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6 Best Places to Live in Illinois

By: Emily Kho
August 19, 2021

If you're interested in moving to the Prairie State, a state known for its wetlands, rolling hills, forests, and farmlands, you'll be faced with the challenge of figuring out where to live. With so many incredible cities to choose from, each with its unique characteristics, you might get overwhelmed as you begin searching.

Thankfully, we're here to help you begin your Illinois apartment search by helping you narrow down your options and choosing your ideal city, which is why we've created this guide to help you learn more about the best places to live in Illinois and find the best city for you!

1. Chicago

Chicago is the most populated city in Illinois; it's the third most populated city in the United States. Although the city has been nicknamed the Windy City, it's not the windiest city in the country. In fact, it’s about as windy as any average state. It is believed the nickname stems from the naturally occurring breeze off of the shores of Lake Michigan, although there has been plenty of debate of the origins.

There are officially 77 defined community areas within Chicago, but the city has over 200 unique neighborhoods. Some of the best neighborhoods in Chicago include Bucktown, the eclectic neighborhood with easy access to public transportation, Logan Square, with the perfect blend of historic charm and more modern revitalizations; and Lincoln Park, with stunning views of Lake Michigan, the Chicago River, and the famed Lincoln Park.

Because Chicago is a big city, some rent prices might be higher than other cities in Illinois. If you're looking to work in the city but maybe commute in, you might want to check out other cities near Chicago for less expensive alternatives.

People from across the United States started migrating towards Chicago because it is one of the more affordable big cities in the country. In the first quarter of 2021, the most significant migration to Chicago came from the midwest, with Indianapolis, Indiana, making up the majority with 3.5% of the moves into the city. Behind Indy was Milwaukee, Wisconsin, at 3.4%, and Detroit, Michigan, at 3.3%.

So, if you're considering calling this city your new home, you'll first want to find out a few things to know before moving to Chicago. Learning details like the cost of living in Chicago and the average rent in Chicago, and rent price trends will help you be well informed before making your move. Then, you'll want to check out the thousands of apartments available for rent now in Chicago.

2. Aurora

In terms of population, the second-ranked city in Illinois is Aurora, which lies in Will, Kendall, Kane, and DuPage counties. Historically, Aurora was a mid-sized manufacturing city and only a part of Kane county, but has expanded significantly since the 1960s. Today, the city is divided into three primary regions, including the Far East Side/Fox Valley, the East Side, and the West Side.

The historic downtown area of Aurora is centered on Stolp Island and is located along the Fox River. Here, the sizable Paramount Theatre is currently listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The Hollywood Casino is also in Downtown Aurora, though it travels along the Fox River and offers over 53,000 square feet of gaming and three restaurants.

Outside of the downtown area, the city of Aurora offers renters a dense suburban style of living with a wide assortment of restaurants, coffee shops, and parks. The only formal public garden in the city is the Sunken Garden, located within the 325-acre Phillips Park. Other popular parks include McCullough Park, which hosts the annual Mid-American Canoe and Kayak Race, and Waubonsie Lake Park, near U.S. Route 34.

Other fun things to check out in Aurora include shopping around at the Chicago Premium Outlets, hopping on a train ride at Blackberry Farm, or stopping by the SciTech Hands-on Museum, with over 200 interactive technology and science exhibits, providing fun for all ages.

Check out the hundreds of apartments available for rent now in Aurora.

3. Naperville

The third most populated city in Illinois, Naperville, is often placed in the Top 10 Cities to call home within the country. Historically, the town was a modest mill town located along the DuPage River, which became a lifeline for the city. Today, Naperville is a western suburb outside of Chicago, offering renters a great place to call home outside the congested city.

Though it is still considered a part of the greater Chicago area, Naperville is a commuter town and home to over 30 Fortune 500 companies. Some of the major employers of Naperville include Nokia, Nicor Gas, and Edward Hospital.

Naperville is home to a lot of families, welcoming children of all ages. As such, there are countless activities to entertain the whole family throughout the year. Some of the most popular things to do in Naperville include participating in annual Easter Egg hunts put on by the city, checking out the hands-on learning activities at the DuPage Children's Museum, and enjoying the sandy beaches at Centennial Park.

Of our list of the best places to live in Illinois, Naperville has the highest median 2-bedroom apartment rent. Between that and the median household income, it's clear to see that Naperville is a well-established city. Some of the best neighborhoods within Naperville include Ashbury, with 1,000 homes across 514-acres of land, and the Acorn Hill Estates, built in the 1980s and 1990s.

Check out the hundreds of apartments available for rent now in Naperville.

4. Joliet

Just 30 miles southwest of Chicago is Joliet, also known as J-Town. This city is one of the fastest-growing in the Chicago metropolitan area and the fastest growing city in the state. With so much emerging from Joliet, there's something to offer any individual or family that chooses to call this city home.

Thankfully, despite the more recent development in Joliet, the city still boasts a rich history. There are 130 local historical landmarks in the town, including the three-story building at 9 West Cass Street, which was built in 1929, displaying the historic late Beaux-Arts style and Sullivanesque style commercial buildings that were brought to a halt during the Great Depression. You will also find the original Dairy Queen building located at 501 North Chicago Street.

Other popular things to check out in Joliet include the Route 66 Rialto Square Theatre,, the auto racing tracks at the Chicagoland Speedway, and Joliet Prison scenes from the Hollywood classic the Blues Brothers was filmed.

For those who like to get outdoors, there are four golf courses in Joliet, two miniature golf courses, and several miles of bike trails that run through the city. Enjoy a 16-mile loop through the western part of the city, or for a more extended adventure, check out the I&M Canal State Trail, extending up to 60 miles out to Peru, Illinois.

Check out the hundreds of apartments available for rent now in Joliet.

5. Rockford

Rockford is a city found along the banks of the 299-mile long tributary of the Mississippi River known as the Rock River.. Outside of the Chicago metropolitan area, Rockford has the highest population in Illinois. Historically, this town was ideal for industrial development due to its location along the Rock River. Most notably, Rockford was known for manufacturing hardware, tools, and heavy machinery into the latter half of the 19th century.

Today, Rockford has something to offer everyone, not just in the industrial industry. The largest employers in Rockford are Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, Rockford Public School District, and Mercy Health. The central location of Rockford also means finding jobs in the transportation and logistics industries is easier here than in other parts of the country. By highway, Rockford is linked to the rest of the state, as well as Iowa and Wisconsin.

Rockford has been nicknamed the Forest City and is known for its extensive venues boasting historical and cultural significance. Some of the most popular historical sites found in Rockford include the Burpee Museum of Natural History, home of the most complete and best-preserved fossil to date of Jane the juvenile T-Rex. Another popular place in Rockford is the Anderson Japanese Gardens, which was established in 1978 on John R. Anderson's home.

There are countless architecturally significant destinations found in Rockford, including the Swedish American Hospital, the Tinker Swiss Cottage, and the Lake-Peterson House, all displaying varying examples of architectural designs throughout the city's history.

Check out the apartments available for rent now in Rockford.

6. Springfield

The state capital of Illinois is Springfield, which is also the second-largest city by population outside of the Chicago metropolitan area. Located in central Illinois, this city is famously the home of Abraham Lincoln before he moved to the White House to become President of the United States.

Lincoln lived and worked in Springfield as a lawyer and politician for 24 years. As expected, there are tons of historic sites involving the late president to check out here, including the Lincoln Tomb at Oak Ridge Cemetery, the Lincoln Home National Historic Site, and the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum.

However, Lincoln was not the only notable figure in history to call Springfield home. Other individuals who helped paved the way for American culture in one way or another came from Springfield, including the astronomer Seth Barnes Nicholson, the founder of the General Foods Corporation Marjorie Merriweather Post, and poet Vachel Lindsay.

When living in Springfield, you should take the time to check out the capitol buildings. The Old State Capitol is now a state historic site. This building served as the state capital from 1839 through 1876. The Illinois State Capitol is a historic Greek Revival building that still serves its purpose today. Abraham Lincoln tried several cases in this building.

You can also get outside and explore Washington Park, which offers 150 acres of natural landscaping and rolling hills. Sites within the park include the Botanical Gardens, the Angel of Hope memorial, and the Rose Garden, all worth stopping by as often as you're able.

Check out the apartments available for rent now in Springfield.

Final Thoughts - Where Should I Move to in Illinois?

No matter what you are looking for in Illinois, whether it be a densely suburban area like Aurora or the hustle and bustle of a more metropolitan area like Chicago, there's something there for everyone. Thankfully, some of the best places to live in Illinois are still reasonably priced.

So, if you are interested in moving to Illinois, now might be a good time to start your research. First, find out more about the cost of living in Illinois. Next, register with Apartment List today and start checking out the thousands of available apartments to rent in Illinois!

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EMILY KHO
Emily is a professionally trained writer who covers a wide range of topics but specializes in business and hospitality content. With over a decade of professional writing experience in the hospitality industry, Emily comes from a strong background in the field backed with a BS from the world-renowned William F. Read More
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