Illinois is a study of contrasts. This Midwestern state contains both the glittering skylines of Chicago and the picturesque shoreline of Lake Michigan. It is home to Chicago-style deep-dish pizza and Route 66. Most of all, Illinois has plenty of small-town whimsy that is just waiting to explore. Visit the towns and villages in the Land of Lincoln to experience the down-home hospitality Illinois is known for.
Picked for the filming of Groundhog Day starring Bill Murray, the town of Woodstock will be instantly recognizable to fans of this 1990s classic. The town even celebrates this honor with Woodstock Willie, a plump little groundhog whose job is predicting the weather. The town itself is quite pretty as well. In the town square, you can find a historic opera theater with both Moorish and Carpenter Gothic influences. The historic district is worth seeing, as are the Winestock Market & Lounge and Ortmanns Red Iron Tavern.
There are over 200 acres of green parks in Princeton for visitors to explore. City County Park, Zearing Park, and Hornbaker Gardens Inc. are not to be missed for nature lovers. The town’s picturesque main street is well preserved and included on the National Register of Historic Places. Looking for the perfect photo in Princeton? Visit the Red Covered Bridge found just outside town, which is a striking subject.
Found on the Fox River, the town of St. Charles is a popular summertime vacation destination thanks to the plethora of outdoor activities available here. Visit the many underground railroad stations here, highlighting Illinois's importance to runaway slaves escaping the South. The nearby Fox River Trolley Museum is another interesting point of interest for history buffs, while art fans will want to see a show at the Arcada Theater. Relax at Hand & Stone or any of the other day spas in town for a day of pampering and rejuvenation.
This central Illinois town, about an hour and a half southwest of St. Charles, is known for its wonderful Victorian homes, like the Reddick Mansion, and the numerous, large murals found throughout town. The downtown area is charming and lined with quaint little shops. Lovers of the great outdoors will want to visit Starved Rock State Park, which hosts numerous waterfalls and hiking trails. Or, go for a walk in Washington Square Park, where visitors can see statues of Stephen Douglas and President Abraham Lincoln.
Small but steeped in culture, visitors to Nauvoo will find a healthy balance of natural attractions and historically significant buildings to visit. The Nauvoo Illinois Temple of the Church of the Latter Day Saints was built in 2000 and is visually striking. The buildings overlook the Mississippi River and are worth a look. The homestead of Joseph Smith, the sect’s founder, is also located in Nauvoo. Visitors to the town will find Nauvoo State Park a delightful place to hike, camp, and go boating.
Also sitting along the banks of the Mississippi River, Fulton is a charming town that wears its Dutch roots proudly. Each May, Fulton hosts its Dutch Days festivals, and the town is home to one of the only authentic Dutch windmills in the nation. Idyllic and quiet, swing by Heritage Canyon and ride the Great River Bike Trail. Visit the Martin House Museum and the Andresen Nature Centre. Or, stroll through the historic downtown area. Fulton has plenty in store.
Found roughly an hour and a half west of Fulton, it is impossible to talk about Sycamore without mentioning pumpkins. The town has hosted the Sycamore Pumpkin Festival for over 60 years with no signs of slowing down. There, attendants will find fireworks, a parade, and pumpkins. Try and visit Sycamore in autumn when the festival is being held. The resplendent red and orange leaves as the seasons change are a sight to behold. Take a walking tour and visit the many Victorian houses, several of which are Queen Anne-style mansions or walk in the beautiful garden surrounding the DeKalb Courthouse.
West of Chicago, this sleepy suburb is easily accessed and makes for an excellent day trip. Meander through the town’s historic district and past the wonderfully-preserved Victorian houses there. Some of the buildings are over a century old, and the Geneva History Museum is an excellent place to learn more. Or, stroll along the Fox River. Looking to reconnect with nature? The Fabyan Forest Preserve features a serene Japanese garden and a five-story Dutch windmill from the late 19th century.
With around 40,000 residents, the town of Quincy is large enough to maintain all the amenities its visitors could want without losing the small-town touch. The town was a former transportation hub, and this history is still visible today. Visit the South Side German Historic District for its architecture and try to spot the several murals throughout the town. The Villa Kathrine is a Mediterranean marvel overlooking the Mississippi River and is eminently photogenic. Try the rigatoni mozzarella at Tiramisu, a much-beloved Italian restaurant.
Difficult to find but certainly worth the effort, Elsah may be Illinois’ best-kept secret. Sitting between limestone bluffs and a bank of the majestic Mississippi River, this Illinois village offers stellar views. Birders especially flock to Elsah because it is an exceptional place to spot the American Bald Eagle. Elsah as a town is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Walk LaSalle Street, where all but one of the buildings constructed on LaSalle Street were built before 1861, or ride the Sam Vadalabene Bike Trail.
An hour’s drive from Elsah, the town of Lebanon is known for its history of milling, distilling, and brewing industries. Sometimes called Little Egypt, this St. Clair County Gem is home to top-shelf hotels and is perfect for families and solo travelers alike. Catch a live performance at The Russel E. and Fern M. Hettenhausen Center for the Arts. The Emerald Mound should not be missed by archaeology buffs. Lastly, stroll along Brick Street to find antique stores, restaurants, and bars.
Called the New England of the Midwest, Mount Carroll sets itself apart by way of its distinctive architecture and welcoming atmosphere. Do not let the low temperatures fool you, Mount Carroll is a warm and friendly town. Visit the beautiful grain mill found along the Wakarusa River. See if you can spot the canvas mural within the town’s post office. Or, catch a play at the Timber Lake Playhouse. Lovers of all things paranormal will want to visit the Raven’s Grinn Inn, which is said to be haunted.
There is something about the Mississippi River which produces idyllic, small towns. Galena is a fabulous recreation spot for nature lovers and homebodies alike. An afternoon at Galena Cellars Vineyard is a wonderful way to relax and unwind with locally-made wine. Spend the day at one of 10 nearby golf courses or kayak down the Galena River. Apple River Canyon State Park is beloved by anglers and campers. Lastly, try and visit in June and see the Great Galena Balloon Race.
The town of Arcola is cozy and endearing thanks to its horse-drawn buggies, vast corn fields, and quintessential barns. There is no better place to escape the hustle and bustle than right here. Try and time your visit with the Broom Corn Festival. It is exactly what you picture. This Amish town is stocked, complete with a bakery and coffee shop where products are made traditionally. Take the Amish Country Bicycle Tour and buy as much Amish fudge as possible. Visit the town’s Carnegie Library, listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Also, be sure to keep an eye out for references to Raggedy Ann, which was created here.
There is so much small-town goodness to discover in Illinois. Look out for American Bald Eagles, traipse along the mighty Mississippi River, and visit quiet Amish communities where the old ways of living are very much alive and well. Illinois has rugged nature and quaint villages where a freshly brewed pot of coffee is never hard to find. The only question when considering visiting the small towns of Illinois is where to start.