Historical Galena Main Street in Illinois. Image credit Nejdet Duzen via Shutterstock

8 of the Most Overlooked Towns in Illinois

With an estimated population of over 12.5 million and the fifth-highest gross domestic production (GDP) in the country, Illinois is a midwestern state brimming with opportunity and diversity. Of course, many people may think of Chicago when mentioning the Prarie State, but there are countless towns spread throughout the state that can bring just as much adventure and opportunity. Discover the most overlooked towns in Illinois for your next vacation or weekend getaway.


Quaint Shops on the Main Street of Galena, Illinois.
Quaint Shops on the Main Street of Galena, Illinois. Image credit Wirestock via iStock.com

Galena is a town filled with fascinating historical stories and unique architectural designs. Strolling along Main Street can give you a taste of what it was like to walk by these paths in the 1800s, as many of the structures are untouched. It was also home to several Union generals during the Civil War. The town came to life as the mining industry became popular, but much of Galena is still an authentic portrait of American history.

Another main attraction of this small town are the natural views. Its lush green rolling hills and valleys have been there since the time of the glaciers and just like its history, much of Galena's natural views are well preserved and protected — make sure to take advantage of that by going to see the bald eagles and wildlife prairies that will be roaming the area. A few places you could visit to see these sights include Casper Bluff Reserve Trail, about a 1.5-mile hike, or Horseshoe Mound, where tourists can take panoramic pictures of the area.

For accommodations, Galena has great options for bed & breakfast. If looking for a longer stay, check out Eagle Ridge Resort & Spa, which has four golf courses and has been named critical acclaim as one of America's top 100 greatest golf courses.

Crystal Lake

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

Crystal Lake looks and feels exactly how it sounds: like a quaint summer town with glistening clear waters that invite you to wind down and relax. Stroll alongside Crystal Lake Park if this experience sounds up your alley. Enjoy a picnic, throw a frisbee, or just take in the scenic views. With this green space being completely free of charge, many visitors may also want to flock this area so be sure to arrive early in order to claim your spot.

Besides the natural views, Crystal Lake also has many options for indoor activities. Check out the Crystal Court Shopping Center or North Wall Rock Climbing to buy souvenirs or feel the thrill of reaching the top of the rock climbing wall. If you are looking for a moderate-level hike, go to Veteran Acres or the south and north sections of Prairie Trail, which have stunning views of the forests and lake.


A country folk singer performs on a street stage during a fall festival in Lebanon, Illinois.
A country folk singer performs on a street stage during a fall festival in Lebanon, Illinois. Image credit RozenskiP via Shutterstock.com

Located just 23 miles east of St. Louis, Missouri, Lebanon is a balanced mix of antique stores, unique restaurants, and traditional scenic views. St. Louis street, also known as "The Brick Street" winds through all three as visitors can peruse local businesses and take pictures of the historic old town. The Visitors Center is located in the heart of it all and has great information on all the events happening in the community throughout the year. A few theatres in the area also include Looking Glass Playhouse or Hettenhausen Center of the Arts, if you're looking to get swept up in the world of entertainment.

Lebanon is also known as the home of McKendree University — the oldest Methodist College in the state of Illinois. Embedded in cobblestone paths and signs and entrenched in goth-like and medieval architecture, it isn't difficult to see why the campus is an attraction itself.

Other recreational activities that tourists can enjoy include the 58-acre Horner Park, a great place to play basketball, tennis, and more.


Downtown Princeton, Illinois.
Downtown Princeton, Illinois. Image credit Eddie J. Rodriquez via Shutterstock

Welcome to the town where arts and entertainment are celebrated in ways you haven't seen before! The artist district in Princeton is lined with several local businesses that offer vibrant displays of this town's art style. Children's boutiques, beauty and wellness stores, pottery, wineries, and a variety of Air BnBs are located here and ready to be explored. If you journey a little further from this neighborhood, you'll find the Bureau County Historical Society to learn more of Princeton's history or Festival 56, where theatre thrives: from plays during Shakespeare's time to modern Broadway musical hits, you'll experience it all here.

No matter what time of the year you visit Princeton, there will most likely be an annual event occurring. During February, the Annual Beer & Wine Tasting event takes place as a way to raise funds while providing drink offerings and live entertainment. In June, the Shrimpfest & Brew Hullabaloo is a great event to kick off the summer where food and activities for all ages can be found.


Fabyan Windmill in Geneva, Illinois.
Fabyan Windmill in Geneva, Illinois.

The small, cozy town of Geneva hugs alongside the Fox River, which instantly makes this community even more charming. Many parks and trails such as the Fox River Trail make for picturesque walks and hikes along this stunning stretch of water. While on this trail, you'll be able to see Island Park and Fabyan Forest Preserve, home of the five-story Dutch windmill. Walking along this trail or kayaking in the water as the sun sets is simply an unbeatable view.

If seeking parks and natural greenery to gaze upon, head over to Fabyan Villa Museum & Japanese Garden to get a glimpse of a different culture while soaking in the tall, lush trees.

Be sure to also check out downtown Geneva, as it will remind visitors why small towns have a certain charm that can't be captured by big cities. The gorgeous Herrington Inn & Spa overlooks the main road with shops, breweries, and restaurants open to all, such as Penrose Brewing Company. Make sure to also visit the French Market on Sundays from April until November.


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

What makes Fulton so special is its Dutch history. With over 170 years of pioneer living and an authentic working Dutch Windmill, Fulton combines riverfront tranquility with historical roots. Places such as Windmill Cultural Center or the nearby Sawmill Museum provide a great history of the town that visitors can explore. However, the Dutch Days Festival during the first weekend of May is definitely the most unique annual celebration the town offers where all things Dutch culture are celebrated: wooden shoe dancing, parades, and Dutch treats are welcome for everyone to try.

But it's not only Dutch history the town is loved for. If you are curious about the local wildlife, the Andresen Nature Center provides great overview of all the flora and fauna that can be found, as well as conservation efforts. To catch a real-life glimpse of these animals, head on over to Cat Tail Park and Pavilion where you can paddleboard, canoe, or kayak along the water.


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

There is much to do in a town that will take you back to the pioneer era, right along the Mississippi River. Life in the 1840s is beautifully reflected in its buildings, such as Nauvoo House or Joseph Smith Mansion House that are a testament to the Mormon pioneers who once settled here. Another sacred place to honor them is the Pioneer Saints Cemetery, strategically positioned beside monuments and lush green trees. Even if many visitors may not know the full extent of its history, it's impossible not to feel the special connections and heritage Nauvoo possesses.

Although this town is most known for its tie-ins to Mormon pioneers, there are many other recreation activities to discover, as well. David's Chamber, just south of Nauvoo, is a great place to set up a small picnic and not only that — but Nauvoo's very own Ellen Hundt of The Apron Bake Shoppe will deliver delicious baskets for you and your family to enjoy, if requested.

Be sure to also visit the Stone Arch Bridge, which was built by pioneers, as well as the lively Nauvoo pageant during the summer months of July and August.


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

Ending the list off strong with one of the most gorgeous landscapes in all of Illinois: Quincy. Here, you'll find the Bayview Bridge that spans along the Mississippi River and right below, there are colorful lights that always change its glow based on the time of the day. As it's reflected in the water, it makes for a beautiful view.

Some great places to check out within the town include the East End Historic District, where architectural styles from the 1830s to 1930s are displayed here. To see a Morroccan-inspired castle design, Villa Kathrine offers just that, which overlooks the water and also serves as a tourist information center.

If visiting in late June, don't miss local music, art, food, and drinks at Q-Fest that will be held in Washington Park in downtown.

An Escape from the City

In the Prairie State, which is mostly known for its bustling and lively cities, it's important not to forget that the small towns throughout can offer a certain charm and experience that can't be found elsewhere. From its scenic views along the Mississippi River to learning the rich history beneath every building, these destinations in Illinois will surely not disappoint.

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