11 Cool Places to Visit in Illinois: Top Travel Destinations in Illinois State

September 27, 2022
Liz Arnold

From sprawling farmland to bustling cities, from peaceful forests to glistening skyscrapers, the state of Illinois has plenty to offer to visitors and residents alike. Whether you are looking for the perfect location for a fun, family-friendly vacation or an exciting team-building destination, there is no shortage of cool places to go in Illinois. Thanks to group bus transportation, your party can reach the travel destinations in Illinois that best fit their tastes and their purpose comfortably and safely. So here is a list of where to go in Illinois for travelers of all ages, abilities, and tastes!

#1. Chicago

Of course, Chicago belongs at the top of this list as one of the cool places in Illinois, but also in the country. There is not enough of a lifetime to explore everything that Windy City has to offer. Chicago is the third largest city in the country and is home to nearly three million people. Located on the bank of the turquoise blue waters of Lake Michigan, it is renowned worldwide for its wealth of activities, restaurants, and museums for patrons of all ages. Chicago tourist attractions make it one of the top Illinois destinations.

#2. Anderson Japanese Gardens

Located in Rockford, which is one of the best cities in Illinois to visit and the third largest in the state, you will find Anderson Japanese Gardens. No need to book plane tickets and brace yourself for jet lag if you are looking for a Zen experience that will transport you to another entirely different universe. These seasonal gardens are open from May to October. They feature beautiful landscaping as well as traditional features such as natural water features, delicate bridges, traditional pagodas, and elegant lanterns to make this Illinois destination what some describe as one of the best Japanese gardens in the country.

#3. Galena

places to go in illinois

If you are looking for ideas for places to visit in Illinois, do not miss out on the charming town of Galena, Illinois. Once a rich mining city, this small community eventually dried out and became a ghost town, only to be reborn from its ashes as a lovingly restored touristic destination. You will feel like you stepped back in time as 85% of its historic buildings have been painstakingly preserved. The steep hills surrounding the town add to its scenic charm and make Galena one of the most unique travel destinations in Illinois.

#4. Shawnee National Forest

Illinois may be known as the Prairie State, but this beautiful state has a lot more scenery to offer than vast expanses of grass. Located in the most southern part of the state, the Shawnee National Forest is the perfect place to escape if you are longing for the great outdoors and are looking for the ideal place to get away from it all and go hiking, fishing, swimming, and getting closer to nature. Shawnee National Forest’s most recognizable attraction is the Garden of the God, a breathtaking rock formation accessible through a short observation trail.

#5. New Salem

Few Illinois residents have had a more influential role in American history than Abraham Lincoln. The 16th President of the United States lived in New Salem between 1831 and 1837. In his honor, the original New Salem was perfectly reconstituted, and visitors can now stroll among the 23 open buildings, many of which serve as a stage for guides wearing period garb to answer all your questions. Whether you are a historical buff, an Abraham Lincoln fan, or are simply curious about how Illinois settlers lived in the 19th century, a trip to New Salem is sure to become one of your favorite places to go in Illinois.

#6. Champaign-Urbana

If you ask Illinois residents about their favorite fun cities in Illinois, Champaign-Urbana will undoubtedly be one of the most common answers. This quintessential college town is home to the University of Illinois, the largest university in the state. As such, it makes for one of the best cities to visit in Illinois, brimming with fun coffee shops, art, and cultural destinations, including the Spurlock Museum, which features an extensive collection of artifacts from all over the world. Saturday shopping at the Market at the Square is an experience not to be missed.

#7. Giant City State Park

Located in the Shawnee National Forest in the heart of Union and Jackson County, the Giant City State Park is one of the most unique places to visit in Illinois. The gigantic sandstone formations in this 4,000 acres of state park will make you feel as if you have shrunk to the size of an ant. No matter what your hiking level may be, there is a trail for you. We recommend that beginners start with the accessible Post Oak Trail, but more experienced visitors should put in the extra effort to explore the breathtaking Trillium Trail. The stunning vistas will well be worth the extra effort.

#8. Starved Rock State Park

Being less than 100 miles from Chicago, Starved Rock State Park makes for a favorite day trip destination among city dwellers looking to get closer to nature and for visitors who want to complement their trip to the best city to visit in Illinois with a taste of the local scenery. Located on the banks of the Illinois River, Starved Rock State Park offers plenty of hiking opportunities among the canyons carved in the sandstone by long-gone glaciers, complete with waterfalls. Lucky hikers may even get up close and personal with the local fauna, such as deer and migrating birds.

#9. Great River Road

illinois destinations

There is no better bonding exercise than a good road trip. So stock up on snacks, good tunes, and better company before hitting the Great River Road, which follows the mighty Mississippi along Illinois’ western border. There is no shortage of fun excursions along the way if you need to stretch your legs and get some fresh air. From heart-stopping experiences such as gondola rides and zip lines to more mellow experiences like sipping local wine along the river or floating down the stream in a canoe or paddle boat, a trip down the Great River Road makes for one of the best travel destinations in Illinois.

#10. Springfield

What is the capital city of Illinois? If you guessed Chicago, you are wrong. Although Windy City is the largest city in the state, the title belongs to Springfield, Illinois. Home to Abraham Lincoln for over 17 years, this unique place to go in Illinois is the perfect city excursion for visitors looking for a trip in the footsteps of this great man. Plan to spend at least a day in this beautiful town between a visit to the Lincoln Home National Historic Site, the extensive Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, and a pilgrimage to the Oak Ridge Cemetery, where Lincoln and his family were laid to rest.

#11. Route 66

Few landmarks embody the spirit of freedom in America better than Route 66, also known as The Mother Road. The country’s first continuous highway crosses the state from Chicago to East St Louis. It is the perfect way to explore some of the cool places to go in Illinois and enjoy the state’s scenic beauty and Americana nostalgia while walking in the footsteps of the Beat generation. Stops along the way could include Pontiac’s Route 66 Hall of Fame, Staunton’s Country Classic Cars, or Chicago’s Navy Pier.


There is no shortage of fun places to visit in Illinois, whether you prefer the bustling atmosphere of a large city like Chicago, the serene beauty of the forest, or getting a taste of times gone by in historic destinations. If you are looking to take in the fun of the Prairie State with a large group and would rather socialize with your party and get some rest to enjoy your destination fully, your best bet is to hire an Illinois charter bus company to get you safely and comfortably to your favorite Illinois destinations.

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