20 Towns and Cities in Illinois

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Illinois is a perplexing Midwest state home to one of the biggest cities in America and some of the smallest rural towns you can imagine. It’s a fascinating state that’s stood at the forefront of American history time and time again and is in the geographical centre of America’s Midwest region. Chicago is the state’s economic, political and cultural powerhouse, while Springfield is the state’s legislative hub.

Further away, travellers are treated to cities bordering significant metro areas such as St. Louis and Davenport and smaller Illinois cities such as Alton, which was once the setting for Abraham Lincoln’s first and only dual. With so much history and culture to lap up in Illinois, not to mention the state’s world-class outdoor landmarks, it’s no wonder that the Prairie State’s cities are some of the most visited in America. Here are the cities in Illinois to tick off your to-visit list.  

Towns and Cities in Illinois

20 Illinois Cities And Towns To Visit

1- Chicago

View of downtown Chicago from above
Chicago is at the top of the list of largest cities in Illinois.

The largest city in the Midwest and one of America’s most iconic destinations, Chicago is a one-of-a-kind city packed with limitless possibilities for things to do and places to see.

Chicago is right up there with New York City and Los Angeles as one of America’s biggest cities and one of the most exciting destinations to explore, thanks to Chicago’s vibrant food scene and world-class entertainment options.

Tons of museums and art galleries can be found throughout this great Midwest city, showcasing artefacts and works of art from around the world.

The home of Deep-Dish pizza, the Millennium Park, the Chicago Riverwalk, Wrigley Field and the Chicago Theatre, be sure not to miss out on visiting Illinois’ most electric and action-packed city when you’re in this great Midwest state.

2- Springfield

old State Capitol Building
Springfield is one of the best cities in Illinois to explore for history and capital city attractions.

Springfield is the official capital of the state of Illinois and where former president Abraham Lincoln began his career in law and politics.

The city is steeped in history and Illinois culture, with many Civil War monuments and Lincoln memorials dotted throughout Downtown Springfield.

The city is neatly situated in the middle of Illinois, placing Springfield within a day’s drive from cities such as St. Louis, Indianapolis, Chicago, Kansas City and Louisville.

From the sprawling Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum to the Illinois State Capitol, Springfield’s overflowing with notable Illinois landmarks to discover.

3- Evanston

Evanston is a delightful mid-sized city situated just 14 miles (23 km) north of Chicago, home to several exciting attractions and places to visit.

The city is home to the prestigious Northwestern University’s main campus, the Block Museum of Art, the Mitchell Museum of the American Indian, and some of the most picturesque views of the Chicago skyline and Lake Michigan.

The city is ideally located near two of the Midwest’s most bustling cities, Chicago and Milwaukee.

It features a downtown area with enough shops and restaurants to explore for a couple of hours.

With the iconic Chicago skyline in the background and the shores of Lake Michigan as your playground, Evanston is one of Illinois’ best cities to visit and a perfect balance between upbeat city life and slower suburban living.

4- Peoria

Panoramic view of Peoria
Peoria may not be one of the most populated cities in Illinois but it certainly has enough attractions to keep you busy.

The oldest permanent European settlement in Illinois and ideally located halfway between Springfield and Chicago, Peoria is steeped in history and Midwest charm.

Known as Fort Clark during the city’s founding, Peoria is today a bustling mini-metropolis on the banks of the Illinois River, home to the Caterpillar Visitors Center, Theodore Roosevelt’s beloved Grandview Drive, and the Peoria Riverfront Museum.

Complete with top-class restaurants and shopping venues, Peoria is perfect if you’re looking to soak up the atmosphere of a smaller city. 

5- Rockford

Morning in Rockford by the water
Rockford is one of the top five cities in Illinois by population, even though the population isn’t very large.

Nicknamed the “City of Gardens”, Rockford is home to some of Illinois’ best public parks and outdoor venues.

Rockford is situated along the banks of the Rock River and is the second-largest city in Illinois outside the Chicago metro area.

Rockford treats visitors to endless fun and adventure with world-class attractions such as the Anderson Japanese Gardens and the Coronado Performing Arts Center, with Chicago less than 100 miles (161 km) away.

Whether you’re looking for history, food, shopping, culture or outdoor fun in Illinois, Rockford has plenty to do and see.

6- Naperville

One of the largest cities in Illinois and forming part of the Chicago metro area, Naperville is just a stone’s throw away from downtown Chicago without any of the Windy City’s traffic or overcrowded venues.

The city is home to several Fortune 500 companies and is a large economic hub in the Midwest, however, Naperville is also a delightful tourist attraction with tons of amazing things to see and do.

From the city’s many scenic urban parks and lively community festivals to its DuPage Children’s Museum and Centennial Beach, there are loads of great experiences in and around Naperville.

7- Galena

Straddling the Galena River in Illinois’ northwest tip, Galena is one of the most charming and architecturally beautiful cities in the entire state.

Galena is home to a collection of preserved 19th-century buildings, maintaining large sections of the city just like Galena was during the 1800s.

The city’s biggest claim to fame is the former home of General Ulysses S. Grant and eight other Civil War generals, making Galena one of the most historic cities in the Midwest.

From its lively cafes and bars to the Ulysses S. Grant Home, Galena treats travellers to a list of things to do. 

8- Champaign-Urbana

Two Illinois cities bound together by their agricultural and educational significance in the Midwest region, Champaign-Urbana is where your typical American college town meets the open farmland of rural Illinois.

The two cities are home to the main campus of the University of Illinois and feature a bunch of cafes, bars and attractions all centred around the area’s large student population.

Champaign-Urbana is not just a college town, though, with popular attractions such as the Spurlock Museum, Market at the Square and Crystal Lake Park, it’s worth the two-hour drive south from Chicago to visit Champaign-Urbana.

9- Carbondale

Situated in southern Illinois in what is colloquially known as the state’s “Little Egypt”, Carbondale is a scenic city with tons of history and culture to discover.

The city gained prominence during the railroad boom of the mid-1800s and quickly became a popular road trip destination thanks to Carbondale’s proximity to St. Louis.

The city features plenty of attractions to explore, including the state-of-the-art African American Museum, the Carbondale Farmers’ Market, the University of Southern Illinois campus and the Shawnee National Forest just outside downtown Carbondale.

With so much to do in and around Carbondale, including some of Illinois’ most spectacular nature, it’s a city that’s well worth checking out the next time you’re travelling around Illinois.

10- Bloomington

David Davis Mansion
Limestone from the Bloomington area was used to build 35 US state capital buildings.

Bloomington is a delightful Illinois city with a small-town feel and an old-school atmosphere that’s hard to come by elsewhere in the state.

Part of the Bloomington-Normal dual-city area, Bloomington packs quite a hefty punch when it comes to tourist attractions and unique places to explore.

The city and its equally fascinating neighbour are home to many things to see and places to visit, such as the Illinois Shakespeare Festival, the Prairie Aviation Museum and the historic Constitution Trail.

Follow in the footsteps of American greats such as Abraham Lincoln by visiting this vibrant little city in middle Illinois, roughly halfway between Peoria and Champaign-Urbana.

11- Waukegan

Lake County administration building in Waukegan
Waukegan is another city in Illinois to tick off your to-see list.

Located just a stone’s throw from Chicago’s upper-class North Shore suburbs is the city of Waukegan, a newly gentrified Illinois city that straddles the shores of Lake Michigan.

The city features many unique Illinois attractions and landmarks, such as the historic Genesee Theatre, the Waukegan History Museum and the Illinois Beach State Park.

If that’s still not enough action and adventure, perhaps Waukegan’s Six Flags Great America theme park might entice you to stop by this Illinois city.

12- Moline-Rock Island

Situated on the banks of the Mississippi River, right on the Illinois-Iowa state border, Moline and Rock Island are the two Illinois cities that make up the famous Quad Cities metro area.

Moline, Rock Island, Davenport and Bettendorf combine to create one of the Midwest’s most exciting tourist destinations.

Attractions to visit include the Putnam Museum, the Rock Island Arsenal Museum and the Davenport Skybridge.

Moline-Rock Island are two Illinois cities that treat travellers to some Midwest attractions. 

13- Decatur

Decatur is an Illinois city teeming with tons of history and unique places to see.

Situated in central Illinois, Decatur is where Abraham Lincoln first lived when he arrived in Illinois to pursue his political career and where former governor and Union Army major general Richard Oglesby resided for most of his life.

The city is home to several cultural institutions and a university and is regarded as one of the major cultural hubs in Illinois outside Chicago.

From the stunning shores of Lake Decatur to the splendid Millikin Place, Decatur is a delightful Illinois city to visit whenever you’re travelling around this great Midwest state.

14- Quincy

Commonly referred to as the “Gem City” of Illinois, Quincy is a charming mid-sized Midwest city situated in western Illinois on the banks of the Mississippi River.

Featuring tree-lined streets and over 20 sites listed on the National Register of Historic Places, Quincy is an incredibly scenic city to visit and packed with a whole host of great things to experience.

The city’s downtown area is home to countless Italianate and Richardsonian Romanesque buildings built during Quincy’s golden age as a commerce hub on the Mississippi.

There are also many other unique Quincy attractions to visit, such as the South Side German Historic District, the John Wood Mansion and Washington Park.

15- Sycamore

The county seat of DeKalb County in northern Illinois, Sycamore is a quaint Midwest city home to a surprising amount of historical and cultural landmarks.

The city was first settled by Europeans in 1835 and enjoyed rapid expansion following the construction of Route 64, which runs right through the city’s downtown area.

Sycamore is a popular weekend getaway location from Chicago and Rockford just 55 miles (89 km) northwest of the Windy City.

The city treats travellers to a collection of attractions to experience, such as the Midwest Museum of Natural History, the Sycamore Historic District and the Sycamore State Theater.

16- Oglesby

Famous for its incredible natural beauty and small-town charm, Oglesby is a delightful Illinois city that treats travellers to great outdoor attractions and even better historic landmarks.

The city lies roughly 100 miles (161 km) southwest of Chicago and was a major silica, limestone and coal mining hub during the late 19th century.

Today however, Oglesby’s mines and cement factories are long gone, replaced by attractions such as the Matthiessen State Park and the Starved Rock State Park, so be sure to add a visit to Oglesby to your to-do list when travelling around Illinois.

17- Collinsville

Cahokia Mounds
The Cahokia Mounds in Collinsville in Illinois.

Collinsville is a vibrant Illinois city with several unique attractions, such as the Brooks Catsup Bottle, rumoured to be the world’s largest ketchup bottle, and a large annual festival dedicated to celebrating all things horseradish related.

Perhaps Collinsville’s best-known and most visited attraction can be found just outside the city’s downtown area, the Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site.

The mounds were once part of an extensive Native American city that dates back to 1100 AD.

18- Elmhurst

Windmill in Elmhurst
Elmhurst is one of the lesser-known cities in Illinois that you may want to explore.

As one of the best places to live in the Midwest, Elmhurst offers travellers many unique attractions, shops and dining options in this picturesque mid-sized city near the Windy City.

Elmhurst lies just 18 miles (29 km) west of downtown Chicago and provides travellers access to the Windy City from a smaller and quieter base without its bad traffic and large crowds.

The city is home to the Elmhurst Art Museum, the Theatre Historical Society of America and the Elmhurst College Arboretum.

19- Woodstock

Not to be confused with the New York town that hosted the famous once-off Woodstock music festival in 1969, Woodstock, Illinois, is a fantastic city in its own right and a designated ‘Preserve America Community’ by the White House.

Hollywood films such as ‘Groundhog Day’ and ‘Planes, Trains and Automobiles’ were filmed in Woodstock.

The city also hosts one of Illinois’ most unique festivals – the Woodstock Victorian Christmas – which transforms the city into a 19th-century village complete with horse-drawn carriages and people dressed in Victorian clothes. 

20- Alton

Panorama of Alton across Mississippi River
Alton is a smaller city in Illinois along the Mississippi River.

Alton is an Illinois city that doesn’t shy away from its quirky reputation.

The city has been the setting for some of the most bizarre moments in American history, such as the location for Abraham Lincoln’s only dual or the home of the world’s tallest man.

The city is 26 miles from downtown St. Louis and was a major refuge for abolitionists during the Civil War, thanks to its proximity to Missouri.

There are also a bunch of supposedly haunted houses and other wacky attractions located all throughout Alton, making it truly one of the must-visit cities in Illinois.

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Jessica Shaw is a storyteller who has lived in four U.S. states - Missouri, Georgia, Ohio and Illinois - and has visited many others. She loves history and nature and is a big fan of road tripping.