It can be a tough task to name a city in Illinois that isn't Chicago. While the Windy City has bucket loads to be proud of, from its diverse foodie scene to its diehard sports fan and eclectic arts culture, it certainly doesn't deserve all the attention. The Chicago spotlight tends to sweep the rest of the gems scattered across the remainder of the state under the rug, but that's about to change.

UPDATE: 2022/08/01 16:45 EST BY KAT BELLO

Illinois is a large and fascinating state, with a bunch of fun and unique attractions that can easily be overlooked by its famous capital, Chicago. Since these hidden gems in Illinois remain a point of interest for many travelers looking to explore the U.S, this article has been updated accordingly.

In Illinois, there are picturesque natural parks, unique museums, novelty roadside attractions that one can't help but chuckle at, and much more waiting to be explored. So, let's forget about Chicago for a minute and explore a little more of the great Midwestern state of Illinois.

11 Starved Rock State Park

Yosemite, Yellowstone, and the Grand Canyon might receive the brunt of the attention when it comes to USA’s national parks, but there are a few hidden gems scattered across Illinois as well. One park that stands above the rest is the 2,630-acre Starved Rock State Park. With its plentiful hiking trails, flowing waterfalls, picturesque canyons, and winter ice fishing opportunities, Starved Rock has deservingly been voted as the number one thing to do in Illinois. Starved Rock is located right next to the town of Utica, which is only about an hour and a half drive from the land of deep-dish.

10 Galena

Of all the words that come to mind when we think of Illinois, ‘quaint’ and ‘charming’ aren’t usually among the front-runners. However, the tiny 3,500-person town of Galena at the northwestern tip of the state is doing its best to change that. Not only is Galena a welcomed slice of Midwestern mountain-town character, but with its abundance of surrounding forestry and nature, it’s also a gateway to several local outdoor and adventure activities. After hiking through the nearby mountains, take an easy stroll down the charming Main Street before putting your feet up at one of its many spa resorts.

Related: Skip Chicago And Check Out These Other Towns And Cities In Illinois (They're Worth It)

9 Bahá'í Temple, Wilmette

Over in the city of Wilmette, which is easily accessible for anyone basing themselves out of Chicago (only about 20 miles north of the Windy City), visitors will discover the largest Bahá’í temple in the world. Its size isn’t the only impressive feature about it - the design and architecture are stunning, and it holds the title of the world’s oldest surviving Bahá’í temple as well, having been constructed back in 1953. Thanks to its majestic dome, white-clad exterior, and nine stunning gardens, the unique location has received plenty of design awards, and it’s not too hard to see why.

8 Garden of the Gods (Shawnee National Forest)

Situated in the southern part of the state, the Shawnee National Forest is a welcomed change from the manic go-go-go lifestyles of the Windy City. Spanning almost 300,000 acres, Shawnee offers up beautiful woodlands, picturesque hills, and sparkling lakes. Don’t forget the camera, because among the list of potential posing wildlife includes the nation’s icon: bald eagles. With a name like Garden of the Gods, the expectations for this place are going to be set pretty high - but it certainly delivers. With waterfalls, sandstone formations, and a solid amount of walking tracks, it’s a literal breath of fresh air.

7 Riverfront Museum Park, Rockford

For our next Illinois POI, we’re stopping in the vibrant city of Rockford, the 5th largest city in the state. About an hour and a half drive northwest of Chicago, Rockford has a bustling art and cultural scene, which can be fully appreciated at the Riverfront Museum Park, a parkway area that houses the Rockford Art Museum, Discovery Center Museum, Symphony Orchestra office, Rockford Dance Company and the Burpee Museum of Natural History, all with a scenic view of the river. It's an art lover's dream.

Related: Here's What Else Is there To Do In Illinois (Other Than Occasionally Overrated Chicago)

6 Anderson Japanese Gardens, Rockford

One of the highlights of Rockford, this majestic garden is an underrated gem of Illinois. Here, visitors will come across the sprawling elegance that is the Anderson Japanese Gardens. The setting is as relaxing as it is serene, with plenty of Japanese culture on display, and the options for calligraphy lessons and traditional Japanese tea ceremonies make it all the more worthwhile.


5 Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, Springfield

If you’re venturing through America’s Midwest and suddenly have an urge to learn everything there is to learn about the 16th President of the United States, then the town of Springfield has got you covered. Not only Lincoln’s hometown, Springfield is also the site of the fascinating Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum. History buffs will go nuts for the signed copy of the Emancipation Proclamation, as well as the original copy of the Gettysburg Address. Aside from the countless intriguing artifacts, it’s also an immersive experience museum, combining history with innovation and interaction.

4 The Soul Asylum, Alton

Sitting smack bang in the middle of the Mississippi River, just north of St Louis, Missouri, is the little town of Alton, which sports a population of just under 30,000. For anyone who’s venturing through the area, there’s a rather odd collection of bizarre and ouch-worthy items waiting to be checked out at the place formerly known as the Historic Museum of Torture Devices, which has now officially changed its name to The Soul Asylum. There are plenty of stabby, murderous, and punishing torture devices from all corners of the globe on display on its shelves to satisfy fans of dark tourism. Thankfully, the entry fee isn’t too painful.

3 The Ghost Town of Cairo

Nestled deep in the southern part of the state, s on the intersection of the Ohio and Mississippi rivers, Cairo Illinois is the antithesis of the fast-paced life of a metropolis like Chicago. Back in the day when the Mississippi River was used as a common ship route, Cairo acted as a port town and was booming as a result. These days, however, it’s nothing more than an eerie ghost town. It’s a rather surreal experience to see a fully-functional locale completely abandoned and is a worthwhile stop if driving through the region.

Related: Visiting Kiel Ranch: Nevada's Lesser-Known Tragic Ghost Town

2 Dave's Down to Earth Rock Shop, Evanston

Not too far from the Bahá'í Temple, travelers can step into a quaint little storefront that boasts much more than meets the eye. Located in the Evanstown area, Dave's Down to Earth Rock Shop has been around for over 40 years, providing a quirky mix of materials of geological materials such as gemstones, fossils, and crystals, with friendly information via books or Dave himself on offer to explain it all. What tends to take visitors by (pleasant) surprise is the dinosaur-themed museum hidden down in the basement. It offers informative fun for all ages and is touted as a worthy stop for anyone looking to get out of the chaos of Chicago and venture into other areas.

1 World’s Largest Catsup Bottle, Collinsville

We’ve left perhaps the state’s most interesting attraction to the very end. Sure, seeing the Cubs play at Wrigley Field might be a hoot, and exploring the Shawnee National Forest offers up some stunning photo ops, but do they compare to a 170ft-tall bottle of Catsup?

It’s not just some tacky roadside attraction either - the locals are incredibly proud of their oversized condiment, and even through an annual World’s Largest Catsup Bottle Festival. Plus, it’s earned its spot on the National Register of Historic Places. Do we need to sell it more? C’mon, it’s a giant Catsup bottle! Check it out just south of the town of Collinsville.