Illinois Holiday Planning Guide
The most populous state in the country's Midwest region, Illinois features a landscape that includes both the enormous urban sprawl of Chicago and flat central plains devoted almost entirely to farmland. You'll find plenty to do in and around Chicago, the state's centerpiece, featuring world-famous architecture and renowned museums. Farther away from this giant urban center, you can explore historical landmarks dedicated to local heroes Abraham Lincoln and Ernest Hemingway. The state also includes a prehistoric Native American site, one of only 20 World Heritage Sites in the United States, a unique feature well worth adding to your Illinois itinerary.
Places to Visit in IllinoisChicago
: A great place for Illinois sightseeing, this huge metropolis attracts visitors with its interesting and impressive architecture, extensive lakefront, city parks, and world-class museums, galleries, and cultural venues.Springfield
: The state capital and hometown of President Abraham Lincoln, Springfield offers a vibrant downtown area, historical sites, and a host of museums, gardens, and landmarks dedicated to the 16th president of the United States.Lake County
: As the name suggests, the vast array of impressive lakes and nature reserves draw plenty of visitors keen to explore this county's natural highlights, museums and performing arts venues, and range of outdoor activities. Galena
: Named after the mineral mined by Native Americans here for over a thousand years, Galena boasts a great range of sites listed on the National Register of Historic Places, a rich cultural history as a place of agriculture, mining, and boat-building, and a charming main street shopping area.
Things to Do in Illinois
Popular Illinois Tourist AttractionsThe Art Institute of Chicago
: Founded in the 1860s, this huge cultural complex has risen to a position of national importance and remains one of the key places to visit in Illinois, housing works by American artists, such as Hopper and O'Keefe, alongside a notable collection of European Impressionist pieces, in eight contemporary, architecturally interesting buildings.Millennium Park
: This innovative and popular urban space in the heart of Chicago attracts visitors with its great views of the city's downtown and Lake Michigan, areas of relaxation, a performing arts venue, and a prominent sculpture created by acclaimed British artist Anish Kapoor. Six Flags Great America
: A popular Illinois attraction especially for families, this amusement park includes giant rollercoasters for the brave, ample attractions for the young, and restaurants, bars, and cafes serving a range of refreshments, all within differently themed areas.Cloud Gate
: A mysterious and otherworldly creation by renowned British artist Anish Kapoor, this captivating sculpture ranks among the most photographed features of the area, reflecting you and the skyline of the city in immaculately welded stainless steel plates, offering an impressive, bold, yet strangely intimate cultural experience.360 CHICAGO
: The fourth-tallest skyscraper in the City of Big Shoulders, this towering structure features an interesting and powerful exterior design, along with a 94th-floor observation deck from which you can look out over the Windy City.Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library
: A must-see on any history buff's tour of Illinois, this institution offers insight into Lincoln's childhood, career, and actions in a range of exhibits, featuring replicas of buildings and people important to his story, educational talks, and guided tours.Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago
: Telling the story of science, technology, and industry, this popular museum focuses its interactive exhibits on significant developments within the fields--from mining methods to space travel--offering an enjoyable introduction to the subject for younger visitors and a wealth of information for all ages.
Michigan Avenue: A landmark American shopping area, this street is home to some of the most popular department stores and boutique shops in the country, as well as a host of fine dining establishments, all set in historical architecture.Lincoln Home National Historic Site
: A well-maintained landmark central to U.S. political and cultural history, this museum informs visitors about the president's life here before relocating to the White House. Browse the range of interesting exhibits (including some of Lincoln's personal effects), and stroll the manicured lawns and surrounding garden.Shedd Aquarium
: Home to more than 8,000 aquatic animals, this innovative and thoroughly modern aquarium sits proudly in a prime spot in the city, hosting various exhibits, extensive tours, and animals from across the world in replicas of their natural habitats.
Planning an Illinois Vacation with Kids
Places to Visit in Illinois with Kids
For an entertaining urban area filled with museums, cultural highlights, and amusements, consider basing yourself in Chicago
for your Illinois vacation. By far the largest city in the state, it provides kids with a wealth of things to do, places to eat, and sights to see. Away from the bustle of big city life, the state has expansive outdoor attractions where kids will enjoy a range of activities, sports, and other experiences. Take a trip to Lake County
for impressive natural sights and wildlife, a huge number of public parks and lakes, and many businesses offering water sports equipment rental--ideal for relaxing or trying something new. Be sure to take the kids to Springfield
, with its rich history and abundance of classic Illinois attractions relating to the life of Abraham Lincoln. Such is the pride of the local people in their history, they make it accessible and exciting for visitors of all ages.
Things to Do in Illinois with Kids
For an introduction to local flavor and the state's sporting heritage, take the kids on a trip to Wrigley Field
, home of the Chicago Cubs baseball team. The historical stadium fills with a thrilling atmosphere on game days, and offers tours and a museum on the other days of the week, making it a great stop-off point when sightseeing in Illinois. If that isn't enough excitement for the younger members of your group, visit Six Flags Great America
, an amusement park with impressively themed areas, giant rides, and gentler attractions for young children. For something a little more peaceful, take the kids on an adventure to Lake Michigan
. Its expansiveness, natural beauty, and range of water sports make it an ideal option for those entertaining kids with a range of tastes. Don't miss the opportunity to show the kids the history of the region and the country at large at Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library
. The state's most famous inhabitant has a life story that appeals to visitors of all ages, detailed here using innovative exhibits, life-size replicas, and a range of tour options.
Tips for a Family Vacation in Illinois
Illinois tourism has a lot going for it: the state is home to one of America's most iconic cities, one of its most famous natural landmarks, and the birthplace of one of the most famous American citizens ever. While the kids may not be as instantly impressed by these aspects as the adults in your group, the industry that has built up around these cultural and natural hubs caters well to younger visitors. By making exhibits accessible, Illinois attractions ensure that new generations can enjoy the history and culture present here on their own level and at their own pace. By making the photogenic natural areas multipurpose, Illinois captures the imagination of visitors of a range of ages and interests.
Dining and Shopping on Holiday in Illinois
Cuisine of Illinois
With fine local produce coming from a renowned agricultural sector, a fantastically diverse local community of chefs and cooks drawing influence from across the globe, and several dishes now internationally famous, the cuisine of Illinois is rich, well loved, and exciting. As such a large, diverse, and storied city, it won't surprise you to know that Chicago
has a culinary culture all its own. Head here to try Chicago-style pizzas (deep-dish, stuffed, or thin-crust) and Chicago-style hot dogs (steamed or boiled, in a poppy-seed bun topped with a whole host of toppings--but never, ever ketchup). Chicken Vesuvio and shrimp de Jonghe are regional classics that were invented in the Windy City, and you'll find them on many a menu throughout the state. For a regional twist on an American classic, head to Springfield
during your Illinois trip to try the eminently popular horseshoe sandwich: two meat patties in an open-faced sandwich, covered in fries and cheese sauce made from a secret recipe. A thriving, yet still charmingly small-town brewing and distillery scene has developed in Galena
, with the town now offering tours, tasting sessions, and lessons in crafting your own drink of choice.
Shopping in Illinois
Cities and towns across the state benefit from a wide range of superstores, grocery stores, and local businesses, ideal for picking up anything you may need on your Illinois holiday. If you want to have the experience of shopping in a major American city, head to Chicago's Michigan Avenue for a range of exclusive department stores housed in impressive, aesthetically pleasing architecture. Galena
represents a good option for those interested in purchasing local food and drink, and its small-town vibe really suits culinary exploration, with the quaint charm of companies like Great American Popcorn Company
making shopping fun (and delicious). The town also plays host to a range of farmers markets, providing a great route into the cuisine and agricultural heritage of the area.
Know Before You Go on a Trip to Illinois
History of Illinois
From 600-1400 CE, the area now known as Illinois contained the urban center of the pre-Columbian Mississippian culture, a palisaded city called Cahokia. Home to a population between 16,000 and 20,000 strong, the settlement was surrounded by tilled fields from which the Native Americans would source corn, a staple of their diet. The city and the population it served disappeared from the area around the year 1400 CE, with contesting theories as to how this came about. Learn about this fascinating culture at Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site
, whose centerpiece is a large ceremonial earthwork that sat opposite Cahokia. Now functioning as a museum and ranking among the key historical places to visit in Illinois, the center introduces the way of life, industry, and beliefs of the people who made the mound, and the various tribes that vied for dominance in the region after they left.
European exploration and colonization marks the next chapter in the story of Illinois. Discovered and claimed by the French in 1673, the region known as Illinois Country passed into British hands in 1763. Twenty years later, after the Revolutionary War, the area was ceded to the U.S. and became a part of the Northwest Territory. Statehood followed in 1818, when Illinois became the 21st U.S. state. Debates about Illinois' development and culture centered on the question of slavery in the years before the Civil War (1861-65). Many men from the state fought for the abolitionist Union in the war, though the region's greatest linkage to this crucible in American history is, of course, its status as the birthplace and home state of the 16th President of the United States, Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln's charismatic leadership, iconic speeches, and guidance of the Union to victory during the era have made him one of the most revered presidents to this day. Add Lincoln Home National Historic Site
to your Illinois itinerary to learn about this remarkable man, the greatness of his actions, and the humble origins from which he rose. Neatly maintained and full of interesting information and artifacts, the house is surrounded by four blocks of buildings restored to how they would have looked during the 1860s.
Since the beginning of the 20th century, Illinois has become one of the most populous states in the U.S. A growth in industrial and agricultural jobs at the turn of the century encouraged immigration from Europe, and the Great Migration of the large numbers of the country's black population from the south helped foster the state's impressive jazz and blues music scenes. The meeting of different cultures has contributed to Illinois' strong, diverse cultural heritage, which includes eras of highly influential artistic merit. See Chicago jazz in full swing at Jazz Showcase
, a legendary music venue that has played host to some of the most renowned names in the genre. Pay a visit to Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio
to learn about the world-famous architect and his relationship with Illinois, while admiring exhibits showcasing the development of the region into a powerhouse of industry, art, and culture.
Landscape of Illinois
Though the state is particularly renowned for its urban areas and cultural heritage, do consider making time during your Illinois vacation to appreciate the natural landscape as well. Take advantage of the range of challenging and laid-back hiking at Garden of the Gods
, a set of impressive rock formations located in a national forest. Of course, the banks of Lake Michigan
remain a great draw for admirers of the natural world and a key place for Illinois tourism. Its wide expanse of water stretches across four American states and offers plenty of outdoor activities for active visitors, alongside ample photographic opportunities and scenic views. A lush, fertile state well known for its agricultural heritage, Illinois also supports a wealth of wildlife and vegetation, which visitors can admire, identify, and learn about in protected areas of high biodiversity like Morton Arboretum
. Similarly, Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site
showcases the historical productivity of the region's agricultural heritage, as the site of the ancient city of Cahokia, where Native Americans tilled the fertile land for centuries.
Holidays & Festivals in Illinois
Illinois observes the same public holidays as the rest of the U.S., as well as Lincoln's birthday on February 12. If you're planning your Illinois vacation in winter, don't miss the festive atmosphere in Chicago, with an open-air Christmas market downtown, fireworks off Navy Pier
, plenty of swanky hotel parties, and music performances galore.
For long-established cultural events throughout the year, Chicago provides by far the most choices, including festivals and parades. A huge and culturally diverse metropolis, the city hosts celebrations representing its multiplicity of communities, industries, and scenes that flourish and influence one another. Cultural and culinary festivals take place across the seasons in the capital city of Springfield, with particularly enthusiastic celebrations on dates related to the life and times of the city's most famous inhabitant, President Abraham Lincoln. For small-town celebrations of food, drink, and art during your trip to Illinois, pay attention to the festival calendar of Galena. The town's modest scale supports a disproportionately large amount of festivities and events throughout the year, with particular attention paid to the winemaking, brewing, and distilling heritage of the area, for which it is gaining more and more recognition.
Illinois Travel Tips
Climate of Illinois
As a state with a lengthy longitudinal axis and a location towards the center of the continent, Illinois experiences sharp differences in climate between its northerly and southerly regions. The north has a humid continental climate, with hot summers and cold winters. Meanwhile, the south's humid subtropical climate enjoys warmer winters than its northern counterpart. Illinois is similarly divided in terms of precipitation levels: while the north experiences lower levels on average, it nevertheless receives far more snow on a yearly basis. On average, the state has 50 days of thunderstorms a year and endures a fairly high amount of tornadoes annually, primarily between the months of April and June. Pack seasonal clothes and multipurpose items for your trip to Illinois so as not to be caught out by any drastic changes in the weather. Also, pay attention to news reports regarding extreme weather, particularly when heading to more remote locations.
Transportation in Illinois
Illinois is one of the country's most utilized transport hubs, making it a convenient and easy state to traverse using a range of transportation. The state benefits from numerous commercial airports ideal for beginning your Illinois holiday, the primary two among these being in Chicago. The state's main city also acts as a hub for cross-state and intrastate rail travel, with five main lines running through its main station throughout the day. Chicago itself boasts an extensive transit system of buses and elevated trains (locally known as the "L"), which can take you virtually anywhere when sightseeing in the city and surrounding areas. A great wealth of interstates and highways pass through Illinois, linking up its main urban areas and more rural spots--ideal for those renting a car, traveling by bus, or making day trips during their stay.