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Cities and towns in Illinois often get overshadowed by the large and exciting destination of Chicago. But you can learn a lot by traveling to other parts of the state for a weekend getaway to learn about local history and enjoy a more relaxing pace of life. For example, Illinois’ capital city of Springfield has a lot to offer curious travelers and families with kids. Here are the top things to do on a weekend getaway to Springfield or as you stop in the area on a cross-country road trip.
Lincoln Home National Historic Site
What Is It? The city of Springfield has strong ties to the 16th president of the United States, Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln moved here in 1837 and bought a home with his wife in 1844.
Why Do It? This is now the place of the Lincoln Home National Historic Site, which allows visitors today. You can learn about the site through living-history interpreters who are onsite.
Good to Know: There is no fee to enter the park, although you will need a free tour ticket to access the home. Rangers must accompany groups on tours, on which you’ll see the formal parlor, dining room, Lincoln’s bedroom, and other highlights.
Tour the State Capitol
What Is It? One of the most iconic structures in the city of Springfield is the State Capitol building, which was built in the late 1800s.
Why Do It? Free guided tours are offered on both weekdays and weekends. There’s a visitor’s center a block west of the capital to check out as well.
Good to Know: This is where the branches of the Illinois state government meet and where the primary chambers are for the state’s house of representatives, senate, and governor.
Old State Capitol
What Is It? Illinois’ Old State Capitol is a popular attraction in Springfield and served as the site of political debates between Abraham Lincoln and Stephen A. Douglas.
Why Do It? It was primarily used between 1839 and 1876 and then restored in the 1960s. It is a Greek Revival-style building that has lots of historical significance in Lincoln’s presidency and around the Civil War era.
Good to Know: Visitors can take a free tour of the building here either with an interpreter or on your own.
Cozy Dog Drive-In
What Is It? Although there are lots of great places to enjoy a meal in Springfield, an iconic one that really stands out is the Cozy Dog Drive-In. It’s located along Route 66 next to its original location that dates back to 1949.
Why Do It? It’s the perfect place to try an original corndog on a stick and see fun Route 66 memorabilia. Originally called the “crusty cur,” these corn dogs are a local specialty and a favorite food at the Illinois State Fair.
Good to Know: This family-owned restaurant is open Mondays through Saturdays and also serves numerous breakfast items, burgers, sides, and kids’ specials.
Frank Lloyd Wright`s Dana-Thomas House
What Is It? The Dana-Thomas House is a Wright creation that dates back to 1902. It was built for a Springfield socialite and has over 35 rooms.
Why Do It? When you’re here you can see some really beautiful art glass doors and windows. The Illinois State Historic Preservation Agency helped restore and preserve the home to showcase the unique architectural style and craftsmanship.
Good to Know: Tour hours are offered daily, and there is a suggested donation for adults and families.
Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum
What Is It? This is a popular Presidential center that has lots of exhibits to tell the story of Lincoln’s life. It has a recreated one-room cabin depicting where Lincoln lived, a film to watch, and immersive galleries.
Why Do It? If you’ve never checked out a presidential library before, the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum is a great place to start.
Good to Know: It’s open daily from 9am to 5pm and has a Subway restaurant onsite.
Illinois State Museum
What Is It? To learn more about Illinois and its history, plan to visit the Illinois State Museum in Springfield.
Why Do It? This is a natural history museum that also highlights arts and culture. Inside the museum, you can learn about Native American life, fossils, and local artists.
Good to Know: It’s a great place to bring kids to as well because there is a children’s activity area here to help little ones learn about science.
What Is It? The Illinois Executive Mansion, also known as the governor’s mansion, has been housing state governors since the mid-1800s.
Why Do It? Built in 1855, it is one of the oldest continuously occupied governor mansions in the U.S. and offers free tours of portions of the interior.
Good to Know: More limited tours are offered on Saturdays and during the legislative session.
Washington Park Botanical Garden
What Is It? The Washington Park Botanical Garden spans about 20 acres of land and has over 1,800 species of plants.
Why Do It? It’s fun to explore the gardens at different times to year to see what’s growing and what special exhibits are on display.
Good to Know: The gardens are free for everyone to visit and open on weekdays. There’s also a glass dome conservatory here with over 150 species of plants to see.
Lincoln Tomb and War Memorials
What Is It? Lincoln-specific sites worth visiting during your visit to Springfield are the Lincoln Tomb and the War Memorials. The tomb is a concrete fault below the burial chamber and contains the remains of President Lincoln and his immediate family members.
Why Do It? It is a national historic landmark, and free self-guided tours are a good option here.
Good to Know: Also at the Oak Ridge Cemetery where the tomb is located, you’ll find a World War II memorial and Vietnam War memorial that honor the people from Illinois who served in these wars.
Fishing at Springfield Lake
What Is It? Lake Springfield is one of the top fishing lakes in the area with many species of fish thriving here. The lake spans over 3,000 acres on the southeastern edge of the city of Springfield. Some of the most common fish that can be caught here include bluegill, channel catfish, flathead catfish, largemouth bass, white bass, and white crappie.
Why Do It? There are boat ramps and fishing tournaments hosted here. The lake is not available for swimming or renting boats, but skiing and picnicking are other popular activities.
Good to Know: It is near the University of Illinois at Springfield campus and the Abraham Lincoln Memorial garden too.
Try a Local Craft Brew
What Is It? Buzz Bomb Brewing Company is a great local brewery in Springfield.
Why Do It? You can try stouts, cream ales, sour beers, and other varieties. You can bring in your own food, listen to live music, and play trivia at the brewery too.
Good to Know: This brewery’s taproom is open every day except for Monday. Other top breweries around town to explore include Engrained Brewery, which is also a farm-to-table restaurant, the Springfield Beer Company, and Anvil & Forge Brewing and Distilling.
Celebrate the 4th of July
What Is It? Springfield hosts an annual firework show in front of the capitol building that is free and doesn’t require tickets to attend.
Why Do It? The event offers food, music, and family-friendly entertainment. Before the fireworks show, you can typically listen to a concert and grab something delicious from a local food truck.
Good to Know: Bring your blankets and lawn chairs to sit on for this patriotic celebration.