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54 EPIC Things To Do in Illinois: For Free, For Couples, Kids, …

Are you planning a trip and looking for the best things to do in Illinois to truly make your trip the best ever? We have the list for you!

No matter where in the state you are planning to go, what type of group you’re traveling with, and what your budget is, we have something for you so you can enjoy the beautiful state of Illinois to its full potential.

From beautiful state parks to intriguing museums, read on to find the best things to do in Illinois for you.

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Best Things To Do in Chicago

As the biggest city in Illinois and home to a wide variety of art and culture, Chicago is a great starting place for any trip to Illinois.

Situated on Lake Michigan, Chicago is ideally located for enjoying the beautiful surrounding nature as well as the highlights of city life.

The Navy Pier in Chicago
The Navy Pier in Chicago

Visit Navy Pier

Navy Pier is one of Chicago’s top attractions and an ode to the power of public spaces.

With a long history as the “People’s Pier”, Navy Pier has always featured as a space for the public to gather and relax.

Located on the lakefront, Navy Pier overlooks the city skyline and beautiful Lake Michigan.

It is home to a range of free events, programs, celebrations, and more, held all throughout the year.

There are a number of restaurants nearby offering a range of cuisines, making Navy Pier ideal for an extended stay.

Whether it’s lunch before relaxing on the greens or a nice dinner while watching the sunset, the Navy Pier restaurants simply add to the overall experience.

When visiting Chicago, Navy Pier is a must-go spot, ideal for catching some landscape and cityscape photos in one place, relaxing and enjoying the good weather, and taking part in some interesting local events.

The Bean at Millennium Park

Go to the Park

Chicago is well-known for its vast array of beautiful parks and green spaces.

With so many to choose from, there is no better way to spend a nice sunny day than exploring some of the best parks on offer.

One popular example is Millennium park, located in downtown Chicago.

Millennium Park

Millennium Park is home to the famous Cloud Gate sculpture, more commonly known as “The Bean”.

It also houses 5 acres of botanical gardens to explore and the area surrounding the Cloud Gate becomes an ice-skating rink in winter.

This is also one of the best places to see fall colors in Chicago.

Grant Park

Another popular park is Grant Park, which covers a few hundred acres of lakefront area.

Public art installations and gardens are strewn throughout, making exploring the park an exciting and enjoyable adventure.

Garfield Park

Garfield Park, often known for its sporting facilities, is also well-renowned for having one of the largest conservatories in the world.

Described as ‘landscape art under glass, the conservatory features 120,000 plants over hundreds of species and has flower shows seasonally.

Entrance to the Art Institute of Chicago

Visit a Museum

Chicago is also a great place to explore a range of different museums.

With many museums surrounding different topics located in the same city, it is ideal for learning about a wide array of subjects and areas of interest.

The Art Institute of Chicago

The Art Institute of Chicago is well-known as one of the best art museums in the world, with over 300,000 works in its collection.

The institute is located in one of the most well-known buildings in Chicago with two impressive bronze lions flanking the entrance.

And not only is the architecture of the building itself impressive but there is an entire architecture section of the museum, that explores the intersection of architecture and art.

The Field Museum is one of the most impressive museums in Illinois
The skeleton of Sue at the Field Museum

The Field Museum

For those more interested in science and the natural world, the Field Museum may be a better fit.

Originally constructed as a permanent monument to the World’s Columbian Exposition in 1893, the Field Museum still stands with 20 permanent exhibits featuring items from the Ice Age, Ancient Egypt, and even the time of dinosaurs.

For more information on the Field Museum, click here.

Ohio Street Beach

Go to The Beach

With Chicago’s great location on the edge of Lake Michigan, it is ideal for going to the beach and soaking up some sun.

There are a number of beaches located throughout the city, many of which allow swimming and other water activities.

One of the best examples of juxtaposition between city and nature, skyscrapers and beach, is Ohio Street Beach.

Ohio Street Beach

Located right in front of huge skyscrapers, the landscape is very unique.

The beach has space for swimming, kayaking, and canoeing and is a popular spot on weekends.

For more details on Ohio Street Beach, click here.

Oak street beach

Oak Street Beach

Another great option is Oak Street Beach with its white sands and clear waters.

The beach is open from 6 am – 11 pm, with swimming allowed while a lifeguard is present.

This beach is very popular for playing beach volleyball and similar activities.

For more information about this beach, click here.

Willis Tower Glass Platform

Willis Tower is the third tallest building in the Western Hemisphere and makes great use of the space with a range of facilities throughout the building, including cafes and restaurants.

However, the real attraction is the Skydeck, on the 103rd floor of the tower.

The Skydeck provides panoramic views of not just Chicago, but the surrounding states. The experience doesn’t stop at this, with ‘The Ledge’ offering an even more exhilarating experience.

The Ledge is a glass balcony or glass box that extends 4.3 feet from the edge of the building.

At 1353 ft from the ground, this is the highest observation deck in the US and the glass box allows you to see straight through to the ground below.

It is a unique experience and a great way to take in the amazing views of 4 different states.

Visiting the Willis Tower is one of the best things to do in Illinois.
Breathtaking views from the Willis Tower

Magnificent Mile

The Magnificent Mile is an area of Michigan Avenue in Chicago that serves as one of the main retail areas in the city as well as home to a number of Chicago landmarks, upscale restaurants, museums, and more.

The Wrigley Building, Tribune Tower, Chicago Water Tower, and more can all be found along this stretch of road.

Panoramic views of Chicago can be found from the top of the John Hancock Center or history can be explored in one of the many museums.

There are also many shops in this area, including a number of flagship stores, international designers, and boutiques.

A night out along the Magnificent Mile or a day browsing the many retail options, and taking advantage of the amazing culinary offerings is a must-do for those visiting Chicago.

The Lollapalooza festival in Chicago.
Aerial view of the Lollapalooza festival in Chicago

Attend a Festival

Chicago is also a festival-goers paradise, with an array of festivals ranging from big-name music festivals to indie art festivals and more.

Perhaps the most well-known is the now world-famous Lollapalooza 4-day music festival, held in Grant Park.

This festival caters to fans of various genres with over 160,000 attendees yearly.

However, if you’re looking for something a bit more niche, the Pitchfork Music Festival in Union Park is a great option.

Featuring indie artists, Pitchfork Music Festival is a great way to support up-and-coming music talent and discover new artists.

There are also a number of food and drink festivals held in Chicago, such as Ravenswood on Tap, a festival celebrating various craft beers, and the Lincoln Park Wine Festival, which is ideal for sampling a variety of wines from around the world.

Lincoln Park in Fall
Lincoln Park

Lincoln Park Zoo

Lincoln Park Zoo is located inside the beautiful Lincoln Park and is a great addition to a day at the park.

The zoo is free and accessible to all with costs largely covered by donations and memberships.

There are hundreds of different animals at the zoo, including many endangered species.

This allows the zoo to have a strong focus on conservation and animal care.

There are over 200 different species, each living in an environment designed for them.

Some animals are part of interactive programs such as goat grooming and meeting penguins.

The zoo also expands beyond just animals with over 1200 different plant species and a dedicated arboretum.

A river cruise in Chicago

Make a Chicago River Cruise

The Chicago Architecture Foundation Center in conjunction with Chicago’s First Lady cruise boat has designed a river cruise to feature some of Chicago’s most beautiful, interesting, and historic architectural delights.

The architecture cruise winds along the Chicago river and teaches visitors about the buildings and figures who shaped Chicago’s history.

This tour is so popular and intriguing that it has been named the number 1 boat tour in Chicago.

The cruise takes about 90 minutes and is now offered in the evening as well as during the day to provide a different view of the city.

Check prices and availability:
Chicago Architecture Cruise

For photography enthusiasts, there is also a photography cruise that follows the same route as the normal CAFC tour, but takes place in the early morning and pauses at key points to allow photographers to get perfect shots in the morning light.

The Hickory Ridge vineyard
Tastings with a view at the Hickory Ridge vineyard (photo credits: Hickory Ridge winery)

Best Things to Do in Illinois for Couples

If you are planning a romantic couple’s trip, Illinois is an ideal place with a variety of things to do.

Whether you are wine connoisseurs and wish to sample the boutique wineries along the Shawnee Wine Trail or simply relax in a spa, there is something to suit every couple and make your trip romantic.

Drive the Shawnee Wine Trail

The Shawnee Wine Trail is located along a 40-mile stretch through the beautiful Shawnee National Forest. It features 11 unique wineries, each with a different focus or main product.

Spread the trail out over multiple days and stay overnight in one of the wineries that offer accommodation or choose the wineries you’re most interested in and make an afternoon of it.

The best part of the Shawnee Wine Trail is the customizability – it can be as long or short as you like.

Make sure to sample the boutique wines of Starview Winery and experience the cozy cabin-like atmosphere of Honker Hill Winery.

To see more about the best way to enjoy the Shawnee Wine Trail, see our previous post here.

Here is an overview of quaint cabins on the southern Illinois wine trail.

Amazing treehouse in Illinois
Photo credits VRBO

Book a Romantic Stay in a Hotel or Cabin

One of the best ways to truly connect with your partner is to book a stay in a romantic hotel or cabin where you can escape the hustle and bustle of everyday life and focus on each other and the relaxing environment you’re in.

Some couples may prefer an upscale resort with a range of amenities and facilities.

In that case, check out our ranking of the best resorts to try out for a romantic couples trip in Illinois.

On the other hand, escaping to a cabin in nature can be an amazing experience, a great way to clear one’s head, connect with nature, enjoy the wildlife around you and make the best of your time with your partner.

For couples looking for this experience, our post on romantic cabins with hot tubs is ideal for finding your ideal accommodation.

Head to the Spa

A day at the spa is generally considered an ideal form of self-care and relaxation, so why not share that with your partner?

Allowing the both of you to enjoy some pampering together is a great way to connect without any stresses of daily life interfering.

A spa treatment is also ideal for feeling refreshed and reinvigorated for approaching life together.

If you prefer a day trip to the spa mixed in with other activities, visiting one of Illinois’ many day spas could be perfect for you.

However, for a more extended relaxation and treatment, you can also stay at a spa resort.

These resorts generally have a wide range of facilities and amenities available for guests, ranging from pools and saunas to treatments such as massages and aromatherapy.

To see some of the best spa resorts in Illinois, check out our post here.

The wooden American Eagle rollercoaster in Six Flags Great America
The wooden American Eagle rollercoaster in Six Flags Great America

Best Things To Do in Illinois with Kids

If you’re planning a family vacation to Illinois, you may be looking for fun, kid-friendly activities to enjoy together.

Here we have you covered. Illinois is ideal for family vacations with everything from theme parks and water parks to educational yet fun museums and tours.

Visit an Amusement and Theme Park

Amusement parks and theme parks are always as hit with kids and luckily, Illinois has a great range to choose from.

Many small cities and towns throughout Illinois feature local amusement parks.

These are great for enjoying all the fun of the attractions with fewer crowds.

Some examples include Grady’s Family Fun Park in Bloomington, a small park with rides, go-karts, and mini golf, or Enchanted Castle: Lombard which features laser tag, go-karts, bumper cars, and an arcade.

For a more unique theme park experience, you can check out Boo Castle Park, originally built as a memorial park for Jeremey “Boo” Rochman after a car accident but themed around a childhood love of dragons, wizards, and role-playing games.

To see more about Boo Castle park, check our previous post here.

If you prefer to stick to the tried and true, Six Flags Great America is another great option among the amusement parks of Illinois.

With over 45 rides and attractions, Six Flags Great America is ideal for entertaining children of all ages. For more information on Six Flags Great America, see here.

The Shawnee Bluffs Canopy Tour
(photo credits: The Shawnee Bluffs Canopy Tour)

Make Canopy Tour

Canopy Tours are an exciting and unique way to experience the forest from a different point of view.

Rather than taking in nature slowly, canopy tours create a fast-paced and adventurous activity.

With the use of zip lines, aerial bridges, rappelling, and more, canopy tours explore the forest in a new way.

Most canopy tours last 2 – 3 hours and require a safety orientation before participation.

This is necessary as some zip lines can reach up to 40mph and can be very high off the ground.

This is a great experience for older children and can be useful for keeping them interested in exploring nature and the forest.

It can also be a fun activity for adults, making it a great bonding experience.

Raging Rivers Water Park (photo credits: Raging Rivers Water Park)

Visit a Water Park

Water parks are another great option for entertaining the family, especially during the heat of summer.

Illinois has a wide range of water parks, including both indoor and outdoor options as well as parks that are better for young children and others that are suitable for all ages.

To see our guide to the best water parks in Illinois, check our post here.

Sunrise Beach (photo credits: Shutter Runner)

Head to the Beach

As mentioned above, playing in the water is a great family activity.

For this reason, going to the beach is another good option for hot summer days in Illinois.

There are many great beaches all throughout Illinois, many located along Lake Michigan as well as various other lakes in the state.

For more information on the best beaches in Illinois, see our previous post here.

The Science Center in Chicago (photo credits: Zooeybat / Wikimedia)

Visit a Museum

Museums are a great way to sneak in some education and information while still keeping children entertained and engaged.

Whether it is through interactive exhibits or finding museums relevant to their interests, museums can be an ideal way to spend a day as a family.

When visiting Illinois, the Science Center is perfect for children of all ages and offers both day camps as well as standard visiting hours.

With many interactive exhibits covering a wide range of topics including natural sciences, inventions, and discoveries as well as arts, the Science Center is a great day trip for the whole family.

More information on the Science Center as well as many other museums which are great for children can be found here, in our guide to museums in Illinois.

Best Free Things to Do in Illinois

If you’re in Illinois on a budget, taking advantage of free things to do is a great way to still get some great experiences without breaking the bank.

Luckily Illinois has many free things to enjoy, such as outdoor activities like hiking or biking, viewing scenery, and window shopping.

LaSalle Canyon in Starved Rock State Park Illinois

Visit a State Park

Illinois is blessed with many beautiful State Parks featuring a variety of different ecological phenomena.

Perhaps the most famous state park, Starved Rock State Park, is loved by many for its miles of trails, opportunities for hiking, boating, photography, and more.

It is top of the list for many who enjoy Illinois’ state parks.

Another top pick is Matthiessen State Park, which is located close to the aforementioned Starved Rock.

This state park has some beautiful waterfalls and rock formations with fewer people than Starved Rock.

To make your choice of which state park, or parks, to visit, see our post on the top state parks in Illinois here.

Fall colors seen from the Garden of the gods in Shawnee National Forest in Illinois
Fall colors seen from the Garden of the gods in Shawnee National Forest in Illinois

Go Hiking

While exploring some of the state parks above, you may want to take part in some hiking. Starved Rock has many miles of hiking trails, as do many other state parks.

However, hiking isn’t limited to just the state parks.

There are many other options of places to go hiking in Illinois. These include nature reserves, forests, natural areas, and more.

There are a range of trails available to suit all levels of hiker, from casual beginners right through to experienced hiking enthusiasts.

For some more hints on hiking in Illinois, see our previous post here.

Bike Tunnel Hill State Trail_Illinois
The Bike Tunnel Hill State Trail (photo credits: Trails for Illinois)

Go Biking            

If you aren’t interested in hiking, biking is another option when looking for ways to explore nature.

Many places with hiking trails also allow biking, and in some ways, biking can be more versatile with the area you are able to cover.

There are also many boardwalks and similar paths that are great for a more relaxed bike.

There are a number of biking trails available in Illinois, with the Tunnel Hill State Trail as one of the most popular.

This 45-mile trail follows a former rail line and passes through beautiful forests, and abandoned towns, and crosses stunning ravines.

The trail is customizable to experience level and is a great way to explore the state.

For some more options on the different bike trails to try out, check out our post on biking in Illinois.

Grandview Drive
A grand view from Grandview Drive (photo credits: Randy von Liski)

Take a Scenic Drive

If you are interested in viewing some of the beautiful nature already mentioned but are looking to avoid the tired legs, or simply prefer observing from the car window, you are in luck as Illinois also has a number of scenic drives.

Many of these wind through forests and along state parks, allowing you to enjoy some of the same scenery.

A scenic drive is also ideal for personalization – it can be a full-day activity or just a few hours before you move on to something else.

Illinois has a range of scenic drives, including roads following rushing rivers, historic drives, cultural drives, and forest drives.

To see some of the top scenic drives in Illinois, check out our post here.

The Gurnee Mills shopping and outlet mall

Go Shopping

Another great activity to try while in Illinois is shopping.

While shopping may seem like something you can do anywhere, there are often unique and interesting aspects to shopping in a new place and Illinois is no different.

If you prefer a large shopping mall, Gurnee Mills might be the place for you as Illinois’ third-largest mall with over 189 shops and services.

If you prefer something a bit more local and community-based, Makanda Boardwalk may be a better option.

This boardwalk features a number of locally-owned artisanal shops run by members of the community.

Often featuring artists and local products, Makanda Boardwalk is a great way to explore and support the local community.

Fall foliage in the Anderson Japanese Garden (photo credits: gabe popa)

Visit a Park or Garden

There are many beautiful parks and gardens throughout Illinois which feature a great range of plants and flowers in a range of different designs.

One of the more interesting gardens is the Anderson Japanese Gardens, which as the name suggests, have been designed in a traditional Japanese style.

They were designed by Hoichi Kurisu, a designer of various Japanese gardens throughout America and Landscape Director of the Garden Society of Japan for a number of years.

It is designed in a traditional Japanese walking garden style, meaning it is intended to for the visitor to stroll around the garden and enjoy the various landscapes, almost like changing scenes in a play. A number of elements are key to this style, such as water – through waterfalls or ponds, stones – either rock paths or sculptures, and of course plants.

Other elements play a secondary role, such as pagodas, bridges, and lanterns.

The gardens have been officially recognized by the Japanese government as an effort toward international friendship.

St. Louis Canyon in Starved Rock State Park
St. Louis Canyon in Starved Rock State Park

Discover a Waterfall

Visitors are sometimes surprised to hear that Illinois has many stunning waterfalls, but with the range of well-preserved state parks and rock formations, it is really no surprise.

Many of these waterfalls are seasonal, however, meaning you have to plan your visits carefully to see them at their best.

Many of the state parks feature amazing waterfalls, such as Cascade Falls in Matthiessen State Park and St Louis Canyon in Starved Rock State Park.

To see our full list of the best waterfalls in Illinois and how to plan your visit to see them, check out our post here.

Galena in autumn

Best Places to go in Illinois

If you’ve already decided to visit Illinois, it might now be time to narrow down which areas of the state to visit.

There are many amazing towns and counties which might be easy to overlook as they don’t have the same name recognition as Chicago.

Here we have some of the best places to visit while in Illinois.


Galena is a beautiful historic city in northern Illinois with a wide range of things to see and do.

A large portion of the city has been added to the historic register, meaning they are preserved as a piece of history.

Many of these places have been turned into small museums or historic pieces, which is a great way to explore the history of the city as well as the daily life of our ancestors.

For something more modern, you can try sampling the various wineries that surround the area.

There are many wineries in the area, and going on a winery tour while enjoying the beautiful scenery is a great way to support local businesses while also experiencing the area.

For more on Galena, see our previous post here.

Rock Cut State Park, Illinois
Rock Cut State Park

Visit a State Park

Planning a trip around seeing the state parks of Illinois is not uncommon, and so staying in the areas closest to these state parks is quite popular.

Whether you’re hoping to visit multiple state parks or explore just one or two in more depth, finding out the top state parks and deciding which ones you wish to visit is a great way to help plan your visit to Illinois.

Capital Building in Springfield


When visiting Illinois it only makes sense to spend some time in the capital of the state, Springfield.

This city is very historically rich, as both the hometown of Abraham Lincoln and the place where Obama first announced his candidacy.

There are many buildings and places throughout the city that are important to the life and times of Abraham Lincoln and have been preserved as historic places.

These include Lincoln’s house, the presidential library, and more.

You can also visit the original State Capitol Hall, first built in 1837. For those interested in politics, history, and architecture or who are just interested to learn more, Springfield is an ideal place to visit.

For more detail on Springfield, see our post here.

The Grafton Loading Dock
The Grafton Loading dock (photo credits: bk1bennett)


Grafton is often seen as a small, unassuming town in southern Illinois, but is actually a vibrant hub of culture surrounded by beautiful scenery.

Close to Pere Marquette State Park, Grafton is blessed with amazing autumn foliage and stunning rock formations within easy reach.

There are also a number of nearby local wineries which also feature beautiful landscapes.

Grafton is a great place to experience nature as there are also a number of wildlife sanctuaries and bird- and wildlife-watching enthusiasts regularly gather.

To see our list of the top things to do in Grafton, see our post here.

The Anderson Japanese Garden in Rockford


Rockford, also known as Forest City, is ideal for those who enjoy nature and history.

With its many parks and gardens, it is great for wandering through natural landscapes and enjoying the scenery.

However, it is also the second-largest city in Illinois and is home to a great number of museums and cultural buildings.

The aforementioned Anderson Japanese Gardens can be found in Rockford as can the well-renowned Burpee Museum of Natural History.

It’s also home to many local artists and artisanal businesses.

The Prairie St Brewing Co. started and has been thriving in Rockford for many years now, making it a great stop on any visit to Rockford.

For more information on Rockford, see our previous post here.

An abandoned house in Cairo, Illinois
An abandoned house in Cairo, Illinois

Explore Small Towns

Most of the places mentioned have been larger cities but there are also many small towns throughout Illinois that are great for visiting.

For example, Cairo is a unique town with many abandoned structures.

If you are interested in abandoned places, history, or urban exploration, Cairo is an ideal place to visit.

For those more interested in the history of Lincoln, following the Lincoln and Civil War Legacy Trail in Alton could be a fun and informative activity.

The list goes on with many interesting and quirky towns to be found all across Illinois.

If you are interested in small towns in southern Illinois, see our list here, or if you are interested in seeing the best small towns across all of Illinois, see here.

Cahokia Mounds
Cahokia Mounds

Best Historic Places in Illinois

Illinois has a long and rich history spanning a range of historic periods.

Luckily, many buildings and sites have been preserved from this history and are now available to be observed and learned from in the modern day.

From the history of Lincoln to ancient Cahokia mounds, the history in Illinois is wide and varied and able to be interesting for anyone.

Cahokia Mounds

The Cahokia Mounds is a really unique and interesting historical site.

It is actually a part of ancient history, putting it in a separate category from most other historic sites listed.

The Cahokia Mounds were the original site of an ancient Native American city dating from 1050-1350CE.

It’s the most complex prehistoric site north of Mexico and shows a unique and sophisticated society.

The site has around 80 mounds of 2,200 acres, although the original city was much larger. Visitors can explore the mounds, either with a guide or independently.

Venturing away from the largest mounds also allows for great unhindered views of nature. For more information on the Cahokia Mounds, see our post here.

Row houses at the Pullman National Monument in Chicago

Pullman National Monument in Chicago

The Pullman National Monument is another unique part of history as the original site for the first planned industrial community in the US.

It was first designed in the 1880s and has gone on to influence American history.

The National A. Phillip Randolph Pullman Porter Museum goes into further depth about the struggles of African Americans in the community and how they worked to gain representation and rights.

There are also a number of historic buildings, such as the Clock Tower and the many historic houses, which depict how the community would have been at the time and give information on daily life.

For more details about the Pullman National Monument, see our previous post here.

Visiting the Lincoln home in Springfield is one of the best things to do in Illinois.
The Lincoln home in Springfield

Lincoln Home National Historic Site

The Lincoln Home National Historic Site is located in Springfield, the hometown of Abraham Lincoln.

It consists of the only home Lincoln ever owned, as well as the surrounding area.

While the Lincoln Home is only one house, there are a number of other historic houses located on the site which show parts of history from the time of Lincoln.

The Lincoln Home can be viewed on a guided tour while other exhibits can be independently explored.

To find out more about the Lincoln Home National Historic Site, click through to see our more detailed post.

To see more unique historic sites across Illinois, you can see our full list here.

Vineyard in autumn

Visit a Winery

While not traditionally known as a wine-making area, Illinois actually has quite a lot of wineries throughout the state.

From the Shawnee Wine trail mentioned above to smaller clusters of wineries found in other parts of the state, there are many places to enjoy locally-produced wines.

Many of the wineries have a cozy, rustic yet gourmet feel and offer a wide selection of wines.

For some of the best wineries in Galena, we have our top 5 list here.

However, if you are going to be spending time in Grafton, you may prefer some of the following wineries.

Bent River Brewing Company Illinois
(photo credits: Bent River Brewing)

Have a Beer

As well as the many award-winning wineries, Illinois is also home to a number of great breweries. Many of these breweries provide unique craft beers which are both locally produced and delicious.

These include Bent River Brewing Company’s coffee-infused oatmeal stout and Pig Minds Brewing Co.’s vegan beers.

There are also many breweries that are working towards a good cause, such as Black Horizons Brewing Company, the only black-owned brewing company in the state, which also donates a portion of the proceeds to various causes.

To see a full list of the best breweries in Illinois, see here.

Wildcat Canyon in Starved Rock

Visit a Canyon

While exploring nature you may be interested in seeing a canyon and Illinois doesn’t disappoint.

Within the many state parks, there are a great many large and impressive canyons.

From Wildcat Canyon, the deepest canyon in Starved Rock Park at 90 feet to LaSalle Canyon, where you can stand behind the waterfall, there are many canyons to explore in Illinois.

For a more family-friendly experience, French Canyon in Starved Rock may be a better choice.

To see more of the top canyons to explore in Illinois, check out our previous post here.

Krannert Art Museum
Krannert Art Museum

Best Museums in Illinois

There are many amazing museums to be found throughout Illinois.

With the wide range available, there will be a museum to suit everyone’s interests.

Whether you prefer natural history, art, science, or something a bit quirky, there is a museum for everyone.

We mentioned already a few museums above but here is a list of more interesting museums.

Krannert Art Museum

The Krannert Art Museum is located on the campus of the University of Illinois in central Illinois and is the second-largest fine art museum in the state.

The museum features over 11,000 pieces of art dating from as far back as the 4th Century BCE. For more detail on the Krannert Art Museum, see our post here.

Burpee Museum of Natural History

The Burpee Museum of Natural History is an amazing three-floor museum full of interactive exhibits and unique pieces of history.

There are many unique fossils, bones, and more featured in the museum along with exhibits on geology, ancient human civilizations, and more.

To see more information, see our post here.

The Caterpillar Visitor Center
The Caterpillar Visitor Center (photo credits: Janet Tarbox)

Caterpillar Visitor’s center

The Caterpillar Visitors Center is a unique museum covering the beginnings and development of the machinery company, Caterpillar.

While it may not seem like the most interesting topic, the center has gone above and beyond to make the experience interactive and exciting.

With a virtual ride in a Caterpillar mining truck and the opportunity to design your own Caterpillar machine, this is a great museum for exciting imagination and curiosity.

The center also offers visitors the chance to operate machinery simulators and learn about how real engineers work at the company.

To see our full list of best museums in Illinois, click through to our post here.

Play a round of golf
Play a round of golf

Play Golf

With the great amount of nature present in Illinois, playing golf can be a very scenic and enjoyable activity.

For golfing enthusiasts, it can be an interesting experience as there is a range of types of courses available throughout the state.

Some of the golf courses found in Illinois also have a long history, such as Chicago Golf Course, ranked as the top golf course in Illinois, and first built in the 1890s.

Rich Harvest Farms is a more modern, but very unique course in that it has been designed purely to suit the whims of the billionaire owner, meaning it doesn’t always fit regulation standards.

For golf enthusiasts, or those simply looking for a different activity to try, exploring some of these golf courses is a great way to see the state at the same time.

Chain Of Rocks Bridge in illinois
The Old Chain Of Rocks Bridge in Illinois

Cross a Historic Bridge

Illinois has many unique historic bridges and with many still standing today, visiting them can be a fun and interesting activity.

The Old Chain of Rocks Bridge is a great example – the bridge forms an important part of American engineering history while also being unique and interesting to see.

Spanning the Mississippi River into St. Louis, the bridge’s most interesting feature is the 22-degree bend it makes towards the middle of the bridge.

It was once part of the famous Route 66 but is now a walking and biking-only bridge.

Another more picturesque bridge is the Camelback Bridge in Normal, while another feat of engineering is the Clark Bridge in Alton.

Many of these bridges are located in picturesque spots, making visiting them a fun activity with many great landscapes to see and history to explore.

The rainforest exhibit at the Miller Park Zoo
The rainforest exhibit at the Miller Park Zoo (photo credits: Taylor Studios inc)

Visit a Zoo

If you are interested in visiting a zoo while on holiday, Illinois has you covered with a number of zoos in different areas.

These range from the Miller Park Zoo in Bloomington, which has many species of animals and features interactive experiences with the supervision of a zookeeper to Brookfield Zoo, a zoo at over 216 acres with over 400 different species of animals.

Many different areas in Illinois feature a zoo, ranging from large interactive zoos to small animal exhibits.

A detail of RavenStone Castle
RavenStone Castle (photo credits: Contemplative imaging)

Visit a Castle

While it may not be medieval Europe, Illinois still has its fair share of castles.

There are many castles located throughout Illinois built in a range of styles from different periods of history.

This makes a ‘castle tour’ a great way to experience a wide range of architectural styles and see the different inspirations for each castle.

Some highlights include the 16th Century style Ravenstone Castle, Bettendorf Castle which was modeled after the original Vianden Castle in Luxembourg, and Old Main Castle, built in a traditional Gothic style.

To see a full list of the best castles in Illinois, see our guide here.

Hegeler Carus Mansion
Hegeler Carus Mansion (Photo credits: Terence Faircloth)

Tour a Historic Mansion

With Illinois’ long history and great record for preserving historic buildings, it should be no surprise that there are a number of historic mansions still intact and well-preserved throughout the state.

Often belonging to important figures in the state’s history, these mansions are interesting from both architectural and historical standpoints.

One example is the Hegeler Carus mansion, first designed in 1974 by renowned architect Boyington.

This mansion stands as an example of Second Empire design and remains almost untouched since the time of its use by the prominent Hegeler family and the Open Court Publishing Company opened by Hegeler.

To see more unique historic mansions in northern Illinois, see our comprehensive list here.

However, if you are more interested in central Illinois, this list may be better suited. 

Rosewood beach (photo credits: Ronincmc)

Best Things to do in Summer in Illinois

Visiting Illinois at different times of the year can bring to life different aspects of the state’s nature, culture and attractions.

Summer brings to mind heat, beaches, and fun in the water, but can be so much more.

Go to the Beach

Illinois has a great range of beaches available along both Lake Michigan and various other lakefronts in the state.

Many of these beaches offer swimming, canoeing, and other water activities as well as simply relaxing on the sand.

To see the best beaches in Illinois, check out our guide here.

At Shawnee, you can kayak through mangroves

Go Kayaking

If you’re looking for something a bit more adventurous than basic swimming and sunbathing, kayaking might be for you.

There are many beaches and lakes in Illinois where kayaking is available as an activity, and many of these offer guides or lessons, making it accessible to all experience levels.

To see our guide to the best kayaking spots, check our post here.

Wonambi in Raging Waves (photo credits: Hurricane Harbor)

Head to a Water Park

When it’s too hot to do anything else and you’re too far from a beach, a water park is the next best thing.

For fun in the water and entertaining the kids, the many water parks of Illinois are ideal for a fun summer’s day out.

Here we have some of the best water parks in Illinois.

Mississippi Palisades State Park
Mississippi Palisades State Park (photo credits: Parker Hayes)

Best Things to do in Illinois in Fall

Fall is a great time to visit Illinois. With beautiful mild weather, stunning autumn foliage, and fun events galore, fall is often recommended as the ideal time to visit.

Watch the Fall colors

While fall foliage can be beautiful anyway, something about the cool, windy weather and ambient atmosphere of Illinois makes it ideal for really appreciating the stunning colors.

There are many places throughout the state that are amazing to enjoy the autumn colors.

For our list of the best places to enjoy fall foliage in Illinois, see our post here.


Attend a Festival

Fall is the ideal time to attend a festival and Illinois has you covered.

From harvest festivals to German-themed Oktoberfests, there’s something for everyone.

One of the most popular fall festivals in Illinois is the Apple n’ Pork Festival in Clifton.

Despite the somewhat strange name, this festival regularly attracts 80,000 visitors to enjoy the country-style food trucks, antique tractor shows,s, and live entertainment.

On the other end of the spectrum is Galena Oktoberfest and Oktoberfest Chicago, both of which celebrate the German event of Oktoberfest with beer, sausages, pretzels, and more aspects of German heritage.

Another unique fall festival is the Morton Pumpkin Festival, which started as a small festival and developed into Morton becoming well-known for pumpkins.

The festival always includes a range of live entertainment and events for kids and adults alike. These include competitions, pumpkin carving, face painting, pageants, and more.

Here is an overview of the best fall festivals in Illinois.

Woodstock Illinois
The Woodstock Opera House

Visit a Haunted Place

For those interested in the paranormal, visiting a haunted place around Halloween in fall is a unique and fun activity.

Of course, these places can be visited year-round, but are especially atmospheric around fall.

From Ridge Cemetery, the cemetery to a ghost town, located at the highest point of a mountain to the Woodstock Opera House, an architecturally beautiful building supposedly haunted by the resident ghost Elvira.

If you are interested in finding the most interesting haunted places in Illinois and the stories behind them, see our full guide here for a spooky read.

The Ice Skate Rink at the Millennium Park in Chicago
The Ice Skate Rink at the Millennium Park in Chicago (photo credits: Prayitno Hadinata – Flickr)

Best Things to do in Winter in Illinois

Winter is often seen as a less desirable time to travel – it’s cold and everyone wants to stay inside in the warmth.

However, winter can be an amazing time to visit Illinois.

With so many winter activities available, it is a great opportunity to experience many of the popular places without the crowds, as well as take part in winter-exclusive experiences.

Go Ice Skating

Ice skating is very popular in Illinois and so there are many different places you can enjoy the activity. There are actually a number of places that are open year-round, as well as seasonal spots.

The McCormick Tribune Ice Rink in Chicago is one of the most popular with over 100,000 skaters each year.

As mentioned previously, the area around Cloud Gate in Chicago is also turned into an ice rink in winter each year and is another very popular spot.

Ottawa Canyon in Starved Rock State Park in Winter
Ottawa canyon is superb in winter

Go Winter Hiking

With Illinois’ many beautiful state parks and miles upon miles of hiking trails, it would be a waste to leave them untouched for months of the year, and so winter hiking is also popular.

Winter hiking can prove to be a very different experience from hiking during the warmer months, with stark landscapes and frozen scenery.

Many of the beautiful waterfalls are frozen, making exploring the state parks of Starved Rock and Matthiessen even more unique and interesting.

There are also many nature preserves, such as Sag Valley Forest Preserve which go almost untouched and show winter in its purest form.

Snow tubing at Snowstar Winter Park (photo credits: Snowstar Winter Park)

Go Snow Tubing

For a unique winter activity, you can try the popular Midwest activity of snow tubing.

With Illinois’ location, it is no surprise that there are a range of places you can try out snow tubing.

These range from more luxury places like the Villa Olivia Resort to fast-paced adrenaline-rushing spots like Snowstar Winter Park or if you’re looking for something more family-friendly,

The Snow Park at Alpine Hills might be your best option.

To see our list of the best places for snow tubing in Illinois, check our previous post here.

Chestnut Mountain Resort (photo credits: Scooter2424)

Go Skiing or Snowboarding

There are many great ski resorts and areas for skiing and snowboarding throughout Illinois.

Many of these intersect with places you can enjoy various other winter activities, making them even more convenient.

For our full list of winter activities in Illinois, see our more detailed post here.


Whether you are planning a romantic couples getaway or a fun family vacation, our guide to the best things to do in Illinois has you covered.

From the towering trees of Illinois’ state parks to the curiosities of local culture and exploration through the past with the rich history of Illinois, there is something to suit every traveler.