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The Land of Lincoln is a great place for a weekend getaway that’s affordable and fun for the whole family. Whether you’re exploring attractions in Chicago or central or southern parts of the state, Illinois has a lot to offer both adults and kids for entertainment, cultural experiences, and recreation. Here are our top picks for weekend getaways in Illinois for your next mini-vacation to explore the Midwest.
Galena is an ideal weekend destination in Illinois for couples and families with kids. In town, you’ll find lots of things to do, from adorable mom-and-pop shops to historic sites that include the President Ulysses S. Grant home. Stay in one of the quaint inns of B&Bs in Galena to be treated to a relaxing and special experience. There are also some great festivals in town to plan your weekend getaway around, such as the Midwest Garlic Fest and the Great Galena Balloon Race. Galena is about three hours west of Chicago and the epitome of charm along the Mississippi River. There are some great hikes here too and also a ski resort nearby for your winter weekend getaway.
As the capital of Illinois, Springfield is a wonderful weekend getaway destination to learn about local history and keep the entire family entertained. You can visit the Illinois State Capitol building, Lincoln’s Tomb, and the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum. Other top sights here to check out are the Air Combat Museum, Frank Lloyd Wright’s Dana Thomas House, and the Camp Butler National Cemetery. This is an epic weekend destination for history buffs and a place that will transport you back to another place in time.
Starved Rock State Park
One of the most spectacular natural attractions in the state of Illinois is Starved Rock State Park, which is near the town of Oglesby. This is a wonderful weekend getaway if you need a break from the big city life of Chicago or the farm fields that cover much of the state. Here you’ll find waterfalls, hiking trails, canyons, rock formations, and endless opportunities for outdoor recreation. For your weekend, you can stay in the lodge or camp in the park to fully immerse yourself in nature.
Another Illinois weekend destination worth mentioning is the Amish community of Arthur, a small town in east-central Illinois known for its iconic horse and buggies. This is a place to come to slow down your pace of life and enjoy a simpler time. There are lots of Amish-owned and operated shops that sell quilts, jams, cabinets, and much more in the countryside surrounding Arthur. And if you visit in the fall, you simply must check out the Great Pumpkin Patch, which is one of the best pumpkin patches in the entire Midwest. Make sure to enjoy a home-cooked Amish meal at Yoder’s Country Kitchen, take a buggy ride, and attend a small-town festival, such as the Cheese Festival or the increasingly popular 4th of July festival here.
A lovely city in the western suburbs of Chicago to visit for your weekend getaway is Geneva. You can reach it within less than an hour by train or by car from the city. Geneva is situated along the Fox River and is great for waterfront eating and drinking. Come here for a quaint vibe, nature preserves, peaceful parks, tree-lined streets, and a nice shopping district in a classic town. The Fox River Distilling Company is a great place to grab a drink, as well as to take a tour and do a spirit tasting.
Shawnee National Forest
Head down to southern Illinois to indulge your outdoorsy side with hiking, rock climbing, mountain biking, and backpacking. This forested area is between the Ohio and Mississippi river and has lakes, hills, and woodlands to explore. A famous region here is called Garden of the Gods and has sandstone rock formations and cliffs. Jackson Falls is an epic rock climbing destination, and popular trails are the Rim Rock National Recreation Trail and the River to River Trail.
It’s also fun to visit Peoria for the weekend, which is home to Bradley University and right along the riverfront. Check out the Peoria Zoo, the Peoria Playhouse Children’s Museum, and Luthy Botanical Garden if you’re traveling with kids. Other fun things to do here for your weekend are to explore the Peoria Riverfront Museum, see a game at Dozer Park, and get outdoors at Forest Park.
The neighboring cities of Champaign and Urbana are home to a University of Illinois campus, giving the area a fun college town vibe. You can take a walk on the beautiful campus, explore the many nearby parks, eat a wide variety of cuisines, and check out local museums too. Catch a show at the Virginia Theatre, cheer on the local team at Memorial Stadium, and browse the Krannert Art Museum while you’re here.
Located between Chicago and Galena, Rockford is a large city that is diverse, unique, and culturally rich. Here you can check out Japanese gardens, many local breweries, and the Nicholas Conservatory and Gardens for your nature fix. There are also opportunities in Rockford for ice skating, childhood learning at the Discovery Center Museum, and some excellent restaurants that include the Machine Shed Restaurant, Abreo Restaurant, and GreenFire.
Of course, no list of weekend getaway destinations in Illinois would be complete without mentioning the great city of Chicago. Located in the northeast region of the state, Chicago is a wonderful year-around destination packed with incredible restaurants, museums, cultural performances, comedy shows, and family-friendly hotels. Top attractions among tourists include Navy Pier, Grant Park, Millennium Park, and the architectural tours via boat. However, this is also a city of many diverse neighborhoods just waiting to be explored too. Take a walk down the streets of Pilsen, Bucktown, Andersonville, or Logan Square for example to get a sense of how the locals life and thrive here. It’s also fun to catch a live improv comedy show at Second City, go for a jog on the Lakeshore Path, and sample craft beers at the city’s many breweries while you’re in town for the weekend. The city really comes alive in the summer with so many festivals happening that it’s difficult to choose which one to check out!