Illinois is a state in the Midwest of the United States of America. Home to the large city of Chicago, the terrain of this state ranges from rolling farmland in the south to the mud flats upon which Chicago was built.
Illinois is often referred to as the "Land of Lincoln" — Abraham Lincoln resided here for many years before becoming president. Considering how Abraham Lincoln is often regarded as one of the most influential presidents in the history of the United States, this is something the state takes in its stride.
- 1 Springfield – the capital and administrative center of the state. Abraham Lincoln resided here for many years, and many buildings in the city are dedicated to him.
- 2 Bloomington-Normal – home of Illinois State University, Illinois Weslyan University and the grave site of Adlai Stevenson
- 3 Carbondale – home of Southern Illinois University
- 4 Champaign-Urbana – home of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, the state's largest university
- 5 Chicago – the largest city in the Midwest and third-largest in the U.S., a center for theatre, jazz, and railroads, with a complex history and staggering skyscrapers.
- 6 Galena – charming historical town along the Mississippi River
- 7 Joliet – with casinos, a speedway and the state's most infamous prison
- 8 Nauvoo – founded by Mormon Joseph Smith, and surprisingly has the oldest winery in the state
- 9 Peoria – a classic Midwestern "Everytown"
- 1 Cahokia Mounds – is a surprising find in Illinois - the center of a prehistoric Native American city and one of only 20 UNESCO World Heritage sites in the U.S.
- Lewis and Clark Trail – Between May 1804 and September 1806, 32 men, one woman, and a baby traveled from the plains of the Midwest to the shores of the Pacific Ocean. They called themselves the Corps of Discovery.
- 2 Casino Queen and the 3 Gateway Geyser – Both are located on the Mississippi River in East St. Louis, IL
- 4 Shawnee National Forest
- 5 Starved Rock State Park
- 6 Ferne Clyffe State Park
- 7 Kickapoo State Park
- 8 Pere Marquette State Park
- 9 Anna – located along Shawnee Hills Wine Trail
Illinois is a mostly flat plains state, with the majority being farmland except for the river valleys and the south, which are hilly and forested. Traditionally, Illinois is subdivided into three culturally distinct regions: Northern, Central and Southern Illinois. Northern Illinois is considered anything north of I-80 and includes the majority of Chicagoland as well as the Quad Cities and Rockford. Central Illinois includes all areas between I-80 and I-70 including Peoria, Springfield and Urbana-Champaign with Southern Illinois occupying all areas south of I-70 including Carbondale. Chicagoland and Metro-East (suburban St. Louis area) may be considered regions within regions and tend to be culturally different than the rest of their area.
Northern Illinois is by far the most diverse area of the state and has some of the largest population centers including Chicago, Aurora, Rockford, Naperville and Elgin. The area benefits from a unique mixture of factors including its location next to Lake Michigan; the concentration of highways, rail and airports in the Chicagoland area and the numerous tourism opportunities in areas such as the Chain O Lakes and Galena Driftless Zone.
Central Illinois is the seat of state government and home to the State's flagship university - the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Small urban areas dot the entire area including Urbana-Champaign, Peoria, Bloomington-Normal, Springfield, Quincy and Decatur. Outside of these cities, the area is largely rural and depends on agriculture as its primary economic engine. Central Illinois has played a unique role in US history as being the home of Nauvoo, an original Church of Latter Day Saints settlement. It also encompasses the region of Illinois informally named Forgotonia which had briefly captured national attention when residents began a mock campaign to either secede from Illinois or the US due to lack of attention in the early 1970s.
Southern Illinois includes the cities of Carbondale, Marion, Mount Vernon and portions of Metro-East. It is noticeably different from the rest of Illinois in that it shares more in common culturally with neighboring Kentucky and Missouri than with the rest of the state and may be informally considered part of the Upland South. The region has been called "Little Egypt," a nickname that may be an inside joke referring to the town of Cairo, which sits at the confluence of Mississippi and Ohio rivers.
The Chicago metropolitan area is culturally diverse, with its population being roughly evenly divided among whites, African-Americans and Hispanics. As a cosmopolitan city, Chicago is also home to smaller communities of other ethnicities, as well as immigrants from all corners of the globe. The rest of the state, on the other hand, tends to adhere to the classic American makeup of a white majority with African-American and Hispanic minorities. Although generally regarded as a solid blue state, this is largely due to the relatively large population of the Chicago metropolitan area. Outside Chicagoland and college towns such as Champaign-Urbana, people continue to be deeply conservative.
English is the dominant language in the state of Illinois. Spanish, Polish, Chinese, and Hindi are the languages most commonly heard after English.
Spanish is widely spoken in the Chicago Metropolitan area by its large Hispanic population (mostly of Mexican and Puerto Rican descent), though not well understood outside of Chicagoland.
Although not as prevalent in the past unique to Chicago is the largest Polish speaking community in the country. Most speakers today are in neighborhoods and suburbs around O’Hare airport and the language can still be seen in some store fronts, billboards, and even a couple FM radio stations.
The Chinese speaking community is growing very rapidly. Chicago’s Chinatown is one of the states few ethnic neighborhoods that has experienced dramatic growth in the last couple decades.
Hindi, Urdu, and other languages from the Indian subcontinent and South Asia have likewise grown rapidly and can be found throughout the whole state.
Besides those Illinois especially around Chicago is very multiethnic and hosts dozens of languages from all around the world. There is a small community of speakers of Native American languages though they are mostly mostly transplants from other regions of the country such as Ho Chunk from Wisconsin, Lakota the Dakotas, and Navajo from Navajo Nation. Unfortunately the indigenous tribes that originally inhabited Illinois are very small in number today and very few native language speakers in those communities remain.
Illinois is accessed through interstates 39, 90, & 94 through Wisconsin, 74 and 80 through Iowa, 55, 57, 64, 70, and 72 through Missouri, 24 through Kentucky, and 64, 70, 74, 80, 90, and 94 through Indiana.
Amtrak serves many different areas of Illinois. All routes start and end in Chicago. You can get into Chicago from virtually all directions, east coast and west coast, north and south. There are numerous daily trains to and from Milwaukee and it is reasonably fast and reliable. There is daily service (the Empire Builder) from Seattle/Portland, Oregon by way of Milwaukee. You can also get in from Washington D.C., New York, and Boston on various daily trains. There are many local trains that serve downstate and southern Illinois that also serve long distance locations. Those routes are as follows:
The UP line from Chicago-St. Louis serves Summit, Joliet, Dwight, Pontiac, Bloomington-Normal, Lincoln, Springfield, Carlinville, Alton, and finally St. Louis. There are 4 trains each day, each way. One of those trains that serves this route is the Texas Eagle, and it will bring you into Illinois from San Antonio, Dallas, Arkansas, and Missouri.
The BNSF route from Chicago-Galesburg-Quincy. Only local service serves the Quincy portion of the line. The other service is provided by 2 daily long distance trains coming from either Los Angeles (the Southwest Chief) or San Francisco via Salt Lake City and Denver (the California Zephyr).
The CN route from Chicago-Carbondale has 3 trains each way daily. One long distance train is provided each way daily and will take you to/from New Orleans via Jackson, Mississippi and Memphis.
There is also a daily train to and from Indianapolis with continuing service on certain days of the week to/from Washington D.C. There is regular daily service to/from Washington D.C. via Toledo, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, and Philadelphia.
Chicago has two major airports, O'Hare and Midway. O'Hare is one of the main international gateways to the United States, while Midway is smaller and closer to the downtown. There are many other airports with regional service in the state, including in Springfield, Rockford, Peoria, Bloomington-Normal, and in St. Louis, across the river from Illinois.
Car travel is best for the majority of the state, easily accessed by interstates. Numerous highways closer to Chicago are tollways, but the rest of the highways are free. EZ-Pass users from the eastern U.S. can use their transponders on the Illinois Tollway at all toll booths. The price for EZ-Pass and I-Pass Users is half the cash price listed on the sign at the toll booth.
Train travel is another way to get around Illinois. Metra train lines serves Chicago and the surrounding suburbs and Amtrak serves significant portions of the rest of the state. While Metra trains usually run on time, Amtrak trains are more prone to running late. Check with Amtrak before making the trip.
Greyhound buses, Megabus discount buses and its sister bus company, Coach USA, serve many Illinois locales. Chicago and the nearby suburbs are served by the PACE bus system and many large Illinois cities have bus systems of their own. Information on transit can be found here.
In the Loop, Chicago's commercial district with bustling elevated train tracks and great architecture:
- Sears Tower (Willis Tower) - one of the tallest buildings in the world, it has an observation deck on the 103rd floor
- Grant Park for musical performances and Millennium Park for summer fun
- The Art Institute of Chicago - one of the finest art museums in the world
In the Near North:
- John Hancock Center A bit shorter, but with a better observation deck
- The Magnificent Mile Put simply, shoppers' paradise.
- Navy Pier Entertainment center with many attractions including the Chicago Children's Museum, mini golf, ferris wheel, botanic gardens, and boat cruises
In the Near South, including the Museum Campus:
- The Field Museum The premier natural history museum in the Midwest, with one of the best preserved T-Rex skeletons on display
- The Adler Planetarium The first planetarium in North America
- The Shedd Aquarium Great lakefront aquarium
In Hyde Park:
- Museum of Science and Industry The best science museum in the Midwest, with hundreds of exhibits including a German submarine, high speed 1930s train, Boeing 727 jet, and an immense train set.
- The University of Chicago A premier institution of learning in the Midwest
- A total solar eclipse on Monday 8 April 2024 crosses the south of Illinois at around 2PM local time. The track of totality is northeast from Mexico, Texas, Arkansas and Missouri, then along a line from Jonesboro to Mount Carmel (missing St Louis), then over Indiana and Ohio.
- Springfield - The state capital has the capitol building, as well as Abraham Lincoln's tomb, home, and new presidential library. Be sure to check out the Old State Capitol as well, notable for its Lincoln heritage and also as the site of U.S. President Barack Obama's declaration of Joe Biden as his running mate in the 2008 presidential race.
- Champaign-Urbana is one of downstate Illinois's most prized cities. It is the regional capital of Illinois. It is a very urban oasis in the middle of the prairie. Outside of Chicago, it holds the state's largest ethnic population. There are many museums there. Champaign-Urbana is known for historic Memorial Stadium, where Illini Football plays, and for its nightlife.
- Historic Route 66 began in Chicago and routed through Springfield to St. Louis. I-55 roughly parallels the old route, which still exists in many places as surface streets.
You can go to World Wide Technology Raceway in Madison, just east of St. Louis.
The great cultural and economic diversity in Illinois lends itself to a number of great dining opportunities anywhere in the state. Below is just a sampling of different things found in Illinois:
Chicagoland is home to one of the largest and most diverse populations in the world (as well as exceptionally varied restaurants and bars). Some of the very regionally specific things available in Chicagoland are:
- Chicago Hot Dogs
- Chicago Deep Dish Pizza
- Italian Beef
- Paczki: A Polish donut traditionally served on Fat Tuesday
- Kolache: A cookie-like Czech pastry with a dollop of fruit filling in the center. In Chicagoland, they're pronounced "ko-lach-ke" vs. the Texas or Iowa pronunciation of "ko-lach."
- Chicken Vesuvio: Though available throughout the US, Chicken Vesuvio (chicken cooked with oil, garlic and white wine) originated in Chicagoland. and is a specialty at many restaurants in the area.
- Jibarito: Plantain sandwich that originated in Chicago's Puerto Rican community.
In addition to those listed above, Chicagoland has world class Russian, Latin American, Chinese and Middle Eastern food.
Northern Illinois, being so connected to Chicagoland, has many of the Chicagoland staples. In addition, the Rock River Valley and Illinois Driftless Area have excellent produce and local staple, Mrs. Mike's potato chips, a regional favorite snack.
Central Illinois' most famous local item is the Horseshoe Sandwich (sometimes just called a "Shoe"), an open-faced sandwich of toast, hamburger, french fries, and cheese sauce, with regional variations (which can include different proteins like chicken or ham). It originated in Springfield but can be found in most of Central Illinois and in the Quad Cities.
The Quad Cities has two regional styles of pizza. Beyond that, the region's produce and livestock make for excellent farm to table dining.
Restaurants in Metro East tend to share in St. Louis's cuisine.
Sharing so much of its culture with the Upland South, Southern Illinois' cuisine tends to be similarly to Kentucky and southern Indiana. Burgoo, a spicy stew traditionally made of whatever is available at the time, is served in many parts of Southern Illinois and is closely related to the burgoos made in Kentucky. If served in a restaurant, game bird tends to be the preferred meat. In southeastern Illinois, including Albion and the surrounding area, a stew similar to a burgoo called a "chowder" is served instead.
The rural water downstate, excluding municipal water but including untreated spring water has a "sulphur" taste and odor to it. It is safe to drink, but the odor and taste can be hard to swallow.
Coffee is popular throughout the State with chain coffee houses being very common. Many communities, especially smaller ones outside of the metropolitan areas, will have independent shops. Many of these independent shops have adopted popular drinks (lattes, etc.) and made them their own.
Chicago's diverse cuisine also means it has a great number of different types of coffees. For example, Middle Eastern and Ethiopian coffee is available and can be served in the traditional style.
Illinois has a number of craft breweries across the entire state, with the highest concentrations in Chicagoland and Metro East. Most breweries will offer versions of American favorites (IPAs, stouts, lagers, pilsners, etc.) though some may produce local favorites. These are always worth trying if you can find them.
Generally speaking, Illinois is a safe state, but the only city of major concern is East St. Louis.
Although the crime rate of Chicago has dropped significantly, the overall crime rate is still well above the US average. In addition, the city has a long history of public corruption. You are of no interest to criminal gangs unless you give them a reason to be interested in you. Stay vigilant and use common sense; these two practices will most often aid you in avoiding bad situations. Do your research to find out which areas are most unsavory for the out-of-town traveler.
The geographical position and characteristic of the state's western regions make them prone to having a high occurrence of tornadoes throughout the spring and summer seasons. Most of these tornadoes are small scale and short lived, however, this does not mean larger scale tornadoes are totally uncommon. In March of 2006, the city of Springfield was struck by two EF-2 tornadoes and experienced significant damage from this event.
If you plan to visit these regions of the state, keep yourself informed of the current weather conditions and update yourself regularly because the conditions can change in an instant. If you find yourself in a dangerous weather situation, seek shelter immediately.
Refer to the Tornado safety page for more information regarding this matter.
Northern Illinois can have severe cold weather in the winter, especially in January.
Illinois has long been regarded as a highly corrupt state. Many officials from Illinois have been convicted of corruption and many of the more well-aware citizens regard this as a highly embarrassing issue. Take care when discussing political issues.
- Wisconsin - "America's Dairyland" borders Illinois to the north.
- Iowa - Rural Iowa lies along Illinois' northwestern border and provides the opportunity to explore America's agricultural heartland.
- Missouri - The home of St. Louis, the gateway to the west, is just a short journey across Illinois' southwestern border.
- Kentucky - Located southeast of Illinois, Kentucky is known for its rolling hills, horses, and rural inhabitants, offering travelers a less-visited but tremendously beautiful destination.
- Indiana - Illinois' eastern neighbor is home to rich basketball tradition and the Indianapolis 500.