Although Illinois may not seem as glamorous as Los Angeles, New York, or Las Vegas, it is still a wonderful tourist destination. The state is home to the 3rd largest city in America, is full of history, and has attractions for all ages.
Whether you are a sports fan, a history buff, or are looking for a relaxing stroll through a museum, there is an endless amount of things to do in Illinois. To show you some of the most iconic and fun things to do in Illinois.
Top 10 things to do in Illinois
1: Visit Starved Rock
Illinois is home to over 300 state parks, but Starved Rock is the favourite of locals and tourists alike. A visit to the park features over 20 kilometres of hiking trails, a deep history, and is one of the most relaxing things to do in Illinois.
While Illinois is typically a flat state, Starved Rock’s unique geography makes it a must for our list of best things to do in Illinois. The grounds at the park were shaped by a great flood that swept over the area over 15 millennia ago.
The flood waters eroded through the land and created stunning hills and valleys across the over 2,500 acres that make up the park. Starved Rock has cliffs, lookouts, and over 15 different canyons with waterfalls crashing at the bottom, starkly contrasting the rest of Illinois.
Before the land was designated as a state park, it was inhabited since as early as 1000 BC. Native Americans thrived on the land by foraging and hunting in the local forests. In fact, the name Starved Rock comes from the legend about two native tribes fighting on the land.
Today, visitors at Starved Rock can hike trails and camp on the grounds. Boating and fishing are also popular activities on the rivers running through the park. In the winter, guests can ice skate, ski, and toboggan through the park and even climb the frozen waterfalls if they’re brave enough. These activities make visiting Starved Rock one of the most fun things to do in Illinois during the colder months.
2: Thrillseek at Six Flags Great America
For adrenaline junkies, going to Six Flags Great America is one of the most exhilarating things to do in Illinois. The theme park in Gurnee, Illinois, spans over 300 acres. Its daring rides and fun mascots have kept guests returning each summer since its opening day in 1976.
The park originally opened with just 3 roller coasters and multiple flat rides. One of the original roller coasters, the Whizzer, still operates in the park today. They were going to demolish the ride in the early 2000s but reversed their decision due to public backlash.
Today, Six Flags Great America has 15 roller coasters, the 4th most for any amusement park worldwide. The park has 12 different themed areas for guests to enjoy. The themes include Hometown Square, modelled after a 1920s American town, Kidzopolis, and DC Universe.
The park also features an on-site waterpark section, Hurricane Harbor. With over 17 slides and pools, getting in the water is a perfect thing to do in Illinois to escape the heat.
Guests can also see Looney Toons characters throughout the park, taking photos and interacting with the crowds. With designated kid areas and terrifying roller coasters, visiting Six Flags Great America is one of the most fun things to do in Illinois.
3: Cheer on Chicago Sports Teams
Chicago is one of the best sports cities in the United States. With teams in each major league, seeing a game in Chicago is one of the most exciting things to do in Illinois for old and new sports fans.
In the summer, baseball takes over the city. Chicago is home to 2 baseball teams: the Cubs and White Sox. Each team has a separate stadium, with the Cubs playing on the North Side and the White Sox calling the South Side home. One of the most iconic things to do in Illinois is to see a Cubs game at Wrigley Field and hopefully fly the W.
Although both teams are exciting to watch, Chicagoans typically will only pick one to support. The teams are rivals and play in Crosstown Classic games during the season. They only faced each other in a World Series Final once, in 1906, but their rivalry still runs deep.
In Autumn, America’s most popular sport, football, begins its season. The Chicago Bears play at Soldier Field on the city’s Museum Campus. Although they have been a mid-table team recently, attending a Bears game is still one of the best things to do in Illinois to experience iconic American culture.
Throughout the winter months, hockey and basketball games are played in Chicago. Chicago’s hockey team, the Blackhawks, is one of the NHL’s most historic and iconic teams. They were one of the first teams to join the league and have a very dedicated fanbase.
The Chicago Bulls basketball team also play during the summer. They draw huge crowds to each game and are currently striving for another league championship. Both of these teams play at the United Center on Madison Street.
No matter what time of year you visit and which teams you see in Chicago, cheering on the local sports teams is one of the most fun things to do in Illinois.
4: See the Illinois Route 66 Hall of Fame and Museum
Visiting the Route 66 Museum is one of the best things to do in Illinois for history lovers. Located in Pontiac, Illinois, the museum is free to all visitors and takes you back in time to experience the attractions and nostalgia of iconic Route 66.
Route 66 was America’s original highway. The highway opened in 1926 and ran from Chicago all the way to Los Angeles, connecting the country in a way that was never possible before. Route 66 inspired the American road trip culture that still exists today.
As more Americans used Route 66 for travel, towns began to form along the highway. These communities provided drivers with places to eat, sleep, and take a break from the road. As more of these communities popped up, Route 66 became a scenic road through America’s Heartland.
In 1985, Route 66 was decommissioned as more highway systems were built. Even though the route is less popular today, the communities along the highway still thrive and keep the culture alive. The Route 66 Museum works with these towns to preserve the attractions and lifestyle of the 1930s landmark.
Visiting the Route 66 Museum is a great way to learn about America’s history and support the small towns that kept the highway running. It is one of the most interesting free things to do in Illinois for locals and tourists alike.
5: Embrace Adventure at Brookfield Zoo
Exploring Brookfield Zoo is one of the best things to do in Illinois for families. The zoo is home to over 450 different species of animals and covers over 200 acres.
Brookfield Zoo opened its doors in 1934 and quickly became popular worldwide due to its use of ditches and moats to contain animals rather than fences. The zoo drew crowds from all over the country because it was the first American zoo to have a Giant Panda exhibit.
26 years after the zoo opened its doors, it unveiled America’s first indoor dolphin tank. The popularity of Brookfield Zoo declined throughout the 1960s and spurred the zoo to be more innovative with its exhibits.
In the mid-1980s, Brookfield Zoo opened Tropic World, the first-ever indoor rainforest simulation. The exhibit features animals from Asia, South America, and Africa. The most popular animals in Tropic World are the gorillas. One gorilla at the Zoo, Binti Jua, gained international fame after she protected a toddler who fell into the enclosure.
Other attractions at the zoo include the Motor Safari, the Great Bear Wilderness, and the Living Coast. From giraffes and rhinos to parakeets and goats, there are tons of animals to see at Brookfield Zoo, and visiting its grounds is one of the most adventurous and fun things to do in Illinois.
6: Wander through the Museums
Over 100 museums are located within Illinois’ borders, with over 60 museums in Chicago alone. From fine arts museums to architectural wonders, there is something for everyone. No matter your interests, checking out the museums is one of the most fascinating things to do in Illinois.
In Chicago’s Museum District, the Shedd Aquarium, the Field Museum, and the Adler Planetarium amaze guests with their displays. Each year, more than 5 million visitors walk through the doors of these museums. They are the most popular museums in Chicago and some of the best in the country.
Outside of the Windy City, museums are spread across the state. The Illinois Holocaust Museum in Skokie educates visitors on the tragic history of WWII. On the University of Illinois campus in Champaign-Urbana, the Krannert Art Museum has over 10,000 works of art on display.
Whether you want to learn more about the history of surgical medicine or create your own tsunami, you’re sure to find a museum for it in Illinois. With over 100 places to choose from, wandering the halls of museums is one of the greatest things to do in Illinois for children and adults alike.
7: Shop at Woodfield Mall
Covering over 2 million square feet, Woodfield Mall is the largest shopping centre in Illinois, making a visit one of the best things to do in Illinois for retail therapy. The mall is located in Schaumburg, Illinois and welcomes nearly 30 million people through its doors each year.
Woodfield Mall originally opened with 59 stores, but today is home to more than 230 shops. Stores in the mall include Apple, Lego, Coach, Sephora, Rolex, and more.
In addition to shops, the shopping centre has on-site restaurants such as The Cheesecake Factory, Texas de Brazil, Panda Express, and Chicago’s iconic Garrett Popcorn. Woodfield Mall also includes dedicated play areas for children and a Peppa Pig amusement centre.
If a day spent window shopping is your cup of tea, walking around the vast Woodfield Mall is one of the many enjoyable things to do in Illinois.
8: Visit Abe Lincoln in Springfield
If you want to travel back in time and learn about presidential history, a visit to the state capitol in Springfield holds many interesting things to do in Illinois.
Although the former U.S. president was born in Kentucky, Abe Lincoln grew up in Illinois. He spent so much of his life here, in fact, that Illinois is known as the Land of Lincoln. Lincoln was the 16th president of the United States and is known best for leading the North during the Civil War and abolishing slavery.
Today, Lincoln’s Springfield home and grave are open to the public, in addition to a museum dedicated to his life and accomplishments. Visiting these historic landmarks is one of the most historical things to do in Illinois.
Abraham Lincoln and his family lived in Springfield from 1849 to 1861, when he was elected president. The Lincoln House today is available to see through guided tours where guests can step into Lincoln’s footsteps and experience history.
The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum takes visitors through Lincoln’s life, from growing up in Kentucky to his assassination at Ford’s Theatre. Life-size replicas of Lincoln’s childhood home and offices in the White House are on display in the museum.
Other display pieces at the museum include Lincon’s wife Mary Todd’s wedding dress, the original handwritten Gettysburg Address and Emancipation Proclamation, and items from their homes.
The library section of the museum houses books and artefacts related to Lincoln’s life and presidency. It is one of the most visited presidential libraries.
Abraham Lincoln’s tomb can also be visited in Springfield. Lincoln’s wife and 3 of his 4 children are also buried in the tomb. The tomb has multiple interior rooms full of statues and artefacts and features an observation deck at the top.
For history buffs, visiting Springfield to learn about President Lincoln’s life is one of the most interesting things to do in Illinois.
9: View Chicago from the Skydeck
Illinois is known worldwide for Chicago’s iconic skyline. The tall skyscrapers decorate Lake Michigan’s coast and showcase the city’s hustle and bustle.
Looking at the huge buildings from the ground can cause vertigo in some people. But, for daredevils, one of the most exciting things to do in Illinois is getting a view of the Windy City from above.
Over 1,000 feet above Chicago’s streets, stepping out onto the Willis Tower’s Skydeck is one of the most thrilling things to do in Illinois. The glass box extends outside the building, allowing visitors to stand in the air over the city.
Taking the elevator 103 stories up to the Skydeck is one of the most adrenaline-pumping things to do in Illinois. It is a perfect opportunity to take photos and make memories that will last a lifetime, if you are brave enough to step out on the glass.
10: Watch a Show in Chicago’s Theatre District
There are nearly 300 theatres in Chicago, and they host shows ranging from stand-up comedy to long-running musicals. Seeing a Broadway show, musical, or comedian is one of the best date-night things to do in Illinois
The two most iconic theatres in the Windy City are the Chicago Theatre and the James M. Nederlander Theatre. Their signage is commonly used in film and television, and they are both on the National Register of Historic Places.
The most famous musical that is performed at these theatres is Wicked. Set in the same world as The Wizard of Oz, it is told from the perspective of the Wicked Witch of the West. Other shows at these theatres include comedy acts by Trevor Noah and George Lopez, as well as live musical performances.
Even if you can’t find a show at either of these theatres, Chicago is home to many more where ballet, opera, and other Broadway productions are performed. No matter what genre you fancy, seeing a show in a Chicago Theatre is one of the most entertaining things to do in Illinois.
There are Many Great Things to do in Illinois
Illinois has many attractions that children and adults can both enjoy. With 6 professional sports teams, hundreds of state parks, and the 3rd largest city in America, everyone can find things to do in Illinois.
Whether you can fit all 10 attractions in your itinerary or only do a couple, these top 10 things to do in Illinois will help make your trip one to remember.
If you’re planning a trip to Illinois, check out our list of the best things to do in Chicago.