Best things to do in historic Galena, Illinois : Tourism ideas, lodging tips & attraction recommendations

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How would you like to visit a quaint small town that has the distinct charm of the 19th century, while still having all of today’s modern conveniences? Are you interested in visiting a place that has multiple significant historical landmarks? How about an area that offers multiple indoor and outdoor attractions during all four seasons?

If you live in the Midwest United States or have plans to visit the area, Galena, Illinois is a definite must see. I have visited there on several occasions and would highly recommend it! A trip to Galena offers so much to visitors and permanent residents alike.

Even the drive into town is something special! As you begin to approach Galena, you will notice the beautiful and rolling terrain of the area. The first time I ever visited Galena was in the Springtime and the color of the grass in the rural countryside was incredible!

As you enter town, the attention to detail and cleanliness of the town becomes very evident. The properties are very well maintained and you can tell they take a lot of pride in welcoming visitors.

The downtown of Galena is truly like visiting a bygone era. The architecture of many of the restaurants, shops, boutiques, galleries, homes and hotels is nothing short of incredible. Everything is very well maintained and you can tell that attention to detail is a very high priority for the town overall.

In order to fully appreciate the importance of the downtown district, it’s important to learn about its history. In the 1800s, Galena was a boom-town for lead. With its proximity along the Mississippi River, many entrepreneurs found great wealth in the mining and shipping industries.

Belvedere Mansion (right)

As a result, several stately homes and businesses were built. At its peak, Galena had a town population of about 14,000. However, the decline of the mining industry and the California Gold Rush led to somewhat of an population exodus over time. Due to the decline, many storefronts closed. Thankfully, in the 1980s, residents with a vision began to reclaim the historic architecture of the town and started a massive revitalization project that greatly enhanced tourism.

Fortunately, people are now able to visit many of the same buildings, hotels, businesses and homes, just as they were in the 19th century. Now, over 85% of Galena’s buildings are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Remarkably, despite its relatively small population, over 1 million people visit here annually.

My Dad and I skiing at Chestnut Mountain

To me, the historical perspective of this town makes the visit to Galena more than worth it. However, the town and the surrounding areas offer many other attractions as well.

A short drive out of town and you’ll discover Chestnut Mountain Resort. This is a four-season resort offering outstanding lodging options, along with many other outdoor activities. Depending on the season, they offer downhill skiing, mountain biking rentals, alpine slide rides and more. The resort features a 475 foot vertical drop which makes for some fun ski or snowboard runs!

A short drive out of town in different direction is The Galena Territory. This is a massive area that includes residential housing along with activities and accommodations such as golf, spa, fishing, trails and lodging at the Eagle Ridge Resort & Spa. The Territory even has a horse stable where you can take guided trail rides.

The Irish Cottage Boutique Hotel

In addition to Eagle Ridge, there are many more lodging options available in Galena including several hotels, motels, houses for rent, as well as a variety of very nice bed and breakfasts. Actually, there are a couple of specific accommodations to this area that you should at least visit when you are in the area. One would be The Irish Cottage Boutique Hotel, which features an amazing Irish restaurant with entertainment every Friday and Saturday in addition to their lodging options. It also has a gift shop as well as some beautiful grounds to explore.

The Desoto House Hotel

In addition, the Desoto House is another great hotel and restaurant right in the middle of the downtown. President Abraham Lincoln and Stephen A. Douglas even spoke from the balcony of the historic DeSoto House in 1860.

Other notable buildings that are definitely worth exploring would be President Ulysses S. Grant’s home and the Belvedere Mansion, which are both open to the public.

If you are in the mood to explore the outdoors, Apple River Canyon State Park is a short drive from town where you can do some exploring in nature. Also, Fever River Outfitters just off of the downtown offers kayak, canoe, bike and scooter rentals and more.

President Grant’s Home

I could continue to list many more attractions, restaurants, great shops, hotels, city parks, special events, and places to explore in Galena and Jo Daviess County, but I want to leave plenty for you to find on your own. I hope that you consider visiting this special part of Illinois. If you do decide to go, I guarantee that you won’t be disappointed!

If anyone else has any must-see places to visit in the Galena area, feel free to leave a comment below – Thanks!

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By Ryan Shields

Ryan is the Senior Editor here at Outdoor Home and Garden. He has a degree in Horticulture and has worked in the field of Facilities Management for over 16 years.

2 comments

  • Jean Nottestad

    First time Galena visitors should take the trolley tour. Not only is it a fantastic lesson in the history of Galena, it’s fun and budget friendly!

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