Forget Paris or Rome, Illinois might just be one of the most romantic places on Earth.
The US state combines beautiful natural landscapes, vibrant cities, and a friendly attitude towards LGBTI people, creating the perfect recipe to get same-sex couples’ hearts beating. Whether it’s quirky or simply spectacular, these romantic spots in Illinois are the perfect way to see the state with the one you love.
Most people don’t know that the best view of the Chicago skyline is found out on the water, away from the bustling crowds ruining your cute couple’s selfie.
Ranging from the luxurious to the compact, there are many cruise boats leaving from Navy Pier every day. Some have restaurants on-board, so you can dine while staring out at Lake Michigan, one of America’s five Great Lakes. Or sit back and listen as a tour guide showcases Chicago’s iconic architectural highlights.
This is a genuine escape from the hubbub of the city. With barely any phone signal on the lake, you can be completely in the moment with your partner.
Inside the Shawnee National Forest is an area of such natural beauty it belongs to deities: the Garden of the Gods.
Featuring awe-inspiring sandstone cliffs, jaw-dropping rock formations, and winding trails to discover it all, it’s the most epic romantic spot in Illinois for nature lovers.
The shortest route just happens to have the best opportunities for your envy-inducing Instagram shots. The Observation Trail is a half-mile circular route around the cliffs and formations. While the moonlit canopy walk sounds like it was pulled from ‘How to be Romantic 101’, it is simply magical.
Or you could try the Canopy Tour. You’ll head up into the trees and then fly through the air on a number of super-fast zip lines, the longest of which is 180 feet.
If all of this is starting to sound a bit exhausting, Illinois happens to have venues oozing with relaxation. Inn at Irish Hollow is an adorable B&B in Galena, providing an idyllic farm getaway to really soothe your aching gay hearts.
There’s 500-acres of adorable farmland to explore together, with gorgeous fields and fairy tale paths to traverse. The rooms are rustic and just the right level of cosy, letting you relax in everything from a traditional English cottage, to beautiful country lodges.
With miles to hike and bike and stunning places to stay, it’s the ideal place for a dreamy weekend away.
A gay club may not feel like the most romantic spot in Illinois, but storming the dance floor with someone you love sometimes beats the fanciest meal money can buy. One of the many gay bars in Boystown, this place stands out because of its huge, transfixing cloud chandelier made with more than 19,000 lights and superb service.
Earlier in the evening, you can sit down to enjoy a craft beer together at their sleek bar. But later on the music is turned up and the bodies hit the floor.
Illinois is known for many things: Abraham Lincoln; the gayest gay district in America; and now – wine. The key to any LGBTI person’s heart, Illinois is becoming the heartland for the drink with a growing number of wineries opening across the state.
The oldest winery in Illinois, Lynfred includes a luxury B&B in a stunning vine-covered building. The four suites feature décor inspired by different wine regions, from Bavaria to Italy. Staying in the winery has unique perks, including two bottles of wine, a tour of their wine making facility, and a charcuterie and cheese board.
Whether you stay the night or visit on a day trip, a tour round the family-run winery where you can sip their award-winning wine will make any date extra-special.
Fancy cocktails and the eternity of space: is there anything more romantic? Cue The Adler Planetarium, the date destination of choice for love-sick sky-watchers and big nerds alike.
Every third Thursday, the planetarium hosts ‘Adler After Dark’, strictly for lovers over the age of 21. As well as the usual exhibitions and access to the Doane Observatory, couples can snuggle up while listening and live entertainment every month.
Designed by legendary architect and designer Frank Lloyd Wright, the Emil Bach House is a way to add some spectacular beauty into your romantic trip away.
One of the few properties of its type in the world, it weaves luxury with truly unique design. In fact, people often book here with plans to head into Chicago, but get caught up in everything else before leaving. With Lake Michigan on its doorstep, there’s even more reason to get lost in this place together.
Remember on your first date where you said you were ‘totally into art’ and ‘Picazzo is my bro’? And now your partner wants you to show them the artistic ropes? Well, luckily Chicago has just the art haven for you.
With everything from modern art to medieval manuscripts, the Art Institute of Chicago has something for even the toughest critic.
The institute is one of the world’s best major galleries and lets visitors get lost for hours exploring collections, which span both centuries and the globe.
All that art appreciation is hungry stuff. The Institute’s onsite bar and restaurant, Terzo Piano, is a very cool place to refuel before heading back to explore.
There are few things more romantic than cooking your partner a meal. But if the best you can manage is some over-boiled pasta, this cookery class might help both of you. Dan Bocik has been a celebrated Chicago chef for more than 20 years. His ‘a tavola’ restaurant is a Windy City institution.
Bocik teaches eager students how to make the delicious dishes straight from the mouth-watering menu.
Everyone from beginners to straight-up chefs can participate. Then at the end of the class, you can tell each other how good their cooking is as you recreate the scene from Lady and the Tramp.
Romance is a subjective term. While some people want gorgeous walks or nights staring at the stars, others find competing with each other on vintage games to be the hottest kind of date. Which is why Replay is the venue of choice for those Gaymers that love each other.
With three locations across Chicago, you can find arcade classics such as Donkey Kong, Ms Pac-Man and Mario, alongside foosball tables and pinball tables.
But the best things are just for adults; Replay is also known for its vast menu of more than 70 bourbons and whiskeys.
Action and adventure lovers, this is the place for you.
The bed and breakfast is in a historic Victorian farm alongside the stunning Fox River.
The area surrounding the B&B is brimming with activities. Canoes are available to hire for some couple-based paddling. Looking around as you cruise on the water, you’ll see beautiful Sandstone cliffs and an amazing array of wildlife.
If you prefer the ground to be a bit more solid, biking and hiking through the nearby Starved Rock and Matthiessen State Parks allows you to soak up the majesty of the great Illinois outdoors.
The bravest of all couples can take to the skies. SkyDive Chicago might get your heart racing… just try not to scream in front of your partner.
Illinois Office of Tourism is a partner of Gay Star News.