Springfield with Kids: Best Things to Do in Springfield, IL

Kids at the Lincoln Museum in Springfield. Photo by Maureen Wilkey for Mommy Poppins
Kids at the Lincoln Museum in Springfield. Photo by Maureen Wilkey for Mommy Poppins
4/19/24 - By Maureen Wilkey

Springfield, IL is just three hours south of Chicago, and while you might know it as the home of Abraham Lincoln, there are tons of other exciting and fun family things to do in Springfield. Wander the halls of the State Capitol, check out the inspiring street art and murals, and check out the latest exhibits at the Kidzeum of Health & Science. Visit just a few places on this list, and your kids will impress you with their new-found knowledge all the way home!

Springfield can be a great educational and fun weekend trip for Chicago kids looking to learn more about history. It can be a fun stop on an excursion to St. Louis or even play a part in a full tour of historic Route 66. If you're looking for other easy trips, check out this guide to family day trips and weekend getaways for Chicago kids


Top Things To Do in Springfield, IL for Families

1. Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum

Kids who love history will be excited to see this interactive museum and archive. Best for children ages 10 and up; the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum includes artifacts from Lincoln's life and audiovisual and animatronic experiences.

Choose your own adventure to learn about America's 16th President. One choice tells about his childhood and youth in a log cabin; the other details his road to the White House and his experiences there, leading up to his assassination. The Treasures Gallery houses historical documents and artifacts from Lincoln's life. The rotating exhibits open in the Illinois Gallery every several months.

visiting Lincoln's home is one of the best things to do in Springfield IL

Kids having fun at the Lincoln Home National Historic Site.

2. Lincoln Home National Historic Site

The Lincoln Home National Historic Site is where Abraham Lincoln and his family lived for 17 years. This is where Lincoln began his political career, and the tour includes the formal parlor, sitting room, dining room, guest bedroom, Abe's bedroom, Mary Todd's bedroom, the boys' room, and the kitchen.

This tour is interesting and much shorter than the library and museum if you only have time for a quick stop. Tickets are free to the 20-25 minute tour of the house, but get there early—spaces on each tour are limited and often sell out in the early afternoon.

touring the state capital is one of the best things to do in Springfield IL

Kids on a tour of the Illinois State Capital.

3. Illinois State Capitol

If your kids want to see real democracy in action, you can walk into the Illinois State Capitol and get on a free tour every half hour (there's a break at noon for lunch). See the actual state legislature chambers—if you go during a session, you can see the action live.

The architecture at the capitol is amazing, and there are 15 murals spanning the corridors and the east foyer ceiling, some of which were painted in 1886. There's also an impressive sculpture by artist Julia M. Bracken in the center of the first-floor rotunda that is a replica of the statue that appeared at the 1893 Columbian Exposition. 

4. Downtown Artification

If you plan to be downtown, one of the coolest things to do in Springfield is to find the sculptures and street murals that grace the streets. The 3rd Street Corridor is where you'll find murals that range from whimsical to pop culture, including Homer Simpson, Love is Love, and LEGO Abe. The Good Heart Tattoo Mural is painted in a graphite art style, the Frank Lloyd Wright Prairie Sumage is an homage to the legendary architect, and Young Abe is a rendition of Springfield's most famous citizen. 

Fido's Puppies Sculpture Project was created in honor of Abraham Lincoln's dog and consists of puppy sculptures hidden all around town. Kids will have fun scouting them lounging on steps, hiding on window ledges, and along the streets. 

4. Lincoln's Tomb

Another more reflective experience, Lincoln's Tomb is the final resting place of Abraham Lincoln, his wife, and three of their four sons. See the giant obelisk and take a step inside to see the bronze statues of Lincoln in different phases of his life. You can rub the nose on the bust of Lincoln outside for good luck. 

5. Illinois State Museum

Learn about the history of Illinois, going back to prehistoric times, as well as inventions and art at the Illinois State Museum. Permanent exhibits include At Home in the Heartland, which includes audio recordings of Illinoisans over the last 300 years, and Changes: Dynamic Illinois Environments, featuring fossils, glaciers, caves, and mines as they have impacted the state's landscape over time.

Kids will love The Mary Ann MacLean Play Museum, where they can touch and play with historical items. Rotating art galleries and exhibits make this museum a different experience each time.

6. Washington Park Botanical Gardens

See more than 1200 species of plants native to Illinois in the relaxing outdoor setting of the Washington Park Botanical Gardens. The gardens include annual and perennial flower beds, a rose garden, and a conservatory that houses exotic and non-native plants. Be sure to visit the Learn-to-Grow garden to figure out how to create your own outdoor oasis.

7. Kidzeum of Health & Science

History and government are big in Springfield, but it's also the home of the Illinois Medical District. Kids can learn more about the science of health inside and outside their bodies at the Kidzeum of Health & Science.

Permanent exhibits include Healthy Body, which focuses on eating and exercise to maintain personal health; Healthy Community, which tells the story of medical professionals; and Healthy Earth, which explains how our actions can impact the health of the whole world.

A new TinkerSpace also recently opened, allowing kids to play with tools and tech similar to those health professionals use.

8. Malibu Jack's

Need a break from learning? Visit Malibu Jack's, the indoor theme park in White Oaks Mall, where kids (and adults) can enjoy Go Karts, bowling, arcade games, miniature golf, laser tag, and a handful of rides at the tropical-themed fun zone. 

9. Ergadoozy

This indoor playspace has seven different play areas themed for kids of varying ages. Best for little kids, Egradoozy gives families a chance to let out some active energy for kids on a trip with a lot of education. 

10. Route 66 Drive-In Theater

If you visit in April through September, check out one of Route 66 Drive-In Theater, one of the last dozen in Illinois. The theater has two screens, and families can enjoy pizza, nachos, or hot dogs from the concession stand while they watch a movie from their car.

11. Henson Robinson Zoo

The Henson Robinson Zoo is a smaller zoo that allows kids to see 96 different animals from all around the world. Some highlights include African penguins, American black bears, cougars, spider monkeys, boa constrictors, and naked mole rats. 

12. Illinois State Fairgrounds

City and suburban kids may enjoy the massive display of agriculture and fun that happens for almost two weeks every year in August at the Illinois State Fairgrounds. The Grandstands draw national-name bands and recording artists for reasonable prices, plus kids can enjoy carnival rides, a kids "agri-tivity" tent, and a display of a 500-pound cow made out of butter. Outside of the State Fair time of year, you can visit the fairgrounds to see pet shows or farm animal shows.

You can't go to the fair without trying all the food! The Village of Cultures is a must, where you'll find food vendors selling ethnic cuisine from Africa, Brazil, Greece, Germany, the Philippines, and Jamaica, among others. 

Eating at the Cozy Dog Diner is on of the best things to do in Springfield IL 
The Cozy Dog Diner is a nostalgic spot in Springfield, IL. Amy Meredith via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Where to Eat in Springfield with Kids

13. Cozy Dog Drive-In

If your kid likes Cars or all things Route 66, the Cozy Dog Drive-In is the place for them. It's been the original home of the hot dog on a stick since 1949. Decorated with old license plates and Route 66 paraphernalia, this quick service spot has all the kids' favorites like hot dogs, chicken tenders, burgers, and fries.

14. Charlie Parker's Diner

The Horseshoe is a regional classic dish made of thick slices of toast topped with meat (usually hamburger), fries, and cheese sauce. Charlie Parker's Diner is one of the places in Springfield where you can make lots of variations on this dish. Choose ham, bacon, sausage, chicken, country-fried steak, walleye, or pork tenderloin as the meat, or change the fries to tater tots. They come in pony sizes for kids, too. Or choose from the all-day breakfast menu if your kid prefers pancakes.

15. Obed & Isaac's

If you're looking for something more upscale, this newer microbrewery inside a preserved mansion is still great for kids. You can still get a horseshoe but elevated pub tacos, burgers, sandwiches, salads, and craft brews are also on the menu. You can sit inside or outside at Obed & Isacc's, and it's located near the downtown historical attractions, which makes it perfect for your day of historical adventures.  

Where to Stay in Springfield with Kids 

16. SpringHill Suites Springfield Southwest

The SpringHill Suites by Marriott is a newer hotel conveniently located minutes from the state capital, the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, and other downtown attractions. You can book a suite with a separate space to spread out, there's a complimentary breakfast, an indoor pool, and a market that's open 24/7. 

17. The Bressmer

For a trip back in time, consider booking a stay at The Bressmer. A Lincoln-era National Historic Landmark, you can stay on one of the three floors of the Queen Anne-style Victorian Manor. Located in downtown Springfield, all of which sleep up to eight. There's even a carriage house on the property that sleeps up to six. While updated with modern amenities, the manor retains the feeling of the 19th century and will be a memorable experience during your visit to Springfield. 


All photos by author Maureen Wilkey for Mommy Poppins, unless otherwise indicated.

Places featured in this article:

Lincoln Home National Historic Site

Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum

Washington Park Botanical Gardens

Kidzeum of Health & Science