The 12 Best Cities in Illinois to Live and Visit


 Top Places to Call Home or Explore

Illinois offers something for everyone when it comes to choosing a place to live or visit. From vibrant big cities to quaint small towns, the Land of Lincoln has it all. Here are the 12 best cities in Illinois to live in or visit:

1. Chicago

Chicago is Illinois’ largest and most popular city. This midwestern metropolis has a population of over 2.7 million residents and attracts over 50 million visitors per year.

Chicago boasts world-class museums including the Art Institute of Chicago and the Field Museum of Natural History. Foodies will love the city’s famous deep-dish pizza and Chicago-style hot dogs. When you visit, make sure to check out famous attractions like the Willis Tower, Navy Pier, the John Hancock Observatory, and the Magnificent Mile.

The city has 77 distinct neighborhoods, each with its own unique vibe and character. Trendy areas like Wicker Park, Logan Square, and Andersonville offer boutique shopping, coffee shops, and a hipster atmosphere. Families love kid-friendly neighborhoods like Lincoln Park and Roscoe Village.

Chicago hosts major sports teams like the Chicago Cubs, Chicago Bears, Chicago Bulls, and Chicago Blackhawks. It also has a lively arts and culture scene, from the renowned Goodman Theatre to the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

Thanks to Lake Michigan, Chicago offers beaches and waterfront activities during the summer. When winter hits, ice skating at Millennium Park is a popular pastime for locals and tourists alike.

While Chicago winters can get cold, the city’s lively spirit keeps things warm and welcoming year-round.

2. Naperville

Located just 30 miles west of Chicago, Naperville tops lists as one of the best places to live in Illinois and the United States. This larger suburb has a population around 150,000.

Naperville shines for its excellent public schools, including Neuqua Valley High School and Naperville North High School. The suburb also contains North Central College, a small private liberal arts school.

Popular attractions include the Naper Settlement outdoor history museum, the DuPage Children’s Museum, and the Knoch Knolls Nature Center. Downtown Naperville offers over 130 shops, restaurants, and bars in a pedestrian-friendly riverwalk area.

Housing ranges from starter homes to luxury properties. Newer subdivisions feature large single-family homes. Renters can find apartments and townhomes throughout the city.

Naperville locals enjoy biking on the DuPage River Trail, attending festivals at Rotary Hill, and sampling craft beer at breweries like Solemn Oath Brewery. Centennial Beach offers a way to cool off during steamy Midwestern summers.

Low crime rates, family-friendly amenities, highly ranked schools, and a vibrant downtown help make Naperville a sought-after suburb.

3. Evanston

Evanston offers small-town charm minutes away from downtown Chicago. This lakefront suburb has a population around 75,000 residents.

As home to Northwestern University, Evanston boasts a youthful, intellectual vibe. Students and locals alike hang out in cafes, bookstores, and bars around the Downtown Evanston and Main Street areas.

Attractions include Northwestern’s Barbara and Donald Jonas Laboratories, the Block Museum of Art, and the Mitchell Museum of the American Indian. Outdoor lovers enjoy walking, running, and biking along the Lake Michigan lakefront. Evanston’s beaches provide swimming and sunbathing spots during warmer months.

Evanston has wonderful parks like Dawes Park and Chandler-Newberger Park. Neighborhoods like Central Street and Green Bay Road offer historic homes and condos.

While not as affordable as some suburbs, Evanston provides excellent schools, proximity to Chicago, and a welcoming community.

4. Arlington Heights

Families flock to Arlington Heights, a northwest suburb with strong schools and family-friendly amenities. Around 75,000 residents enjoy Arlington Heights’ small-town feel with convenient access to Chicago.

Top-ranked schools like John Hersey High School and South Middle School make Arlington Heights a magnet for families. Melas Park, Pioneer Park, the Arlington Lakes Golf Club, and the Olympic Indoor Swim Center offer plenty of recreation and fitness options.

The charming downtown Arlington Heights area provides over 100 shops, restaurants, and entertainment options. Local favorites include the Metropolis Performing Arts Centre and Hey Nonny, a music venue and restaurant.

Arlington Heights boasts higher-end and affordable homes in safe, tree-lined neighborhoods. Excellent trains and highway access helps make commuting easy.

Low crime, great schools, wholesome amenities, and community charm make Arlington Heights an ideal suburb.

5. Oak Park

Oak Park charms visitors with its tree-lined streets, large Victorian homes, and connection to famous architect Frank Lloyd Wright. Located just 10 miles west of downtown Chicago, Oak Park has easy access to the city while maintaining a cozy small-town vibe.

Oak Park’s biggest claim to fame is its abundance of Frank Lloyd Wright creations. You can take a guided tour of the renowned architect’s home and studio. Other major Wright attractions include the Unity Temple and the Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio.

Beyond Wright, Oak Park offers independent restaurants, vintage shops, and bistros in its downtown area. Many neighborhoods feature grand 19th century homes and charming walks.

Oak Park provides an artsy, cultured suburb experience minutes from Chicago. It appeals most to progressive young professionals, families, and architecture buffs seeking good schools and character homes.

6. Rockford

As Illinois’ third largest city, Rockford offers an affordable cost of living with cultural attractions. Located 90 miles northwest of Chicago, Rockford is home to around 150,000 residents.

Outdoors lovers appreciate Rockford’s park system, which includes trails, gardens, sledding hills and recreation programs. The scenic Rock River provides spots for boating, kayaking and fishing.

Top attractions include Anderson Japanese Gardens, Nicholas Conservatory & Gardens, the Burpee Museum of Natural History and the Tinker Swiss Cottage Museum & Gardens. The Coronado Performing Arts Center and BMO Harris Bank Center offer concerts and entertainment.

Neighborhoods range from historic districts to new real estate developments. Downtown Rockford provides nightlife, shopping and dining.

While it faces some economic challenges, Rockford provides a cost-friendly choice with natural beauty and city amenities.

7. Schaumburg

Located in Chicago’s northwestern suburbs, Schaumburg appeals to those who want access to jobs, nightlife, and shopping. This village of around 75,000 contains the Woodfield Mall, one of the largest shopping centers in the U.S.

Schaumburg provides convenient access to major employers including Zurich North America, PayPal, Verizon Wireless, and Motorola Solutions. The Streets of Woodfield complex adds lifestyle amenities like clothing stores, restaurants, and entertainment.

Outdoor recreation includes the Schaumburg Sport Center, the Bock Neighborhood Park and Pool, and the *Volkening Lake. **The Schaumburg Boomers baseball team and Steel football team provide sports entertainment.

Most residents live in condos, townhomes, or houses in safe suburban neighborhoods. Schaumburg appeals most to young professionals, families, and retirees who want an affordable suburban lifestyle.

8. Skokie

Skokie provides diversity, safety, and a high quality of life just north of Chicago. Around 65,000 residents call Skokie home. Nearly 30% of residents were born outside the United States, leading to a vibrant culture.

The Illinois Holocaust Museum provides a poignant learning experience. North Shore Center for the Performing Arts and Skokie Theatre entertain locals with concerts, plays, and films. Old Orchard Shopping Center offers top stores for shopping.

Skokie has the excellent Niles North High School and Niles West High School. Properties range from modest starter homes to mansions. The eastern side of Skokie provides easy Chicago access by public transit.

Young professionals, families, and retirees appreciate Skokie’s multicultural community, top-ranked schools, and amenities. It provides a welcoming village feel near all the perks of Chicago.

9. Normal

Home to Illinois State University, Normal provides a youthful, educated college town. Bloomington-Normal has about 135,000 residents combined. Many community assets and events cater to the college aged crowd.

The university’s performing arts offerings enrich the community. The lively Uptown Normal dining and shopping district provides everything from coffee shops to nightclubs. The Constitution Trail offers over 24 miles of walking and biking.

Normal offers affordable housing from apartments and condos to starter homes. Neighborhoods like Old North Normal provide historic houses near Illinois State.

Between university perks, community events, and a vibrant downtown, Normal provides an engaging lifestyle for university students and residents.

10. Palatine

The northwest Chicago suburb of Palatine offers attractive homes and amenities at relatively affordable costs. Around 70,000 residents enjoy low crime, quality schools, and parks in this pleasant community.

Popular attractions include the Palatine Park District, the Deer Grove Forest Preserve, and the Plum Grove Historic House. Downtown Palatine offers local shops, bars, and restaurants in a quaint area.

Palatine has affordable condos, townhomes, and single-family homes. Top-ranked schools like Palatine High School draw families to the area. The suburb has convenient highway and train access.

Palatine appeals to middle-income families looking for a safe, friendly place to raise kids with nice homes and good schools. The pleasant community comes at a more affordable cost than some suburbs.

11. Champaign

Champaign provides a blend of small-town Midwestern charm and youthful energy. Home to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, it contains around 90,000 residents. Over 40,000 university students infuse Champaign with vitality.

The stunning Allerton Park and Retreat Center offers hiking trails, formal gardens, and outdoor art. The Krannert Art Museum and Krannert Center for the Performing Arts provide culture. Attend a concert or game at the university’s State Farm Center.

Champaign’s Campustown district provides funky shops, coffee houses, and restaurants. Neighborhoods like West Side offer affordable homes near campus.

From collegiate sports to community events, Champaign keeps residents engaged and entertained year-round.

12. Galena

For a scenic small town getaway, head to Galena in Illinois’ northwest region. Nestled near the Galena River, this town of around 3,500 residents provides vintage charm and natural beauty.

Step back in time while exploring Galena’s perfectly preserved 19th century brick buildings and homes. The town has over 125 shops, wine tasting rooms, galleries and restaurants in its historic downtown area.

Outdoor activities include horseback riding, kayaking, skiing, and golf. Grant Park offers beautiful trails and views. Quaint bed and breakfasts provide cozy lodging options.

Galena offers a tranquil escape to enjoy fall foliage, winter wonderlands, spring blossoms, and summer relaxation. Its beauty and charm make Galena a can’t-miss small town.

Now that you’ve seen the 12 best cities in Illinois to live and visit, which ones top your list? The Land of Lincoln has something for all tastes and lifestyles. Do you prefer big city excitement, suburban relaxation, college town fun, or rustic getaways? With great diversity across all its cities and towns, Illinois has the perfect place for you.

Moving to Illinois? Tips to Know

If one of these great Illinois cities has you ready to pack your bags, make sure you know key details before moving. Here are some tips for relocating to the Prairie State:

Research Cost of Living

While Illinois offers diversity, certain cities come with higher price tags. Chicago, Evanston and Oak Park have higher rents and home prices compared to other areas. Make sure to research indexes like housing costs, utilities, groceries, and taxes.

Learn the Neighborhoods

Illinois cities often have distinct neighborhoods beyond downtown. Study amenities, housing stock, crime rates, and walkability before choosing where to live. Consult locals or real estate agents for insights.

Consider Commuting Options

Illinois traffic and transit options vary between metros. Research commute times by car and public transportation from neighborhoods to your workplace. Living close to expressways and train lines provides advantages.

Check City Resources

Learn what each city offers for recreation, education, services, and activities. Top priorities may include parks, libraries, hospitals, community events, and more. Ensure your new hometown has everything on your wish list.

Evaluate Job Options

Research the job market and major employers in your potential destinations. Some cities like Chicago and Rockford offer more job diversity and openings. Consider aligning your move with targeted companies and industries.

Visit First

Don’t finalize your Illinois move without first sampling the city’s vibe. Try to visit your top location options to experience daily life. Explore neighborhoods, employment hubs, recreation options, and more.

With insider knowledge, you can make an informed decision on the best place to settle down in Illinois. In no time, you’ll be calling one of these amazing cities your new home.

Enjoying Life in Illinois

Beyond choosing a city, you’ll want to take advantage of everything “The Prairie State” offers once you live here. Here are some great ways to experience life in Illinois:

Dig in to Local Foods

From Chicago-style hot dogs and deep dish pizza to farm fresh produce, Illinois offers distinctive flavors. Try dishes like horseshoes and pork tenderloins. Visit local restaurants, bars, microbreweries and wineries to taste the region’s offerings.

Relish Nature and Outdoor Fun

Illinois provides tremendous parks and nature, from hiking at Starved Rock State Park to biking the Great River Trail. Enjoy water sports at lakes and rivers. Golf, fish, camp, ski and indulge in other outdoor activities across the state’s natural playground.

Appreciate Arts and Culture

Illinois is a cultural hub, especially in Chicago. Visit world-class museums and attend concerts. Check out local galleries, theaters, festivals, and attractions. Embrace the state’s vibrant array of arts and entertainment.

Tour the Architecture

In addition to Frank Lloyd Wright creations, Illinois offers everything from historic homes to modern marvels. Take an architectural river cruise or walking tour in Chicago. Visit state capitol buildings, universities, and other sites statewide.

Cheer on Sports Teams

Rally around beloved pro teams like the Bears, Bulls, Cubs, White Sox, Blackhawks, and Fire. Also enjoy minor league baseball and college athletics. Sports mania brings energy and camaraderie.

Enjoy Community Living

Illinois offers small town warmth and big city pleasures. Greet neighbors, join community groups, volunteer locally, and mingle at events. Smaller cities and Chicago neighborhoods foster tight-knit communities.

Whatever you adore, Illinois has something to love from urban excitement in Chicago to college town appeal in Champaign. Its diversity, beauty, culture, and charm make it a great place to plant roots or spend a vacation.

So get out there and start exploring the best of Illinois. You’re sure to find activities, cuisine, communities, and attractions that make you feel right at home. Whether you’re in Illinois for a short time or for the long haul, you’ll find inviting opportunities, amenities, and Midwestern hospitality.

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