Luxury hotels, thought-provoking art exhibits, an animatronic dinosaur display and new wildlife tours are a few of the fresh experiences for Illinois visitors in 2021.

By Kaili Miller
January 26, 2021
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Downtown Chicago Hotels

Chicago will welcome 2021 visitors with several new hotels, including The Chicago Hotel Collection Wicker Park, opening in March (joining other Hotel Collection lodgings in River North, Wrigleyville and Millennium Park), Sable at Navy Pier, opening in April, and St. Regis Chicago, opening in July. Each is centrally located and offers high-end amenities.

Chez Hotel | Arlington Heights

The $15 million suburban boutique hotel will feature a rooftop bar, works by local artists, fine dining and more. Bookings for 2021 and 2022 are available online.

The Graduate | Evanston

Once a Wildcat, always a Wildcat. Located near Northwestern University and the Lake Michigan shore, this hotel—which opened in October—celebrates literary history, modern design and famous university alumni.

The Forester Hotel | Lake Forest

Lake Forest gets its first new boutique hotel in 92 years when The Forester opens in April. The lodging will feature science and nature-inspired décor, an upscale bistro and bar and 4,500 square feet of event space.

Camp Aramoni | Tonica

Camp Aramoni
| Credit: Courtesy of Bushtec Safari

The state's first luxury campground opens in summer 2021 near Starved Rock State Park, 90 miles southwest of Chicago. Eleven safari-style tents, made in South Africa, include air conditioning and heat, king-sized beds, private restrooms and mini-fridges.

Ever dreamed of sleeping in the back of a train caboose? Wildlife Prairie Park offers renovated Santa Fe Train Cabooses for overnight guests—plus a new Luxury Cabin with modern amenities and Bison lookout area.

Shawnee Forest Treehouse | Southern Illinois

Shawnee Forest Treehouse

Take your camping experience to the next level. The Maple Oak and White Oak Treehouses at Timber Ridge Outpost & Cabins come with granite countertops, kitchenettes, and heat and air conditioning, all just down the road from the Garden of the Gods. 

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Immersive Van Gogh | Chicago

The three-story Lighthouse ArtSpace will be transformed into a world of 35-foot-tall walls and balconies to display the U.S. premier of Immersive Van Gogh. The exhibition is open from February 11 to May 2. Tickets on sale now.

From February 20 to September 12, the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center will host an exhibit dedicated to the history of the fight against apartheid in South Africa and of human rights leader Nelson Mandela.

Gaze at life-sized dinosaurs at North America's largest indoor animatronic Dinosaur Park, at the Volo Auto Museum. The park features a fossil dig, walk-through laboratories, and other learning resources.

Frida Kahlo: Timeless | Glen Ellyn

Frida Kahlos, The Bus
| Credit: Frida Kahlo, The Bus, 1929, oil on canvas, Collection Museo Dolores Olmedo, Xochimilco, Mexico © 2020 Banco de México Diego Rivera Frida Kahlo Museums Trust, Mexico, D.F. / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

See 26 original works by Frida Kahlo, the largest display of the artist's works in the Chicago area in more than 40 years, June 5 to September 6 at the College of DuPage's Cleve Carney Museum of Art at McAninch Art Center.

Walk, Hike, Bike History | Springfield

This new, free series of outdoor experiences will connect visitors to "must-see" museums and monuments in Illinois' capital. Illinois Department of Natural Resources interpreters will lead tours that last from one to two hours. Once plans are finalized, reservations (which are required) can be made through the Illinois DNR's Springfield website.

Human+Nature | Lisle                                                                            

Reconnect with nature at The Morton Arboretum's Human+Nature exhibition, which features large-scale sculptures (20 to 25 feet tall) created by South African artist Daniel Popper. The exhibit, opening April 9, highlights the relationships between people and trees.

Eagle Observation Tower | Chillicothe

Scope out eagles and other wildlife from 50 feet up in Chillicothe's new Eagle Observation Tower, opening this spring. Climb a set of staircases to view from the top of the tower or use telescopes located on the ground level.

International Route 66 Festival

This year marks the 20th anniversary of downtown Springfield's Route 66 Mother Road Festival, which brings together passionate street machine, muscle car and hot rod enthusiasts. Festival hosts and organizers hope to release 2021 dates soon.

The 50th Anniversary John Deere Classic PGA Tour Tournament is scheduled for July 5-11 at the TPC Deere Run golf course.

Snowstar Ski Resort | Quad Cities

This park now offers year-round attractions. Ski on 28 acres of terrain, take a tour down the longest zipline in the Midwest or try your hand at paintball, the resort's newest addition.

Winkeler's Wings & Wildlife | Southern Illinois

Whether hiking or viewing from vehicles, guests can see and photograph southern Illinois' beautiful wildlife on these new guided tours. Visit the expeditions page for pricing and booking information.

Games for the new Alton River Dragons Prospect League Baseball Team begin May 30 at the Lloyd Hopkins Field at Gordon Moore Park. The season will end in August with the Prospect League Championship.

Raging Rivers Water Park Expansion | Grafton

A multi-million-dollar expansion will include new cabanas and water slides, updated concession menus, and an expanded kids' play area, scheduled to be completed when the 12-acre water park opens in summer 2021.

Eat

Discover Peoria highlights 21 Black-owned businesses, including BBQ restaurants, clothing stores, tour guides and more.

Blending wine and pastries, the "Barbakery" will open this spring in historic downtown Galena. Can't wait until then? Order online from a selection of bread, beverages and sandwiches.

Witness Distillery | Vandalia

Now open for tasting and tours, the Witness Distillery invites guests to come sample spirits like spice-flavored rum and peach vodka. To visit, schedule an appointment at the distillery's website.

Lock & Mule | Lockport

Tangled Roots Brewing Company just opened its second venue, Lock & Mule, in Lockport, featuring a wood-fired grill, freshly sourced vegetables and 15 on-tap beers.

Carrying on family traditions and sharing a love for wine has been this winery's driving force for years. The restored "castle-like" property embodies the classic feel of old French and Italian wineries and is available for private tastings.

At the scheduled reopening this spring, 28 Mile Distilling Co. will introduce a new line of spirits as well as a new live entertainment space, rooftop deck and private event area.

Chicago Restaurants

Kapitan
| Credit: Courtesy of Kapitan

New restaurants include a Wicker Park location for Lost Larson, with treats like cardamom buns and smørrebrød sandwiches; and Kapitan, which bills itself as the city's only restaurant serving Peranakan food—a combination of Chinese, Malaysian and Indonesian cuisine.