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Quaint shops and restaurants along Main Street in Galena, Illinois

Illinois

Illinois Great River Road: 4 Charming Towns Along the Mississippi River

By: Zaida Rios

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  • States:
    Illinois

Travel along this scenic byway along the Mississippi River and discover the unexpected.

Wind down the Great River Road in Illinois and discover quaint river towns with vineyards, steamboat river cruises and historic sites. Amid small-town culture, you’ll happily encounter delightful eateries, shops, galleries and more. What binds these four towns is their down-to-earth, inviting hospitality and connection to the beauty of the Mississippi River on the Great River Road.

Galena: A Cozy Wine Country Retreat

The Midwest isn’t the obvious spot for a winery. Luckily, this didn’t deter the Lawlor family from transforming their passion for winemaking into the Galena Cellars Vineyard & Winery, where they produce more than 40 wine varieties from 22 specialty grapes. A serene getaway for wine enthusiasts, Galena Cellars also offers quaint guest accommodations as well as guided tours for day visitors. In downtown Galena, you’ll encounter sidewalks lined with antique shops, gift stores and specialty purveyors. Honest John’s Stores carries everything from Birkenstocks and Minnetonka moccasins to seasonal gifts and home décor. If you’re partial to chocolate, drop by Chocolat, a world-class chocolate emporium. Need something to pair with your wine? Galena River Wine & Cheese is the place to go to pick up gourmet cheese as well as other delicious edibles.

Award-winning pinot style wine from the Galena Cellars Vineyard & Winery

Award-winning pinot style wine from the Galena Cellars Vineyard & Winery
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Moline: Cruising the Mississippi

You’re in good company at Lagomarcinos. For more than 100 years, this eatery has been spoiling its patrons with the sweetest concoctions and tastiest food. Founded by Italian immigrants, the restaurant originally began as a traditional soda fountain shop serving ice cream sodas, malted milks and specialty hot fudge sundaes to downtown theater patrons. Today, the retro soda fountain and deli combination is still a big hit in town. Be sure to try their tempting line of chocolate confections and truffles. Chocolate craving satisfied, spend some time at the John Deere Pavilion. Moline is the company's global headquarters, and this attraction puts you in the driver's seat to explore interactive and educational exhibits. Make time to enjoy the outdoors especially: Explore natural beauty along the Mississippi River by foot or bike on the Great River Trail. Cruise the great river on the Celebration Belle sightseeing riverboat tour – settle in for a relaxing ride with lovely views.

Celebration Belle sightseeing riverboat tour on the Mississippi River

Celebration Belle sightseeing riverboat tour on the Mississippi River
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Nauvoo: Living History and Restoration

Step into a storybook setting in this captivating small town, originally a Mormon settlement along the banks of the Mississippi River. The star here is The Nauvoo Temple, a beautiful Greek Revival structure with stunning river views in a tranquil setting. Nearby, living history attractions let you step inside the world of Mormon pioneer life. Feel suspended in time at the Family Living Center, observe townspeople hand-craft candles, weave rugs, spin yarn and throw pottery. There’s even a wagon tour of the picturesque town (it might be slightly bumpy but well worth it).

Journey back in time on the Nauvoo Wagon Ride through Nauvoo, Illinois

Journey back in time on the Nauvoo Wagon Ride through Nauvoo, Illinois
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Alton: Where Rivers and History Converge

Strategically located where the Mississippi and Missouri rivers converge, Alton is home to compelling educational and historic sites. Learn about the famed Lewis and Clark expedition to the Pacific Ocean at the 46-meter-high Confluence Tower. Dual towers symbolize both Lewis and Clark as well as the Mississippi and Missouri rivers. Visit the National Great Rivers Museum to learn more about the significance of this incredible river. Be sure to take a tour of the Melvin Price Locks and Dam for the details on river traffic and commerce as well as a great view of Alton and the river. It’s not all history here though. Pere Marquette State Park is a go-to locale for scenic hiking, biking, fishing or a sunny picnic. During the fall, enjoy spotting the brilliant colors of the changing trees along riverside roads. Make it an overnight stay at the rustic and colorful Pere Marquette Lodge.

Lovely boardwalk view at Pere Marquette State Park in Alton, Illinois

Lovely boardwalk view at Pere Marquette State Park in Alton, Illinois
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