In Springfield, Illinois, there’s a name on everyone’s lips. Abraham Lincoln spent a large chunk of his life in the city, and you’ll find evidence of his residency around every corner.
You can tour the house where he lived between 1837 and 1861, standing in the sitting room where he wrote his political speeches.
At Oak Ridge Cemetery, you can step inside his marble family tomb and rub the nose of his bronze bust for good luck.
And, the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum tells you more about his personal and political life.
The city is more than just an ode to one of America’s best-loved sons, though. There’s plenty to explore besides, from its twice-weekly farmers’ market to the grand New State Capitol Building.
The second major stop along Route 66 after Chicago, Springfield is a city overshadowed by its famous former resident, Abraham Lincoln. The USA’s 16th president lived here in the 24 years leading up to his election, working first as a lawyer and then as a politician.
Your visit to Illinois’ state capital is likely to revolve around Lincoln’s life and work. Even if you don’t have a particular interest in the man, you’ll see and hear his name everywhere as you explore the compact city on foot.
For a good grounding in his background, head to the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum. This large complex contains galleries, theatres and historical displays highlighting his life and accomplishments.
The museum is split between Lincoln’s pre-presidential years and his time in office. A reconstruction of the simple log cabin he grew up in evokes his childhood in Indiana, and an interactive exhibit shows the divided political opinions Lincoln faced when drawing up the Emancipation Proclamation.
Next, you could visit the Lincoln Home National Historic Site, which includes the house in which he lived as well as the surrounding Victorian-era streets, now restored to resemble how they’d have looked in Lincoln’s day.
You can join a free, ranger-led tour of the Greek-Revival clapboard house (said to have been the only property Lincoln ever owned), which looks as it did in 1860 — the year of his presidential campaign. You’ll look around the bedrooms, dining room, sitting room and kitchen as your guide tells you about Lincoln’s home life and his rise from local lawyer to president.
Afterwards, you’re able to stroll the four blocks surrounding the home, which contain 12 historic buildings dating to Lincoln’s time. Outside are information panels about his neighbours, and you can go inside Dean House and Arnold House to read exhibits about the site’s restoration.
We also recommend taking a self-guided tour of the Old State Capitol Building, where Lincoln served as both a lawyer and politician.
All these sites are within walking distance of each other, but it’s also worth taking a five-minute drive north of the city to visit Oak Ridge Cemetery, Lincoln’s final resting place.
You can step inside the Lincoln family’s grand marble tomb, set within landscaped grounds. It contains plaques of some of the former president’s best-known speeches, and staff are on hand to answer any questions you might have about his life (and death).
Next to the tomb is a large bronze bust of Lincoln’s head — you’ll notice that the nose has been polished as a result of people rubbing it for good luck.
Springfield beyond Abraham Lincoln
Once you’ve had your fill of Lincoln sites, you could take time to explore Springfield’s downtown, where you’ll find plenty of shops, cafés and restaurants. There’s also the Old Capitol Farmers Market, which sells fresh, local produce every Wednesday and Saturday morning.
Elsewhere, you could take a 30-minute guided tour of the New State Capitol Building, which, at 110 m (361 ft) tall, dominates the skyline. Your guide will show you the Illinois House of Representatives, the Senate and the former Supreme Court. And, if you’re visiting between January and May, you might glimpse the Senate while it’s in session.
Finally, you could pay a visit to the Dana-Thomas House. Designed by celebrated architect Frank Lloyd Wright in 1902, the house belonged to heiress Susan Lawrence Dana. Its horizontal lines and overhanging eaves showcase Wright’s progressive Prairie Style architecture, which focused on blending the interior with its outdoor surroundings.
You can take an hour-long guided tour of the house, which also reflects the owner’s love of Japan with its indoor torii gate.
Best time to visit Springfield, Illinois
Springfield experiences warm, humid summers and cold, often snowy winters. For the warmest weather, visit between June and August, when average temperatures are in the mid-20s °C. May and September are also mild and likely to be less busy. If you’re driving Route 66, September or October are best for combining with other areas along the route.