Discover the heart of America – from a world-class city to the charm of a legendary highway. Stroll through quaint small towns or revel in Chicago’s big-city delights. Get your kicks along America’s most historic highway, Route 66. Retrace the route of Lewis and Clark or explore the land that Abraham Lincoln called home.
Illinois is probably best known for Chicago. The world-class city is regarded as the cultural heart of America. Renowned museums. Stunning Architecture—including the tallest skyscraper in North America. Michelin-starred restaurants. Chicago has them all. But what surprises visitors the most, is the 26 miles of ocean-like beachfront just steps from downtown and Magnificent Mile shopping.
Just beyond the city lies Chicagoland, known for everything from Frank Lloyd Wright’s stunning architecture to exotic Anderson Japanese Gardens. Some of the biggest and best shopping outlets in America also reside here, many taking shopping to a whole new level with beautiful indoor and outdoor malls that seemingly go on for as far as the eye can see.
But if you’re looking for true Americana through and through, there is no better way to relive America’s golden age than along its most legendary highway, Route 66. The historic highway starts in Chicago and continues throughout the state. It is this iconic stretch where classic diners, drive-in theatres and quirky roadside attractions continue to wind their way through history and into the hearts of visitors to this very day. In fact, mile for mile you can discover more of Route 66 in Illinois than anywhere else.
Illinois will always be the Land of Lincoln. With good reason, too. Abraham Lincoln spent the majority of his life in Illinois, fondly referring to it as home. Here, you can discover everything from his log cabin in the historic village of New Salem to his home in Springfield. Plus visit one of the most celebrated presidential museums in the world. Lincoln’s legacy marked the beginning of a long history of presidents, including Grant, Reagan and Obama.
The Mississippi River defines the entire western side of Illinois and if it’s the great wide-open outdoors you’re looking, then you must explore Great Rivers Country. Charming river towns, steamboats, sprawling vineyards, and quaint bed and breakfasts are just of few discoveries that await visitors. This remarkable region is also home to Lewis & Clark’s historic point of departure, the Shawnee National Forest, and the appropriately named Garden of the Gods.
But while Illinois’ attractions characterize the best of the authentic American experience, chances are, if you ask someone who has visited what they remember the most, they will say the warm, friendly people. This hospitality is something that is felt throughout the state and in the people who are waiting to welcome you.
Where locals go to relax
Galena is a 19th-century mining town turned romantic retreat that offers everything from cosy bed and breakfasts to shopping to great dining.
You might be surprised by...
- Thousand-year-old cypress trees in the Cache River wetlands, a popular spot for canoeing, hiking and birdwatching.
- Cahokia Mounds, once home to an ancient Native American city that mysteriously disappeared, features 68 of the original earthen mounds.
- The largest population of wintering bald eagles outside of Alaska; throughout January and February, up to 3,000 of the birds can be seen nesting and flying along the waterways near Starved Rock, the Quad Cities and Grafton.
Top photo opportunities
- Gemini Giant, a 28-foot-tall spaceman stationed in front of the Launching Pad Drive-In, a retro hamburger joint on Route 66.
- Stand facing north on Solidarity Drive in front of the Adler Planetarium and you’ll find a picture-perfect Chicago skyline view.
- The 15-foot-tall Superman Statue that stands in Metropolis’s town square. And don’t miss the new Lois Lane statue nearby.
- Anish Kapoor’s ‟Cloud Gate” sculpture in Chicago’s Millennium Park, which reflects the skyline on its curved stainless-steel surface.
Springfield's Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum tells the story of Abraham Lincoln from his days as a young man on the Illinois prairie to his rise to president of the United States. Twice the size of any other presidential museum, it features rare Lincoln artefacts and two theatres that use cutting-edge special effects and scripts in French, German, Japanese and Spanish.
Want to stay up late?
Riverboat and land-based casinos throughout the state are always a good bet for late-night fun. After trying your luck at the Argosy Alton, a riverboat docked on the Mississippi River in downtown Alton, head over to Fast Eddie's Bon Air, a legendary restaurant and bar with live music.
Classic road trip
Get your kicks on Route 66. Cruise the Illinois stretch of the Mother Road—the longest in America—and you'll find roadside attractions including the Gemini Giant, Route 66 Association of Illinois Hall of Fame & Museum, Shea's Gas Station Museum, Funks Grove Pure Maple Sirup and Henry's Ra66it Ranch & Route 66 Emporium.
Famous people from our state
- Ronald Reagan was born in the tiny town of Tampico. Check out the Ronald Reagan Boyhood Home and the Reagan Museum at his alma mater, Eureka College.
- Join Chicago Neighborhood Tours for a look at the Hyde Park/Kenwood area where President Barack Obama worked and lived with his family.
- Architect Frank Lloyd Wright lived and worked in Oak Park during the late 1800s. Visit the Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio and tour nearby Wright-designed homes.
- Nobel Prize-winning author Ernest Hemingway was born in Oak Park, where you can visit his birthplace, home and museum.
- The Grant Home in Galena is where Civil War hero Ulysses S. Grant lived before he became the 18th president of the United States.
Browse the upscale Magnificent Mile shops and malls on Chicago's North Michigan Avenue, as well as the huge Macy's on historic State Street (the second-largest department store in the world). In the suburbs, don't miss the 200-plus shops at Woodfield Mall and more than 120 designer outlet stores at Chicago Premium Outlets in Aurora.
Only have one day here?
The Chicago Architecture Foundation's Architecture River Cruise is a narrated 90-minute ride along the Chicago River, passing more than 50 architectural marvels.
Made in our state
- Iconic John Deere farm machines are made at the John Deere Harvester Works in East Moline, which is open for factory tours. And the John Deere Pavilion in Moline is the largest agricultural museum in the U.S.
- The Caterpillar Experience at the Peoria RiverFront will give an inside look at the Caterpillar company, including its history, CAT employees and world-famous line of heavy-duty construction equipment. (Opening 2012.)