When most people think of visiting Illinois, they picture Chicago, but the state offers much more than just the Windy City. From flowing cornfields to metropolitan cities to historic sites, Illinois has every sort of attraction visitors can want.
Heading outside of Chicago will show you gorgeous state parks and staying in the metropolitan area offers plenty of activities revolving around Lake Michigan.
There are large malls for shopping, plenty of headlining sports teams, historical reenactments, gorgeous architecture, museums and other cultural attractions in the Land of Lincoln. To start planning your visit, consider beginning with some of these top attractions in Illinois.
Built in celebration of the turn of the 21st century, Millenium Park is a jewel on the coastline of Lake Michigan, in the Loop district of Chicago. Its most famous icon is probably "The Bean," a giant stainless steel sculpture that is also known by its official name, Cloud Gate. The curves in the sculpture, which are responsible for its nickname, twist and bend the famous Chicago skyline from every angle.
Right next to that is the Crown Fountain, two clear towers with video screens inside that project, among other things, images of people's faces that occasionally appear to spit water. A garden, a skating rink, and a serpentine pedestrian bridge can also be found here.
This iconic Chicago landmark has been gracing the shoreline of Lake Michigan since 1916. Designed by Daniel Burnham, the same architect responsible for the nearby Field Museum, Navy Pier was originally designed to be a docking place for large ships. It was given its naval moniker in honor of those who served in the Navy during WWI.
Since its blue collar beginnings, Navy Pier has endured to become Chicago's top tourist destination. Shops and restaurants dot the area, in between Pier Park with its 150ft Ferris wheel, the Chicago Children's Museum, the IMAX theatre, and many other attractions.
The Magnificent Mile is the name bestowed upon an illustrious stretch of Michigan Avenue just north of the downtown area, running in a north-south direction. The most famous eminence on this street is undoubtedly the John Hancock Tower, one of the most recognizable buildings in the Chicago skyline.
Other notable buildings include the Wrigley Building, the Tribune Tower, and the Allerton Hotel. If shopping is your aim, this avenue is jam-packed with high-end retailers like Kate Spade, Cartier, and Tiffany & Co., with plenty of swanky restaurants nearby for when it's time for a break.
This museum honors Abraham Lincoln, the 16th President of the United States, and stands in his hometown of Springfield, IL. The museum is full of artifacts from notable events in his life, like the original copy of the Gettysburg Address and a signed copy of the Emancipation Proclamation, the document that ended slavery in the U.S.
There are also items relating to Lincoln's wife, Mary Todd, such as her wedding dress and pieces from her china collection. There are also exhibits featuring recreations of Lincoln's childhood home and the box seat at Ford Theatre where he ultimately met his demise.
The ocean is on display at this "oceanarium," which was the first saltwater aquarium of its kind to be built in the United States. It contains over 1,500 species of fish, mammals, coral and other marine life.
Most notably, the saltwater section includes beluga whales, porpoises, sea lions and penguins. Many of these saltwater creatures perform shows at designated times throughout the day.
The aquarium serves to education patrons on the ecology and biology of waterways around the world, including the Amazon River, the Caribbean Sea, and the coral reefs of the Philippines.
This neoclassical structure was originally built for the Art Institute in celebration of the World Fair in 1893. It has accumulated a massive collection of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist work in its permanent collection, including paintings by such giants as Claude Monet, Paul Gauguin, and Vincent van Gogh.
It also includes famous paintings like American Gothic, the portrait of a solemn father and daughter from the rural countryside. Edward Hopper's famous Nighthawks painting is also here. portraying a scene in a late night diner. The collection is extensive and full of treasures from all around the world.
This canyon-filled park outside of Utica, IL, covers over 2,000 acres. Geologists speculate that a catastrophic flood occurred between 14,000 and 17,000 years ago and created the park's unique geological features, because they are atypical for this region of the country.
The land has been surveyed by archaeologists from the University of Chicago as well as the Illinois State Museum. The park is full of registered historic places like Corbin Farm, Hotel Plaza and Little Beaver, all significant for their archaelogical artifacts.
This park in southern Illinois is a collection of wilderness areas, spanning 280,000 acres. It started out as agricultural land which was rejuvenated by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s and 1940s, when they planted evergreen trees to help stabilize the barren soil. Now its combination of forest and unique geological features makes it a must-see destination.
The Garden of the Gods Wilderness is remarkable for its rock formations and breathtaking vantage points. There are also wilderness areas containing springs and waterfalls and large sandstone formations that can be climbed on and explored.
Nestled by the lakefront in Chicago's Lincoln Park neighborhood, this zoo is free to the public. It is an accredited zoo that features polar bears, big cats, gorillas, monkeys, reptiles and more, with the Hancock building and Chicago's iconic skyline as a backdrop.
The Birds of Prey exhibit contains a vulture, a snowy owl and a bald eagle. There's even a penguin house. Domestic animals are also on display in the Farm-in-the-Zoo, intended to educate urban children on life in the more rural areas. Horses, cows and pigs can be found here.
This elegant garden in Rockford, IL was a design collaboration between John R. Anderson and Hoichi Korisu. Anderson enlisted the help of Korisu because he was the landscape architect for the Japanese Gardens in Portland, Oregon.
The final result is so beautiful that these gardens were named the finest Japanese Gardens in the United States by the Japanese Journal of Gardening. In addition to the serene natural setting, there's a lot of Japanese culture on display here.
Visitors can take part in a traditional Japanese tea ceremony or learn the basics of calligraphy, or attend one of the many cultural programs that take place.