Venture into Illinois’ verdant plains or to the banks of the Mississippi and Illinois rivers for budget-friendly food and lodging prices. The state's scenic byways and historic sites lend themselves to a romantic itinerary, but if your heart is set on a weekend in an urban area, you can woo your partner on a budget in the country’s third largest city. Even the Windy City can be an inexpensive romantic destination.
Roughing It Easy
If you and your partner are outdoors enthusiasts, take advantage of the budget-friendly Rent-A-Camps operated by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources at 20 state parks. The rustic cabins come with beds, a table and chairs and a fire ring. Some cabins have electricity, and bathhouses are nearby. You supply the bedding, food and utensils. Paddle out to the middle of one of the lakes in Chain O’Lakes State Park in the northeastern part of the state to watch the sunset. Laze on the sandy beach at Stephen A. Forbes State Recreation Area in South-Central Illinois, or head west to hike hand-in-hand on the trails at Johnson-Sauk Trail State Recreation Area.
Chicago on the Cheap
Chicago doesn’t have to be an expensive romantic getaway, and keeping costs down doesn’t require staying at a cheesy motel in the suburbs. Airbnb lists many properties under $100 a night, including places with lake views and private cottages close to transportation. Restaurants have happy hours and rooftop buffets, and a slice of pizza can be found on almost any corner. Time a romantic picnic in Millennium Park with one of their free events. Call ahead to Pastoral, a specialty wine and cheese shop, for a reasonably-priced picnic basket. Chicago SummerDance is a summer-long event held in Grant Park with live bands and free dance lessons.
Tour the Vineyards
Vineyards scattered across Illinois offer wine tastings, tours of the wineries and romantic spots for a quiet meal. Seven wine trails meander across the state. Blue Sky Vineyard, at the end of the Shawnee Hills Wine Trail, has two reasonably-priced suites furnished with antiques, including the Tuscany Romance suite with two balconies and one overlooking the wine bar. Guests can have a glass of the vineyard’s wine by a waterfall or tour the 12-acre property. Oxbow Bed and Breakfast near Pinckneyville is a good base of operations for touring the wine trails in the southern region of Illinois. The Oxbow Barn apartment serves as the bed and breakfast’s honeymoon suite.
Put the Top Down
Some find the lure of the open road irresistibly romantic, and following an itinerary along Route 66 adds layers of history and glamour. The route stretches from Chicago in the northeast to the Mississippi River in the southwest of Illinois. Make the historic Vrooman Mansion in Bloomington your base for exploring the Mother Road. When the huge Italianate home, built in 1869, was sold in 1873, the house had 17 rooms. The new owners added 18 more. A nearby section of Route 66 has been restored to its former glory with Burma Shave signs and classic billboards.
- Illinois Department of Natural Resources: Rent-A-Camp Program
- Illinois Department of Natural Resources: Chain O’Lakes State Park
- Illinois Department of Natural Resources: Stephen A. Forbes State Recreation Area
- Illinois Department of Natural Resources: Johnson-Sauk Trail State Recreation Area
- airbnb: Chicago
- City of Chicago: Millennium Park -- Upcoming Events
- City of Chicago: Chicago Summerdance
- Illinois Wine: Visit a Winery
- Blue Sky Vineyard: Suites
- Photo Credit Wirepec/iStock/Getty Images
- BBOnline.com: Oxbow Bed & Breakfast
- Illinois Bed & Breakfast Association: Southern Region: Oxbow Bed & Breakfast
- National Park Service: Route 66 -- Road Segments Illinois
- Vrooman Mansion: Rooms and Rates
- Vrooman Mansion: History
- The Illinois Scenic Byway Road Trip
- Encyclopedia of Chicago: “Windy City”
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