20 Top Rated Tourist Attractions in Illinois
Illinois is rich in history and scenic natural beauty. Its location at the confluence of the Mississippi, Missouri, and Illinois Rivers, and on the banks of Lake Michigan, has long made this state a center of commerce. In the 1830s, a booming manufacturing economy brought urbanization to places like Chicago and the areas surrounding it.
The city's culture grew around its many theatres and music clubs, and as other industries migrated to Chicago, it evolved into a major cultural, educational, and economic center.
Nowadays, Chicago is famous for sports and its active nightlife scene, which thrive around the city's famous train and subway system. There are also many recreational activities, from shopping in the Loop district to enjoying a wide range of restaurants and bars in the many surrounding neighborhoods.
Illinois has its share of parks and beaches, as well. The state's natural beauty and history make it a popular travel destination in its own right, with parks, lakes, rivers, and so on, making it one of the most diverse states in the country.
In addition to the best places to visit in Illinois, be sure to plan your trip using the list of the top attractions in Illinois.
Indianapolis, a delightful old city with an artistic community, is a definite must-see. The city is home to the nation's best-known water tower, first erected in the 1920s, as well as the Wine Studio, which stands on a hillside overlooking downtown and offers free wine tastings every Sunday. There's also the Rolling Mills, an artful roller skating rink with a festive atmosphere and a collection of fine art displays. There's a great wealth of parks and recreational areas: indeed, it's not uncommon to see bicyclists, walkers, and joggers sharing the sidewalks. More specifically, Indiana hosts 27 state parks, and the city is bordered by a number of lesser-known outdoor recreation areas, most notably Indiana Dunes National Park, which offers boating, swimming, fishing, camping, and other activities.
Millennium Park is the largest urban park in the United States and has been the center of Chicago for over 100 years. It is also the largest sculpture park in the world. In Millennium Park's beautiful main hall stands the Cloud Gate, a massive titanium sculpture weighing over 40 tons. It is, according to some, the most photographed building in the world. Many others might disagree and cite the UNAMULOS water fountain, by artist Fernando Botero, that rises 24 feet in the air to the sounds of its lapping waves and waterfalls.
The Art Institute of Chicago
The Art Institute of Chicago is located in downtown Chicago, and is one of the most important art museums in the world. The museum's renowned collection includes the largest holding of Impressionist and post-Impressionist paintings in the world and the world's largest collection of French impressionist and post-impressionist paintings. A major traveling exhibition hall presents up to 100 works at a time. The museum's halls of Modern art display a vast selection of Impressionist and post-Impressionist works, including those of the most important members of the early post-Impressionist group, Monet, Cezanne and Degas, along with works by Picasso and Matisse. In addition to the permanent collection galleries, major traveling exhibits on works by modern artists from around the world are the highlight of the museum's program. Among them are currently on view: Peter Max in the Americas, and Aladar in Europe. As a result of its extraordinary collection, the museum has developed a reputation for outstanding architectural design and public spaces. The museum's sculpture court, with its elegant landscaping, is a significant exhibition area.
Wrigley Mansion is one of the more impressive homes in Chicago, the city that bears its name. The mansion was originally built for one of Chicago's first corporate tycoons. William C. Wrigley was a chewing gum pioneer who made his fortune during the Industrial Revolution by inventing the first mass-produced, powdered candy. The mansion's distinctive façade resembles a giant chocolate bar, made up of five distinct architectural forms. Today the mansion is open to the public for tours and special events and has gardens and parks that are open to the public as well. Adjacent to the mansion is the William A. Wrigley Jr. House, which was once the Wrigley family home. It contains an art gallery and art-related exhibits about the history of Chicago's first great businessman.
Adler Planetarium opened in 1932 as the first public planetarium in the world. Since its opening, the planetarium has hosted numerous activities, including an evacuation for a major earthquake in 1936, space shuttle launches in 1981 and 2001, and Apollo space program flights in 1961 and 1969. The planetarium is located in Chicago, Illinois, a vibrant, cosmopolitan city on the banks of Lake Michigan. To enjoy a visit to the planetarium, take a cab from the Midway International Airport or train to the century-old Chicago Historical Museum.
Chicago Botanic Garden
Chicago's oldest and largest botanic garden is the Chicago Botanic Garden, on 50 acres of parkland with a riverwalk. Opened in 1911, the Garden encompasses seven major divisions with more than 6,000 specimens of plants and trees from across the world. Highlights include the flower gardens and various landscapes, an orchid house, a Japanese garden, and the world's largest collection of succulents and cacti. The Garden also has a themed entry; the Great Lawn section features the plant kingdoms, while the Rainforest, Tropical, and Desert collections each have a distinct atmosphere and are designed for specialized interests. An interesting free attraction is the Sunken Garden, a fountain-filled, former, well-used swimming pool dating from 1912 and converted in the 1990s into a unique aquatic garden in which fish, plants and other aquatic life flourish amid large pieces of pavement. Children can join in one of the many daily children's programs at the Garden.
Lincoln Park Zoo
Although zoos and amusement parks are typically not considered to be attractive destinations, Lincoln Park Zoo is a special case as it's one of the best-known zoos in the world, drawing millions of visitors every year. With annual attendance of more than a million, it's also considered one of Chicago's top tourist attractions. The facility has seen a number of additions and renovations over the years to improve the experience for both animal and visitor. For more information on things to do in Lincoln Park Zoo, visit the main website and click on Attractions. The site has information on attractions and the interactive map allows visitors to plan their visit and set a course in advance.
Navy Pier is a former World War I Naval base in Chicago, Illinois, USA, which now houses a number of restaurants and attractions. The Ferris wheel and Wonder Wheel are two of the most popular things to do here. Nearby the pier is Lake Michigan, which offers some of the best views of the city and the Chicago River. During the summer months, the pier hosts a large number of restaurants, festivals, and concerts. Things to do in Navy Pier include visiting the Palace Restaurant and the Maritime Aquarium, which are good places to enjoy the views of the lake, or catch a boat cruise.
The 1,300-foot Willis Tower in downtown Chicago houses the state's best-known views, as well as the Skydeck Observatory. This skyscraper is so-named because it was the tallest building in the world when it opened in '72. The 50th-floor observatory features a variety of views and provides a perfect vantage point for a high-altitude and unobstructed panorama of the Chicago skyline. Built into the side of the building, as well as the city's city hall, are displays showing details of the former Chicago River dredging project. Walk on the roof of the building to get a real sense of space and dizzying views of the city.
Museum of Science and Industry
The Museum of Science and Industry (MSI) is one of the largest and best science centers in the country. It is located in the Chicago city limits at 700 Lake Shore Drive, a couple of miles west of Navy Pier. Attractions at this educational institution include the space theater, Challenger exhibit, hands-on dinosaur exhibit, the planetarium, and the particle exhibit. An entertaining light and sound show called "Bodies, Minds and Machines" is usually featured in the museum's space theater. Chicagoans who want to see a science film like "Gravity" should visit the International Space Hall at one of the museum's floors. The museum has a partnership with Space Center Houston, so if you want to see something more about the planets, visit Space Center Houston.
The Field Museum
Founded in 1890 and one of the world's oldest and largest natural history museums, The Field Museum is renowned for its Native American collections, displaying over 13,000 artifacts. Although many of these pieces are on display, many of the best pieces are used for teaching and training purposes. Among its many artifacts on display are pottery, metalwork, clothing, feather work, basketry, weapons, and musical instruments.
Chicago Cultural Center
The striking Chicago Cultural Center, formerly known as the Field Museum of Natural History, is a three-story, block-long building that's surrounded by a beautiful green park. The exterior of the Chicago Cultural Center is composed of grey and beige materials, which is a stark contrast to the greens of the park. The Chicago Cultural Center boasts many different museum collections including The Art Institute of Chicago, The Museum of Science and Industry, the National Veterans Art Museum, and many more. The Art Institute of Chicago and The Museum of Science and Industry feature hands-on science and technology exhibits that are great for kids. The Newberry Library features special exhibitions and learning opportunities all year long. The Chicago Cultural Center also has a performing arts and cinema complex.
Chicago Shakespeare Theater
Inspired by the ideas of English playwright William Shakespeare, Chicago's world-class theatre in the heart of the Loop dates back to 1889 and presents more than 600 performances a year in a 1,160-seat state-of-the-art theatre. The regular season runs from the autumn to early spring, with additional performances during the summer. There are two main performances each day, with additional ones each evening. Some performances have added morning or afternoon matinees. Make reservations in advance. Tickets run from US$30 to US$180.
The Buckingham Fountain
The Buckingham Fountain, a permanent landmark in Chicago, is probably best known as the setting of Audrey Hepburn and Humphrey Bogart's iconic kiss in the film Sabrina, but it's a monumental work of modern sculpture as well. The intricate sculpture has two stories, one depicting the spectacular display of water on the Fountain's two arches during spring-time, the other depicting waterfalls across the massive fountain during the rest of the year. Another great place to visit in Illinois is Arlington Park, a fashionable horse racing track in Chicago. Visit in springtime to see the legendary thoroughbreds, plus a horse show and the famous Arlington Million harness race. Also of interest is Chicago's Museum of Science and Industry, one of the largest science museums in the world.
O'Hare Airport is located north of downtown Chicago, the largest and busiest airport in the United States. It is home to almost 90 million passengers a year, making it one of the world's most important airports and fifth largest in the world. Most international flights to the United States land at O'Hare's main Terminal 1 (or Terminal 3 if arriving from Chicago). All domestic flights arrive at Terminal 2. The terminal's exit is opposite to Terminal 1, where taxis, limousines, and public transportation are available. Taxis also run from O'Hare's Central Terminal.
James R. Thompson Center
The James R. Thompson Center, Chicago's landmark government building, is home to more than 4,300 people. Designed by the architectural firm of HNTB, the James R. Thompson Center, which opened in 1995, is an icon of the modern Chicago skyline. The building consists of four geometric, octagon-shaped levels connected by atriums, and the fifth level is set aside as a large terrace on top of the building's first level. Just off Michigan Avenue, the Thompson Center houses two offices for the president and the vice president, a number of law offices, and the Chicago Department of Streets and Sanitation.
The Wrigley Building, erected in 1891, is a famous landmark in Chicago. It is one of the most recognized structures in the city's skyline. Designed in a "Chicago school" of architecture, the three-story, ten-winged building represents the Beaux Arts movement, a style of architecture that originated in France and emphasized symmetry and order. The Wrigley Building is a prime example of the style, which never entirely took hold in the United States until it was studied in more detail and adopted by the Prairie School of architecture. The building is one of several located in the famous Loop, a commercial center in downtown Chicago. The shopping district includes the Chicago Board of Trade Building, the Prudential Life Insurance Building, the Alcoa Building, and the Chicago Mercantile Exchange.
Lincoln Park Conservatory
A gift of people from the state of Illinois, the Lincoln Park Conservatory opened to the public in 1918. It is perhaps one of the most unique places in the world with tropical fruit trees inside an elegant colonial-style glass structure. It houses a large variety of plants including tropical fruit trees, herbs, cacti and a huge collection of rare flowers and plants. Inside the conservatory visitors can view plants and flowers, where displays change seasonally.
Lincoln Park is a pleasant residential neighborhood situated at the base of the hill overlooking the Chicago River. The park was named after the 16th president of the United States, Abraham Lincoln, who lived and died in nearby Illinois's state capital city, Springfield. The park's green space is a favorite among residents and visitors alike for playing Frisbee, boating on the river, or taking a walk or jogging on the paths. In the summer, Lincoln Park's public outdoor ice skating rink is a lively, popular attraction. There is also a pleasant little zoo located on the park's southeast side. The zoo offers a number of additional attractions, including a manatee facility, a butterfly exhibit, an aviary, and a family-oriented petting area.
Chicago History Museum
The Chicago History Museum boasts 20 million artifacts, showing the diverse and colorful history of the Windy City, from its initial settlement to its modern present. Among the must-see exhibits are the gigantic Mastodon Bones, which weigh some 4,500 pounds, and the Iron Lung machine, which has been used to recreate the breathing of an albino infant known as "Happy Baby." The museum, located on South Columbus Drive in the city's Loop neighborhood, also contains a film theater and a number of galleries showing art, industrial history, and more. The museum is free to enter, and the inside is illuminated during the day, but there are additional fees for the film theater and some of the exhibition galleries.