20 Things To Do In Galena

- This post may contain affiliate links. Read our disclosure.

Smaller and less prominent than other Illinois destinations such as Chicago or Springfield, Galena in the state’s northwest tip is a scenic city in the Midwest. This city is where Civil War general Ulysses S. Grant kick-started his successful presidential campaign and where Mississippian native Americans called home more than a millennia ago. From world-class ski slopes during the winter months to the stunning cliffs and hiking trails of Mississippi Palisades State Park, Galena is where you can experience three different Midwest states in one afternoon and where some of the most influential figures in American history once resided.

Galena, Illinois

Top Tours

Galena Route 66 traffic sign over a white background and the legend ROUTE US 66.
Looking for things to do in Galena?

20 Things To Do In Galena            

1- Tour The Ulysses S. Grant Home

The former residence of Civil War General and 18th President of the United States Ulysses S. Grant, the Ulysses S. Grant Home is a stately Italianate-style historic manor designed by architect William Dennison.

The manor was the Grant family’s primary residence during the general’s 1868 presidential campaign as well as his time in office and was visited by Grant right up until 1880.

Completed back in 1860, the house was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1960 and is today a living museum which visitors can explore within the Galena Historic District.

The Ulysses S. Grant Home is at 500 Bouthillier St, Galena, IL 61036.  

2- Stop By The Horseshoe Mound Preserve

Treating visitors to magnificent views of neighbouring Iowa and Wisconsin in addition to the great state of Illinois, the Horseshoe Mound Preserve is an outdoor landmark that’s as historically important as it is breathtakingly scenic.

Situated about 3 miles (4.8 km) southeast of downtown Galena, the preserve is home to pre-Columbian era archaeological sites, remnants of the large population of Mississippian People who called the Galena River Valley home between 600 A.D. and 1050 A.D.

Added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1980, the preserve is an ideal travel destination for outdoor enthusiasts or history buffs, with a large network of nature trails available to allow visitors to explore every inch of this world-class outdoor attraction.

The Horseshoe Mound Preserve is  at 1679 N Blackjack Rd, Galena, IL 61036.

3- Explore The Stagecoach Trail

Stretching 40 miles (64 km) the Stagecoach Trail is all that remains of the former Galena-Chicago Trail, a once vital stagecoach route that practically spanned the entire width of Illinois during its heyday.

The Stagecoach Trail connects the city of Galena with nearby Lena, passing by interesting Jo Daviess County communities such as Warren, Nora and Apple River along the way.

Several tour operators run unique stagecoach trips along select sections of the trail, giving visitors a rare peek into what travelling in the Midwest looked like before the invention of the automobile.

4- Trek To Thunder Bay Falls

One of Galena’s most popular outdoor landmarks is the majestic Thunder Bay Falls, a photogenic cascading waterfall situated just five miles (8 km) southeast of the city’s downtown district.

The waterfall is a runoff from the adjacent Lake Galena and can be accessed via a short and easy-to-hike trailhead, which leads hikers right to the falls’ edge.

Despite being situated on private property, the falls can easily be reached via the publically accessible Thunder Bay Road, making it one of the top free activities to do in the region.

The Thunder Bay Falls is  at 233 Thunder Bay Rd, Galena, IL 61036.

5- Go Skiing At Chestnut Mountain Resort

With perfect skiing conditions during winter, the Chestnut Mountain Resort has been a popular overnight destination for travellers visiting Galena ever since its grand opening back in 1959.

The resort is perched on the slopes of the mountain of the same name and boasts a total skiable area of more than 220 acres (89 ha).

With some 19 ski runs on offer as well as an on-site 20,000-square-foot (1,858 m2) ski centre and excellent accommodation options, the resort is Galena’s ultimate wintertime recreation destination.

The Chestnut Mountain Resort is  at 8700 W Chestnut Mountain Rd, Galena, IL 61036.

6- Take A Stroll Through The West Street Sculpture Park

The West Street Sculpture Park can best be described as an outdoor art gallery, showcasing several thought-provoking sculptures crafted by local artist John Martinson.

Spanning an area of about two acres (0.8 ha), the sculpture park combines nature and visual arts to create a unique outdoor attraction that’s free for all to enjoy just outside downtown Galena.

The West Street Sculpture Park is  at 620 S W St, Galena, IL 61036.

7- Tour The Washburne House

Completed back in 1845 for local lawyer Elihu Benjamin Washburne, the former US Secretary of State under President Ulysses S. Grant, the Washburne House is among the finest examples of 19th-century architecture in Galena.

The stately two-story manor was designed in a classic Greek Revival style and incorporates eye-catching details such as fluted Doric columns and a two-story porch, giving the manor the appearance of a typical Greek temple.

Open to the public for guided tours, the house has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 1973 and forms part of the Galena Historic District.

The Washburne House is  at 908 3rd St, Galena, IL 61036.

8- Spend An Afternoon In Grant Park

Buckingham Fountain In Grant Park, Chicago USA
Relaxing in Grant Park is one of the popular things to do in Galena.

Grant Park is an urban 3.5-acre (1.4 ha) outdoor space perched along the shores of the Galena River that’s renowned for its plethora of park amenities and proximity to the city’s popular downtown shopping district.

The park serves as the city’s community gathering space and features attractions such as pavilions, fountains, basketball courts and several Civil War-era landmarks.

The park can be reached from either side of the river thanks to a footbridge connecting the park to Galena’s north side, placing Grant Park within walking distance from some of the city’s most popular shops and restaurants.

Grant Park is  at 625 Park Ave, Galena, IL 61036.

9- Take In Galena’s Charm And Character Along Main Street

galena historic buildings
Wandering around on foot is one of the best things to do in Galena to get your bearings.

Lined with over 125 independent storefronts and eating spots, Galena’s busy Main Street is the city’s cultural and economic hub and is a lively destination day or night.

With unique architectural styles, Main Street got its start during the 19th century when the first shops began popping up in town, growing into an energetic stretch of Galena that’s today home to everything from wine-tasting rooms to spas.

No matter if you’re looking to shop or just soak up the city’s small-town charm and atmosphere, there’s simply no better place to explore than Galena’s historic Main Street.

10- Stop By The Dowling House

The oldest home in Galena, the Dowling House is an important historic and cultural landmark that can be traced back to 1826.

The two-story Dowling House was built for father-son pair John and Nicholas Dowling, who resided on the building’s second story while running a trading post out of the house’s first level, making the Dowling House Galena’s oldest trading post.

A classic example of a typical Single-Pen-style design, the home forms part of the Galena Historic District and is open to the public as a museum. 

The Dowling House is  at 220 Diagonal St, Galena, IL 61036.

The River Bend Gallery in Galena’s downtown district is an intimate visual arts exhibition centre showcasing select works by local artist and gallery owner Geoffrey Mikol.

Opened in 2016, the gallery boasts a large collection of photographs snapped by Mikol in and around Galena, with the gallery awarded the honour of “Business of the Year” in 2019 by the Galena Area Chamber of Commerce. 

The River Bend Gallery is  at 112 N Main St, Galena, IL 61036.

12- Catch A Magic Show At The P.T. Murphy Magic Theatre

Seating just 24 patrons per event, the P.T. Murphy Magic Theatre is a unique performance venue that operates out of a historic building which dates back to the 1840s.

It’s the theatre to visit if you’re interested in magic and disappearing acts.

The theatre host several P.T. Murphy-led magic shows every year, with 65 minutes of uninterrupted magic tricks and mischievous humour to be enjoyed on any given night.    

The P.T. Murphy Magic Theatre is  at 204 Hill St, Galena, IL 61036. 

13- Go Wine Tasting At Galena Cellars Winery

Glass Of Wine In Vineyard
Going wine tasting is one of the top things to do in Galena, IL.

Galena Cellars Winery is a top-class culinary destination and wine-tasting venue situated right in the centre of downtown along Main Street in the proverbial heart of Galena.

Operating as a wine shop/restaurant, the venue sells the award-winning wines produced by the shop’s very own vineyard, which is  about 7 miles (11 km) outside the city.

Among the cellars’ fine collection of wines to pick from include Sangria, Muscat, Rosé, Fontenac Gris and Cabernet options, making it the ultimate destination in town if you’re a bubbling vinophile seeking to sample the region’s local wines.     

The Galena Cellars Winery is  at 111 N Main St, Galena, IL 61036.

14- Explore The Galena History Museum

The Galena History Museum, or Galena & U.S. Grant Museum as it is also commonly referred to, is a history-packed attraction near central Galena that boasts an ever-expanding collection of important Civil War-era artefacts and artwork.

The museum is housed inside the Daniel Barrows Mansion, an 1858 property built for local merchant Daniel Barrows, and features an ornate Italianate design and more than 6,000 square feet (557 m2) of total exhibition space.

Among the museum’s large collection of antiques and collectables are the famous “General Grant on the Battlefield” and the “Peace in Union” paintings, as well as the original flag from the Vicksburg Siege.

The Galena History Museum is  at 211 S Bench St, Galena, IL 61036.

15- Swing By The Old Market House

Built between 1845 and 1846, Galena’s Old Market House served as the city’s main retail space for some 65 years from its grand opening until 1910.

The market house was built in a typical Greek Revival style and was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1973 in recognition of its architectural and historical importance.

While markets haven’t been held in the house for more than a century, it today serves as a museum, which visitors are encouraged to tour if they want to learn more about Galena’s rise to fame as a port city during the 1800s.     

The Old Market House is  at 123 N Commerce St, Galena, IL 61036. 

16- Try Unique Root Beer Flavours At Root Beer Revelry

Root Beer Float
Drinking root beer is another fun thing to do in Galena IL.

Putting a unique root beer spin on the typical brewery, Galena’s Root Beer Revelry is an interesting destination in the city’s downtown district where visitors can sample a wide selection of root beers sourced from across the United States.

Root Beer Revelry allows patrons to mix and match different root beer flavours, creating brand-new tastes and root beer styles in the process.

One of the only places in the Midwest where you can pick up root beer flavours such as key lime, orange cream or black cherry, the venue also recently added the world’s first Museum of Root Beer to its line-up.    

Root Beer Revelry is  at 228 S Main St, Galena, IL 61036.

17- Explore The Belvedere Mansion

Considered by many to be one of Galena’s finest estates, the Belvedere Mansion is a stunning example of Italianate-style architecture that first graced the streets of Galena in 1857.

Built for J. Russell Jones, the manor boasts 22 rooms fully furnished in period pieces to transport visitors back to the mid-1800s to learn more about Galena’s post-Civil War history.

The mansion and its perfectly manicured garden are both today popular attractions and are open to the public between May and November every year. 

The Belvedere Mansion is  at 1008 Park Ave, Galena, IL 61036.

18- Experience The Distilling Process At Blaum Bros. Distilling Co.

Two Mugs Of White And Dark Beer In Pub
Tasting local beer is one of the fun things to do in Galena at night.

The family-owned Blaum Bros. Distilling Co. is Galena’s most popular spirit distillery, hand-crafting their award-winning gins, rums, vodkas, whiskeys and bourbons in the city’s backyard.

Opened by brothers Matt and Mike Blaum in 2013, the distillery mills raw grains on-site before mashing, fermenting and distilling their spirits using a custom-built copper still

The distillery doubles as a tourist attraction, allowing visitors to experience the entire distillation process through a guided tour where they’re encouraged to touch and taste the ingredients which make the distillery’s signature products so unique. 

Blaum Bros. Distilling Co. is  at 9380 US Hwy 20 W, Galena, IL 61036. 

19- Plan A Day Trip To Mississippi Palisades State Park

Mississippi Palisades Of Illinois
Exploring Mississippi Palisades State Park is one of the things to do from Galena, IL.

Though not technically  in Galena, Mississippi Palisades State Park is the most popular outdoor attraction in northwest Illinois and spans roughly 2,500 acres (1,012 ha) of pristine untouched Illinois nature about 28 miles (45 km) south of downtown Galena.

The park is perched along the eastern shores of the Mississippi River and is renowned for its collection of towering cliffs and majestic caves.

Recognised as a National Natural Landmark, the park stuns visitors with its breathtaking views of the Mississippi River and neighbouring Iowa, and is a popular camping, hiking, rock climbing and fishing destination in Illinois. 

20- Visit The Old Blacksmith Shop

Blacksmith In A Forge
Checking out the Old Blacksmith Shop is one of the cool things to do in Galena, Illinois.

Owned and operated by John Martinson, the same John Martinson behind the West Street Sculpture Park, the Old Blacksmith Shop is an authentic 19th-century blacksmith store, complete with traditional blacksmith tools and operational forges.

The shop dates back to 1897 and is the only one left standing of the 35 that were operating throughout Galena during the industry’s 19th-century peak.

Situated along the Galena River, the shop is just a short walk from the city’s main retail district and offers visitors a rare glimpse into the almost-forgotten art of 19th-century metal forging. 

The Old Blacksmith Shop is  at 245 N Commerce St, Galena, IL 61036.

Previous article20 Things To Do In Spartanburg SC
Next article20 Things To Do In Bangor, Maine
cropped mark westwood.jpg
Mark Westwood is a Seattle-based writer who writes for various online blogs and travel websites. In 2017, he went on a 12-month road trip across the USA visiting many iconic landmarks and small towns along the way. Having explored over 20 countries, his favourite places to date are along the west coast of the USA but he is happiest anywhere where there are mountains and ocean.