12 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Illinois

Written by Lana Law
Updated Mar 9, 2021
We may earn a commission from affiliate links ()

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. Willis Tower Skydeck

Willis Tower
Willis Tower

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

Official site: http://theskydeck.com/

2. Millennium Park & Cloud Gate

Jay Pritzker Pavilion, Millennium Park
Jay Pritzker Pavilion, Millennium Park

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

3. Magnificent Mile in Chicago

Magnificent Mile in Chicago
Magnificent Mile in Chicago

A walk down Chicago's Magnificent Mile, a portion of Michigan Avenue, is a must for visitors to the windy city. 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.

Official site: http://www.themagnificentmile.com/

Accommodation: Where to Stay in Chicago: Best Areas & Hotels

4. Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum

Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum
Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum | mhowry / photo modified

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

Accommodation: Where to Stay in Springfield

5. Navy Pier

Navy Pier
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 Ferris wheel; the Chicago Children's Museum; the Chicago Shakespeare Theater; and the Crystal Gardens, which offer a tropical retreat even on a winter's day. 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.

Address: 600 East Grand Avenue, Chicago, Illinois

Official site: https://navypier.com/

6. Lincoln Park

Tiger at the Lincoln Park Zoo
Tiger at the Lincoln Park Zoo

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.

The park is also home to the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum and the Chicago History Museum, as well as a theater, walking trails, and a beach.

7. Anderson Japanese Gardens

Anderson Japanese Gardens
Anderson Japanese Gardens | Ryan Kilpatrick / photo modified

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 guest house 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, serves innovative and wonderful breakfast and lunch dishes. It's an ideal place to linger with a coffee and soak up the tranquil atmosphere.

Address: 318 Spring Creek Road, Rockford, Illinois

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

8. Starved Rock State Park

Starved Rock State Park
Starved Rock State Park

This 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

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

Accommodation: Where to Stay near Starved Rock State Park

9. Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site

Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site
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 AD 700-1400, primarily by the Mississippian culture. The area encompasses nearly six square miles, and at its peak, around AD 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.

Location: Collinsville, Illinois

Official site: http://cahokiamounds.org/

10. Art Institute of Chicago

Art Institute of Chicago
Art Institute of Chicago | John Pastor / photo modified

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

Official site: http://www.artic.edu/

11. Dana-Thomas House, Springfield

Dana-Thomas House, Springfield
Dana-Thomas House, Springfield | Jeff Hart / photo modified

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.

Address: 301 East Lawrence Avenue, Springfield, Illinois

Official site: http://www.dana-thomas.org/

12. Ulysses S. Grant Home State Historic Site in Galena

Ulysses S. Grant Home State Historic Site in Galena
Ulysses S. Grant Home State Historic Site in Galena | Teemu008 / photo modified

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

Official site: https://www.granthome.org/

Discover destinations, find outdoor adventures, follow the journeys of our travel writers around the world, and be inspired.

More on Illinois