It’s Cathy from My Book a Day. We have a little bit of everything in our family – a teenager, pre-teen and preschooler – so we have to do things that everyone will enjoy.
If you’re looking for a family vacation with meaning, then Nauvoo, Illinois is a great destination! Nauvoo was the home of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) in the early 1840's, just before Joseph Smith was killed and Brigham Young led the church to Utah. The historic section of the city has been preserved and restored by the LDS Church and the Community of Christ.
Nauvoo has special significance for members of the LDS Church and the Community of Christ, but visitors of all faiths are welcome. Anyone with an interest in American history and old-fashioned family activities will likely find Nauvoo a worthwhile destination. Most activities in Nauvoo are free, so this is an affordable family vacation.
I love the way this tiny city is so family oriented. There is not one activity where kids aren’t welcome. There is so much to see and do, especially in the summer. Our family has visited Nauvoo three different times and we never get bored.
Here are our favorite things to do with kids in Nauvoo, plus hotel and dining recommendations.
There are so many fun shows. One tip that you need to know is to plan out what shows you’ll be seeing and when. It’s really easy to plan your other fun around when you’ll be seeing the shows You can check out Nauvoo’s tourism website to find all of the show times. There’s almost always something fun happening.
Seats fill up for many of these shows, so you’ll want to get your tickets in advance. Tickets to all shows and activities are free, and can be found at the Visitor Center. Here is the summer lineup for 2018.
This show follows a family in Nauvoo as it’s growing. This one is fun for all ages. It’s in the Visitor Center and it does require tickets.
“Just Plain Anna Amanda”
This one is about a young girl and her friends during the Nauvoo period. It’s a favorite of the kids, but all ages can be entertained by it. This one’s in the Cultural Hall. The seating is very limited. Free tickets are required.
“Sunset by the Mississippi”
This is one of our family’s all time favorites. It’s kind of a variety/talent show so it changes from year to year. We quote some of the skits from it nearly every day. This one’s in the Outdoor Theater by the Visitor Center, no ticket required.
The Young Performing Missionaries (YPM’s) have a concert every Sunday at the Visitor’s Center that doesn’t require a ticket. This is fun because the YPMs in Nauvoo are the most amazing young men and women. They are talented, and they either sing or play an instrument.
“Youth of Zion”
The last time we were in Nauvoo, it was to visit my husband’s parents who were Temple missionaries for the summer. We’d have lunch in their apartment and run across the street to where the YPMs were putting on this performance. I love that it’s a little different every time. It’s at a little park area on Main Street across from the Post Office. This one doesn’t require a ticket.
These are only performed during the mid-summer Nauvoo Pageant season. Check the schedule to see what time and which place these are being performed. They’re put on by the Pageant core cast and they are well worth seeing.
Nauvoo and British Pageants
These outdoor performances will be held from July 10th through August 4th, 2018. No tickets are required for these shows. However, if you want to sit in the first few rows, bring a blanket at about 2:00 pm to reserve your spot.
These pageants, featuring a volunteer cast of 1,100 are both amazing. The core cast of the pageants are selected through tryouts and they are outstanding. The supporting cast is all family volunteers. These volunteers also run the Country Fair before the shows. Make sure to check out the Country Fair for games, pioneer dancing and crafts!
Nauvoo Brass Band
The Nauvoo Brass Band is made up of YPM’s who all play an instrument. You can check them out in their wagon driving all over the city. They also do a Hymnfest every afternoon, either in the Women’s Garden or at the Cultural Hall.
Mentioned last but certainly not least. You’ll want to catch them as they wander Mullholland Street playing at noon. They also play right before the pageants.
Wagon and Carriage Rides
You really can’t feel the spirit of Nauvoo unless you spend some time on the wagon and carriage rides. I couldn’t pick a favorite of the two, but if you only have time for one, probably the wagon ride. The wagon and carriage ride both require tickets during the summer months. Tickets are free, and you can get them at the Visitor Center.
The wagon ride takes you through the streets of Nauvoo. It’s narrated and you will learn about many of the buildings that you’ll be able to visit and enter. I like doing this first. You'll get an overview of the city, and things make a bit more sense when you go in the homes.
The carriage ride travels out of the city. You'll ride through some fields to Inspiration Point and learn the historic significance of the things you see there. I really like this one too.
There is also an oxen ride. This one doesn’t require tickets. It’s just kind of fun to see how the people who lived in the 1800’s would have used oxen. The ride isn’t long. It goes through a small wooded area near the Visitor Center.
Make sure you stop at the Family Living Center. Here you’ll learn all kinds of things about life in the 1800’s. Things like candle making, baking bread, rope making, barrel making and weaving. This is one of our family’s favorite stops. There are so many fun activities for the kids to watch and participate in.
The Trail of Hope is another one of our family’s favorite Nauvoo stops. You walk down Parley Street reading the stories of faith and hope of the early saints as they were leaving their beautiful city of Nauvoo. This one always brings tears to my eyes. And if you get the chance, make sure that you do this one when either the Pageant Core Cast or the YPM’s are doing Vignettes. That’s an experience you will never forget!
Pioneer Pastimes is just a fun place for kids of all ages. There are games, stories and activities. The kids can dress up as pioneers. This is one of our kids very favorite spots to stop and spend some time. It’s fun to see what kind of games and activities the pioneers would have done. It’s just a nice, peaceful stop.
The Land and Records Office is always a good spot to stop. You can learn about the people who lived in Nauvoo. We loved the way the volunteers in the office help individuals find their family who lived in Nauvoo. They will allow you to print off maps of where your ancestors lived. They have activities for the children to do while the adults research.
There are so many historic sites in Nauvoo. A few of my personal favorites are the Scovil Bakery (make sure to get your free cookie!), the Cultural Hall, Sarah Granger Kimball’s home and the Seventies Hall. There are so many places you can learn about how these people would have lived. You can check out the website to learn more.
If you’re interested in Joseph and Emma Smith’s home and lives, you’ll want to check out The Community of Christ’s Joseph Smith Historic Site. This includes Joseph and Emma’s homes, The Homestead and Mansion House, as well as Joseph Smith’s Red Brick Store.
The store is open to anyone. But you can only enter the other homes by going on the tour. We’ve done this a couple of times and I think it’s definitely worth the time. I don’t feel like you can really understand Nauvoo without understanding Joseph and Emma.
Carthage Jail is about a half hour from Nauvoo. It’s worth the trip to see where the Prophet Joseph Smith was martyred. This is one of those places for me where you can definitely feel the spirit of the people who were there so many years ago. I’d have to say it’s a foundational place for my faith.
Free tours are provided by missionaries, both the young sisters and older couples. Tours start every ten minutes.
Where to Stay
Nauvoo is not a bustling metropolis. So, there aren’t very many options of places to stay. The Nauvoo Tourism Office has more suggestions then I would have thought!
We stayed at The Woodruff Hotel one time. It was really nice to be right in Nauvoo and begin your day earlier and end it at the shows even later. We really liked our stay there, though breakfast is not included. We’ve also stayed in Keokuk, Iowa at the Hampton Inn and the Quality Inn, both of which have a complimentary breakfast.
Where to Eat
There isn't a long list of restaurants in Nauvoo, but there are several that we like. We’ve eaten at Grandpa John’s many times. They have good food and good prices. We’ve also eaten at the Nauvoo Mill and Bakery. Also very good, they have sandwiches and chips.
Last time we were there, we tried the Hotel Nauvoo Restaurant. We really liked this one. It’s hard to say that everyone should eat there, because while it was really good, it was expensive for our family.
Make sure to check out Annie’s Custard, where my very favorite Salted Caramel Custard is made. And the Fudge Factory is so great as well. There are also a few more suggestions on Nauvoo’s tourism website.
My family loved Nauvoo, and I hope your family will enjoy it too. Happy travels!