14 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Illinois
Illinois is a great destination in summer, but the state's extensive cultural attractions and great shopping make it a fun place to visit any time of year.
Chicago is the state's most popular destination, drawing travelers from across America and around the world. This is where you'll find some of the state's best retail options, restaurants, museums, and cultural venues. The city is also home to some fantastic buildings designed by architects like Frank Lloyd Wright and Louis Sullivan.
Springfield, the state capital, is another city with numerous things to see and do, including the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum and the Dana-Thomas House.
Throughout the state, you will find interesting places to visit, from a prehistoric Indian settlement at Cahokia Mounds to the tranquil Anderson Japanese Gardens in Rockford. Plan your trip with our list of the top attractions in Illinois.
1. Millennium Park & Cloud Gate
Located in downtown Chicago, Millennium Park is part of the much larger Grant Park. Cloud Gate sits at the center of the park, a 110-ton polished steel sculpture. Inspired by liquid mercury, the curved surface reflects the Chicago skyline and the tourists who walk through its arch.
Millennium Park is also home to Crown Fountain, a unique modern interpretation of ancient gargoyles that uses projected images of Chicago citizens.
The Lurie Garden is also in this park, a four-season garden that is open to the public at no charge. There are special events throughout the year at the garden, and outdoor concerts at the Jay Pritzker Pavilion.
The park is centrally located, close to many of Chicago's top tourist attractions and shopping.
Address: 201 East Randolph Street, Chicago, Illinois
2. Navy Pier
Located along Chicago's waterfront, Navy Pier is a great tourist destination with all kinds of things to help entertain people of any age. Museums, restaurants, shopping, movies, and theater are some of the options available.
Highlights include the Centennial Wheel, the Chicago Children's Museum, and the Chicago Shakespeare Theater. Due to the outdoor nature of some of the attractions, the best time to visit Navy Pier is in summer, however you'll always find plenty of things to do here year-round.
During the Christmas holidays, for instance, families flock to Navy Pier for Light up The Lake, an annual indoor lights exhibit featuring fun attractions like a skating rink, Santa visits, and a Winter Wonderland Forest.
Address: 600 East Grand Avenue, Chicago, Illinois
3. Wrigley Field
Baseball fans won't want to miss a visit to Wrigley Field on Chicago's north side.
One of the top attractions in Chicago, and one of the country's oldest Major League Baseball parks, this historic spot has been home to the Chicago Cubs since 1914. If you're visiting during baseball season, be sure to book tickets to a game.
You can also sign up for a tour of the ballpark, where you'll learn about this venue's 100-year history. Some tours allow visitors to take photos in front of the famous ivy wall. No matter how big a fan you are, you're sure to be impressed, and happily entertained, at Wrigley Field.
Address: 1060 W. Addison Street, Chicago, Illinois
4. Art Institute of Chicago
The Art Institute of Chicago is one of the city's foremost cultural institutions and known internationally for its collections.
Housed in a late 1800's building, along with other more modern extensions, the institute contains everything from ancient sculpture to Post-Impressionist paintings, and many other areas of interest.
Permanent collections include African art, medieval and Renaissance arms and armor, contemporary art, and textiles.
Address: 111 South Michigan Avenue, Chicago, Illinois
5. Shedd Aquarium
The Shedd Aquarium is one of the best places to visit in Chicago, especially if you have kids in tow. Set on the banks of Lake Michigan, this large space is home to over 32,000 sea creatures from across the globe.
The Abbott Oceanarium houses animals from the Pacific Northwest. This is where you'll find sea otters, sea lions, and beluga whales. The sharks live in the Wild Reef exhibit, as do spotted rays, Mandarin dragonets, and the white-spotted guitarfish.
The best way to see the Shedd Aquarium is on a guided tour. Known as the "Must See Tour," these excursions grant tourists an up-close and personal view of the attraction's most famous residents, like turtles, sharks, Pacific white-sided dolphins, and beluga whales. The tours take 75 minutes and take place twice a day. Families with children six and older are welcome to join.
Address: 1200 S. DuSable Lake Shore Drive, Chicago, Illinois
6. Willis Tower Skydeck
From the top of the Willis Tower Skydeck, tourists can see up to 50 miles over four states and Lake Michigan. The Skydeck stands at 1,353 feet above the ground on the 103rd floor, and The Ledge's glass floor extends from the side of the building to give braver visitors the opportunity to look straight down.
Another great spot where you can admire the city from above is 360 Chicago, located in the John Hancock Building. Tourists can enjoy the glass-walled observation deck or check out the unique view from the "Tilt," a glass enclosure that tips you out for a look down at 1,000 feet above the Magnificent Mile.
Address: 233 South Wacker Drive, Chicago, Illinois
7. Lincoln Park
Lincoln Park stretches for six miles along the shore of Lake Michigan and is the city's biggest park.
One of its biggest attractions is the Lincoln Park Zoo, one of the oldest zoos in the country. It is home to a wide variety of mammals, birds, amphibians, and reptiles. Popular residents include lemurs, two-toed sloths, African lions, polar bears, and a red panda.
The Lincoln Park Conservatory is located nearby, home to exotic tropical plants in four huge greenhouses, including palms, ferns, and orchids.
8. Magnificent Mile in Chicago
A walk down the Magnificent Mile, a portion of Michigan Avenue, is one of the must-dos for visitors to Chicago. The shopping along here is some of the best in Chicago, with everything from everyday stores to high-end boutiques.
Stop in at any one of the fantastic museums, restaurants, hotels, and other entertainment options along what locals call the Mag Mile. The John Hancock Building, the Wrigley Building, and the Tribune Tower line this street, and it is just a few blocks from Lake Michigan and the famous Navy Pier.
Accommodation: Top-Rated Resorts in Chicago, IL
9. Starved Rock State Park
Starved Rock State Park, southwest of Chicago on the Illinois River, is noted for its beautiful canyons and waterfalls.
The park has 13 miles of trails allowing access to some of the most scenic areas, and guided hikes are also available for safe and educational hiking experiences. The park is listed on the Register of National Historic Landmarks, while the buildings are on the National Register of Historic Places.
Starved Rock offers many recreational opportunities in its 18 canyons, including fishing and boating on the river, picnicking, horseback riding, camping, and winter sports. The name of the park comes from a dark story about a group of Illini Indians who took refuge on the rock and were left by their enemies to starve to death.
Address: 2668 East 875th Road, Oglesby, Illinois
Accommodation: Where to Stay near Starved Rock State Park
10. Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site
Cahokia Mounds is known for being the largest prehistoric Indian settlement north of Mexico and includes the greatest concentration of mounds. In total there are 120, with the 100 foot-high Monks Mound at the center. This is the largest prehistoric earthwork in the Americas.
The site was occupied from 700 to 1400 CE, primarily by the Mississippian culture. The area encompasses nearly six square miles, and at its peak, around 1100, may have had 10 to 20,000 inhabitants.
Besides being a State Historic Site, Cahokia is also a National Historic Landmark and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. An Interpretive Center tells the story of the site and the people who built it with audiovisual presentations, artifacts, graphics and dioramas, including a life-size village recreation.
Note: The Interpretive Center is closed for renovations with no clear reopening date.
Location: Collinsville, Illinois
11. Anderson Japanese Gardens, Rockford
Anderson Japanese Gardens, a 10-acre Japanese garden in Rockford, is a splendid retreat with cascading waterfalls, ponds, streams rock formations, winding lanes, a tea house, and guesthouse built in the authentic sukiya style.
When you're ready for a break from sightseeing, this is a beautiful place to relax and enjoy some tranquility. Benches and artfully designed areas allow for reflection and contemplation.
The garden's designer, Hoichi Kurisu, was a famous landscape designer in his native Japan and has designed other notable gardens around the United States, including the wonderful Portland Japanese Gardens.
If you work up an appetite, the on-site restaurant, Fresco at the Gardens, serves innovative and wonderful breakfast and lunch dishes. This is an ideal place to linger with a coffee and soak up the tranquil atmosphere.
Address: 318 Spring Creek Road, Rockford, Illinois
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Rockford
- Read More: Top-Rated Things to Do in Rockford, Illinois
12. Ulysses S. Grant Home State Historic Site in Galena
The Grant Home in Galena was presented to Ulysses S. Grant in 1865 upon his return from the Civil War. The house has been fully restored to the 1860s time period and contains many of Grant's personal belongings, as well as original furnishings. Tours are available, enabling you to learn all about this Civil War hero.
Address: 500 Bouthillier Street, Galena, Illinois
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Galena
13. Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, Springfield
Located in Springfield, the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum offers a great opportunity for learning, not only about Abraham Lincoln, but also about the history of the state of Illinois.
The facility was opened in 2004 but the collections have been a work in progress for well over a century. This is largely a research facility, containing many significant manuscripts and other materials, although not all of the collection is on display to the public.
Address: 112 North Sixth Street, Springfield, Illinois
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Springfield
14. Dana-Thomas House, Springfield
Built by Frank Lloyd Wright in 1902, the Dana-Thomas House represents one of his early, large-scale, prairie-style houses, and is particularly well preserved. Today this 35-room structure, located in Springfield, is a house museum, open to the public with guided tours.
The house is large, over 12,000 square feet and has lots of stairs to service the 16 different levels. Be sure to note the spectacular windows and glass doors. Across the street, you'll find the Sumac Shop, where tourists can purchase interesting gifts of all kinds, including model-building kits, books, and bow ties.
Address: 301 East Lawrence Avenue, Springfield, Illinois