Main Street Galena, Illinois. Image credit Dawid S Swierczek via Shutterstock.

These 7 Towns in Illinois Have Beautiful Architecture

The architecture of a city significantly influences its appeal to tourists, with some buildings acting as the main attraction in a destination based solely on their facade. While Chicago dazzles visitors with its modern skyscrapers, Illinois also boasts various small towns with remarkably preserved historic districts that showcase the ingenious architectural styles of past civilizations. From gorgeous Victorian homes to ornate Italianate courthouses and beautiful Neo-classical buildings, these architectural gems have stood the test of time. They offer a vivid look into the architectural prowess of our forebears and provide a glimpse of the state's history. If you are on a sightseeing itinerary in the Land of Lincoln, remember to bring your camera to capture the exquisite architecture of these charming towns in Illinois.


Quaint Shops on the Main Street of Galena, Illinois
Quaint Shops on the Main Street of Galena, Illinois, via Wirestock /

The quiet town of Galena has long been a favored tourist destination for its rich history and stunning old-world architecture. It is regarded as one of the most impressively preserved 19th-century Midwestern villages and boasts a vast collection of buildings showcasing Victorian, Greek Revival, and Italianate architecture, among others. The U.S. Grant Home State Historic Site is a perfect example of the Italianate building style in the town, serving as an important historical site honoring the legacy of President Ulysses S. Grant. A short walk from the site, the DeSoto House Hotel charms visitors with its distinct redbrick construction and harbors a heritage dating back to 1855.

Galena is replete with architectural marvels, including the Greek Revival-style Washburne House State Historic Site. The best way to see these sites is to hop on the Galena Trolley Tours for a laid-back sightseeing tour through the historic district. Beyond the architecture, Galena hosts a respectable art scene that can be partly explored with a visit to the River Bend Gallery.


Downtown Nauvoo, Illinois.
Downtown Nauvoo, Illinois. Image credit: Ken Lund via

The first thing newcomers notice when they visit this tranquil Hancock County community is the Nauvoo Illinois Temple. Originally built in the mid-1800s, this former headquarters of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints dominates the town's skyline, showcasing an intricate mix of Greek Revival and Gothic architectural styles. But Nauvoo is home to multiple historic buildings from the 19th century that have stood the test of time, including the Joseph Smith Historic Site, where the church's founder once lived with his wife, Emma Smith.

Tourists can delve deeper into the town's Mormon heritage at the Nauvoo Historical Museum, which chronicles over two centuries of local history through a broad range of artifacts. Nauvoo also encompasses the 148-acre Nauvoo State Park, offering a welcome break from history with outdoor activities like hiking, camping, fishing, and boating along the Mississippi River.


Downtown Jacksonville, Illinois.
Downtown Jacksonville, Illinois. Image credit: Randy von Liski via

Home to Illinois College and Lincoln Land Community College, this vibrant college town boasts a significant collection of pre-Civil War structures showcasing various architectural styles. A stroll through its quaint historic downtown reveals stunning buildings like the Illinois Theatre. This lovely venue originally served as an opera house when constructed in 1912 (not 1829, which seems to be a factual error as the mention of it being built in 1829 and transitioning to films in the 1920s doesn't align with historical timelines of cinema) before transitioning to screening films in the 1920s. It has undergone renovations to preserve its original charm. Art lovers will enjoy a tour of the David Strawn Art Gallery to admire its beautiful facade and explore the impressive artworks displayed within its historic interior.

For a broader look at Jacksonville's rich history, the Jacksonville Area Museum offers guests the opportunity to explore a vast collection of artifacts, objects, memorabilia, and narratives telling the town's story since its establishment. Lastly, visitors should not miss the chance to see the world's first portable Ferris wheel, Big Eli, before leaving Jacksonville.


Aerial imagery of Marshall, Illinois downtown in the fall.
Aerial imagery of Marshall, Illinois downtown in the fall.

Dubbed the "Small Town with Big Things," Marshall lives up to its nickname by hosting some of the largest attractions in the world. It is home to the World's Largest Gavel, crafted from oak and situated outside the Clark County Courthouse. However, the primary draw for many is Lincoln Trail State Park. Spanning over 1,000 acres, the park serves as an outdoor recreation hub with its prairies, hardwood forests, grasslands, and open fields, offering hikers, campers, hunters, and other outdoor enthusiasts a wealth of activities.

Marshall also features Mill Creek Lake and Park, which provides water-based adventures such as boating, kayaking, and paddleboarding, complemented by a serene lakeshore lawn ideal for picnicking. For family-friendly activities, the Marshall Bowling Alley offers a laid-back bowling experience in a clean facility with excellent service.


Views of Alton, Illinois, from the middle of the street, flanked by city buildings
Views of Alton, Illinois, from the middle of the street, flanked by city buildings. Editorial credit: Fsendek /

This picturesque Mississippi River town, located less than 20 miles from St. Louis, boasts a charming historic district with 19th-century buildings that reflect the town's vibrant history since its founding in 1818. A visit to the National Great Rivers Museum illuminates the impact of the Mississippi River on local communities, focusing on navigation and livelihood. Notable landmarks in Alton include the McPike Mansion, a historic residence from 1869, which fascinates visitors with its Italianate Victorian architecture and its reputation as one of the country's most haunted homes.

Outdoor enthusiasts will appreciate the family-friendly Rock Spring Park, featuring an 18-hole disc golf course, a playground, and walking paths. Conversely, art aficionados will find the Jacoby Arts Center appealing, where they can admire intricate artwork.


Downtown Woodstock, Illinois.
Downtown Woodstock, Illinois. Image credit Nejdet Duzen via Shutterstock

Woodstock is renowned not only as the filming location of the movie "Groundhog Day" but also for its rich offerings to visitors. Among its most popular attractions is the Woodstock Square Historic District, a picturesque Victorian neighborhood featuring antique buildings that house a diverse mix of dining, shopping, and entertainment venues. Here, visitors will find a varied selection of antique shops, galleries, museums, and eateries. Standouts in Woodstock include the Woodstock Opera House, which has entertained the community with theatrical performances since 1889.

For souvenir collectors in search of unique finds, the Roscoe Woodstock Antique Mall is an ideal spot. The establishment features authentic antiquities from more than 70 dealers across a 35,000-square-foot facility. Outdoor recreation is readily available at the Dufield Pond Conservation Area, a popular fishing destination known for its abundant bluegill and largemouth bass populations.

Saint Charles

Saint Charles, Illinois: Hotel Baker
Saint Charles, Illinois: Hotel Baker, via Jeff Krouldis /

Saint Charles, with the Fox River coursing through its downtown, ranks among the most picturesque small towns in Illinois. The community is celebrated for its Central Historic District, which captivates visitors with its vibrant downtown area, home to several historical gems listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Notable highlights include the 1928 Hotel Baker, a stunning Romanesque Revival-style building that overlooks the Fox River. The Arcada Theater is another significant attraction, hosting more than 200 concerts annually and serving as a cultural hub for locals and tourists alike.

Beyond the bustling downtown, Saint Charles offers verdant retreats such as Pottawatomie Park, offering serene scenery ideal for picnics. Alternatively, visitors can enjoy a tranquil sail on the St. Charles Paddlewheel Riverboats, offering a unique way to experience the beauty of the Fox River.

Final Thought

While these towns represent just a fraction of Illinois locales that preserve their architectural heritage, they exemplify the remarkable efforts made to honor a crucial aspect of the state's history. With their historic downtowns and distinctive old-world architecture, they transport tourists back in time, allowing for an appreciation of the ingenuity and intricacy of architectural styles such as Victorian, Italianate, and Romanesque Revival. Beyond their aesthetic appeal, the enduring presence of these structures stands as a testament to the exceptional craftsmanship that characterized their construction.

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