Well-known for its historic charm, Galena, Illinois is an ideal destination for a weekend getaway trip and attracts over one million visitors per year. This picturesque town is located just a 3-hour drive from Chicago and offers an abundance of interesting attractions including popular sites like the Elihu B. Washburne House, Ulysses S. Grant Home, Dowling House, and West Street Sculpture Park.
Throw in activities like kayak trips and shopping, and you’ve got yourself an unforgettable vacation. Whether you wish to explore Downtown Galena where you will find small art galleries, boutique shops, historic mansions, and tasting rooms or you want to enjoy hiking trails and beautiful waterfalls, a visit to Galena promises to be a memorable experience. Here is a list of the best things to do in Galena il.
1. Ulysses S. Grant Home
The former home of Ulysses S. Grant, the 18th President of the US, Ulysses S. Grant Home is a must-visit destination when exploring Galena. Located on Bouthillier Street, the building is listed on the National Register of Places and furnished with décor and furniture that once belonged to the Grant family. Group tours of Ulysses S. Grant Home are available throughout the year and led by knowledgeable guides dressed in period costumes.
2. Galena Center for the Arts
Art lovers looking for things to do in Galena il should head out to the Galena Center for the Arts. This lovely gallery celebrates regional artists and showcases a variety of high-quality art exhibits displayed in different gallery spaces. There is a large exhibition space that is mostly used for special exhibitions and artistic performances. The most popular event at the Galena Center for the Arts is the annual The Art of Craft and the Youth Arts Festival.
3. Dowling House
Galena’s Dowling House was built in 1826 by John Dowling and is the oldest house in the city. Built of limestone, this place actually used to be a trading post in Galena. Nowadays, visitors can enjoy guided tours of this historical jewel and admire the ancient architecture and artifacts from the 19th century. It’s one of the most popular attractions in the city and attracts thousands of visitors every year.
4. Galena Grant Park
Galena is not short on beautiful green spaces and Galena Grant Park provides an ideal space to relax and enjoy nature. This nicely landscaped park is located alongside Galena River and has everything from gazebos, monuments, and a nice fountain to a nice pavilion fitted with playgrounds for kids, picnic tables, and a basketball court. Snap a photo on the walking bridge or admire the beauty of the park’s decorative cannons.
5. P.T. Murphy Magic Theatre
If you are looking for things to do in Galena at night, a visit to the P.T. Murphy Magic Theatre should be included in your travel itinerary. Located in the historic downtown area of Galena, this theatre hosts magic shows with mystical magic tricks and illusions. The theatre has only 24 seats and is an ideal place to visit for families with kids. Keep in mind that magic shows which last for about an hour or so are not suitable for children under the age of 13.
6. Old Blacksmith Shop
Welcome to the Old Blacksmith Shop, an authentic shop that dates back to 1897. From working forges and original blacksmith tools to live demonstrations led by professional blacksmiths, there is plenty to look forward to when visiting this shop/museum. If you wish to learn more about the history of forging in the city and how it all works, a visit to the Old Blacksmith Shop is simply a must. There is also a gift shop where travelers will find dozens of handcrafted ironwork artifacts, as well as a range of memorabilia and gifts to take back home.
7. Linmar Gardens
Perched on a hillside with magnificent views of the city, Linmar Gardens is a beautifully landscaped and privately owned garden where both locals and tourists come to relax in nature and enjoy the tranquility of this place. Guided tours of the gardens are available and include a visit to the Four Seasons Garden which boasts a jaw-dropping 20-foot waterfall and many unique sculptures by local artists. During the tour, visitors will also come across flowing brooks, ponds, fountains, and flowering plants.
8. West Street Sculpture Park
If wandering down picturesque wooden paths and admiring the beauty of unique steel sculptures sounds like something you might be into, make sure to pay a visit to Galena’s West Street Sculpture Park. All pieces of art and sculptures here are designed by the famous artist John Martinson. Apart from the giant sculptures like the two massive 40-foot towers, unique signs, and quirky assemblages, the park is also home to dozens of walking paths and picnic tables.
9. Blaum Bros. Distilling Co.
After you’ve done with galena il shopping, visit the family-owned and operated Blaum Bros. Distilling Co. Renowned for producing a range of premium spirits like gin, vodka, and whiskey, this distillery offers daily tours which include a visit to spaces such as the barrel room, distillation area, and the nicely-decorated tasting room and cocktail bar where guests can sample some of the distilleries finest products. Make sure to try their HellFyre Vodka and check out the small gift shop which has a variety of memorabilia.
10. Galena / Jo Daviess County Historical Society and Museum
No visit to Galena is complete without heading out to the Jo Daviess County Historical Society and Museum. Here, you will find a variety of amazing exhibits and national treasures including a topographical map of Jo Daviess County, General Grant on the Battlefield paintings, Vicksburg Flag, and much more. The museum also hosts several events throughout the year like Cemetery Walks, Galena in Maps, and Peace in Union.
11. Thunderbay Falls
A visit to Thunderbay Falls is one of the best day trips from Galena il. Located just a short drive from downtown area and Galena Illinois hotels, Thunderbay Falls is easily reachable via a short trail and it will take you less than 10 minutes to reach the falls. Enjoy the sheer beauty of the waterfalls and you can also pack a picnic. It’s an ideal place to get away from the busy downtown area of Galena and admire this natural wonder.
12. Chestnut Mountain Resort
Families will kids visiting Galena and looking for fun outdoor activities should look no further than the Chestnut Mountain Resort. With a vast array of outdoor activities like the Alpine Slide, Segway tours, mini-gold, and soaring zip lines, it’s easy to see why many people call this place an adventure paradise. There is also no shortage of winter adventures including downhill skiing and snowboarding. The resort is home to many restaurants and cafes that offer delicious meals.
13. Belvedere Mansion
One of the most beautiful mansions in the city, the Belvedere Mansion was built in 1857 and was originally intended to be a private residence of the Ambassador to Belgium J. Russell Jones. Nowadays, this 22-room mansion is home to many antiquities including the famous green velvet drapes from the Gone with the Wind movie, President Roosevelt’s library suite, and Liberace’s silver and Bou’lle. Not to be missed are the unique Belter chairs with presidential carvings. The tour of the Belvedere Mansion is available from May to November and no reservations are needed.
14. The Elihu B. Washburne House
Built in the Greek revival style back in 1843, the Elihu B. Washburne House is the former residence of Mr. Elihu B. Washburne, a political advisor and a U.S. Congressman who worked for both Abraham Lincoln and Ulysses Grant. If Visitors can look forward to admiring the beautiful architecture of a historic house, seeing a variety of artifacts and Victorian-era furniture, and learning more about the life and works of Mr. Elihu B. Washburne during the guided tour.