Also known as “the Prairie State” and “the Land of Lincoln,” Illinois is a vacation destination that’s just bursting with possibility. From the gleaming metropolis of Chicago to the rolling farmlands of Poplar Grove, you can see all kinds of sights and have all kinds of experiences and adventures. Nature lovers, for example, will enjoy …
Also known as “the Prairie State” and “the Land of Lincoln,” Illinois is a vacation destination that’s just bursting with possibility.
From the gleaming metropolis of Chicago to the rolling farmlands of Poplar Grove, you can see all kinds of sights and have all kinds of experiences and adventures.
Nature lovers, for example, will enjoy hitting the mountains and rivers for hiking, climbing, camping and kayaking.
History buffs might be interested in the many museums and landmarks associated with Abraham Lincoln, Native Americans and the Civil War Era.
Shopaholics won’t want to miss the malls, and culture enthusiasts will love the galleries, vineyards, dance halls and botanical gardens.
Illinois also plays host to a number of special events throughout the year, including the world-famous Lollapalooza.
If you’ll be traveling the region at the right time, you can enjoy the festivities with locals and travelers alike!
Are you ready to get started with your vacation plans?
Do you have your notebook on hand?
Let’s talk about the best and most memorable things to do in Illinois.
Things To Do In Illinois
1. Millennium Park
Millennium Park is one of the most iconic places to visit in Illinois.
Even if you’ve never been there before, you’ve seen it in countless movies and TV shows.
The giant silver bean is embedded in the public consciousness.
There are other things to do besides sightseeing, of course.
You can take your shoes off and splash around in the Crown Fountain; you can headbang to an outdoor concert at the Jay Pritzker Pavilion; you can enjoy a moment of zen in the beautiful, colorful Lurie Garden.
You can even go roller blading and rock climbing in the nearby Maggie Daley Park!
It doesn’t matter which season you’re vacationing in, either.
If it’s summer, go biking.
If it’s winter, go figure skating.
This is a destination that never shuts down.
Make time for a trip to Millennium Park.
It’s a must see for anyone traveling through Illinois, especially those with a big bucket list filled with popular tourist destinations!
Address: 201 E Randolph St, Chicago, IL 60602, United States
You can’t mention Illinois without mentioning Lollapalooza.
It’s one of the most famous music festivals in the world, so much so that copycats have debuted everywhere from Europe to South America.
It completely takes over the city of Chicago every summer and doesn’t ease its grip for four days.
What can you do at Lollapalooza?
While the rockin’ outdoor concerts are the biggest draw, they’re far from the only attractions.
Art lovers can check out the paintings and sculptures of the Art Market; food lovers can hit Chow Town and its dozens of vendors offering everything from pork dumplings to lobster corn dogs.
There are also games, activities, workshops and tons of other activities for visitors of all ages.
Kids under 10 get in free!
If you’re wondering what to do in the hazy, late summer days of your Illinois vacation, you won’t want to miss Lollapalooza.
More than a quarter of a million people descend on the lakefront every year to eat, drink, dance and generally have the time of their lives.
Address: Chicago, IL, United States
3. Illinois Beach State Park
You might not think of Illinois as a place with sun-soaked beaches, but when you visit Illinois Beach State Park, you can recline in the sand with a salt-rimmed margarita just like you’re in the Caribbean.
Popular beach sites offer swimming, boating, fishing, scuba diving, volleyball playing and more.
Less crowded areas have breathtaking natural scenery in the form of canyons, sand dunes and wetlands dotted with driftwood trees.
If you’re looking for places to go outside of the water, you can also hit up the black oak savanna for things like hiking, cycling, geocatching and bird watching.
You can camp for days; you can picnic for an afternoon.
It’s up to you.
Put Illinois Beach State Park on your shortlist of vacation destinations.
With so much fun to offer across so many different landscapes, it’s worth its place on the Illinois state map.
Address: 1 Lake Front Dr, Zion, IL 60099, United States
4. Route 66 Motorheads Bar, Grill & Museum
Route 66 is the kind of destination that conjures up visions of sprawling road trips filled with diners, motels and the wind blowing through your hair from top-down windows.
The good news is that it doesn’t have to be a fantasy when you visit a place like the Route 66 Motorheads Bar in Illinois!
Thoroughly nostalgic, the Motorheads Bar is a blast from the past that incorporates everything from classic cars in its decor to traditional trucker food in its menu.
Every space in the parking lot is filled with automobiles from another era.
Every inch of the walls is covered with faded Ford advertisements and Coca-Cola posters.
There are even ancient but fully functional arcade games for you to play!
It isn’t just a bar and restaurant, and it it isn’t just a museum.
It’s all three combined.
If you’re looking for cool things to see in the Prairie State, you won’t want to miss the famous of Illinois’s attractions, and it doesn’t get more famous than Route 66.
Kill your engine at the Motorheads Bar for an epic pit stop on your cross-country road trip.
Address: 600 Toronto Rd, Springfield, IL 62711, United States
Planning to visit Springfield soon? Why not check out some of the things to do in Springfield, IL?
5. Navy Pier
Navy Pier is one of the most famous places in the Midwest.
Its skyline is printed on countless postcards, and its activities range from dining and shopping to touring glass gardens and hopping on amusement park rides.
What is Navy Pier?
Stretching for more than 3,300 feet, it’s a boardwalk along the shores of Lake Michigan that’s absolutely packed with cool things to see and do.
The most recognized attraction is the Ferris wheel that lights up at night, but there are also games, cruises, carousels, art shows, funhouse mazes, remote control boats and more.
Another nice thing about the pier is that it’s open all year long, so whether you’re headed to Chicago this weekend or three seasons from now, you can count on it being a rock-steady presence in the city.
Don’t miss out on the most famous boardwalk in the country.
Visit Navy Pier while you’re in Illinois and enjoy all of the amazing entertainment to be had there!
Address: 600 E Grand Ave, Chicago, IL 60611, United States
6. Art Institute of Chicago
Welcoming more than 1.5 million visitors per year, the Art Institute of Chicago is one of the major points of interest of Illinois.
It’s also among the oldest and largest art museums in the entire country, so it’s usually spoken in the same breath as institutions such as New York City’s Metropolitan Museum of Art and Washington DC‘s National Gallery!
Exhibits at the museum range from ancient textiles to modern art and photography.
There are more than 300,000 pieces in total, and you’re bound to recognize some of them, including Pablo Picasso’s The Old Guitarist and Grant Wood’s American Gothic.
In addition to exploring the art, you can also attend special events at the museum such as workshops, lectures and semi-private tours with artists and curators.
Don’t miss your opportunity to visit one of the most revered art museums of all time.
If you’ll be in Chicago, make time for the Art Institute of Chicago.
Address: 111 S Michigan Ave, Chicago, IL 60603, United States
7. Leaning Tower of Niles
Located in Niles, Illinois, the Leaning Tower of Niles is a half-sized replica of the real thing.
Though it wasn’t constructed for any official purpose, it was recognized by the Italian government in 1934, and Niles and Piza were established as sister cities shortly afterwards.
Today, the tower is considered one of the biggest tourist attractions of Niles.
It has four fountains and a pool in addition to a full arrangement of antique, still-ringing bells, so it’s a great place for sightseers.
It’s also something of a beacon for summertime fun; many musicians and buskers camp out in front of the tower when the weather is nice, and it’s a common place for joggers, painters, dog walkers and food vendors.
You might not ever get the chance to travel to Italy, but you can have a little taste of it with a trip to the Leaning Tower of Niles.
Schedule a visit and make sure that your camera is ready for all sorts of selfies!
Address: 6300 W Touhy Ave, Niles, IL 60714, United States
8. Bahá’í House of Worship
You don’t have to be religious to appreciate the glory and rarity of the Bahá’í House of Worship.
It’s the only one of its kind in North America and one of only a handful in the entire world.
Who would expect it to be located in Wilmette, Illinois?
There it sits, however, with its massive spherical architecture that includes dozens of windows encircling a great central dome.
Inside, there are chapels and rooms for prayer; outside, there are nine outdoor gardens filled with fountains and other beautiful and peaceful features designed to invoke feelings of serenity.
Seeing them all will be a challenge just because of the sheer size of the grounds, but it’s doable.
If you aren’t familiar with the Bahá’í religion, it’s based on the teachings of a Persian prophet, and you can learn a lot about its beliefs and origins by visiting its temple.
Visitors are always welcome, and admission is free.
That said, you don’t have to be a follower of Bahá’í to feel spiritual stirrings at the sight of the Bahá’í House of Worship.
It’s one of the grandest places to visit in Illinois, and it can renew your faith in a beautiful world if nothing else.
Address: 100 Linden Ave, Wilmette, IL 60091, United States
9. Six Flags Great America
Located in Gurnee, Illinois, Six Flags Great America is the largest amusement park in the region, and it takes advantage of its location by offering both classic Six Flags fare and uniquely Midwestern rides, events and activities.
For example, Hometown Square is a country-themed area where everything has a boots-and-spurs kind of charm.
There’s also the Southwest Territory, an area modeled after the Wild West, and the County Fair, an area that perfectly encapsulates the spirit of a rural festival.
Another fun fact: If you ride the 300-foot Sky Trek Tower on a clear day, you can see the entire Chicago skyline in the distance, including Lake Michigan.
Sightseeing doesn’t get more epic than that!
If you’re looking for cool vacations spots in Illinois, make time for Six Flags Great America.
It offers all of the roller coasters and cotton candy that you could want, but it’s also undeniable as one of Illinois’s attractions.
Address: 1 Great America Parkway, Gurnee, IL 60031, United States
10. The Chocolate Sanctuary
You’ve heard of truffles, but have you heard of truffle martinis?
You know what chocolate tastes like in a cake, but are you familiar with chocolate-based glazes used on chicken breasts served with nuts, peppers and breadcrumbs?
These are just a few of the ways to experience the signature ingredient of The Chocolate Sanctuary, a gourmet restaurant in Illinois.
It specializes in sweet and savory dishes that put the cacao bean front and center.
Some deploy a chocolately twist on old favorites; others are completely new inventions that will make you say “what?” followed by “oh, yum!”
Dinner at The Chocolate Sanctuary is one of the most decadent things to do in Illinois.
From its smooth silk pies to its crusted barbecue pork chops, every moment of your dining experience will be a self-indulgent one.
Don’t feel guilty, however!
Everyone deserves to pamper themselves every once in awhile!
Address: 5101 Washington St, Gurnee, IL 60031, United States
11. Old Book Barn
Do you like oddball vacation destinations?
If so, you’ll have a blast at the Old Book Barn.
It covers 14,000 square feet and is stuffed to the brim with old, rare and used books as well as arts, crafts, games, CDs, DVDs and antiquities.
If this sounds like a trip into an older, more nostalgic world, you’re absolutely right.
Stepping into the barn is like stepping back in time.
Before the days of Amazon and eBay, you had to find buried treasures on your own, and that might mean sifting through all kinds of flea market fare to unearth the gems beneath the junk.
It’s still possible to have that kind of vintage thrifting experience today, but you’ll need to go to places like the Old Book Barn.
With its crowded bookshelves crowded by even more odds and ends, it’s one of the more unique things to see in Illinois, but its individuality is just another part of its charm.
Don’t forget to say hello to the store cats while you’re there!
Address: 126 US-51, Forsyth, IL 62535, United States
12. Superdawg Drive-In
You can’t visit Chicago without trying a Chicago-style hot dog.
It’s a must do.
Thankfully, the Superdawg Drive-In offers a fun and unique vacation experience that’ll leave your belly and your camera roll fit to bursting.
You see, the food isn’t the only reason to visit Superdawg.
Though it offers a tasty hot dog served on a poppy seed bun and topped with piccalilli fries, its real selling point is its 1950s-style carhop service.
You drive up to the neon lights that advertise its glitzy, boxy building, and after you’ve placed your order, an employee will come out and hand it to you.
They’ll even put your straw in your milkshake for you!
The Superdawg Drive-In represents a bygone era in Chicago, but that’s exactly what makes it so special.
The menu is top notch, and the service is old-school cool.
You’ll definitely want to post about a place like Superdawg on your socials.
Address: 6363 N Milwaukee Ave, Chicago, IL 60646, United States
Planning a trip to Chicago soon? Why not check out some of the things to do in Chicago?
13. Lincoln Park Zoo
Lions and tigers and bears, oh my!
The Lincoln Park Zoo is home to thousands of animals from hundreds of different species, so it’ll be a great family-friendly destination for anyone visiting Illinois.
As a bonus, it’s one of the last free admission zoos in America, so you won’t have to pay anything to enjoy it.
The critters range from owls to otters to octopi, and their habitats are just as fun as their curious little habits and mannerisms.
You can watch monkeys swinging, birds flying and rhinos stomping and snorting.
Other things to do include petting penguins, exploring gardens, dining at the on-site restaurant and riding various trains and carousels.
Adults can hop right on along with their little ones!
Free tourist attractions don’t come along every day, and even when they do, there’s no guarantee that they’ll be as awesome as the Lincoln Park Zoo.
Take advantage while you can, and make fun and lasting memories on your Illinois vacation while you’re at it.
Address: 2001 N Clark St, Chicago, IL 60614, United States
Cave-In-Rock is a village located in southern Illinois, but most people aren’t familiar with the tiny clump of homes and shops.
Instead, they know it for its most acclaimed tourist attraction: a literal cave carved out of a rock that sits on the river.
Back in the day, the cave was a hive of scum and villainy.
It was used by pirates who launched attacks on unsuspecting longboats pirating goods down the river; it was used by thieves, murderers and outlaws as a hiding place where the authorities couldn’t find them.
The cave was cleansed in the 1700s when a vigilante group descended on the area and rooted out all of the mischief makers, and for awhile, it was a place of peace.
It even hosted a church for some time!
Today, however, the cave is just a cool tourist attraction.
It’s hidden away from prying eyes, so it’s one of the more obscure things to do in Illinois, but it’s worth the trip.
Its long and colorful history will make for a great story when you get home.
Address: IL 62919, United States
15. Bengtson’s Pumpkin Farm
13 rides. 225 farm animals.
More than 100 meals and snacks.
This is just a small sample of what’s available at Bengtson’s Pumpkin Farm, a family-friendly destination that’s sure to inspire a love of country living in your little ones!
Activities include everything from hay rides to petting zoos that include cow-milking and goat-feeding experiences.
To get a thrill, hop on the old-fashioned train train or hurl yourself down the towering six-lane slide.
When you get hungry, sit down for a hearty chuckwagon barbecue meal or just munch on yummy treats like kettle corn and apple cider donuts.
Even more unique things to do include pig races and mechanical pumpkin launchers!
Bengtson’s Pumpkin Farm is one of the best places to go in Illinois with kids.
Whether you have tiny tots or grumpy teenagers who will pretend not to know you in the haunted barn, everyone will remember the time that they spent here.
Address: 13341 W 151st St, Homer Glen, IL 60491, United States
Winnetka, Illinois is a small town tucked into the northeastern corner of the state.
However, it’s anything but inconsequential: With a median income of $207,000 per year, it has one of the wealthiest populations in America.
Visitors to the town can gawk at the elaborate and expensive mansions that line the pretty, tree-shaded streets, including the Georgian mansion was that used for the first two Home Alone movies.
There’s also beach access, and thanks to the well-to-do residents, the beaches have some of the cleanest coastlines in the state.
Other attractions include high-quality parks, museums, restaurants and historical societies.
While Winnetka isn’t a big place for tourism, it’s definitely worth checking out if you’ll be in that neck of the woods in Illinois.
If nothing else, it’s a chance to see how the upper echelons of society live, and you can drink their imported coffee and swim in their pristine beach waters while you’re there!
Address: Illinois, United States
17. Shawnee National Forest
Illinois might be most famous for its skyscrapers, but there’s plenty of natural phenomena to behold when you leave the cities and hit the wilderness.
Shawnee National Forest isn’t the only such destination, but it’s one of the best.
The Garden of the Gods is home to sandstone rock formations that have remained intact for centuries.
The River to River Trail will take you on an epic journey across hills, cliffs, forests and wetlands.
Jackson Falls has steep bluffs that lead to a picturesque waterfall; Cedar Lake has clear blue waters surrounded by a number of lush green nature trails.
Outdoor activities range from camping and kayaking to hiking and horseback riding.
You can also climb, fish, hunt, windsurf, waterski or rent an ATV/UTV for off-roading.
Basically, if you can dream it, you can probably do it.
With towering trees and thundering waterfalls, Shawnee National Forest is one of the most beautiful places to visit in the US.
It isn’t just a wonder of Illinois; it’s a wonder of the entire country.
You’ll definitely want to pay it a visit.
Address: Herod, IL 62947, United States
18. Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum
Did you know that Abraham Lincoln served as the Congressman of Illinois?
Most people remember him as the 16th president of the United States, and many have heard about his iconic birth in a log cabin, but the little details of his political career are often overlooked.
This doesn’t apply to the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, however.
Every inch of the building is dedicated to preserving the history of its namesake.
From his birth to his assassination, you can follow the progress of Lincoln’s entire life.
Full-sized dioramas recreate some of the most extraordinary moments in his life.
Photos, letters, documents, maps and videos recreate his journey from poverty to presidency.
Some of the museum’s exhibits are quite grand, including an original copy of the Gettysburg Address; others are more mundane, including a recreation of his glasses and shaving mirror.
If you’re a fan of honest Abe, the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum is more than worth the price of admission.
It’s a point of pride in terms of Illinois attractions, and it’ll provide amazing insight into one of the country’s most popular leaders.
Address: 212 N 6th St, Springfield, IL 62701, United States
19. Funk Prairie Home Museum
Originally called the “Funk Gem and Mineral Museum,” this museum is dedicated to everything sparkly.
It houses an enormous collection of gems, jewels, minerals, fossils, shells, corals, carvings and more.
The assortment is all the more impressive for the fact that it’s a one-man show.
According to the owner, it’s the largest private collection of minerals in the world.
The museum offers other things to marvel at, too, including elaborate lapidary art and antique farm machinery.
A carefully preserved home from 1864 can also be explored by history buffs.
If you’re wondering what to do that’s off the beaten path in Illinois, you might like the Funk Prairie Home Museum.
It offers a quirky kind of vacation experience that will remain in your memory far longer than other, more generic attractions.
Address: 10875 Prairie Home Ln Funk Prairie Home, Shirley, IL 61772, United States
20. Go Ape Zipline and Adventure Park
With a menu that includes everything from ziplining to axe throwing, the Go Ape Zipline and Adventure Park will definitely satisfy your hunger for adventure.
It’s one of the most exciting places to visit in Illinois for people who like to view the world from on high.
Most activities are in the tree canopies, including the swings, ziplines, rope courses, suspension bridges and bouncy treehouse nets.
A few things like the axe throwing are on the ground.
Things can be booked by the hour or by the course.
There are also adventure packages available that combine multiple site features into one, so if you have an insatiable appetite that wants to try everything, that’s an option as well.
Clear out this weekend’s schedule.
It’s time to embrace your inner monkey and go hurtling through the treetops at Go Ape Zipline and Adventure Park.
Address: 1100 Ogden Ave, Western Springs, IL 60558, United States
21. Blaum Bros. Distilling Co.
Founded by two brothers who discovered that “the only way they could get along was to drink whiskey with each other,” the Blaum Bros. Distilling Co. is one of the coolest places to see in Illinois.
It’s also one of the best for getting drunk!
Utterly unpretentious, the company is staffed by a laid-back crew that will welcome you to tour the facility like a friend rather than a customer.
You’ll get to see everything from the distillery to the barrel room to the cocktail bar, and along the way, you’ll be treated to many, many samples of their homemade specialty brews.
Another fun fact: If your name is Gus, you can get a tour for free!
If you’re feeling a thirst in Illinois, consider swinging by the Blaum Bros. Distilling Co.
It’ll offer an authentic brewery experience in an Illinois town known for its beer, but at the same time, it’ll be a no-fuss, no-stress experience for someone who just wants a cold one on vacation.
Address: 9380 US Hwy 20 W, Galena, IL 61036, United States
22. Starved Rock State Park
With a name like Starved Rock State Park, how can you pass up this destination?
The good news is that it’s just as cool and glamorous as its moniker suggests.
The highlight of the park is definitely its collection of waterfalls.
Formed by glacial meltwater flowing ceaselessly across sandstone, the falls range from gentle and peaceful trickles to thundering waves crashing into the rocks below.
Many of them feed into the Illinois River.
Other beautiful sites include mossy rock formations, flower-lined trails and forested hills where you can observe all kinds of wildlife.
If you’re especially lucky, you might spot a bald eagle flying overhead.
Starved Rock State Park is one of the most impressive sites to see in Illinois, and it doesn’t even matter if you’re a nature lover or not.
You’ll become one after a few hours in the park.
It’s that awesome.
Address: 2678 E 875th Rd, Oglesby, IL 61348, United States
23. Calumet Fisheries
Calumet Fisheries isn’t your usual seafood shack.
It’s one of the last remaining restaurants to smoke its fish over wood-burning fires, making it a rare and valuable establishment in the culinary world.
Anthony Bourdain agreed: He scribbled a rave review on the wall when he visited, and that love note is still legible today, though it’s been bleached by the sun and the reverent touch of many hands.
There’s nothing pompous about the restaurant.
The word “shack” is an accurate description, and many people don’t even use its scarce few tables and chairs, opting instead to take their meals on the go.
If you’re a seafood lover, however, you’ve just got to try its menu.
The seafood is brined overnight and smoked for hours over wood logs.
The end result is fatty salmon, stout sturgeon, jumbo shrimp and even the occasional round of smokehouse eel.
Many things to do in Illinois involve eating until you’re stuffed, and if you’re ready to live up to the tradition, swing by Calumet Fisheries.
You literally can’t get this kind of fish anywhere else.
Address: 3259 E 95th St, Chicago, IL 60617, United States
24. Aurora Farmers Market
The tables are piled high with produce.
The vendors are hawking everything from artisan cheeses to freshly-baked bread and just-pickled veggies.
Jewelry jingles every time that there’s a breeze.
This is the Aurora Farmers Market, one of the oldest farmer’s markets in Illinois.
It’s a staple of summertime and a great place to stock up on food, spices, crafts, plants, seeds and more.
In addition to the buying and selling action, there’s often live music played for visitors, and the atmosphere is always friendly as people chat with one another.
You might not find the Aurora Farmers Market in a lot of travel guides, but if you’re looking for hidden gems in Illinois, it’s one of the best places to go.
Its history is unparalleled, and its selection is nearly as impressive.
Give it a try if you’ll be in Aurora during your vacation.
Address: 65 Water St, Aurora, IL 60505, United States
25. Henry’s Rabbit Ranch
Roadside attractions are one of the best things about Route 66, especially when they’re as quirky as Henry’s Rabbit Ranch.
Part of the site is dedicated to real-life rabbits, and the other part is dedicated to Volkswagen Rabbits.
Both are represented by all kinds of arts, crafts, posters and tin signs as well as merch for purchase such as t-shirts and key chains.
The real rabbits will be happy to come out of their hutches and see you.
The mechanical Rabbits are available for posing and picture taking.
The owner, a regular guy with a passion project, is always ready to come out and chat with you about your travels.
Another thing worth mentioning is that the “ranch” is actually designed like a vintage gas station complete with red tanks and wooden roof, so it’ll be great for some artfully off-the-wall photos.
Shutterbugs, make sure to bring your camera!
All things considered, Henry’s Rabbit Ranch is a fun and funky destination that should definitely make it on your list of things to do in Illinois.
After all, how many opportunities will you have in your life to explore a place like this?
Address: 1107 Historic Old Rte 66, Staunton, IL 62088, United States