12 Top-Rated Things to Do in Naperville, Illinois

Written by Brad Lane
Jul 29, 2020
We may earn a commission from affiliate links ()

About 35 miles west of the Windy City, Naperville is one of the largest and most popular suburbs to visit outside of Chicago. The congested city traffic and skyscraper views are out of sight in Naperville, and visitors are more likely to see covered bridges, public art, and colorful local shops and restaurants.

The main artery of entertainment and fun things to do in Naperville is the Naperville Riverwalk. A two-mile pedestrian path in the heart of the city, the Naperville Riverwalk connects green spaces and other top attractions of the city.

Alongside the ample boutiques and eateries of the downtown district, the Naperville Riverwalk also connects the community to the historically intriguing Naper Settlement. The historic Centennial Beach is also adjacent to the Riverwalk, and is a century-old swimming hole that used to be a stone quarry.

Surrounding the city, other outdoor attractions like Cantigny Park and the different DuPage County Forest Preserves offer even more to explore. Plan your adventures with our list of the top things to do in Naperville, Illinois.

See also: Where to Stay in Naperville

1. Naperville Riverwalk

Naperville Riverwalk
Naperville Riverwalk | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

The Naperville Riverwalk is a nearly two-mile linear park at the heart of the city near downtown. The Riverwalk follows the banks of the DuPage River, with a manicured walking path and scenic bridge crossings. This public space is in the heart of Naperville and connects other cultural attractions with aesthetic pleasures.

The Millennium Carillon, a 72-bell musical tower more than 16 stories high, can be seen and heard along the entire Riverwalk. On the other side of the river from the Carillon, the historic Centennial Beach is a unique swimming spot popular throughout the summer season. Alongside the picturesque spots near the water, a real aspect of the Riverwalk is the slower pace it provides within view of downtown and the rest of the city.

Other popular attractions along the Riverwalk include paddleboat rentals; decorative fountains; and special events like the annual end-of-summer celebration, the Naperville Jaycees' Last Fling. The historic Naper Settlement can also be found a few blocks from Riverwalk Park.

Address: 500 Jackson Avenue, Naperville, Illinois

2. Cantigny Park

The First Division Museum
The First Division Museum | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

Less than 10 miles north of downtown, Cantigny Park was once the estate of Colonel Robert R. McCormick, a longtime editor of the Chicago Tribune. The sprawling grounds were open to the public in 1958, and today contain more than 500 acres of natural, educational, and simply beautiful space.

A good first stop is the park's visitor center, complete with a three-dimensional, scale map of the entire estate built into a glass-plated floor. From here, the 30 acres of formal gardens are fun to explore on a self-guided tour, as is the Robert R. McCormick Museum and historic house.

The on-site First Division Museum is one of the best military museums of its kind and a must-see for any visit to Cantigny Park. Highlighting the history of the 1st Infantry Division of the U.S. Army through many arenas of war, the immersive exhibits and displays of this museum are worth the trip to Cantigny Park alone. This includes the decommissioned tanks parked outside the museum.

Among its many other attractions, the adjacent Cantigny Golf Club on the grounds also receives plenty of attention. Well regarded as one of the top public courses in the United States, Cantigny Golf Club features 27 championship holes available to all ages and skill levels.

Address: 1 South 151 Winfield Road, Wheaton, Illinois

Official site: https://cantigny.org/

3. Naper Settlement

Naper Settlement
Naper Settlement | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

Easily accessed from the Naperville Riverwalk, the Naper Settlement is a 12-acre living history museum which preserves the heritage of the community. Once belonging to a sprawling estate, two original 19th-century buildings still stand on the Naper Settlement today, including an 1883 mansion.

Thirty other structures can be explored at the settlement, including a displaced Civil War-era church that was moved to the property in 1969. The Naper Settlement offers a wide variety of events and programs alongside their outdoor exhibits and regular tours. The facility is often popular with school groups on weekdays during the spring and fall.

Other aspects of the settlement like the costumed characters and historical reenactments make for an immersive experience. The Visitor Center at Naper Settlement remains open throughout the year, but the surrounding historic buildings are closed between November and March.

Address: 523 South Webster Street, Naperville, Illinois

Official site: http://www.napersettlement.org/

4. Centennial Beach

Near the shaded path of the Naperville Riverwalk, this unique swimming pool was created from the remains of a historic stone quarry. Complete with sand and lawn areas to lay a towel down, this massive swimming space has a zero-depth entry and goes as deep as 15 feet.

Waterslides, fountains, and other floating attractions find good use near the water of Centennial Beach. And the expansive sandy beach is ideal for sandcastle competitions and volleyball. Centennial Beach has been a popular spot for families and friends to swim since the 1930s, and its long history as a summer tradition adds to the value of any visit.

Address: 500 Jackson Avenue, Naperville, Illinois

Official site: http://www.centennialbeach.org/

5. Herrick Lake Forest Preserve

Herrick Lake Forest Preserve
Herrick Lake Forest Preserve | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

More than 26,000 acres of forest preserves can be found throughout DuPage County, including many forested areas close to Naperville. One of the most popular of these reserves, Herrick Lake Forest Preserve, located five miles north of Naperville, provides nearly 900 acres of mature woodland settings to explore.

The park is popular with birdwatchers, hikers, bikers, and horseback riders throughout much of the year. Come winter, you can find cross-country skiers making their way along the trails. Fishing is another fun thing to do at Herrick Lake, either from the shore or on the water, and the preserve provides non-motorized boat rentals throughout the spring and summer.

Official site: http://www.dupageforest.org/places-to-go/forest-preserves/herrick-lake

6. DuPage Children's Museum

DuPage Children's Museum
DuPage Children's Museum | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

On the outskirts of the Naperville Historic District, the DuPage Children's Museum provides three floors of interactive exhibits and year-round programming for kids. Permanent exhibits at the Children's Museum relate to science, technology, and creativity, and all provide experiential learning.

Different programs at the museum include family nights, drop-off and play time, and an annual Bubble Bash New Year's Eve party. For birthday parties and other private events, the facility also features a private room for rent, which includes unlimited time in the museum for guests to explore.

While parking is free at the museum, sometimes the lot can fill up during busy weekend days. The Children's Museum is conveniently located across the street from the Naperville train station for public transit convenience.

Address: 301 North Washington Street, Naperville, Illinois

Official site: http://dupagechildrens.org/

7. Wentz Concert Hall

Wentz Concert Hall
Wentz Concert Hall | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

Originally founded as the Plainfield College, North Central College in Naperville has been a vital addition to the city for well over a century. This private liberal arts college contributes many attractions that the whole community can enjoy. The Wentz Concert Hall is a prime example, and this 600-plus person theater attracts an audience of students, tourists, and long-term residents alike.

Showcasing classical, jazz, and contemporary music, the concert hall is mechanically tuned to achieve the perfect sound. Within the larger Fine Arts Center of the Wentz Concert Hall, the Madden Theatre is a flexible stage that hosts a variety of theatrical performances.

Address: 171 East Chicago Avenue, Naperville, Illinois

Official site: http://finearts.northcentralcollege.edu/

8. Knoch Knolls Nature Center

Knoch Knolls Nature Center
Knoch Knolls Nature Center | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

On the southern edge of the city, near the Springbrook Prairie Nature Preserve, this nature center provides educational resources alongside a scenic environment to explore. Within the sunlit Knoch Knolls Nature Center, families can participate in naturalist programs and classes. Some programs include the chance to meet the resident animals, including a salamander, garter snake, and box turtle.

Surrounding the nature center, Knoch Knolls Park provides more than five miles of woodland trails to explore. The park also features a nature-themed playground, picnic areas, and an 18-hole disc golf course. A boat launch at the park allows canoes and kayaks to explore the different water trails of the area.

Address: 320 Knoch Knolls Road, Naperville, Illinois

Official site: https://www.napervilleparks.org/knochknolls

9. Downtown Naperville

Downtown Naperville
Downtown Naperville | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

Adjacent to the Riverwalk, downtown Naperville is filled with many unique stores, restaurants, and galleries worth exploring. For anyone looking to do some window shopping or boutique browsing, the downtown area has more than 100 stores to choose from with a good mix of local and national storefronts. Specific spots like the Gallery Trio give this bustling area of the city some serious artistic flair

During warm weather in Naperville, expect to see patrons dining al fresco at the many local restaurants. While heading downtown with a plan is a good way to go, it's also recommended to just start walking and see where your senses take you. For one of the best slices you'll find on the downtown streets, Lou Malnati's serves up some world-famous Chicago deep dish pizza.

Official site: http://downtownnaperville.com/

10. Springbrook Prairie Nature Preserve

Springbrook Prairie Nature Preserve
Springbrook Prairie Nature Preserve

On the southwest side of the city, this near 2,000-acre forest preserve encourages outdoor exploration. Noted as a birder's paradise, this natural habitat has hiking trails, picnic spaces, and designated areas where dogs can run leash-free.

In efforts to educate the community about the natural systems found in Illinois, the Nature Preserve hosts several programs and activities for both children and adults. For anyone looking to test out their piloting skills, the preserve also has a model-craft area where model-plane and drone operators can launch their aircraft.

Official site: http://www.dupageforest.org/places-to-go/forest-preserves/springbrook-prairie

11. Naperville Community Concert Center

Naperville Community Concert Center
Naperville Community Concert Center | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

Connecting the gap between the Naperville Historic District and downtown, the Community Concert Center is an outdoor theater backdropped by a beautiful mural and public park. This charming open space is the home stage for the Naperville Municipal Band or anyone looking to give a public performance (by permit only).

Concerts by the Municipal Band define summer fun in Naperville. Visitors can find the band doing what they do best every Thursday evening throughout June, July, and August. Outside of the scheduled performances, the large concert space and surrounding Central Park are a great spot for a picnic and playground exploring.

Address: 55 Concert Lane, Naperville, Illinois

12. The Morton Arboretum

The Morton Arboretum
The Morton Arboretum

Established in 1922 and located in the neighboring village of Lisle, just over five miles northeast of downtown Naperville, The Morton Arboretum is one of the best natural places to visit. Encompassing 1,700 acres of woodlands bisected by the East Branch of the DuPage River, the Arboretum fosters a wide variety of trees and welcomes the public to enjoy the wooded space.

On the grounds, patrons can enjoy a Children's Garden, the Sterling Morton Library, and dining at the Ginkgo Restaurant and Café. A popular event at the Arboretum is "Illumination" during the winter, where alongside fire pits and warming tents, the trees shine with a whole new light. The Morton Arboretum offers a discount for visiting on Wednesdays.

Address: 4100 Illinois 53, Lisle, Illinois

Official site: http://www.mortonarb.org/

Where to Stay for Sightseeing in Naperville

The many different hotels surrounding Naperville cater towards every type of traveler. Budget, mid-range, and upscale accommodations are on the north side of the city center near the Morton Arboretum and Herrick Lake Forest Preserve. A few other hotel options are closer to downtown for those wanting to fully immerse themselves in the city.

  • Luxury and Mid-Range Hotels: The most luxurious hotel in Naperville is the four-star Hotel Arista located just north of Interstate 88. This LEED-certified hotel is the centerpiece of a mixed-use lifestyle center and features a state-of-the-art fitness center, full-service spa, and three different restaurants to choose from.

    Other upscale accommodations in Naperville include the Hotel Indigo Naperville Riverwalk. Featuring instant access to the Riverwalk and other top attractions, this hip establishment displays local art and decorative aesthetics, as well as modern rooms, each with unique decor.

    Near the north side of the city, Courtyard by Marriott Chicago Naperville also provides a great stay at a more affordable rate. Outside the clean, spacious, and comfortable rooms at the Courtyard, communal spaces like the eating area, outdoor patio, and sunlit indoor pool also make for a great place to relax.
  • Budget Hotels: Thanks to the dense collection of lodging options in Naperville, many great hotels come at a very affordable rate. Red Roof PLUS+ Naperville Chicago is a great example of a hotel with first-class service at a budget-friendly price. Spacious and recently renovated, the rooms at Red Roof PLUS are comfortable, clean, and well suited for a good night's sleep.

    Near the Red Roof PLUS on the north side of the city, Sleep Inn is another affordable hotel option that has a strong reputation for their friendly front desk staff. Alongside the budget room rate, visitors also get access to a workout room, small business center, and free breakfast in the morning.
Discover destinations, find outdoor adventures, follow the journeys of our travel writers around the world, and be inspired.

More on Illinois