To enjoy the best of Illinois, you have to see the state in bloom.
From the skyscrapers in Chicago to the Mississippi River towns of the Quad Cities and the Abraham Lincoln sites in Springfield, Illinois has its share of high-profile attractions. But many people don’t realize that the Prairie State also has more than its share of gorgeous gardens, amazing architecture and impressive art.
If you have garden and art lovers in your group, or if you’re simply looking for a new spin on a popular destination, consider adding some of these gardens, museums and other colorful attractions to your next Illinois itinerary.
Many people walk around Chicago looking up at the city’s impressive architecture or out into the distance on Lake Michigan. But for a distinctive experience in the Windy City, consider looking below the skyline to discover some of the great gardens on ground level. There’s a host of beautiful public spaces around the city that date back more than 100 years.
“In the original 1909 plan for the city of Chicago, they wanted to make sure the city had outdoor, public green spaces,” said Melanie Perez, director of media relations for Choose Chicago. “So in this city that has such an extensive park system, it makes sense to include gardens. They’re nice little sanctuaries within the hustle and bustle of the city. The skyline is beautiful, the lakefront is beautiful, and this just adds more color to the experience.”
There are enough notable gardens around the city that Choose Chicago has created a whole itinerary for tour groups that showcases some of its best botanical beauty. Perez suggested that groups start in Lincoln Park, one of the city’s most notable green spaces, with a visit to the Alfred Caldwell Lily Pool.
“It’s a little lily-pad pool garden tucked away in the park,” she said. “It’s very close to Lincoln Park Zoo and the beach, a short walk from the lakefront path.”
Another important stop in the same area is the Lincoln Park Conservatory. This indoor garden features tropical palms, ancient palms, colorful orchids and plenty of other exotic plants. The conservatory hosts a flower show each year from late January through May.
Perez said groups should visit the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, also in Lincoln Park.
“They’re doing some wonderful things to pay homage to the land on which Chicago is located,” she said. “They have a lot of the natural plants that were found on the prairie before the city was founded. Many of the scenes in the garden are representative of the city in some way. It has a 15-foot-high shoulder hedge that’s a nod to Chicago being called the City of Big Shoulders.”
Farther afield of downtown, groups can enjoy Osaka Garden, a Japanese garden in the Jackson Park neighborhood. There’s also the Chicago Botanic Garden, a 385-acre lakeside site with 26 gardens and nine islands, and Morton Arboretum, a 1,700-acre outdoor museum with more than 220,000 live plants in the suburb of Lisle.