Overlooking the Mississippi River and Quincy, Illinois.

7 Most Inviting Towns in Illinois

When most people think of Illinois, their mind often wanders to the windy city of Chicago. But it would be a mistake to think that all the excitement lies within the big state's metropolitan areas. Serving as the gateway to the Midwest, Illinois has some pretty amazing adventures that hide within the shadows of the Prairie State's open expanse. So if you prefer scenic hiking trails over the concrete sidewalks of big cities or prefer the relaxing patio of small-town cafes without the noise and congestion of a city, or even striking up a conversation with a local, then these seven inviting towns should sit atop your list as you begin to plan your next vacation to Illinois.


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

The history of this small town is much larger than its population of roughly 3,500 residents. Fulton was established in 1838 and was named after the man who built the steamboat engine which served as a vital transportation method along the Mississippi River.

Today, the town pays homage to its unique heritage and the influential figures who once called the town home. Explore the past by heading to the Martin House Museum and Fulton Historical Center, which features magnificent Civil War-era architecture and a collection of memorabilia and artifacts dating back to the town’s earliest days. Another rare attraction is the Dutch Windmill which was crafted in the Netherlands and shipped over to the town and constructed by Dutch immigrants. The windmill stands 100 feet tall and serves as a testament to the town’s earliest settlers.

Afterward, stretch your legs and enjoy the scenic beauty surrounding the town, venture through Heritage Canyon where you can hike back through time as you follow the trails that take you through a historic settlement along the Mississippi River.


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

As one of the largest communities in the area, the town prides itself on providing ample opportunities for residents to get out and meet one in another in hopes of fostering a sense of community.

Quincy hosts regular events and festivals intended to get folks gathered while enjoying the comradery often experienced in this inviting town. Visitors are encouraged to take advantage of the town’s numerous recreational offerings such as art classes, fitness programs, and even movies in Quincy Park every Friday during the warmer months.

Visitors can explore the grand Mississippi River by renting a kayak or canoe with Quincy Kayak rentals and launching away from the shore as you glide through the calm waters near the shore. If you prefer to get your adventure from the stability of land, schedule a walking tour that winds through the historic east side of the town and marvel at the magnificent structures that were built within the town.


Old courthouse on a beautiful Summer day. Eureka, Illinois
Old courthouse on a beautiful summer day in Eureka, Illinois.

Fair warning that visitors often get in the habit of pronouncing the town’s title as if they were playing a popular board game. Nonetheless, if you are seeking to discover what small-town America has to offer, then be sure to plan a visit to Eureka.

In town, stroll through the lush grounds at the Ronald Reagan Museum and Peace Garden. The attraction is the perfect place to relax outdoors or explore the history of the former president. Another way to get outdoors is by heading over to Lake Eureka Community Park, which is the perfect place to cast a line or enjoy a family picnic along the lake's edge.


The Gemini Giant sculpture at the Launching Pad restaurant on Route 66 in Wilmington
The Gemini Giant sculpture at the Launching Pad restaurant on Route 66 in Wilmington, Illinois. Image credit StockPhotoAstur via Shutterstock

Situated along the famous Route 66, the town has gotten used to weary travelers pulling off for a scenic detour in this small town.

One of the most prominent attractions is the Midwest Classic Car Museum alongside Route 66. The museum features 50 collectible cars located in the showroom, and visitors can roam about freely. The museum also is the perfect place to get your Route 66 memorabilia. If cars aren’t your thing, but you want to explore the legacy of Route 66, then stop in at the Route 66 Experience Hub, which will showcase the numerous attractions in the town associated with the highway.

If you are looking to exchange paved highways with soil, then venture out into the open expanse of the Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie to enjoy the scenic beauty of wildflowers, local species, and the stillness of nature.


Elmhurst University, a private liberal arts institution in Elmhurst, Illinois.
Elmhurst University, a private liberal arts institution in Elmhurst, Illinois. Image credit Joseph Hendrickson via Shutterstock.com

Nestled along the outskirts of Chicago’s ever-growing expanse, the town has managed to preserve its small-town character despite being next to one of the nation’s biggest metropolitan areas. The town features exciting attractions that rival the more well-known attractions in its nearby neighborhood.

Begin by exploring the Elmhurst Art Museum for world-class art pieces created by a blend of local and international artists that display some of the finest contemporary-styled works the country has to offer. Be careful to save time for the town’s other art gallery. The Lizzadro Museum showcases various sculptures hand-carved from materials such as Jade, Stone, and other ceramics that showcase the town’s creative touch.

Dive into the town’s history by visiting the Elmhurst History Museum. The museum itself is a spectacle as it is located inside the grand Glos Mansion, but don’t settle for an exterior view. Upon entering begin your exploration of the numerous exhibits that cover all facets of the town's 165 years of history.


Old locomotive and train cars at the Galesburg Railroad Museum.
Old locomotive and train cars at the Galesburg Railroad Museum. Image credit Eddie J. Rodriquez via Shutterstock.com

It’s hard to mention Galesburg without thinking of the railroad. The town served as a central hub connecting various rails that brought together places and people from various parts of the country. Today, the town's culture is intertwined with the historic past of the railroad.

Chug your way to the Galesburg Railroad Museum, where you can explore memorabilia ranging from old steam engines to vintage uniforms. The town is also building a newly renovated Railway Hall of Fame. If you enjoy the energy of a live performance, then grab a ticket to the hottest show in town, the magnificent Orpheum Theatre is known for producing shows that rival the beauty of the structure itself.

The downtown core is an experience in itself. Whether you choose to grab a coffee from Landmark Café or perhaps an adult beverage from Cherry Street Brewing Company, you are sure to have a smile on your face as the charming community comes together in the downtown area.


A beautiful morning in Nauvoo, Illinois.
A beautiful morning in Nauvoo, Illinois.

Camped along the banks of the Mississippi River and just a short swim from the state's nearby neighbor of Iowa, Nauvoo is the perfect place to get away as it has no shortage of offerings whether you plan on spending a day or two in the charming community. It is well known for its striking temple of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the Nauvoo Illinois Temple.

Get outside and explore one of Illinois’s last remaining wilderness at the Nauvoo State Park. The park has an accessible hiking trail that loops around the forest and has plenty of green space to take a break and lounge in the scenic beauty. While visiting the park, you can also head back in time to explore what life in the 1800s would have been like by visiting the Rheinberger Museum. If you want to continue your journey into the past, your next stop should be the Joseph Smith Historic Site. The site features must-see attractions such as the Red Brick store.

If sitting back and relaxing is more your style, head off to one of the local vineyards and enjoy the views of sprawling vineyards while enjoying a glass of grapes. Baxter’s Vineyards and Winery comes highly recommended from those who visit.

In the land of Lincoln, visitors are encouraged to look past the towering skyscrapers of Chicago and the bustling city areas of Rockford. The state has plenty of options that allure those seeking adventure and a break from the urban hustle. These seven inviting towns, each with its own story to tell, paint a vivid picture of Illinois beyond its metropolitan stigma. From the Dutch Windmill standing tall in Fulton to the footsteps of railroad history in Galesburg, each town of these seven towns invites you to slow down, explore, and connect with the essence of small-town charm.

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