Super useful & totally free Illinois travel guides, written by locals who love Illinois

Aerial view of the downtown Chicago skyline at sunset

Why We Love Illinois: Travelers often associate Illinois with Chicago, regarded by many as the cultural capital of the Midwest. Rich in history and diversity, the Windy City draws millions with its architecture, cuisine, and endless entertainment. However, there’s so much more to explore in Illinois. With forests, wetlands, sandy beaches, and grassy plains, the state is full of natural beauty. Take a road trip through “The Prairie State” to discover its agricultural roots and small-town charm.

Best of Illinois

🏙️ Illinois Destinations

Exterior view of the Haley Mansion from the grounds near the fountain
The Haley Mansion, one of several historic structures in Joliet

There’s something for everyone in Illinois, whether you seek big city excitement or a peaceful rural retreat. Some great places to visit include:

  • Chicago – The crown jewel of Illinois. Full of notable architecture, diverse cuisines, and endless things to do
  • Springfield – The capital city of Illinois, home to a variety of lovely landscapes and historic sites to explore.
  • Evanston – Just north of Chicago, this charming city features several museums and stunning views of Lake Michigan. 
  • Joliet – Illinois’ fastest-growing city, great for families and young professionals. Full of entertainment and nightlife.
  • Peoria – Ranked the best place to live in Illinois by US News & World Report. Low living costs and plenty of activities. 

✨ Things to Do

No matter your interests, there’s something that will appeal to you in Illinois. Experience some of the state’s best activities:

  • Explore a MuseumChicago museums display history, art, and science. Visit the Funk Prairie Home Museum and those in Springfield, too.
  • Experience Nature – Paddle local lakes, hike Shawnee National Forest and tour the countryside’s many farms and orchards.
  • Try Chicago Foods – Sample deep-dish pizza, Chicago hot dogs, rainbow cones, and more at some of Chicago’s best restaurants
  • Go to a Farmer’s Market – Most of Illinois is farmland. Get fresh produce and artisan goods at many local markets.
  • Explore Chicago Neighborhoods – Walk around safe areas of Chicago to admire the city’s architecture and attractions.
Travel Lemming Freelance Writer, Lea Rose reading at a restaurant with magnificent Chicago views
Lea Rose, a Travel Lemming Freelance Writer, surrounded by Chicago views

🗺️ Where to Stay

Aerial view of Illinois State Capitol dome and Springfield skyline at sunset
A bird’s-eye view of Springfield, Illinois

There are many areas to consider when visiting Illinois. Some ideal options include:

  • Chicago – It’s easy to get around Chicago. Visit a beach, attend a sports game, take an architecture tour, and more.  
  • Peoria – A small city with a rich history. Experience its many parks, each scenic and full of outdoor activities. 
  • Springfield – The capital city of Illinois offers vibrant entertainment, unique culture, and many historic museums.
  • Galena – A popular tourist spot that manages to retain its peace and quiet. Lots of stunning 19th-century architecture.
  • Rockford – A lively and modern city that respects its history. Many architectural and historical gems to explore.

🛎️ Best Hotels

Find boutique hotels, historic lodging, charming bed and breakfasts, and more in Illinois. There are options here for every preference and budget:

  • The Peninsula Chicago – A luxurious Chicago hotel known for its upscale amenities, fine dining, and traditional Asian hospitality.
  • Sofitel Chicago Magnificent Mile – Minutes from the Magnificent Mile. Glass prism walls surround Le Bar, a fitness center, and more.
  • Hyatt House Chicago/Evanston – A comfy place to stay with free breakfast, grocery delivery service, and easy access to public transit.
  • The Drake Oak Brook, Autograph Collection – A classy hotel with on-site dining options, a fitness center, and many other amenities.
  • Peoria Marriott Pere Marquette – Its skywalk connects the hotel to other attractions. Enjoy comfortable lodging and relax at the lobby bar.
Travel Lemming Editor, Abigail, posing with a glass of drink at theWit hotel in downtown Chicago
Abigail, a Travel Lemming Editor, during her stay at theWit, a luxury hotel in downtown Chicago

🚗 Best Road Trips

View of the famous Route 66 signage in downtown Chicago
The famous Route 66 begins in downtown Chicago

From big cities to rural areas, experience all that Illinois has to offer on a road trip. There are several popular options:

  • Route 66 – Start at Chicago’s Buckingham Fountain and head southwest. Experience small-town charm and urban metropolises.
  • Illinois River Road – Tons of attractions from Ottawa to Peoria. Admire the riverfront, a wildlife refuge, and a state park.
  • Great River Road – Drive along the Mississippi River and stop in Galena, Rock Island, and other communities.
  • Historic National Road – From the Indiana state line to the Mississippi River, explore quirky towns like Vandalia and Collinsville.
  • Illinois Lincoln Highway – Stretching across northern Illinois, this route visits the charming towns of Batavia, Dixon, and Joliet.

🎢 Best Theme Parks

Travel Lemming Freelance Writer, Lea Rose, posing at the Navy Pier with the Chicago skyline in the background
Lea Rose admiring the Chicago scenery from Navy Pier

Many notable theme parks can be found throughout Illinois. These are great for any family trip, and each has tons to offer!

  • Navy Pier – Located in the heart of Chicago, this attraction is home to the famous Centennial Wheel, thrill rides, and more.
  • Safari Land – The state’s largest theme park, with savanna- and jungle-themed activities, plus an under the sea restaurant!
  • Grady’s Family Fun Park – Located in Bloomington, this park has kid-friendly rides and activities, along with intense roller coasters. 
  • Raging Waves Waterpark – The state’s largest water park, surrounded by Yorkville farmland. Full of unique pools and exciting rides.
  • Six Flags Great America – This must-visit theme park is located in Gurnee. Dubbed the “Thrill Capital of the Midwest.”

🖼️ Best Museums

Exterior view of the national historic site, The Lincoln Home in Springfield
The Lincoln Home National Historic Site in Springfield

Chicago is better known for its museums than any other city in Illinois, but there are also notable gems throughout the state:

  • Art Institute of Chicago – A popular museum full of paintings, sculptures, photography, and textiles from all cultures and eras. 
  • Lincoln Home National Historic Site – This Springfield residence is the only home owned by Lincoln. Tour the site and neighborhood.
  • Field Museum of Natural History – One of the world’s largest museums, with exhibits and artifacts on geology, anthropology, zoology, and more.
  • Illinois State Museum – Learn about Illinois history at these captivating Springfield exhibitions. Includes a children’s play center.
  • Museum of Science and Industry – An award-winning Chicago museum with 40,000 square feet of exhibits and galleries for all ages.

⛱️ Best Beaches

View of the Edgewater buildings from the Montrose Beach
Montrose Beach, with Edgewater buildings in the background

You may not think of Illinois as a beach destination, but many worthwhile beaches are located along the sandy shores of Lake Michigan: 

  • North Avenue Beach – The most popular of all beaches in Chicago. Enjoy concessions and water sports equipment rentals.
  • Northwestern Beach – Set on the edge of the Northwestern campus, this Evanston beach has an aquatics center and ice cream shop.
  • Montrose Beach – Chicago’s largest beach, including a fenced-off area for dogs and a fun seasonal beach bar with live music.
  • Waukegan Municipal Beach – Waukegan’s primary beach, home to natural sand dunes. Play soccer or beach volleyball! 
  • Oak Street Beach – A Gold Coast beach in Chicago where you can walk the shore, rent a bike, and enjoy the city skyline views.

⛰️ Best Mountains

View of the lush green trees on the hiking trail in Shawnee National Forest
A hiking trail in Shawnee National Forest near Williams Hill

Illinois is not particularly known for mountains, but there are some notable high points that are worth visiting: 

  • Charles Mound – The highest natural point in Illinois at 1,235 feet above sea level. Home to a tall plateau with a rich history. 
  • Williams Hill – The highest point in southern Illinois, with many trails and equipped cabins in the Shawnee National Forest.
  • Benton Mound – The second-highest point in Illinois, close to the town of Millville. This peak has an elevation of 1,204 feet.
  • Horton Hill – A southern Illinois peak situated in Saline County, featuring many hiking trails and magnificent views.
  • Bald Knob – Atop this hill lies the 111-foot-tall Cross of Peace, where you can see all the surrounding forests.

⛷️ Best Ski Resorts

View of the tourists at the Chestnut Mountain Resort in Galena on winter
A busy day at the Chestnut Mountain Resort in Galena (photo: StelsONe / Shutterstock)

Illinois is known for its extremely cold winter weather, especially towards the north. The accompanying good news is that snowfall grants ski resorts:

  • Chestnut Mountain Resort – Take skiing and snowboarding lessons and even enjoy the slopes at night! Also has a lodge and fine dining.
  • Lake Carroll Ski Hill – A family-friendly ski resort in Lanark, featuring a 300-foot incline that’s perfect for beginners.
  • Ski Snowstar – Minutes from Quad Cities, this family-friendly resort also has snow tubing lanes, trails, and a large terrain park.
  • Four Lakes Alpine Snowsports – A well-equipped ski resort in Lisle that offers private and group lessons, plus a venue for different events.
  • Villa Olivia – Located in Bartlett, a Chicago suburb, this resort offers snow tubing, alpine skiing, Nordic skiing, and snowboarding.

Illinois Travel Advice

🗓️ Best Time to Visit

Illinois has a ton to offer at any time of the year. Most would agree, however, that the best times to visit are April to May and September to October.

  • 🍂 Fall – The ideal time to visit for most, with moderate weather and gorgeous autumn scenery. Crowds have dissipated.
  • 🌼 Spring – A nice time to visit with winter fading. Beat the summer rush by visiting now, but be prepared for rain.
  • 🌞 Summer – The busiest time of the year. Expect lots of crowds and the most expensive flights and hotel stays.
  • ❄️ Winter – A great time to visit for fewer tourists and lower costs, but it can be very cold. Stick to indoor activities.

🚌 Getting In & Around

In most of Illinois, the best option for getting around is by car. However, in Chicago, public transit is actually a more efficient option in many cases.

  • ✈️ Airports – Most visitors fly into O’Hare International Airport. However, there are smaller commercial airports across the state. 
  • 🚗 Driving – Driving is usually the most convenient option. However, a vehicle is not always necessary in big cities.
  • 🚇 Public Transit – Most efficient around city centers, particularly the trains and buses of Chicago.
  • 📲 Ride Share – Uber and Lyft are widely available in the Chicagoland area but are not always in other parts of Illinois.
  • 🚴‍♀️ Biking – Illinois is the 15th most bike-friendly state. There are Divvy rental bikes in Chicago.
  • 🛴 Scooters – Spin, Lime, and Superpedestrian e-scooters are available in Chicago. 
  • 🚶‍♀️ Walking – Walk Score of 40 for the whole state. Chicago, Oak Park, and Evanston score higher.
  • ⛴️ Water Transport – There are free ferries over the Illinois River and water taxis with fares in Chicago.

👉 Tips & Things to Know

  • 💨 – Be a Mindful, Defensive Driver – You have to be a good driver on Illinois roads, particularly around Chicago. Others will often go 20+ miles over the limit.
  • 🛣 – Be Prepared for Toll Roads – Make sure you are always mindful of whether you are on a toll road. Otherwise, you may end up having to pay a hefty fine.
  • 🌨️ – Expect Harsh Winters – Particularly if you live up north, close to Lake Michigan, expect sub-zero temperatures and freezing winds in the winter.
  • 🇺🇸 – Avoid Conversations about Politics – Geographically, Illinois is very politically divided. The Chicagoland area is solid blue, while the rest of the state is largely conservative. 
  • 🌿 – Be Familiar with 420 Laws – Visitors can only possess 15 grams of flower and 2.5 grams of concentrate. Though it’s legalized, you can’t smoke in public.

🧳 What to Pack

  • 👟 – Walking Shoes – Definitely pack a sturdy and comfortable pair of shoes. They’ll help ensure an enjoyable travel experience. 
  • 🔋 – Portable Power Bank – If you have a packed itinerary, you’ll likely be away from electrical outlets for extended periods. This accessory comes in handy.
  • ☔ – Umbrella – There is a fair amount of rain in Illinois, particularly during the spring. It’s always a good idea to be prepared.
  • 🧥 – Jacket – Even if the weather forecast is warm, be sure to pack a warm jacket, especially in the winter.
  • 🦠 – Hand Sanitizer – In a post-COVID world, you can’t be too careful. Particularly in big cities, you’ll want to carry a bottle of this.

🤓 Facts & Info

  • Population – 12.7 million
  • Capital – Springfield
  • Largest Metro Areas – Chicago, Joliet, Aurora
  • Time Zone – Central Time (UTC -5 / UTC -6 during daylight savings)
  • Airports – O’Hare International Airport (ORD), Midway International Airport (MDW), Quad City International Airport (MLI), General Downing-Peoria International Airport (PIA), Chicago Rockford International Airport (RFD)
  • Colleges & Universities – University of Chicago, Northwestern University, University of Illinois Urbana – Champaign, Loyola University, Southern Illinois University – Carbondale
  • Nickname – The Prairie State, Land of Lincoln
  • Demonynm – Illinoisan
  • USPS Abbreviation – IL
  • Governor – J. B. Pritzker (Democratic Party)
  • CountryUnited States of America

💵 Costs & Budgeting

  • MERIC Cost of Living State Rank – 16th most affordable 
  • 3 Star Hotel Room – $55-130+/night
  • 1 Bedroom Apartment Rental – $60-125+/night
  • Rental Car – $25+/day
  • Public Transit Ticket – ~$2.50 ($5 to airport from center)
  • Take Out Meal for Two – $20-40
  • Sit Down Dinner for Two – $50-75
  • Draft Beer – $5-10

FAQs About Visiting Illinois

Is Illinois safe for tourists?

Overall, Illinois is safe for tourists. As far as Chicago safety, the city is one of the most dangerous in the nation in terms of violent crime. However, this is really heavily concentrated only in certain neighborhoods. The rest of the state, consisting largely of rural areas, is safe.

What is the number one attraction in Illinois?

The number one attraction in Illinois is Navy Pier in Chicago, home to many shops, rides (including the famous Centennial Wheel), and events. There are nearly 9 million people that visit Navy Pier every year, making it not only the most visited attraction in Illinois, but the entire Midwest region.

What is the best month to visit Illinois?

The best month to visit Illinois is September, in my opinion. During this month, the summer crowds have dissipated, but the brutally-cold winter weather has not yet set in. The weather is fairly dry and moderate, and prices have dropped somewhat since the summer.

Why visit Illinois?

There are many reasons to visit Illinois. In Chicago alone, there is iconic architecture, teams for every sport, and amazing signature dishes that everyone should try at least once. In other parts of Illinois, you can enjoy the natural beauty of the landscapes, including parks, lakes, and other scenery.

Is Illinois a good place to live?

Overall, Illinois is a good place to live. For one thing, no matter where you are in the state, Chicago makes for a great nearby getaway. However, keep in mind that the climate is unpredictable, the crime rate is higher, and things can be pricier.

Meet Our Illinois Travel Expert

Nilani Thiyagarajah

Nilani Thiyagarajah is a freelance writer and editor in Chicago, Illinois. Nilani enjoys exploring the Windy City whenever she has free time. Having grown up in Cincinnati, Ohio, she enjoys seeking and finding all of the best-kept secrets that any area has to offer. Nilani loves traveling and learning about new cultures and plans to do a lot more of it in the coming years!

👉 Read Nilani’s Articles

Lea Rose Allbaugh

Lea Rose Allbaugh is a freelance writer from the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. She’s currently based in Chicago (except for when she’s on a traveling stint) and is obsessed with all things travel. She caught the travel bug back in 2015 during an exchange to the Netherlands and has been traveling ever since. Through her writing, she hopes to inspire others to get up and go experience the world. Aside from travel, she loves reading, writing, and anything creative. She writes on her website Written World.

👉 Read Lea Rose’s Articles

📰 Illinois Travel Guides

If you’re interested in visiting the state of Illinois, you should definitely check out the rest of our travel guides on the Land of Lincoln. Currently, the majority of these articles are geared toward Chicago, but stay tuned for travel guides on the remainder of the state!

🗺️ Illinois Map