Perfect Vacations in the Prairie StateHome to the tourist favorite Chicago, Rockford, and many others: Illinois is a state with much to offer travelers. There are seldom better representations of that welcoming midwestern charm than some of the gems found between these borders. From relaxing on the banks of the Great Lakes, to tasting some of the best local food this nation has to offer, Illinois will not disappoint. There are a wide variety of options for perfect Illinois weekend getaways ranging from the expert adventurer to the small cottage relaxer. Check out these top ten cities in Illinois and create your own perfect vacation.
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Probably your first thought when ‘vacationing in Illinois’ is brought up. And with good reason: Chicago is one of the largest cities not just in the state, but in the country! It is a bustling city center with all the best in culture, history, the arts, food, fun, and so much more. It is the city to go to if you want to see and do it all, or if you’re traveling with people of varied interests. Those who like the finer things in life might enjoy some of the world class plays and shows held in the city. Those with a passion for adventure are going to love finding the ins and outs of a city so grand.
Chicago is also the proud home to several famous landmarks. The first stop you’re going to want to make is the famous “Bean”. This is a sculpture settled on the outer banks of downtown that welcomes thousands of visitors to its grounds. A short walk away is the ever-famous Navy Pier. Where you can ride a Ferris Wheel that shows Lake Michigan and a bird’s eye view of Chicago. Some other ‘must dos’ in the city include Chicago pizza, the Bears (football), the Cubs (baseball), the John Hancock Center, and so much more. Make Chicago the weekend getaway you’ve been dreaming of.
Address: Chicago, IL
Go where the greenery is! Rockford is nicknamed “The Forest City” because of its wide expanse of forestry that covers much of the outer city. There are state parks, and hiking trails for days here. To name a few, check out the Anderson Japanese Gardens or the Rock Cut State Park for some views you’ll have to see to believe. Or, take the whole family on an adventure and stop by the Discovery Center Museum. An interactive look at all thing’s education. Rockford is the second most populated city in Illinois, thereby making it a natural beacon to travelers all around. Come and see what makes Rockford so special.
Address: Rockford, IL
Affectionately nicknamed the “Gem City”, Quincy is the perfect place for a weekend getaway. It is situated right on the Mississippi River and provides for some of the best fun in the state. Quincy is considered of the cultural hubs of Illinois. There is the Villa Kathrine, which is a Moroccan-styled villa with grand architecture and pristine grounds. The Quincy Museum is a historical wonder in a restored mansion that has tourists coming from all over the country to tour. Or, maybe try something a bit more modern. The Quincy Art Center is open for the inspired throughout the year and makes for a great day with the family. There is so much to love about Quincy!
Address: Quincy, IL
Spend your weekend at the heart of Illinois! Springfield is the capital of the Prairie State, and features some of the most prominent governmental structures. The centerpiece is the capitol dome situated downtown. This building has breathtaking stained glass that makes it a work of art. There are statues of historical figures scattered throughout the complex and seeing as how it is a major governmental institution there is also a bustling downtown around the area. Stroll through and find what makes Springfield the beating heart of Illinois.
Springfield is probably most known for the many memories of Lincoln. From Lincoln’s former home to the Lincoln Monument Association there is so much history to embrace here. Check out some of the city tours, or simply pave your own path. Many visitors to the city also make note to check out the Dana Thomas House and the Illinois State Museum. Two stops you won’t want to miss!
Address: Springfield, IL
The Matthiessen State Park is a massive, 1700 acres of lush scenery and breathtaking views. It is one of the most popular spots in Illinois, and for good reason. If you’re a fan of the kind of vacations that stay in your dreams for months, then this is the place for you. You’ll find sweet serenity standing in the whisper of wind as it flows through the trees, or the gentle flow of the waterfall as it rushes down and snakes through the path. There are no wrong paths in the Matthiessen State Park.
Address: 2500 IL-178, Oglesby, IL 61348
Found in Illinois’ Herod, the Shawnee National Forest is something you’re going to want to see to believe. It is a wide expanse of lush green broken up only by the rock formations that steeple through the scenery like the perfect look out points they are. There are so many trails to choose from that this location provides for some all weekend fun. There are lakes, forests, and plenty of wildlife! Be sure to go early in the morning if you want to get a firsthand look at some of the animals that call this paradise home. And be sure to hike all the way to Jackson Falls for some of the best waterfall views in the state. Or, pave your own way! Shawnee is the adventure you make of it.
Address: Herod, IL 62947
As a city with over 80% of its territory marked as a National Historic District, this stop is just calling for all the history buffs of the world to visit. Originally, Galena started off as a mining area. First with the Native Americans mining for years, until eventually European settlers arrived in 1821. It is now the sight of multiple 19th century homes and buildings that harbor history that speaks of the ages. One of the most popular is the Dowling House and the Italianate Ulysses S. Grant Home. This was given to the Civil War leader, and later, President Grant, by the citizens of Galena.
Galena is also an ideal spot because it features easy access to explore not just Illinois, but two other states on the border. Go to Horseshoe Mound if you want an aerial view of three states! There are some great tours, history walks, and hikes to be found in this area that you’ll never find yourself bored! And if you come in the warmer months, you’ll be greeted by some lush, well maintained parks that’ll be fun for the whole family.
Address: Galena, IL
Also Read: 10 Most Beautiful Small Towns in Illinois
As one of the best-preserved pre-Colombian sites in the nation, the Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site is an essential stop in Illinois. It is the proud heritage site and museum of Native American culture. It speaks of a time far predating Columbus and features many artifacts seldom seen elsewhere. It is also a great place to learn about this culture and history. There are tours and trinkets to be found all around this well-preserved site that makes this the perfect weekend getaway, whose lessons will stick with you forever.
Address: Collinsville, IL
Going a little further south from Chicago resides the city of Champaign. Champaign is a central Illinois gem that features some of the best art and culture in the state. The Krannert Art Museum and the Spurlock Museum are two of the best museums for miles and they both proudly call Champaign home. Here there is a surplus of mesmerizing art and fascinating cultural artifacts that harbor all the best in history and inspiration. Not a museum traveler? Check out the Orpheum Children’s Science Museum downtown that’s educational fun for the whole family.
Champaign is probably most known for being the city that the University of Illinois stakes its claim in. That means you can also peruse all the best of collegetown! Check out some of the local plays, art shows, or even the downtown area for a little bit of weekend wildness. Champaign is a great choice for a vacation for a wide variety of travelers. So, pack your bags and find your flight to Champaign.
Address: Champaign, IL
Wheaton is a largely residential area just west of Chicago. It is just the right speed for those looking to relax in the welcoming energy only a small town could generate. However, it is just big enough to have enough things to keep you entertained. And without the long wait times or heavy traffic that cause unnecessary stress. Here you can stroll through the Cantigny Park, or wonder at the marvels of the Morton Arboretum. Maybe check out the Wheaton French Market, or hike through the Blackwell Forest Preserve. There are so many fun things to do here in Wheaton that you won’t want to leave. And, with its proximity to Chicago, you can always drive into the city for the day and go back to Wheaton free from the big city rush.
Address: Wheaton, IL
Final ThoughtsNo matter what you choose to do in Illinois, you are sure to be amazed. There is so much to explore, adventure, and love about a state so diverse that you'll want your weekend getaway to last a lifetime.