15 Best Things to Do in Elgin, IL

Elgin, IL
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For anyone seeking a travel destination that offers a trip back down memory lane while enjoying an upscale suburban lifestyle, visit the small city of Elgin in Illinois.

Elgin is a small, vibrant historical city in the Kane and Cook Counties.

The city is reminiscent of metropolitan Chicago's classic architecture, heritage, and culture.

Its streets are filled with beautiful architecture from the early 19th and 20th centuries, highlighting meticulously-designed Gothic revival buildings mostly built before the Great Depression.

This small city is a wonderful place to settle down, but it's a great destination for history, lifestyle, and recreation from a visitor's perspective.

It has a vibrant community and culture full of colors, art, music, and history, thriving under a growing city.

Elgin boasts food packaging, financial, and advanced manufacturing industries while maintaining its natural beauty alongside the scenic Fox River.

With tons of awesome things to do in Elgin, this city is your best destination for a short side trip outside Chicago.

To find out what's in store for you, check out the 15 best things to do in Elgin, IL, below.

Roam the Elgin Historic District

Green building at Elgin Historic District
bogdanstepniak, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Immerse in rich history and appreciate the rich architectural marvel on Elgin Historic District.

One of the best things about Elgin is the wide array of 19th-century Gothic revival buildings built in the 1920s and 1930s.

You can explore them at the Elgin Historic District and be amazed by its rare and elegant architecture, comprising 667 buildings, mostly already on the National Register of Historic Places list.

Gifford-Davidson House at Elgin, Illinois
Teemu008 from Palatine, Illinois, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

You can explore independently or in guided group tours along the district.

You should check out Elgin's oldest portion of the historic district from Villa Street to Park Street, where European settlers built their homes in the 1830s.

You'll pass along the famous Gifford-Davidson House built in the 1850s and the ensemble at Gifford Park.

Learn Interesting History at the Elgin History Museum

The Elgin History Museum has a lot of great stories to tell about the city's past.

You'll appreciate its beauty from the outside because of its building's Greek Revival-style constructed in 1856.

Before it became the Elgin History Museum, the building served as the Elgin Academy until it was sold to the city of Elgin and restored in the 1870s.

Today, the Elgin History Museum houses an extensive collection of not just the history of Elgin but the entire Cook and Kane County history.

Its exhibits feature the arrival of the railroad industry to the peak of the watchmaking and dairy industries.

It also features detailed information about the city's architectural treasures that remain one of its main attractions.

Visiting this museum is a surefire great way to start your Elgin travel adventure.

Stop by the Beautiful Lords Park

Lords Park is one of the focal points in Elgin.

The park spans about 108 acres, and it's teeming with beautiful canopied treelines, paved walkways, manicured grass, and towering monuments.

Back in 1890, the Lord family bought the land and donated it to the city of Elgin to convert it into a public park.

Today, the park is an incredible place for relaxation and outdoor recreation.

The park is equipped with sports facilities, a playground, picnic shelters, and a zoo.

Most locals spend their early morning there to exercise while many watch the sunset and pass the time during the afternoon.

Pay Tribute to Firefighters at the Elgin Fire Barn No. 5 Museum

Signboard at Elgin Fire Barn No. 5 Museum
I, G LeTourneau, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Elgin Fire Barn No.5 Museum features the past and present firefighting equipment used by local firefighters in the city.

It's a nice place to travel back in time and pay tribute to the heroism displayed by firefighters.

Exterior view of Elgin Fire Barn No. 5 Museum
I, G LeTourneau, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

This firefighting museum boasts Elgin Fire Department's treasured artifacts, such as various badge types, hand-drawn hose carts, helmets, equipment, steamer, motorized vehicles, photos, and so much more.

You will also see classic fire engines such as the 1869 Horse Drawn Silsby Steamer and the 1929 American Lafrance Fire Engine, both well-preserved in the museum.

Hop on the Grand Victoria Casino

There's always fascinating about floating casinos, and Grand Victoria Casino is one of those.

Elgin takes pride in being the home of one of the nine floating casinos in Illinois: the Grand Victoria Casino.

Although it's permanently docked, specifically on Festival Park's south side, hopping on this floating casino is still one of Elgin's best experiences as a visitor.

Grand Victoria Casino boasts more than a thousand video poker and gaming machines together with 36 table games.

In addition, it has a full-service sports betting center and upscale dining choices and entertainment.

Whether you're a bettor or a casual tourist, you should visit this floating casino and be in awe of its elegant beauty from inside and out.

Watch the Latest Flicks at the Marcus Elgin Cinema

If you don't feel like going outdoors during your visit to Elgin, well, there are various ways to entertain yourself; one of them is watching movies.

So, head to the Marcus Elgin Cinema to catch the latest Hollywood flicks regularly shown there.

The cinema boasts a genuine classic movie house experience while sitting at their uber-comfortable reclining seat.

In addition, the cinema also features a top-notch picture and sound quality, while outside, you can choose a wide array of movie house food from popcorn, chips, and candies.

Watch Live Performances at the Hemmens Cultural Center

The Hemmens Cultural Center is where the famous Elgin Symphony Orchestra regularly performs and other renowned musicians and artists in the Illinois region.

The cultural center boasts a 1,200-seater orchestra named "Hemmens Auditorium," nestled on Fox River's eastern bank.

Typically, the Hemmens Cultural Center features around 40 performances in a season.

These performances offer diverse programs from concerts, holiday shows, pop music, theatrical, classics, and educational shows.

It's one of the best places in Elgin to watch top-notch performances that will surely entertain you for hours.

Hike along the Fox River Trail

Wooden bridge in Fox River Trail
Ronincmc, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Fox River Trail spans about 40 miles that cover the city of Elgin and neighboring towns.

This multi-use nature trail traverses along the Fox River from the north, starting in Algonquin to Aurora down south.

A huge portion of the trail traverses the old freight and interurban railroads built in the 1890s.

Bridge over Fox River
User:JeremyA, CC BY-SA 2.5, via Wikimedia Commons

Along the trail, you'll come across various boat launches, fishing areas, picnic spots, and lots of beautiful sceneries.

The entire trail stays close to the river's edge and passes through numerous parks and other natural attractions.

Go Inside the Gail Borden Public Library

Elgin is home to an award-winning public library named after the person who invented condensed milk, Gail Borden.

The original library was housed in the historic Scofield Mansion.

However, it got transferred to a brand-new state-of-the-art complex along the eastern banks of Fox River.

The Gail Borden Public Library received numerous awards for its excellent service and facility.

It includes several awards from the Illinois Library Association (ILA) over the years.

The library boasts a vast book collection, reading materials, public resources, documents, audiobooks, visual aid, puzzles, and video games.

It's not your typical library where you'll get bored easily.

The Gail Borden Public Library has numerous fun-filled educational programs, especially for kids, along with exhibitions, public talks, musical performances, and presentations.

See Stars and Planets Up-close at the U-46 Observatory/Planetarium

The U-46 Observatory/Planetarium was a project from Elgin National Watch Company in 1910.

The watch company decided to build an observatory to set their manufactured watches by the stars for a guaranteed precision in telling time.

One of the most innovative ways back in the day to guarantee precise time in the watchmaking industry was building an observatory.

This observatory in Elgin, designed by George Hunter, got completed in 1910.

The structure that houses the observatory has a beautiful classical revival style design that highlights simplicity and functionality.

Moreover, the observatory lies over a gravel base to minimize surface vibration.

Today, the observatory is on the National Register of Historic Places and one of the historical sites frequently visited by many in Elgin for its planetary shows and stargazing activities.

Have Fun at the Festival Park

The Festival Park is considered one of Elgin's main venues for social events.

It is nestled on the banks of Fox River and boasts great park amenities, such as a splash pad, playground, a concert area, a vast open field, monuments, and benches.

In addition, the Fox River Trail passes through the park, while adjacent to it is the Grand Victoria Casino.

The park is packed with people because of the concerts happening there seasonally, while the city of Elgin frequently organizes different summer activities for the public.

Overall, the Festival Park is one of the city's best attractions that you and your family need to visit to unwind or have fun.

Visit the Historic Fox River Trolley Museum

Old trolley's at Fox River Trolley Museum
David Wilson from Oak Park, Illinois, USA, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Museum hopping is one of the highlights during your visit to Elgin.

One of the museums you must visit is the Fox River Trolley Museum, which takes you back to the railroad industry.

The museum has numerous old but well-preserved electric trolley cars, which played a crucial part in mass transportation in metropolitan Chicago back in the day.

Picnic bench in front of a display trolley at Fox River Trolley Museum
David Wilson from Oak Park, Illinois, USA, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Visiting this museum offers you a unique experience as you'll be hopping on one of the old electric trolley cars that tour you along the banks of Fox River.

In addition, you will learn a lot of interesting history about trolleys and stuff about railroads from the museum's exhibits.

Other Things to Do Nearby

Play Sports at the Randall Oaks Park

A 16-minute drive or 7.7 miles north of Elgin takes you to another beautiful park, the Randall Oaks Park in West Dundee.

This 141-acre open space boasts several sports facilities, such as a 10-hole disc golf course, playgrounds, and two volleyball courts.

It also has the typical park amenities like shelters, benches, picnic tables, and paved walkways.

In addition, the park is also adjacent to the Randall Oaks Zoo.

This park in West Dundee is one of the most extensive district parks in the area, making it an ideal place to play sports or perhaps sweat out.

The Randal Oaks Park also has a pavilion equipped with a kitchen, fireplace, and restroom, perfect for outdoor birthday celebrations or parties.

Commune with Nature at the Kane County Forest Preserve District

A 21-minute drive or 11 miles northwest of Elgin leads you to Gilberts, where you'll find the picturesque Kane County Forest Preserve District.

This nature preserve has existed for a century already, protecting the local wildlife in the area.

The nature preserve covers more than 20,000 wetlands, forests, and prairies.

Today, the members and volunteers continue to enhance or perhaps improve wildlife habitat and natural areas covered by this nature preserve.

Visiting this place allows you to commune with nature through outdoor activities such as hiking, horseback riding, biking, or camping.

Go Birdwatching at the Jelke Creek Bird Sanctuary

A 10-minute drive north of Elgin leads you to Dundee Township, where you can visit the Jelke Creek Bird Sanctuary.

This natural attraction is a 244-acre protected area for local and migrating birds.

It has trails where visitors can traverse and do outdoor activities like hiking, biking, or horseback riding.

However, the main attraction there is birdwatching.

There are dozens of bird species that feed or perhaps rest on the wetlands in the bird sanctuary.

You should bring your binoculars with you or perhaps a camera to get a nice look at various bird species.

You can find different birds, such as red-tailed hawks, great blue heron, turkey vulture, mourning dove, eastern kingbird, sandpipers, robins, common yellowthroat, red-winged blackbirds, sparrows, and American goldfinch.

Final Thoughts

Elgin is one of the few places in the world where you can enjoy history, leisure time, and nature.

What else can you ask for in this charming small city?

Well, it's up to you to discover.

Just make sure to bookmark this post to give yourself an instant itinerary during your visit to Elgin.