In northwestern Illinois, 165 mi/265 km from Chicago and near both Wisconsin and Iowa, this uncharacteristically hilly little town is one of the state's most picturesque. This beauty grew from the rather nonpicturesque industry of lead mining: The surrounding area yielded much of the world's lead in the mid-1800s, and the wealth generated by the mines left the city with a stellar collection of historic homes. Plan on spending two days exploring the area.

Stay in a bed-and-breakfast or inn, and take in the town's 1800s architecture in the Historic District (you can tour some of the buildings). Homes of particular note are the Ulysses S. Grant State Historic Site (where the Civil War general and former U.S. president lived) and the Belvedere Mansion (a Victorian gem—open May-October). The Old Market House State Historic Site is a restored building, originally constructed in 1845, that now contains exhibits about Galena.

The town's heritage is also the focus of the Galena/Jo Daviess County History Museum. History buffs may also want to ask about the Old Stockade Refuge, a log structure built for protection during the Black Hawk War. It still stands, but it is not open for tours. The National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium is 16 mi/26 km away in Dubuque, Iowa, a Smithsonian affiliate that surveys all manner of Mississippi River life from river otters to paddle wheelers.

In keeping with its vintage atmosphere, the town has a good selection of antiques shops. Enjoying the scenic, hilly landscape is another activity in Galena. In fact, downhill skiing is possible in the area—a rarity for this part of the Midwest. The schussing takes place at Chestnut Mountain, a chalet-style resort. One of the most interesting ways to get to Galena is aboard the riverboat that makes a two-day excursion from Le Claire, Iowa (across the Mississippi River from Moline, Illinois).

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