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Illinois - the Prairie State

The state of Illinois is nationwide often exclusively known for Chicago. No doubt, this magnificent city plays a major part in attracting visitors to Illinois. It is the biggest metropolis in the Midwest and the third largest city of the United States. But Illinois is by far not only Chicago. In fact, the state has another, entirely different side. The Illinois regions outside of Chicagoland impress visitors with their vast woodlands, long winding rivers, a rich habitat and many historic towns.

The Prairie State, as Illinois is often called, has a total of some 13 million inhabitants, which makes it number five in the state ranking. No doubt, the Chicago metropolitan area with close to 10 million people accounts for the vast majority of Illinois’ population. Area-wise, Illinois is a middle-sized state, totaling 58,000 square miles. The climate is diverse. The temperatures in the southern part are generally more moderate and the winters there are not as harsh as in the north. Chicago, for instance, has winter highs in the 40s. The winters in Chicagoland and the northern parts can bring a lot of snowfall and periods of extreme cold.

The state’s most famous son is undoubtedly late President Abraham Lincoln, who was born in the capital city of Springfield in the heart of the state. It causes little wonder, then, that Illinois, especially the northern part, was one of the strongest supporters of the Union during the Civil War. A century before that, Illinois and Potawatomi tribes had supported the American cause during the revolution. From 1783, the region was part of the Northwest Territory. Illinois entered the Union in 1818. Chicago was not founded until the 1830s however.


Chicago, the “Windy City,” is – along with New York City, San Francisco and Los Angeles – among the most stunning metropoles in the US. No attempt can be made to name even the best known of the countless sights, museums and attractions the city holds in store. Until the mid-19th century however, Chicago played a rather marginal role. Then the population and the city’s importance exploded. In the 1890s, Chicago broke the 1 million mark. The population of the city area peaked in the 1950s at 3.6 million people.

Chicago’s museums and galleries are among the finest in the world and cover all imaginable interests. The Art Institute has a great European and American collection, especially from the late 19th and 20th centuries. Since 1998, Museum Campus, a peninsula reaching out into Lake Michigan, welcomes visitors. Here you find Adler Planetarium, the Field Museum, and Shedd Aquarium. In downtown Chicago, Millennium Park houses Anish Kapoor’s impressive sculpture Chicagoans have affectively dubbed “jellybean.” The impressive skyline is distortedly reflected on its surface. The skyscrapers in downtown Chicago have been built from the 1920s on. The two most prominent are still the Sears Tower, once the largest building in the world, and the John Hancock Building.

The various ethnic cuisines of the city include Greek, Polish, Italian and Oriental. At the Chicago Farmers Market you can find fresh products from Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, and Wisconsin. Chicago is located in very close distance to these three Midwestern states, as well as of course Lake Michigan. The shoreline of the third largest of the Great Lakes includes many beaches in the Chicago area. All in all, there are 29 lakefront beaches in or close to Chicago. In summer, the waterfront thus serves as a great recreational area for Chicagoans and tourists alike.

North of Chicago, along Interstate 94, the metropolitan region slowly gives way to a famous vacation area. At Fox Lake, famed Chicago gangster and mafia boss Al Capone used to spend his summers.

Northern Illinois

At the very northwestern tip of the state, the town of Galena is in itself a sight to see and a great place to spend your vacation. The historic district is made of beautiful 19th-century houses. Many cozy bed & breakfast inns and small hotels are situated here. In the surroundings of Galena, you can tour dozens of wineries and taste the finest wines of the region. Nearby Eagle Ridge Resort & Spa houses a great golf course.

Both north and south of famous Lincoln Highway, numerous attractions and sights are spread. Dixon is home to many historic sites, like the one dedicated to John Deere, a pioneer farmer of the Midwest. Loveland Museum exhibits a variety of artifacts from the area and its past. The town of Union houses the Illinois Railway Museum with over 350 pieces of original railway equipment and the stories behind them.

Springfield Region

The town of Abraham Lincoln preserves and commemorates his legacy in a variety of ways. The Presidential Museum and many other historic sites are worth seeing. Also, Route 66, America’s oldest and longest highway, runs through the heart of Illinois, along the Sangamon River. Springfield is a dynamic place, which ideally combines past and present. Needless to say, all types of accommodation are offered in the state capital. Lincoln Land is an ideal region for any US vacation.

The South

Illinois’ south boasts Mother Nature’s finest. Shawnee National Forest is a beautiful refuge with great camping opportunities and other vacation lodging such as cozy cabin rentals. Nearby Shawnee Hills Wine Trail offers great tastings.

In the southwest, the area around Great River Road offers great fishing and various other water sports, for instance on Swan Lake. The city of Grafton is located at the confluence of the Mississippi and Illinois Rivers. Founded in 1832, the town is truly historic. Today it is the heart of this popular tourist region. Bird watching is especially popular and Grafton refers to itself as “The Winter Home of the Bald Eagle.” The Great Rivers region also houses Illinois’ largest park, Pere Marquette State Park. Both winter and summer, then, the Grafton area is a popular destination. Lodging ranges from budget campgrounds, home-run bed & breakfasts to hotels and motels.

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