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Feature Image NYE

From family-friendly to unique, there are so many wonderful ways to ring in 2016 in Illinois. New Year’s Eve is a chance to take stock of the previous year with an eye towards all the possibilities ahead. Whether you prefer a quiet, intimate atmosphere or a blowout – you’ll find a special celebration in the Land of Lincoln.

First Night Springfield
An Illinois tradition, this year’s First Night Springfield is the city’s 29th Annual New Year’s Eve Celebration of the Arts, featuring more than 30 performances taking place on eight stages in downtown Springfield.

The array of musical acts pauses at 8 p.m. for a free fireworks gala. A staple of First Night, the fireworks display bursts over the Illinois State Capitol, wondrously illuminating downtown.

Zoo Year’s Eve at Brookfield Zoo
Rock out where the wild things are this New Year’s at Brookfield Zoo. A live DJ, games, party favors, prizes and an early countdown at 8:00 p.m. headline this family friendly affair.

No need to keep the little ones up late with the 8 p.m. countdown! (Photo credit: Brookfield Zoo)

No need to keep the little ones up late with the 8 p.m. countdown! (Photo credit: Brookfield Zoo)

Before the countdown, head over to the Hamill Family Play Zoo to make your own noisemaker. This event is free with a paid zoo admission, so don’t forget to check out some of the big cats, bears, dolphins, penguins, primates and more!

New Year’s at Pere Marquette Lodge
This year, jettison yourself to a rustic setting in the quiet riverfront town of Grafton at Pere Marquette Lodge. The Lodge’s New Year’s package has everything you and that special someone need to welcome 2016!

Show off your cocktail attire and indulge in a lavish dinner before dancing the night away with a band, champagne toast and plenty of party favors. At the end of the night, you’re just an elevator ride from the comfort of your cozy accommodations.

Chi-Town Rising
For the first time, Chicago’s riverfront will play host to a special New Year’s celebration complete with musical headliners, a grand fireworks display and culminate with a countdown to ring in 2016.

Make way for a new Chicago tradition at Chi-Town Rising this New Year’s!

Make way for a new Chicago tradition at Chi-Town Rising this New Year’s!

Chi-Town Rising’s central location means the party continues all weekend long with plenty of activities throughout the city!

Whatever your plans, have a safe and happy New Year in Illinois.

-Illinois Office of Tourism

Feature Image holiday restaurants

The holidays are all about spending quality time with the family and forming cherished memories with loved ones. Those memories are often centered around filling up on amazing, decadent food. Here are five spots in the Land of Lincoln where you and your family can indulge during the holiday season.

 Cahill’s Family Pancake House

Voted the best breakfast in Vermilion County, Cahill’s offers a wide range of hot breakfasts, lunch sandwiches and a kids menu to please all diners. Pancakes and waffles are definitely the specialty, and the cinnamon rolls and biscuits and gravy are some of the staff’s favorites, but the “can’t miss” item at Cahill’s is their unique twist on “pigs in a blanket:” fluffy buttermilk pancakes wrapped around juicy sausage links.

Beningo’s

Great family traditions start at Beningo’s in Bloomington. The Beningo family has honored their Sicilian heritage in their Italian restaurant’s original location since 1972. This neighborhood favorite specializes in family style Italian dining, offering a variety of pasta, pizza, seafood, sandwiches and their famous lasagna. There is something for everyone here, and almost every dish incorporates their signature “sweet Sicilian” sauce, a family recipe.

Enjoy one of many cheesy, scrumptious pastas at Beningo’s with their signature Sicilian sauce.

Enjoy one of many cheesy, scrumptious pastas at Beningo’s with their signature Sicilian sauce.

Doc’s Soda Fountain

This Route 66 icon will satisfy your sweet tooth. Doc’s has been around since 1929, and they’ve never changed their old-fashioned method for creating refreshing flavored soda concoctions like cherry soda and root beer. If you’re feeling hungry, make sure to try their ice cream and comfort food as well. Visitors can also take a fascinating free museum tour about the building’s history as a pharmacy when it was first built in the 1880s.

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Don’t take a trip down Route 66 without stopping at Doc’s Soda Fountain for their uniquely made soda concoctions and other sweet treats.

Farren’s Pub & Eatery

Treat the family to a hardy meal at Farren’s, an underground brewpub in downtown Champaign. The burgers are legendary, and Farren’s has a large selection of craft beers to complement its delicious beef creations. There is a burger on the menu for everyone’s palette. There’s the Motherlode, with rich layers of sautéed mushrooms, blue cheese sauce and Swiss. There’s also the Fire Burger with jalapenos, red peppers and habanero cheese, or the milder Green Chile Cheeseburger.

Farren’s offers mouth-watering burgers in a unique underground setting tucked away within downtown Champaign. (Photo credit: Instagramer (at) lxspnay)

Farren’s offers mouth-watering burgers in a unique underground setting tucked away within downtown Champaign. (Photo credit: Instagramer (at) lxspnay)

The Homestead Bakery

Just in time for the holidays, this Amish bakery in Arthur sells made-from-scratch Christmas cut-out cookies for your family to give to Santa, or just enjoy for yourselves! Desserts like caramel cinnamon rolls and angel food cakes are also available in addition to the bakery’s fresh-baked breads.

The people at Homestead Bakery wake up before dawn to have their fresh breads and rolls ready for breakfast.

The people at Homestead Bakery wake up before dawn to have their fresh breads and rolls ready for breakfast.

For more information on delicious destinations in Illinois, visit EnjoyIllinois.com.

-Illinois Office of Tourism

Trails to Adventure Light Festival Feature Image

The holiday season is just around the corner! From sipping hot cocoa with friends to taking pictures with Santa, Illinois hosts sparkling light festivals perfect for to experience with family and friends. Check out these five must-see light festivals in Central and Southern Illinois to make the most of this season!

East Peoria Festival of Lights and Folepi’s Winter Wonderland – November 23-January 1

With more than two million lights, East Peoria’s Festival of Lights and Wonderland is a mesmerizing display for visitors or all ages. The event kicks off November 21 with a three-mile Parade of Lights through downtown Peoria. The festival will crown a Lights Queen on November 15, conduct a citywide ornament hunt on November 25 and judge a Christmas splendor exterior decorating contest on December 8.

And for those looking to start the New Year on the right foot , sign up for East Peoria’s Get Lit New Year’s Eve Fun Run. This non-competitive and festive run starts at 11:50 p.m. on December 31, winding through Folepi’s Winter Wonderland and offering an exclusive view of the twinkling lights.

East Peoria Lights Festival 1

One of the vibrant displays at the East Peoria Festival of Lights.

Shelbyville Festival of Lights – November 20-January 2

Take a leisurely drive through Forest Park to see Shelbyville lit up in the holiday spirit. With new lights and themes every year, this festival of lights is a must-see this season. Families and couples are sure to enjoy the festive features including Victorian Village, Santa’s Shop, the North Pole and more.

Du Quoin Annual Holiday Lights Fair – November 25-December 31

For the holiday season, the Du Quoin State Fairgrounds get a festive makeover, transforming the grounds into a magical place of lights and decorations. Drive through  incredible lighted displays and decorated trees before enjoying live entertainment, delicious food and, of course, visits with Mr. Claus at Santa’s Train Ride and Workshop.

The National Shrine of Our Lady of the Snows Way of Lights – November 20-January 1

Illuminating the already beautiful 200 acres of landscape, the Way of Lights festival at the National Shrine of Our Lady of the Snows in Belleville features fun and festive events such as a new Lego Display play area for children and Tails, Trails and Twinkles, a perfect occasion to share the shining lights alongside four-legged friends.

Take a romantic horse-drawn carriage to admire the twinkling lights at the Way of Lights!

Take a romantic horse-drawn carriage to admire the twinkling lights at the Way of Lights!

Fantasy of Lights – November 30-January 1

Fantasy of Lights in Centralia is perfect for families with kids or couples looking for a spirited night out. Guests can appreciate the lighted displays on a drive through Foundation Park to experience twinkling candy canes or golfing Santa. In December, the ‘Little Obie’ train offers free rides for children – and adults, too – to meet Santa.

For more ways to celebrate the holiday season, visit EnjoyIllinois.com.

-Illinois Office of Tourism

Expedia Feature Image

It might be frosty outside, or even snowing, but that’s no excuse to stay cooped up inside this winter. Regardless of the weather, there are adventures to be had from hotels in Springfield to state parks along the Illinois River, so that’s why Expedia.com turned to Enjoy Illinois. We wanted to know some of the best places to stay and play in the “Land of Lincoln” this winter, so we rounded up a list of accommodations and nearby activities that’ll keep you feeling warm and toasty.

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Expedia.com and Enjoy Illinois teamed up to bring you top tips for embracing the chilly temperatures this winter.

Stay at The State House Inn and Glide Across the Ice
Cozy up at The State House Inn during your stay in Springfield. The hotel’s complimentary breakfast will fuel you up for the day’s adventures, while the pillow-top mattresses and duvet comforters will send you off to blissful sleep. The accommodation is just a few miles away from the Springfield Park District. As soon as the temperatures drop below freezing and the “no skating” signs disappear, break out the ice skates. The lagoons at Lincoln, Washington, and Southwind parks transform into outdoor skating rinks, so you can throw on your ski gloves and show off your Olympic-worthy axels.

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Carve Up the Slopes at Chestnut Mountain Resort
Pack your bags for a stay at Chestnut Mountain Resort, a ski-in, ski-out lodge, in Galena. This hotel invites you to warm up in the sauna, grab a bite to eat at the on-site restaurant, and beat the high score in the arcade game room. While you’re visiting, venture outside and carve up the fresh powder on the slopes, which are just feet away from the lodge. Boasting the largest terrain park in the Midwest, the ski resort features more than 25 rails and 19 runs. Pull some tricks and get some air on the ramps or shred down the black diamond trails.

Make a Splash at KeyLime Cove Indoor Waterpark Resort
Invite your kids along for a getaway at KeyLime Cove Indoor Waterpark Resort in Gurnee, north of Chicago. This hotel offers a little something for the whole family, with six in-house restaurants, an on-site spa, and even an arcade. Perhaps the best part of all, though, is that you can pretend it’s still summertime at the resort’s indoor waterpark. Swirl around the Hurricane Vortex, shoot through the 500 foot long waterslides, and float down KeyLime Creek. From the adult-only spa areas to the massive water play structure, this park is the answer to all your winter blues.

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Get Adventurous at Starved Rock Lodge & Conference
Stay in the heart of the great outdoors with reservations at Starved Rock Lodge & Conference Center. Choose a room in the lodge or go for a cabin, and then sip hot cocoa at the Veranda with a view of the state park. The accommodation also features a café, lounge, and dining room, which are perfect for unwinding after exploring the local trails. During your visit, tap into your adventurous side, and ice climb the waterfalls in the state park. Climbers must sign in and out of the park office and bring their own equipment, though. If the conditions aren’t right for ice climbing, cross country ski in the picnic area, winter hike, or simply check out the frozen waterfalls.

Don’t let a little chill in the air keep you from venturing to Illinois this winter. You know what they say, “there’s no bad weather, just bad clothing,” so wrap up tight and get ready for a winter wonderland in the “Prairie State.”

-Written by Expedia Staff Writer

Land of Lincoln Feature Image

The Land of Lincoln is not just one of the most history-rich regions in Illinois, but in the entire country. Springfield alone is home to more Abraham Lincoln historical sites than any other place in the world, and beyond that, there are even more attractions where history buffs can soak up knowledge in Central Illinois. 

Litchfield Museum and Route 66 Welcome Center

Celebrating the rich history of Litchfield, this museum gives visitors a look at the evolution of the culture, lifestyle and economy of America’s Heartland across several generations through the prism of one Midwestern town. Early agriculture, the growth of railroads, industrialization and Route 66 are all covered by this fascinating museum that just opened in 2012.

The Litchfield Museum highlights several eras of Illinois history.

The Litchfield Museum highlights several eras of Illinois history.

Route 66 Arcade Museum

 For a different kind of museum experience, head to Atlanta to see classic video games that date back to the 1930s, many of which are still playable! The interactive museum features more than 40 vintage pinball and arcade games, including the original PacMan game, and cost only a quarter for visitors to play.

MiniAbe tries his hand at a vintage game at the Route 66 Arcade Museum.

MiniAbe tries his hand at a vintage game at the Route 66 Arcade Museum.

Carlinville Historic District

 This historic downtown district features the “Million Dollar Courthouse,” a destination for artists and architects from all over the world, as well as the Macoupin County Jail, a medieval-looking fortress that has been open since 1869. The Macoupin County Historical Museum also houses exhibits and artifacts reflecting the history of the area in a beautiful two-story Victorian mansion.

The “Million Dollar” Courthouse in historic downtown Carlinville. (Photo courtesy of Instagramer (at) rmasters78)

The “Million Dollar” Courthouse in historic downtown Carlinville. (Photo courtesy of Instagramer (at) rmasters78)

The Original Steak’n’Shake

 Brush up on your diner history with a stop at the original Steak ‘n’ Shake at 1219 South Main Street in Normal. It still resembles a 50s-style diner and serves all the quintessential American fast food favorites: burgers, fries and milkshakes.

For more historical attractions across the state, check out EnjoyIllinois.com for more trip ideas.

-Illinois Office of Tourism