Main Street Galena, Illinois. Image credit Dawid S Swierczek via Shutterstock.

10 Picturesque Small Towns in Illinois for a Weekend Retreat

Admitted to the Union in December’1818 as the 21st state, Illinois, situated in the American Midwest, is acclaimed for its dramatic terrain, rich heritage, enchanting attractions, and welcoming locals. Nevertheless, whenever one thinks of vacationing in the Prairie State, its most widely known city Chicago is the first to hog all the limelight from holidayers. But the innumerable picturesque small towns dotting the state have so much more to offer than this ‘global city.’ For those wishing to escape from buzzing urban cities or seeking time to relax after a hectic work schedule, these small towns in The Land of Lincoln are ideal for a quaint weekend getaway.


Quaint Shops on the Main Street of Galena, Illinois.
Quaint Shops on the Main Street of Galena, Illinois, via Wirestock /

Galena, called after the natural mineral form of lead (II) sulfide, is the seat of Jo Daviess County situated in the far northwestern corner of the state along the Galena River (one of the many tributaries of the Mississippi River). This erstwhile bustling port town is currently a favored destination for its spectacular rolling hills, historic 19th-century architecture, specialty shops, art galleries, restaurants, hotels like Irish Cottage Inn & Suites, and world-class resorts such as WorldMark Galena, Eagle Ridge Resort & Spa, and Chestnut Mountain Resort. With more than 800 National Register-listed properties, about 85% of the town is a part of the 581-acre Galena Historic District. Some noteworthy sites of interest include the Old Market House State Historic Site, Elihu Benjamin Washburne Home, Belvedere Mansion, Dowling House, the restored Ulysses S. Grant Home, Galena/Jo Daviess County History Museum, Saint Michael’s Catholic Church, and Galena Arts & Recreation Center. Annually, the town hosts celebrations like the County Fair in Grant Park, and Halloween Parade.


Colorful old brick buildings and storefronts in downtown Princeton, Illinois
Colorful old brick buildings and storefronts in downtown Princeton, Illinois

Bureau County’s seat of government, Princeton is located on the southern side of the Interstate 80 Highway, approx. 100 miles southwest of Chicago. Boasting a historic downtown, over 200 acres of parks, a public golf course, and the yearly Homestead Festival on the second weekend of September, Princeton has something for all ages. Numerous independent shops, bars, and eateries fill Princeton’s Main Street, whose southern extremity is the town’s historic retail hub comprising a courthouse, the Apollo Theater, major bank offices, the prominent Matson Library building, the Bureau County Historical Society, and countless service-oriented businesses. At Main Street’s northern end is “The Art District” which includes its business district, the Amtrak depot, many upscale clothing stores, and a park. Travelers can rest for the night at any of Princeton’s famed accommodations: AmericInn by Wyndham Princeton IL, Super 8 by Wyndham Princeton, etc.


Overlooking Island Park in Geneva, Illinois.
Overlooking Island Park in Geneva, Illinois.

The administrative center of Kane County, Geneva is a celebrated tourist retreat thanks to its location along the beautiful Fox River, roughly 36 miles west of downtown Chicago. Featuring more than 160 unique specialty shops and cozy eateries, Downtown Geneva provides travelers first-class shopping and dining experiences. Outdoorsy types, especially cycling fanatics must survey parts of the multi-use Fox River Trail and the Illinois Prairie Path that passes through the town. The Fabyan Windmill, Riverbank Laboratories, Sacred Heart Seminary Shrine, Island Park, Fabyan Villa Museum, Elizabeth Place, and Geneva History Museum are some of the town’s notable attractions. Furthermore, partake in yearly celebrations like the Geneva Arts Fair, Swedish Days, Christmas Walk, and Festival of the Vine; and rest after a hectic day at Comfort Inn & Suites, Herrington Inn & Spa, and Oscar Swan Country Inn Bed & Breakfast.


Downtown Nauvoo, Illinois.
Downtown Nauvoo, Illinois. Image credit: Ken Lund via

Home to only 950 inhabitants as per the latest US Census, Nauvoo occupies a wide bend of the Mississippi River in western Illinois’s Hancock County, approx. 30 miles southwest of Burlington, Iowa. Originally a prosperous settlement of early Mormon pioneers, the town’s meticulously maintained landmark structures provide a glimpse into its glorious past. Tourists must take a tour through the Nauvoo Historic District in horse-drawn carriages and visit some of the awe-inspiring contributing properties in the district such as the Nauvoo Illinois Temple, Joseph Smith Homestead, Brigham Young Home, Nauvoo House, Joseph Smith Mansion House, etc. Nauvoo Grand Bed & Breakfast, Nauvoo Temple House Hotel, and Willard Richards Inn are ideal for resting overnight, while nature lovers can unwind in the peaceful surroundings of the 148-acre Nauvoo State Park.


Reddick Mansion sitting in the historical park of Ottawa, Illinois.
Reddick Mansion sitting in the historical park of Ottawa, Illinois. Editorial credit: Dawid S Swierczek /

LaSalle County’s administrative center and the Ottawa, IL, Micropolitan Statistical Area’s principal community, this small town is in the state’s north-central portion at the junction of Fox and Illinois Rivers, around 80 miles southwest of Chicago. Hailed for its enormous natural wealth and strong heritage, Ottawa invites holidayers to its stunningly attractive downtown chock-a-full of old properties, homey cafes, antique stores, quirky boutiques, restaurants, and hotels like Hampton Inn Ottawa, Fairfield Inn & Suites Ottawa, and Super 8 by Wyndham Ottawa. Sightseers must not miss the Reddick Mansion, Fisher-Nash-Griggs House, Ottawa Historical & Scouting Heritage Museum, and the place of the foremost Lincoln-Douglas debate at Washington Square Park. From Ottawa, visitors can easily reach the Starved Rock State Park, which is reputed for its sandstone cliffs, cascading waterfalls, deep canyons, and miles of trails for hiking and horseback riding. The state park also provides opportunities for camping, ice skating, fishing, cross-country skiing, boating, and wildlife viewing.


Downtown Woodstock, Illinois
Downtown Woodstock, Illinois. Image credit Nejdet Duzen via Shutterstock

Initially named ‘Centerville’ for its location at the heart of McHenry County, Woodstock is located roughly 45 miles northwest of Chicago. Considered by the National Trust for Historic Preservation as one of the “Distinctive Destinations,” the town is esteemed for its turn-of-the-century town square and downtown district. Firmly anchored by the Woodstock Opera House and Old McHenry County Courthouse, the Town Square is packed with scores of retail stores, cafes, art galleries, drinking establishments, and eateries. Notable stay-ins like AmericInn by Wyndham Woodstock II, Cherry Tree Inn Bed & Breakfast, Quality Inn & Suites Woodstock, and Super 8 by Wyndham Woodstock IL cater to holidayers. Also, tourists visiting the town can opt for walking tours to see the various filming locations of the famous American movie “Groundhog Day.” Throughout the year, revelers must take part in various events including the Fair Diddley Art Fair, Groundhog Days, Midwest Mozart Festival, Festival of Lights, Victorian Christmas celebration, and Summer Band Concerts.


De Immigrant Windmill in Fulton, Illinois.
De Immigrant Windmill in Fulton, Illinois. Image credit: EJRodriquez -

Fulton, an appealing river town named after Robert Fulton, an eminent American engineer and steamboat inventor, is situated in Whiteside County, directly across the Mississippi River from Clinton, Iowa. Besides, the breathtaking beauty of the mighty Mississippi River, the town is renowned for its Dutch heritage, and every year on the first weekend of May, the residents of Fulton gather to celebrate the Dutch Days Festival. The iconic De Immigrant Windmill, Lock & Dam 13 Recreation Area, Martin House Museum, Windmill Cultural Center, Heritage Canyon, and the Andresen Nature Center are some of the town’s remarkable sites of interest. Enjoy your stay at any one of Fulton’s award-winning hotels such as AmericInn by Wyndham Fulton Clinton; Country Inn & Suites by Radisson, Clinton, IA; and Holiday Inn Express Hotel & Suites Clinton. The adjacent Morrison Rockwood State Park offers outdoor enthusiasts a vast campground to set up tents as well as abundant boating and fishing opportunities in Lake Carlton.


Singer on the streets of Lebanon, Illinois.
Singer on the streets of Lebanon, Illinois. Image credit RozenskiP via Shutterstock.

This picturesque St. Clair County town labeled after its namesake Eastern Mediterranean country forms a part of the Greater St. Louis metropolitan area’s Metro-East region. Lebanon is home to the main campus of McKendree University, Illinois’s oldest higher educational institution founded by pioneer Methodists in 1828. History buffs must survey the Emerald Mound & Village Site, Mermaid House Hotel, and Lebanon Historic District. The town’s main commercial district draws tourists with its eclectic mix of antique stores, independent shops, locally-owned restaurants, and bed & Breakfasts like Lebanon’s Queen Anne. Additionally, spend some quality time at the Horner Recreational Park, enjoy a concert, play, or listen to speeches by esteemed contemporary speakers at The Russel E. and Fern M. Hettenhausen Center for the Arts, and watch excellent theatrical performances at the Looking Glass Playhouse.


Downtown street in Quincy, Illinois.
Downtown street in Quincy, Illinois. Image credit Sabrina Janelle Gordon via Shutterstock

Illinois’s “Gem City,” Quincy, the Tri-State region’s leading hub, and Adams County's government seat, is situated in the state’s western portion along the Mississippi River and Quincy Bay. The town’s Downtown Historic District perfectly amalgamates well-preserved late 19th-century and early 20th-century architecture with modern-day shopping, entertainment, and eating joints. Vacationers can take a stroll along the waterfront that serves as a venue for numerous events throughout the year, or tour the Quincy Society of Fine Arts, Quincy Museum, South Side German Historic District, Villa Kathrine, and Quincy Park District’s 26 parks. Merrymakers must not miss the town’s annual celebrations like the Dogwood Parade & Festival, Art Fest & Folk Life Festival on Maine Street, and Q-Fest at Washington Park. The Town & Country Inn and Suites, Stoney Creek Inn, and Microtel Inn & Suites by Wyndham Quincy provide holidayers with outstanding facilities.

Mount Carroll

Historic District in Mount Carroll, Illinois
Historic District in Mount Carroll, Illinois

Mount Carroll, christened after Charles Carroll of Carrollton, an endorser of the Declaration of Independence, is a teeny town in the state’s extreme northwestern corner. A major portion of the downtown and older residential area of this administrative center of Carroll County forms a part of the 118-acre National Register-listed Mount Carroll Historic District. The District contains three chief sections: a traditional downtown which includes a courthouse, a business district, and a library; a residential area to the south of the downtown; and the Campbell Center for Historic Preservation Studies located on the initial Shimer College campus at extreme southern edge of the town. Cultural enthusiasts must witness an ‘oil on canvas mural’ painted by the eminent painter Irene Bianucci at the Mount Carroll post office, watch a theatrical performance at the Timber Lake Playhouse, and tour the Raven’s Grin Inn - the only year-round haunted house in the region. Visitors can enjoy their stay at the Prairie Path Guest House, the Bridgewater Inn at the Historic Glenview, and the Inn at Molly’s.

From Quincy - Illinois’s “Gem City” to the enchanting river town of Fulton, the uncountable small towns in the nation’s 25th-largest and 6th-most populous state lure tourists with their distinctive allure. Each of these close-knit communities with its array of natural wonders, fascinating historical sites, distinctive cultures, quaint bed & breakfasts, world-class recreations, and warm hospitality offer memorable experiences for every vacationer. Pack your bags, and come and explore these towns with your loved ones on a fun-filled weekend trip.

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