While most visitors might go on their vacations in Illinois to experience the bright lights of the state’s very own Windy City, Chicago, there’s plenty more to the Prairie State than deep-pan pizza, skyscrapers and The Blues! Explore beyond Chicago and you’ll find a state packed with historical artifacts, mysterious mangroves and the rolling prairies that give the state its nickname. There are secluded towns and bustling cities to enjoy, making an Illinois vacation ideal for everyone, whether you’re travelling with your family or looking for a weekend getaway with your significant other.
Anyone planning to take Illinois vacations should put Springfield at the top of their list. While Chicago might hog the limelight, Springfield is the state’s capital and the home of an historic site or two of its own, including the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum. You can take tours of the library, and the museum holds documents and books giving details of Lincoln and the American Civil War. You’ll also find the Lincoln Tomb in the Oak Ridge Cemetery, and the Lincoln Home, where Abraham Lincoln lived between 1844 and 1861.
Those looking for romantic Illinois package vacations should make their way to Rockford, even if it’s just for the day. Around 80 miles west of Chicago and less than a three-hour drive, it has attractions such as the Rockford Art Museum and the Rock Cut State Park. However, the ace up its sleeve is the Anderson Japanese Gardens. Covering more than 12 acres, they are a living, breathing shrine to peace and tranquility.
The Starved Rock State Park is consistently rated as Illinois’ most popular attraction and, once you’ve been there, you’ll know why! It attracts more than 2 million visitors each year, who come to marvel at the views from river-rounded cliffs, explore the 18 canyons, or simply walk through a towering forest. Starved Rock takes its name from a Native American legend, in which members of the Illinois tribe met a grisly end on the park’s great rock.
For sheer spectacle, there’s not much to beat Lake Michigan. With Chicago on its banks and covering over 36,000 square miles, Lake Michigan would appear to have more in common with a small ocean than a large lake! There are dozens of beaches lining the lake’s 1,360 miles of shoreline, which has given rise to the nickname, ‘the Third Coast’. There are plenty of exciting opportunities for fishermen, while those who like a bit of outdoor adventure can go scuba-diving and explore the wrecked ships that lie in the lake’s depths.
Although it might be a small town, Galena is big on charm. Once home to Ulysses F Grant, there are some fabulous attractions such as Grant Park and Horseshoe Mound, from which you can see across three states (on a clear day). If you love the idea of good, old-fashioned American road trips, don’t forget that Route 66 cuts its way through the state. Book accommodation along the way and turn your vacation in Illinois into the road trip of a lifetime.
With a festival falling on almost every day of the summer calendar, the months between June and August are the most popular and, consequently, the most crowded. If you’re prepared to forgo a festival or two in favor of cooler conditions and better sightseeing, book your Illinois vacations in the spring or the fall. Be mindful that it snows in Illinois in the winter – a lot!
Hiring a rental car makes traveling around the state convenient and allows you to choose your own pace. Illinois is well served by interstate highways, which are well maintained and well signposted. For longer distances or to turn your trip into something more relaxing, Amtrak’s rail services are comfortable and reliable. You’ll find Amtrak stations covering most of the major cities. Greyhound buses might take longer, but they certainly give you the chance to soak up the scenery.