Blake Walsh

15 Free Things to Do in Springfield, IL

  • Published 2022/12/14

Springfield is the state capital of Illinois, known as the “Land of Lincoln.”

It is also the county seat of Sangamon County.

Europeans settled in Springfield during the late 1810s before Illinois became a U.S. state.

Springfield is well-known as the hometown and final resting place of Abraham Lincoln, who started his political career in the city.

The main tourist attractions across Springfield are various historic locations linked to the 16th U.S. President.

Besides Lincoln, another prominent figure also spent his early political career in Springfield, and that is no other than President Barack Obama!

More than 30 parks operate under the Springfield Park District and are open to the public for recreation.

This legendary city has tons to discover, including budget-friendly attractions the whole family can enjoy.

Here are the free things to do in Springfield, Illinois:

Pay Respects at the Lincoln Tomb

Exterior of the Lincoln Tomb

Nagel Photography /

Springfield serves as the central hub for everything Abraham Lincoln-related.

Therefore, a trip to the city should include a visit to the Lincoln Tomb in Oak Ridge Cemetery.

The Lincoln Tomb is where President Abraham Lincoln was laid to rest, together with his wife and three out of their four sons.

Lincoln’s Illinois friends promptly requested permission to bury him in Springfield after his assassination on April 14, 1865.

The same committee that arranged his funeral in Springfield started an organization to build Lincoln’s Tomb, which was inaugurated in 1874.

Close view of Lincoln Tomb's exterior


In 1895, the organization gave the State of Illinois a deed to the monument and surrounding grounds.

The tomb is granite and has a sizable, one-story rectangular foundation with a 117-foot-high obelisk perched on top.

Other striking features of the tomb are the balustraded stairs that lead to a level terrace forming a parapet and several statues at the bottom of the obelisk.

Likewise, see Gutzon Borglum’s bronze replica of Lincoln’s head standing on a pedestal in front of the monument.

The original is in the U.S. Capitol).

The Lincoln Tomb was one of the earliest National Historic Landmarks designated in 1960 and also one of the first places included on the National Register of Historic Places in 1966.

Interior of the Lincoln Tomb

Paul Brady Photography /

See Historic Signages at the Ace Sign Co. Sign Museum

The Ace Sign Co. Sign Museum is home to a collection of more than 85 historic signages from Springfield, Illinois, and Route 66.

Their collection constantly changes and expands as they preserve some of the region’s most recognizable and iconic signages.

Take in the atmosphere and personality of the neon glow beneath the wood-barreled ceilings next to their state-of-the-art modern sign-making factory.

Several significant signs are displayed at the museum, including a 12-foot-tall Neon Pepsi Bottle Cap from the 1950s.

You will also see a sign initially marking the train depot where Abraham Lincoln delivered his last address.

Likewise, check out numerous other vintage signs from renowned restaurants and old breweries.

Ace Sign Co. Sign Museum is open to the public for free from Mondays through Fridays.

Unwind at Southwind Park

The 80-acre Southwind Park, formally known as the Edwin Watts Southwind Park, was named after Sangamon County resident Edwin Watts.

Watts donated the land to the Springfield Park District.

As a modern park, it is a model for inclusivity with particular emphasis on people with cognitive and physical needs.

Enjoy eight acres of grassy space for frisbee, kite flying, or relaxing.

Walk the 2.5 miles of concrete trails, or immerse yourself in the park’s five sensory gardens.

Listen to the music and watch lights dance at the Selvaggio Historic Arches, play a game of bocce ball, or shuffleboard on one of their sports courts.

Then, grab your fishing gear to catch some bass, bluegill, and catfish on the lake outside the lovely Erin’s Pavilion.

Southwind Park not only sets a national standard for accessibility but for environmental excellence as well.

Every part and feature of the park pass ADA accessibility standards.

See its Platinum LEED-certified Erin’s Pavilion and eco-friendly components, including a geothermal system, solar panels, a wind turbine, and wetlands.

Take a Picture of the Lauterbach Giant

Daytime view of the Lauterbach Giant

Gorup de Besanez, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Lauterbach Giant, Springfield’s “Muffler Man,” has towered over Wabash Avenue since 1978.

This enormous fiberglass figure stands tall in Lauterbach Auto Service’s parking lot.

The Lauterbach Giant used to carry a tire but was upgraded with an American flag to look more patriotic.

The figure lost its head during the 2006 tornado but was quickly restored by the station.

The Lauterbach Giant has become a well-known figure and a noticeable presence in Springfield for a long time.

Stop by and take pictures of the monument the next time you take Route 66 and travel through Springfield.

Learn about Nature at the Lincoln Memorial Garden and Nature Center

The Lincoln Memorial Garden and Nature Centeris a 100-acre prairie garden and woodland owned by the City of Springfield and operated by the Abraham Lincoln Memorial Garden Foundation.

Situated on the shores of Lake Springfield, it reflects the Midwest landscape that Abraham Lincoln would have been familiar with.

The area features plants specific to the three states he called home: Illinois, Indiana, and Kentucky.

Renowned landscape architect Jens Jensen designed the Lincoln Memorial Garden and Nature Center.

It included about six miles of trails, a pond, several council rings, footbridges, and several wooden benches with inscribed quotes by Lincoln.

The Nature Center features interactive exhibits and offers room for conferences, seminars, and educational programs for children.

Regardless of the season, the Lincoln Memorial Garden and Nature Center welcomes thousands of people each year.

Visit the stunning trees, wildflowers, and wildlife, and learn more about nature.

Enjoy Recreational Activities at Washington Park

Fall trees at Washington Park

David Cloyd /

The 150-acre Washington Park is one of the historic parks located on the west part of Springfield, listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Washington Park was designed by renowned landscape architect Ossian Simonds, known for his naturalistic design aesthetic.

It’s one of the most popular parks with a rolling landscape, big trees, wooded areas, two artificial lagoons, some steep ravines, and off-road trails for hiking.

The park is primarily used for passive enjoyment featuring a vast pavilion and a playground, as well as a complex containing 12 tennis courts and a pro shop.

Park features with historical significance include the enclosed pavilion and the lagoon on the east side.

The Thomas Rees Memorial Carillon and the Washington Park Botanical Gardens are on the far western side.

Follow the Trails at the Margery Adams Wildlife Sanctuary

The 40-acre Margery Adams Wildlife Sanctuary, known shortly as the Adams Wildlife Sanctuary, is a nature sanctuary owned and maintained by the Illinois Audubon Society.

The Sanctuary was named after Miss Margery Adams, who donated the land to the Society.

Its rehabilitated tallgrass prairie and second-growth forest areas optimize the variety of the urban wildlife that frequents the property.

The goal of the Society is for the Margery Adams Wildlife Sanctuary to become an urban nature center, a nature study area, and a wildlife preserve.

A one-mile trail is available for easy hiking or strolling, allowing visitors to explore samples of native habitat on its prairie, wetlands, and woodlands.

Tour the Lincoln Home National Historic Site

Historic house at Lincoln Home National Historic Site

eurobanks /

The Lincoln Home National Historic Site preserves and protects the sole residence that President Abraham Lincoln ever owned.

Abraham Lincoln lived in this historic location from 1844 to 1861 before he became the 16th U.S. President.

This historic site was authorized in 1971 by President Richard Nixon and was formally established in 1972.

The street of Lincoln Home National Historic Site

Zack Frank /

In addition to the Lincoln Home, many other buildings have been preserved, comprising about 12 acres spanning four square blocks.

Tour tickets to the Lincoln Home National Historic Site are free (except for parking), which you can pick up at the Visitor Center along South Seventh Street.

A house at Lincoln Home National Historic Site

Zack Frank /

Spend Time Outdoors at Carpenter Park

The 322-acre Carpenter Park comprises a wooded area on the northern bank of the Sangamon River located on the far north part of Springfield.

The park is a designated Illinois Nature Preserve; a portion has been recognized as an Important Bird Area of Illinois.

Managed by the Springfield Park District, Carpenter Park is one of the roadside attractions of Route 66 and is mainly used for hiking and observing nature.

Dry-mesic upland forest makes up over half of the park’s land area, dominated by white oak (Illinois’ state tree) and its cousins.

See the bur oak and black oak, as well as hickory, black cherry, and black walnut.

Near the Sangamon River, the park’s wet-mesic forest consists of cottonwood, box elder, silver maple, and sycamore.

The woodland is well-maintained and diverse, with sightings of 82 bird species.

Visit the Illinois State Military Museum

The Illinois State Military Museum collects, preserves, interprets, and displays military artifacts related to the citizens and soldiers of Illinois.

Exhibits in the museum include unique objects such as vehicles, uniforms, weapons, and a target board shot at President Lincoln.

The Citizen-Soldier exhibition showcases the military careers of notable Illinois veterans such as Abraham Lincoln, John A. Logan, Carl Sandburg, and Robert McCormick.

Rare artifacts, such as Mexican General Santa Ana’s artificial leg, are also displayed, which preserve and highlight Illinois’ rich military heritage.

If you want to see fascinating military-related relics, visit the Illinois State Military Museum!

Stop by the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Statue

Close view of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Statue

Adam Jones from Kelowna, BC, Canada, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Stop by the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Statue at the “Freedom Corner” opposite the Abraham Lincoln statue in front of the Illinois State Capitol.

This 300-lb. bronze statueof a young Martin Luther King, Jr. was unveiled in 1988.

Baptist minister Martin Luther King, Jr. was a civil rights activist who led the American civil rights movement fighting for racial justice in the mid-1950s.

He is the first non-resident of the State to receive a statue in his honor.

Numerous remarkable places, authentic stories, and striking monuments are scattered across Springfield.

The Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Statue is a testament to African Americans’ history and achievements in Springfield and Illinois.

Discover Springfield’s Street Art

Springfield has a fantastic arts and culture scene that includes art galleries and museums, local theater, monuments and sculptures, and most of all, Street Art!

The city is adorned with many murals, so take a walking tour focusing only on Street Art.

Some lovely murals include the Good Heart Tattoo, which was done using spray paint in graffiti style.

Then, you can find the Frank Lloyd Wright PrairieSumac, a lasting tribute to Wright and the fantastic sumac stained glass works he has made.

Both are located on 4th and Monroe Street.

Another stunning mural, A Net to Snare the Moon, is based on a poem by the well-known Springfield poet Vachel Lindsay with four bright panels that symbolize the poem’s four verses.

You can find this mural on 4th and Jefferson Street.

For Lego lovers and the Simpsons fans, Abe and Homer Simpson were painted next to each other in a fun and vibrant graffiti style on 3rd Street.

Enjoy Springfield’s Street Art scene, and don’t forget to take incredible photos!

Discover State History at the Illinois State Museum

Exterior of the Illinois State Museum

Visviva, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Illinois State Museum showcases the art, land, life, and people of Illinois.

The main museum is on South Spring Street in Springfield, with three satellite locations.

They are the Lockport Gallery (Lockport), Dickson Mounds (Lewistown), and ISM’s Research and Collections Center (Springfield).

Along with exhibits about natural history, the main focus of the main museum is the State’s artistic and cultural heritage that dates back 500 million years.

Some exhibits are local fossils, mining, historic household displays, dioramas of the lives of Native Americans, and ethnographic and archaeological artifacts.

Check out zoological specimens and fossils that depict Illinois’ shifting landscapes and life-size dioramas of extinct creatures like the Mastodon and the Megalonyx.

Visitors can learn about Illinois through interactive features and exciting audio and visual effects.

The Illinois State Museum also hosts activities and programs for people of all ages.

Explore the Sangamon Valley Trail

Explore the 11.5-mile rail trail of the Sangamon Valley Trail, located in the west part of Sangamon County.

You can walk the trail or ride a bike on the path.

The Sangamon Valley Trail’s first 5.5-mile segment, which connects Centennial Park and Stuart Park, opened in the summer of 2011.

The route is mainly shaded and has beautiful bridges across Washington Street, Old Jacksonville Road, and Highway 97.

The trail traverses a 38-mile right-of-way designated as a rail trail along St. Louis, Peoria, and North Western Railway.

The latter merged with the Chicago and North Western Railroad.

A six-mile extension was built in 2017 from Stuart Park to Irwin Bridge Road, providing a recreational pathway that crosses the Sangamon River.

Visit the Old State Capitol State Historic Site

Exterior of the Old State Capitol State Historic Site

Nagel Photography /

The Old State Capitol State Historic Site is Illinois’ fifth capitol structure built for the State and the first in Springfield.

It was constructed from 1837 to 1840 in the Greek Revival style and worked as the State House from 1840 until 1876.

It was here where Lincoln practiced law, became a legislator, and delivered his renowned “House Divided” address against slavery in 1858.

Interior of the Old State Capitol State Historic Site

Nagel Photography /

It was also where Abraham Lincoln and Barack Obama announced their candidacies in 1858 and 2007, respectively.

In 1961, a National Historic Landmark was registered mainly for its connection with Lincoln and his political opponent Stephen Douglas.

Visitors can enjoy the opportunity to admire the Old State Capitol State Historic Site for its spectacular interior and exterior architecture.

The tour has no charge, although donations are welcome.

Grounds of the Old State Capitol State Historic Site

Randy Runtsch /

Final Thoughts

Thanks to Abraham Lincoln’s historic legacy, Springfield has become one of the most popular travel destinations in the country.

However, Springfield has so much more to offer, which you should seek out on your adventure.

Plan your trip today and discover the free things to do in Springfield, Illinois!

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