments steward a collection that is encyclopedic, with iconic pieces such as Georges Seurat’s A Sunday on La Grande Jatte, Pablo Picasso’s The Old Guitarist, Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks, and Grant Wood’s American Gothic.

In addition to its large permanent collection (nearly 300,000 pieces!), the museum also features 30 special exhibitions every year that illuminate different aspects of art history.

Details: 111 S Michigan Ave, Chicago, IL 60603

DANA-THOMAS HOUSE

The Dana-Thomas House is a masterpiece of architecture that was designed by the world-renowned Frank Lloyd Wright. The home is located in the Illinois capital, Springfield, and was built between 1902 and 1904.

The house reflects the organic style that Wright was famous for, and also showcases the Japanese aesthetic, which was popular at the time.

The house is considered to be one of Wright’s most important works, and it continues to be an iconic structure today.

Details: 301 E Lawrence Ave, Springfield, IL 62703

FRANK LLOYD WRIGHT HOME AND STUDIO

Frank Lloyd Wright is one of the most legendary architects in history. He designed many iconic buildings, including the Guggenheim Museum in New York City. But his home and design studio in Oak Park, Illinois, is perhaps his most famous creation.

The Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio was first built in 1889. It has been added to and restored over the years and now looks exactly as it did when Wright lived there with his family in 1909. This was the last year he lived there, and it’s also where he pursued his craft and perfected his aesthetic to become one of, if not the greatest, architects of the 20th century.

The home and studio were listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1972, and it’s now a popular tourist attraction. If you’re ever in the Chicago area, be sure to visit this historic site!

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