Sunset over Clark Bridge on the Mississippi River Alton, IL

8 Best Towns in Illinois to Visit in 2024

Whether visitors have traveled to Illinois before or are planning to tour the state for the first time, choosing its small but charming towns is an excellent way of experiencing Illinois’s rich diversity. From peaceful lakeside hamlets to hidden villages steeped in unique culture, the Prairie State is home to numerous exciting destinations begging to be discovered.

This new year offers the perfect opportunity to explore these hidden gems, showcasing a fresh side of the state. Boasting captivating histories, exciting traditions, and endless outdoor opportunities, they are the true lifeblood of the state. For folks yearning for a break from the fast-paced urban life, these are the best towns in Illinois to visit in 2024 for a relaxed getaway. 


This statue was placed here by Station Carbondale, Inc. through donations from people dedicated to the preservation of Carbondale's railroad history.
Statue placed here by Station Carbondale, Inc. is dedicated to the preservation of Carbondale's railroad history.

Carbondale lies in the Southern Illinois region called “Little Egypt” and charms visitors with exciting history, beautiful outdoors, and fun sports arenas. Lovers of the open spaces will find an idyllic setting inside Evergreen Park, which remains open 24/7 and presents amenities like a playground, sports fields, and hiking trails. You can also fish and kayak at the nearby Carbondale reservoir. It even gets better at Marberry Arboretum, a dream come true for nature lovers with over 600 species of plants to comb out. 

After spending enough time outdoors, you can entertain your kids at the Science Center. This interesting children’s museum features an upbeat vibe and keeps the young souls busy and engaged with various hands-on activities, including fun camps and field trips. Finally, Carbondale has several world-class arenas that let you join the local community in cheering the home teams in an electric atmosphere. If you enjoy basketball, remember to catch a fun game at the Banterra Center, home to the Southern Illinois University Salukis basketball team. 


View of Main Street in historical downtown area of Galena, Illinois.
View of Main Street in historical downtown area of Galena, Illinois. Image credit Dawid S Swierczek via Shutterstock.

Galena harbors rich American presidential history as the former home of President Ulysses S. Grant. You can explore this interesting historical landmark at the Ulysses S. Grant Home, built between 1859 and 1860. The site offers a vivid look into the former president’s legacy with several exhibits associated with him. The Washburne House State Historic Site provides more history to explore by showcasing gorgeous 19th-century Greek Revival Architecture. The mansion belonged to Elihu B. Washburne, an associate of Abraham Lincoln, and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. For the outdoors inclined, numerous opportunities await at the beautiful Grant Park. The sprawling nature space along the Galena River delights with a laid back atmosphere and a spacious gazebo where you can sit, relax, and unwind while people-watching. Meanwhile, the best way to explore the historic town is to take the Galena Trolley Tours, which schedules exciting sightseeing excursions through all the town’s top points of interest. 


Pathway bridge at Emiquon Nature Preserve in Illinois
Pathway bridge at Emiquon Nature Preserve in Illinois.

This little Fulton County village in central Illinois offers gorgeous views of the Illinois River and charms with 19th-century Italianate architecture in its cozy downtown. Driving along the Illinois River Road National Scenic Byway, which runs along the Illinois River, is the perfect way to appreciate the town’s natural beauty. However, travelers can get up close with nature at the Emiquon Nature Preserve, which spans 6700 acres and delights with endless recreational opportunities, such as waterfowl hunting, boating, and fishing. Alternatively, you can head to the Emiquon National Wildlife Refuge for similar opportunities. For history enthusiasts, you will be intrigued by the Dickson Mounds State Museum. This ancient Native American settlement site features an expansive burial mound complex, providing evidence of over 12,000 years of human existence in Lewistown. 


Historic house in Jacksonville, Illinois
Historic house in Jacksonville, Illinois.

Jacksonville, one of the oldest towns in Illinois, features a wealth of state history, evident in its well-preserved old-world architecture. There is a treasure trove of historical sites to uncover, including the Jacksonville Area Museum. History buffs will be intrigued by browsing an impressive collection of artifacts, including antique art, documents, and other relics. The Prairieland Heritage Museum is another compelling site worth checking out in Jacksonville. The sprawling outdoor museum preserves the area’s farming heritage with exhibits of old farm machinery and farming methods. 

Jacksonville also presents outdoor enthusiasts with something to look forward to. At Nichols Park, they can make the most of diverse opportunities to enjoy the open spaces in an 80-acre urban oasis with an Olympic-sized swimming pool and a 27-hole golf course. Meanwhile, art connoisseurs can have fun browsing unique exhibits at the David Strawn Art Gallery. 

St. Charles

Downtown St. Charles, Illinois.
Downtown St. Charles, Illinois. Image credit Nejdet Duzen via Shutterstock.

St. Charles is about 40 miles from Chicago, providing needed respite from the rigors of the Windy City for those looking for a rural retreat. The scenic Fox River runs right through the town, resulting in scenic nature spaces for lovers of the outdoors. Pottawatomie Park is an excellent example of a natural paradise in St. Charles. This charming riverside park has a charismatic setting with picnic shelters, playgrounds, tennis courts, and the opportunity to get on the water for a boating excursion. The same applies to Delnor Woods Park, which has secluded paved pathways passing through old-growth trees and fantastic fishing spots.

After the immersive outdoor experience, you can sample the town’s indoor offerings by catching a live performance at the Arcada Theater. The trendy venue captivates audiences with cabaret shows, live music, and other performances lined throughout the year. Lastly, you cannot miss out on the Kane County Flea Market, which charms visitors with a buzzing atmosphere and the chance to shop for cute antiques, handmade crafts, and other treasures. 


The old stone church in the middle of Galesburg, Illinois.
The old stone church in the middle of Galesburg, Illinois.

Galesburg excites travelers with a rich historical heritage that intertwines with the Underground Railroad. You can get a sense of it with a stroll through its quaint historic downtown, which stores a wealth of treasures to explore. Highlights include the Galesburg Railroad Museum, an excellent stop for those interested in American and railroad history. The Discovery Depot Children’s Museum is another exciting venue to tour, especially for families visiting with kids. This remarkable facility hosts interactive exhibits and schedules hands-on activities, allowing children to learn, explore, and have fun. 

With so much history to experience, Galesburg conveniently houses a mix of antique shops where you can hunt for a souvenir. The Attic Antique Shop is among the best establishments you can check out, selling an impressive collection of quirky and unusual items that will remind you of Galesburg. For a break from the monotony, you can unwind on a laid-back fishing session at Lake Storey Park, which sits on the scenic shores of Lake Storey. 


The WIldey Theater, a historical landmark, in Edwardsville, Illinois.
The Wildey Theater is a historical landmark in Edwardsville, Illinois.

Edwardsville delivers an outstanding balance between small-town charm and big-city amenities. This Madison County town impresses with quaint natural surroundings tailored to the ardent outdoorsy traveler, with nature spots like Edwardsville Township Community Park. The site features open grassy fields with multiple picnic spots, a playscape for kids, and other recreational opportunities. You can explore more wild activities at the Watershed Nature Center, which hosts 40 acres of woodlands, wetlands, and grassland habitats. It also features paved hiking trails that let you revel in the town’s backcountry.

On the other hand, Edwardsville downtown is a short distance from the Southern Illinois University campus, giving the corridor a vibrant atmosphere with various activities. There is a bustling art scene that you can sample at the Edwardsville Art Center or Wildey Theater. Also, do not forget to enjoy a wholesome meal at the Twisted Biscuit Brunch, which serves luscious meals like waffles and chicken. 


Aerial photo of Clark Bridge over the Mississippi River Crossing in Alton, Illinois.
Aerial photo of Clark Bridge over the Mississippi River Crossing in Alton, Illinois.

From interesting historical landmarks and exciting outdoor pursuits to quirky amusement centers, this small Mississippi River town offers something for everyone. There are numerous gems to experience, highlighted by the National Great Rivers Museum. This fine establishment features several highly interactive exhibits showcasing the role of the Mississippi River towards the people and the surrounding region. The town also hosts the Lovejoy State Memorial, which honors the legacy of Elijah P. Lovejoy, a renowned free speech advocator and slavery abolitionist. 

But Alton offers more than its historic sites. If you have an affinity for the outdoors, you will enjoy visiting Gordon F. Moore Community Park. The sprawling nature space houses a variety of attractions, including tennis and basketball courts, a golf course, and manicured gardens. Meanwhile, the Jacoby Arts Center allows you to appreciate the local art scene by browsing fantastic exhibits. 

The Land of Lincoln has no shortage of fun adventures and exciting pursuits to keep travelers engaged and entertained. Boasting gorgeous natural scenery, unique historical experiences, and rare outdoor opportunities, the small towns in Illinois promise a fresh holiday stay that you would not find in the big cities. 

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