In spite of it's global reputation as a violent city, Chicago ended up setting a new record for tourist visits last year with 31 major conventions, the NFL Draft, and of course, the World Champion Chicago Cubs drawing folks from all over. And, although they came for the Windy City, many tourists are opting to take a ride out to Rockford, too.

In 2016, Chicago was visited by just over 54 million people, up nearly 3% from 2015. Chicago's tourism industry supported more than 145,000 jobs and $15 billion in direct tourism spending in 2016, according to the city.

From the Chicago Tribune:

The 2.9 percent increase over 2015 came despite Chicago's place in national headlines and social media — including tweets by President-elect Donald Trump — related to its violence. Part of the boost came from the 31 major meetings and conventions held in the city, eight of which had record-setting attendance. Also, Grant Park hosted the NFL Draft for a second consecutive year, Chicago Cubs fans descended on the city for the World Series and "Hamilton" continues to draw visitors. "People are lining up and pulling their hair out trying to get tickets to 'Hamilton' in New York, and spending thousands of dollars, and I tell my clients, 'Why don't you consider Chicago,'" said Laura Madrid, an Atlanta-based travel adviser at Travel Experts.

Sure, they're coming for Millenium Park, Navy Pier, Shedd Aquarium, and the Magnificent Mile, but they're also choosing to hit the road to downstate Illinois for things like The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum and Library, Starved Rock State Park, The Garden of the Gods at  Shawnee National Forest, and a beautiful garden spot right here in Rockford. If you're unsure about that last one, I can tell you that it comes in at #10 on the list below, and it opens the gates for the season on May 1st: