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Illinois is more than just Chicago. There are a ridiculous amount of amazing things to do in Illinois that aren’t all in Chicago. Download your free list and start checking places off this Ultimate Illinois Bucket List!
I’ll be the first to admit that I’m a little biased about Illinois. Growing up in Wisconsin I learned all about how bad Illinois was mainly due to the Chicago Bears. Illinois was just a really long, flat state that also happened to have Chicago.
Fast forward many years and I’ve mostly softened my bias towards Illinois. (As a lifelong Packers fan, I will NEVER, EVER root for the Bears.) I’ve learned that there are a ton of amazing things to do in Illinois. Chicago is an amazing city with a ton of bucket list worthy items. However, don’t forget the rest of the state. There’s SO much to see!
So go with me on an adventure and read about all the awesome things to do in Illinois. And be sure to download the free Illinois Bucket List checklist below!
- Museum of Science and Industry Chicago – Housed in the only remaining building from the 1893 World’s Faire, the Museum of Science and Industry is home to the U-505, 1 of only 6 German U-boats captured during World War II.
- Shedd Aquarium – One of the largest indoor aquariums in the World, the Shedd houses 32,000 animals across 1500 species.
- Navy Pier – Over 100 years old, Navy Pier is the premier lakefront destination for millions of visitors each year. Be sure to ride the ferris wheel!
- Six Flags Great America – Located near the Wisconsin – Illinois border, Six Flags Great America is home to over 15 roller coasters and a 20 acre water park.
- Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum – Opened in 2005, the museum is dedicated to one of America’s greatest presidents.
- Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio – Designed by Frank Lloyd Wright when he was only 22, this was his home until 1909.
- Field Museum – Opened as a result of the 1893 World’s Faire, the Field Museum is home to Sue, the most complete T-Rex ever discovered.
- Art Institute of Chicago – Opened in 1879, the Art Institute of Chicago is home to 300,000 works of art.
- Silver Creek and Stephenson Railroad – Who wouldn’t want to operate an actual steam train?
- Ernest Hemingway Birthplace and Museum – Born in 1899, Ernest Hemingway spent his early years here. It is now a museum devoted to all things Hemingway.
- Adler Planetarium – Part of Chicago’s famed museum campus, the Adler Planetarium was the first planetarium in the United States.
- Albino Squirrels of Olney, Illinois – These squirrels are like royalty in Olney. They legally have the right of way. Run one over and it’ll cost you a $750 fine.
- Lincoln Park Zoo – This zoo is located just north of downtown Chicago and is free every day of the year.
- World’s Largest Catsup Bottle – When the now defunct Brooks food plant needed a water tower in 1949, they decided to advertise. Meet the World’s largest Catsup bottle! 100,000 bottles of catsup large!
- Abandoned Town of Cairo, Illinois – Once a town of over 15,000 residents, it now has fewer than 2000. It is nearly abandoned as entire buildings crumble and are reclaimed by mother nature. An eerie sight!
- Starved Rock State Park – Following the stabbing of Pottawatomie Chief Pontiac, the Illinois took refuge on top of a large rock. The Pottawatomie surrounded them and days later they died of starvation.
- Anderson Japanese Gardens – An authentic Japanese garden consisting of stone, water and plants.
- Gateway Geyser – Not to be outdone by the Gateway Arch across the river in St. Louis, East St. Louis has a geyser that reaches the exact height as the Gateway Arch.
- Skydeck Chicago – Located on the 103rd floor of the Willis Tower (Sears Tower to Chicagoans), 4 completely glass boxes stretch out from the building. Look over 1300 feet straight down at the streets below.
- Nike Park – What are you supposed to do with a cold war nuclear missile launch site? Turn it into a public park – missile, silo and all!
- Cave-In-Rock – Located in Cave in Rock State Park, the 55 foot wide cave is rumored to have been a hideout for Jesse James and his gang. It actually was a hideout for late 1700’s river pirates. Argh!!!!
- Shawnee National Forest – Located on the southern tip of Illinois, Shawnee National Forest is a beautiful 280,000 acre wilderness.
- Buffalo Rock State Park – Located on the bluffs above the Illinois River, Buffalo Rock State Park is known for its 5 earthen sculptures made from Illinois clay.
- The Magnificent Mile – Be sure to visit the world famous shopping district on Michigan Ave in downtown Chicago.
- Cloud Gate – AKA the Bean, Cloud Gate is 66 X 33 foot sculpture inspired by liquid mercury. One of the most famous things to do in Illinois!
- Soldier Field – Opened in 1924, Soldier Field is home to the Chicago Bears and is located next to the Chicago Museum Campus.
- Wrigley Field – Home to the Chicago Cubs for over 100 years, Wrigley field is known for its ivy covered walls.
- Chicago Pizza Tour – Get an amazing tour of local Chicago pizza restaurants. Learn that there is much more to Chicago pizza than deep dish, I highly recommend Pizano’s.
- Bahá’í Temple – Visit one of only 8 Bahá’í temples in the world and the only one in North America. It is a beautiful work of architecture.
- Leaning Tower of Niles – Can’t make it to Pisa, Italy? Then visit the Leaning Tower of Niles, a half scale replica of the actual Leaning Tower of Pisa.
- Chicago River Tour – Cruise down the Chicago River and learn about the history and architecture of Chicago.
I’d love to know: what are some of your favorite things to do in Illinois? Don’t forget to download your free Illinois Bucket List checklist.
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