In the Metro-East area, 12 miles from St. Louis, Collinsville sits atop the bluffs over the American Bottom, the floodplain of the Mississippi.
The city’s historic core can be seen Uptown along Main Street, with its medley of architectural style, historic homes, long-standing traditions and plentiful local businesses with deep roots in the area.
This is the setting for Collinsville’s annual celebrations, like a festival in honor of the city’s strong Italian heritage and another in recognition of horseradish, produced in vast quantities here.
There are tons of interesting things to do in the city and on its outskirts, whether you’re exploring the remnants of an ancient city, watching premier motorsports or bicycling along the extensive Madison County Transit Trails.
1. Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site
There’s a lost city on the edge of Collinsville, preserved as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. At its peak in the 11th and 12th century CE, Cahokia might have been larger than London was at the time.
The remnants are a state historic site and, spread over 2,200 acres, make up the largest pre-Columbian settlement north of Mexico.
The crowning glory is Monks Mound, the largest prehistoric earthwork mound in the Americas, measuring 100 feet high, 955 wide and 775 feet long.
To fully get to grips with this amazing place, you can take guided public tours, Thursday through Sunday.
The interpretive center is also superb, giving insight into the Mississippian tradition, and explaining what’s been learned from anthropological and archeological research at Cahokia.
2. Willoughby Heritage Farm
Just next to uptown Collinsville you can take a step back in time and experience local farm life in the 1950s.
Free to visit, Willoughby Heritage Farm has a gorgeous setting, posted on the bluff line overlooking the Mississippi floodplain.
This attraction is managed by the Collinsville parks and recreation department, and has preserved barns, a 30s-style Craftsman Farm House and a host of domestic animals like chickens, pigs and goats.
Willoughby Heritage Farm is open daily, and is used for all kinds of recreational programs and seasonal educational activities. The property is on 40 acres, with prairie and woodland that you can visit on hiking trails.
3. World’s Largest Catsup Bottle
For decades an important local employer in Collinsville was the G.S. Suppiger catsup bottling plant, packaging Brooks old original rich & tangy catsup.
In 1949, the W.E. Caldwell Company, still in business today, constructed a water tower for the plant, a few minutes south of Uptown Collinsville.
The plant’s owner suggested that the reservoir at the top should be shaped like a Brooks catsup bottle, and that’s how this lovable piece of mid-century kitsch came to be.
The World’s Largest Catsup Bottle was renovated in the mid-90s and placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2002.
4. Uptown Collinsville
With architecture from the city’s incorporation in 1872 through the 20th century, Collinsville’s central commercial district warrants an hour or two of your time.
Uptown Collinsville is on Main Street, which continues southwest to northeast for several blocks.
Many of the shops, services, bars and restaurants are towards the east end, with a choice of cuisines that includes Tex-Mex, southern classics, pub fare and sandwiches.
You’ll notice a few Italian businesses, and Uptown hosts the two-day Italian Fest, a food and culture event on the third weekend in September.
A couple of blocks south of Main Street is the historic Glenwood Cemetery, founded in 1822, and the resting place of Collinsville’s earliest residents and veterans of every United States war.
5. Kruta Bakery
The story of this local bakery, still in the same family, goes back all the way to 1919. The original Kruta’s Bakery was founded in East St. Louis by Frank Kruta Sr., a Russian immigrant who had trained as a baker in Germany.
The business made the switch to Collinsville in 1974, settling at its current location 300, St. Louis Rd., and more than 100 years later greets customers with a smile.
There’s a big choice of fresh breads, donuts, pastries, danishes, cakes, cupcakes, pies, cookies and stollen, with recipes that have been in the family for decades.
Some specialties to whet your appetite are the delectable cream horns, gooey butter cake and strudel.
6. Collinsville Historical Museum
The Collinsville Historical Society runs this museum at 406 Main Street, opening a window on more than 250 years of local history.
The museum is a treasure trove of Collinsville-specific artifacts, with antique cowbells made by the local Blum Bell Manufacturing Company and tools harking back to Collinsville’s forgotten coal mining past.
You can find out the backstory for the World’s Largest Catsup Bottle, and learn about the three old factories that made a center for clothing manufacturing.
The city has produced more than its fair share of pro sports stars and Olympians, and there’s information about each one in the sports exhibit.
7. D.D. Collins House
At the western approach to uptown Collinsville is a fine post-and-beam Greek Revival house, dating back to 1845.
The D.D. Collins house was built by Daniel Dove Collins, the first president of Collinsville’s Board of Trustees and a cousin of the village’s founders.
The house was originally several blocks at Main and Center, and was switched to its current location in the 1890s.
Open for tours on Saturdays, the house is in a beautiful state of preservation following an 18-year restoration that was completed in 2016.
8. Collinsville Aqua Park
Operated by the local parks and recreation department, Collinsville is home to the top water park in the Metro-East area.
The leisure pool here is enormous and has two slides, one open and one tube, splashing into the deep end from a height of three stories.
This pool has lots to keep children occupied, like a set of floating lily pads to negotiate, and the Water Fortress play area with its various jets and valves.
Also here is a long lazy river, Monsoon Mountain, with a 500-gallon tipping bucket, and a four-lane lap pool with a 12-foot climbing wall over the deep end.
9. Fairmount Park Racetrack
Collinsville boasts the only horse-racing track in Illinois, outside of the Chicago area. Staging thoroughbred racing on the flat since 1925, Fairmount Park has a one-mile dirt oval.
The live racing season takes place between April and October, with around 90 races per year taking place on Tuesdays, Fridays and Saturdays.
The Fanduel Sportsbook at the track is open all year round, seven days a week, for betting on major sports events and simulcast horse races.
There are three eateries open at the track throughout this time, with dining packages available at the Black Stallion and Top of the Turf rooms.
10. World Wide Technology Raceway (Gateway Motorsports Park)
Another high-profile sports venue in the area is this race track complex with four facilities on the same site. The main track is a 1.25-mile oval used for the IndyCar Series and the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series.
Within this track is a road course used by a number of national car clubs, while the quarter-mile drag strip hosts an NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series event.
And even when meets are taking place on the other tracks, the Gateway Kartplex, opened in 2013, is open for group events, competitive racing and arrive & drive packages.
The World Wide Technology Raceway is one of several tracks around the country offering ride alongs and driving packages through the Rusty Wallace Racing Experience.
11. Relleke Pumpkin Patch
When fall comes around, this farm by Horseshoe Lake opens to the public for all kinds of family activities.
On weekends from late September to late October there’s pumpkin painting, hayrides, pony rides, sand art, inflatable games, corn maze, barrel train rides, a haunted maze, a haunted barn and much more.
Kids will adore the farm animals, including ducks, turkeys, chickens, donkeys, geese, pigs and a llama. You can also meet and feed the farm’s cheeky goats.
Throughout this period the farm offers daily counter sales for its many varieties of pumpkins, squashes, as well as specialty foods and handmade crafts.
12. MCT Schoolhouse Trail
In a wonderful initiative by Madison County Transit, former rail corridors have been converted into bikeways over the last 30 years.
MCT is the only transit system in the United States with integrated bikeways and bus lines, and there are more than 100 miles of paths on 10 different trails.
The main one serving Collinsville is the MCT Schoolhouse Trail, beginning near the shore of Horseshoe Lake, a vestigial meander in the Mississippi, and traveling northeast through Collinsville’s outskirts as far as the village of Maryville.
The trail is just over 15 miles long and leads you past farmland, wooded areas and tidy residential neighborhoods.
13. Gateway Convention Center
Ten minutes from uptown Collinsville is a multipurpose convention center that opened in the early 90s and has been expanded three times since then to host ever larger events.
Complemented by restaurants and hotels, the Gateway Convention Center has boosted surrounding development and has a busy schedule, with something happening most weekends.
When we wrote this article the center had recently hosted Dino Stroll, displaying 75 lifelike animatronic dinosaurs.
Also on the agenda are conventions for a huge spectrum of subjects, from anime and sci-fi/fantasy to archaeology, model railroading and amateur radio.
14. Woodland Park
This beautiful park is close to the shopping corridors along Beltline Road and Route 159 in the northeast of the city.
Away from that hustle and bustle, Woodland Park is in a little valley with two ponds fed by a creek that makes its way through the neighborhoods to the south.
The abundant water brings lots of ducks and geese to feed (oats and corn), and the ponds are a lovely place to go for some fishing.
Olivers Road bends through Woodland Park, and is served by a children’s playground, picnic tables and shelters. There are two baseball fields on the west side, as well as a half basketball court and an 18-hole disc golf course.
15. International Horseradish Festival
Collinsville’s favorite nickname is “Horseradish Capital of the World” as the city exports massive amounts of this root to markets in Europe and the Far East.
So important is horseradish to Collinsville’s fortunes that the city has a two-day celebration for all things horseradish on the first weekend of June.
Based along Main Street, the International Horseradish Festival is now deep into its fourth decade and attracts thousands of people.
Food is of course a big part of the event, along with root-grinding demonstrations, a 5k run, live music, a car show, the Root Derby race, a beauty pageant, a bloody mary contest and lots of craft vendors.