The lively metropolis of Chicago on Lake Michigan, miles of prairies in the state's heartland, and pristine woodlands in the south: follow us on Route 66 across Illinois!

Illinois facts

Capital: Springfield
Area: about 150,000 km²
Population: about 12.8 million
Location: Midwest of the USA
Nickname: The Prairie State, The Inland Empire State, Land of Lincoln
Hotspots: Cloud Gate, Willis Tower, Route 66
Time zone: UTC - 6 (Central)

Illinois: location & population

Illinois is part of the Midwest of the United States. However, it is located more to the north with access to Lake Michigan, one of the Great Lakes of the North American continent. Illinois has land borders with five other US states: Wisconsin to the North, Indiana to the East, Iowa and Missouri to the West, and Kentucky to the South. In addition, there is a maritime border with the state of Michigan, which runs through the middle of Lake Michigan.

Due to the economic success of the city of Chicago, there has been a great deal of immigration from all parts of the country and the world over many decades, resulting in a diverse population. The largest population group living in Illinois today is German-born Americans (18.6 %), followed by Hispanics (16.7 %), African Americans (14.7 %), and Irish-born residents (11.6 %).

The largest cities in Illinois

With a population of over 2.7 million, the metropolis of Chicago is the all-dominant city in the US state of Illinois. All other places follow only far behind, and none of them can reach the 200,000-population mark. In terms of inhabitants, these are the top five cities in Illinois:

City Population
Chicago 2,746,000
Aurora 181,000
Joliet 150,000
Naperville 149,000
Rockford 148,000


Springfield, the capital of Illinois, follows in seventh place with a population of about 114,000.

Nature and climate

As Illinois' nickname, the Prairie State, suggests, the vast majority of the state's landscape is agricultural. You'll hardly find any mountains or elevations here. The highest point, Charles Mound, not far from the Wisconsin border, reaches just 376 m. At Lake Michigan in northeastern Illinois, you will find many harbors and bathing resorts. The city of Chicago also owes its economic boom to its favorable location on the lakeshore. A contrast to the flat prairies of the state can be found in the south, where extensive forests and river landscapes invite you to go hiking.

The US state of Illinois is considered to be in the temperate climate zone, but there are large temperature differences throughout the year. Summers can be very hot and winters bitterly cold. For example, the thermometer climbs to over 30 °C from June to August, while it can drop to -10 °C from December to February.

Best time to travel to Illinois

The best seasons to visit Illinois are spring and fall when temperatures are actually moderate. But Chicago's warm summer nights hold great cultural events for you.

Illinois in spring

Every year on March 17th, you can expect a color spectacle in Chicago that you won't see anywhere else in the world. Chicagoans turn an entire river green on St. Patrick's Day! Who wouldn't want to mingle with the observers who gather on the banks of the Chicago River to watch the spectacle?

Illinois in summer

From June to September, it's festival season in Illinois: experience the world's blues stars at the Chicago Blues Festival in June, enjoy culinary highlights at the Taste of Chicago in July, and celebrate world music in all its diversity at the World Music Festival in Millennium Park in September!

Travel to Illinois

The largest commercial airports in Illinois are:

  • Chicago O’Hare (ORD)
  • Chicago Midway (MDW)
  • Quad City International Airport (MLI)
  • General Downing-Peoria International Airport (PIA)

The largest of them by far is Chicago O'Hare Airport. With around 80 million passengers per year, it is even the third-largest airport in the USA as well as the sixth-largest airport in the world.

If you are traveling in Europe, you will find many direct flights to Chicago O'Hare, e.g., from Frankfurt am Main or Munich with Lufthansa and United Airlines, from Amsterdam with KLM, or from Vienna with Austrian Airlines. Plan about € 500 to € 600 in your travel budget for your flights.

You can also find direct flights to Chicago O'Hare from Tokyo in Japan, e.g., with Lufthansa, American Airlines, or ANA. These cost around € 1,400 to € 1,500. Flights from Melbourne or Sydney in Australia usually include a stopover, for example, in Los Angeles, and are available for around € 1,300 to € 1,500.

Flights to Illinois

Travel authorization Illinois

Don't forget: If you are not a US citizen or Green Card holder, you will need a visa or ESTA to enter Illinois.

ESTA – visa-free to the USA

With an ESTA, you can stay 90 days visa-free in the USA. Apply online now!

Airport transfer in Illinois

Chicago O'Hare Airport is located about 25 km northwest of the city center. To get from there to your accommodation, you have several transfer options:

Public transport from Chicago O’Hare

Public transportation in Chicago is very well organized. The Chicago Transit Authority manages numerous bus and train connections that take you to every corner of the city. The Blue Line trains take you from the airport to downtown around the clock for $ 5.

Shuttle from Chicago O’Hare

If you have booked into a hotel in Chicago or the surrounding area, check if they offer a shuttle service from Chicago O'Hare Airport. Shuttle stops are located in Terminal 1 at Exit 1E, Terminal 2 at Exit 2E, Terminal 3 at Exit 3E, and Terminal 5 at Exit 5E.

Taxi from Chicago O’Hare

Cabs from Chicago O'Hare can be found outside all four terminals of the airport. They will take you and your luggage comfortably to the city center for about $ 24.

State Parks and natural wonders in Illinois

Exploring the beautiful nature parks in the Midwest is a highlight of any Illinois trip. These are our top picks for hiking enthusiasts:

Starved Rock State Park

Many Illinois residents will tell you that you can marvel at their state's most beautiful scenery at Starved Rock State Park. You'll find this gem on the steep banks of the Illinois River in LaSalle County, just a few kilometers from Chicago. The park offers 21 kilometers of hiking trails that lead you through pristine forests and 18 canyons. And anglers will also find enough peace and quiet here to make their big catch.

Shawnee National Forest

The only national forest in Illinois can be found in the very south of the state in the Shawnee Hills. At the same time, the Shawnee National Forest is the largest forest area in the Prairie State, with about 1,100 km². As you wander through the area, you'll pass ten natural research areas, scenic Cedar Lake, and four historic sites listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Top 10 sightseeing highlights in Illinois

The following Illinois sightseeing highlights are a must-see. You don't even have to travel far to see all of them because the most popular ten Illinois attractions can all be found in Chicago.

  • Millennium Park
  • Cloud Gate
  • Willis Tower
  • Navy Pier
  • Art Institute of Chicago
  • Field Museum of Natural History
  • Museum of Science and Industry Chicago
  • Museum of Contemporary Art
  • Shedd Aquarium
  • Lincoln Park Zoo

City highlights in Illinois

Don't miss these two city highlights in Illinois: the vibrant metropolis of Chicago and historically significant Springfield both have their own unique appeal.

City highlights Chicago

Located on the shores of Lake Michigan, Chicago is the economic and cultural heart of Illinois. Here, you will find many world-famous attractions such as the mysterious Cloud Gate, the Willis Tower, which was the tallest building in the world for a long time, and a huge variety of great museums. There's no way you'll get bored!

Let these highlights in Chicago inspire you:

  • Millennium Park
  • Navy Pier
  • Art Institute of Chicago
  • Field Museum of Natural History
  • Shedd Aquarium

Accomodation in Chicago

City highlights Springfield

If you are interested in American history, the capital city of Springfield is "the place to be" in Illinois for you. Here, you can visit 12 historic sites and attractions associated with Abraham Lincoln, one of the most important US presidents. These include the Old State Capitol and Lincoln's home.

These city highlights are waiting for you in Springfield:

  • Lincoln Home
  • Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library
  • Illinois State Museum
  • Abraham Lincolns tomb
  • Dana Thomas House

Accomodation in Springfield

Road trip in Illinois

When you've finished sightseeing in the Windy City of Chicago, we invite you to join us on a road trip through the rest of Illinois. There are many exciting places and attractions waiting to be discovered:

Route 66

The state of Illinois is the starting point of America's most famous road, the legendary Route 66. Take a rental car (or a motorcycle) and experience the feeling of endless freedom when you drive the first part of Route 66 from Chicago to Springfield! By the way, it will take you about 4 to 5 hours to cover the 275 km between the two cities.

Black Hawk Statue

The impressive 14.6 m high statue of the Black Hawk is towering on a 23.5 m high cliff above the Rock River near the city of Oregon. It was crafted by artist Lorado Taft and inaugurated in 1911. "The Eternal Indian" depicts Black Hawk, an important warrior and leader of the Sauk tribe, and represents the unconquerable spirit of the Native Americans.

Grosse Pointe Lighthouse

You'll see lighthouses more often on the shores of Lake Michigan. One of the most beautiful of them stands in Evanston, north of Chicago. Grosse Point Lighthouse is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is considered a National Historic Landmark. You can even climb the 141 steps to the top of the tower as part of a guided tour.

Leaning Tower

No, you're not in Tuscany. You're in the town of Niles, Illinois! The Leaning Tower of Niles is a half-sized replica of the famous Leaning Tower of Pisa and a great photo opportunity. If you come to the 30,000-resident-town located about 25 km north of Chicago in the summer, you might be lucky enough to catch the annual open-air "Leaning Tower Concert Series."

Instagram hotspots Illinois

Are you looking for great photo opportunities in Illinois? These five Instagram hotspots guarantee you great shots:

  • Cloud Gate
  • Viewing platform of Willis Tower
  • Art Institute of Chicago
  • Route 66
  • Leaning Tower in Niles

Food and drinks in Illinois

If your stomach is growling during your Illinois trip, you can indulge in these regional specialties:

  • Deep Dish Pizza (also: Chicago Style Pizza, pizza baked in a pan with a high crust)
  • Chicago Style Hot Dog (sausage in a poppy seed bun with onions, hot peppers, tomato, gherkin)
  • Italian Beef Sandwich (sandwich with roast beef and mozzarella or provolone cheese)
  • Horseshoe Sandwich (a specialty of Springfield: toasted bread topped with a hamburger patty, fries, and cheese sauce)
  • Chicago Style Popcorn (a mixture of cheese and caramel popcorn)

Fun facts about Illinois

You still don't know enough about the US state of Illinois? We have found some other interesting facts:

  • The towns of Kaskaskia and Vandalia were the state capitals of Illinois before Springfield.
  • US President Abraham Lincoln held his first public office in New Salem, Illinois.
  • US President Ronald Reagan was born in Tampico, Illinois.
  • Illinois generates more nuclear power than any other US state.
  • Aurora was the first American city to be completely equipped with electric street lighting. That's why it's nicknamed the "City of Light."
  • If you put ketchup on a Chicago Style Hot Dog, you will get a lot of weird looks because, in Chicago, this is considered a major culinary sin!

Immigrate to Illinois

Do you want to stay in Illinois forever? Here are a few tips to help you plan your new life:

Working in Illinois

The best job opportunities in Illinois are within the main economic sectors. These include agriculture (growing corn, soybeans, wheat, fruit, wine), food manufacturing (meat processing and dairy production), the chemical industry, engineering, and IT. The Chicago area also offers you many job opportunities in the fields of services, hospitality, and tourism.

Living in Illinois

The Cost of Living Index in Illinois is about the same as the American average. Only if you want to live in the metropolis of Chicago or the capital Springfield, you have to expect somewhat higher costs. Here, living is about 7 %, respectively 4 %, more expensive than in the rest of the USA. If you ask Illinois residents about the most livable places in their state besides lively Chicago, they will often recommend Peoria and Rockford.

To Illinois with a Green Card

Do you have your heart set on Illinois? The easiest way to the Prairie State is to get a Green Card, which allows you to live and work in Illinois indefinitely! You can obtain the much sought-after Permanent Resident Card comparatively quickly and easily through the Green Card Lottery, which is organized every year by the US government. Sign up now!

Green Card Lottery

Win one of 55,000 Green Cards in the official Green Card Lottery of the US authorities!