Illinois prides itself on embracing visitors with a warm welcome, which you can experience at one of its many bed-and-breakfasts on your next couples retreat. Look beyond the large chains to find boutique hotels, mom-and-pop shops and locally owned restaurants for a truly romantic getaway to small-town America.
You and your partner may find yourselves hiking to the heavens at the Garden of the Gods, swimming the shores of Lake Michigan or barreling down the Great River Road scenic byway. Explore presidential history alongside wine country in this Midwestern state, and book well in advance if you are looking to dine at one of the world’s best restaurants in Chicago — or simply want some famous deep-dish pizza. A trip to one of these Illinois destinations will uncover plenty of opportunities for romance and a zest for living well.
(Note: Some of the following activities, attractions and locations may be affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. New policies may be in place, including capacity restrictions, reservation requirements or mask mandates. Check with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the U.S. Department of State and local tourism boards before traveling.)
Romantic Getaways in Illinois:
— Shawnee Hills Wine Trail
— Great River Road
The small Illinois town of Galena boasts stunning 19th-century architecture preserved in time and historic accommodations. The Cloran Mansion Bed & Breakfast is an Italianate mansion designed by Irish immigrants John and Ann Cloran in 1880, where today guests can enjoy cozy rooms with fireplaces and whirlpool baths, complete with a gourmet breakfast daily. Less than 10 miles south of Cloran Mansion sits the grand Goldmoor Inn near the Mississippi River. Romantic touches here include a spa, a rose garden and a variety of intimate accommodations, including freestanding cottages with their own fireplaces and soaking tubs. Recent visitors rave about the inn’s polite, friendly service and elegant ambiance.
Downtown Galena is brimming with mom-and-pop shops and restaurants to sample. The acclaimed Main Street’s more than 100 storefronts showcase everything from clothing to collectibles. While you’re browsing for something special, peek into bakery-meets-wine bar Bread & Vine or fuel up with a cup of joe from Galena Roasters. Daytrip options abound as well: Head about 25 miles east to Apple River Canyon State Park for a gorgeous hike and picnic. Or, about 15 miles south of Galena, you can honor the area’s rich Native American heritage with a visit to the Wapello Land & Water Reserve. This 170-acre park and prairie’s guided tours give context to Indigenous communities that lived here up to 11,000 years ago.
For a getaway within a getaway, head to Galena’s year-round Chestnut Mountain Resort, which offers skiing and snowboarding in the winter or zip lining and river cruising in the summer.
An obvious choice for date night — or date week — is one of the most famous cities on the planet: Chicago. World-class dining, museums and entertainment coexist with free public parks and cheap tickets to the historic ballpark. Itinerary options for a variety of budgets make Chicago a versatile choice for a couples escape. A CityPASS, for example, bundles admission to several top Windy City attractions at a significant discount, whether you want to see the Art Institute of Chicago, Shedd Aquarium, The Field Museum, SkyDeck Chicago or select others. Any visiting duo is practically required to take a picture with “The Bean” (officially titled Cloud Gate), the iconic reflective sculpture in downtown’s Millennium Park.. The park itself is a one-stop outing, featuring an ice rink, a 120-foot-tall bandshell designed by Frank Gehry that attracts top-notch musical talent, the seasonal Lurie Garden, staggering public art installations and a roster of free events held on the Great Lawn.
Splurge at three Michelin-starred Alinea, routinely included on lists of the world’s best restaurants, or try to snag a spot at one of the Lou Malnati’s Pizzeria locations, beloved for its Chicago-style, deep-dish pizza. Both options require a combination of patience and advance reservations, but they’re well worth it, according to patrons. Riverfront dining also dazzles, with twinkling lights and an open invitation for an after-dinner stroll — try Beatnik on the River for international flavors and inspired design. Retire to one of Chicago’s new hotels: Pendry Chicago is a luxe retreat set in an art deco masterpiece of a building, while The Neighborhood Hotel Lincoln Park keeps you centrally located in cheerfully comfortable rooms for couples on the go.
Shawnee Hills Wine Trail
A sparkling, wine-colored gem of southern Illinois is the Shawnee Hills Wine Trail near Pomona. Eleven of the state’s best wineries, including some of the oldest vineyards in Illinois, are dotted along a 40-mile trail for you to discover at your own pace. Surrounded by the Shawnee National Forest, this region is lush with trees and vineyards. Friendly winemakers, innkeepers and shop owners are all eager to elevate your romantic getaway. September is Illinois Wine Month if you’re looking to take utmost advantage of the grape harvest and all its accompanying events. Amid all the swishing and sipping, head to the Pomona Natural Bridge Trail within the Shawnee National Forest for a 0.3-mile loop through hickory and beech trees, with an overlook to a “bridge” formed naturally from sandstone.
Many of the wineries along the Shawnee Hills Wine Trail include on-site lodging so you don’t have to wander far from your new favorite red. If you are open to venturing out, consider the Davie School Inn, an eclectic B&B in Anna — just 10 to 20 miles from most of the wineries on the route. Three of the rooms in this once-school are set up as romantic luxury suites, and you can treat yourself to extras like wine, roses or candle lighting in your room. Amenities at the inn include a full breakfast served in bed, picnic baskets and bicycles available to borrow, and a DVD library with free popcorn. Recent guests of the Davie School laud the unexpected modern hotel amenities in a nostalgic and authentic setting.
Set just outside Chicago you’ll find the affluent suburb of Northbrook, where filmmaker John Hughes once called home and which inspired the setting for many of his cult classics — such as “Sixteen Candles,” “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” and “The Breakfast Club.” Recreate some iconic movie romance with a tour of the North Shore and keep an eye out for the many places used as filming locations. Northbrook’s pedestrian-friendly downtown offers an ice cream parlor, chocolate shop and an array of eateries. You can also try Cooper’s Hawk Winery & Restaurant in nearby Wheeling for walk-in wine tastings in addition to an extensive food menu.
Sybaris Pool Suites are unusual themed rooms that all come with an en suite indoor pool. Sybaris Northbrook offers couples reservations like the Chalet suite, which comes with a heated pool and hot tub, misting steam room, a waterfall, massage chairs, a fireplace and an additional whirlpool tub in the bedroom area. The best part? A 10-foot waterslide leads from the loft bedroom to the pool. Past Sybaris guests approve of the serene and private atmosphere, with some saying it brought their romantic getaway to another level. From here, the nearly 400-acre Chicago Botanic Garden is just 10 miles away in Glencoe and makes for a scenic way to pass an afternoon; look for special nighttime events like Lightscape, an after-dark illuminated trail ideal for hand-holding during the winter holiday season.
Great River Road
Maybe an unstructured road trip is what you seek to infuse a little spontaneity into your relationship. In Illinois, you can make such a journey along the Great River Road. This national scenic byway follows the Mississippi River for 3,000 miles from Canada to the Gulf, tracing the entire western border of Illinois on its way south. You can start in Galena in the state’s northwest corner and discover enchanting towns along the way, some of which might share a border with Iowa or Missouri, such as Nauvoo. A National Historic Landmark District, Nauvoo showcases a Mormon heritage with dozens of restored homes and shops available to tour by horse-drawn wagon ride for free.
Outdoor enthusiasts will embrace this scenic driving route for its proximity to hiking, mountain biking and fishing hot spots like Pere Marquette State Park in Grafton or Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site. Cahokia is one of only two dozen UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the U.S., recognized for the remains of an ancient, pre-Columbian Native American city. Camping and RV sites are plentiful if you plan to rough it together; otherwise, enjoy the modern conveniences and history at Pere Marquette Lodge in the state park, built by hand during the Great Depression. If you make it all the way down to the southern tip of the state, the Cairo Custom House Museum is a historically significant stop along the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail.
If you’re looking for the best of quirky small-town America, spend some time in Alton, Illinois, especially if you’re a pair of history buffs. From the tallest president to the tallest man, memorials and statues in Alton commemorate Abraham Lincoln and Robert Wadlow, respectively. The Underground Railroad passed through here, and visitors can explore Alton’s abolitionist and Civil War history with nine self-guided stops through town following the Lincoln Legacy Trail. Then head to Arts and Antique Row, which as the name suggests is the downtown antique shopping district. The more than 60 restaurants ensure your sweetie won’t go hungry — or thirsty, since the Old Bakery Beer Company is a certified organic craft brewery with seasonal taps and a hearty menu. Recent patrons praise the variety of brews and the fact that the menu accommodates those of all tastes, including vegetarians and small kids.
By night, consider holding your loved one close for a walking ghost tour: Alton is considered one of the most haunted small towns in the U.S., and locations such as the McPike Mansion have been featured on paranormal TV series. If summoning spirits isn’t your thing, try to conjure some winnings at Argosy Casino Alton instead. Table games, more than 800 slot machines and dining options make this a potentially late night out. When you’re both ready to tuck in, the Beall Mansion B&B will serve you well, with fireplaces, whirlpool tubs, included continental breakfast and free Wi-Fi. Chocolate lovers are in luck — more than 20 varieties are available to nibble at all times of day for Beall Mansion guests at the complimentary chocolate buffet.
About 4,400 miles separate Switzerland’s Lake Geneva from Geneva, Illinois, but you can still enjoy serene waterfront views at Island Park, located along the Fox River. The charms of Geneva don’t end there — spend your morning strolling the Fabyan Japanese Garden, installed in 1910 and featuring a restored, 19th-century Dutch windmill. The adjacent Fabyan Villa was renovated by none other than Frank Lloyd Wright in 1907; the Fabyans were wealthy eccentrics who kept collections of natural history specimens and art, as well as mummies and other oddball curiosities. Visitors to the grounds recommend a tour to see the beautiful garden and original furniture.
Another must-visit Geneva establishment is the Little Traveler, a Victorian house that is part cafe and part sprawling store. Enjoy some finger sandwiches and then take a look around to see what you can find; shoppers say Little Traveler sells lots of decorative items, especially for Christmas. There are two great lodging options located within Geneva proper: The Herrington Inn & Spa and the Oscar Swan B&B. Both offer boutique accommodations with tranquil views.
The name “Garden of the Gods” stirs images of a forbidden utopia — but you and your special someone can easily access this celestial hike in the Shawnee National Forest, partially located in Herod, Illinois. There is a quarter-mile observation trail, or hikers can go all in on the 5.5-mile trek along interconnecting trails; each boasts views of the forest’s unique rock formations. Autumn is an ideal time to visit when the leaves are at their peak fall colors. If you’re both looking for a true romantic escape in nature, you’re in luck: Pharaoh Campground has a dozen campsites open year-round for a small fee. Couples can also opt for more luxurious lodging with a romantic cabin from Shawnee Forest Cabins, complete with a hot tub and fireplace. The cabins are located less than 3 miles from the Garden of the Gods.
Also potentially of interest in Herod is a roadside park on U.S. Route 34 that leads to a cave once home to the Fairy Cliff Café. This Depression-era eatery operated here from the 1930s to the 1960s. If you take a peek, you can still see the ruins of the original chimney.
If you and your significant other wish to bond over some presidential history, book your tickets to visit the capital city of Springfield. Here you’ll find both the Lincoln Home National Historic Site, where the Lincoln family lived for 17 years, as well as the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum. The latter contains presidential artifacts found nowhere else and a theater that shows educational films and living history performances to immerse you in the time of Lincoln. But Springfield is not just for history fanatics: Spend a retro date night at the Route 66 Twin Drive-In theater, open from April through September.
The Inn at 835, just a mile from the museum, was founded in the late 19th century by local businesswoman Bell Miller, a florist for Springfield’s high society. The Arts and Crafts-style property features a quiet atmosphere and about a dozen flower-themed rooms, four of which come with balconies. The inn offers a package bundling museum tickets with a bottle of sparkling wine and dessert, among other romantic amenities you can add on to your stay. About 25 miles outside of Springfield, the Market Street Inn Bed & Breakfast in Taylorville also makes a great home base to explore central Illinois and the impact of former resident Abraham Lincoln. Find the wayside sign about Lincoln’s Taylorville on West Market Street near South Main Street.
Ottawa calls itself “The Middle of Everywhere,” a motto that rings true for this destination and for much of Illinois. The town is situated in the heart of Starved Rock Country and serves as a hub for four major state parks. Chart a course for the Buffalo Rock, Matthiessen, Illini or namesake Starved Rock state parks. Starved Rock State Park is known for its sandstone canyons — several of which have waterfalls. Bring your lover to Lover’s Leap on a wooded trail with views of the river and the Starved Rock Dam. Guided hikes are offered June through November, or you can explore up to 13 miles of trails on your own.
Refuel after a day of exploration at Ottawa’s B.A.S.H. (Burger and Sushi House). This Asian-fusion restaurant brings a modern twist to fusion cuisine with craft cocktails, nigiri, four different types of mac ‘n’ cheese, Thai doughnuts and burgers. Diners rave over the restaurant’s large patio and bar, noting that B.A.S.H. is perfect for couples who can’t decide where to eat. For your overnight stay, check out the circa-1930s Starved Rock Lodge, which has an indoor pool and trails on the property. Lovebirds can also head to the country for a stay at a Victorian farmhouse operating as the Fox River Bed and Breakfast. Watch the birds with a cup of coffee in hand or rent a canoe for a different view of the river.
On a trip to Bloomington, be sure to check in to the Vrooman Mansion, a former home brimming with legacy and life since the Scott family moved into the mansion in 1873. Julia Scott Vrooman lived there for more than a century, befriending the families of two presidents (the Wilsons and Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt) and baking bread that she sent to the Queen of England and other dignitaries. You won’t taste quite the same bread there today, but your stay includes a full breakfast made with seasonal ingredients, which can be enjoyed on the patio or in the dining room. The period rooms are well appointed, and the property encourages guests to live out their “Bridgerton” fantasies over afternoon tea or time spent in the garden.
Back in the 21st century, couples can stroll downtown Bloomington to browse the storefronts — with a possible detour back in time at the Arcadia arcade, which charges just a quarter for more than half of its vintage games. Reserve a two-top for an intimate meal at Epiphany Farms, a farm-to-table restaurant on East Front Street. If you’re in Bloomington with your honey during the summer, consider what light through yonder window breaks and book tickets for the Illinois Shakespeare Festival, held here annually.
Illinois’ lakeshore offers couples the chance to unwind on the waterfront. Head to Zion, on the border with Wisconsin, where Illinois Beach State Park extends for 6.5 miles along Lake Michigan. Yes, that means you can have a beach day in Illinois, which also comes with the opportunity to soak in the serenity of the untouched North Dunes and Illinois Beach nature preserves, located inside the state park. If you’re looking to make it a full lakefront retreat, book a stay at the Illinois Beach Hotel, which reopened in July 2022 and features an indoor pool, sauna, health spa and Wi-Fi — though being here might make you want to unplug. Hotel guests say the location on Lake Michigan can’t be beat, and Zion sits conveniently halfway between Chicago and Milwaukee.
Zion was a town that was completely planned before it was built, and you can see the remnants of its historical homes (called “Painted Ladies”) that encircle the central Shiloh Park. The town’s Shiloh House is a 25-room mansion built in 1901 for the city’s founder — curious passersby can take a tour of the restored property on Sundays or by appointment.
Offering a little bit of everything, Peoria is an Illinois city you might have heard of even if you’re not sure why. The saying “Will it play in Peoria?” originated from an 1890 novel but later became popular on the vaudeville circuit — the idea was that if your show was a hit in Peoria, it would be an overall success. Today, couples can tour Peoria for its theaters but also for its shopping and natural attractions. The Shoppes at Grand Prairie is an open-air shopping plaza with more than 20 specialty stores exclusive to the Peoria market. Just outside Peoria, the 1,800-acre Wildlife Prairie Park is home to more than 150 animals spanning 50 species native to the state. Bunk with the bison and stay here in one of 13 unique lodging rooms or 20 tent campsites. Some overnighters say the accommodations may feel a bit kitschy (you can sleep in a train) but they enjoyed walking along the trails during the day.
If you don’t want to camp out where the wolves roam, maybe you’ll opt for the Mark Twain Hotel for a boutique stay or the fully restored Peoria Marriott Pere Marquette downtown. The riverfront is the place to look for a dinner reservation; try The Blue Duck Barbecue Tavern. The Peoria Riverfront Museum spans art, history and science exhibits — in addition to a planetarium — for a comprehensive look at culture and humanity. A fun schedule of events at the museum includes film series like the Richard Pryor Film Festival and activities like Yoga Under the Stars.
Bring your partner to Belleville — whose name means “beautiful city” in French — for a romantic trip. If you’re visiting the Prairie State during the winter, you can’t miss Belleville’s Christkindlmarkt, a traditional German-style holiday market celebrating the season of Advent leading up to Christmas. From late November through December, you can bundle up and browse the outdoor stalls in the city’s Public Square selling handicrafts and gift items, as well as gingerbread and hot mulled wine.
Travelers may want to catch a show at the Lincoln Theatre, opened in 1921 as a stage for vaudeville that welcomed stars in the making such as Ginger Rogers and the Marx Brothers. The theater is multifaceted, showing first-run films, concerts by the Belleville Philharmonic and other live stage performances. About 35 miles south of Belleville, cozy up at The Conner House Bed and Breakfast in nearby Prairie du Rocher; this B&B serves home-cooked breakfast specialties like crepes and locally made sausage.
Foodies seeking an Illinois escape can head to Champaign, a great Midwestern food town that’s home to a lively community from the University of Illinois campus. Eat your way through a long weekend in the Champaign-Urbana area with Zambian food at Stango Cuisine, a stop at the Black Dog Smoke and Ale House for local barbecue, and an all-natural milk tea at Bearology. You can also check out the Prairie Fruits Farm & Creamery for farm-fresh goat cheese and goat’s milk gelato — tremendous additions to any picnic. The property used to host farm-to-table meals but took the year off in 2022; check its website for updates on this special experience.
Travelers can always walk off an indulgent meal at one of Champaign-Urbana’s many art galleries; the Wandell Sculpture Garden; or the contemporary Spurlock Museum, which focuses on world cultures. Visitors to the museum appreciate that it’s compact, modern and free. When you’re done exploring for the day, retire to the Champaign Garden Inn, a bed-and-breakfast with six guest rooms inside a Victorian Queen Anne-style mansion.
Nestled in the Chain O’Lakes region of Illinois is Cypress Resort & Marine, a great escape for couples looking for a lakeside retreat. The village of Antioch, where the resort is located, also offers enough diversions to pass a few days. Spend the day soaking in the sun with a boat tour or beach day on Petite Lake at Cypress, then head into town for a tasting at the Vigneto del Bino vineyard and winery. The property hosts weekly events such as a barbecue and wine pairing dinner in the summer. You can also catch a first-run film at the charming Antioch Theatre on Lake Street.
Lovers of vintage will find the antique shops of Antioch an appealing way to pass some time. Head into the Rustic and Reclaimed Market for home and decor finds or the Great Lakes Antiques & Boutique, which also features the work of local artists. Back at Cypress, unwind in one of the many apartments or cottages available to rent — including some dog-friendly accommodations, if your couples getaway isn’t complete without your pup. Friendly, leashed dogs are welcome on the lakeshore.
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