Galena is a small town that sits along Highway 20 in Illinois, USA. It’s just under 3 hours from Chicago, making it perfect for a weekend getaway from the busy city! Galena has been named as one of the best small towns in America several different times!
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Things To Do In Galena IL
In the early 1800’s Galena was a booming lead mining town with a population of almost 14,000. Today it’s home to just over 3000. Galena was once home to the former President, Ulysses S Grant, you can even take a tour of his old home! Downtown features the ‘Helluva Half Mile’ shopping street, full of independent small businesses. I really like this area, it reminds me a lot of the high streets back home in the UK where you can pinball across the street and window shop without having to constantly get back in your car to visit different shops! It also lays on the Galena River, where there are walking trails and places to relax!
Self Guided Downtown Galena Walking Tour
Galena’s Downtown is very walkable and photogenic! There’s a small parking lot along the mainstreet with a crazy old fashioned (?) ticket machine. I’ve never seen anything like it! You fold up your dollar bills and then poke them through the slot which matches the number of the space you are parked in, with a little tool that’s attached to the machine! I’m not sure exactly how they can tell who’s paid, but hey I thought it was novel!
These photos could be followed as a circular walking route of Galena! Starting and finishing at the flood gates of the East end of Main Street.
Old Fashioned Billboard Advertisements
Something I love taking photos of now I’m living in America are all the worn out looking billboard advertisements, they really add to the character and history of the towns!
Galena Trolley Tours
The main guided trolley tour takes an hour and run year round. There’s a stop right on Main Street so you can’t miss it if you want to take a tour of the Historic District! Otherwise they are still fun to photograph! The Galena Trolley Tours have been running since 1988, so have been in business for 30 years!
Old Fashioned Shop Front Signs
As mentioned above, Galena’s ‘Helluva Half Mile’ is jam packed with local small businesses and they all have these cool our fashioned signs!
Inside the Stores!
I LOVED wandering around the old fashioned pick n mix sweet shops in Galena! When the sweets are displayed like this you can’t help but want to eat EVERYTHING in sight! The Great American Popcorn Company had ‘Kitchen Sink’ flavoured popcorn, it looked disgustingly yummy (and I’m sure it doesn’t really come from the remnants stuck in a plug hole…). There are so many little independent businesses offering unique gifts and treats!
Helluva Half Mile North East end of Main Street
This is one of my favourite photos from Galena! I love the way the building looks and in the afternoons the sun always seems to be in the right place, just lighting up Main Street in the perfect way!
If you’re looking for somewhere to eat in Galena, I recommend the Log Cabin if you are feeling fancy or Gobbie’s Sports Pub and Eatery for something more casual (try the beer nuggets!).
At this end of Main Street you’ll also find the Dowling House, the oldest house in Galena and the oldest stone structure in Illinois. The Dowling House was build in 1826.
The Galena River & Grant Park
Again, just look at the way the sun lights up the bridge! This bridge crosses the Galena River near Main Street into Grant Park. In Grant Park, you’ll find a Little Free Library if you have any old paperback books that you feel like exchanging for something new!
Galena Train Station
The Galena Train Station building is a proposed station for a Dubuque, IA – Chicago, IL Amtrak Route (which NEEDS to happen), however the construction of this route has been put on hold, so for now, the station is unused.
You can either follow the river, cross back over the US20 bridge and you’ll be back at the flood gates, or continue away from Main St and head up towards the former President Ulysses S Grant’s house. The house is open between Wednesday and Sunday for 25 minute tours. There is a suggested donation of $5 for an adult.
The Old Cottage in the shadow of Ulysses S Grant’s House
This little old cottage is located just as you enter Galena (from Chicago direction, heading westbound towards Iowa). There is a huge car park and steps leading up the hill towards Ulysses S Grant’s house (former US president).
Places to Visit Outside of Galena’s Downtown District
Chestnut Mountain Resort
Chestnut Mountain is located 9 miles away from Downtown (but it is still part of the Galena area!) In the winter it’s a ski resort, but in the summer it’s home to Segway tours, a zipline and an alpine toboggan slide that over looks the Mississippi River. Pretty cool place for a ski resort if you ask me!
West Street Sculpture Park
The West Street Sculpture Park seems to be a bit of a hidden gem in Galena! Despite living just 40 minutes from Galena and visiting several times, it took me a little while it discover that it existed! It was only when I was browsing Google Maps one day that I spotted it!
The Sculpture Park is free to visit and was created by John Martinson as a way to showcase his artwork. You can pick up a map and wander around and view the sculptures at your leisure. When I visited, there were 32 on display but I’d imagine that this may increase with more creations!
Blaum Bros Distilling Co.
Blaum Bros is a working distillery that produces bourbon, vodka and gin. For $10 visitors can have a guided tour of the distillery (including tasting!). Tours run: Monday to Thursday at 3pm, Friday to Sunday at 1pm and 3pm (with an additional 11am tour on Saturdays). There’s also a cocktail bar which is open every day from 10am, which is very cozy and has table top games!
‘Eagle Ridge Resort & Spa’ and The Galena Territory
Unfortunately I never had the opportunity to visit Eagle Ridge Resort & Spa but I’ve heard lots of positive things about it! It sits on Lake Galena and has a golf course, indoor pool, spa and restaurant. Within the Galena Territory area you’ll find a Nordic Centre (for winter activities), a horse riding centre, hot air balloon rides and zip lining at Long Hollow Canopy Tours. They also hold several events throughout the year.
Galena Goat Yoga
Another place that was on my bucket list was Galena Goat Yoga! I’ve done goat yoga a couple of times before and it’s always a fun experience! Classes last for 1hr 30 and include a 45 minute goat yoga session and an additional 45 minutes to play with the goats for $39.
Where To Stay In Galena Illinois
You can find several different accommodation options for Galena Illinois on Booking.com. You can check different rates using the link below. There are several different chain hotels in Galena but if you are looking for something more unique, there’s: Chestnut Mountain Resort hotel, Cloran Mansion Bed & Breakfast, Irish Cottage Inn & Suites and Stoney Creek Inn to name a few!
Things To Do Near Galena IL
While you’re in the area, Dubuque is 15 minutes past Galena, just the other side of the Illinois/Iowa border. It’s worth checking out while nearby, you may find this post useful for things to do in Dubuque if you decide to visit! It lies along the banks of the Mississippi River and has many places to eat and fun attractions such as the Fenelon Place Elevator and the National Mississippi River Museum Aquarium. During the winter Sundown Mountain Resort is open for skiing, or during the summer, the Mines of Spain is a great area for hiking.
Heading in the opposite direction, heading back toward Chicago, you’ll pass through the town of Elizabeth. The Long Hollow Scenic Overlook is a small parking area just off HWY20, which looks across the Illinois landscape. A little further along is Cajun Jack’s Bar & Grill, a seafood and cocktail restaurant with a giant shark in the parking lot! Within the town of Elizabeth is the Apple River Fort State Historic Site. Close to the road is an interpretative centre with a small museum, but further along the track is the Apple River Fort. It was a reconstruction, built in 1996, after the foundations and artefacts were found after an archeological dig. A similar fort was used during the Black Hawk War in the 1830’s.
I love love LOVE The Rafters restaurant in Lena! There two dining areas: the main restaurant (with a water feature) and the bar area. The food is awesome! Next door is the Lena Brewing Company, which also offer tours for $10, like Blaum Bros Distilling Co. They often have really unique flavours such as Caramel Pecan Coffee Stout and Chocolate Covered Strawberry (which is AMAZING). The Lena Brewing Company have their own tap room, but they also have their products for sale at The Rafters! Connected to The Rafters is a great little gift shop where you can find lovely homeware items.
I hope this post has inspired you and given you some ideas of things to do in Galena IL! Any questions, let me know!