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5 Awesome Must See Cities in Illinois

5 Awesome Must See Cities in Illinois

After a nearly twenty-year hiatus of visiting, I finally made it back and uncovered these five must see cities in Illinois. If you are looking for an unforgettable journey, full of historical and cultural sites and some amazing views along the way, then spending some time in Illinois is a must!

young Lincoln-mural-in-springfield

Featuring five unique cities with something wonderful to offer any traveler or road tripper – Champaign-Urbana, Monticello, Rantoul, Springfield and Chicago – all packed into this mighty state, there’s sure to be something that will tantalize your senses and possibly make Illinois a blast.

With plenty of eye-catching options, ranging from museums to reindeer farms, let’s explore what these five cities generously have to offer!

1. Champaign-Urbana

I always love a good college town. The University of Illinois graduation was a special event to be there at the time of. I saw graduates decked out in their regalia, standing with pride next to Alma Mater (the U of I statue) that shares connections between current & past students.

The University of Illinois students are as much international as they are domestic, so the diversity and offerings in Champaign-Urbana are exceptional. I felt like I was strolling around the Hell’s Kitchen area of NYC rather than downtown Champaign-Urbana, Illinois. 


You can find different cuisines in Champaign-Urbana from all around the world! A must-try restaurant would have to be Seven Saints, which has delicious slider meals. I chose the Black Jack trio, featuring soup, salad (goat cheese, strawberries, candied walnuts), & one single slider – perfect for lunch any day!


Hopscotch Bakery + Market is a great stop in Champaign-Urbana for travelers to experience some sweet treats and refreshing drinks. Enjoy pastries, coffee, teas and more while basking in the sun at one of their outdoor tables. The scones are excellent!


Champaign’s Outdoor Offerings

Champaign-Urbana features various parks throughout town with interesting sculptures, making it perfect for leisurely strolls or finding that unique photo opportunity. One I recommend is getting your picture taken next to famous movie reviewer Roger Ebert outside the Virginia Theatre.


For an amazing horticultural experience, visit Allerton Park with over 1,500 acres filled with 14 formal gardens, featuring ornate topiaries, sculptures, and pruned hedges among other wonders of nature. It is simply breathtaking!


Prairie Fruits Farm & Creamery

A visit to Prairie Fruits Farm and Creamery is sure to bring smiles all around. Goats of all sizes are eager for attention, making it perfect for the whole family! Enjoy an artisan cheese tasting or explore one-of-a kind goodies from their market – Black Goat (Ash) & Chèvre were my personal favorites.


After a day of farm fun, rest your head at Comfort Suites Urbana Champaign University Area. The hotel offers roomy suites boasting big couches, a sitting & TV area, and complimentary Wifi, parking, and breakfast. There is a fitness area and heated indoor pool, too, at this pet-friendly property.



The Hardy’s Reindeer Ranch in Rantoul is an unforgettable destination that should not be missed! Located just outside of Champaign, Illinois, this Alaskan-style ranch offers a truly unique experience for the entire family.


From learning about reindeer to feeding them delicious treats like graham crackers – you’ll feel as if you’ve stepped into another world during your visit. Plus, all those 100-year-old barns and pedal race carts make it even more special!


And don’t forget about the chuckwagon dinners and group banquets – what better way to spend quality time with loved ones? So come on down to Rantoul today – worth every penny spent at this amazing attraction!


Seasonal events are popular at Hardy Reindeer Ranch, including the Fall Corn Maze, hayrides, and cookouts.


Don’t miss out on ET’s Barbeque Joint in Rantoul either; the pulled pork and Sriracha Candied Bacon Fries “Crack Fries” (yes, it lives up to its namesake!) are definite musts if smoky BBQ flavors rock your boat. Pressed sandwiches, wings, and burgers are other popular dishes.



If you’re looking for a classic small-town getaway with big charm, Monticello is the destination spot! From friendly locals to locally-owned stores and restaurants – plus cool murals gracing downtown streets – this Midwestern gem is worth a stop.


I browsed several stores in Monticello, and was pleased with the selection of great apparel, gifts, home accents and decor, plus seasonal items they offered. It’s worth mentioning that the antique store I popped in was one of the best I’ve seen in the Midwest, with many rare things.


If you’re visiting Monticello, go directly to Brown Bag for lunch! Prepare yourself for an incredible homemade pie selection – with flavors like creamy chocolate peanut butter, butterscotch, peach, and tangy blueberry rhubarb. They also have all your other favorites, from sandwiches to soups, and salads.

My friend, Sara, tried the Karina sandwich, while I enjoyed a bowl of tomato bisque paired with turkey salad. They were both delicious! We topped it off by splitting some triple berry pie à la mode that was out of this world!



Sara and I wanted to check out Lincoln’s history in Springfield, so we enlisted the help of our travel blogger friend, Cindy of Traveling Adventures of a Farm Girl, to show us around. She showed us the Lincoln statues, sculptures, and artworks; plus, we also toured his Presidential Library and Museum ,which had SO much fascinating info inside.


Springfield, Illinois, is a must-see destination for the history buffs and curious travelers. You’ll need a minimum of two to three hours to explore this Presidential site.

From experiencing the film in the Mr. Lincoln Theater, learning about our nation’s 16th President at storyboards around town, or viewing iconic murals dedicated to him throughout downtown Springfield—there are plenty of opportunities to delve into Abraham Lincoln’s legacy while you’re here.


Don’t miss out on seeing incredible structures like the Old State Capitol, Lincoln Depot, Lincoln’s Tomb, and Lincoln’s Springfield Home (part of the National Park Service). A World of Music from Illinois exhibit will transport your senses back in time as if our beloved president himself were still living here today!


Lincoln lived in this house for 17 years, and for me, it was amazing to think of how many things one of my idols did in this region.


Illinois Supper Clubs and Triple D Eats

I had my first supper club experience at Saputo’s, with an amazing Italian meal. This historic restaurant, dating back to 1948, had us feasting on rich and cheesy ravioli with warm baked bread that complemented the great service from our waitress!

Saputo’s has plenty of parking and is a fixture in Springfield.


The nearby Springfield icon Charlie Parker’s Diner did not disappoint for breakfast – it has been featured in Triple D after all! I ordered their famous “breakfast shoe” or rather its smaller version (the pony), which included a tasty mix of sausage & hash browns beneath gravy, cheese and egg- yum!

Pretty darned tasty, and definitely filling. 



Experiencing the beauty of Chicago is always a memorable adventure. I’ve explored this incredible city ten times in the past, and on my most last trip, decided to wander around Downtown Loop and River North Gallery District.

Oh, and did I mention that my friend, Sara, and I took the train to get into the city? That’s big for this southern gal. Read more below.


From admiring magnificent architecture and cool murals, like Muddy Waters’ designed by Kobra (my favorite muralist), to indulging in delicious bites at Land & Lake Kitchen, there are so many reasons why one should visit Chicago.


Should I mention that we scored gourmet cheeseburgers for $7 each, and discounted deviled eggs that were like little bites of heaven?


For those with a sweet tooth, Magnolia Bakery offers delightful cupcakes that will satisfy your cravings. I love the banana pudding, too.

We strolled around the streets of Chicago soaking up the vibrant blooms around town and indulging in many photo ops. Plus, who can resist snapping pictures near ‘The Bean’?


Taking the Train into Chicago

Sara and I took the challenge of taking public transportation to explore Chicago. We shuttled from our hotel to the airport for free, then hopped onboard one of the famed blue line “L” trains into town. The cost was $10.

It was exhilarating arriving in Chicago in less than an hour—much faster than braving car traffic! Plus, we bought all-day passes so there was no additional ticket needed when catching it back to O’Hare at night.


Seeing Chicago on a budget was an absolute breeze!

We stayed at the Sonesta Simply Suites Chicago O’Hare, located in Schiller Park, where we got our hands on an incredible deal. Not only did provide us with affordable lodging for around $100, but it also included free parking and airport shuttle service!

Our room was top-notch; spotless and super comfortable – plus they even gave us a kitchen complete with all the amenities you could think of AND complimentary breakfast thrown into that sweet deal? Now THAT’S what I call travel made easy!


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