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Illinois is a state rife with raw beauty, rich culture, and some of the country’s most energetic cities. These are some of the best places to visit in Illinois for a trip to remember for many years to come.
The state has so much to offer, no matter what you enjoy doing. Whether you want to get whipped up in the whirlwind of charming chaos that is Chicago city or soak in and discover Mother Nature at her most epic in the likes of the Matthiessen State Park, this wonderous state really will capture your heart in more ways than one.
I absolutely love living in Illinois, and I’m excited to share 30 of the state’s must-see and must-visit places and landmarks to get you super pumped for your upcoming visit!
Places to Visit in Illinois
1 – Downtown Chicago
Chicago is not only the largest city in Illinois but also the third most populous city in the United States. So, it is no surprise that there are a plethora of things to see and do in this busy city.
There are many more attractions in Chicago than can be named, but some of the most popular sites in the city include Millenium Park, Magnificent Mile, and Navy Pier.
Millenium Park opened in 2004 to celebrate the third millennium and is located in the Chicago Loop area. The park includes open green spaces, art pieces, a bandshell, and even a skating rink in the winter months.
On the shore of Lake Michigan is the iconic Navy Pier. This pier spans over 50 acres and includes an abundance of attractions, including restaurants, a large carousel, a botanical garden, the Chicago Children’s Museum, and art installations.
Prior to becoming a tourist destination, the pier was a freight dock, a jail during World War I, and a United States Navy training center in World War II.
In fact, the pier was named Navy Pier after World War I to honor the navy veterans who served in the war.
For those interested in shopping, Magnificent Mile is the place to go. The mile spans from the Chicago Loop to the Gold Coast neighborhood and encompasses 3.1 million square feet of retail space along with several hotels, restaurants, and historical landmarks.
2 – Wrigleyville
Wrigleyville is a popular area a few miles away from Chicago and is best known for being home to Wrigley Field, the stadium belonging to the Chicago Cubs Major League Baseball Team.
When in Wrigleyville, baseball fans can attend a Cubs game and explore the many souvenir stores in the area. There are also many bars surrounding Wrigley Field, making Wrigleyville a very popular Chicago nightlife destination as well.
3 – Evanston
12 miles North of Chicago lies the charming suburb of Evanston, Illinois. Evanston’s main attraction is Northwestern University, a prestigious private research University with over 20,000 students and Division 1 athletics. Visitors can tour the Northwestern campus and explore its surrounding college town.
Evanston is also home to the Grosse Point Lighthouse, a national historic landmark that was built in 1873. Tourists can tour the lighthouse and even walk up a stairwell to the top of it.
4 – Rosemont
Rosemont is located between Downtown Chicago and O’Hare International Airport, making it a great destination for travelers to visit on their way to-or-from the airport.
Some of the most notable attractions in the area include the Chicago Fashion Outlets, where many popular retail stores sell discounted items, and the Donald E. Stevenson Convention Center, which hosts many events and tradeshows throughout the year.
Rosemont is also home to Allstate Stadium and Impact Stadium, where many minor league athletic competitions are held.
5 – Champaign-Urbana
When visiting central Illinois, the Champaign-Urbana metropolitan area is a must-visit.
One of the main features of Champaign-Urbana is the University of Illinois flagship campus. The campus spans over 1,000 acres, and visitors can tour the campus and visit the surrounding college town businesses.
There are also several museums and parks to visit in the area, including Champaign County Historical Museum, the Monticello Railway Museum, the Champaign Park District, and the Urbana Park District.
6 – Naperville
When visiting Chicago, this western suburb of the city is a great escape for a day or an afternoon.
A notable attraction in Naperville is the Moser Tower and Millenium Carillion, a structure built in 1999 to celebrate the start of the third millennium and 21st century. The structure is 160 ft tall and holds a carillon of 72 bells.
For those wanting to enjoy the water, the city also has the Naperville Riverwalk and Centennial Beach, which is a beach area that has been developed from a former quarry.
7 – Rockford
On the Rock River in the far north of Illinois lies the enchanting city of Rockford, also known as the Forest City. Rockford contains many interesting sites and is full of culture.
One such site is the Anderson Japanese Gardens, a 12-acre garden containing koi-filled ponds, waterfalls, winding paths, and a Sukiya-style tea house.
Another popular site is the Tinker Swiss Cottage, where visitors can tour the historic swiss-style cottage. The cottage was built by Robert Tinker, the mayor of Rockford, in 1975.
8 – Bloomington
Bloomington, a city in McLean County, is a must-visit, especially for golf lovers and zoo-goers. The city is known for having several high-quality golf courses and has been regarded as one of the best cities to golf in the United States.
Bloomington is also home to the Miller Park Zoo, a zoo with inhabitants that include snow leopards, bald eagles, and even a sea lion.
For those wanting to visit some historical sites, Bloomington has the Miller Park Pavilion and War Memorial, an area dedicated in 1988 to Central Illinois Residents who lost their lives in the Vietnam and Koren battles.
9 – Quincy
Also known as the “Gem City” of Illinois, Quincy is located at the edge Illinois shares with Iowa and Missouri. This area is known for its amazing architecture and proximity to the Mississippi River.
There are over 30 architectural styles represented in the historic buildings within Quincy. This includes buildings built between the years of 1850-1930 in the Greek Revival, Queen Anne, and English Tudor architectural styles.
Quincy is also located right on the Mississippi River, and tourists can take in the scenic views of the river at one of the many riverside restaurants or outlooks in the city.
10 – Alton
Alton is located in Madison County and lies right on the Mississippi River. The city is full of art, history, and scenic sights. Notably, Alton is home to the Jacoby Arts Center, Lincoln Douglas Square, and Alton Riverfront Amphitheater.
The Jacoby Arts Center is a large center that offers art classes as well as public art galleries and rentable art studios.
For those looking for some history, Alton has Lincoln Douglas Square. The site stands in remembrance of the final debate between Lincoln and Douglas and includes life-size statues of the two statesmen.
The Alton Riverfront Amphitheater is a must-visit for visitors seeking scenic views and entertainment. The site is able to seat up to 4000 visitors and hosts various concerts, events, and firework shows throughout the year. Additionally, the Alton Riverfront Amphitheater faces the Mississippi river, making it the perfect place for visitors to enjoy the natural scenery in Quincy.
11 – Starved Rock State Park
With over 2 million visitors each year, Starved Rock State Park is one of the most popular attractions in Illinois. The park spans 2,630 acres and is known for its stunning canyons and waterfalls.
There are also many activities for visitors to enjoy in the park all year round. In the warmer months, visitors can hike, horseback ride, fish, boat, and go birdwatching, and in the colder months, visitors can cross-country ski, snowshoe, and go ice climbing.
12 – Grandview Drive
Between Peoria and Peoria Heights, Illinois lies one of the most scenic and breathtaking roads in the United States: Grandview Drive.
When driving down this 2.5-mile stretch, visitors can take in gorgeous views of the Illinois river and valley. For those interested in architecture, there are also many historic homes alongside this route.
13 – Shawnee National Forest
The massive Shawnee National Forest is located in Southern Illinois and encompasses over 280,000 acres of land, giving visitors plenty of areas to explore.
Shawnee National Forest is full of scenic views and interesting rock formations. Additionally, it has been considered one of the best places in the United States to view a solar eclipse. Visitors seeking more adventurous activities can go rock climbing or rappel at Jackson Falls within the forest.
14 – Matthiessen State Park
Just a few miles away from the famous Starved Rock State Park is Matthiessen State Park. Although Matthieson is not as well known as Starved Rock, it is still a worthwhile visit.
Matthiessen State Park includes miles of hiking, mountain biking, and equestrian trails for visitors to explore. There is also a stream within the park that has created unusual rock formations over the years.
15 – Illinois Beach State Park
Illinois Beach State Park is located in Northeast Illinois on the shore of Lake Michigan. The park is primarily known for having over 6 miles of shoreline, granting tourists access to several beaches and breathtaking views of the Great Lake.
There are also several dunes, marshes, and ridges within the park for visitors to explore.
16 – Meeting of the Great Rivers Scenic Route
For those looking to explore Southeastern Illinois, the Meeting of the Great Rivers Scenic Route is the place to go. This 33-mile route is regarded by many as one of the best scenic drives in the United States.
The route is called “Meeting of the Great Rivers” because the Illinois, Mississippi, and Missouri rivers all converge on the drive. While on this road, visitors can appreciate the gorgeous views of the rivers, bluffs, and unique plants and trees dispersed throughout the route.
17 – Tunnel Hill State Trail
For biking enthusiasts, Tunnel Hill State Trail is the ideal place to visit. The trail runs along the former Cairo and Vincennes Railroad and includes a tunnel through the largest hill on the trail, resulting in the ideal path conditions for biking.
Tunnel Hill State Trail is 45 miles long and runs from Harrisburg to Karnak, Illinois. There are also many species of trees, wildflowers, and wildlife surrounding the trail, making it a very scenic bike route.
18 – Morton’s Arboretum
Morton’s Arboretum is located just outside Chicago in the village of Lisle, Illinois. This 1700-acre arboretum began as a restoration project in 1962 and now features an outdoor museum, a library, a children’s garden, a herbarium, and hiking and biking trails.
The arboretum also offers many different programs and events for visitors to learn about Morton’s Arboretum and all the plants within it.
19 – Mississippi Palisades State Park
Mississippi Palisades State Park is on the northeastern edge of Illinois, near the confluence of the Mississippi and Apple Rivers.
The most popular attraction in the park is its steep cliffs, which provide thrill-seeking visitors with incredible opportunities for rock climbing. There are also many hiking trails, overlooks, and camping and picnic areas within Mississippi Palisades State Park.
20 – Giant City State Park
When visiting Southern Illinois, Giant City State Park is worth a visit. This 4,000-acre park has many interesting sites, including the Giant City Lodge and Giant City Stone Fort Site.
The Giant City Lodge was built by the Civilization Conservation Corps in the 1930s and now serves as a historic hotel.
Visitors interested in archeology will be particularly drawn to the Giant City Stone Fort Site, which is home to a prehistoric stone fort built between 600-900 A.D.
21 – Springfield
The capital of Illinois, Springfield, is one of the most historic places in the state. Abraham Lincoln, the 16th President of the United States, lived in Springfield from 1837 until 1861, and there are several attractions in the area related to Abraham Lincoln.
One of the most popular attractions in the city related to the former President is the Lincoln Tomb State Historic Site, where Lincoln, his wife, and three of their sons are buried.
As the State Capitol, Springfield is also home to The Old State Capitol Building, which was built in the late 1830s and in use between 1840 and 1876. The building was the fifth capitol built in the United States.
22 – Northalsted (Boystown)
A few miles away from downtown Chicago lies Northalsted, also known as Boystown. This neighborhood is the oldest officially recognized gay village in the United States.
While visiting Boytown, visitors can support the LGBTQ-owned businesses in the area, go to the LGBTQ cultural center, and see the LGBTQ monuments on the Legacy Walk.
For those interested in nightlife, there is an abundance of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender bars in the neighborhood.
Boystown also hosts Northalsted Market Days each August, a large music street festival, attracting visitors from all around the country.
23 – Lincoln’s New Salem
Those who are seeking to be transported to the past should visit Lincoln’s New Salem, a site 20 miles away from the capital city of Springfield.
Lincoln’s New Salem is a reconstruction of the village where former United States President Abraham Lincoln lived during his childhood. Tours are offered at the site, and there are also 700 acres of land surrounding it where visitors can explore, hike, and camp.
24 – Chicago Harbor Lighthouse
The Chicago Harbor Lighthouse is an active lighthouse at Chicago Harbour. The lighthouse was originally built for the Colombian World Expedition that occurred in Chicago in 1893 and was placed at its current location in 1919.
The best places to view the Chicago Harbor Lighthouse are from Navy Pier in downtown Chicago or by boat in the Chicago Harbour.
25 – Leaning Tower of Niles
You’ll feel as though you have been transported to Italy when visiting the Leaning Tower of Niles in Niles, Illinois.
This tower is a replica of the famous Leaning Tower of Pisa in Pisa, Italy. The Leaning Tower of Niles is half the size of the one in Pisa and was built in 1934. The tower includes historic restored bells that were imported from Italy, and the bells are currently rung four times each day.
26 – Cahokia Mounds
From 1050-1350 B.C., a pre-Colombian Native American city existed on the land that is now Cahokia Mounds.
Presently, Cahokia Mounds has preserved 70 of the 120 earthen mounds built by the original inhabitants of the site and is considered by many to be the most complex pre-historic Colombian site north of Mexico. Visitors are able to explore the historic mounds and enjoy the picturesque scenery that surrounds them.
27 – Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center
The Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center was established in Skokie, Illinois, in 1981 after a Neo-Nazi group attempted to march through Skokie.
The museum’s mission is to preserve the past and transform the future by educating visitors about the impact of the Holocaust and sharing the stories of survivors through the museum’s many exhibitions and programs.
28 – Baháʼí House of Worship
The Baháʼí House of Worship is located in Wilmette, Illinois. It is the second Baháʼí House of Worship that was ever constructed as well as the oldest one that still exists.
The 138 feet tall temple was designed by Canadian Architect Jean-Baptiste Louis Bourgeois in the 1920s. In 1953, the temple was completed and dedicated.
Visitors of The Baháʼí House of Worship can appreciate the beautiful architecture of the structure and enjoy the fountains and gardens that surround it. There is also a welcome center where visitors can learn about the history of the temple and about the early American Baháʼí’s.
29 – Six Flags Great America
Six Flags Great America is the perfect destination for visitors seeking a thrill. The 304-acre amusement park is located in Gurnee, Illinois, and includes 15 rollercoasters and a 20-acre waterpark.
The park also hosts several events throughout the year, including Physics Day, July 4th Fest, Fright Fest, and Oktoberfest.
30 – Galena Historic District
Located in the far Northwestern corner of Illinois lies the charming Galena Historic District. This area has over 800 historically significant buildings that were built before 1900.
One of the most famous buildings in the district is the Ulysses S. Grant house, which was given to Grant by residents of Galena in 1865 to thank him for his service as a Civil War general.
There are also many charming boutiques, vintage shops, and restaurants for visitors to enjoy in this popular destination.
Places to Visit in Illinois Summary
No matter how far you travel to visit Illinois, be it already on your doorstep, the other side of the country, or from countries all over the world, this beautiful state has a habit of leaving a lasting impression on anyone who visits.
From iconic metropolises to some of the state’s hidden gems amid the mountains and plains, I hope this fun and diverse list of the state’s best places to visit helps make your time spent here utterly fantastic. Whether you’re donning your winter coat, or strapping on your hiking boats, you are going to discover something memorable, I promise!
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Contributor: Elizabeth McCrea is a copywriter, online marketer, and proud Chicagoan, passionate about both local and US-wide travel, cuisine, and culture.