By Karthika Gupta; All photos courtesy of the Illinois Office of Tourism
Even though Springfield is often overshadowed by the bright lights and towering skyscrapers of Chicago, it still has something for nearly every interest. History buffs, architecture aficionados, museum fans, and outdoor lovers can all find their place here, making it a great destination. After all, Illinois is the Land of Lincoln, and being the state capital, Springfield is a mecca for all things civic and historic.
Tour the Illinois State Capitol
Located in the heart of downtown Springfield, the Illinois State Capitol is a must-see. The first legislative session was held here in 1877. This magnificent building, built to rival palaces of Europe, replaced the Old State Capitol Building, which is at 6th Street and Adams Street. Its most distinguishing feature, a 405-foot dome atop the building, is a convergence of Renaissance Revival and Second Empire styles. The dome lights up the interior when the sun shines through stained glass lining the inside of it. Statues of prominent historical Illinois figures dot the floor. As an added feature, you can see Illinois politics in action from balcony-level seating when the legislature is in session. https://visitspringfieldillinois.com/
Browse the halls of Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum
This museum traces the life of the 16th U.S. president, Abraham Lincoln, and the history of the Civil War. It has an extensive collection on Lincoln – his life and his presidency. It also houses the collection of the Illinois State Historical Library, founded by the state in 1889. Something sure to thrill young history fans is the Abe Lincoln impersonator who occasionally pops out and roams around. He is happy to greet you and discuss anything from his life, including his wrestling career. There is no better place to learn about the life of Abe Lincoln than at this museum. https://presidentlincoln.illinois.gov/
Go on an architectural tour of the Dana-Thomas House
Designed in 1904 by Frank Lloyd Wright, the Dana-Thomas House is a large, 35-room home designed for entertaining large groups of people. It was built in the Prairie style and reflects the mutual affection of the patron and architect for organic architecture. It houses original Wright-designed furniture that has been beautifully restored, along with many Wright-designed art glass pieces in windows, interior doors, bookcases, and light fixtures. Two natural shapes can be seen in the art glass throughout the home: the butterfly and the sumac plant. The interior architectural design was extraordinary and avant-garde for its time of construction. The tour is free, but donations are welcome. https://dana-thomas.org/
Explore the Lincoln Home National Historic Site
The Lincoln Home National Historic Site preserves the Springfield home and neighborhood where Abraham Lincoln lived from 1844 to 1861 before becoming the 16th President of the United States. When you take the tour, the feeling of walking where Lincoln once lived is truly incredible. Walking on the brick road outside Lincoln’s home adds to the feeling of going back 200 years in time. Kids can also participate in the Junior Ranger program by filling out information in the program book. Afterward, they receive a certificate signed by the ranger and a junior ranger badge. https://www.nps.gov/liho/index.htm
Wander through Oak Ridge Cemetery and the Lincoln Memorial Garden
The Abraham Lincoln Memorial Garden is a 100-acre woodland and prairie garden designed by legendary landscape architect Jens Jensen who pioneered the natural, prairie landscape and was a frequent collaborator of Frank Lloyd Wright. This was one of the last commissions of his career. It was envisioned as a unique, living memorial to Lincoln featuring plants native to Kentucky, Indiana, and Illinois — the three states Lincoln had lived in. Planting began in the garden on November 14, 1936, when Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts planted acorns that are the garden’s towering oaks today.
Oak Ridge Cemetery is the second most visited cemetery in the nation, second only to Arlington National Cemetery. The Lincoln Tomb is the final resting place of Abraham Lincoln, his wife Mary Todd Lincoln, and three of their four sons: Edward, William, and Thomas. A bronze recasting of Gutzon Borglum’s head of Lincoln stands on a pedestal in front of the entranceway — the original casting is in the U.S. Capitol. It is traditional to rub the nose of Mr. Lincoln for good luck. http://www.oakridgecemetery.org/
Discover the Illinois State Museum
The Illinois State Museum features the life, land, people, and art of the State of Illinois. It is a small museum with two floors of exhibits, ranging from geological, botanical, and zoological specimens to life from the first settlers and Native Americans up to the present. It takes about 90 minutes to tour, with many interactive elements for kids. There is an art gallery upstairs and a learning and recreational area below where kids can play. https://illinoisstatemuseum.org/
Dine at the oldest restaurants in Springfield
In keeping with the theme of exploring the history of our state’s capital, Maldaner’s restaurant is a must-stop. Established in 1884, the restaurant serves contemporary American fine dining in a historic setting. The inside is lovingly restored, keeping with the theme and ambiance of the other historic stops around the city. However, this isn’t a place stuck in the past! Chef/owner Michael Higgins tends an eco-friendly rooftop garden with solar panels providing energy for the restaurant, vegetables and herbs for the menu, native perennials for the struggling monarchs, and hives for bees to live (and fresh honey for the restaurant). Local and regional ingredients are hallmarks of the menu. Some customer favorites are heirloom tomato salad, mushroom risotto, beef Wellington, and Queen of Sheba cake for dessert. https://maldaners.com/
And if you are still craving some sweet treats, check out Mel-O-Cream Donut. They have been Springfield’s favorite donuts since 1932. You can enjoy a classic recipe donut or explore a fun variety of donuts like Bavarian powdered bismark, cream honeymooners, cream cake, and more. https://www.melocreamspringfield.com/
Sleep in landmark hotels
The Inn at 835 is a boutique hotel with 13 guest rooms and 6 extended stay suites. The Inn is on the National Register of Historic Places and was originally built as a luxury apartment building in 1909. Centrally located within walking distance of all the historic sights downtown, it offers both a unique and convenient stay for visitors. The rooms maintain their turn-of-the-century character but include contemporary comforts such as internet and flat-screen TVs. Most include a spacious balcony overlooking the surrounding area. https://www.connshg.com/Inn-at-835
Another historic hotel to check out is the Pasfield House, which overlooks the Illinois State Capitol. Built in 1896, the house is typical of the Classical Revival style architecture that increased in popularity after its introduction in the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago. It was intentionally designed as a contrast to the Queen Anne homes popular in this neighborhood at the time. In the 1990s, it was extensively rehabilitated and received designation as a Springfield city landmark. Its current owner has converted it into a boutique hotel with two rooms available and more on the way. https://pasfieldhouse.com/
Springfield delivers both enlightening history lessons and small-town, big-city vibes. With plenty of things to see and do, it is a great place to visit for a weekend getaway or longer, any time of the year.