Galena is known as “the town that time forgot”—in a good way. Because the qualities that earned it that title—its 19th century feel, its historic district, its mix of old-time and modern-day charms—mean it’s a town visitors never forget.
Take your pick of exploring the region’s rich history, boutique shopping, outdoor adventures, wine tastings, or a round or two of golf. Whatever you fancy, you’ll find it in Galena. Plus, as a bonus, discover several places to stay, too!
Take a break from present day and step back in time with a stroll down Galena’s historic Main Street. You’ll pass nearly 100 19th century storefronts housing boutique shops, fine dining, and galleries. You’ll also discover historic gems like DeSoto House Hotel, Illinois’ oldest operating hotel, whose guests have included Presidents Lincoln and Grant. Spend an afternoon there and you’ll see why it was named Best Main Street in the Midwest by Midwest Living magazine and one of America’s Best Main Streets by Fodor’s.
After getting a taste of history on Main Street, get a taste of whiskey at Blaum Bros. Distilling Co. Founded in 2013, Blaum Bros. has quickly established itself as a popular tourist attraction, due in no small part to its fascinating distillery tour—not to mention the quality of the product on offer.
Whether you’re a whiskey enthusiast or just curious, the tour delivers. You’ll be taken through the full process: an introduction to the locally-sourced grains that give the whiskey its unique quality, a jaunt through the distillation area where the magic happens, a journey though the barrel room where the whiskey reaches its full potential, and finally, the true highlight, the tasting room, bedecked in a comfortable mancave-style by the Blaum Bros themselves.
Even though the distillery is just a few years old, the small-batch process, attention-to-detail and locally-sourced ingredients makes it a salute to the way things have been done in Illinois for nearly two centuries.
(And great news for anyone out there named Gus: by virtue of your name alone, you get a free tour. Why? You’ll have to ask the Blaum Bros!)
Four Presidents of the United States have called Illinois home. In Galena, you’ll find the house of one of them: Ulysses. S. Grant.
Grant lived in Galena at the outbreak of the Civil War and was the town’s most experienced resident when it came to military matters. It was from there he took the first steps towards the Civil War legend he would become.
Upon returning to Galena some four years later, the people of the town presented him with a house as a token of appreciation for his service. It was, as his wife described, “a lovely villa exquisitely furnished with everything good taste could desire.”
More than 150 years later, that description remains true, with the original furniture and décor that once belonged to the Grant family. Now, however, it’s home to no one—only the memory of Grant. But that allows people from all corners of the globe to visit and learn of Grant’s legacy, and to get a glimpse of post-Civil War life in Illinois.
The blacksmith profession isn’t what it once was, lost to time and automation. But in Galena, you still have the chance to learn what a blacksmith shop meant to communities across the United States.
The Old Blacksmith Shop dates all the way back to 1897. Although it serves primarily as a museum today, it’s still an authentic blacksmith shop complete with working forges, original equipment, and tools. It offers tours and live demonstrations by expert blacksmiths which allows you to learn the history of Galena and the role The Old Blacksmith Shop played to in the town. And in the gift shop, you can choose from a wide selection of items made right there in the shop—the perfect souvenir of Illinois’ past!
One of the delights of exploring Galena is that you get true glimpses of what everyday life in Illinois once was. It’s not just the occasional grand building or civil monument—it’s a full immersive experience. On any street you might just feel like you’re back 150 years or more—well, if you squint a bit, anyway.
Dowling House, Galena’s oldest house, is a beautiful example of this. It was built in 1826-1827 by John Dowling, a prominent early resident, and doubled as a home (upstairs) and a trading post (downstairs). Through its history it’s seen varying levels of use, but since the 1970s, it’s served as a wonderful time capsule of Illinois life from nearly 200 years ago.
Today, tour guides will provide you with a complete history of the home, as well as its role in the development of Galena.
Thrill seeking more your thing? Then get your thrills—and views of Northwest Illinois—by zipping through the trees of Galena’s Tapley Woods. Long Hollow offers 2 ½ hour guided zipline canopy tours letting you experience the beauty of Galena from a whole new perspective.
You’ll start by flying at 40mph, 75 feet in the air, down one of five ziplines ranging from 190 to 700 feet. From there, you’ll rappel down to a platform for a casual stroll across the 140 foot-long sky bridge. At the end, you’ll reach the last leg of the tour: a truly impressive 1,250 foot zipline.
You’ll leave wishing a zipline was your standard mode of transportation.
Enjoy a scenic voyage down the mighty Mississippi aboard Chestnut Mountain Resort’s legendary river boat, the Mississippi Explorer. The 90 minute cruise takes you down the winding river where you’ll learn the area’s history, enjoy the local wildlife, and take in the breath-taking riverscape from the comfort of the Explorer.
If just a boat doesn’t float your boat, all cruises also include Alpine Slide (a race down a 2,050-foot track on a sled) and Scenic Chair rides to and from the departure area.
Picturesque views, architecture, and historical sites are what put Galena on the map, but the region’s stunning golf courses help keep it there. It’s now the Midwest’s premier golf destination.
With 10 courses to choose from, it’s not a question when you’ll play, but where you’ll play. There’s even a couple of foot golf courses, a combination of soccer and golf for those who are more inclined to use their feet. A top pick is Eagle Ridge Resort and Spa.
Finally, every third full weekend in June, the town that time forgot salutes a form of travel from the past: hot air ballooning.
The Great Galena Balloon Race Weekend features three riveting races where seasoned hot air balloon pilots take flight over the rolling hills of Galena to see who can float the fastest. This spectacular weekend has something to offer for everyone in the family with over 20 hot air balloons, three races, a night glow extravaganza, car show, live music, Alefest, wine flights, and tethered balloon rides.
All proceeds from the Great Galena Balloon Race go to support research in finding a cure for juvenile diabetes. Since 2002 the Great Galena Balloon Race Weekend has raised over $200,000 for kids with diabetes.
Aldrich Guest House is an intimate B&B that dates back to a time when both President Lincoln and Ulysses S. Grant roamed the halls.
The Jail Hill Inn is a charming option set inside a 135-year-old building atop a hill overlooking the Galena countryside.
If you prefer on-site activities to complement your accommodations, then make sure to check out Eagle Ridge Resort & Spa.
Plan your trip from the city by reversing the course in Road Tripping from Galena to Chicago. Bring your best friend along to stay in the pet-friendly cottage at Cloran Mansion — one of the spots in our list of Dog-Friendly Getaways.
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