There is no doubt that Chicago is a great place to visit. The third-largest city in the U.S. has no shortage of things to see and do. However, if you’re looking for something a little different and off the beaten track, there are plenty of cities and towns in Illinois that have their share of natural beauty, cultural hotspots, and historical sights that make for a trip you’ll never forget.
You may know Springfield as the state capital of Illinois, but did you know that the city has a historical significance all its own? This birthplace of Abraham Lincoln is home to a plethora of sites where you can learn about America’s storied 16th president—including the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, the Lincoln Home National Historic Site, and Oak Ridge Cemetery, where you can find Lincoln’s Tomb.
Springfield isn’t just for Lincoln lovers—there is also no shortage of natural beauty to explore. The Adams Wildlife Center is located on 40 acres of tree-filled beauty, including hiking trails and the homestead of Margery Adams that is maintained by the Illinois Audubon Society. The Washington Park Botanical Garden is another beautiful outdoor location where you can scope over 1,000 plant species and explore the grounds and indoor greenhouse.
Looking for a little culture to spice up your trip? Then be sure to check out The Hoogland Center for the Arts, or the Springfield and Central Illinois African American History Museum. Finish your trip with a ‘cozy dog’ at Cozy Dog Drive-In on famous Route 66, or stop at Engrained Brewery & Restaurant for dinner to round out your Springfield experience.
This suburb of Chicago makes for a fun day trip if you are visiting the city, or stands alone as a lovely town that has its own character and charm. Evanston’s downtown is the site of many eclectic points of interest including The American Toby Jug Museum where you can view over 8,000 toby jugs from around the world (toby jugs are, for lack of a better description, drinking vessels, not unlike steins). The Halim Time & Glass Museum is another must-see spot as it is dedicated to stained glass and horology (the art of making clocks and watches)—and is the only museum of its kind. With 80 stained glass masterpieces and over 1,000 clocks from around the world, you’ll be glad you made the time to visit.
Evanston is also home to Northwestern University, and here you can check out the Northwestern University Shakespeare Garden, a uniquely botanical tribute to the Bard. The Grosse Pointe Lighthouse is another area attraction that has a beach and picnic area for visitors.
Rockford is the second-largest city in the state and is the ideal combination of urban sophistication and outdoor wonders. Also known as “The Forest City,” Rockford is a great spot for nature lovers who can find plenty of hiking trails, places to camp, and many other green places to explore. Check out Rock Cut State Park to see some beautiful lakes, too! The Anderson Japanese Gardens are also worth a look—with immaculately kept landscaping and features like bridges and pagodas, there are plenty of photo ops on this seasonal site.
History buffs will also enjoy Midway Village, a Victorian village covering 13 acres that includes historic buildings and exhibits that give visitors a taste of life in the late 19th and early 20th century. The Burpee Museum of Natural History is another place to get a taste of local and regional history—and if you love dinosaurs, be sure to check out their T-Rex skeleton, Ice Age Exhibit, and more.
The epitome of small-town charm, Galena is the perfect spot for those wishing to leave the city behind. Fans of history will appreciate this homey hamlet, as over 85% of the town is designated as a Natural Historic District. Lovers of architecture will appreciate Galena’s main street, with its many examples of French Colonial, Greek Revival, and Italian-inspired homes. Be sure to check out the one that belonged to Ulysses S. Grant for added historical impact.
Galena is also known for its natural beauty, as it is situated among hills and valleys that are lush and lovely to look at. Outdoor aficionados will also appreciate activities such as biking along the Galena River Trail, canoeing or kayaking on the Galena River, or taking in a round of golf at any of the town’s ten golf courses.
Food and drink fans will also find plenty to smile about, as galena is home to several wineries, including Galena Cellars Winery. There is also Blaum Bros. Distillery where you can sample a flight of homemade spirits, take a tour, and have a blast! Check out other cozy restaurant offerings like Fried Green Tomatoes and Log Cabin Greek Steakhouse for a taste of this historic town.
Overlooking the Mississippi River is the gorgeous city of Quincy. Known for its rich history, Quincy was both a safe harbor for Mormons looking to escape persecution in the 19th century and a stop on the Underground Railroad. Visitors will appreciate Quincy’s beautiful tree-lined streets and its notable architecture. The Quincy Museum and the John Wood Mansion are both fine examples of some of the area’s most distinctive architecture.\
If you’re a fan of the blues, you’ll enjoy Quincy’s many free blues concerts and other community events. Stop in for a meal at Dunnbelly’s or Fatbacks BBQ to get a taste of Quincy that will complete your stay in this quaint city.
There is plenty to see and do in Illinois outside of its largest city. The state is home to many historical hamlets, culturally vibrant cities, and areas with enough natural beauty to satisfy any outdoor adventurer.