Springfield Illinois cosa vedere

Attractions in Springfield, Illinois: An Itinerary in the city of Abraham Lincoln

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If you are a lover of American history, then you should not miss Springfield, the capital of Illinois and a city linked to the figure of Lincoln. The President, famous for having freed the African-American slaves, is buried in this city, where he worked and lived for a long time before taking office in the White House. Today it is still possible to visit his home and the places he frequented.

But that’s not all: in Springfield you will also find many other historic buildings, museums, and parks where you can relax, and some symbolic places of the legendary Route 66.

Let’s discover all the attractions of Springfield!

Where is Springfield, Illinois?

Springfield is the capital of Illinois, not to be confused with its namesake in Missouri (in fact, there are as many as 34 cities named Springfield in the U.S., in 25 states).

Ours is located about 215 miles southwest of Chicago, and 90 miles northeast of Saint Louis and the Missouri border.

As the state’s administrative center, it is also an important stop on the historic U.S. Route 66, the road that connected Chicago to Santa Monica, crossing 8 states of the American mid-west and west.

How to include it in your road trip

Because of its location, you can fit Springfield into two itineraries:

  • Route 66, starting in Chicago and ending in Santa Monica. A journey through space and time to the “real” America, the one of small towns and boundless spaces. Visit it between Chicago and St Louis, but in this case, I don’t recommend using the highway! Instead, try to follow the original stretch of the Mother Road, which runs along the interstate and crosses small characteristic towns such as Odell, Pontiac, McLean and Staunton.
  • A more unusual itinerary, also leaving from Chicago, is the one that follows the course of the Mississippi River along Highway 61, passing through cities that have made the history of music and the Civil War, such as Memphis, Vicksburg and Natchez, arriving in New Orleans. Again, visit Springfield between Chicago and St Louis.

How to get there and how to get around

where is springfield illinois

The city has an airport, naturally named after Abraham Lincoln, but it is connected only with some American cities. To land here from Italy, you will need at least two stopovers.

The best solution is therefore to reach Springfield by car (or rental car, if you travel without yours):

  • From Chicago: take I-90 southbound to exit the city, then keep right and take I-55 heading southeast. Continue for approximately 200 miles to exit 96B. From here, take S Grand Avenue E to get to downtown. The total trip is 215 miles, taking about 3 hours of travel time.
  • From St Louis: Take I-55 northeast and drive about 90 miles, then keep left and follow signs for 6th Street. Continue straight ahead to get to downtown. The drive takes an hour and a half.

Parking in Springfield is quite easy, there are many, cheap parking lots. In addition, the main attractions are close to each other, and can be visited on foot (with the exception of Lincoln’s tomb, which is outside the city). If you have chosen a hotel in the center, you can leave your car there, or choose one of the many garages and underground parking lots. Here are two examples:

  • Municipal Parking between S 4th Street and E Washington Street ($5 all day)
  • underground parking at the Old State Capitol, between N 6th Street and E Washington Street ($0.75 per hour)

Street parking is limited to 2 hours on weekdays from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., unlimited on weekends and evenings.

Best time to visit Springfield

Springfield has a continental type climate, and receives a fair amount of rain, about 7-8 days per month. Although it is located on the edge of “Tornado Alley”, the strip of the American mid-west affected by tornadoes in the spring, the chance of these events occurring is quite remote.

Let’s look at the seasons in more detail:

  • winter is very cold, temperatures drop below zero, with possible snowfall
  • spring is very cool until May, when temperatures slowly start to rise. However, the weather becomes wetter, a condition that lasts until summer.
  • summer is hot and humid, with maximum temperatures around 86°F. Rainfall decreases between August and September.
  • autumn is pleasant until October, but from mid-November it becomes very cold.

The best time to visit Springfield is summer to early fall, roughly between July and October.

Historical notes

Springfield illinois history

The city was founded on April 10, 1821 as Calhoun, in honor of the South Carolina Senator John Calhoun. In 1832, after some disagreements with the senator, the inhabitants decided to change its name to Springfield, taking inspiration from a town in Massachusetts.

At that time, the capital of Illinois was still Vandalia, but in 1839 it was decided to move the administrative and legislative center of the state here.

Around the same time, in 1837 to be precise, a young man from Kentucky arrived in Springfield in search of fortune. The 28-year-old immediately began studying to become a lawyer, and soon became a powerful political figure in the Republican Party, securing a seat in the House of Representatives in 1846. His name was Abraham Lincoln, one of the most beloved presidents in U.S. history.


Springfield Illinois Lincoln

Also depicted on Mount Rushmore, Lincoln is famous for his victory in the American Civil War against the Confederacy and for ending the slavery of the black population. He was killed by a Southerner during his term in office, and today rests in Springfield, his adopted home.

In 1908, Springfield was the scene of some racial riots, following an alleged rape and murder perpetrated by black people against whites. Some citizens set fire to the Levee District, inhabited mainly by blacks. Two people were lynched, and four were killed in the fire. The violence ended after a few days, thanks to the intervention of the military. Following these riots, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) was founded, which deals with the rights of African Americans.

Many things have changed since then, and today Springfield is a safe city. In 2008, future President Barack Obama chose it to announce his candidacy for president, giving a speech from the Old State Capitol grounds.

Things to Do in Springfield

Things to Do in Springfield

So let’s go find out what the main attractions are in the city.

Places related to Lincoln

To begin with, here are all the most important places connected with the American president.

Lincoln’s Tomb

Springfield Illinois attractions

On the evening of April 14, 1865, Lincoln went to Ford’s Theater in Washington with his family, without a bodyguard, to attend the musical comedy Our American Cousin. As soon as he took his seat in the presidential box, actor and Confederate spy John Wilkes Booth entered and shot Lincoln in the back of the head, shouting“Sic semper Tyrannis,” a Latin motto meaning “so be it ever for tyrants.”

Lincoln was immediately transported to a nearby house, where he remained in a coma all night, only to be pronounced dead at 7:22 a.m. the next morning. The assassination of the President triggered a huge wave of emotion throughout the country. The body was brought from Washington to Springfield by train, in a solemn funeral procession that lasted three weeks. Booth, who had planned the assassination after hearing a speech in which the president supported the right to vote for blacks, was hunted down and killed a few days later on a farm in Virginia.

If you wish to pay your respects to Lincoln, go to Oak Ridge Cemetery, at 1500 Monument Avenue, about two miles north of downtown.


The tomb, completed in 1874 by the sculptor Larkin Mead, is a monumental 35-feet-tall granite obelisk with a bronze bust of Lincoln presiding over the entrance to the mortuary. It holds the remains of the President and his family, with the exception of his son Robert Todd, who rests in Arlington Military Cemetery.

Visiting inside is free, but must be reserved online due to limited space and large crowds. A large pink granite slab marks the spot where Lincoln’s body lies beneath the floor. Due to several attempts to steal the body, the President’s sarcophagus has in fact been moved to a secure underground crypt.

Lincoln Home National Historic Site

Springfield Illinois historic sites

This historic district runs between 8th Street and E Jackson Street, and is filled with interesting buildings, including the Lincoln Home.

Lincoln and his wife Mary Todd purchased the home in 1844, and lived there until 1861, when they moved into the White House. The couple’s four children were born here, and one, Eddie, died there at just 4 years old of tuberculosis. The rooms have been renovated and furnished to reflect the original appearance, and give an idea of what the President’s private life and personality was like.

Admission to the house is free, but only with a 20-25 minute guided tour. You can book online, or show up at the Visitor Center and get in line for the first available tour. Visitor Center and tour opening times vary by season, so I recommend checking the official website for all the latest info. Generally, the Visitor Center opens at 8:30 am, while the house tours start at 9:00 am, every half hour until closing time.

The historic district can be visited daily from dawn to dusk, while the buildings are open between 8:30 am and 4:30 pm. Along the dirt paths, between wooden houses with white picket fences and small gardens, you will feel like you are going back in time. Explore it at your leisure, stopping also at Dean House and Arnold House, which house exhibits about the Lincoln family and their neighborhood, with photos, documents and everyday items.

Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum

Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum

Many American presidents have dedicated libraries and museums, and Lincoln could be no exception. The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library holds books and documents, but it is much more than just a library. In fact, it is also a museum, through which you can relive the key moments of Lincoln’s life in a fun, interactive manner.

The museum is divided into several sections:

  • Journey 1, from childhood in Kentucky to running for president
  • Journey 2, focusing on the presidential term and assassination, with a reproduction of the White House as it appeared in 1861.
  • Treasure’s Gallery, where most of the Civil War documents and artifacts are kept. Highlights include a handwritten draft of the Gettysburg Address, the gloves Lincoln had in his pocket the night of his assassination, and the pen he used to sign the Emancipation Proclamation, which ended slavery.
  • Illinois Gallery, which houses temporary exhibitions.
  • Union Theater, where a film about the president’s life is shown.
  • Ghosts of the Library, a show with costumed actors and holograms about the importance of preserving historical artifacts.
  • Mrs. Lincoln’s Attic, a space where children can dress up and learn about history through play.

The park in front of the library houses two statues of Lincoln, and a memorial to the 1908 race riots. The museum is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. (last admission at 4 p.m.), every day except Christmas, New Year’s, and Thanksgiving. Tickets are $15 for adults, $6 for children ages 5-15, and $12 for those over 65.

Old State Capitol State Historic Site

what to do in springfield

The Neo-Greek style building at 526 E Adams Street served as the Capitol from 1840 to 1876. It was replaced due to space issues, and upon decommissioning it underwent a long period of decay. What we can actually see today is a 1960s reconstruction that is faithful to the original.

Lincoln, being a lawyer, often frequented the Capitol, as he often pleaded his cases before the Illinois Supreme Court. It was also here that the future President gave his famous“house divided” speech in 1858, on the occasion of his nomination as Senator. This famous speech addressed the issue of slavery and internal divisions within the Union, foreshadowing, in a sense, the Civil War.

The Capitol’s reception hall also had the unenviable task of displaying Lincoln’s body after his assassination. On that occasion, as many as 75,000 people passed through here to pay their last respects to the President.

The Old State Capitol is open daily and admission is free. You can visit individually by reserving entry times online, available at 9:30 a.m., 11 a.m., 2 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. To enter, you need to arrive 10 minutes early at the Adams Street entrance.

Edwards Place Historic Home

The last of Springfield’s Lincoln-related sites is the home of Benjamin Edwards, a relative of First Lady Mary Todd.

The house was built in 1833, thus dating back to the pre-Civil War period, an era referred to as the antebellum era. Neo-Greek in style, it has a handsome wooden porch, bright green shutters contrasting with the pink plaster of the facade, and an Italianate cornice and cupola added in 1857.

With many original furnishings and portraits, flanked by Victorian-style reproductions, it offers a realistic glimpse into the daily life of the era.

It can only be visited by guided tours, held at 1 and 2 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday. In January and February, the house is open by appointment only. Admission is $5, free for children under 10 years of age.

Other Historic Sites

Illinois Capitol

what to see in springfield illinois

The Illinois Capitol is a massive French Neo-Renaissance style building whose dome soars an impressive 300 feet high, making it even taller than the Capitol in Washington DC. It was built in 1868 by architect Alfred H. Piquenard, and hosted its first legislative session in 1877.

The grand, imposing interior has 6 floors and a large central rotunda, from where offices and council chambers spread out on each floor. Rooms and corridors are enriched by marble staircases, sculptures, portraits and frescoes with various themes, from religion to mythology, passing through famous episodes of American history.

Springfield Route 66

The main points of interest are:

  • The statue in the center of the rotunda, a woman with outstretched arms, representing welcome.
  • The south area of the second floor, called the Hall of Governors because it holds portraits of Illinois’ 43 governors.
  • A room on the fourth floor, known as the Lost Room. Its richly decorated ceiling of inlaid woodwork and frescoes was only rediscovered in 1971, after being hidden by a false ceiling for nearly a century.

The Capitol is open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and on weekends from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. The interior can only be visited with a free, guided tour. Since this is a government building, access to some rooms may be restricted during legislative sessions or meetings.

Dana-Thomas House

Springfield Illinois visitor guide

This modern home at 301 E Lawrence Avenue is one of Frank Lloyd Wright‘s masterpieces. Commissioned in 1902 by suffragette and heiress Susan Lawrence Dana, it was completed in 1904 and was, at the time, the largest house Wright designed. In fact, it has 35 rooms on 3 floors, with over 3300 square feet of floor space.

The woman was a lover of theater and entertainment, in fact the house has a very scenic layout, aimed at surprising the visitor. Wright also created areas for receptions and events, such as a balcony for musicians. It is also an exquisite fusion of architectural and decorative elements, for example 450 light points between windows and skylights, fine glass chandeliers and over 100 pieces of custom-made furniture.

The villa is open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Free guided tours can be booked online, and take place at 9:30 a.m., 11 a.m., 1:30 p.m. and 3 p.m. Parking is free.

Illinois State Museum

The Museum on Illinois history is located at 502 S Spring Street, and includes a collection of more than 13 million items.

The experience, as is often the case with American museums, is highly interactive, representing a journey through time from the Ice Age to the present day, divided into three sections:

  • Changes: Dynamic Illinois Environments is the area dedicated to the environment and geological evolution. There are dioramas, skeletons and fossils of prehistoric animals, reproductions of natural and non-natural environments with numerous information panels.
  • At Home in the Heartland, the section dedicated to American homes and families, and how they have changed over time. You’ll see reproductions of typical homes from pioneer times, the industrial era, and even more modern homes. Also on display are everyday items such as lamps, record players, knick-knacks and more.
  • The Mary Ann MacLean Play Museum, the play area for children ages 3 to 10. Here, little ones can enter a cave, examine fossils, rocks, insects and other exhibits, all in a safe and fun way.

Temporary exhibitions are also always present.

The museum is open Tuesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., closed on Christmas, New Year’s Eve and Thanksgiving. Admission is free.

Elijah Iles’ House

Springfield illinois places to visit

The medal for oldest building in Springfield goes to this home, which dates back to 1832. It was built by Elijah Iles, one of the city’s founding fathers, and still retains its original neo-Greek style appearance.

The structure consists of three floors: a red brick basement, a raised second floor with a wooden porch, and an attic. The interior is decorated with inlaid dark walnut and original furniture from the antebellum period. On the second floor there is an interesting display of wristwatches, pocket watches, and wall clocks, all made by the Illinois Watch Company, a historic Springfield company active between 1878 and 1934.

Parking on Cook Street is free, as is the guided tour, which must be reserved by sending an email to: [email protected].

Elijah Iles’ House is open only on weekends between April and October, from noon to 4 p.m.

Illinois Governor’s Mansion

The Illinois Governor’s Mansion has been the official residence of the state’s governor since its construction in 1855. It was designed by Chicago architect John M. Van Osdel in the Italianate style, with neoclassical decorative elements added in the late 1800s. The house has 16 rooms, and is famous for its lavish Christmas decorations, and because the interior has been left as it appeared in the 19th century.

In fact, the Governor and his family are not required to reside here, as the house is also a museum, and they usually live in a private apartment located on the second floor.

The mansion is open to the public from Monday to Friday between 1pm and 4pm, but during official events it may not be accessible, even without prior notice. The guided tour lasts one hour, is free, and must be booked in advance on the official website.

Washington Park

Located west of downtown, Washington park is Springfield’s largest green space, created specifically to provide citizens with a place of wellness and recreation.

It has two artificial lakes, 12 tennis and paddle courts, playgrounds for children and a botanical garden, which in spring becomes a riot of colors and scents. Next door is the tall Thomas Reed Memorial Carillon, a tower with 67 bronze bells that produce a unique sound. Many events take place in this area in summer, especially live music performances.

On the south side of the park is the upscale Illini Country Club, with two swimming pools, a large dining room, and a golf course.

Places to stay in Springfield

Considering that the things to see in Springfield are all more or less in the center, it is better to sleep in this area, so as to make it more convenient and move around without a car. Two good solutions are the State House Inn, by Whyndham, and the President Abraham Lincoln, by Hilton, both overlooking the Capitol.

A valid alternative slightly out of the center, but with a good quality/price ratio, is the Best Western Clearlake Plaza , near the highway exit.

Search for accommodations in Springfield

Places to eat in Springfield

Places to eat in Springfield

As a popular tourist destination, Springfield offers a wide range of restaurants, with cuisines from around the world and prices to fit all budgets. Here are a few places where you can try local specialties:

  • Obed & Isaac’s Microbrewery and Eatery, a brewery-restaurant serving burgers and Springfield’s signature dish, the Horseshoe. It’s a real calorie bomb, in fact it’s a slice of bread, meat of your choice and secret special sauce, all topped with a mountain of fries. Only for those with coronary arteries of steel.
  • Cozy Dog Drive In, a true institution, located along the old Route 66 route. They serve the city’s other signature dish, the corn dog. Needless to say, this too is not for the faint of heart: a sausage wrapped in a thick batter of cornmeal, skewered on a stick and, of course, fried. It’s classic street food you’ll find at fairs and festivals all over the U.S., but apparently it was invented right here in 1946.
  • Maldaner’s, a fine dining meat and fish restaurant in the downtown Capitol area. Its highlights include duck, scallops and filet Wellington.
  • Moxo, a great place for breakfast and lunch. They serve the classic American breakfast of pancakes, eggs and bacon, as well as sandwiches and salads. Also, they have a good selection of cookies.

Our Tip:
Looking for accommodations for your trip from California to other parts of the Southwest? Read our guide that contains reviews of hotels and strategic tips for finding accommodations near major attractions: Where to Stay: Our Tips for the SouthWest Area

Warning: Operating hours can change and closures for extraordinary events can occur, so we strongly suggest to check the venues official websites.

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Valeria Rovellini

I'm Valeria and I love road trips. My favorite trip? The Historic Route 66.

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