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Galena is a tiny town in the upper northeast corner of Illinois, just eight miles south of the Wisconsin border and about 15 miles east of Dubuque, Iowa. Despite its small size, it packs a major punch. Tourists love visiting for the town’s unique preservation of 19th-century buildings and several historic sites. Read up on what else makes Galena a top Midwest travel destination and discover why it deserves a place on your must-see bucket list.
The historic Main Street in downtown Galena is a shopper’s paradise. It’s the premiere destination for visitors to see the town’s 19th-century aesthetic, as all the storefronts are quaint, colorful and representative of a different era. Most of the retail options are one-of-a-kind boutiques and specialty stores, so any presents bought in Galena are sure to be unique.
Civil War hero and 18th United States president Ulysses S. Grant first moved to Galena in 1860 to work at the small shop in town owned and operated by his family. Upon returning to Galena from war in 1865, local residents gifted him and his family a fully furnished home on the southeast side of town. They didn’t stay long once Grant was elected president in 1868, only returning occasionally for visits. Today guests can tour the building – restored to its late 19th-century grandeur – and view much of the Grants’ original furniture and possessions which remain in the home.
Ulysses S. Grant Home, 500 Bouthillier St, Galena, IL, USA +1 815 777 3310
On the other side of the spectrum, Blaum Bros. Distilling Co. is practically brand new to the Galena area. Cofounders and brothers Matt and Mike discovered their shared passion for whiskey, quit their respective careers and set out to open a distillery with no formal training. It’s become quite the Galena destination, and customers can enjoy browsing the house brand or taking guided tours of the facility. The Blaums have expanded beyond whiskey and now distill their own branded vodka, gin, moonshine and more.
Blaum Bros. Distilling Co., 9380 US Hwy 20 W, Galena, IL, USA +1 815 777 1000
For a relaxing return to nature, check out the trails through Casper Bluff. It offers some of the best possible views of the Mississippi River, whether iced over or bathed in rays of sunshine, and its 85 acres are also home to 51 burial mounds that can be seen from the pathways. The area is popular with hikers, bikers and active folks alike.
Casper Bluff, 870 South Pilot Knob Road, Galena, IL, USA +1 815 858 9100
The joint Galena–Jo Daviess County Historical Society is housed just off Main Street in central Galena, showcasing exhibits to educate the public about the history of the county. Their building includes a specific Ulysses S. Grant museum as well general Galena history. Visit or attend one of their events throughout the year, such as their Historic Homes Tour, Cemetery Walks or Galena in Maps.
A recent addition to the Galena nature scene was the opening of Horseshoe Mound in 2014. Located on the eastern side of Galena, this 40-acre greenspace includes several hiking trails, but it centers around the mound, from which you can see panoramic views of Galena, Dubuque and the river. It’s a beautiful place to photograph or simply spend the day outside.
Horseshoe Mound, 1679 N. Blackjack Rd., Galena, IL, USA +1 815 858 9100
This Galena home was built in 1843 for local attorney and politician Elihu Washburne, who occupied it with his family in 1882. It has been preserved as a state historic site thanks to its impeccable Greek Revival style, complete with four tall columns on the front facade. The building is open to the public and can be enjoyed through self-guided or organized group tours.
Washburne House, 908 3rd St, Galena, IL, USA +1 815 777 3310