15 Best Things to Do in Alton, IL

Alton, IL
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For over 200 years, the city of Alton, Illinois, has been setting itself apart from other cookie-cutter tourist havens in the United States.

Travelers want to change their tourist habits, like visiting Alton because of its quirky historical landmarks and impressive natural attractions.

If you’ve had enough of the same old museums and rivers, you might want to pencil in an Alton trip soon.

Here’s what Alton became in the past 200 years, give or take.

It became home to the world’s tallest man and the mythical man-eating bird called the Piasa.

Abraham Lincoln also fought his first and only duel in Alton.

During the Civil War, the city became a major home base for the abolitionists because it was just across Missouri, a slave state.

Alton is also known for its haunted houses, like the infamous McPike Mansion.

It’s supposedly the most haunted house in the entire American Midwest.

If you like jazz music, you’d also know Alton because it’s the birthplace of legendary jazzman Miles Davis.

Do you want to know more about Alton, IL? Check out this list below.

Relive the Cool at the Miles Davis Statue

View of  Miles Davis Statue
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Any self-respecting jazz fan should drop by Alton for the Miles Davis Statue.

This statue honors the titan of jazz music and one of the most influential musicians of the entire 20th century.

On May 16, 1926, Miles Davis entered the world.

Alton, his birthplace, continues to honor his legacy today.

Miles Davis made over 100 albums throughout his long career, including the classics “Birth of the Cool” and “Kind of Blue.”

View of  Miles Davis Statue
Matthew Dicker / Shutterstock.com

He has also won nine Grammy awards.

In 2006, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inducted him into their roster.

Today, you can visit the Miles Davis Statue in the heart of the Miles Davis Memorial Plaza.

The sculptor Preston Jackson created the statue, which shows Miles in his signature trumpeting pose.

Visit the Miles Davis Statue at 117 W Third Street, Alton, IL 62002.

Learn About the World’s Tallest Man at the Robert Wadlow Statue

No one in Alton would have expected Robert Wadlow to grow up to become the world’s tallest man.

After all, he looked like an average baby at his birth in 1918.

However, the Guinness Book of World Records gave Wadlow the title when he measured 8 feet and 11 inches tall before his death in 1940.

Today, you can visit the life-size statue built for Wadlow in Alton.

Go there with friends, and see how each of your stacks up with the world’s tallest man.

You can also try sitting in a replica of a bronze chair made especially for Wadlow.

Visit the Robert Wadlow Statue at 2810 College Avenue, Alton, IL 62002.

Visit the National Great Rivers Museum

History isn’t just about memorizing great battles and learning about the lives of great men.

It’s also about tracking the passage of time itself on nature, like rivers and wildlife.

You can know all about this inside the National Great Rivers Museum if you're ever in Alton.

Notably, the museum stands on the banks of the tremendous Mississippi River, which simply hammers home the importance of natural history.

The 20 interactive and animated exhibits inside the museum will teach you how people in the region relied on this river over the decades.

Besides historical exhibits, the museum also offers a glimpse at a working dam, the Melvin Price Locks and Dam.

This engineering feat allowed bigger boats to navigate the Upper Mississippi River.

You can try moving the water in the locks, too, so you can see how the whole mechanism works.

Visit the National Great Rivers Museum at 1 Locks and Dam Way, Alton, IL 62002.

Play and Win at the Argosy Casino Alton

Why not drop by an actual riverboat casino, the Argosy, on your visit to Alton?

Perhaps trying your luck in a new place will boost your chances.

In 1991, the casino started as the Alton Belle, which became the larger Alton Belle II.

This boat traveled up the river until 1999, when Illinois said riverboats could stay docked permanently.

Today, the Argosy Casino remains on the docks.

Inside the Argosy Casino Alton, you’ll find 827 slot machines and 12 table games.

You can also take a break and grab a bite from the three dining options available.

Visit the Argosy Casino Alton at 1 Piasa St., Alton, IL 62002.

Celebrate Freedom of Speech at the Elijah P. Lovejoy Monument

View of Elijah P. Lovejoy Monument
BenDoGood, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

If you’re a US history buff, visit the Elijah P. Lovejoy Monument in Alton.

The monument celebrates the writer who relentlessly used freedom of speech to pursue justice.

Elijah worked as a pastor during his lifetime and wrote scathing editorials denouncing slavery, which sparked the slaveholders’ hatred.

They threatened his life, but Lovejoy kept writing his anti-slavery pieces for the Alton Observer.

View of Elijah P. Lovejoy Monument
Scott Nesler, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

His enemies even hurled three of Lovejoy’s printing presses into the Mississippi River, but still, he persisted.

Eventually, a pro-slavery mob managed to kill Lovejoy in 1837.

This monument to a slain freedom fighter is a lesson that freedom of speech doesn’t mean saying whatever you want, but it’s using speech to do the right thing.

Visit the Elijah P. Lovejoy Monument at 1299 E 5th St., Alton, IL 62002.

See Beautiful Flowers at the Nan Elliott Memorial Rose Garden

The Gordon Moore, Community Park in Alton, is a fine place to visit, but you should go there to see the Nan Elliott Memorial Rose Garden.

When you enter the park, you’ll see the garden right away.

Amid the brown plains of the playing fields, this garden is a haven of eye-catching color.

Dr. Robert W. Elliott laid the vision for the garden, which opened in 1980, covering an acre of land.

Today, you’ll find more than 150 varieties of roses there, comprising over 1,600 bushes.

If you want to see these flowers in full bloom, you should drop by from late May to early June.

The garden's beauty has made it a terrific venue for weddings, reunions, and other special events.

Every year, over 70 weddings take place in the garden.

After 25 years, the Nan Elliott Memorial Rose Garden remains the highlight of the community park.

Visit the Nan Elliott Memorial Rose Garden at 4550 College Avenue, Alton, IL 62002.

Enter a Real-Life Dollhouse at the Lucy Haskell Playhouse

If you’ve ever dreamed of living in a life-sized dollhouse as a kid, now’s the time to make your childhood fantasy come true.

The Haskell Playhouse is close to an actual dollhouse you can ever enter.

In 1885, the financier and philanthropist John E. Hayner gifted his granddaughter Lucy Jane Haskell with a playhouse on her fifth birthday.

The house comprises only one room, which spans 14 by 16 feet.

You can find two porches in front and behind the house.

Perhaps Lucy arranged her dolls and toys on the wall cabinet with glass doors.

Likewise, the house had stained glass windows, and its roof even featured decorative ironwork.

All the windows and porches also had gingerbread woodwork around them.

In all, the house followed the Queen Anne Stick style of architecture.

Sadly, Lucy Haskell would pass away just four years after receiving the house.

Her mother, Florence Hayner Haskell, passed the house over to the city of Alton upon her death.

Today, the house is a playground for children, dedicated to the memory of Lucy Haskell.

In 1974, the National Register of Historic Places included the Haskell Playhouse to its roster.

Visit the Haskell Playhouse at 1211 Henry St., Alton, IL 62002.

Learn Civil War History at the Alton Prison

Civil War History buffs would enjoy visiting Alton for its various historical landmarks.

One of them is the Alton Prison, which operated from 1833 to 1860.

This prison was also the first State Penitentiary in Illinois.

Major General Henry Halleck ordered the prison to reopen during the Civil War as the Alton Federal Military Prison.

The prison housed over 11,700 Confederate soldiers, treasonous citizens, and anti-government guerrillas throughout the conflict.

They packed the prison to the brim, and they were often poorly clothed and malnourished.

A smallpox outbreak also ravaged the prisoners, killing 1,354.

Today, you can visit the prison site and see only a tiny portion of the original prison wall.

After the war, the city had torn down the building and removed even the building blocks.

Visit the Alton Prison at Williams St., Broadway, Alton, IL 62002.

Admire the Masterpieces at the Jacoby Arts Center

View of Jacoby Arts Center
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If you’ve had enough history lessons, you can head to the Jacoby Arts Center and feast your eyes on works of art.

The arts center building used to be Jacoby’s Furniture, but now it’s one of Alton’s premier arts attractions.

You’ll find galleries, a gift shop, and a performance venue on the main floor inside the center.

Climb down to the lower level, and you’ll see their art classroom, a ceramics studio, and more artist studios.

The center celebrates local Alton artists through themed exhibits and allows residents to make art.

Visit the Jacoby Arts Center at 627 E Broadway, Alton, IL 62002.

Revisit the Civil War at the North Alton Confederate Cemetery

After you visit the Alton Prison, you should head to the North Alton Confederate Cemetery to finish your Civil War tour.

The cemetery features a towering 58-foot-tall obelisk that commemorates the Confederate soldiers who died inside the Alton Prison.

Since there were no grave markers for the individual soldiers, they built a monument in 1908.

When you stand beneath the obelisk, you can read the names of the 1,354 dead Confederate soldiers who perished in prison.

These names also include the soldiers who died at the smallpox cemetery, located at Tow Island.

You’ll need to go to the cemetery’s northeast corner and look for a hill.

The obelisk stands on top of this hill.

Visit the North Alton Confederate Cemetery at 635 Rozier St., Alton, IL 62002.

Remember Abraham Lincoln at the Lincoln-Douglas Square

Alton is famous for hosting the final debate between Stephen A. Douglas and Abraham Lincoln, who was still a senator.

To honor the event, Alton built a monument along the Alton riverfront.

The Lincoln-Douglas Square was a reminder of America’s rich political history when great men debated freely about politics and society.

This debate happened outside the Alton City Hall, at the corner of Market Street and Broadway, as part of the famous 1858 debates between Lincoln and Douglas.

More than 6,000 people flocked to hear the senators argue during this final debate.

Visit Lincoln-Douglas Square at Broadway & Market St., Alton, IL 62002.

See a Show at the Alton Little Theater

For two good reasons, this historic theater in Alton should be on your itinerary.

First, you’ll see terrific productions there, and second, you’ll also honor the theater’s history.

After all, the Alton Little Theater began in 1933 and has become the state of Illinois’ longest-running community theater.

It has played for 88 straight seasons, too.

From the modest dream of English teacher Dorothy Colonius, this theater has inspired and delighted droves of audiences for several decades.

If you want to see a dazzling live show, grab a ticket at the Alton Little Theater.

You won’t regret it.

Visit the Alton Little Theater at 2450 N, Henry St., Alton, IL 62002.

Stop by the Roadside for the Piasa Bird Markers

View of  Piasa Bird Markers
Chris Light, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Before the white settlers came, the Illini Indians in the Alton area feared the man-eating bird called “Piasa” (pie-a-saw).

They said the bird ate deer at first but went for human flesh after tasting corpses left from wars.

When the bird sees you, it would grab you in its talons and bring you back to a nearby cave for dinner.

Throughout the history of Alton, several people have been interested in the legendary Piasa.

They would paint its likeness on a limestone cliff standing on a roadside along the Great River Road.

These images get destroyed time after time, and more people would paint the bird anew.

Today, you can find the most recent painting of the Piasa on the same limestone cliff.

It’s become a top roadside attraction, and you can find people stopping to look at the fearsome bird.

You can also read about the history of the bird and Alton from three markers.

You can pass the Piasa Bird along Hwy 100, Alton, IL.

Get Peace of Mind at the Oriental Garden

Let’s go back to the Gordon Moore Community Park.

After roaming the wonderful Nan Elliott Memorial Rose Garden, you should clear your mind by heading to the Oriental Garden next.

Before arriving at the garden, you’ll need to walk along a quarter-mile trail, where you’ll find flowing streams and a huge 13-acre lake.

Once you’re there, you can cross a bridge that stands over a pond teeming with Koi fish of every color.

Take in the beautiful serenity of nature by visiting a waterfall and sitting by the Pagoda installed inside the garden.

Visit the Oriental Garden at 4550 College Avenue, Alton, IL 62002.

Get Your Hands Dirty at the Mississippi Mud Pottery

In 1983, Ken and Brenda Barnett opened Mississippi Mud Pottery in Alton.

After finding initial success wholesaling their self-created lamps, planters, and vases to businesses around St. Louis, they decided to go for it.

They moved locations a few times until settling on 310 E. Broadway, where the store stands today.

If you were wondering, you could use their durable pots at home.

You can even put them in your dishwasher or your microwave.

Likewise, the owners catch fish from rivers and create molds from them.

They use these molds to create ceramic fish, which you can use for home décor.

This gallery is an unmissable Alton spot.

Visit Mississippi Mud Pottery at 310 E Broadway, Alton, IL 62002.

Final Thoughts

If you’re tired of doing the same old touristy stuff, you’ll never go wrong in Alton.

The town offers many unique and offbeat historical and natural attractions to satisfy even the most curious.

It’s also just unmistakably cool.

So, the next time you’re batting about vacation ideas, try to put Alton in the conversation.

You won’t regret it.