Panoramic drone view of downtown Chicago from above, Illinois

Things to do in  Illinois

Where skyscrapers and prairies meet

Illinois’ shining star is Chicago. The third-largest city in the United States, Chicago is a blockbuster metropolis with record-breaking skyscrapers, world-renowned museums, and eclectic neighborhoods, all offset by the glimmering sweep of Lake Michigan. But there are many things to do in Illinois beyond that undeniably major attraction, from the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield to the dramatic scenery of Starved Rock State Park and the Prairie-style homes that dot the Frank Lloyd Wright Trail.

Top 15 attractions in Illinois

Chicago Riverwalk

Connecting Lake Michigan to downtown, the Chicago Riverwalk is an open-air, pedestrian-friendly walkway that runs along the Chicago River. Composed of six main sections, the Riverwalk is a main hub for entertainment. Head to the Marina Plaza section for restaurants, outdoor seating, and boat access. Take a stroll through a series of piers and floating wetland gardens at the Riverbank, or head to the Water Plaza where the kids can splash in water fountains.More

The Magnificent Mile

Fashion, architecture, and history in Chicago come together on this renowned stretch of Michigan Avenue nicknamed the Magnificent Mile. As you walk from the Chicago River to Oak Street, you’ll pass several Windy City landmarks, including the Water Tower, John Hancock Center, and Tribune Tower, as well as numerous luxury brand retailers.More

Skydeck Chicago at Willis Tower (Sears Tower)

Once the world’s tallest building, Willis Tower is still way up in the clouds. Though it functions as an office building, the skyscraper’s 103rd-floor Skydeck Chicago draws 1.7 million annual visitors for a trip out onto The Ledge, an enclosed glass balcony extending 4 feet (1.2 meters) out over the city, as well as panoramic views that—on clear days—extend as far as Indiana, Michigan, Iowa, and Wisconsin.More

Chicago River

The Chicago River passes by some of the city’s most iconic landmarks and architecture, including the Wrigley Building and Navy Pier. Get a fresh perspective of the Windy City during a cruise along the river to learn, or paddle in a kayak for a closer look at the skyline. Combine your cruise with a city tour or speedboat ride, or see the city of Chicago illuminated on a nighttime kayak tour.More

Navy Pier

Navy Pier is one of Chicago’s most popular tourist destinations—and with good reason. The 3,300-foot (1,010-meter) pier jutting into the waters of Lake Michigan, originally constructed in 1916 as a freight dock and public space, encompasses almost 50 acres (20 hectares) of exhibits, rides, parks, and family attractions.More

Wrigley Building

The 1920s were an important time for Chicago architecture, and when the Wrigley Building opened in 1925, it set the pace for the city’s development. When owner William Wrigley Jr. (of the Wrigley gum company) scouted locations for the building that would become his company’s headquarters, he chose a unique triangle shape of land that eventually became the bustling Magnificent Mile.More

Millennium Park

Located just a block away from Lake Michigan in the heart of downtown Chicago, Millennium Park showcases world-class art, music, architecture, and landscape design. Completed in 2004, the 24.5-acre (10-hectare) park is one of Chicago’s most popular destinations, drawing 25 million visitors per year.More

Chicago Theatre

The historic Chicago Theatre, which dates back to 1921, is a popular downtown architectural landmark. With its famous dazzling marquee, French baroque architecture, and lobby modeled on a Versailles chapel, this picturesque structure today hosts concerts and comedy shows, as well as daily tours of its spectacular interior.More

Shedd Aquarium

On the shore of Lake Michigan, the Shedd Aquarium is one of Chicago’s most popular attractions. From the multi-level Oceanarium to the Wild Reef and Amazon Rising exhibits, this aquarium exhibits aquatic life from all over the world, including sea lions, sea turtles, sea otters, and around 1,500 species of fish. Experience it through a hop-on hop-off sightseeing tour or a Segway tour of Chicago’s Museum Campus.More

Tribune Tower

Once home to the Chicago Tribune, this neo-Gothic landmark was built as a result of the International Design Competition in 1922. Before this 462-foot (141-meter) building was constructed, reporters from the paper brought back pieces of rock from important landmarks around the world like the Taj Mahal, the Hagia Sophia, the Great Wall of China, and more.More

Marina City

A distinctive feature of the Chicago skyline since the 1960s, the twin concrete columns of Marina City were once the tallest residential buildings in the world. Their scalloped “corn cob” exterior made them instantly recognizable and a popular setting in movies like Batman Begins,Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, and The Blues Brothers.More

Art Institute of Chicago

Located in Chicago’s Grant Park, the Art Institute showcases 300,000 works of art ranging from ancient works to pieces created by today’s foremost artists. More than 1.5 million visitors from across the globe flock to the museum annually, making it one of Chicago’s most-visited destinations.More

Grant Park

Known as “Chicago’s Front Yard,” Grant Park stretches over 300 acres (121 hectares), and is the city’s primary downtown park. Located in the Loop, Grant Park is sandwiched between Lake Michigan and soaring skyscrapers. Its cultural highlights include the Art Institute of Chicago, the Museum Campus, and Millennium Park.More

Field Museum

Enjoying a prime position in downtown Chicago, the Field Museum of Natural History is home to more than 40 million specimens from all over the world—which seek to explain the existence of life on our planet. The highlight is undoubtedly Sue the T-Rex, the largest and most complete Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton ever discovered, but you can also visit an exhibition of Ancient Egypt or catch a show at the 3D movie theater. You can also take part in fossil digs and learning labs, and watch educational lectures, live performances, and other special events throughout the year.More

United Center

Home to the NBA’s Chicago Bulls and NHL’s Chicago Blackhawks teams, the United Center is a premier Midwest sports venue. With nearly 1 million-square-feet (92,903-square-meters) of indoor space, it’s the largest arena in the US by size, with more than 20,000 seats. The center also plays host to a star-studded lineup of music concerts.More

Top activities in Illinois

Chicago Architecture River Cruise

Chicago Architecture River Cruise

Chicago River 90-Minute History and Architecture Tour
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Chicago River 45-Minute Architecture Tour from Magnificent Mile
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Chicago Crime and Mob Bus Tour

Chicago Crime and Mob Bus Tour

Chicago River Boat Architecture Tour
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Chicago CityPASS®

Chicago CityPASS®

Chicago Lake and River Architecture Tour
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Chicago Craft Brewery Barrel Bus Tour
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Chicago Buffet Lunch Cruise on Lake Michigan
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All about Illinois

When to visit

After the frigid, snowy winter months, it’s little wonder that summer feels like one long celebration in Illinois. In Chicago, that means the arrival of outdoor festival season, major events like Pride and the Fourth of July, and reasons to hit Lake Michigan’s beaches (it isn’t called the inland sea for nothing). Fall brings harvest celebrations and Halloween festivities to the state, as well as events like the Hyde Park Jazz Festival, making it another great time of year to visit.

Getting around

O’Hare and Midway Airports make flying into Chicago simple. The major hub that it is, Chicago itself is served by numerous subway (or “L”) lines, buses, commuter trains, and even water taxis, making it easy to get out and explore. Amtrak train services also connect the city with other Illinois destinations, including Peoria, Bloomington, and Springfield, while Greyhound buses provide an affordable way to travel around the state.

Traveler tips

The Mississippi River forms Illinois’ western border, running for 575 miles (925 kilometers)—more distance than in any other state. Discover the famed waterway on a road trip along the Great River Road, while exploring green spaces like Mississippi Palisades State Park or visiting historic riverside towns like Galena.

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People Also Ask

What are 3 things Illinois is known for?

Illinois is known for being “the Land of Lincoln” and the site of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library. It’s known for Chicago: its largest city and an international cultural hub. And it’s also known for Lake Michigan, one of the world’s largest freshwater lakes which happens to border the state.

How can I have fun in Illinois?

There are so many ways to have fun in Illinois, from hiking in natural beauty spots like Shawnee National Forest to boating on Lake Michigan. And Chicago—with its skyscrapers and museums, its restaurants and shopping streets, its sports stadiums and parks—offers a whole world of discovery and exploration.

Where is the prettiest place in Illinois?

The prettiest place in Illinois might well be Starved Rock State Park, which is one of the state’s most popular outdoor destinations. Celebrated for its waterfalls, canyons, caverns, and other dramatic features, it offers a spectacular natural escape—and is still within day-trip distance of Chicago.

What is Chicago famous for?

Chicago is the third-largest city in the US. It’s famous for skyscrapers like the Willis Tower, for its architecture, for Wrigley Field and the Cubs, and for dishes like deep-dish pizza and Chicago-style hot dogs. It’s also known for its proximity to Lake Michigan and for its parks, public artworks, and museums.

What is the best month to visit Illinois?

The best month to visit Illinois is September, when the sun and warmth of summer are still around, but the high-season crowds are heading back home. In Chicago, events like the Hyde Park Jazz Festival come to town. Elsewhere in the state, the leaves are just starting to change color.

Does Illinois have nice beaches?

Yes, Illinois does have nice beaches. Though it’s far from the coasts, the state benefits from its proximity to Lake Michigan, the “inland sea” and one of the world’s largest freshwater lakes. The Chicago area is home to numerous sandy stretches that offer a scenic and relaxing way to unwind.

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