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This summer, my family and I took a roadtrip family vacation to Nauvoo, Illinois. In the mid 1840s, Nauvoo rivaled Chicago as the largest city in Illinois. In the present day, it is a sleepy hamlet of about 1000 people in western Illinois on the banks of the Mississippi River. Nauvoo serves mostly as a tourist destination for people interested in early Mormon and American frontier history. We were heading to the free Nauvoo Pageant that runs for a few weeks during the summer, but also spent a good chunk of two days doing some of the historical touristy things.
Here are 9 things to do in Nauvoo Illinois for free / cheap.
The LDS Visitor Center
Our first stop was the Visitor Center of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. The Visitor’s Center is located at 290 N Main St and is open to everyone. It has a ton of historical information about Nauvoo. I know I’m a map-geek, but I really enjoyed the scale (1 inch to 125 feet) historical model of Nauvoo that they have there
It really helped me orient myself as to where everything was in a historical sense. At the LDS Visitor’s Center there are also free activities you can sign up for (wagon rides, historic home tours, etc) but space is limited and if you want to sign up for any of them you need to reserve your spot early in the morning.
The Family Living center
My kids also really enjoyed going to the Family Living center which was one of the free things to do in Nauvoo for kids that we did. The Family Living Center has a couple of demonstrations of different 1800s crafts. Here’s a picture of the barrel making demonstration which was super interesting
And a video of a few of my kids making rope
They also had bread making, candle making and a few other ones. The demonstrations are all run by senior missionaries from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. There is no overt proselyting, but they will occasionally make churchy metaphors (like “just like rope strands are stronger together, so are our families if we all stay together”), so if that bothers you for whatever reason, maybe skip this 😉
The British or Nauvoo Pageant
I’ve written an entire separate article on 7 things to know about the Nauvoo Pageant (and the British Pageant) with more information, but if you’re looking for things to do in Nauvoo Illinois, you’ll definitely want to come during the summer when the pageants are fun.
The Nauvoo Pageant runs Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday and the British Pageant is Wednesday and Friday. No pageants are shown on Sunday or Monday nights. We went over a Friday and Saturday night so that we could see both pageants (there is a bit of overlap so while it isn’t required to see both of them to get the whole story, it helps)
You can reserve seats for the pageants starting at 2pm – more information here.
The Country Fair
Each evening the pageant runs, there is a Country Fair that is held in the same block as the Pageants, starting at 7pm. There are 20 or so different stations where you can do anything from walking on stilts, pulling a handcart, playing old-time games, sack races, stickball and more. Our first night, we figured we would just come for the end of this since we thought our kids would be bored out of their minds at the Country Fair. We were wrong – the kids had a blast.
Most of Nauvoo’s Main Street is set up with historical homes that are open for tours. We visited a brickmaker, blacksmith and an old bakery (with free cookies at the end!)
Here’s a map of Downtown Nauvoo with Main Street with pageant and pageant parking locations.
Most of the homes and historical sites are owned by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, and are free and open to the public.
The Joseph Smith historical site and cemetery
Towards the southern end of Nauvoo (865 Water St) is the Joseph Smith historical site and cemetery.
The Joseph Smith home and Red Brick Store are owned by the Community of Christ (formerly the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints), which is a separate church. Admission to the Visitor Center, site orientation video, museum exhibits, and Red Brick Store is free. Visiting the Smith Family Cemetery where Joseph, Hyrum, Emma, Joseph Sr, Lucy and Samuel Smith are all buried. There is a $4.00 preservation fee per person for the guided tour of the Smith homes
Temples in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints are sacred buildings and only members in good standing are able to go inside the building. The Nauvoo Temple was one of the first built by the church in the 1840s. It was set on fire by an unknown arsonist in 1848, damaged by a tornado in 1850, and finally toppled in 1865.
The building was restored in 2002. The exterior of the building is faithful to the original building, though the inside of the building is different.
The Nauvoo Temple is at 50 N Wells St, and although the inside of the building is not open to the public, the grounds are. Just outside the building to the west of the temple is a statue of Joseph and Hyrum Smith
The statue, titled Calm as a Summer’s Morning, has the caption
The words which Joseph spoke as he journeyed to Carthage: “I am going like a lamb to the slaughter; but I am calm as a summer’s morning; I have a conscience void of offense towards God, and towards all men.”
The Trail of Hope
The Trail of Hope recreates the path that early Mormon pioneers took when they were forced to leave Nauvoo in the mid 1840s. It goes on Parley Street from the main area of Nauvoo down to the Mississippi River. The Trail of Hope has a variety of signs every few feet, with stories and quotes of the citizens of Nauvoo
While you could walk it (it’s maybe 1/2 mile), we drove it in our car, stopping at each sign to read the quotes and historical stories. At the end of Parley Street is the Pioneer Memorial and Exodus of Greatness.
Where to eat in Nauvoo
Nauvoo is a very small town and there are not very many places to eat in Nauvoo itself. We packed picnic lunches mostly and ate as we waited to reserve seats for the pageant
One afternoon we did walk up to the Nauvoo Mill and Bakery and ate lunch. There are a couple of small eateries up on State Route 96 a little east of the historical section.
Where to stay in Nauvoo
There aren’t a ton of places to stay in Nauvoo as well – we stayed across the river at the Hampton Inn Keokuk Iowa, which worked well. It was about a 20 minute drive from the hotel into Nauvoo. There are a few hotels in Nauvoo, but they are more boutique and smaller. Here are a few options for where to stay in Nauvoo.
- Nauvoo Grand Bed and Breakfast
- Hotel Nauvoo Historic Inn and Restaurant
- Nauvoo Family Inn and Suites
Have you ever been to Nauvoo? What are your top things to do in Nauvoo Illinois?
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