What Is Illinois Known For?

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If you were asked to think of something that Illinois is known for, most people would say Chicago! Chicago is the state’s largest city and the third-largest in the U.S. The truth is though, as wonderful as Chicago is, Illinois is known for a variety of things, from historical events to incredible food, to music, culture and its agricultural production. The “Land of Lincoln” has played an important role in U.S. history, from its ratification of the 13th Amendment to the number of presidents with ties to the state. Illinois’ history has shaped the landscape and people. From the introduction of blues and jazz music from the south to its sporting heritage, let’s discover what Illinois is known for.

What Is Illinois Known For?

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map of USA with Illinois highlighted in yellow
What is Illinois known for?

1- Chicago – The Windy City

Chicago Skyscrapers At Sunset
Chicago – The Windy City is the city Illinois is most known for.

It’s hard to think of Illinois without mentioning Chicago, the “Windy City” on the southwestern shores of Lake Michigan.

It may not be the state’s capital (that’s Springfield) but it sure is one of the most famous cities in the U.S.

Chicago is a vibrant city with towering skyscrapers and a myriad of things to do, such as visiting Millennium Park, Navy Pier, the Willis Tower observation deck and the Chicago Riverwalk.

Chicago is steeped in architectural history. Did you know that the world’s first skyscraper was in Chicago?

Chicago’s Home Insurance building was only 10 storeys, but it was an exemplary architectural marvel in 1884.


If you are visiting Illinois, you will want to check out Chicago on the Treasures of the Golden Age Walking Tour.

2- The Land of Presidents

Abraham Lincoln's House
The Land of Presidents is what Illinois state is known as..

Illinois is sometimes referred to as the Land of Presidents because there are four former presidents that are strongly associated with the state: Abraham Lincoln, Ulysses S.Grant, Ronald Reagan and Barack Obama.

Although Abraham Lincoln was born in Kentucky, he moved to Illinois as a young boy and was raised there.

Similarly, President. Ulysses S. Grant was born in Ohio but moved to Illinois after he retired from the military.

Ronald Reagan was born in Tampico, Illinois and you can learn more about the 40th U.S. president at Ronald Reagan’s Birthplace & Museum in Tampico.

Finally, Barack Obama, though born in Hawaii, lived in Chicago for most of his adult life, even serving as an Illinois senator.

Find out more about the Land of Lincoln by downloading a Self-Guided Audio Walking Tour

3- Deep Dish Pizza

Deep Dish Pizza In Metal Serving Dish
Deep dish pizza is what food Illinois is known for.

Chicago has developed its own unique take on the Italian classic by taking deep dish pizza to a whole new level!

This indulgent pizza has a very thick crust filled with layers of cheese, tomato and meat.

Don’t miss tasting this authentic Windy City invention when visiting Chicago. A fun way is to join this Favorite Foods Guided Walking Tour.

The exact origin of deep-dish pizza is unknown, but it is believed that this type of pizza was invented by Pizzeria Uno back in 1943.

These days, there are plenty of places where you can sample this cheesy and delightful pizza in Chicago, such as Pequod’s Pizza, Milly’s Pizza in the Pan and The Art of Pizza.

4- Route 66

Route 66 Sign, The Beginning Of Historic Route 66
Route 66 is what the state of Illinois is known for.

One of the most famous drives in the U.S, Route 66 stretches from Chicago, Illinois to Los Angeles, California.

It was one of the major thoroughfares through the country for around half a century.

During the 1930s Dust Bowl, the route was used by farmers migrating from the Midwest to California and again during World War II when people looked for better opportunities in the Golden State.

These days, it’s no longer an official U.S. highway, but it’s still a popular tourist attraction and many parts of Route 66 are still drivable.

There’s plenty to see along Route 66 in Illinois, from the sights of Chicago to Lincoln’s Home in Springfield and the Route 66 Hall of Fame and Museum in Pontiac.

The state of Illinois has allocated $6.6 million for projects along Route 66 for its 100th anniversary in 2026, including new electric vehicle charging stations, signage, architectural pylons and murals.

5- Jazz and Blues Music

Illinois State Flag Guitar
Jazz and Blues music are what Illinois is known for.

Mention jazz and blues music and you might think of New Orleans, Louisiana, but Illinois has played a part in the evolution of these music genres too.

The Great Migration between 1910 and 1970 saw the movement of around six million African Americans from the south to the Northeast, Midwest and West of America.

With them they brought jazz and blues music which has resulted in the “Chicago blues”, an electric style of blues music based on the electric guitar and harmonica.

The first blues clubs in Chicago were in predominantly black neighbourhoods.

The formation of record companies like Paramount Records propelled the genre’s popularity.

6- First State to Ratify the 13th Amendment 

The 13th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States banned slavery.

This amendment was approved by the House of Representatives on the 31st January 1865.

The Emancipation Proclamation issued by Lincoln in 1863 declared that “all persons held as slaves within any State, or designated part of a State, the people whereof shall then be in rebellion against the United States, shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free.”

It was U.S. Senator Lyman Trumbull of Illinois who co-authored the sponsored amendment.

7- Ernest Hemingway

One of America’s most famous writers, Ernest Hemingway, was born in Oak Park, Illinois.

Hemingway is a national treasure who wrote famous works like “A Farewell to Arms”, “The Sun Also Rises” and “For Whom The Bells Tolls”.

There are references to Hemingway throughout Illinois, including the Ernest Hemingway Birthplace Museum in Oak Park.

This museum occupies the Queen Anne Victorian house where Hemingway was born on 21 July 1899.

The house was built in 1890 by Hemingway’s grandparents and provides a peek into his early life and influence of his upbringing on his writing.

8- The Willis Tower

Willis Tower In Chicago
Willis Tower what is Chicago, Illinois is known for.

Originally called the Sears Tower, The Willis Tower is an iconic Chicago landmark that stands at 1,451 feet (442 metres) in the Loop community of Chicago.

The skyscraper was completed in 1973 and has 110 stories.

It took around 2,000 workers to finish the building and for 25 years after the tower’s completion, it was the tallest building in the world.

In 2000, the Skydeck observation space was added, making it a great place to visit to take in the wonderful sights of Chicago. Skip the line by booking 360 Chicago Observation Deck tickets here.

9- Lake Michigan

Lake Michigan And Navy Pier By Chicago Skyline
Lake Michigan what is Illinois known for.

Lake Michigan is one of the five Great Lakes in North America.

Michigan borders Lake Michigan to the east and north, Wisconsin to the west, Indiana to the southeast and of course Illinois to the southwest.

When visiting cities like Chicago you will feel like you are on the coast as the lake appears to have no end.

It is 321 miles (517 km) long from north to south after all.

It’s not just in Chicago where you can see Lake Michigan check out Illinois Beach State Park for beautiful sandy beaches and excellent sunset views.

A popular way to explore the lake is to book a Lake Michigan Gourmet Brunch/Lunch/Dinner Cruise.

10- The Land of Lincoln

Lincoln's Tomb
The Land of Lincoln what is Eastern Illinois University known for.

Drive past the large state signpost going into Illinois and you will see the words “The Land of Lincoln”.

The Illinois state nickname officially became “Land of Lincoln” in 1955.

The 16th president of the United States has become a symbol of democracy and is strongly associated with the state.

Lincoln was 21 years old when he moved to Illinois from Indiana.

He represented the U.S. House of Representatives for one term between 1847 and 1849 and was also a member of the Illinois Legislature between 1834 and 1841.

You can visit Lincoln’s home in Springfield, Illinois which is now a National Historic Site or download the Land of Lincoln self-guided tour.

11- Corn

Rows Of Corn In Northern Illinois
Corn what is Illinois known for growing.

If there’s something the state of Illinois grows well, it’s corn! Illinois has around 11 million acres of land dedicated to growing corn.

After Iowa, Illinois is the second biggest producer of corn.

In 2020 Illinois corn industry generated over $7 billion in cash receipts.

Most of the corn grown in Illinois is field corn, used to feed livestock and used to produce many products we use every day.

The remaining 2% is for sweet corn.

Illinois is just popping with corn related facts and trivia.

Did you know Illinois ranks as the number three in popcorn production in the U.S.?

Be sure to keep an away out for the corn fields when you are traveling through Illinois.

12- Pumpkin Capital of the World

Pile Of Pumpkins
Illinois is known for being the Pumpkin Capital of the World.

Any Morton resident will tell you that Morton, Illinois, is the “Pumpkin Capital of the World”, even though other places (like Floydada in Texas also claim this title).

There is a pumpkin canning plant in Morton, owned by Nestle that cans more than 82% of the world’s canned pumpkins.

You can also attend the Morton Pumpkin Festival in September.

Around 35,000 people check out the parade each year, which is an impressive figure seeing as the population of the small Illinois town is only around 17,000.

There’s also the rather run and crazy Pumpkin Chuckin’ Contest where people use catapults to fling pumpkins!

In 2015 a law was passed and signed by the Governor that pumpkin pie was to become Illinois’ official state pie.

So, whether you chose to believe Morton is the Pumpkin Capital of the World or not, there’s no doubt that the people of Morton, Illinois are proud of their association with the fruit.

Yes, pumpkin is a fruit not a vegetable (the people of Morton will probably be able to tell you that too!).

13- Metropolis – Superman’s Hometown

Looking Up At Chicago's Vintage Building In Financial District Buildings
Metropolis (Superman’s hometown) is what Illinois is famous for among comic book readers.

In an agreement between DC Comics and the state, Metropolis in southern Illinois officially became Superman’s hometown.

To mark this super announcement a 15 ft bronze statue of Superman was erected in the middle of the town.

Each year the town hosts the Superman Celebration, usually in June.

The event started off as a one-day event for locals, but its popularity grew and it has stretched out to three days with plenty of things to do at the festival that film buffs, comic book lovers and all-around fans will love.

14- The Bulls, the Bears, the Cubs, the White Sox’s, and the Blackhawks

The Chicago Bulls (basketball), The Chicago Bears (American football), The Chicago Cubs and the White Sox’s (baseball) and The Chicago Blackhawks (hockey) are Chicago and Illinois’ most famous sports teams.

Chicago has a deep-rooted sporting culture that is a way of life.

In Chicago, sport is a way that the community comes together.

No matter your ethnicity, culture or background, if you’re a fan of the Bulls you’ll feel that sense of connection with other fans.

The Chicago Bulls have arguably the best histories in the NBA whilst the Chicago Bears from the NFL have supporters across the nation.

If you are a fan of American sport, check out a game at one of the famous arenas or stadiums and visit the Chicago Sports Museum. Skip the lines and buy tickets to see the Blackhawks here.

15- Frank Lloyd Wright Architecture

Frank Lloyd Wright Architecture is what is Illinois is known for.

Frank Lloyd Wright was one of the greatest architects in America.

Although he was born in Wisconsin, Wright moved to Illinois at the age of 20 and during his career he designed 1,114 architectural works.

532 came into being and today, you can still see around 100 standing.

The Frank Lloyd Wright Trail is a self-guided trail you can take to see 13 of his Illinois designs, all of which are open to the public.

Most of the buildings are around Chicago and Springfield.

Unity Temple was completed in 1908 and is the oldest building in Wright’s 20th century architectural collection.

Eight of Wright’s buildings, including Unity Temple in Oak Park were recently listed as UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

There’s also the Frederick C. Robie House which was completed in 1910 and showcases Wright’s prairie design style.

The building is one of the forerunners of modernism and Prairie style.

The Prairie School was a residential movement that began in Chicago and spread quickly across the Midwest.

Frank Lloyd Wright was unquestionably the most gifted architect in this style.

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Harriet Comley
Harriet Comley is a travel enthusiast, freelance travel writer and a lover of safaris. Since 2017 she has been travelling the globe living in the UK, Canada, Vietnam, China and now Zambia, where she is completing her PhD in Sustainable Tourism. For 3 1/2 years she taught English in Vietnam and China. Now she has turned her attention to writing, having contributed to a number of travel blogs and websites always focusing on what she loves most…exploring!