The Getaway
Small Towns, Big Fun: Your Guide to Illinois

The first thing most people think of when Illinois is mentioned is the bustling metropolis of Chicago. The "Windy City" is certainly the most famous locale in Illinois, but it definitely isn't the only city you should see while you're in the Prairie State. From niche festivals like the Sycamore Pumpkin Festival to Frank Lloyd Wright's original architecture in Geneva, there's a small town in Illinois for every traveler.


01 Enjoy a night at the opera in Woodstock

Woodstock is a charming small town located northwest of Chicago that serves as a hub for all arts and theater lovers. It has a claim to fame off the bat, with most filming for the movie Groundhog Day taking place in the quaint downtown. Woodstock is also home to a historic opera theater dating back to the late 1800s, which currently hosts over 500 shows a year.

02 Explore the Underground Railroad in Princeton

Located in the northern central region of the state, Princeton has a population of about 7,000 and is known for its historic architecture and beautiful scenery. One of Princeton's most prominent pieces of history is the colonial-style Lovejoy Homestead, home to abolitionist Owen Lovejoy and part of the Underground Railroad.

An old red covered bridge still being use in rural Illinois Marcia Straub/ Getty Images

03 Take a scenic walk in St. Charles

The picturesque town of St. Charles has become one of the most popular tourist destinations in the state due to its historical charm and position on the Fox River.

St. Charles creates an inviting atmosphere with brick-lined streets and original Victorian architecture. One of the biggest attractions is its Riverwalk District, which offers amazing views of the Fox River from the pathway along its banks.

04 Learn about the presidential past of Ottawa

Also located on the Fox River, Ottawa is home to several historic buildings and sites, including the original La Salle County Courthouse and Reddick Mansion. Reddick Mansion was the largest mansion west of the Mississippi when it was built. Constructed in the Italianate architectural style, this beautiful home sits on Washington Square, where former President Abraham Lincoln debated with one of his biggest challengers, Stephen Douglas.

05 View rare gemstones in Elmhurst

Located along the banks of Salt Creek and boasting an expansive park system with numerous hiking paths and greenways waiting to be explored, the big draw in Elmhurst is the unique museum scene.

Visit the Lizzardo Museum of Lapidary Art, which specializes in collecting various gemstones and earth science displays and prides itself on keeping mosaics, fossils, cameos, and precious gems themselves out for the public to see and learn from.

06 Learn about local history in Greenville

One of the oldest towns in Illinois, Greenville shows off its local history through museums like the American Farm Heritage Museum and the Armed Forces Museum. However, don't be fooled — it's also a college town, so there's no shortage of entertainment, including annual festivals like the Greenville Graffiti Car Show.

For outdoor buffs, Patriot's Park is one of the best recreation spots in Greenville, featuring the iconic rolling hills of Illinois and a beautiful lake.

07 Channel your inner hippie in Arcola

Home to the first Raggedy Ann doll and the Raggedy Ann and Andy Museum, the town of Arcola has a fair share of iconic landmarks. From the first Burger King in Illinois to the Hippie Memorial, a 62-ft long monument that the artist, Bob Moomaw, built as a timeline and a tribute to the bygone era of free spirits, there is certainly something for everyone to see in Arcola.

08 Appreciate an array of architecture in Quincy

A larger town with a historic feel, Quincy was founded as a transportation hub. Visit the South Side German Historic District for a unique look at how immigration influenced building style; you'll see everything from Frank Lloyd Wright-influenced structures to properties with a more German flavor.

Head over to the Villa Katherine, a Moroccan-style home turned Visitor's Center, to top it all off and learn some spooky legends.

09 Appreciate the waterfalls in Galena

Oozing with history, the unassuming town of Galena actually has over 800 buildings on the National Register of Historic Places — one of them being the childhood home of U.S. President Ulysses S. Grant.

Enjoy the beauty of Galena by visiting nearby Thunder Bay Falls. Spend some time savoring the local wine scene at one of the five wineries that are located in Galena alone.

10 Step into the 1800s in Mount Carroll

This well-preserved city highlights its history through architecture. This mill town has maintained a lot of its original façade and provides visitors with the sense that they've taken a step back in time.

The nearby Point Rock Park is a 25-acre oasis that sits on the Waukarusha River, beloved by locals and visitors alike for space to hike, fish, and even visit Oak Hill Cemetery, a graveyard that dates back to the Revolutionary War.

11 Explore the ghost town of Elsah

Today a village of fewer than 1000 residents, Elsah has been called " the town that time forgot" and "where yesterday meets today." The main attraction in Elsah is how unchanged it is-it was even put on the National Register of Historic Places in 1973. Visitors can learn more about the history of Elsah, how it evolved in relation to the railroad, and a suggested walking tour in the free Elsah History Museum.

12 Appreciate a Japanese tea garden in Geneva

Geneva has used its historical bones to create a city filled with entertainment options. With over 100 local eateries and boutique shops, you're unlikely to get bored or run out of delicious places to eat.

The Fabyan Forest Preserve is a one-of-a-kind Frank Lloyd Wright treasure that visitors shouldn't miss, complete with a Japanese Tea Garden and an original windmill. Additionally, the Geneva History Museum provides a fascinating background on the founding of the town.

13 Taste award-winning wine in Sycamore

Famous for the annual Sycamore Pumpkin Festival, this small town displays stunning buildings, especially throughout the Sycamore Historic District. Don't forget to visit the nearby Prairie State Winery, where you can get some of the best wine in Illinois, if not the country. This winery was one of the first to open in Illinois back in 1998 and is now the prized holder of 3 Governer's Cups. Best of all, you don't need a reservation to enjoy an afternoon in the tasting room.

14 Take a trip to the Netherlands in Fulton

This quirky small town embraces its Dutch roots, from the fully functional windmill that made the voyage from the Netherlands to the annual Dutch Days Festival every May. Fulton also happens to be home to the inventor of the steamboat and the town's namesake, Robert Fulton. You can take a walking tour to learn more about the history and founding of this unique town.

15 Study up on Mormon history in Nauvoo

Perhaps most famous for its Mormon heritage, Nauvoo is home to the Nauvoo Illinois Temple, which is worth seeing for its beauty. Nauvoo is also home to the Joseph Smith Homestead and the Smith Family Cemetery. Visitors can also go to Nauvoo State Park for hiking, fishing, and camping options.


Scroll Down

for the Next Article

The Getaway Badge
Sign up to receive insider info and deals that will help you travel smarter.