Bordered by Indiana and the Mississippi River, Illinois is known as the Prairie State for its farmland and rolling hills. The contrast between the Illinois countryside and its largest city, Chicago, means there are various landmarks in Illinois to see. From the third-tallest building in the USA to the stunning Garden of the Gods, Illinois is packed with intriguing places to visit.
Illinois is also known as the “Land of Lincoln” because famous US president Abraham Lincoln spent most of his life in the state, which was the first US state to ratify the 13th amendment and abolish slavery. Lincoln’s influence is seen throughout the state, and there more historic sites that pay tribute to Lincoln in Ilinois than anywhere else in America. Springfield is a hub of Lincoln attractions. Ilinois is also where another US President, Ronald Reagan, was born, and there’s a driving trail that starts with a tour of the Reagan family home in the historic town of Dixon.
Dixon is also home to the John Deere Historic Site, which has John Deere’s restored home and a working blacksmith shop. Famous American writer Ernest Hemingway was born and spent his first six years in Illinois, and the first McDonald’s was built in Des Plaines, Illinois. Besides historical monuments, there are plenty of natural and other famous landmarks in Illinois to see. Here are 21 for your bucket list.
- Illinois Landmarks
- Chicago Landmarks
- Natural Landmarks in Illinois
- Historic Landmarks in Illinois
1- Buckingham Fountain
The Clarence Buckingham Memorial Fountain is a famous landmark in Chicago’s Grant Park and one of the largest fountains in the world.
Each hour, an impressive 20-minute show of water jets that shoot 150 ft high is accompanied by light and music.
Buckingham Fountain is one of the most elaborate ornamental fountains in the USA and was one of the contributing features that allowed Grant Park to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The fountain is a fine example of Beaux-Arts design made from pink marble and granite, with four bronze sculptured Art Deco-style sea horses representing the four states bordering Lake Michigan.
The fountain opened in 1927, and that same year, the artist won the Prix National for his sculptural work at the 1927 Paris Salon.
The fountain was initially operated manually by two engineers working 12-hour shifts.
Over the years, as the popularity of the light show grew, elements were gradually automated until the show was computerised in 1980.
The fountain operates from 8 am to 11 pm daily.
Buckingham Fountain is at 301 S Columbus Dr, Chicago.
2- The Bean in Millenium Park
The most famous monument in Chicago’s Millenium Park is the Cloud Gate, more popularly known as ‘The Bean’.
Designed by Anish Kapoor, the smooth polished sculpture has no visible seams despite being made from 168 stainless steel plates welded together.
Its mirror-like surface is a popular spot in Chicago to snap a selfie.
Millennium Park consists of several contemporary architectural pieces designed to fit the landscape, such as the Crown Fountain.
The park sits above a railway and parking garages and features an ice skating rink in winter, public art, an urban garden, a theatre and bridges.
It’s a popular destination for concerts held at the Jay Pritzker Pavilion designed by Frank Gehry.
The Pritzker Pavilion is large enough to fit 11,000 people, and the BP Bridge, also designed by Frank Gehry, joins the park to the lakefront.
Millennium Park is at 201 E Randolph St, Chicago.
3- Museum of Science and Industry
The Museum of Science and Industry is a significant science museum housed in the former 19th-century Palace of Fine Arts building.
It’s one of the United States’ largest science museums and has intriguing exhibits such as a U-505 Submarine, a World War II German submarine that was captured and hidden until the German forces were convinced the sub had sunk.
This helped the Allied forces to win the war, and the U-505 has been on display in the museum since 1954.
Other key galleries are the Whispering Gallery, where you can hear whispers across the room, and the Transportation Gallery, displaying historic trains, automobiles and planes.
The museum has an extensive science education programme for kids, including classes and field trips.
The Museum of Science and Technology is at 5700 S Lake Shore Dr, Chicago.
4- Pullman National Monument
Erected on the site of the 1894 Pullman strike, the two-month-long national railroad workers strike was a pivotal point in US labour law.
The Pullman National Monument is a National Park Service site built on what used to be one of the earliest industrial communities in the USA, a place created to produce Pullman sleeping cars.
You’ll also find the A. Phillip Randolph Pullman Porter Museum and the Pullman Visitor Center.
The Pullman National Monument is at 11141 S Cottage Grove Ave, Chicago.
5- I&M Canal
The Illinois & Michigan (I & M) Canal, which was built to connect New York and New Orleans, was the key to establishing Chicago as a central trading hub.
The 100-mile canal connects Lake Michigan to the Mississippi and is a recreational corridor offering walking and cycling paths, kayaking and fishing.
Navy Pier dates back to 1916 and was known as Municipal Pier when it used as a dock for freight and passenger ships.
In 1918, authorities turned the pier into a jail for draft dodgers.
It was renamed in 1927 to honour the naval veterans who served in WWI.
During WWII, it was used as a training centre for the US Navy, and after the war, it became a classroom for the University of Illinois.
These days, it’s a vibrant entertainment precinct, with restaurants, bars, galleries, shops and halls.
It’s also home to the Chicago Children’s Museum, Crystal Gardens, a botanical garden in a glass atrium, Chicago Shakespeare Theatre and the 200-foot-tall Centennial Wheel.
Navy Pier is at 600 E Grand Ave, Chicago.
7- Clark Bridge
Clark Bridge is a cable-stayed bridge that stretches across the Mississippi River between Missouri and Illinois.
The bridge was named in honour of explorer William Clark and carries Route 67 across the river.
The $85 million bridge is a 108-foot-wide bridge (33 m) and has two traffic lanes in each direction and two bike lanes.
The ‘Super Bridge’ featured in the Super Bridge documentary enthralled audiences worldwide, highlighting the challenges of building the bridge during the 1993 Great Flood.
44 steel cables looped over saddles support the bridge and are perched on top of a pair of wide concrete pylons that rise above the Mississippi River.
8- Willis Tower
Willis Tower is a 108-story skyscraper and at 1,450-foot (442.1 m), it’s the third-tallest building in North America.
When it was built in 1974, it was the tallest building in the world, surpassing New York’s World Trade Center and maintained that title for 25 years (between 1974 and 1998).
Willis Tower is now the 23rd-tallest building globally, and its observation deck is the highest in the USA.
Skydeck on the 103rd floor and has a glass box ledge 1,353 feet in the air.
Standing on the glass with Chicago beneath your feet is a heady experience, as is zipping up in the elevator in 60 seconds.
United Airlines occupies 20 floors and is headquartered here.
Willis Tower is at 233 S Wacker Dr, Chicago.
9- Lincoln Park Zoo
Lincoln Park Zoo is a green oasis in vibrant Chicago and home to over 200 species of animals, from American Beavers and American Black Bears to African Penguins and Bolivian Gray Titi Monkeys.
It has an extensive conservation program committed to providing better care to wildlife through science and conservation.
Programmes range from studying how wildlife use cities to research in the savannas of Africa.
There’s also a bat project, working with volunteers to monitor species of bats by recording their calls, a Black Rhinocerous conservation project and a project to observe Massasauga rattlesnakes.
Lincoln Park Zoo is at 2001 N Clark St, Chicago.
10- Gentlemen Statues
The Gentlemen Statues is an eye-catching Chicago landmark on the banks of the Chicago River.
Created by Taiwanese artist Ju Ming, trained as a woodcarver but works in a range of modern mediums, the minimalist statues were installed in the AMA Plaza.
The Gentlemen Statues is at 330 North Wabash, Chicago.
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11- Ernest Hemmingway’s Birthplace
Famous author Ernest Hemingway was born in a Victorian home in Oak Park, west of downtown Chicago.
His 1890 home is now a beautifully preserved museum and was where he was born in 1899.
Hemingway grew up for the first six years of his life in this house, and the home has been restored with furnishings that reflect the times he lived there.
Not far away, the Ernest Hemingway Museum has a collection of rare photographs, video footage, childhood diaries and personal letters.
While in Oak Park, visit the Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio where the world-famous architect lived and worked for 20 years.
Ernest Hemingway House is at 339 N Oak Park Ave, Oak Park.
12- BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir Complex
BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir is a blend of Indian architecture and 21st-century technology.
This Hindu temple’s impressive architecture makes it a unique modern landmark of Illinois.
Built according to the Shilpa Shastras, sacred Hindu architecture, it has a collection of holy shrines.
The temple was constructed from limestone and marble stones from Turkey and Italy, carved by 2000 craftsman in Rajasthan.
The entire complex sprawls across 27 acres (11 ha).
BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir is at 4N739 Il, Route 59, Bartlett.
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Natural Landmarks in Illinois
13- Cahokia Mounds
The 70 Cahokia Mounds sit on an ancient Native American city site and are spread across a vast area of 2,200 acres.
The mounds date back to 700 AD and its early settlers were Woodland Indians who lived in villages along Cahokia Creek.
Around 1000AD, a highly structured society with its own social and political system emerged and grew until the population reached about 20,000.
The mysterious mounds are still a mystery, but experts believe the original inhabitants used them for burial and ritual purposes.
Earth was dug out from pits and carried in baskets on the backs of settlers to the mound.
The largest mound is the Monks Mound, named after French monks, with a base of 14 acres (5.6 ha) it was the home to the chief and a ceremonial site.
Another significant mound, Mound 72, was excavated to uncover 300 ceremonial burials of young women.
On a marine shell bead platform on top of this mound was a royal couple of around 20 years of age.
The Cahokia Mounds are in Collinsville, Illinois, across the Mississippi River from St. Louis, Missouri.
14- Starved Rock State Park
Starved Rock State Park in central Ilinois is an all-year-round hiking destination offering winter hiking, frozen waterfalls and ice climbing in winter.
In summer, its 14 waterfalls are stunning to see, including the Tonti Canyon Falls.
The park is located on the Illinois River bluff in La Salle County and has 18 canyons, with moss-covered vertical walls, waterfalls, natural springs and outlooks with stunning views.
The sandy bluffs are filled with pine, oak and cedar trees.
Wildlife includes grey squirrels, white-tailed deer, raccoons and several types of birds, including woodpeckers and Rough-winged swallows.
Starved Rock State Park’s history dates back to 8000 BC, with villages and settlements that supported Native American tribes and European explorers.
Starved Rock State Park is at 2668 East 875th Road, Oglesby.
15- Garden of the Gods
The eye-catching red rocks of the Garden of the Gods in Shawnee National Forest is a spectacular natural landmark in Illinois to visit.
The sandstone sculptured cliffs are millions of years old, with scenic bluffs that drop 100 feet.
These rock formations were created when geological upthrusts formed along a natural fault line millions of years ago.
Located in Shawnee National Forest, there’s archaeological evidence to prove that prehistoric people started visiting the Garden of the Gods about 1330 BC.
Many First Nations tribes have are connected to the Garden of the Gods, including the Kiowa, Apache, Cheyenne, Lakota, Comanche and Pawnee people.
The Ute people believed the red rocks were a connection to the spirits.
Located in northwest Chatsworth, the park was once part of the historic Iverson Movie Ranch and featured in several films such as “The Lone Ranger” and “Tarzan”.
Garden of the Gods is at Observation Trail off Highway 34 in Shawnee National Forest.
16- Charles Mound
One of the unusual things about Charles Mound (1235 ft) is that it’s the highest natural point in Illinois, but it’s located on private property.
Illinois’ northwest escaped being covered by glaciers during the last Ice Age and has high plateaus cut by deep river valleys.
The Mississippi River runs through the region.
The owners of the property allow hikers to climb Charles Mound once or twice a year.
Charles Mound is 11 miles north of Galena at 688 West Charles Mound Road, Scales Mound, Illinois.
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Historic Landmarks in Illinois
17- Abraham Lincoln’s Tomb
The Lincoln Tomb State Historic Site is the tomb of the 16th President of the United States, Abraham Lincoln, and his family.
The public receiving vault, north of the tomb, was where final funeral services for the president were held in 1865.
The Tomb was designed by sculptor Larkin Mead and built from bricks sheathed with Quincy granite.
Two staircases lead to a terrace, where a 117 ft (35m) obelisk stands, and there’s a bronze statue of Lincoln.
Four groups of bronze sculptures each represent a Civil War military service — the cavalry, infantry, artillery and navy.
A bronze replica of Gutzon Borglum’s marble head of Lincoln (the original is in the US Capitol in Washington DC) is at the front of the tomb.
The rooms inside the tomb are marble and bronze, and the south entrance leads to a rotunda with hallways adorned with statues and plaques leading to the burial chamber.
The remains of Abraham Lincoln lie in a concrete vault beneath the marble floor in the burial chamber.
Abraham Lincoln’s Tomb is in Oak Ridge Cemetary at 1500 Monument Ave, Springfield.
18- Metamora Courthouse
Although Lincoln was born in Kentucky and was raised in Indiana, Illinois was where he became a key figure in American history.
Lincoln practised law in the old courthouse in Metamora, which was on the Eighth Judicial Circuit.
The bronze statues of Abraham and Mary Lincoln add a charming touch to the quaint courthouse.
Lincoln is recognised as the president who guided the nation through the Civil War, preserved the Union and abolished slavery before he was assassinated.
Metamora Courthouse is at 113 E Partridge St, Metamora.
19- Old State Capitol
The Old State Capitol is a historic Greek Revival-style building that was the seat of the state between 1840 and 1876.
The reconstruction of the fifth statehouse in Illinois is in Springfield.
This was where the 16th president of the USA, Lincoln, served as a legislator and delivered his famous speech in 1858 that began with “A house divided against itself cannot stand…”
Soak up the historic vibe as you wander the rooms where Lincoln created history.
The Old State Capitol Building is at 526 E Adams St, Springfield.
20- Black Hawk Statue in Lowden State Park
The 48 ft (14.6m) statue of famous Native American chief Black Hawk stands at Eagle’s Nest Bluff with a lovely view of the River Rock Valley.
Black Hawk was a warrior of the Sauk Native American tribe and the leader of a faction of Sauks and Foxes who refused to accept the treaty of 1804 to resettle across the Mississippi River.
He was captured and sent to prison.
Lowden State Park was given its name after Governor Frank Lowden, who served Illinois during World War I.
Lowden State Park is at 1411 N River Rd, Oregon, Ilinois.
21- Sugarcreek Covered Bridge
Sugar Creek Covered Bridge is a Burr truss bridge that crosses Sugar Creek near Chatham.
It’s the last covered bridge in Sangamon County and is a historic Ilinois landmark built around 1880, possibly by an early settler Thomas Black, who operated a mill and tavern.
The bridge is now a pedestrian bridge listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Sugarcreek Covered Bridge is in Pioneer Park, 769 Covered Bridge Rd #587, Glenarm.
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