Illinois Bucket List: 50 Things You Can't Miss in the Prairie State
Alisha Ferris
Between the Windy City and the vast farmland, it's easy to find something to love!

When most people think about Illinois, the first thing that comes to mind is Chicago. While the Windy City does have plenty of attractions, including the tallest tower in North America and one of the largest natural history museums in the country, there is way more to the Prairie State than people realize. Here are 50 things around Illinois that simply can't be missed!

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1. Stand on the Skydeck Chicago[1] ledge

Chicago, IL

The Chicago Skydeck, the highest observation deck in the western hemisphere, is located on the Willis Tower, formerly known as the Sears Tower. Stand on the enclosed glass ledge overlooking Chicago from an elevation of 1,353 feet, if you dare!

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2. Walk through the Illinois Route 66 Hall of Fame and Museum[2]

Pontiac, IL

Built in 2004, the Illinois Route 66 Hall of Fame and Museum is home to displays and plaques honoring various people who contributed to the road and its restoration. The museum also features Route 66 memorabilia, interesting facts, and historic exhibits.

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3. See a show at the Chicago Theatre[3]

Chicago, IL

The world-famous Chicago Theatre offers numerous headliners, plenty of entertainment, and lots of history. Visitors can take a backstage tour during the day, then return for a live performance that evening. Be sure to take a photo in front of the iconic glowing marquee!

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4. Learn about the world at the Museum of Science and Industry[4]

Chicago, IL

Travel down a coal mine, see a real submarine, learn about storms, delight in a fairy castle, and discover more about your body at some of the many exhibits for adults and children at the Museum of Science and Industry.

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5. Hear the Chicago Symphony Orchestra[5]

Chicago, IL

Known as one of the best orchestras in the world, the Chicago Symphony performs regularly at the Chicago Symphony Center. The center also hosts various other types of performances including jazz and piano concerts appropriate for all ages.

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6. See Ernest Hemingway's childhood home[6]

Oak Park, IL

Take a tour of the birthplace and home of Ernest Hemingway. At this museum, you can see some of his earliest writings, learn more about his formative years, and get a glimpse into the life of the child who would grow into one of America's most beloved authors.

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7. Visit the butterfly house at the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum[7]

Chicago, IL

Although the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum features plenty of informational and fun activities and exhibits, one of the most popular is the Judy Istock Butterfly Haven, where more than 1,000 butterflies from around the world flit through lush green foliage.

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8. Sleep in a treehouse at Timber Ridge Outpost and Cabins[8]

Elizabethtown, IL

Indulge your inner child by sleeping in a fully-furnished, fantastically-designed treehouse at Timber Ridge Outpost and Cabins. There are numerous hiking and outdoor activities nearby, or you can just enjoy a relaxing vacation away from everything—including the ground!

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9. Check out the impressionist art at the Art Institute of Chicago[9]

Chicago, IL

The Art Institute of Chicago has the second largest collection of impressionist art in the world. Home to nearly 300,000 works of art, this museum features many famous paintings and other types of art. The pair of brass lions out front also make for a great photo op.

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10. Catch a Cubs game at Wrigley Field[10]

Chicago, IL

Take your family and friends out to the ball game and see the Chicago Cubs play on their home field. Baseball enthusiasts can even have the chance to take a tour of the historic and iconic Wrigley Field before the game.

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11. Tour the Richard H. Driehaus Museum[11]

Chicago, IL

Gaze at the exquisite beauty of this Gilded Age mansion from the early 20th century which features beautiful wood carvings, classic furniture, and gorgeous interior design. The Driehaus Museum also hosts occasional events throughout the year.

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12. Get your adrenaline pumping with the Grafton Zipline[12]

Grafton, IL

Feel the rush of the wind in your face as you soar over the treetops on the Grafton Zipline. With an emphasis on both fun and safety, this zipline is perfect for everyone. There is also a restaurant and winery on site for those who would rather relax on the ground.

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13. Hike to the gorgeous waterfalls of Starved Rock State Park[13]

Oglesby, IL

Starved Rock State Park is filled with natural beauty, stunning waterfalls, 13 miles of trails to discover, great fishing, and boating opportunities. Visitors can explore on their own or take one of the many tours, such as the popular waterfall tour.

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14. Ride the Ferris wheel at Navy Pier[14]

Chicago, IL

Chicago's Navy Pier features great restaurants, museums, shopping, a miniature golf course, live shows, and boat rides. Of course, no visit is complete without a trip around the massive Navy Pier Ferris wheel, which was completely rebuilt in 2015.

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15. Visit the Super Museum[15] and take a photo with the superman statue nearby

Metropolis, IL

Located in the unofficial home of Superman, Metropolis, IL has a fantastic Super Museum which has thousands of artifacts related to the Man of Steel. Be sure to walk over to the nearby square and snap a photo with the giant Superman statue standing guard there.

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16. Walk through the reconstructed 1830s village of New Salem[16]

Petersburg, IL

Lincoln's New Salem is a reconstruction of the village where President Abraham Lincoln spent several years as a young man. Walk through the blacksmithy, see the school house, wander through the period buildings, and check out the historical performances.

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17. See a real clownfish at the Shedd Aquarium[17]

Chicago, IL

Home to the oldest aquarium fish in the world, the Shedd Aquarium offers numerous exhibits and experiences including watching divers feed a shark, meeting a clownfish, exploring ocean and water habitats like the Caribbean Reef, and even petting a live penguin!

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18. Stroll through the Anderson Japanese Gardens[18]

Rockford, IL

Step out of the crazy pace of the streets of the city and stroll through the beautiful Anderson Japanese Gardens. Pause by the reflecting pool to feed the koi and amble across the arching bridges as you feel your worries melt away in this enchanting garden.

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19. Treat your taste buds at the Taste of Chicago[19] event

Chicago, IL
July 6-10, 2016

One of the world's largest food festivals, the Taste of Chicago features mouthwatering smells, smooth jazz music, and food of every culture and kind imaginable. Bring a lawn chair and be ready to treat your taste buds to the very best food in Chicago.

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20. Learn about the cosmos at the Adler Planetarium[20]

Chicago, IL

Explore the numerous exhibits at the Adler Planetarium and learn about the solar system, the moon, stargazing, and how scientists study the cosmos. There are also numerous videos and shows for attendees to learn more about the sky, planets, and stars.

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21. Tour the former home of President Ulysses S. Grant[21]

Galena, IL

Ulysses S. Grant served as a general in the Civil War and also as the 18th President of the United States. Period-dressed tour guides give narrated tours through the Ulysses S Grant Home and State Historic Site, providing stories and insight into the former president.

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22. Enjoy nature at the Chicago Botanic Garden[22]

Glencoe, IL

The Chicago Botanical Garden is one of the largest and most visited botanical gardens in the United States, with more than two million plants spread across 385 acres. This paradise features numerous events, spectacular flowers, and a renowned bonsai collection.

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23. Walk the Popeye Character Trail[23]

Chester, IL

Home of the creator of Popeye the Sailor Man, the Popeye Character Trail features granite statues of beloved characters like Wimpy, Olive, and Cole Oy. There are more than 10 statues on the trail, and a new statue is revealed every year at the Popeye Picnic[24] on Labor Day.

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24. Zoom down the Alpine Slide[25] at Chestnut Mountain Resort[26]

Hanover, IL

Board the Alpine Slide at Chestnut Mountain Resort and feel your adrenaline pumping as you whoosh down more than 2,000 feet of track zigzagging down the mountainside. Then, hop on board a lift chair and admire the breathtaking panoramic view of the countryside.

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25. Be amazed at the annual Chicago Air and Water Show[27]

Chicago, IL

For more than 50 years, the annual Chicago Air and Water Show has been wowing audiences with spectacular airplane formations, skydiving, and more. This fun show is the largest air show of its kind in the United States.

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26. Have dinner with a great view at The Signature Room at the 95th[28]

Chicago, IL

Dine in style at The Signature Room at The 95th, which offers a stunning view of the Chicago skyline. Located on the 95th floor of the John Hancock Center, you will get an unparalleled view of the Windy City as you relax with a glass of wine.

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27. Tour the Dana-Thomas House[29]

Springfield, IL

Designed by famous architect Frank Lloyd Wright, the Dana-Thomas House features fantastic architecture and has one of the largest collections of works created by Wright, including more than 450 glass art pieces and 100 oak furniture pieces.

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28. See the Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site[30]

Collinsville, IL

Once home to a sophisticated prehistoric society, the Cahokia Mounds stretch over 2,200 acres and feature various trails to the different mounds as well as a museum with information about the ancient peoples who called this fascinating site home.

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29. Indulge at the MainSweet Dessert Walk[31]

Libertyville, IL

Take a stroll downtown Libertyville and taste some sweet treats from local vendors and shops in the area for a delectable weekend. From cupcakes to eclairs, there is a little something for everyone at the MainSweet Dessert Walk.

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30. Go scuba diving at Mermet Springs[32]

Belknap Precinct, IL

You can scuba in any number of places, but only at Mermet Springs can you enjoy fun attractions like an underwater petting zoo and a sunken 727 Boeing airplane. Visitors can rent gear or bring their own, and classes are also offered.

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31. See the stunning fall foliage of The Morton Arboretum[33]

Chicago, IL

Stroll among the more than 200,000 plants at the Morton Arboretum, which features trees and shrubs from around the world. This 1,700 acre botanical garden is beautiful year-round, but visitors won't want to miss the stunning fall colors, which usually start in October.

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32. Have a quiet cocktail at The Violet Hour[34]

Chicago, IL

Located in an unmarked building in Chicago, the Violet Hour is an atypical bar with rules against using cell phones inside. This venue fosters a classy atmosphere and is a wonderful place for a quiet drink and some conversation with friends.

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33. Cruise in style on the Spirit of Peoria[35] riverboat

Peoria, IL

Cruise the Illinois and Mississippi rivers on this paddlewheel riverboat. The Spirit of Peoria offers numerous cruises from fun overnight trips up and down the river to relaxing hour-long sightseeing cruises.

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34. See cute baby animals at the Brookfield Zoo[36]

Brookfield, IL

The Brookfield Zoo is home to numerous animals, including two adorable snow leopard cubs which were born in 2015. Visitors can feed goats, learn about the environment, and take part in numerous events throughout the year.

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35. Take a guided tour of the Dowling House[37]

Galena, IL

As the oldest building in Galena, the Dowling House was once the only trading post in the city, and now provides visitors with a glimpse into the past. Take a narrated, guided tour of the home and learn more about mining and fur trading in early 19th century America.

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36. Get a taste of the Old West at Donley's Wild West Town[38]

Chicago, IL

Donley's Wild West Town is a children's amusement park and museum which features plenty of activities for the whole family. Pan for gold, ride the rides, shoot slingshots, see an Old West show, and explore the Wild West museum which features artifacts from the 1800s.

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37. See a live improv show at The Annoyance Theatre & Bar[39]

Chicago, IL

The Annoyance Theatre & Bar is fantastic for anyone looking for some great laughs and a drink, but leave the kids at home. Various improv groups perform at the theatre, and there are several comedy shows. The venue also offers improv classes for budding actors.

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38. Find a cool gem at Dave's Down to Earth Rock Shop[40]

Evanston, IL

Dave's Down to Earth Rock Shop features thousands of awesome stones, including semiprecious stones and unique hard-to-find fossils. Pick up some stunning jewelry or find a cool rock to take home as a souvenir and conversation piece!

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39. See the strange and unusual at Wooly Mammoth Antiquities and Oddities[41]

Chicago, IL

Check out the collection of unusual and interesting objects at Wooly Mammoth Antiquities and Oddities, which features vintage taxidermy, whole skeletons, unusual specimens, art, and more. Perhaps you'll even find a cool conversation-starter for your home!

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40. Check out the cool old records at the Dusty Groove[42]

Chicago, IL

Although the music industry has continued to evolve and is now mostly digital, there is something special about vinyl records. At the Dusty Groove, you can find used and sometimes hard-to-find records and CDs from your favorite bands and musicians. 

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41. Have some delicious ribs at 17th Street BBQ[43]

Murphysboro, IL

Known for having some of the best barbecue in the state, 17th Street BBQ features mouthwatering food that people simply can't stop talking about, as well as a fantastic atmosphere. There are a couple locations in Illinois, including Murphysboro and Marion.

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42. Experience the 1800s at the Annual Rendezvous at Fort De Chartres[44]

Prairie du Rocher, IL

For more than 45 years, the Annual Rendezvous at Fort De Chartres has been celebrating the rich history of this National Historic Landmark. See actors dressed in 18th century period costume, watch the shooting matches, and check out the craft booths and food stands.

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43. See Woodstock Willie predict the weather at Groundhog Days[45]

Woodstock, IL

Every year, the smallest and furriest weatherman predicts when winter will end at the Groundhog Days festival. Immortalized in the 1993 film Groundhog Day, Woodstock holds a week-long celebration of the event every year, which culminates on Groundhog Day.

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44. See a horse race at Fairmount Park Racetrack[46]

Collinsville, IL

Although it's not quite the Kentucky Derby, the horse races at Fairmont Park Racetrack are a great experience. Get there early to read up on the horses and their talented jockeys, and don't forget to pace a small bet on your favorite before the race begins!

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45. See the graves, statues, and ghosts of Graceland Cemetery[47]

Chicago, IL

Home to the famous Eternal Silence statue, the Graceland Cemetery is full of interesting sights like the gravestone of Allan Pinkerton, the founder of the famous Pinkterton detective agency. The location is also home to ghost legends and several fantastic statues.

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46. See the breathtaking architecture of the Chicago Cultural Center[48]

Chicago, IL

The Chicago Cultural Center features gorgeous stained glass domes and beautiful architecture. It also hosts various theater, dance, music, and art performances, as well as guest lecturers and films; all of which are open and free to the public.

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47. See the waterfront with Kayak Chicago[49]

Chicago, IL

Get a unique view of Chicago as you paddle through the waterways on a kayak with Kayak Chicago. There are numerous tours available including an architecture tour, a fireworks tour to Navy Pier, a city lights tour, and more.

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48. See the largest T-Rex skeleton at the Field Museum of Natural History[50]

Chicago, IL

As one of the biggest natural history  museums in the world, the Chicago Field Museum is filled with exhibits, both permanent and temporary. One of the most popular is Sue, the largest and most complete T-Rex skeleton in the world.

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49. Watch the sun set in the Garden of the Gods[51]

Herod, IL

Stretching across more than 3,300 acres, the Garden of the Gods is filled with stunning landscapes, miles of trails, and plenty of peace and quiet. Hike up the Observation Trail and take in a breathtaking view of the sun setting over Shawnee Forest.

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50. Visit Millennium Park[52]

Chicago, IL

Chicago's Millennium Park spans 24 acres and features multiple sculptures, a concert area, a skating rink, gardens, monuments, and interesting exhibits. The park is also home to plenty of fun outdoor activities and free family-friendly concerts.

How many have you checked off your list? Do you know something cool that didn't make the cut? Tell us about it in the comments, and don't forget to Like and Share with your travel-loving friends!

1. ^ Skydeck Chicago
2. ^ Illinois Route 66 Hall of Fame and Museum
3. ^ Chicago Theatre
4. ^ Museum of Science and Industry
5. ^ Chicago Symphony Orchestra
6. ^ Ernest Hemingway's childhood home
7. ^ Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum
8. ^ Timber Ridge Outpost and Cabins
9. ^ Art Institute of Chicago
10. ^ Wrigley Field
11. ^ Richard H. Driehaus Museum
12. ^ Grafton Zipline
13. ^ Starved Rock State Park
14. ^ Navy Pier
15. ^ Super Museum
16. ^ New Salem
17. ^ Shedd Aquarium
18. ^ Anderson Japanese Gardens
19. ^ Taste of Chicago
20. ^ Adler Planetarium
21. ^ former home of President Ulysses S. Grant
22. ^ Chicago Botanic Garden
23. ^ Popeye Character Trail
24. ^ Popeye Picnic
25. ^ Alpine Slide
26. ^ Chestnut Mountain Resort
27. ^ Chicago Air and Water Show
28. ^ The Signature Room at the 95th
29. ^ Dana-Thomas House
30. ^ Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site
31. ^ MainSweet Dessert Walk
32. ^ Mermet Springs
33. ^ The Morton Arboretum
34. ^ The Violet Hour
35. ^ Spirit of Peoria
36. ^ Brookfield Zoo
37. ^ Dowling House
38. ^ Donley's Wild West Town
39. ^ The Annoyance Theatre & Bar
40. ^ Dave's Down to Earth Rock Shop
41. ^ Wooly Mammoth Antiquities and Oddities
42. ^ Dusty Groove
43. ^ 17th Street BBQ
44. ^ Fort De Chartres
45. ^ Groundhog Days
46. ^ Fairmount Park Racetrack
47. ^ Graceland Cemetery
48. ^ Chicago Cultural Center
49. ^ Kayak Chicago
50. ^ Field Museum of Natural History
51. ^ Garden of the Gods
52. ^ Millennium Park
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