10 Very Best Places in Illinois To Visit – Hand Luggage Only

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Illinois is an incredible state in the United States to visit. With epic cities like Chicago, gorgeous shorelines and stunning state parks, it’s a perfect vacation spot. Best of all, there are loads of the very best places in Illinois dotted all across the state.

This all means that the hardest task you’ll have is squeezing them all into your trip.

So, to make things that little bit easier for you, I wanted to share my top places in Illinois that I think you’ll love. I travelled all across Illinois and loved it; I’m sure you will too. 

Anyway, no more rambling! Take a look, below, at the best places in Illinois to visit. Have an amazing trip! 

1.) Mississippi Palisades State Park

Best Places in Illinois To Visit River

A popular spot for those that love the great outdoors, visiting Mississippi Palisades State Park is one of the best things to do in Illinois that’s picture perfect.  

Situated where Apple and Mississippi rivers meet, it’s a region where you can spend hours, if not days exploring. Once here, take some time to hike the trails, ski in winter or snowshoe through the powdery snow.

Best of all, Mississippi Palisades State Park features around 15 miles of rugged paths and trails to explore. On that point, whilst hiking, check out Lookout Point for some of the best views. 

Going around and through limestone caves, soaring hills and wooded ravines are honestly stunning. This is especially true if you’re taking a road trip around the state and want to stretch your legs. 

If you are craving more adventures, you can still head to Indian Head and Twin Sister, famous rock-climbing formations, and do not forget to bring your own gear.

Read more: Best things to do in Chicago

2.) Shawnee National Forest

Best things to do in Illinois USA Nature

Another great outdoor spot in Illinois is Shawnee National Forest. Nestled on the southwest fringes, it’s one of the best things to do in Illinois when you’re heading south to Missouri or Kentucky. 

After all, it’s right at Illinois’ most southern point for a forest.

Best Places in Illinois To Visit Waterfall

One main attraction in the forest is the Garden of the Gods which is a magnificent rock formation that’s totally stunning.

There is a short observation trail around this geological area and it’s pretty easy to follow if you’re a moderate hiker. Just always hike responsibly and listen to local advice; no one likes a reckless hiker. 

Oh, and don’t forget about Jackson Falls, too. 

3.) Rockford

Best Places in Illinois To Visit Japanese Garden

Perched in the north of Illinois, the city of Rockford is a great stopping point for a city break as you traverse the state on a road trip. 

In fact, it’s Illinois’ third largest city and has loads of things to do and see. 

Once here, be sure to check out the Anderson Japanese Gardens. It’s said to be one of the best Japanese gardens in the whole US. A title that Rockford is very proud of. Open in the summer months between May and October, it is a great place to spend a few hours chilling. 

Honestly, the landscape in the garden is magnificent, too. There are ornate bridges, Japanese lanterns, and stunning pagodas which leave this spot feeling so relaxing. 

Best things to do in Illinois USA Water Mill

Afterwards, make sure to check out the Midway Village Museum and learn more about the local character and history of Illinois. 

Oh, and don’t forget to check out the Burpee Museum of Natural History.

It has thousands of exhibits and is a great place to check out everything from dinosaur skeletons to local ecosystems that flourish in the area. Now, I’ve probably made that sound like a pretty dull experience but trust me, it’s not! 

4.) Starved Rock State Park

Best things to do in Illinois USA Nature

Maybe mostly popular for its gorgeous waterfalls, visiting Starved Rock State Park is one of the best things to do in Illinois. Its natural beauty pulls lots of visitors from all over the US and is well worth taking a gander whilst you’re here. 

The 13-mile discovery trail is one of the visitors’ favourites – though it can feel pretty arduous if you’re not a keen hiker.  If you’re not sure, book a guided tour. 

5.) Chicago

Best things to do in Illinois USA Chicago Pier

We all know about the windy city, right? 

Well, visiting Chicago’s epic places is easily one of the best things to do in Illinois if you want a vibrant city break.

If you love retro parks and this epic Ferris wheel, you have to pop over to Navy Pier. Just be sure to book these express tickets before you get there as you want to avoid any queues.

Once here, it features some tasty restaurants, magnificent museums, a pretty extensive shopping centre and even a miniature golf course.

When in the area, you can also catch live shows and go on boat rides, too. It’s well worth it at sunset whilst overlooking Chicago. Afterwards, be sure to check out Millennium Park, hop into the Art Institute and spot Gloud Gate; the massive bean of Chicago! 

Read more: Best things to do in Chicago

6.) Alton

Best things to do in Illinois USA Memorial

Alton is another wonderful place to stop as part of a road trip to visit some of the best things to do in Illinois. For a relatively small place, it has a surprising amount to offer.

Once here, be sure to check out some of the epic things to do, likely; seeing the King’s Pond, Jane Austen’s House Museum and Alton Gardens. All are wonderful. 

Oh, and don’t forget about the limestone bluffs are also a must-see in Alton. They can be spotted along the Mississippi River. 

Finally, for a gift, pop into Mississippi Mud Pottery. Their local pottery is all made locally and with love. You can just tell. 

7.) Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site

Best things to do in Illinois USA Mound

The 2,200-acre Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site is one paradise for history buffs. Though don’t feel like it’ll just be historians that love this spot, it’s one of the best things to do in Illinois that’s right on the border with Missouri and the city of St Louis. 

You see, here, you’ll spot the archaeological remains of one of the most cultured prehistoric native civilizations north of Mexico.

It’s said that the Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site had been home to around 10,000-20,000 people. Many of them were who are accomplished, builders. With lots of remains uncovered to this day. 

Today, you can access the 800-acre open area, take a guided tour or stroll through the area yourself. Oh, and don’t forget to check out the Interpretive Center exhibit gallery, Monks Mound, Grand Plaza and Mound 72.

8.) Springfield

Best Places in Illinois To Visit City

Illinois state’s capital is the lovely city of Springfield and a spot that’s easy to visit on a road trip. 

Way back when, this is where Abraham Lincoln was born and houses lots of American history to learn all about. 

Most structures and tourist spots in Springfield are about Lincoln, so if you’re a fan or if you want to know more things about him, this is the place for you.

Make sure to check out the Lincoln Home National Historic Site, the Old State Capitol, and pop into the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and the Museum. All have such a detailed history and house loads of artefacts relating to President Lincoln. 

You can visit his home, the presidential library and other places named after him.

Read more: Best things to do in Chicago

9.) Great River Road

Best things to do in Illinois USA Sunset

Great River Road follows the Mississippi River’s flow which is over 550 miles along the state’s Western edge. It’s a great route to follow if you’re on a road trip in Illinois and totally relaxing. 

Along the way, you can also visit the small Midwestern towns of Alton, Galena and Grafton. All of which are perfect little stops. 

Great River Road is a lot different than Chicago’s huge highways or busy streets, so you can really take your time appreciating the views, here. 

Just don’t forget to plan on your road trip playlist!  No one likes a dull drive. I say, the cheesier the better (for the tunes, at least). 

10.) Elmhurst

Best things to do in Illinois USA Windmill

Technically part of Chicago, Elmhurst is the wider city’s western suburb.

When in town, you’ll get to see art museums, parks, and shopping spots. It’s perfect to visit as you drive west and well worth a stop for a few hours.

Once here, check out the Elmhurst Art Museum, Lizzadro Museum of Lapidary Art and Safari Land (to name a few)

Oh, and don’t forget to visit Brewpoint Coffee for some of the best brews in the area. 

Read more: Best things to do in Chicago

10 Very Best Things To Do In Chicago


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