While Chicago is a great city and a worthy vacation destination, the rest of Illinois is not just cornfields and farmland. Its distinctive smaller towns can satisfy the wandering spirit of anyone looking for a quick weekend getaway. We won’t suggest you skip Chicago, but we encourage you to expand your horizons and set your sights on exploring some of the smaller towns of this state, with their rich history and unique topography.
Known both as the “land of Lincoln” and the “birth of the road trip” because the legendary Route 66 originated in downtown Chicago in 1926, you might want to follow “The Lincoln Highway” for part of your journey through the state. Whether you’re a presidential scholar or a collector of little-known facts, the state’s smaller towns offer some quirky weekend expeditions and offer abundant appeal.
The Illinois capital is, of course, worth visiting, not only for the capital building itself, but also for a visit to Lincoln’s tomb and the Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum. One weekend may not be long enough to fill your history bucket! The Frank Lloyd Wright Dana Thomas House is here and worth a visit, and the Air Combat Museum and Camp Butler National Cemetery do not disappoint.
✓ Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum
✓ Frank Lloyd Wright Dana Thomas House
✓ Air Combat Museum
A quintessential Mississippi River town with historic old homes, quaint B&Bs, and great views of the river from its high bluffs, time your visit to Galena to coincide with one of its legendary festivals and you’re sure to be enchanted. Check out the Midwest Garlic Fest and the Great Galena Balloon Race, or spend your time just drinking in the sights along city streets and meandering country lanes. If you visit during the winter, you can also ski nearby.
✓ Mississippi River town
✓ Quaint downtown
✓ Skiing nearby
If you’ve ever wondered about the phrase, “Will it play in Peoria?”, you might be curious about the oldest European settlement in Illinois. With a population of slightly over 100,000 people, Peoria is the essence of “mainstream America.” First settled in 1680, this largest city on the Illinois River is famed as the distilling capital of the world, with 12 distilleries operating along the riverbanks. It’s also home to Bradley University and offers a great riverfront museum. Kids will love the Peoria Playhouse Children’s Museum and the Peoria Zoo, and Luthy Botanical Garden and Forest Park are outdoor delights.
✓ 12 distilleries
✓ Bradley University
✓ Peoria Zoo