Illinois, known as the “Prairie State,” is a diverse and dynamic state located in the Midwestern region of the United States. The state’s major city, Chicago, is a bustling metropolis famous for its impressive architecture, vibrant arts scene, and deep-rooted sports culture. Beyond the city, Illinois offers picturesque rural landscapes, historic sites, and scenic parks, providing a balanced blend of urban excitement and tranquil natural beauty.
Welcome to our comprehensive guide to the top 25 things to do in Illinois! If you’re a travel enthusiast with a passion for cultural exploration and thrilling adventures, you’ve come to the right place.
In this captivating article, we’ll take you on a journey through the Prairie State, unveiling its most unforgettable attractions, iconic landmarks, and hidden gems that will leave you with cherished memories of your Illinois adventure.
Enjoy these top 25 things to do in Illinois in 2023-2024 :
Illinois’ Top 25 Must-Experience Attractions: A Journey of Culture and Adventure
1. Millennium Park : Urban Oasis
Millennium Park, located in the heart of downtown Chicago, is an iconic public space that serves as a cultural hub and a gathering place for locals and tourists alike. This urban oasis is renowned for its stunning art installations, including the famous Cloud Gate sculpture, also known as “The Bean,” and the Jay Pritzker Pavilion, which hosts a variety of concerts and events throughout the year.
2. The Art Institute of Chicago : Artistic Masterpieces
The Art Institute of Chicago is one of the oldest and most renowned art museums in the United States, boasting an extensive collection of over 300,000 works from various cultures and time periods. From iconic masterpieces like Grant Wood’s “American Gothic” to captivating exhibits of modern and contemporary art, the museum offers a rich and diverse artistic experience that attracts art enthusiasts from around the world.
3. Navy Pier : Lakeside Entertainment
Navy Pier, located on the shores of Lake Michigan in Chicago, is a popular entertainment and recreational destination that offers a range of activities for visitors of all ages. With its stunning views of the city skyline, a variety of restaurants, shops, and attractions, Navy Pier is a must-visit spot for tourists and locals looking to enjoy a day of fun and leisure by the waterfront.
4. Starved Rock State Park : Nature’s Splendor
Starved Rock State Park, located along the Illinois River in Utica, is a breathtaking natural wonder that features towering sandstone canyons, majestic waterfalls, and lush forests. With its scenic hiking trails and captivating vistas, the park offers a haven for outdoor enthusiasts and nature lovers seeking to explore the beauty of Illinois’ diverse landscapes.
5. Willis Tower Skydeck : Sky-High Views
The Willis Tower Skydeck, situated in Chicago, Illinois, offers a thrilling and panoramic view of the city from 1,353 feet above the ground. With its iconic glass boxes extending from the building’s side, visitors can step out onto “The Ledge” for a heart-pounding experience of standing high above the city’s skyline and capturing stunning vistas of Chicago’s landmarks and Lake Michigan.
6. Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum : Historical Legacy
The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, located in Springfield, Illinois, is a comprehensive and engaging tribute to the life and legacy of the 16th President of the United States, Abraham Lincoln. Through immersive exhibits, artifacts, and interactive displays, the museum offers visitors a unique opportunity to delve into Lincoln’s life, his leadership during the Civil War, and his impact on American history, making it a must-visit destination for history enthusiasts and those seeking a deeper understanding of this iconic figure.
7. Magnificent Mile : Shopping Extravaganza
The Magnificent Mile, located in downtown Chicago, Illinois, is a bustling and vibrant stretch of Michigan Avenue renowned for its luxury shopping, world-class dining, and iconic landmarks. From the historic Water Tower to the upscale boutiques and department stores, the Magnificent Mile offers a chic and dynamic urban experience that draws both locals and tourists to indulge in the best of Chicago’s shopping and entertainment scene.
8. Shedd Aquarium : Aquatic Wonder
Shedd Aquarium, located in Chicago, Illinois, is a world-class aquatic facility that offers a captivating journey into the wonders of marine life. With over 32,000 animals representing over 1,500 species, including dolphins, beluga whales, and penguins, the aquarium provides a unique and educational experience for visitors of all ages, making it a beloved attraction for families and animal enthusiasts alike.
9. Route 66 : Iconic Road Trip
Route 66, often referred to as the “Main Street of America,” is a historic and iconic highway that once connected Chicago, Illinois, to Santa Monica, California. Known for its cultural significance and role in American folklore, Route 66 traversed through diverse landscapes, charming towns, and roadside attractions, making it a symbol of adventure and the freedom of the open road. Although the original route is no longer a single continuous highway, many portions of it still exist as local roads and scenic byways, drawing travelers from around the world to experience the nostalgia and charm of this legendary road trip.
10. The Field Museum : Natural Treasures
The Field Museum, located in Chicago, Illinois, is one of the largest and most renowned natural history museums in the world. With an extensive collection of over 40 million artifacts and specimens, including Sue, the largest and most complete Tyrannosaurus rex fossil ever discovered, the museum offers a fascinating exploration of the natural world and human history, making it a must-visit destination for curious minds and science enthusiasts.
11. Lincoln Park Zoo : Urban Wildlife
Lincoln Park Zoo, situated in the heart of Chicago, Illinois, is one of the oldest zoos in the United States and a beloved destination for families and animal lovers. With its free admission and a diverse collection of over 1,000 animals from around the world, the zoo offers a fun and educational experience for visitors of all ages, making it a cherished institution in the city’s cultural landscape.
12. Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site : Ancient Civilization
Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site, located near Collinsville, Illinois, is an ancient archaeological treasure that preserves the remains of the largest pre-Columbian settlement in North America. With over 70 mounds, including the impressive Monks Mound, the site provides a glimpse into the advanced civilization of the Mississippian culture that thrived here centuries ago, making it a significant and captivating destination for history enthusiasts and those curious about the rich heritage of the region.
13. Anderson Japanese Gardens : Tranquil Beauty
Anderson Japanese Gardens, nestled in Rockford, Illinois, is a serene and authentic Japanese garden that offers visitors a tranquil escape into the beauty of Japanese landscaping and culture. With its meticulously manicured gardens, peaceful water features, and traditional architecture, the gardens provide a serene oasis for relaxation and reflection, making it a cherished destination for those seeking a serene and meditative experience amidst the natural beauty of Illinois.
14. Chicago Riverwalk : Riverside Promenade
The Chicago Riverwalk, a scenic pedestrian pathway along the Chicago River, is a vibrant and bustling urban space that offers a variety of dining, entertainment, and recreational opportunities. With its stunning views of the city’s iconic architecture and a lively atmosphere, the Riverwalk has become a popular destination for both locals and visitors looking to experience the dynamic and lively spirit of downtown Chicago.
15. Garden of the Gods : Natural Wonder
Garden of the Gods, located in the Shawnee National Forest of Illinois, is a breathtaking natural wonder known for its striking rock formations and panoramic views. With its awe-inspiring beauty and numerous hiking trails, the area offers a perfect opportunity for outdoor enthusiasts and photographers to explore and appreciate the unique geological formations of this stunning landscape.
16. Museum of Science and Industry : Interactive Learning
The Museum of Science and Industry, located in Chicago, Illinois, is the largest science museum in the Western Hemisphere and a premier destination for interactive learning and exploration. With its captivating exhibits, hands-on activities, and immersive experiences, the museum offers a fun and educational journey through science, technology, and innovation, making it a top choice for families, school groups, and curious minds of all ages.
17. Matthiessen State Park : Hidden Gem
Matthiessen State Park, nestled in central Illinois, is a natural gem featuring stunning canyons, waterfalls, and lush vegetation. With its rugged landscapes and well-maintained hiking trails, the park provides a perfect opportunity for outdoor enthusiasts and nature lovers to immerse themselves in the beauty of Illinois’ wilderness.
18. Adler Planetarium : Celestial Exploration
The Adler Planetarium, located in Chicago, Illinois, is the oldest planetarium in the Western Hemisphere and a premier destination for exploring the wonders of the universe. With its state-of-the-art exhibits, immersive sky shows, and interactive experiences, the planetarium offers a fascinating and educational journey through space and astronomy, making it a captivating destination for visitors of all ages.
19. The Rookery Building : Architectural Gem
The Rookery Building, situated in downtown Chicago, Illinois, is an architectural masterpiece renowned for its historic significance and stunning design. Designed by renowned architects Daniel Burnham and John Wellborn Root, the building’s striking facade and interior make it a must-visit for architecture enthusiasts and a testament to Chicago’s rich architectural heritage.
20. Garden of Reflection : Serene Tribute
The Garden of Reflection, located in Yardley, Pennsylvania, is a beautiful and solemn memorial dedicated to the victims of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. The garden’s serene landscapes, reflecting pool, and poignant sculptures provide a peaceful space for reflection and remembrance, making it a place of healing and tribute for visitors from near and far.
21. Illinois State Capitol : Political Landmark
The Illinois State Capitol, situated in Springfield, is an impressive architectural marvel and the seat of government for the state of Illinois. With its iconic dome and stunning interior, including the beautifully decorated Rotunda, the capitol building showcases the state’s rich history and political significance, making it a significant landmark and attraction for history enthusiasts and visitors to the state capital.
22. Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum : Environmental Education
The Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, located in Chicago, Illinois, is a delightful destination for nature lovers of all ages, offering interactive exhibits and educational programs that celebrate the natural world. With its focus on regional wildlife and habitats, the museum provides a unique opportunity to learn about the biodiversity of the Midwest and the importance of conservation, making it a beloved institution for families and students seeking to connect with nature and environmental stewardship.
23. Horseshoe Hammond : Gaming Excitement
Horseshoe Hammond, situated in Hammond, Indiana, is a premier casino and entertainment destination just outside of Chicago. With its expansive gaming floor, world-class dining options, and lively entertainment, Horseshoe Hammond offers a thrilling and upscale experience for those looking to try their luck or enjoy a night of excitement and fun.
24. Morton Arboretum : Arboreal Sanctuary
The Morton Arboretum, located in Lisle, Illinois, is a stunning botanical garden and outdoor museum that showcases a diverse collection of trees and plant species from around the world. With its beautifully landscaped gardens, scenic trails, and educational exhibits, the arboretum offers a peaceful and enriching experience for visitors seeking to connect with nature and explore the beauty of the plant kingdom.
25. Lincoln Home National Historic Site : Presidential Residence
The Lincoln Home National Historic Site, located in Springfield, Illinois, is a well-preserved historic landmark that once served as the residence of Abraham Lincoln and his family. With its carefully restored interior and period furnishings, the site offers visitors a glimpse into the daily life of the 16th President of the United States, making it a significant and educational destination for history enthusiasts and those curious about the life and times of Abraham Lincoln.
Illinois offers an impressive array of must-experience attractions, from the cultural allure of Chicago to the natural wonders of Starved Rock State Park. Whether you seek urban entertainment, historical landmarks, or natural beauty, the Prairie State promises an enriching journey that will leave you with cherished memories and a deeper appreciation for its diverse offerings.
25 Best Things to Do in Illinois, USA in 2023-2024 :
- Millennium Park : Urban Oasis
- The Art Institute of Chicago : Artistic Masterpieces
- Navy Pier : Lakeside Entertainment
- Starved Rock State Park : Nature’s Splendor
- Willis Tower Skydeck : Sky-High Views
- Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum : Historical Legacy
- Magnificent Mile : Shopping Extravaganza
- Shedd Aquarium : Aquatic Wonder
- Route 66 : Iconic Road Trip
- The Field Museum : Natural Treasures
- Lincoln Park Zoo : Urban Wildlife
- Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site : Ancient Civilization
- Anderson Japanese Gardens : Tranquil Beauty
- Chicago Riverwalk : Riverside Promenade
- Garden of the Gods : Natural Wonder
- Museum of Science and Industry : Interactive Learning
- Matthiessen State Park : Hidden Gem
- Adler Planetarium : Celestial Exploration
- The Rookery Building : Architectural Gem
- Garden of Reflection : Serene Tribute
- Illinois State Capitol : Political Landmark
- Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum : Environmental Education
- Horseshoe Hammond : Gaming Excitement
- Morton Arboretum : Arboreal Sanctuary
- Lincoln Home National Historic Site : Presidential Residence