By the riverfront and perched on the bluffs, Quincy is a picture perfect city next to the Mississippi River in western Illinois. In the golden age of the Mississippi steamboats this settlement was a hub for commerce and transportation.
That status is impossible to ignore on Quincy’s tree lined streets, sophisticated parks and neighborhoods constellated with magnificent architecture.
The good news is that Quincy’s main attractions are housed in beautiful buildings from those days, and you’ll be free to set off on foot to discover no fewer than 100 local landmarks and as many as 20 sites on the National Register of Historic Places.
I’m an Illinois native and have a passion for travel. I have visited Quincy several times so I’m sure you’re gonna find something you like on my list of the best things to do.
1. Historic Downtown
Using the ceremonious Washington Park as your base I suggest to pass an agreeable couple of hours ambling around Quincy’s historic core. Springing up during the city’s heyday as a center for commerce on the Mississippi are numerous elegant buildings, in styles ranging from Italianate to Richardsonian Romanesque.
Downtown is coming through a revitalization process, and you’ll also find a smattering of locally owned restaurants, especially in the blocks just east of Washington Park.
On a square plan, that park has had the same dimension for nigh-on 200 years and was the site of the sixth Lincoln-Douglas debate in 1858. In summer there’s a farmers’ market on Saturday mornings, as well as live music on the 2nd and 4th Friday evenings.
Continue your tour in the magnificent East End, home to the city’s 19th-century movers and shakers, and the South Side German Historic District, where the architecture has a clear German influence.
2. Quincy Museum
Among the magnificent properties in Quincy’s Historic East End District is the handsome Richardsonian Romanesque Newcomb-Stillwell Mansion, which in my opinion is a great place to learn about local history.
Built in 1890-91 for Richard F. Newcomb, founder of the Quincy Paper Company, the Quincy Museum has a facade composed of rough-hewn Berea sandstone blocks and is heavily ornamented with carvings from the ground level to the chimney tops.
Unusually for the time, the house used steam heat, and in the basement were the furnace, hot water heater, wine cellar, laundry and even a bowling alley.
On the 1st floor you can pore over the exquisite restored interiors, complete with 14-karat gold woodwork, while the two upper floors feature fascinating exhibits about the city.
See also: 22 Amazing Hidden Gems in Illinois
3. History Museum on the Square
The Historical Society of Quincy & Adams County has recently set up a compelling museum at this fine building on the southwest corner of Washington Park. The History Museum on the Square is in the former Quincy Public Library (1888), in a Romanesque Revival style, from rusticated stone.
One striking detail is the imposing, three-story circular tower above the main entrance. Inside you can view permanent and rotating exhibits covering the history of the city and Adams County.
You’ll find enthralling artifacts from the pioneer days, details about the Mormon exodus from Missouri in the winter of 1838-39, paintings by Edward Everett (1794-1865) and interesting facts about the impressive Washington Square in front.
Previously, this building held the Gardner Museum of Architecture and Design, and there’s a slew of interesting holdovers. One is a sublime display of stained glass, by the likes of Frank Lloyd Wright and Tiffany & Co., along with a charming sculpture garden on the museum grounds. On my recent visit I really liked the exhibit on the golden age of Quincy.
4. Villa Kathrine
High on the bluffs overlooking the Mississippi is something that wouldn’t look out of place in Marrakech or Fes. Villa Kathrine is a Moorish-style courtyard mansion commissioned in 1900 by the wealthy and eccentric Quincy resident W. George Metz who had a taste for Mediterranean architecture.
Steeped in legend, the property was purportedly built for a woman that Metz had fallen in love with, but who refused to come to live with him. Metz lived alone here for more than ten years with just his Great Dane, Bingo for company, but did host ostentatious parties.
The ghost of Bingo is rumored to haunt the mansion, restored across 20 years up to 1998, and one story holds that the dog is buried with a substantial amount of gold, somewhere on the grounds. Monday to Sunday you can tour this remarkable building, admiring the patio, reflecting pool harem and the sheer finery and workmanship throughout.
5. John Wood Mansion
The Historical Society of Quincy and Adams County also looks after the grand Greek Revival residence for the 12th Governor of Illinois, John Wood (1798-1880).
Wood founded both the City of Quincy (1835) and Adams County (1825) and relocated to the mansion in 1837, having previously lived in a two-story log cabin.
This monument catches the eye immediately with its pedestal and four stately Doric columns, and these were actually turned by Wood himself on a purpose built lathe.
The John Wood Mansion has been in the hands of the society since 1906 and is filled with period furnishings and objects belonging to the Wood family.
Also on the campus is that log cabin from 1835, as well as a visitors center, built in 1986 and hosting an interesting exhibit on Quincy during the Lincoln era.
6. Quincy Art Center
This not-for-profit art museum can be found in Quincy’s picturesque East End Historic District. Focusing on contemporary Midwestern art, the Quincy Art Center has a history going back to 1923, as well as an exquisite location in a converted carriage house on a large estate.
The building of the Quincy Art Center dates back to 1887 and comprises a modern wing from 1990. The permanent collection includes more than 400 works by national and regional artists, in drawing, painting, sculpture, posters and prints.
You can see selections from this inventory at short-term exhibits, at an exciting array of solo and themed shows,at the annual Members’ Exhibit and the Biennial Quad-State Exhibition.
7. Clat Adams Bicentennial Park
Wedged between the Quincy Bayview Bridge in the north and the Quincy Memorial Bridge in the south is a scenic waterfront park where you can pause to savor the famous river.
And as well as giving you that majestic vantage point, the Clat Adams Bicentennial Park is also an apt venue for public events during the summer.
There’s a whole series of outdoor concerts at the elegant blue and white gazebo, and you’ll find few better places in the country to watch the 4th of July fireworks.
Read also: 15 Best Small Towns to Visit in Illinois
8. All Wars Museum
Well worth checking out on the north side of Quincy is the historic Illinois Veterans’ Home. established following the Reconstruction Era. Dating back to 1886, this is one of the oldest, not to mention largest complexes of its kind in the country.
Such is its scale that the Illinois Veterans’ Home has often been touted as the “city within the city”, and continues to have its own bank, post office, cemetery, chapel and even a television station.
An additional reason why I think you should pay a visit is for the All Wars Museum, which has been open for more than 30 years and is loaded with many thousands of artifacts from the American Revolution to the War on Terrorism.
You’ll get to see preserved uniforms, field equipment, vehicles, artillery, small arms, blades, posters, flags, maps, photographs and much more besides.
9. Bill Klingner Trail
You don’t have to stray far from Quincy for a true walk in nature. This trail, close to 2.5 miles long, runs west to east from close to Bob Bangert Park by the Mississippi to North 24th Street.
Named for a long-serving Park District Engineer, the Bill Klingner Trail leads you through the green corridor that lines Cedar Creek, twisting through Quincy’s northern suburbs.
Suitable for walking, jogging and bicycling, and completely clear of motorized traffic, the trail is a wonderful community effort, guiding you through idyllic woodland, but also offering access to amenities like a playground and disc golf course.
10. Indian Mounds Park
This park is set just in from the Mississippi river bank and gives you an absorbing if poignant insight into the Native American heritage of this corner of western Illinois.
Along with the neighboring Woodland Cemetery, Indian Mounds Park features some of the best preserved Native American burial mounds to be found anywhere in the United States.
These mounds are labeled with a series of panels going into the history and culture of the Potawatomi nation, as well as Quincy’s position on the Trail of Death (1838) in which a significant number were forcibly moved from Indiana to a reservation in Kansas.
The park is also home to a popular outdoor public pool with a slide and spray equipment, and offers occasional views of the Mississippi.
11. Quincy Community Theatre
Based at the Oakley-Lindsay Center just south of downtown is a community theatre company with a rich history. And with a 5-star review on Google I think you’re in for some top-notch entertainment.
The Quincy Community Theatre is a beloved creative outlet for the city, and has been around since 1923, initially presenting seasons of dramas, comedies, musicals and mysteries at the Illinois Veterans Home.
In 1964 the company switched to the Trinity Parish Hall and since 1995 has been based at the Oakley-Lindsay Center’s state-of-the-art 500-seater auditorium.
When we wrote this article, recent seasons had included as many as eight productions, among them Frozen, Mamma Mia!, Anne of Green Gables, Sweeney Todd and Lady Windermere’s Fan.
Related reading: 16 Most Beautiful Places to Visit in Illinois
12. Scotties Fun Spot
On Quincy’s eastern outskirts, this classic family entertainment center packs a wide variety of attractions and also has a surprisingly long history.
Scotties Fun Spot started out as a rink opened by Albert R. Scott (Scottie) in Carthage, IL, in 1936. The current location opened in 1979 and since the 2000s has gradually been transformed into a multi-attraction center. I think this is a great place to visit with your kids.
In store at Scotties Fun Spot you’ve got laser tag, mini golf, go karts, bumper cars, an arcade, mini-lane bowling, an interactive indoor playground and, of course, roller skating.
Also here is the Winners Grill, with a crowd-pleasing menu of comfort food like burgers, pizza, pretzels, tenders and nachos and soft serve ice cream.
13. Log Cabin Village
On Quinsippi Island, just upriver from the Quincy Bayview Bridge is a preserved series of log buildings harking back to the Lincoln era.
These were constructed in the first half of the 19th century and were relocated to the island in the 1960s and 70s.
You can download a brochure for a self-guided tour of the village, which is made up of four log cabins, a log church, stone smokehouse and corn crib.
If you’d like to view the interiors there are regular open days or you can organize a guided group tour by booking online.
14. Dogwood Festival
Quincy ushers in the spring season each year with this four-day festival in late April or early May.
Coinciding with the namesake trees’ fabulous blossoms, the Dogwood Festival has been an annual fixture for more than half a century and underlines Quincy’s strong community spirit.
This is one of the northernmost places where dogwood trees can thrive, and the fact is celebrated with a grand parade along Maine Street, along with all sorts of lighthearted side events including amusements and vendors in Washington Park, a Little King and Queen pageant and a family-friendly block party.
15. Hannibal, Missouri
A fitting excursion I would suggest during your time in Quincy is this genteel city just 20 miles to the south on the Missouri bank of the Mississippi.
Hannibal’s biggest claim to fame is as the childhood home of Mark Twain (1835-1910), and would provide the setting for both Tom Sawyer (1876) and Huckleberry Finn (1884).
No surprise then that there are tons of Twain-oriented things to get up to in Hannibal, from sights to tours to cruises.
Top of the list are a visit to his Boyhood Home, and the Mark Twain Cave, a showcase that inspired McDougal’s Cave in Tom Sawyer.
Hannibal’s downtown has held onto its 19th-century character, as has the glorious Rockcliffe Mansion (1898) built for a lumber magnate in a prime position above the city and the Mississippi.