Visiting Illinois soon? You may be wondering what to do while you’re there. However, the better question might instead involve which things to skip. You see, this state is so full of amazing things to see and do, it’s easy to become overwhelmed when trying to decide which ones are best for you. For this reason, we recommend an Illinois bucket list.
Keeping a travel bucket list for the place you’re about to visit allows you to see the options you like best in one place, pick and choose while keeping other options in one place for next time, and easily find ways to fill extra time.
Of course, it helps to have a starting place. That’s where this article comes into play. Below, we’ve listed a number of excellent bucket list ideas that would make perfect additions to your Illinois travel list.
What is a Bucket List?
Before we jump into our favorite places to go and things to see, let’s talk a little bit about what exactly a bucket list is. Generally, a bucket list is a collection of things you’d like to do before you kick the bucket. Most people keep a single bucket list for every aspect of their life. However, we much prefer to keep individual travel bucket lists for each place we plan to visit.
In today’s article we are sharing our Illinois bucket list. This collection of things to try in the Prairie State is an excellent starting point for making a personalized Illinois bucket list of your own.
— Bucket List Vacations: Illinois’ National Parks —
Some of the best things to see and do in the entire country are the amazing sites run by the National Parks Service. All of these are well-put-together and maintained, as well as educational. They really are perfect travel destinations, and the NPS sites below are ideal additions to an Illinois bucket list.
Lincoln Home National Historic Site
President Abraham Lincoln was an amazing man who accomplished quite a lot. Learn more about the life and times of Lincoln by touring his home and listening to the knowledgeable guides at Lincoln Home National Historic Site.
Pullman National Monument
Pullman was a planned industrial community. It was famous for its design and architecture, but to those who lived there, it was much more than that. Visit the Pullman National Monument to learn about the diverse set of people who called this place home.
National Historic Trails
Illinois is home to three different historic trails: Mormon Pioneer National Historic Trail, Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail, and Trails of Tears National Historic Trail. All three have unique stories to tell, and all are worth visiting.
— More Bucket List Experiences —
Of course, you’ll want a few more things to add to your Illinois bucket list. Fortunately, there are tons of options. Below are our very favorite experiences to have in the Land of Lincoln. See which ones suit your fancy, and be sure to add them to your travel list.
Check Out Skydeck Chicago
Chicago is an incredible city. Why not check it out from above by riding up to the Skydeck observation deck in Willis Tower? This is the tallest observation deck in the country and provides some absolutely amazing views.
Explore the Illinois Route 66 Hall of Fame and Museum
Route 66 has a story to tell around every corner. Stop in at the Illinois Route 66 Hall of Fame and Museum to learn about some of these stories. You’ll likely leave with a deeper appreciation for this historic highway.
See a Show at the Chicago Theatre
One of the things Chicago does best is live entertainment. For this reason, we highly recommend catching a show at the Chicago Theater. In our opinion, these performances are right up there with those you’d see in NYC, making for an excellent night out.
Learn Something New at the Museum of Science and Industry
Another wonderful Chicago attraction is the Museum of Science and Industry. You’re bound to learn something new as you explore the enormous number of fun, hands-on exhibits that surprise and delight kids and adults alike. Make sure you give yourself plenty of time so you can see it all!
Tour Ernest Hemingway’s Childhood Home
Many people already know that Ernest Hemingway’s home in Key West is a super fun place to tour. What people don’t realize is that his childhood home in Oak Park, IL is also incredibly interesting, and a tour of this place is a great place to learn a bit about the man.
Stay in a Treehouse at Timber Ridge Outpost and Cabins
Generally, we find that RV camping is our favorite lodging option when traveling. That said, the treehouses at Timber Ridge Outpost and Cabins are a close second, and are worth taking a short break from the RV for. Just make sure you bring the RV along for when you leave to see the next Illinois sight.
Catch a Game at Wrigley Field
Baseball fans simply must pay a visit to Wrigley Field. Of course, you’ll want to catch a game while you’re there. After all, what could be better than seeing the Chicago Cubs play on their home field?
Ride the Grafton Zipline
Looking for adventure? A ride on the Grafton Zipline is the perfect option for you. Here you can ride high above the treetops and feel the wind on your face as you zip along, getting the ultimate adrenaline rush.
Hike Around Starved Rock State Park
Illinois is full of amazing hiking trails. Some of our favorites can be found at Starved Rock State Park. Be sure to check out some of the gorgeous waterfalls as you wander through this natural wonderland. If you have time, take a guided tour as well!
See the View From the Ferris Wheel at Navy Pier
Navy Pier is a ton of fun. It features a variety of restaurants, shops, shows, museums, and best of all, rides. Our favorite attraction here is the large Ferris wheel, which sits on top of the building and offers awesome views of the city.
Walk Through the Superman Museum
Did you know there’s a museum entirely focused on Superman? There is, and it can be found in Metropolis, Illinois. Walk through and examine the many Superman-related artifacts as you learn about this amazing character. When you’re done looking, make sure to snap a photo with the giant Superman statue outside.
Try a Chicago-Style Pizza
No visit to Chicago is complete without a taste of Chicago-style pizza. Some may look down on this take on the Italian dish, but the truth of the matter is, this stuff is doughy, gooey deliciousness—and even if it isn’t your favorite, you’ll likely get a good amount of enjoyment out of it.
Step Back in Time at New Salem Village
Ever wish you could step back in time to see how people lived a couple hundred years ago? At New Salem Village you can do just that. This is a reconstruction of the 1830s village where President Lincoln lived for several years. Living history experiences are often available in the buildings, adding to the fun.
Dive into Shedd Aquarium
Easily one of the best aquariums in the country, Shedd Aquarium is a must-see while in Chicago. This place is home to the oldest aquarium fish in the world. It also offers guests the chance to see sharks being fed, pet a live penguin, and more.
Stroll the Anderson Japanese Gardens
Need a break from the hustle and bustle of everyday life? The Anderson Japanese Gardens are the perfect place to do just that. Step out of the city of Rockford and into serenity as you stroll the paths of these perfectly manicured gardens and reflect on your day.
Attend the “Taste of Chicago” Event
Chicago has so many yummy foods to try, it can be overwhelming to pick and choose. For this reason, we highly recommend attending the Taste of Chicago food festival. This event gives you the opportunity to try a wide variety of incredible foods, making it an experience you won’t soon forget.
Visit the Home of President Ulysses S. Grant
Located in Galena, the former home of President Ulysses S. Grant is an awesome place to learn a thing or two about the 18th president of the United States. Guides are dressed in period clothing and are quite knowledgeable. They share some very interesting information and are happy to answer questions.
Take Some Photos at the Popeye Character Trail
A unique and silly spot to stop, the Popeye Character Trail is a short trail that features a collection of statues of characters from the classic Popeye animated TV show. Wimpy, Olive, and Cole Oyl can all be found here, and a new statue is added each year.
Get Your Thrills on Chestnut Mountain Resort’s Alpine Slide
The zipline mentioned above is a fantastic way to get your thrills. However, if that option isn’t for you, the Alpine Slide at Chestnut Mountain Resort might be more up your alley. This awesome slide twists and turns down the side of a mountain, offering a seriously amazing ride.
Gaze in Awe at the Dana-Thomas House
Famous architect Frank Lloyd Wright designed a huge number of amazing houses. One of these was the Dana-Thomas House in Springfield, IL. A tour of this house is a one-of-a-kind experience, giving you the chance to see more than 450 glass art pieces and 100 oak furniture pieces, all designed by Wright himself.
Discover Something New at the Cahokia Mounds
Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site was once home to a sophisticated society. These people had a fascinating culture and built the mounds that remain on the grounds to this day. Learn all about these ancient peoples by visiting the historic site.
Get a Sweet Treat at the MainStreet Dessert Walk
Those who are trying to satisfy a sweet tooth will appreciate the MainStreet Desert Walk. Here you can find desserts of all kinds, meaning there’s something for everyone and nobody will leave hungry.
Try Scuba Diving in the Mermet Springs
When you think of scuba diving, you probably don’t think of Illinois. That said, Mermet Springs in Illinois is one of the very best places to do some scuba diving. Here you can rent gear or bring your own and visit an underwater petting zoo, a sunken airplane, and more.
Float on the Mississippi on the Spirit of Peoria Riverboat
If you’ve never ridden a riverboat, it’s high time to give it a try. The Spirit of Peoria takes cruisers on adventures down the Mississippi River. Choose from hour-long sightseeing cruises, overnight getaways, or something in between. No matter what you pick, you’ve sure to love riding this old-fashioned paddlewheel riverboat.
Grab Some Grub at 17th Street BBQ
When you get hungry, 17th Street BBQ is the place to go. This is, in our opinion, the best barbecue in the state, and we’re betting you’ll love it too. It’s a real popular place, so you will want to be prepared to wait in line. Luckily, there are a couple of locations, so the crowds are spread out a bit.
Celebrate History During the Annual Rendezvous at Fort De Chartres
Want to experience a little slice of history? Be sure to attend the Annual Rendezvous at Fort De Chartres. During this event, interpreters dress in period costumes, take part in shooting matches, and carry out other kinds of re-enactments and performances. Craft and food booths are also available to complete the experience.
View a Huge T-Rex Skeleton at the Field Museum of Natural History
We’ve mentioned a few Chicago museums already. However, we have yet to suggest the Field Museum, and this one absolutely must go on any Illinois bucket list. Here you’ll find an enormous and complete T-Rex skeleton, real mummies, and much more.
Watch the Sunset at the Garden of the Gods
Illinois’ Garden of the Gods is a beautiful place filled with breathtaking views and awe-inspiring landscapes. It’s a wonderful place to explore at any time of day, but is especially beautiful right as the sun is setting.
Stand Under the Bean in Millennium Park
No visit to Illinois is complete without a visit to Millennium Park in Chicago. While you’re there, make sure to find the shiny bean-shaped sculpture. Stand under it and snap the iconic Millennium Park bean photo to share with friends and family.
Experience the Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum
Last but not least, we highly recommend spending some time at the Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum. The museum on this campus is incredibly well presented and informative, and keeps people of all ages engaged as they learn about this incredible man. Those who wish to dive deeper can head to the library where there is plenty of history-related reading material.
As you can see, you’ll never be bored while visiting the incredible state of Illinois. You will definitely need a place to stay while seeing all of these amazing things though. Enter the Illinois RV rental. By renting an RV to see the Prairie State, you give yourself the freedom to wander from one attraction to the next in comfort. What could be better than that?