Looking for an enchanting town known for its rich history, stunning architecture, and beautiful landscapes? We have one that you’ll love because exploring the historic downtown area is one of the top things to do in Galena.
In Galena, it’s impossible to be bored. We loved taking a leisurely stroll down Main Street and immerse ourselves in the town’s charm. Personally, I love exploring the boutique shops, art galleries, and antique stores.
We created this guide and hope it will help you plan your visit. Plan your itinerary carefully to ensure you don’t miss out on the top things to do in Galena during your stay.
About Galena, Illinois
Interestingly, Galena was such a bustling little village when Chicago was still part of a swamp.
Today, it is well-known for being the post-war home of President Ulysses S. Grant, a film location for the movie “Field of Dreams”, and a place of revival for art galleries and studios by Chicago-area artists.
The historic city and its architecture make you feel as though you are stepping back in time. Once a mining town and trading post, the population continued to grow and become one of the busiest ports on the Mississippi River.
After over a hundred years, Galena maintains its historic charm and is a great destination for outdoor activities like kayaking and canoeing. There are resorts in the area, and at least one golf course.
Galena is one of the best small towns in the Midwest and is an excellent choice for a day trip from Chicago. When planning your trip, be sure to explore the diverse array of things to do in Galena.
How Far is Galena from Chicago
Galena is almost a three-hour drive west of Chicago and is one of the best weekend trips during for winter, spring, summer, or fall.
To get to Galena by car, take I-90/I-94 (toll road) to US-20 W/US Hwy 20 W. Then follow US-20 W/US Hwy 20 W to S Main St. (turn right) into downtown Galena.
From Chicago, the drive is approximately 165 miles.
Shopping along Main Street is also a favorite pastime for weekenders. The boutiques and welcoming and stocked with specialty items that includes everything from clothing to kitchenware and imported goods.
Where to Park in Galena
Parking on Main Street is the luck of the draw and is free for only three hours. However, the city has three free all-day public parking lots:
- Park Avenue and Bouthillier Street (near the train Depot, east of the river)
- Bench Street and Gear Street (south of the US Highway 20 bridge, west of the river)
- Main Street to Meeker Street (north of downtown)
The city offers free seasonal transit from the Depot parking lot and Meeker Street lots to downtown Galena on Saturdays and Sundays from 11:00 AM to 7:00 PM.
There is a paid parking garage on Main Street next to the DeSoto Hotel. Main Street is a central location for most things to do in Galena.
You can also find all-day, free, on-street parking available on Water Street. And there is an all-day public lot on Commerce Street between Green Street and Washington Street for about $10.
The Best Things to Do in Galena
There are plenty of things to do in the Jo Daviess County like skiing on Chestnut Mountain, wine tastings at Galena Wineries, biking the Galena River Trail, or walking the Historic Half Mile of Galena. We’ve compiled a list of the best things to do in Galena.
The Belvedere Mansion
📍1008 Park Ave | $14 Adults, Free for kids under 12
This is Galena’s largest mansion and is a must-see for those who love architecture and the beauty of history. Visiting is a captivating experience among the many things to do in Galena, where you can step back in time and admire the grandeur of this architectural gem.
Each room is filled with various antiques of different types from many locations, including items from the Liberace Estate. You will also see many period items that are original to the home like the mirrors and chandeliers.
The interior is not the only thing that really stands out. It is a stunning example of the Italianate style of architecture. You can see the attention to detail and the grandeur that went into its construction.
From the ornate moldings to the beautiful arched windows, every element exudes elegance. And let’s not forget about the cupola! It’s a remarkable feature that offers breathtaking panoramic views of the city.
Old Blacksmith Shop
📍245 N Commerce St | $5 Adults, Free for kids under 10
See the workings of a real blacksmith shop. The custom ironwork is created right before your eyes by blacksmiths. And the best part? You can actually get up close and personal with the process.
You’ll hear the rhythmic clang of hammers, see sparks fly, and witness the raw materials being transformed right before your eyes. It’s an experience that engages all your senses and gives you a deeper appreciation for the artistry and skill involved in blacksmithing.
They also offer custom ironwork in the gift shop. I consider this shop a hidden gem and must-see attraction among the many things to do in Galena during your visit.
US Grant Museum
📍211 S Bench St | $5 Adults, $3 Children (suggested donation)
This is a fascinating museum where you can peer down an authentic 1830s mineshaft. Galena was once a large lead mining town. Or would you like to meet the ghosts of Ulysses and Julia Grant? How about steer a steamboat? You can experience all of these things to do in Galena at the U.S Grant Museum in Galena, Illinois.
One of the standout features of the museum is the collection of personal items belonging to Ulysses S. Grant himself. From his military uniform and presidential memorabilia to handwritten letters and personal belongings, it’s a one-of-a-kind display that offers a glimpse into the life of this influential figure.
The museum is about one mile from Grant’s home.
Ulysses S. Grant’s Home
📍500 Bouthillier St | $5 (suggested donation)
Grant’s house is on a hill overlooking downtown and the surrounding area. From his former residence, there are beautiful views. The tour is about 25 minutes with a suggested $5 donation.
Ulysses S. Grant’s Home in Galena, Illinois is a really fascinating place to visit. It holds a lot of historical significance because Ulysses S. Grant, who later became the 18th President of the United States, actually lived there. It’s like stepping into the past and getting a glimpse of this influential figure’s life.
The house itself is quite remarkable. It has this beautiful Italianate architectural style with tall windows and intricate detailing. You can see the love and care that went into preserving it to reflect the time when Grant and his family resided there. It’s like a journey back to the mid-19th century.
Take advantage of visiting a US President’s home and make this one of the several things to do in Galena for your itinerary.
What’s really cool is that they offer guided tours led by knowledgeable docents. We learned all sorts of interesting information about Grant’s life, his accomplishments, and the historical context of his time in Galena. It’s not just a tour, it’s an immersive experience that really brings history to life.
Although the home was restored, the furnishings are mostly original, and you can see and feel what it was like to live in the 1860’s.
📍220 Diagonal St. | Get Combo Ticket with Belvedere Mansion for Discount
Known as the oldest house in Galena dating back to the 1820s. It sits on a corner and looks like a trading post, as it once was.
When you step inside, you’ll be transported back in time to experience what life was like in the early 19th century. The house is furnished with period-appropriate furniture, decor, and artifacts, giving you a glimpse into the daily life of the Dowling family who once called it home.
Visit to learn the history of trading, how the home is constructed, and the lifestyle of residents in that period. The house has a whole lot of history behind its doors, and it is a must-see before you leave Galena.
Galena Trolley Tour
📍314 S Main St | $20 Adults, $9 Children, Free for kids under 5
The Galena Trolley Tour is a must-do among the many things to do in Galena, offering a delightful and informative journey. This is a great option for getting an overview of Galena (and letting someone else do the driving)! Relax and learn about the history of Galena while touring the village streets and the beautiful homes.
The tour provides a comprehensive overview of Galena’s history, including its role in the lead mining industry, its connection to famous historical figures like Ulysses S. Grant, and its past as a thriving river port. We learn all sorts of intriguing details and anecdotes that brought the city’s heritage to life.
The one-hour tour is not a hop-on/hop-off experience. However, you should do the Galena Trolley Tour if you want a convenient and hassle-free way to discover the city. You can simply sit back and relax awhile seeing 85-90% of the historic area. It’s a great option, especially if you’re visiting Galena for the first time or if you want to make the most of your limited time there.
Downtown Galena Food and Drink Tour
📍Check ticket for meeting place | $99 pp
The Downtown Galena Food and Drink Tour is a delightful addition to the list of things to do in Galena, offering a culinary adventure that showcases the city’s diverse flavors and local specialties.
Imagine strolling through the charming streets of Downtown Galena, exploring its culinary scene, and indulging in delicious food and drinks. That’s exactly what you can expect on the Downtown Galena Food and Drink Tour, and let me tell you, it’s a treat for your taste buds!
This tour takes you on a culinary adventure, introducing you to some of the best local eateries, cafes, and specialty shops in Galena. It’s a chance to discover the hidden gems and culinary delights around town.
From savory bites to sweet treats, the Downtown Galena Food and Drink Tour covers a wide range of flavors. You might get to sample artisanal cheeses, freshly baked pastries, gourmet chocolates, or even local craft beers and wines.
Canoeing and Kayaking
📍2122 S River Rd | $160 per group
Oh my goodness, you are in for an incredibly exciting adventure with the Canoeing and Kayaking in Mississippi Wildlife Fish Refuge experience in Galena, Illinois! Get ready to paddle your way through a picturesque refuge and immerse yourself in the beauty of nature.
This experience takes you into the heart of the Mississippi Wildlife Fish Refuge, an area teeming with fascinating flora and fauna. Taking a scenic cruise along the Mississippi River one of the most relaxing and picturesque things to do in Galena.
As you navigate the waterways, you’ll have the opportunity to spot majestic bald eagles soaring overhead, graceful herons wading in the shallows, and perhaps even playful river otters frolicking in the distance. It’s like being in your very own wildlife documentary!
With so many outdoor adventures, there is no shortage of things to do in Galena to keep you entertained.
Final Thoughts on Visiting Galena Illinois
We always enjoy taking a long weekend to Galena. The town is quaint, and we can’t get enough of the cute boutiques, wineries, and historic museums. From outdoor adventures to art galleries and shopping, the list of things to do in Galena is endless.
The Old House Market operates as the welcome center and hosts events & rotating exhibits. On Main Street, you will find many art galleries, the DeSoto House Hotel, and other historic sites. Don’t miss Grant Park and the Old Galena train depot.
For more history, art, and entertainment, you should consider this list of things to do in Galena:
- West Street Sculpture Park
- Market House Square Art Festival
- 1859 Beldon School
- Corkless in Galena Wine Festival
A visit to Galena, Illinois promises a blend of history, charm, and experiences that will make you want to return again and again.