Illinois might not be one of the first couple of states to be born into the USA, but it has long been a state of new beginnings. Aside from being the state with the first skyscraper, Illinois is also home to the first Ferris wheel. It also has the country’s busiest international airport, meaning you should have no trouble arriving and getting around to see the best sights Illinois has to offer. Whether you are looking to see the Windy City or check out other places in the Prairie State, here are the top 10 best things to do:
Who knew an urban zone could be so green? The Chicago Botanic Garden is actually something of a living museum that stretches over 385-acres and has 27 display gardens. There are also 4 different zones--each with varying temperatures. The best part is that admission to the garden is completely free and is open everyday of the year. You can also expect there to a be a number of events, such as flower shows, cooking classes, and entertainment throughout the year at the garden.
For those who are interested in American history, the Ulysses S. Grant Home State Historic Site is a must-see spot. The site is the house that Grant was presented upon returning from the Civil War in 1865. Since then, the Grant Home has been restored to how it was during that era, and many of the items found inside once belonged to Grant. The Home is open to the public for tours Wednesday through Sunday.
An ideal attraction for children and kids at heart would be the Discovery Center Museum that is located within the Riverfront Museum Park campus. The reason this attraction is so special is because there are more than 300 hands-on art and science exhibits for children of all ages to enjoy. The main reason everyone goes is for the two-story maze and planetarium; but there is even a romping area for babies and toddlers! The museum is open 7 days a week except for holidays. Admission is free for little ones under 2 years old.
Once upon a time, the Willis Tower was known as the Sears Tower--up until 2009. That was when the insurance company called Willis Group Holdings purchased the tallest building in the United States. On the top floor, visitors can enjoy the Skydeck throughout the day. The panoramic views of the sprawling city and Great Lakes are fantastic. If you want a low-key adrenaline rush, the glass floor will get your heart racing. You’ll never get a better perspective of Chicago’s bustling streets anywhere else.
Nature lovers will be left breathless after viewing the Illinois River from Buffalo Rock State Park. You can hike the 298 acres, watch the herd of American Bison roam, or enjoy a game of baseball. There are also two picnic shelters, one with a stone fireplace.
A UNESCO World Heritage site within Illinois? You bet! Cahokia Mounds happens to be the largest prehistoric Native American settlement within North America. Cahokia Mounds thrived from 700-1400 AD; the peak was in 1100 AD, when there were close to 20,000 occupants. There are 120 mounds, with the most famous being the 100-foot tall Monks Mound. Today, you will find these relics as well as an interactive center where you can watch audio-visual presentations and dioramas.
For people who are followers of the architect Frank Lloyd Wright, one of the few remaining models of his Prairie-style work would be the Dana-Thomas House in Springfield. Originally built in 1902 for Susan Lawrence Dana, the Dana-Thomas House is exceptionally preserved. The 35 rooms have been renovated to become a museum with guided tours open to the public. It is an excellent way to learn about Frank Lloyd Wright’s aesthetic and the history of this popular house. While photography isn’t allowed, you can purchase a number of souvenirs, books, and figurines.
Address: 300 E Lawrence Ave, Springfield, IL 62703
The best cities also have some of the best parks, including the famous Grant Park. Located within Chicago’s business district, Grant Park is a popular place for both rest and play. Every year, Grant Park becomes the stage for some of Chicago’s wildest events, including the Blues Fest and Lollapalooza. At the center of the park, you can check out the Buckingham Fountain -- the largest in the world. If you go at night, you can watch the multi-colored lights twinkle while 134 fountain jets work their magic.
While you may not be planning for an amusement park trip, there are notable rides that the Six Flags Great America theme park located in Gurnee that you shouldn’t pass up! The park is much like other Six Flags locations throughout the United States in set-up. There is a wide selection of restaurants, food stalls, souvenir shacks, and attractions to wow everyone in the group, no matter their age. Two rides that you are not going to miss would the racing roller coaster called American Eagle and the free fly coaster, Joker.
Address: 1 Great America Parkway, Gurnee, IL 60031
Ready to get active the Chicago way? It’s time to walk the Chicago Lakefront Trail, an eco-friendly way to see some of the best views of the city and lake. The entire trail is 18 miles long and runs from Ardmore Street on the North Side to 71st Street on the South Side. Along the trail, there are boat harbors, gardens and sanctuaries, beaches, recreational areas, and much more. What will you find?