The Land of Lincoln has many aces up its sleeve for those willing to look beyond touristy America and explore its myriad offerings. With its soaring skyscrapers and world-class museums, visiting Chicago surely features amongst the top things to do in Illinois, but the State is home to many more exciting experiences. While the capital Springfield has Abraham Lincoln’s home and a library dedicated to the great man, there are amazing natural sites like Starved Rock State Park and the prehistoric world heritage site, Cahokia Mounds. Whether it’s digging into the world-famous deep-dish pizza or trailing drive-in theatres on iconic Route 66, there’s no dearth of free things to do in Illinois.
10 Free Things To Do In Illinois
Of all the top things to do in Illinois, here’s a list of the best ten that you must include in your trip itinerary for a memorable and impeccable holiday experience. Wondering why? Scroll down and find out!
1. Willis Tower Skydeck: Enjoy the breathtaking views
One of the most exhilarating free things to do in Illinois is going atop the tallest skyscraper in Chicago for breathtaking views of the city, lake and beyond. The Skydeck at Willis tower has the distinction of being the highest observatory in the Western Hemisphere and must not be missed. For a truly thrilling experience, step onto The Ledge: glass balconies extending 4-feet outside the building offering spectacular views and some real adrenaline rush as you look down from 1353 feet up in the sky!
Timings: Daily, 10AM-8PM
Ticket Price: $24/adult; $16/youth (3-12 years)
2. Starved Rock State Park: Hike in the wilderness
Nature lovers and hiking enthusiasts must add this to their list of free things to do in Illinois, as this beautiful park on the Illinois River features some amazing canyons, gorges, waterfalls and exciting trails into the wilderness. There are long, steep trails offering breathtaking views as well as short easy ones with lookouts, picnic sites and equally scenic views. Other recreational activities include fishing, boating on the river, winter sports and camping amidst the lovely woods. When in Illinois, do not miss the opportunity to visit this wonderful & rejuvenating natural attraction.
3. Navy Pier: Stroll along the vibrant port
Undeniably amongst the top free things to do in Chicago is a stroll along the Navy Pier buzzing with activity and exciting entertainment options for everyone in the family. With its stunningly beautiful waterfront location on Lake Michigan, the pier offers everything from rides, exhibitions, shopping & dining to lovely boat rides and dinner cruises. The kids will love the Ferris wheel ride, Chicago Children’s Museum and iMax theatre experience while you can chill out at the beer garden or indulge in some retail therapy.
Timings: 10AM-8PM (Sun-Thurs), 10AM-10PM (Fri-Sat)
4. Lincoln Park Zoo: Let your kids squeal in the delight
Located right on the lakefront inside the city’s biggest park is this wonderful and well-maintained zoo that’ll delight your little ones with its huge collection of animals and interesting shows. One of the best things to do in Illinois with kids is paying a visit to the Lincoln Park Zoo, amongst the oldest in the country and home to polar bears, penguins, two-toed sloths and a red panda. Marvelling at the 2-million plus sparkling lights at the Lincoln Park ZooLights festival is also one of the most fascinating things to do in Illinois in winter.
Timings: 10AM-5PM (Mon-Fri), 10AM-6:30PM (Sat-Sun)
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5. Millennium Park: Get that postcard picture clicked at the Bean
Part of the huge Grant Park which is the city’s green lung, Millennium Park is one of the best public spaces in the world with numerous attractions and lovely spots to spend few tranquil hours. Occupying centre-stage here is the 110-ton spectacular steel structure christened Cloud Gate (popularly called The Bean), that beautifully reflects Chicago’s skyline. While you’re here, get that perfect pic clicked, admire the unique Crown Fountain and spend some blissful moments at the lovely four-season Lurie Garden.
Timings: Daily, 6AM-11PM
6. Art Institute of Chicago: Get amazed by the fantastic collection
Home to one of the greatest Impressionist collections and Renaissance exhibits, the Art Institute of Chicago must not be missed by art lovers visiting the city. Way up on the list of top things to do in Illinois, a visit to this premier art museum is sure to leave you spellbound. Along with the amazing painting and sculpture, there are many more interesting collections like the paperweights exhibit and miniatures room. The gift shop and museum cafe are well-stocked and make for a good break.
Timings: 10:30AM-5PM. Open till 8PM on Thursdays.
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7. Cahokia Mounds State Heritage Site: Take a walk through history
One of the best things to do in Southern Illinois for history buffs is paying a visit to this fantastic UNESCO world heritage site, which is also the largest prehistoric earthwork in the Americas. The awesome museum throws light on the history of this important site through presentations, artefacts and recreation of a life-size village. You can follow the well-marked trails to various mounds, climb up the Monk’s Mound and simply enjoy the spectacular views. Educational and interesting, this is an important place to experience a slice of American history.
8. Chicago Botanic Garden
If you’re looking for some fun free things to do in Illinois in a serene and relaxed setting then head to the 385-acre Chicago Botanic Garden. The beautifully landscaped plant museum boasts of 27 display gardens showcasing four natural habitats in all their splendour. This world-class gem has 9 islands as well, displaying rare and exotic plants from across the world. You can stroll along the green oasis or take a guided tram tour to discover its many secrets. With live events, flowers shows, a cafe and nice gift shop this is a perfect place to spend a fulfilling day.
9. Field Museum of Natural History: Say hello to ‘Sue’
When you’re wondering what to do in Illinois with family, pay a visit to the amazing Field Museum of Natural History which is amongst the best of its kind in the world. Its star attraction is “Sue”, the largest and most complete T-Rex fossil ever discovered. Prepare to be amazed and inspired as you visit interactive displays and exhibits about ancient Egypt, Chinese terracotta army, human evolution and so much more. The 3-D shows, working laboratories and educational programmes for kids are just great.
10. Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum: Take an enthralling tour
Topping the list of educational and fun things to do in Illinois is a visit to this fantastic museum dedicated to the life and times of Abraham Lincoln, history of the State and American Civil War. The highlight of the tour are two special-effect theatre shows that immerse you in the life of this great man and take you on a journey through his dramatic life events. A research librabry with rare books and manuscripts is also attached to the museum.
With so many more interesting attractions and free things to do in Illinois like the Shedd Aquarium, Museum of Science and Industry and many more, a visit to this state must be added to your next US trip itinerary!
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