I went to my first state fair in 2015. I had been to county fairs many times but had never gotten around to going to the larger Illinois State Fair—or for that matter, any other state fair. I knew the gist of what to expect—farm animals, carnival rides, entertainment and such. What surprised me was the size of the fair. There was so much to see and do. We spent two days at the fair and didn’t get a chance to see everything. Here is a list of 25 things to do at the Illinois State Fair, and it is not all-encompassing.
1. Take an agricultural tour
2015 was the first year an agricultural tour was offered. We rode on a wagon around the fairgrounds and learned about various aspects of agriculture from our guide, a college student studying agriculture. We made stops at the Piglets on Parade Birthing Center, saw the Farmer’s Little Helper exhibit, the Giberson Racing barns and the Future Farmers of America barnyard.
2 Attend a concert
See big-name entertainment in the grandstand. Among those performing in 2016 are Kiss, ZZ Top and Gregg Allman, Melissa Ethridge, and Pat Benatar & Neil Giraldo.
3. Check out the livestock
Livestock barns are open to walk through and see swine, cattle, poultry, sheep and other farm animals raised by 4-H members
4. Bet on a horse at the harness races
The Illinois racetrack is known as one of the fastest dirt tracks in the world. Post time is noon each day in the Grandstand.
5. Milk a cow
It was mostly kids taking a turn at milking a cow, but this non-farm girl couldn’t resist trying her hand at it, too.
6. Visit the Kids Korner
We never made it to the Kids Korner, but I wouldn’t mind hanging out here for a while to see a puppet or magic/ventriloquist show, or to listen to a storyteller or folk music. There is also face painting, a tiny tots play area and a child safety program in the Kids Korner.
7. Take a whirl on a carnival ride
When fairs began in the nineteenth century, they were strictly about agriculture. Today, state fairs always include amusement rides and other things that appeal to city folk.
8. See the butter cow
The butter cow has been an iconic part of the Illinois State Fair since the 1920s. The butter sculpture begins with a 500 pound block of unsalted butter. And as long as you’re in the Dairy Barn, you may as well enjoy an ice cream cone, too.
9. Listen to a free music show
There are plenty of free music venues throughout the fairgrounds, from country to jazz to rock and more.
10. Attend the fiddle and banjo contest
Who doesn’t enjoy peppy fiddle or banjo music? This wasn’t on the schedule the days we visited, but it would be fun to see.
11. See a sheep shearing contest
If you’ve never seen a sheep being sheared, now’s your chance.
12. Watch/listen to the husband/hog calling contest
I wish I had an audio recording of the husband and hog calling contests. They are a hoot!
13. See a blacksmith demonstration
Blacksmith demonstrations are scheduled periodically on the lawn of the Illinois Building, where you may even run into Abe himself.
14. Watch a car race
Are you a race fan? USAC Silver Crown and ARCA races are both scheduled in the Grandstand.
15. Check out the Hobbies, Arts & Crafts building
This is one of my favorites at any fair, browsing through the foods, arts and crafts. During our visit we caught a fashion show featuring hand-sewn outfits.
Get your food-on-a-stick like a corn dog or deep-fried Snickers bar on the carnival Midway or choose locally-raised food. I always go for a pork burger at a fair, since you can’t get those just anywhere.
17. Participate in a karaoke contest
This is not something I have the talent for, but I have heard some pretty good amateur performers in karaoke contests. (Yes, I’ve heard some not-so-good performers, too, but it’s part of the fun.) Registration to participate is required ahead of time.
18. Sip Illinois wine
I enjoyed tasting Illinois wines and also the air conditioned building that the Illinois Wine Experience was in. Purchase ten tasting tickets for $1 each , and you get one free one. The eleven tickets was perfect when spread over two days.
19. Attend the Twilight Parade
The Illinois State Fair Twilight Parade marches through Springfield to kick off the ten-day fair. The parade includes a high school band competition.
20. Check out Agricultural Tent exhibits
Sign up for the ag tours here, see educational and interactive exhibits, and catch a “Chopped” competition.
21. Visit Conservation World
Set on a 30 acres, Conservation World was one of the biggest surprises for me. Attend a fishing clinic, see a lumberjack show, or have fun with interactive displays.
22. Watch a horse show
We caught the tail end of one horse show, but we saw several gorgeous horses as they were being prepared to be shown.
23. Slide Down a Giant Slide
This looks like so much fun.
24. Watch a high dive show
Unfortunately, we missed the high dive show, but it promises a world-class show mixed with comedy, music and thrills.
25. Shop ’til you drop
Merchants sell everything from leather goods and cutlery to pianos and gutters in the Expo Center. Other products are sold in other locations throughout the fair. We did some early Christmas shopping, the earliest I ever got started on my holiday shopping.
Which state fairs have you been to? What is your favorite attraction or event at a state fair? Answer in the Comments section below.
If you go to the Illinois State Fair
The Illinois State Fair is held at the Illinois State Fairgrounds in Springfield, Illinois. Dates for 2017 are August 10 through August 20. Check the website for directions, daily schedule and general information.
We stayed at the Quality Inn and Suites during our visit to Springfield. Check rates for this and other hotels here.
Disclosures: Our visit to Springfield was hosted by the Springfield Convention and Visitors Bureau. We received complimentary accommodations and a meal, but any opinions expressed in this post are my own.
This article contains an affiliate link. If you book a room through this link, I will receive a small commission at no additional cost to you.
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