12 Best Cities in Illinois to Live and Visit (with Map)

The summer and fall may be wonderful times to visit Illinois, but for the residents of the Prairie State, living here provides full-time access to the state’s rich history, architecture and nature. Home to the third biggest city in the United States, Chicago, plus the immortal shadow of Abraham Lincoln there are many reasons to travel here or call it home.

From big cities and sprawling suburbs to historic towns and small communities there is bound to be something that suits your agenda. Recent graduates can choose between established or growing economies and families will have a great choice of school districts in the best cities in Illinois. As for travelers there are no shortage of memories to create, as you explore the historic capital city of Springfield or wander down Chicago’s Magnificent Mile.

12. Buffalo Grove

In the northern suburbs of Chicago, Buffalo Grove comes with a low crime rate and one of the best school districts in the state. Being just 40 minutes north of Chicago, residents and travelers in Buffalo Grove can enjoy the best of both worlds. But newcomers should expect a higher than average cost of housing.

After school and work, all residents enjoy exploring Buffalo Grove. The peaceful neighborhood boasts beautiful architecture, leafy streets and lush parks. The 40,000 locals also make the most of the summer festivals that come into town. Compared to the rest of the state, local unemployment is low and the median wage is strong.

11. Crystal Lake

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With a population of around 40,000 people, Crystal Lake straddles the line between a small city and big town. It has the characteristics of both offering a charming, family-friendly neighborhood with great outdoor opportunities, alongside job opportunities in a growing market and fun for the whole town.

Crystal Lake will appeal to families and retirees looking for a great place to raise kids or enjoy a tranquil, tight-knit community. There are a multitude of smaller neighborhoods that will place you close to schools, an abundance of parks or The Village. The latter features the downtown district with great shopping entertainment and family fun. While the Crystal Lake Park District boasts 40 parks for outdoor fun, sport and community events.

10. Bloomington-Normal

Around an hour northeast of the state capital of Springfield, Bloomington-National provides locals with a rich urban environment at a low cost. Bloomington is a historic city and is often known as the Evergreen City thanks to its proximity to Evergreen Lake.

Along with neighboring Normal, it offers good public transport and connections to Chicago. This has also made it an attractive destination for recent graduates. Schools in Bloomington-Normal are highly rated. The towns boast two universities, including Illinois State University. Both help to grow the city’s burgeoning entertainment scene.

They share an abundance of restaurants, museums, including the Children’s Discovery Museum. While local parks and zoos help to round out the experience.

9. Schaumburg

Schaumburg© Shutterstock

With a population of around 75,000, Schaumburg makes its way onto our list thanks to its exceptional education and incredibly low crime rate. Schaumburg is a suburb northwest of downtown Chicago and has a strong middle class vibe, yet the median housing cost belies this assumption.

Schaumburg presents itself as a great place for young families. The cost of housing can help get your foot in the door and the neighborhood ranks in the top ten in Illinois for child care spots.

For leisure, Schaumburg is home to Legoland Discovery Centre and Water Works Indoor Water Park. The tight-knit community is renowned for its friendliness, with great local restaurants and some charming public parks.

8. Champaign-Urbana

Urbana© Shutterstock

Two hours south of Chicago, Champaign-Urbana is the combination of two distinct cities that blend together to create a varied experience for locals and travelers. Life here revolves around agriculture and Champaign-Urbana is also the base of the University of Illinois. The “odd couple” combination of college town and farmlands means you’ll get to enjoy a robust economy with all the entertainment, arts and culture that comes with the university.

The cost of living in Champaign-Urbana is around 20% lower than the national average. As for housing, the median cost to buy a home is less than half that of the national average. Residents are then able to enjoy a thriving arts scene and community life with Champaign-Urbana. It’s a mini urban oasis surrounded by endless fields, with the Spurlock Museum and Market at the Square being top attractions.

7. Springfield

Springfield© Shutterstock

As the state capital of Illinois, Springfield regularly pops up on the radar of those on the move. After Rockford, Springfield, with a population of around 115,000 people, is the biggest city outside of the Chicago metro area.

In the center of the state, Springfield was once the home of Abraham Lincoln for over two decades before departing for his new role in the White House. With this slice of history, Springfield offers residents and travelers a range of great museums from the Presidential Library to the Lincoln Home National Historic Site.

But the city’s vast history stretches beyond Lincoln and with a botanical garden and public parks, there’s no shortage of things to do. Locals can enjoy a lively culture and entertainment scene with three universities and a strong economy.

6. Clarendon Hills

Ticking all the boxes for families, Clarendon Hills is a common choice among those on the move. Just 20 miles east of the downtown Chicago waterfront, Clarendon Hills has its own pros while still offering residents the lifestyle of the big city, plus live sports and the lake.

Families will be happy to know that the Clarendon Hills school district is one of the best in the area and the suburbs’s overall crime is well below state averafe. The middle class neighborhood has a strong household income and the lower population provides an opportunity to quickly weave into the community fabric.

For fun, Clarendon Hills has a large park district, a golf club and family-friendly attractions.

5. Galena

Galena© Shutterstock

In the northwest corner of Illinois, Galena harbors some captivating 19th century architecture. Set on the Galena River, which rolls down to the nearby Mississippi, Galena is an adorable small town with only a few thousand residents.

The rich main streets are lined with untouched buildings that offer a glimpse into life in the 1800s when Galena was home to Ulysses S. Grant and eight Civil War generals.

For those looking to retire in Illinois, Galena is a popular option. The town boasts a strong tourism industry but remains tranquil year-round, with plenty of things to do, such as explore the Ulysses S. Grant Home while enjoying a low cost of living.

For families, Galena has a highly rated school district and all residents can enjoy great cafes, restaurants and some lively local bars.

4. Rockford

Rockford© Dreamstime

Based at the tributary of the mighty Mississippi River, Rockford has grown to be the highest populated city beyond the great Chicago area. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, Rockford’s place on the Rock River drew major companies to the area, and it became a hotspot for manufacturing and machinery. Today, it’s a vibrant, modern city.

Rockford combines a variety of major industries, providing great employment opportunities for newcomers, whether you’re established in your career or looking to make the next jump.

Owing to its storied 19th century past, there are also plenty of history and architectural gems in Rockford such as the Lake-Peterson House along with a fascinating natural history museum,

3. Naperville

Naperville© Dreamstime

A part of the great Chicago region and one of the biggest cities in the state, Naperville is a top choice for those who want to be close to the Windy City. Naperville has humble beginnings and was once a simple mill town on the banks of the DuPage River. But now it’s home to 30 Fortune 500 companies and a great work/life balance.

Residents love having such a strong local economy with the local workforce able to sustain a growing family-friendly city. There are parks, children’s museums and community events that grow the town spirit. All the while, you’re just over 30 miles west of downtown Chicago for all that the big city has to offer.

2. Peoria

Peoria© Dreamstime

In Central Illinois, Peoria, is a scenic small city on the banks of the Peoria Lake and the Illinois River. It may at first appear a charming and sleepy small city, but it’s one of the oldest settlements in the state. The amazing history of Peoria is on display in numerous locations throughout town from the Peoria Riverfront Museum to the Historical Society.

Peoria has a blend of old-time history that, alongside several major business headquarters, has created a vibrant modern-day city that’s great for recent graduates, families and couples.

Away from work, there is a strong school district, an abundance of local parks and the waterfront provides a nice range of outdoor fun and beautiful scenery.

1. Chicago

Chicago© Shutterstock

With a population of over 2.5 million people, Chicago is by far the largest city in Illinois. But for such a big metropolis, the cost of living, especially related to housing, is below what you might expect.

There are over 200 neighborhoods in Chicago, and with decent public transportation it’s not a necessity to live downtown. Newcomers can choose between such places as Bucktown, Logan Square and Lincoln Park, which have their own mix of history, culture and scenic views.

For those living and traveling through the exciting downtown area, you’ll be steps from the vibrant waterfront lined with parks, museums and stadiums plus great shopping along Michigan Avenue. As such a big city, you can expect a great range of food and O’Hare International Airport provides quick connection to the rest of the country.

Map of Cities in Illinois to Live and Visit

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