The midwestern state of Illinois is not only home to spectacular natural scenery from rolling farmlands, dense forests, lush wetlands, and the beautiful Lake Michigan, but also the world-famous architecture and towering skyscrapers of Chicago, and famous attractions like the drive-in movie theaters along Route 66. Whether you enjoy exploring historical sites, world-renowned museums or awe-inspiring art galleries, the Prairie State has something for everyone. Here are some of the top things to enjoy with the family in Illinois.
1.The Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum
The Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum -- The Museum of the Chicago Academy of Sciences is a leading nature museum in Chicago that focuses on showcasing the natural history of the region. Founded in 1857, operated by the Chicago Academy of Sciences, and named in honor of Peggy Notebaert, has an outstanding array of permanent exhibitions and botanic displays, including Butterfly Haven, Wilderness Walk, Water Lab, and City Science House. Displaying the ecological history of the Illinois region, a live butterfly house features more than 200 species of native and exotic butterflies, and a green home exhibition demonstrates the benefits of sustainable living. The museum also offers over 100 educational programs in the natural sciences for adults, students, and children, as well as summer camps, scout camps, and annual community events.
2430 N Cannon Dr, Chicago, IL 60614, Phone: 773-755-5100
2.Chicago Children’s Museum
Located at the Navy Pier on Lake Michigan, the Chicago Children's Museum was founded in 1982 and has been bringing joy to visitors of all ages ever since! Initially housed in the Chicago Public Library, the museum began with trunk shows traveling exhibits in response to capacity crowds on-site, before moving to the Navy Pier in 1995. The fourth-largest children’s museum in the United States, the Chicago Children's Museum, features thirteen vibrant interactive and hands-on exhibits across three floors where children of all ages are encouraged to create, explore, and discover together through play. Exhibits and activities focus on math, science, literacy, visual and performing arts through engaging and sensory educational content.
700 E Grand Ave, Chicago, IL 60611, Phone: 312-527-1000
Founded in 1930 by Max Adler as America's first planetarium, Chicago's Adler Planetarium has become a primary and unrivaled resource for inspiring, motivating, and educating the next generation of space explorers. Located on the northeast tip of Northerly Island, the planetarium boasts three full-sized theaters, namely the Definiti Theater, the Samuel C. Johnson Family Star Theater, and the technologically advanced Grainger Sky Theater, all of which feature unforgettable immersive sky shows. There are also extensive space science exhibitions to explore a magnificent collection of antique scientific instruments and print materials, and the Doane Observatory, which is one of the country’s only research-active, urban public observatories. The planetarium offers a variety of exhibitions, special lectures and presentations, daily educational programs and special community events throughout the year.
1300 S Lake Shore Dr, Chicago, IL 60605, Phone: 312-922-7827
4.Art Institute of Chicago
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Located in Grant Park in downtown Chicago, the Art Institute of Chicago is one of the oldest and largest art museums in the United States that houses a collection that spans centuries and the globe. Founded in 1879, the world-class art gallery features a permanent collection of nearly 300,000 works that includes iconic works by master artists such as Grant Wood's American Gothic, Pablo Picasso's The Old Guitarist, Georges Seurat's A Sunday on La Grande Jatte, and Edward Hopper's Nighthawks. The Art Institute has 11 curatorial departments and hosts 30 special exhibitions annually that highlight cutting-edge curatorial research. The center is also home to the Ryerson and Burnham Libraries, one of the most significant art history and architecture libraries in the country.
111 S Michigan Avenue, Chicago, IL 60603, Phone: 312-443-3600
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Brookfield Zoo, also known as the Chicago Zoological Park, is home to around 450 species of animals ranging from dolphins to gorillas. Set on 216 acres in Brookfield, Chicago, the animal sanctuary was the first of its kind to use moats instead of cages to separate animals and visitors instead of pens. The zoo was also the first to have an indoor rain forest simulation habitat, the first to exhibit giant pandas and the first to build an indoor dolphin exhibit. The zoo offers a variety of educational programs for all ages, including workshops, presentations and demonstrations, sleepover safaris, family play programs, and zoo camps.
8400 W 31st St, Brookfield, IL 60513, Phone: 708-688-8000
6.Children's Museum of Illinois
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The Children’s Museum of Illinois is a hands-on, interactive museum that encourages children between the ages of three and 12 to learn through play. Spanning two floors, the museum features an exciting array of exhibits and activities in the fields of the arts and sciences that aim to enhance imaginative thinking, exploration, and learning. The Children’s Museum of Illinois also offers a variety of external educational programs such as summer camps and special events, self-guided and guided field trips, and Museum on Wheels, which travels around to schools providing programs for Preschool to 6th-grade classrooms.
55 S Country Club Rd, Decatur, IL 62521, Phone: 217-423-5437
7.Dickson Mounds State Museum
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The Dickson Mounds State Museum explores and interprets the Dickson Mounds, an ancient Native American settlement site and burial mound complex near Lewistown in Fulton County. Situated on a low bluff overlooking the Illinois River, the burial complex features two cemeteries, ten burial mounds, and a single platform mound and is a National Register Historic Site. One of the major on-site archaeological museums in the United States, the Dickson Mounds Museum offers a fascinating insight into the world of Native American Indians who inhabited the Illinois River Valley over 12,000 years ago. Visitors can explore the rich archaeological sites on self-guided or guided tours, a range of innovative interpretive exhibits and immersive activities; and through a variety of special events throughout the year.
10956 N Dickson Mounds Rd, Lewistown, IL 61542, Phone: 309-547-3721
8.Discovery Center Museum
Located on the Riverfront Museum Park campus in downtown Rockford next to the Burpee Museum of Natural History and the Rockford Art Museum, the Discovery Center Museum explores the natural history of Illinois. The hands-on children's science museum features 23,000 square feet of space over to floors with over 300 exciting interactive exhibits that focus on a range of fields, including agriculture, the human body, space travel, communication, the science of sports, color and light, and math, different forms of electricity, and simple machines. The museum is home to the award-winning 15,000-square-foot, multi-level, science-centric Rock River Discovery Park, which features a maze, a dinosaur dig pit, a water play area, and a Secret Garden. The museum also offers a variety of educational programs and workshops, special events and programs, and hosts traveling exhibits throughout the year.
711 N Main St, Rockford, IL 61103, Phone: 815-963-6769
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9.Discovery Depot Children's Museum
© Discovery Depot Children's Museum
The Discovery Depot Children's Museum offers a wide range of hands-on exhibits, immersive activities, and learning-through-play programs for children between the ages of one and 12 years. The 14,000square-foot facility boasts an engaging space that encourages learning through play with an array of interactive exhibits, displays, presentations, collections, and programs. Located across the street from the Galesburg Amtrak Station and the Galesburg Railroad Museum, the Discovery Depot Children's Museum also features an art studio in which visitors can enjoy art classes and painting workshops, a train caboose, an air maze, and a large-scale Lite Bright. The Discovery Depot Children's Museum is open Monday through Saturday.
128 S Chambers St, Galesburg, IL 61401, Phone: 309-344-8876
Located in Perry Farm Park, the Exploration Station is a hands-on children’s museum and early learning center that offers fun, interactive, and immersive experiences for children between the ages of two and eight years. The museum features a variety of exhibits and displays designed for children and their families to discover and explore new ideas through play, such as Exploralot Castle, Little Squires Toddler Area, Illumination, Up, Up, and Away, Shop-A-Lot Market, Wreck Resort Car Care Center, and Lickety Split Soda Shop & Diner, among others. The Exploration Station also offers a range of educational programs, workshops and fun-filled activities such as overnight packages and summer camps.
1095 Perry St, Bourbonnais, IL 60914, Phone: 815-933-9905
11.Firehouse Ministries Fire Museum
Located at the former Rock Falls Fire Station in Uptown Rock Falls, the Firehouse Ministries Fire Museum explores the history of firefighting in the Rock Falls area. The family-friendly museum features an array of items and objects, such as vintage firefighting equipment, helmets, hoses, tanks, and masks, and offers family-friendly tours and a variety of children's educational activities, programs, workshops and more. Fun-filled experiences include crawling through a smokehouse, enjoying a water fight, and taking a truck ride. The Firehouse Ministries Fire Museum is open every Saturday for tours from May through October.
403 West 2nd Street, Rock Falls, IL 61071, Phone: 815-622-9490
12.Illinois State Museum
The Illinois State Museum explores the rich heritage, cultural, and natural resources of Illinois through extensive collections, exhibitions, public programs, and research activities. The museum’s headquarters are based near the Illinois State Capitol in Springfield with satellite locations that include the Lockport Gallery in Lockport, Dickson Mounds in Lewistown, and the museum’s Research and Collections Center in Springfield. Fascinating exhibits tell the story of the cultural and artistic heritage and the region’s rich natural history, including dioramas of Native American life, local fossil and mining displays, archaeological and ethnographic artifacts, and household items and objects from different historical periods.
502 S Spring St, Springfield, IL 62706, Phone: 217-782-7386
13.Giant City State Park
Set on 4,000 acres of beautiful landscapes in Jackson and Union Counties, Giant City State Park is an Illinois state park and haven for nature and outdoor enthusiasts. The park offers a wide variety of recreational activities, ranging from hiking, horseback riding, and mountain biking to rock climbing, picnicking, and trail running. Popular hiking trails in the park include the Red Cedar Trail, the Giant City Nature Trail, and the Trillium Trail and a rustic overnight lodge with a gift shop and restaurant and quaint log cabins are available for camping and overnight stays. Other attractions in the park include the Giant City Stone Fort Site, a prehistoric stone fort that is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
235 Giant City Rd, Makanda, IL 62958, Phone: 618-457-4836
14.Illinois Railway Museum
Originally called the Illinois Electric Railway Museum, the Illinois Railway Museum is dedicated to detailing the vital role that railroads played in the growth of the Chicago area. Located in Union, Illinois, the museum is the largest railroad museum in the United States with a collection featuring over 450 pieces of prototype equipment, as well as several excellent exhibits and displays of railroad equipment, artifacts, prints, and photographs and dioramas. Visitors can enjoy train rides on electric, steam, and diesel-powered trains on the mainline as well as the streetcar loop and can explore some of the remarkable exhibits, including an 1853 train depot, a 130-foot turntable from the Union Pacific Railroad's Burnham Shops, and four streetcar stations.
7000 Olson Rd, Union, IL 60180, Phone: 815-923-4391
15.Kline Creek Farm
Based at the Timber Ridge Forest Preserve in West Chicago, Kline Creek Farm takes visitors back to a working farm in the 1890s with activities like harvesting, planting, ice-cutting, baking and canning, and sheep shearing. The farm features several lovingly restored farmstead structures and exhibits of original artifacts and reproductions, and visitors are greeted by historically costumed interpreters who work the farm as they would a century ago, re-creating the seasonal rhythms that governed farm life for centuries. Kline Creek Farm also offers a variety of activities and experiences for children of all ages and their families, ranging from field trips and school programs. The farmstead offers guided house tours, and the Timber Ridge Visitor Center presents seasonal exhibits and offers general forest preserve information, a drinking fountain, a snack shop, and restrooms.
1N600 County Farm Rd, West Chicago, IL 60185, Phone: 630-876-5900
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16.Lincoln Park Zoo
Founded in 1868, Lincoln Park Zoo is one of the oldest zoos in the U.S. and a leader in animal conservation and care. Offering free admission for all visitors, the zoo aims to connect, educate, and inspire the local public with nature through a free, family-oriented wildlife experience. The zoo covers 35 acres of a variety of habitats built to cater for over 200 animal species, which include big cats, primates, reptiles, polar bears, sea animals, and birds. Some of the zoo’s excellent exhibits and habitats include the penguin and polar bear habitat, with a unique new underwater viewing area and maternity den and the Regenstein Macaque Forest, home to a troop of Japanese macaques soaking in their hot springs. Go on an African journey through the Regenstein African Journey exhibition that features rhinos, giraffes, elephant, and aardvarks. Stroll through a display of nature-inspired sculptures set amid the zoo’s beautiful gardens and look at an ancient burr oak tree that dates back to 1830.
2001 N Clark St, Chicago, IL 60614, United States, Phone: 312-742-2000
17.Midway Village Museum
© Midway Village Museum
The Midway Village Museum collects, preserves, and interprets the history of the Rockford Region and showcases and explores American life during the Victorian era. Nestled among beautiful old trees on a 148-acre campus in Rockford, the museum consists of a Victorian-era Village featuring 26 historical buildings decorated with original artifacts objects, several beautifully manicured 19th-century gardens, and a Main Museum Center, both of which are within walking distance of each on the campus. Visitors can enjoy guided tours led by friendly interpreters in authentic period dress, who lead them through permanent state-of-the-art exhibits. The Midway Village Museum hosts several special events throughout the year.
6799 Guilford Rd, Rockford, IL 61107, Phone: 815-397-9112
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18.Monticello Railway Museum
The Monticello Railway Museum celebrates the history of the railroad in Monticello, Illinois, and features over 100 pieces of railroad equipment, including several restored diesel locomotives and cars. Visitors can enjoy a 50-minute round trip through the Piatt County countryside on one of the museum's vintage passenger trains, riding a former railroad line that was once owned by Illinois Terminal and Illinois Central Gulf. Guests can also operate one of the locomotives during the "Throttle Time" program for a small donation to the museum. The Monticello Railway Museum is open on Saturdays and Sundays, from May through October.
992 Iron Horse Pl, Monticello, IL 61856, Phone: 217-762-9011
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19.National Museum of Mexican Art
Located in the Pilsen neighborhood, the National Museum of Mexican Art, formerly known as the Mexican Fine Arts Center Museum, is an art museum that celebrates the art of Chicano, Latino and Mexican cultures. Designed for children between the ages of four and 12 years, the museum was founded by Carlos Tortolero and Helen Valdez in 1982 and features a permanent collection of more than 10,000 pieces of art that highlights the vibrancy of Mexican art and culture. Hailed as the largest Latino cultural institution in America, the museum also offers a range of educational programs, art classes, bilingual camps, and family-centric gallery tours.
1852 W 19th Street, Chicago, IL 60608, Phone: 312-738-1503
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Located in a historic post office in the heart of downtown Aurora, the SciTech Museum is a family-friendly museum that encourages visitors to explore, imagine, and discover the fields of engineering, the arts, science, and technology through play. The 30,000 square foot museum features a permanent collection of over 35,000 artifacts in several fascinating exhibits, ranging from a recreated coal mine, a live tornado, an intricate fairy castle, and a considerable train exhibit. Educational programs include Discovery Field Trips, Early Learning Programs, StarLab, and Summer Camps.
5700 S Lake Shore Drive, Chicago, IL 60637, Phone: 773-684-1414
Opened in 1930 as the John G. Shedd Aquarium, the Shedd Aquarium was the first inland aquarium with a permanent saltwater fish collection and is currently home to over 1500 species of marine and land creatures, including fish, birds, amphibians, snakes, and insects. The aquarium shares the Museum Campus with the Adler Planetarium and the Field Museum of Natural History. The famous underwater world enjoys some award-winning exhibits, such as ‘The Amazon Rising’, a lush recreation of the Amazon jungle with species displays of anacondas, caimans, and spiders; and ‘Wild Reef’, a Philippine coral reef based on the Apo Island Marine Reserve, boasting multiple species of fish, rays, and sharks. The Shedd Aquarium also boasts a 4-D theater that features immersive seats, state-of-the-art sound systems and interactive elements like scents and bubbles for a truly exhilarating experience for all ages.
1200 S Lake Shore Dr, Chicago, IL 60605, Phone: 312-939-2438
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22.The Field Museum
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Inspiring curiosity about life on earth for over a century, the Field Museum of Natural History is one of the world’s largest natural history museums, maintaining a collection of over 24 million specimens and objects. The collection is displayed in a range of diverse, permanent exhibitions that include cultural artifacts, gems, meteorites, fossils, and rich anthropological assemblages from around the world. It also offers educational and scientific programs based on these collections, as well as a temporary exhibition program of traveling shows and in-house produced topical exhibitions. Supporting the Field Museum’s academic research faculty and exhibit development, the Field Museum Library is home to over 275,000 books, journals, and photo archives focused on a variety of natural history fields, such as geology, archaeology, and ethnology.
1400 S Lake Shore Dr, Chicago, IL 60605, Phone: 312-922-9410
23.Tinker Swiss Cottage Museum
© Tinker Swiss Cottage Museum
The Tinker Swiss Cottage is a historic house museum that was once the personal residence by Robert Hall Tinker in the late 1800s. Surrounded by beautiful gardens and grounds, the quaint Swiss-style cottage was built by Robert Hall Tinker on his return from traveling around Europe in 1862 and feature 27 rooms, spacious interiors with unique designs, high ceilings, and an angled roof. Striking features in the house include a walnut spiral staircase made out of a single piece of wood and ornate antique furnishings. Robert Hall Tinker married Mary Dorr Manny in 1870, and he became mayor of Rockford in 1875. Today, the house is open to the public and offers guided tours, open houses, family game days, lectures, workshops, and members-only night tours.
411 Kent St, Rockford, IL 61102, Phone: 815-964-2424
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24.Wildlife Prairie Park
Often referred to as ‘the jewel in the Midwest’s Wildlife Prairie Park is a pristine animal sanctuary about 10 miles west of downtown Peoria that is home to over 150 animals and 50 different species native to Illinois. Officially known as the Hazel & Bill Rutherford Wildlife Prairie Park, the 1,800-acre zoological park is home to herds of bison and elk, black bears, and cougars, otters, waterfowl and many more, all of which live freely in their natural habitat. The park is also home to spectacular natural landscapes and offers a range of outdoor activities such as hiking, mountain biking, fishing, camping, and train riding!
3826 N Taylor Rd, Hanna City, IL 61536, Phone: 309-676-0998
24 Best Things to Do in Illinois with Kids
- The Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, Photo: mirecca/stock.adobe.com
- Chicago Children’s Museum, Photo: dvoinik/stock.adobe.com
- Adler Planetarium, Photo: spiritofamerica/stock.adobe.com
- Art Institute of Chicago, Photo: Brad Pict/stock.adobe.com
- Brookfield Zoo, Photo: David Smith/stock.adobe.com
- Children's Museum of Illinois, Photo: Alen Ajan/stock.adobe.com
- Dickson Mounds State Museum, Photo: William Richardson/stock.adobe.com
- Discovery Center Museum, Photo: Blanscape/stock.adobe.com
- Discovery Depot Children's Museum, Photo: Discovery Depot Children's Museum
- Exploration Station, Photo: pawopa3336/stock.adobe.com
- Firehouse Ministries Fire Museum, Photo: stable101/stock.adobe.com
- Illinois State Museum, Photo: Ivan/stock.adobe.com
- Giant City State Park, Photo: trudeaub/stock.adobe.com
- Illinois Railway Museum, Photo: Gudellaphoto/stock.adobe.com
- Kline Creek Farm, Photo: KariDesign/stock.adobe.com
- Lincoln Park Zoo, Photo: nathandanks.com/stock.adobe.com
- Midway Village Museum, Photo: Midway Village Museum
- Monticello Railway Museum, Photo: Gudellaphoto/stock.adobe.com
- National Museum of Mexican Art, Photo: JackF/stock.adobe.com
- SciTech Museum, Photo: science photo/stock.adobe.com
- Shedd Aquarium, Photo: dejavudesigns/stock.adobe.com
- The Field Museum, Photo: Michael Eichhammer/stock.adobe.com
- Tinker Swiss Cottage Museum, Photo: Tinker Swiss Cottage Museum
- Wildlife Prairie Park, Photo: tamifreed/stock.adobe.com
- Cover Photo: Sergey Novikov/stock.adobe.com