Quaint shops on the Main Street of Galena, Illinois. Image credit Wirestock Creators via Shutterstock

6 Delightful Towns to Visit in Illinois

Illinois, the Prairie State, is flanked by the Mississippi River on the west, bordering Missouri across the mighty waters, and Indiana on the east. The enchanting northeastern state is a magical destination with dramatic terrain, captivating attractions, and welcoming people, while its small towns are simply delightful. Flaunting a waterfront, murals, and Victorianas, Ottawa, Illinois, is an open door to Starved Rock State Park with a popular campground and kayaking, in between exploring the "studs" like Buffalo Rock.

Quincy, a small town with big city attractions, is home to one of the US's largest breweries, the Dick Brothers Brewery, as well as the colorful Dogwood Festival and the brilliant Villa Kathrine, a Mediterranean design with a mosaic-tiled swimming pool and a Tunisian mosque's minaret replica. When in Galena, don't miss the Horseshoe Mound Preserve and local wine tasting at Galena Cellars Vineyard, while the Chester is home to a cartoon character that delights all ages—can you guess which?


Sign entering the town of Chester, Illinois.
Sign entering the town of Chester, Illinois. Image credit Jim Vallee via Shutterstock

Nestled between a nature reserve and the lush Mississippi River banks across the border from Missouri, Chester's delightful story encompasses another one. "Home" of Popeye, one of the world's most beloved characters and cartoons, visitors can discover bite-sized landmarks like the 1977 statue of Popeye in honor of the sailor and other statues that appeared after the original one, including those of Wimpy, Bluto, Popeye's Pups, and more characters from the series. With QR codes for insights into each character's backstory, it's easy to get caught up on a hunt in culture for every taste, literally, like Spinach Can Collectibles.

Still, nature prevails along the scenic shores on a stroll from the Cohen Memorial Home to the Segar Memorial Park against the mighty river. The modest population of under 7,000 enjoys access to an endless supply of tranquility and opportunities to explore the outdoors, like the Randolph County State Recreation Area on a hike. Don't miss Mary's River-Covered Bridge, a popular site for picnics just up the road, and the Chester Bridge to access Horse Island and Lewis and Clark Landmark, and back on home soil, a riverfront dinner at the riveting St. Nicholas Landmark.

Crystal Lake

Downtown Crystal Lake, Illinois.
Downtown Crystal Lake, Illinois. Image credit Pix by Painter via Shutterstock

While it's hard not to stumble on a town without a cherry, so to speak, Crystal Lake, with its eponymous natural attraction, really steals hearts. Attracting holiday-makers, the beautiful blue lake is a sea of exciting opportunities like fishing, canoeing, or paddling out to belly-up in a boat. Visitors can take up scuba diving and enjoy the Three Oaks Recreation Area with its thrilling Quarry Cable Park & Grille without breaking the bank. From the friendly lakeside community, don't miss the Illinois Railway Museum minutes west, and Santa’s Village Amusement & Water Park is a hop south.

Crystal Lake, with buildings adorned in locally produced terra cotta, invites you to relax along the sunlit, peaceful banks of the unexpected oasis. The crystal waters beckon for a swim and sparkle daringly to splice in a rented kayak. Offering quick access to some of the state's best nature, the town meets the summertime demand with attractions like the Dole, a historic landmark, 1776 Restaurant, and the most popular Country Donuts, worth a drive from the city alone. A springtime visit or fall promises more lakeside tranquility to enjoy on a stroll, playing in the sand, or picnicking with a bottle of wine and mini donuts at the Picnic Grove Pavilion.


The De Immigrant Windmill on the Lincoln Highway in Fulton, Illinois.
The De Immigrant Windmill on the Lincoln Highway in Fulton, Illinois. Image credit Eddie J. Rodriquez via Shutterstock.com

Fulton, the Dutch town of the state, is every sightseer's and photographer's delight, with landmarks like the authentic Dutch windmill that traveled all the way from the Netherlands. Settled along the scenic Mississippi River banks by the Dutch in 1835 and christened after Robert Fulton, the steamboat inventor, Fulton's connection to the mighty waters is infectious at the Cat Tail Park and Pavilion, the spot to be this summer. From fishing to canoeing, kayaking, and paddleboarding, don't miss the pioneer-era history at Heritage Canyon, with outdoor recreation opportunities and the Andresen Nature Centre for local wildlife.

Celebrating its Dutch Days Festival in May, visitors throughout the year can also enjoy plenty of Dutchness alongside Martin House Museum, a tribute to local artist George and his artistic touch on Fulton. Get your Dutch'on with a whole collection of intricate model European windmills at the Windmill Cultural Center. The riverfront tranquility and Dutch delights like the iconic De Immigrant Windmill, the symbol of Fulton, captivate on a stroll to explore year-round. Mark your calendar for next year's heritage celebration in the first week of May, complete with wooden shoe dancing, delicious Dutch treats, and vibrant parades.


Quaint Shops on the Main Street of Galena, Illinois.
Downtown Galena, Illinois. Image credit Ben Harding via Shutterstock.com.

Delighting the eye with its exquisite 19th-century downtown architecture, Galena, home to the US President and Civil War General Ulysses S Grant, is full of discoveries. From over 100 unique shops on the Main to the casual "it" spot, Culver’s Restaurant, famous for their butter burgers, why not learn to drive an antique tractor at the family-owned Dittmar Farms while the historians are tickled to tour General Grant's home? Relinquishing sights from its heyday, Galena attracts architects and couples to bask in the timeless beauty on a stroll and fine dining like the Courtyard Restaurant at the Desoto House Hotel, which is a great place to kick up your feet in history.

If not the 1876 Abe’s Spring Street Guest House, built as an icehouse and turned into private suites with traditional hospitality, Belle Aire Mansion Guest House is one of the town's oldest homes. Come and celebrate this remarkably preserved town at the Galena River and the Mississippi crossroads. Summertime is perfect for recreation against the two waterfronts, with the mighty through its heart, while the annual Holidaze Festival in December sweeps up the historic downtown. Winters are memorable—like a Christmas card with snow-dusted rows of red brick buildings from the late 19th and early 20th in between bars and restaurants.


Reddick Mansion sitting in the historical park of Ottawa, Illinois.
Reddick Mansion sitting in the historical park of Ottawa, Illinois. Image credit Dawid S Swierczek via Shutterstock.com

Referred to as "the middle of nowhere," Ottawa's rather remote location far from the big cities lends a bounty of geological features for scenic outdoor recreation and a peaceful downtown with its historic architecture and sites. From Volvo Island, a place of worship, to the waterfront Heritage Harbor, a resort, Skydive Chicago is just north if you are seeking thrills over this unique area. Tourists can enjoy easy access to Ottawa's number one natural attraction, Starved Rock State Park.

Stealing the spotlight with rocks in haphazard fashion, the waterfront park's "studs" include Buffalo Rock and Starved Rock, as well as a popular campground, a yacht club, kayaking, and other river adventure outfitters. With its artsy spirit and historic heart, Ottawa is a real twist, mixing modern waterfront murals with a preserved Victorian downtown with a number of Lincoln/Douglas historical sites. Don't miss the New Chalet Restaurant for breakfast and a selfie across the Old Rail Bridge sunset after a stroll through the delightful Allen Park right in between the two.


Mississippi River aerial views of Quincy, Illinois.
Mississippi River aerial views of Quincy, Illinois.

Quincy, a small town with big-city attractions, basks in its popularity as a glorious destination in the state to experience year-round. Offering the authentic feel of Illinois and a splash of cultural vibrancy, the gorgeous riverfront town at the border with Missouri across the Mississippi River attracts nature fans, photographers, and everyone in between. Hit up Carter’s Coffee Bar for a caffeine kick before the East End Walking Tour along amazing architectural properties that were popular during the Civil War through the East End Historic District. Visitors with kids can take a day trip to the surrounding family-friendly farms, like the Autumn Moon Family Farm, with family games and a pumpkin patch in the fall, to discuss at The Abbey for dinner after over surf-n-turf.

Quincy, the "Gem City" and one of the prettiest towns in the state, boasts architectural virility, like Villa Kathrine, a brilliant Mediterranean-style masterpiece to relax in style by a swimming pool flaunting intricate mosaic tiles and a Tunisian mosque's minaret replica. The colorful Dogwood Festival, with pageants, parades, friendly competitions, and live entertainment, captures Quincy's fun-loving spirit, including comedy shows and band performances, while art fans can take delight in both local and international talent at the Quincy Art Center, with rotating exhibits at any time. One of the US's largest, the Dick Brothers Brewery, is unmissable and steeped in history.

Home to the Holidaze Festival, bars, and restaurants, winters are delightful in Galena, a town from a Christmas card with snow-dusted rows of red brick 19th and early 20th-century buildings. Crystal Lake, a charming village with buildings adorned in locally produced terra cotta, is a summertime destination with sunlit banks to relax along the peaceful banks of a clear blue oasis. Don't miss the nearby Three Oaks Recreation Area with its thrilling Quarry Cable Park & Grille and Country Donuts to calm the nerves, while the world-class Illinois Railway Museum is just west. Explore the delightful towns in Illinois.

  1. Home
  2. Places
  3. Cities
  4. 6 Delightful Towns to Visit in Illinois

More in Places