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The Best Places To Live in Illinois

Feb 17, 2023|

Known as the Prairie State and Land of Lincoln, Illinois is a state that's rich with culture and history. The most populated areas are in the northeast and southeast ends of the state. In between, you have everything from farmland and college towns to the capital and protected wildlife areas. Illinois offers plenty of excellent options for singles, couples, and families alike. Depending on your lifestyle, goals, and plans, several cities in Illinois may be perfect for you. Continue reading to find out more about the best places to live in the Prairie State.

Chicago, Illinois skyline.


It's no surprise that Chicago tops the list for the best city to live in Illinois. The Windy City is the main cultural center for the state, if not the entire Midwest region. You've got excitement, entertainment, and urban amenities, plus one of the most famous sources of public transportation — the "L" rapid transit system — to get you everywhere you need to go. Chicago has many claims to fame, including:

  • Two major airports
  • Chicago-style pizza and hot dogs
  • Craft beer capital
  • World-class jazz and blues events
  • Exceptional museums, including The Field Museum and The Art Institute of Chicago
  • Leader in art and architecture
  • 18-mile Lakefront Trail
  • Vibrant nightlife

Keep in mind that Chicago is the third largest city in the United States by population. The 2022 estimate for the city proper is 2.74 million, while the Chicagoland metro area has over 8.9 million people. If that seems too large, even for a city lover, you have other options for city life in Illinois.

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Urbana is significantly smaller than Chicago, with about 38,681 residents, according to the 2022 U.S. Census estimate. Located approximately 150 miles south of Chicago, Urbana is in a more rural location. However, it has many of the city features you may be searching for.

For example, Urbana hosts the University of Illinois, the city’s biggest employer and the source of a rich arts culture. Its sister city, Champaign, is just a few miles away, so you get the benefit of its amenities as well.

Some of the perks of living in Urbana are the seasonal Saturday farmers’ market, the historic Urbana Free Library and the Station Theater for live performances. The Urbana Sweet Corn Festival in August celebrates the region’s primary agricultural product.

University in Urbana, Illinois.


If you like an academic atmosphere but wish to be closer to big city life, Schaumburg may be the place you’re looking for. This Chicago suburb boasts four college campuses: Roosevelt University, the Illinois Institute of Art – Schaumburg, Argosy University’s Lake Forest Graduate School of Management, and American InterContinental University.

With a population of roughly 78,000, Schaumburg features everything you would expect to find in a small city, from restaurants to services. It also boasts the Woodland Mall, the 10th largest shopping center in the country. This city is about 30 miles northwest of Chicago in a region known as the Golden Corridor.


Just 25 miles west of Chicago, Wheaton is one of the best places to live in Illinois. Especially appealing to young families, this suburb of about 53,000 boasts an award-winning public school system, Community Unit School District 200. The city’s public library enjoys a spot on the top 10 list of similarly sized libraries nationwide.

Wheaton College is one of the city’s institutes of higher education. This faith-based school is a liberal arts college that includes the Billy Graham Center. The Illinois Institute of Technology also claims a branch campus in Wheaton.

The city's Parks District has received four gold medals for excellence from the National Recreation and Park Association for its management of 800 acres of parks. Wheaton has two public swimming pools and two world-class golf courses as well.

Park bench in Wheaton, Illinois.


This smaller community is part of the Chicago metropolitan region. With a population of almost 24,000, the Village of Lisle is another ideal spot not within the city itself yet near enough to enjoy the cultural, food and shopping benefits. It sits 26 miles west of downtown Chicago.

One of the positives about Lisle is its parks and outdoor recreational opportunities. The 1,700-acre Morton Arboretum offers a diverse landscape that includes wetlands, gardens, forestland and curated exhibits. The Arboretum's Children’s Garden and Maze Garden are favorites with the kids.

The Lisle Park District features 447 acres for public enjoyment. It includes a Sea Lion Aquatic Park and the Riverbend Golf Club. The Eyes to the Skies festival is an annual event that draws hot air balloonists and revelers.


Woodstock is about 45 miles north of Chicago. It boasts a population of about 26,000, which is small by city standards. It features a historic town square and the Old McHenry County Courthouse. Woodstock is the home of the Clausen Pickle factory and the site of the movie “Groundhog Day.” The town celebrates its connection to the iconic Bill Murray film with a grand celebration on February 2, complete with the town's own groundhog, Woodstock Willie. Since 1885, the town has held free summer concerts every Wednesday in the town square.

Aerial view of Woodstock, Illinois.

Small town Illinois

Search for less populated locations in the state if you prefer a more relaxed, small-town lifestyle. One of these smaller cities may be just what you’re looking for.

  • Galena, a stately town of about 3,300 with 800 homes on the National Register of Historic Places
  • Princeton, with approximately 7,800 residents, located two hours west of Chicago and home to a pair of historic covered bridges
  • Fulton, a town of around 3,600, named for steamboat inventor Robert Fulton
  • St. Charles, a 45-mile drive west of Chicago, with about 33,000 residents, located on the scenic Fox River

The benefits of small-town living may include a greater sense of community and lower tax rates. You may even find your cost of living, in general, is less than it would be in a bigger city.

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