Blake Walsh

30 Best Things to Do in Galena, IL

  • Published 2022/08/18

A charming and quaint city, Galena lies in northwest Illinois.

The city was once a thriving mining community and is named after the mineral galena, which several tribes of Native Americans mined long before colonizers arrived.

The mineral established the city’s mining economy.

Nowadays, Galena is known for its unspoiled and well-preserved collection of buildings from the 19th century.

Galena Historic District is a 581-acre area filled with architecture and structures from the 1800s and is even listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The city provides opportunities to enjoy year-round outdoor recreation with its rolling terrain and the stunning Mississippi River.

Along with all this, you will find incredibly delicious local food with farm-to-table experience in many places in the city.

The city is filled with world-famous hotels and resorts to make your stay even more worthwhile.

Galena is very popular among travelers from all over the world for all the right reasons.

Here are some of the best things to do in Galena, Illinois:

Visit the Famous Ulysses S. Grant Home

Exterior of Ulysses S. Grant Home

Gabrielle Hovey /

Located on Bouthillier Street, the Ulysses S. Grant Home was the former home of the historical figure Ulysses S. Grant.

He was a Civil War General and the 18th President of the United States.

The Grant Home, built in the year 1860, was designed by William Dennison and was given to General Grant as a badge of gratefulness for his great help during the war.

It has since been conserved as a memorial open to the public.

It is a famous historical monument that has been listed on the National Register of Places and designated a National Historic Landmark.

Steps leading up to Ulysses S. Grant Home

Gabrielle Hovey /

The house still has furniture from the 1860s and decor that once belonged to the Grant family, along with several other artifacts.

You can take guided tours of the building, and the interpreters will let you know all about the historical significance of the Grant Home and General Grant himself.

If you are a history buff, this place is a must for you.

However, if you don’t identify as one, be assured that this place will not disappoint you.

Admire the Stunning Architecture of the Elihu B. Washburne House

Exterior of Elihu B. Washburne House

IvoShandor, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Built in 1845, the Elihu B. Washburne House is located on Galena’s 908 Third Street.

The house was created for Elihu B. Washburne, a local politician and prominent lawyer from Galena.

It is a fantastic example of Greek-Revival architectural style.

In 1973, this architectural wonder was added to the US National Register of Historic Places.

The house is open to the public, and you can take organized or self-guided tours of the house.

Visit the Elihu B. Washburne House to admire its magnificent architecture and rich history.

Go Birdwatching and Hiking at Casper Bluff Land and Water Reserve

Landscape of Casper Bluff Land and Water Reserve

Michael John Maniurski /

Casper Bluff Land and Water Reserve is a prominent Native American archaeology center that serves sweeping views of the stunning Mississippi River.

You can also enjoy several outdoor activities on the beautiful grounds, such as hiking, walking, running, biking, sightseeing, and more.

Birdwatching is particularly popular here; you can spot many different species of birds, which makes it an excellent spot for birdwatchers.

Visit this place to enjoy the incredible views of the countryside and waters while hiking and birdwatching, among other activities.

Explore the Fascinating Yet Spooky Dowling House

Exterior of the spooky Dowling House

Julien.scavini, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Dowling House is the oldest house in Galena.

John Dowling built this early 19th-century home in 1826.

You can attend a guided tour of the house to learn more about its history and significance.

The knowledgeable guides will also tell you about the different paranormal activities and ghost stories that have taken place in the house.

Visit the Dowling House to step back in time and learn about all its ghosts.

Learn about the Local History and Culture at Galena – Jo Daviess County Historical Society

The Jo Daviess County Historical Society was established in 1938 to teach the general public about the Galena and Daviess County’s material culture and history.

Their mission is “sharing stories unique to Galena and the driftless.”

The museum now has exhibits and displays showcasing the life of Ulysses S. Grant and the Civil War.

It also has various unique and quirky artifacts such as letters, Ulysses S. Grant’s cigar butts, his boots, and much more.

The old Italianate mansion’s architecture is stunning and worth gazing at.

You can take self-guided tours of the premises.

The tour starts with 3-D holograms and holographic introductions from Ulysses S. Grant and his wife.

After the introduction, you can check out the museum on your own.

There is a gift shop on the premises where you can buy exciting gifts and souvenirs.

Enjoy a Day of Fresh Air and Serenity at Grant Park

The grounds of Grant Park

Michael John Maniurski /

Grant Park is located on the way to the Ulysses S. Grant Home.

It is a beautifully landscaped park featuring a pavilion, a gazebo, a fountain, a pergola, and much more.

View from within Grant Park's bridge

Wirestock Creators /

The park offers sweeping views of the Grant River and the city.

With its tranquil environment, the shade of beautiful old trees, and benches facing the river, Grant Park is the perfect spot for a breath of fresh air and a moment of serenity.

The waters of Grant Park

Nejdet Duzen /

Step Back in Time at the Old Blacksmith Shop

The Old Blacksmith Shop is a historical blacksmith house that is still working and is also a museum open to the public.

The historical building is located at the far end of the business district.

You can watch the skills and expertise of the blacksmiths that volunteer their time so that people can witness the craft firsthand.

You can even buy some of the finished handcrafted items from the gift shop.

Visit the Old Blacksmith House to step back in time and watch the craft right before your eyes.

Admire the Fantastic Views from Horseshoe Mound Preserve

Daytime view of Horseshoe Mound

photo.eccles /

Perched in the countryside of Galena at the eastern gateway, Horseshoe Mound Preserve is open to the public and offers numerous recreational activities to visitors.

Guests may go hiking and enjoy stunning views of the city and the river.

Vintage viewing scope of Horseshoe Mound Preserve

Wirestock Creators /

The vista points provide breathtaking panoramic views of the surrounding areas.

Visit Horshoe Mound Preserve to enjoy a good hike and captivating scenes of Galena.

The grounds of Horseshoe Mound Preserve

Wirestock Creators /

Check Out the Gorgeous Photos on Display at the River Bend Gallery

River Bend Gallery is owned and operated by the photographer Geoffrey Mikol.

This gallery in Galena is filled with splendid photos by Mikol, an inspiring young man with Down Syndrome who does not let his diagnosis define him and instead shines with his talent.

His photographs of nature will win you over.

Visit River Bend Gallery to see Mikol’s fantastic pictures of Galena.

Explore Galena’s Many Golf Courses

Welcome sign of Eagle Ridge Resort & Spa

SD Dirk, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Galena is one of the best places in the Midwest to golf.

There are several golf courses and resorts located in the city.

Some of the best places to go golfing in Galena are Woodbine Bend Golf Course, Lacoma Golf Course, Eagle Ridge Resort & Spa, and the Galena Golf Club.

Ski with Impressive Views at Chestnut Mountain Resort

People at Chestnut Mountain Resort

StelsONe /

Spanning about 220 acres, Chestnut Mountain Resort is a popular tourist attraction in the hills near Galena.

It is a mountain and skiing resort overlooking the grand Mississippi River.

The resort has challenging courses with over 19 ski snowboard trails.

You can also enjoy zip lining with breathtaking views of rolling peaks and magnificent waters.

The view from Chestnut Mountain Resort

Scooter2424, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The resort also provides pleasant accommodations with great amenities, such as an indoor swimming sauna, bars, a whirlpool, and fantastic cafes and restaurants to replenish you after skiing.

Visit Chestnut Mountain Resort to experience incredible views and an adrenaline rush.

Do not forget to watch a sunset or sunrise from the hills—there’s nothing like it!

Check Out the Sculptures at West Street Sculpture Park

West Street Sculpture Park is a natural space covering an area of over two acres.

The park has more than a dozen large sculptures sculpted by John Martinson.

The sculptures are spread out over the beautiful land.

All the sculptures have their unique names and descriptions on the maps that you can pick up at the entry.

You can take a self-guided tour of the sculpture park and enjoy the sculptures and beautiful green space.

Visit the Grand Belvedere Mansion

Exterior of the Belvedere Mansion

Thomas Barrat /

The Belvedere Mansion is a 22-room Italianate architectural style mansion that was built in 1857.

Inside the estate, you can see the original furnishings and beautiful antiques, along with a stunning interior.

You can see the impressive craftsmanship of woodwork throughout the mansion.

There are landscaped gardens outside the mansion that are lovely and well-maintained.

Make sure to join a guided tour to learn more about the history of the house and all its artifacts and interiors.

Enjoy a Delicious Meal at Fried Green Tomatoes

Fried Green Tomatoes is a trendy restaurant in Galena that serves delicious Italian-American food and an award-winning wine menu.

The restaurant’s historic building was once owned by the grandfather of General Grant and used to serve as a Leather and Finding Store.

Now, the restaurant makes really good use of the building and serves mouth-watering food in its brick-and-stone setting.

Do not forget to try their mile-high meatloaf, fresh sea scallops, and plain fillet.

Visit the Old Market House

Exterior of the Old Market House

IvoShandor, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Old Market House was constructed in 1845 during Galena’s “Golden Era.”

It served as a town hall and a space for a farmer’s market.

This Greek Revival-style building now hosts various exhibits, events, and other things.

The building’s exhibits contain artifacts and memorabilia showcasing Galena’s local history.

Attend a Magic Show at the P.T. Murphy Magic Theater

Run by Master Magician P.T. Murphy, the P.T. Murphy Magic Theater is a private 24-seat theater where you can attend magic shows.

It is located in Downtown Galena and is a top-rated attraction among tourists and locals alike.

Catch a magic show at the P.T. Murphy Magic Theater and get blown away by the magic and showmanship of Galena’s master magician.

Shop till You Drop at Downtown Galena’s Many Stores and Boutiques

Buildings along Galena Downtown

StelsONe /

Any city’s downtown area is always filled with some of the most fabulous stores and boutiques to shop at.

The same is the case with Galena.

The downtown area might be filled with historic buildings made up of red bricks, but when it comes to shopping, this part of Galena boasts the best of the best.

Outdoor dining at Downtown Galena

Ben Harding /

If you are looking forward to buying some souvenirs for your friends or family at an affordable rate, this is the place.

There are also a lot of quirky stores filled with a lot of things that will immediately attract you.

So, when you are done sightseeing around Galena, try to spend a day here and shop till you drop.

The main street of Downtown Galena

Nejdet Duzen /

Eat Friday Fish Fry Like a Local

A usual serving of Fish Fry includes pieces of fried fish served with some type of salad such as coleslaw or potato salad.

It’s best enjoyed with a chilled glass of beer.

Friday Fish Fry is a traditional local dish enjoyed by the locals and tourists.

Some of the best places to try this popular meal are Galena Green Street Tavern, East Dubuque Taste Country Roadhouse, Stockton JJ & Freddies, and Hanover Charlie’s Place.

Head to the Tasting Room at Galena Cellars Vineyard & Winery

Galena Cellars Vineyard & Winery has been producing wines in Galena for more than 40 years.

The family-owned and operated winery produces over 60,000 gallons of wine in a year.

You will find 40 varieties of wines made from 22 different types of grapes.

Join a guided tour of the winery and vineyard to learn more about the process of making wine.

Do not forget to visit the tasting room to sample the most exquisite wines.

Drink Crafted Spirits at Blaum Bros. Distillery

Located in the heart of Galena, Blaum Bros. Distillery is a craft distillery that produces spirits that include gin, rye, bourbon, whiskey, vodka, and more.

The distillery offers daily guided tours and tasting for the visitors to see the process of making the spirits and then taste the alcohol afterward.

The tour guides are knowledgeable and friendly and will answer all of your questions.

Book a Stay at the Jail Hill Inn

Located only one block away from the Galena Historic District, the Jail Hill Inn is a small deluxe inn that offers a luxurious stay with impressive views of Galena and its lovely countryside.

The hotel’s four-story brick building is over 135 years old and was a county jail before its renovation in 2015.

It provides ample amenities to make your stay as grand and comfortable as possible.

Stay at the Jail Hill Inn for a perfect getaway filled with luxury and comfort.

Go on a Stroll around Linmar Gardens

If you want to take a look at what private gardens are made of, there is no place to visit than Linmar Gardens.

This four-acre property will surely be one of the prettiest places you’ll ever see.

The gardens have some blissful views of the entire city from above.

Linmar Gardens is wholesomely designed with sculptures.

There is a vast waterfall located right in the middle of the garden.

It just looks like something straight out of a painting.

Appreciate the Stunning Art at the Galena Center for the Arts

If you want to learn more about art or simply appreciate beautiful works, the Galena Center for the Arts is one of the top places you should visit in the city.

A center that was built entirely for the welfare of local artists, the Galena Center for the Arts is indeed one of Galena’s treasures.

Their main motto is to showcase the local talent and show people how good it can be.

The center even holds different exhibitions featuring various magnificent paintings and photographs.

Shop for Vintage Pieces at the Galena Antique Mall

Are you searching for different vintage or antique things to decorate your house?

Or, do you just like to add retro items to your collection?

Whatever the case may be, the Galena Antique Mall has got you covered.

Whether you’re on the hunt for old glasses, candlestands, books, cards, memoirs, or any decorative items, the place has it all for you.

The best part about this mall is that it is well-maintained and has a lot of vendors gathered in the same place.

You can really search for the things you need—and most of the time, people go back after buying the things they came looking for.

Take Photos at Thunder Bay Falls

Scenic view of Thunder Bay Falls

Nejdet Duzen /

Thunder Bay Falls, rated the most picturesque waterfall in the state of every viewpoint, offers a great trip for everyone.

It is a brief yet stunning experience that will make your vacation more enjoyable.

Witness Thunder Bay Falls, a man-made wonder in Galena, and take in its beauty just a short walk from the roadside.

Cascades of Thunder Bay Falls

Nicola Patterson /

You can also choose to hike the surrounding trails to go to Apple River Canyon State Park if you’re ready for a short hike.

When you visit the area, take lots of pictures to remember your journey.

Unwind at Farmers Guest House

A premier bed & breakfast in Galena, Illinois, Farmers Guest House is a renowned and magnificent accommodation.

Farmers Guest House has welcomed all weekenders and visitors since it opened its doors in 1867.

With unparalleled amenities, first-rate service, and private outside patios and lawns that guests can enjoy year-round, they provide a great retreat from the everyday.

Rest in their first-floor social spaces or take advantage of WineTime in the privacy of your room, garden, or both.

At this bed & breakfast, guests may pick from any of their different nine rooms and suites, including king beds in more than half of their rooms.

Find guides and periodicals about the area to help you plan your trip, or games and puzzles to pass the time on a night in.

Order Snacks at Miss Kitty’s Grape Escape

In a friendly atmosphere, Miss Kitty’s Grape Escape is a throwback bar that offers traditional bar food, including sandwiches, chips, hamburgers, wine, beer, and specialty martinis.

Miss Kitty’s, a contemporary river town restaurant with a laid-back lounge atmosphere, is situated in the center of downtown Galena.

This tourist attraction fosters a friendly and inviting ambiance that draws both residents and tourists.

Favorites like nachos and salsa, fresh bruschetta loaded with tomato, basil, and mozzarella, wraps, seafood platters, and handmade desserts are all available on the pub-grub-style menu.

The bar is most renowned for its legendary martinis.

It also features a selection of rare wines, liqueurs, and beers.

Patrons may take advantage of live entertainment every Friday and Saturday night and the entertaining Miss Kitty’s Quiz Show on Sundays.

Engage in Activities with Long Hollow Canopy Tours

In June 2016, Long Hollow Canopy Tours began offering its services.

The first Canopy Tour was created by Bonsai Design, the leader in the aerial adventure business, and it has been hailed as thrilling, entertaining, and alluring.

A new aerial experience opened in April 2020 due to the Canopy Tour’s high demand and positive reviews.

Once more, Bonsai Design constructed a superb Challenge Course.

Bonsai Design built a difficult but accessible course for all skill levels.

As they proceed through the route, participants can select to navigate easy, medium, hard, or intense elements.

Tour around Together with Haunted Galena Tour Company

With the help of knowledgeable tour guides from The Haunted Galena Tour Company, explore the sinister side of the Old Town of Galena, Illinois.

As you go alongside them into the world of mysteries and thrillers, you can expect to discover eerie incidents, dark history, neighborhood folklore, and more on their tours.

It is a mysterious, scary, and frightening environment where everything is conceivable.

Tales are skillfully told while the environment heightens your senses, and a spectral presence is always alluring.

With candlelight, the guides will take you around the streets of old Galena in a real storytelling style.

Final Thoughts

Trips to historic Galena Country once a year are fantastic, but frequent visitors know the excitement lasts all year long.

So whether you arrive here by car, run, trek, bike, or airplane, you’ll undoubtedly have a tale to tell.

There are numerous cultural places to explore, and a sizeable chunk of the area is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The top choices for the best things to do in Galena, Illinois, should be explored and experienced if you visit this vibrant historic city.

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