Most people visit the state capital (180 mi/290 km southwest of Chicago) to see sites related to Abraham Lincoln. They include his home, his law office, a museum and, in Oak Ridge Cemetery, his tomb (allow time to explore the rest of the cemetery—there are several interesting tombstones).
At twice the size of any other presidential museum, the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum leads all Lincoln attractions, boasting 400,000 sq ft/37,160 sq m of high-tech exhibit space that immerses guests in the president's life, including a question-and-answer session with the president and a Whispering Gallery voicing gossip that slandered Lincoln when he first moved to Washington.
Also make time to tour both the old and the current state capitols. (If you're in the vicinity of the old capitol building around noon, have lunch at the Feed Store or order a horseshoe at Maldaner's.) Consider a stop at the Illinois State Museum to learn about the art and history of the state.
Among the vintage residences in Springfield are the Vachel Lindsay Home (the poet's home is open during the summer), the Governor's Mansion (dating to the 1850s) and the Dana-Thomas House (designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and considered one of his masterpieces). Though it's not a residence, the Thomas Rees Memorial Carillon is worth a look—it has a 12-story tower with observation decks in addition to its musical bells. The state fair is held at the fairgrounds (within the Springfield city limits) in August.
In nearby Petersburg, New Salem State Historic Site re-creates the early-1800s village of New Salem, where young Abraham Lincoln lived. It includes reconstructed homes, shops and mills staffed by costumed guides. We suggest one day for the Lincoln shrines in Springfield, two if you're visiting New Salem as well.
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