Springfield, Illinois is the Springfield displayed in the famous show The Simpsons. Although being only the state’s sixth most populous city, it is the capital of Illinois. It’s also home to the magnificent Lake Springfield, which attracts many visitors looking for ultimate recreation.
Settled by Europeans in the late 1810s, Springfield is a city with a rich historical heritage. Known for its prominent resident, Abraham Lincoln, it’s full of attractions and sites linked to the 16th American President. Visiting Springfield is a great way to learn about the American history of the 19th century.
Interactive Map of 25 Things to Do in Springfield (IL)
1. Lincoln Home
Visiting Lincoln Home is like traveling back in time to the 1860s. Abraham Lincoln and his wife Mary lived in this house from 1844 to 1861 until Lincoln became the 16th President of America. Four beautifully restored blocks surround the house and, in combination, represent a small but essential part of Lincoln’s life back then.
Take a guided tour inside the two-story house with twelve rooms, or take a stroll on one of the restored historical streets with wooden sidewalks and historic signs. This Greek Revival house has many original furniture and other items on display and is open to the public for free.
2. Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum
The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum is a state-of-the-art facility and is one of America’s most visited. Designed by BRC Imagination Arts, the museum offers immersive and engaging high-tech exhibits and displays. Visitors can look forward to the coverage of the President’s life and the Civil War course through many modern storytelling technologies and multimedia programs.
There are three permanent exhibits and lots of temporary rotating displays that tell its visitors about the critical life events of Abraham Lincoln through life-sized dioramas, film theatres, pictures, artifacts, and memorabilia. Some of the most exciting features are the 1861 model of the White House, the original handwritten Gettysburg Address, Lincoln’s glasses, and Mary Lincoln’s wedding dress.
3. Old State Capitol
Located in downtown Springfield, the Old State Capitol is an ultimate historical site, associated with Abraham Lincoln and his presidential race rival Stephen A. Douglas. Designed by John Rague in the Greek Revival style, the building emerged around 1840 and served as a statehouse until 1876. It’s easily recognizable by its delightful architectural elements like the massive domed cupola and four columns at the entrance.
In this state house, Abraham Lincoln announced his candidacy in 1858, and so did Barack Obama in 2007. Roam around the halls full of historical plaques and memorabilia from that period. Enjoy the Representatives Hall’s atmosphere where Lincoln said his famous “House Divided” speech in 1858, and where his body rested before the official burial.
4. Lincoln’s New Salem
Located about 15 miles northwest of Springfield, Lincoln’s New Salem reconstructs the village where Abraham Lincoln lived and worked when he was young. He left it in 1837, and three years later, it got abandoned. After the President’s death, many historians and archeologists worked hard studying the area and its history until, in 1921, they opened the village dedicated to Lincoln and the state history.
When visiting the village, you’ll be able to travel back in time and talk with costumed characters of the people who used to live here. There are many exhibits and a short film at the Visitor Center. You’ll see people’s residencies, local stores, a tavern, and many more sites throughout the recreated village. Don’t miss out, and take a photo with a 9-foot bronze statue of young Abraham Lincoln, made by Avard Fairbanks.
5. Obed & Isaac’s Microbrewery
Located close to Lincoln’s Home, Obed & Isaac’s Microbrewery’s building looks like a museum and invites everyone for a wide selection of crafted beers and delicious local food. You can sit down inside the beautiful mansion or eat at the outdoor terrace enjoying the view of the State Capital Building.
A must-do experience offered by this brewery is their famous Horseshoe Dish and Springfield’s most popular beers. The Horseshoe Dish, meat on toast with cheese and French fries on top, is a must-try for every Springfield’s visitor. They also have unique, tasty flatbread pizzas, made from the brewing process leftovers.
6. Washington Park Botanical Garden
The construction of Washington Park began in 1901. Since then, it’s been home to the majestic Washington Park Botanical Garden. With 20 acres of outdoor and indoor gardens and a 9,000-square-foot greenhouse area, this park is a natural treat for any visitor wishing to relax and escape the hectic city pace. It’s home to over 1200 species of plants, displayed in various gardens, like the Rose Garden or the Garden Conservatory. Annually over 55,000 curious visitors come to enjoy the floral shows.
Washington Park is an ideal destination for natural relaxation and recreation. There are numerous walking and biking trails, picturesque picnic spots and benches, a lovely playground for kids, and two artificial lagoons. If you’re looking for an active way to spend the day, the park has a complex of 12 tennis courts.
7. Dana Thomas House
Dana Thomas House is an architectural marvel of Springfield. Designed in 1910 by renowned architect Frank Lloyd Wright, this Prairie School-style mansion is one of his most extraordinary designs. The 35-room house is unique, as it combines features of organic architecture, the landscape of Illinois, and the Japanese motives.
Step back in time and take a tour around the famous Springfield landmark. Start with a short educational video about Susan Lawrence Dana, the former house owner, an heiress to a large fortune, known for her hospitality, unforgettable parties, and community impact. Take a glimpse of the library, billiard room, master bedroom, and a bowling alley in the basement. The restored house still has over 100 pieces of original architect-designed oak furniture and 250 genuine art glass lights.
8. Knight’s Action Park
Best suitable for families, Knight’s Action Park is a 60-acre area combining an amusement park and a water park. The park has many entertainment options for everyone – a 50 tee driving range, two 18-hole miniature golf courses, go-karts, a Ferris wheel, an outdoor climbing gym, batting cages for baseball, and a year-round arcade.
The Splash Kingdom waterpark is one of the most enjoyable ways to spend a hot summer day in Springfield. Enjoy the extreme Royal Flush or Devil Ray, chill on the tube in the Wild River, check out the water slides, or swim your heart out in the wave pool.
9. Illinois State Museum
Founded in 1877 and relocated to its current building, the Illinois State Museum offers an insight into 500 million years of the state’s life, people, and cultural heritage. Learn about science, history, and culture and discover what the area looked like before the European settlement.
The first floor covers Illinois’ natural history, displaying local fossils, mining, and many archaeological artifacts. The second floor tells visitors about the region’s artistic heritage and the People of Illinois, including household displays from different historical periods, ethnographic artifacts, and dioramas of Native American life. In the basement, there’s the Mary Ann MacLean Play Museum, an interactive area for kids to learn and play.
10. Henson Robinson Zoo
Opened in 1970, the Henson Robinson Zoo is home to more than 90 species, with native and exotic animals from Australia, Africa, Asia, and The Americas. This interactive zoo offers a close encounter with many animals, including African penguins, monkeys, lemurs, sloths, peacocks, eagles, and snakes.
If visiting with a family, you should know that the place will inspire visitors of any age, especially kids and teenagers. There’s a zoo train, a playground, picnic tables, food stands, a gift shop, and a petting area. Almost every season, visitors can enjoy the zoo’s special events, like Dr. Dolittle Day, where you can learn all about veterinary care for the animals.
11. Lincoln Monument Association
In 1865, when Abraham Lincoln died, his friends formed an association called the Lincoln Monument Association. They built a 117-foot tall granite tomb, a powerful memorial, and the resting place of Abraham Lincoln, his wife Mary, and their three sons Edward, William, and Thomas. Their fourth son, Robert, rests in peace in the Arlington National Cemetery in D.C.
Head out to the Oak Ridge Cemetery and take a guided tour of the memorial dedicated to the great American leader and the 16th President of America. Get inspired by the mighty tomb topped with an obelisk, the marbled burial room, and a few bronze sculptures of Lincoln. Take a look at the famous Lincoln statuary at the entrance, and rub the President’s nose for luck.
12. White Oaks Mall
Opened in 1977, White Oaks Mall is the largest enclosed shopping center in Central Illinois. With over 900,000 square feet of retail space, this two-story mall offers its visitors over 100 shops. There are big national brands alongside smaller boutique stores.
Make sure to check out spots owned by local businesses, like AK Boutique, Medusa’s Garden, The Rainbow Room, Jazzd Up Boutique, and more. There’s an exciting play area for kids, and a food court with traditional American fast food options, like Chick-fil-a, Texas Roadhouse, or Five Guys Burgers.
13. Lincoln Memorial Garden and Nature Center
Located on Lake Springfield shore, Lincoln Memorial Garden and Nature Center is a local natural treasure and a living memorial to President Abraham Lincoln. Dedicated in 1939, this 100-acre woodland and garden area represents the landscape familiar to the President. All plants are native to the states of Kentucky, Indiana, and Illinois. A famous landscape architect, Jens Jensen, designer of the garden, was the Prairie Style follower and a fan of organic architecture.
Lincoln Memorial Garden is a favorite hiking place for many residents and visitors alike, as it offers over 5 miles of trails. With mild elevation changes, they are accessible to everyone. Take a stroll on one of the trails and enjoy white oak, Illinois state tree, sugar maple, dogwood, and others. Each year the garden hosts maple syrup festivals and a market with hand-crafted items, starting in November and kicking off the holiday season.
14. Cozy Dog Drive In
Located on old Route 66 in Springfield, Cozy Dog Drive In is an iconic restaurant and a true Springfield landmark. Known as the birthplace of a classic American corn dog, this restaurant has been proudly serving it since 1996. Their story, however, goes back to 1946 when Ed Waldmire started selling his corn dogs at the Illinois State Fair, after which they became crazy popular.
Although called a drive-in, Cozy Dog is a place where visitors can come inside and sit down or make an order to-go. Being a popular attraction on Route 66, it is home to many Route 66 memorabilia and a gift shop. When visiting Springfield, make sure to stop by here for a delicious corn dog and Cozy Dog Root Beer. On the way out, don’t forget to leave your mark in their guest book.
15. Illinois State Military Museum
Illinois State Military Museum is proudly home to more than 10,000 artifacts, covering the military history of Illinois and the Illinois National Guard’s heritage from 1812 until the present. History buffs and curious visitors will enjoy some rare memorabilia, like an artificial leg of Santa Anna, a Mexican General, or a target board used by President Lincoln.
There are weapons, uniforms, equipment, battle flags, and many historical images. Some of the most popular exhibits are about World Wars, Korean, and Vietnam Wars. The outdoor part of the museum has an astonishing display of vehicles, including helicopters, howitzers, a tank, and a mobile anti-aircraft vehicle.
16. Thomas Rees Memorial Carillon
Located in Washington Park, Thomas Rees Memorial Carillon is one of the world’s largest carillons. It’s also one of the few open to the public. The tower, constructed from concrete, brick, and steel, is 132 feet. It features 67 bells, with a total weight of 82,753 pounds. The instrument is played manually with a keyboard.
The memorial carillon, designed by Bill Turley, was dedicated in 1962. It was a gift from Thomas Rees, a one-term Illinois senator, and a successful publisher. Due to the gorgeous surroundings of the carillon, the memorial hosts week-long International Carillon Festivals each year. Visitors enjoy live performances from the world’s famous carillonneurs.
17. Oak Ridge Cemetery
The 365-acre Oak Ridge Cemetery is the largest and the only public cemetery in Illinois. Established in 1860, it is also the second-most visited cemetery in America. It has expanded since then and has more than 50 sections and 75,000 burials today.
Known for Abraham Lincoln’s magnificent tomb and memorial, it’s also a burial site of numerous prominent Illinois settlers, politicians, and famous people. If you want to learn more about them, there are signs directing visitors to these graves, with brief information about each. The walk at this cemetery is very tranquil and beautiful, with many oak trees, after which it got its name.
18. Illinois Governor’s Mansion
Illinois Governor’s Mansion is one of Springfield’s finest buildings and one of the state’s oldest historic residencies. Completed in 1855 and renovated a few times later, this 16-room mansion is an official residence of the Governor of Illinois. Designed by an architect and designer of Chicago’s City Hall, John M. Van Osdel, the house has a distinct Springfield look outside and a European touch inside.
It functions as an event space for state dinners and meetings, but also a museum. Visitors can take detailed guided tours and see the bedrooms, libraries, meeting rooms, and parlors that look just like they did in the 19th century. Get an exquisite feeling of history in a building that has hosted many U.S. Presidents, ambassadors, and Illinois residents over the years.
19. Lake Springfield
Lake Springfield is arguably one of Springfield’s most prominent landmarks. Formed in 1935 by the Spaulding Dam, it has long served as the primary source of drinking water for the city and a cooling element to the local electricity-generating plant. The lake is a 4200-acre reservoir and is Illinois’s largest lake owned by the town.
With 57 miles of shoreline, eight public parks, and a few boat docks, Lake Springfield is a major recreational center, offering mesmerizing vistas and exciting recreational opportunities. The most popular activities in the area are water sports, boating, and fishing. There are also a few areas designated for swimming. Thanks to the incredible relaxation the lake offers, it attracts over 600,000 visitors each year.
20. Lincoln Depot
When wandering around Springfield, make a quick stop at Lincoln Depot, also known as the Great Western Depot. Constructed by The Great Western Railroad in 1852, this historical site is one of the city’s numerous memorials to Abraham Lincoln. Tested by many fires, the building changed a few owners and underwent a few restorations.
Lincoln Depot is famous mostly because right there, in 1861, the President-elect Lincoln gave his famous Farewell Address speech and departed on a train to Washington D.C. Located just a few blocks from Lincoln Home, it’s a lovely site for pictures. The building’s first floor is a museum, opened in 2013, offering its visitors lots of historical information, displays, videos, and images. Take a replica train ticket, get a stamp on it, and enjoy a collection of model trains.
21. Air Combat Museum
Located at the Abraham Lincoln Capital Airport, the Air Combat Museum is free and much worth visiting. Tucked away in a hangar, this small museum has an impressive private collection dedicated to military aviation. Displays include actual historic aircraft and lots of aviation memorabilia.
You can take a self-guided tour and read about each aircraft or ask the knowledgeable staff on site. Many of the vehicles are operational and include Beechcraft AT-11, a P-51 Mustang, a Soko G-21 Galeb, and many others. Make sure to check out this museum and sit in the cockpit section of a MIG 15 aircraft.
22. Springfield Art Association/Edwards Place Historic Home
Home to the Springfield Art Association, Edwards Place Historic Home hosts M. G. Nelson Family Gallery with 12 exhibits per year, an art library, and an art studio. It’s also a historic house museum, which helps the visitors discover facts not found in history books. Once the city’s social and political center, the museum teaches its visitors about Springfield’s social and domestic life.
Built in 1833 by Thomas Houghan, the house had a prominent role after Benjamin Edwards purchased it in 1857. He hosted dinner parties, social events, and political rallies for many of Springfield’s citizens and politicians. Today the museum has gorgeous 19th-century furniture and lots of memorabilia, including personal items of the Lincolns. The guides dress in 19th-century residents’ costumes and offer an engaging experience to each visitor.
23. Camp Butler National Cemetery
Located 6 miles northeast of Springfield, Camp Butler National Cemetery is a 53-acre historic site with over 25,000 people buried here. The cemetery’s land has a rich history as it used to be the second-largest Civil War military camp in Illinois. It also served as a hospital and a prison.
There are graves of Union and Confederate Civil War soldiers, veterans of the World Wars, the Spanish-American War, Korea, and Vietnam Wars. Visitors can pay their tributes to the fallen soldiers by visiting many memorials placed here. Some of them include a carillon donated by the American Veterans in 1970, a monument in honor of Confederate soldiers who died at the prison camp, and the Korean War Veterans Memorial.
24. Route 66 Drive In Theater
To get an authentic experience of a classic American drive-in theatre, visit Route 66 Drive In Theater. Opened in 1974, it served for six years before it shut down and stayed abandoned for a few decades until the Knight Family restored it. Today it offers top-notch entertainment at unbeatable prices.
Located within the Knight’s Action Park, it’s a fully functioning drive-in theatre playing the newest and the hottest movies from Memorial Day in May through Labor Day in September. The theatre’s cool feature is that visitors have to tune into a specific radio station to hear the sound. You can bring drinks and snacks or enjoy a food stand on site.
25. D’arcy’s Pint
D’arcy’s Pint opened in 1998 and has been serving delicious traditional American classics since then. It is loved by locals and tourists alike. Walk into a casual and welcoming atmosphere of an old Irish tavern and enjoy some of Springfield’s tastiest dishes.
The restaurant is most famous for the best original Springfield horseshoe in town. It’s a Texas toast layered with meat or vegetables, topped with French fries, and covered in creamy cheese sauce. There you’ll find a few versions of the dish, like bacon and cheese or chili dog horseshoe. Make sure to explore the restaurant’s excellent beer selection, and order a smooth brownie with ice cream for dessert.