Chicagoland consists of the Chicago metropolitan area in northeastern Illinois, including Chicago and its surrounding suburbs. Broader definitions also include parts of Southeast Wisconsin and Northwestern Indiana. It covers all of Cook, DuPage, Lake, Kane and Will Counties in Illinois, and portions of Kenosha County, Wisconsin; McHenry County, Illinois, and in Indiana, Lake, Porter, and portions of LaPorte Counties.
In this guide, Chicagoland refers only to the region of the metropolitan area which is within the state of Illinois (the narrower definition) and does not include the adjacent urban area in southeastern Wisconsin, nor the adjacent urban area in northwestern Indiana (the broadest definition).
|City of Chicago |
The largest city in Illinois, and the third largest in the United States.
|North Shore (Evanston, Skokie, Highwood, Deerfield, Highland Park, Ravinia, Northbrook, Glencoe, Hubbard Woods, Winnetka, Northfield, Glenview, Indian Hill, Kenilworth, Wilmette, Lincoln Wood, Lake Bluff, Lake Forest)|
Suburbs along Lake Michigan between Chicago and High Wood which include some of the most affluent communities in the United States and in the Midwest in particular. Prominent tourist attractions in the region include among others the Ravinia Festival (where artists perform), the Chicago Botanical Gardens, and the Bahá'í House of Worship in Wilmette.
|Northwest Suburbs (Buffalo Grove, Arlington Heights, Palatine, Schaumburg, Libertyville, Lindenhurst, Lake Villa, Round Lake, Grayslake, Mundelein, Vernon Hills, Long Grove, Lincolnshire, Barrington Hills, Inverness, Wheeling, Mount Prospect, Morton Grove, Niles, Des Plaines, Park Ridge, Rosemont, Elk Grove Village, Roselle, Schiller Park, Itasca, Wood Dale)|
The region generally on and in close proximity to the Union Pacific Northwest Metra Line. Prominent tourist attraction in this region include the Volo Car Museum, the largest mall in Greater Chicago "Woodfield Mall", the main campus of Willow Creek Community Church, one of the country's largest megachurches, in South Barrington, and the family dinner theater "Medieval Times" which features staged medieval-style games, sword-fighting, and jousting.
|Far North Suburbs (Waukegan, Gurnee, Winthrop Harbor, Zion, Beach Park, North Chicago)|
Those suburbs generally in Lake County and near Lake Michigan. Prominent tourist attractions in this region include among others the Gurnee theme park Six Flags Great America.
|Western Suburbs (Cicero, Franklin Park, Oak Park, Bloomingdale, Carol Stream, Addison, Lombard, Glen Ellyn, Wheaton, Villa Park, Elmhurst, River Forest, Oak Brook, Westchester, Hillside, River Forest, Forest Park, Berwyn, Riverside, Stickney, Brookfield, Western Springs, Lisle, Downers Grove, Woodridge, Darien, Westmont, Hinsdale, La Grange)|
The region generally south of O'Hare, north of I-55, and west of Chicago. Prominent tourist attractions in this region include the Brookfield Zoo.
|South Suburbs (Oak Lawn, Orland Park, Alsip, Orland Hills, Crestwood, Blue Island, Evergreen Park, Harvey, Oak Forest, Olympia Fields, Dale, Dolton, Burnham, Tinley Park, Thornton, Palos Heights, Palos Park, Markham, Frankfort, Country Club Hills, Hazel Crest, South Holland, Palos Hills, Calumet City, Homewood, Matteson, Richton Park, Thornton, Lansing, Flossmoor, Chicago Heights, Peotone, University Park, Lynwood, Steger, Park Forest, Sauk Village, Crete, Beecher, Midlothian)|
A region generally along I-57 and south.
|Outer Cities and Towns (Chain O' Lakes, Fox River Valley, and Kankakee Area) (Elgin, Bolingbrook, Aurora, Naperville, Antioch, Spring Grove, Fox Lake, Johnsburg, McHenry, Crystal Lake, Lake in the Hills, Algonquin, St. Charles, West Chicago, Warrenville, Geneva, Batavia, Romeoville, Crest Hill, Joliet, Lockport, Lemont, Goodings Groove, Homer Glen, New Lenox, Mokena, New Lenox)|
Prominent tourist attractions in this regions include among others the Morton Arboretum, and the Chain O' Lakes waterway system in northwestern part of Lake County which is composed of 15 lakes connected by the Fox River and man-made channels.
Additional adjacent urban areas, which are often considered to belong to the greater Chicago area, that are not covered in this part of the guide:
- 1 Kenosha County, Wisconsin : The south-easternmost county in Wisconsin. The eastern portion is sometimes considered part of greater Chicagoland.
- 2 Lake County, Indiana : The north-westernmost county in Indiana. The eastern portions of the county are often considered portions of Chicagoland.
- 3 McHenry County : Northwest of Cook County and sharing much of its border with Wisconsin, this Illinois county is often considered part of Chicagoland due to its many connections (including rail and highway).
Chicagoland, though centered on Chicago, is anchored by many regional cities which have their own distinct cultures, economics and traditions. These are a few of the noteworthy cities and communities in the region:
- 1 Chicago : The principal city of the region and its main economic engine.
- 2 Aurora : Illinois's second largest city and one of the two anchors of the Fox River Valley, Aurora is a major city and often considered the gateway to the region on I-88.
- 3 Elgin : A historic community and second of the two anchors of the Fox River Valley, Elgin is the gateway to the region on I-90.
- 4 Joliet : The anchor of the South Suburbs, Joliet is a gateway to the region.
- 5 Naperville : The primary city of the Western Suburbs, Naperville is often noted for its urban downtown.
- 6 Waukegan : Birthplace of Ray Bradbury, Waukegan is the anchor of the Far North Suburbs.
Though founded in 1833, the City of Chicago was incorporated in 1837. Spurred by port and rail traffic, the City became one of the fastest growing urban areas in the world for several decades and gradually became both the center of the Chicagoland region and the entire Midwest. Much of the growth of the region can be linked directly to Chicago and its history.
Following the conclusion of the Second World War, Chicagoland simply exploded. New model suburbs such as Park Forest gave returning veterans the new amenities of inexpensive housing away from the city. They settled, raised families and saw a cycle of growth continue. Population started shifting into these new suburbs, which continued to grow and incorporate. Today, the City of Chicago has 2.7 million people while the entire area has 9.7 million (just the Illinois portion). Whereas once the city also held all the attractions, now there are hundreds of unique sites, restaurants and festivals throughout the entire area.
Chicago, like much of the Midwest, is known for cold winters and warm, humid summers. During the spring and fall, temperatures can shift somewhat radically, though locations near the lake (typically within 20 miles) tend to be somewhat shielded from this by the lake. You can expect highs in the lower 20s °F (around -5 °C) in January and February and mid-80s °F (around 30 °C) in July and August.
Chicagoland is a major hub for vehicle, air, rail and port traffic and is accessible via any number of different methods. The city has an outstanding public transport system, which allows great access not only to the city but to many areas of the region. Below are a few different methods of entry:
- Interstate System: Chicagoland is the dead center of most major interstates serving the Midwest as well as many cross-country routes (specifically, I-80, I-90 and I-94). The following routes either pass through or connect the region:
- I-80 (portions tolled): I-80 crosses through the South Suburbs region.
- I-88 (tolled): I-88 is a regional interstate which connects the region to the Quad Cities
- I-90 (tolled): I-90 connects the region locally to Rockford and Gary and ultimately Madison.
- I-94 (tolled): I-94 connects the region to Milwaukee and Detroit and ultimately to the Twin Cities.
- I-55: I-55 terminates in Chicagoland and connects it to St. Louis and ultimately to New Orleans.
- I-57: I-57 terminates in Chicagoland and connects it to Memphis.
- I-65: I-65, which originates in the Indiana portion of Chicagoland, connects the region to Indianapolis and ultimately Louisville.
- US Highways: Chicagoland is connected through a series of US numbered highways including US 20, US 30, US 41 and US 45.
- O'Hare International Airport: The region's primary airport, O'Hare is one of the busiest airports in the world. It provides service to most other major cities in North America and many international destinations. It is connected to the Chicago Loop via the CTA's Blue Line.
- Midway Airport: Chicagoland's second major airport, Midway primarily provides service to other destinations in the United States and is accessible from CTA's Orange Line to the Loop.
- Dupage County Airport: A "designated reliever airport" for O'Hare and an increasingly popular airport.
- Chicago Executive Airport: A second designated reliever airport, it is an increasingly popular airport for chartered flights based in Wheeling and Prospect Heights.
- Waukegan Regional Airport: A third designated reliever airport, the Waukegan Regional Airport receives chartered flights.
Chicagoland is served by numerous Amtrak routes.
Despite its excellent public transportation (by US standards), personal vehicles remain the best form of transportation in the area. The interstates are the primary method of vehicle travel, though, mostly to avoid tolls and congestion, many local routes are used. Below are some commonly travelled routes which tourists may find useful for avoiding traffic:
- North–south routes:
- US 41: US 41 (known as "Lake Shore Drive" in Chicago) is a primary north-south route. It connects the Far North Suburbs, North Shore, City and South Suburbs.
- US 45: US 45 is a primary north-shore and connects the Far North Suburbs, Northwestern Suburbs, Immediate Suburbs and Southern Suburbs.
- IL 53: IL 53 is a unique route that primarily serves as a connection point between various points of the Northwestern Suburbs. However, it is an important thoroughfare for connection to local interstates. There are current plans to extend it into the Chain O'Lakes/Far North Suburbs.
- IL 59: IL 59 connects the Chain O'Lakes to the Northwestern Suburbs and Western Suburbs before terminating in Naperville.
- IL 31: IL 31 is the major north-south route connecting the Chain O'Lakes and Fox River Valley.
- East–west routes:
- IL 120: IL 120 is the primary connection between the Far North Suburbs and the Chain O'Lakes. It terminates near Woodstock in McHenry County. Through much of the Far North Suburbs, this route is open freeway.
- US 12: US 12 runs on a northwest-southeast route through the entire region and connects the South Suburbs directly to the City and then runs northwest connecting the Northwestern Suburbs to the Chain O'Lakes.
- Lake-Cook Road: A major east-west route, this road is the border between Lake and Cook Counties, and connects the North Shore to the Northwestern Suburbs and Fox River Valley.
- US 14: Like US 12, US 14 runs a northwest-south route through the entire region. It originates in the City and then connects it to the Northwestern Suburbs, Fox River Valley and McHenry County before exiting the region. Through much of its course, it runs alongside the Union Pacific Northwest Metra Line.
- US 20: A major east-west arterial, this route connects the City to the Immediate and Western Suburbs and the Fox River Valley. Through Elgin, the route is open freeway.
- North Avenue: A major east-west route, North Avenue originates in the City and runs through the Immediate and Western Suburbs into the Fox River Valley.
- Ogden Avenue: Another route originating in the City, Odgen connects the City to many of the Immediate Suburbs, the Western Suburbs and Aurora.
- US 30: A major-east west through, US 30 primarily serves the South Suburbs.
Chicagoland's Metra commuter train system is one of the most connected and advanced in the United States with 241 stations on 11 routes. Below is a brief outline of each of the train routes (a full list of stops and schedules is available on Metra's website[dead link]:
- BNSF Railway: Provides daily service between Chicago's Union Station and Aurora through much of the Western Suburbs.
- Heritage Corridor: Daily service between Union Station and Joliet (this is one of two routes originating in Joliet).
- Milwaukee District North Line: Connects Chicago's Union Station and Fox Lake, the anchor of the Chain O'Lakes. It provides service through the Northwestern and Far North Suburbs as well.
- Milwaukee District West Line: Connects Union Station and Elgin passing through many of the Northwestern Suburbs in between.
- North Central Service: Provides service between Union Station and Antioch in the Chain O' Lakes. It connects many of the Northwestern and Far North Suburbs in between.
- Rock Island District: Connects LaSalle Street Station to Joliet and passes through many southern suburbs.
- Southwest Service: Connects Union Station to Manhattan through the South Suburbs.
- Union Pacific North Line: One of Metra's most heavily traveled lines, the North Line connects Ogilvie Station with Waukegan and Kenosha.
- Union Pacific Northwest Line: Another of the region's most heavily traveled lines, the Northwest Line connects Ogilvie to Crystal Lake and Harvard. It provides service to most of the Northwestern Suburbs, a portion of the Fox River Valley and McHenry County.
- Union Pacific West Line: The West Line connects Ogilvie and extends to Elburn, connecting many Immediate and West Suburbs as well as portions of the Fox River Valley. Elburn is actually considered part of the greater Northern Illinois region.
Two major bus systems serve the region: the Chicago Transportation Authority (CTA) and Pace. CTA services Chicago while PACE covers the rest of the region. Visit their websites for more information: Chicago Transportation Authority and Pace.
By Subway/L: The CTA also manages the Chicago subway and elevated rail ('L') system. Since the majority of the system serves the actual city, most information can be found there. However, certain CTA stops are in the greater region including Wilmette, Evanston, Skokie, Rosemont, Cicero, Forest Park, and Oak Park, which makes those respective lines sometimes an easier alternative to vehicle or Metra for access to the city.
Buildings and architecture
- The Baha'i Temple: A cultural and architectural wonder located in Wilmette.
- Frank Lloyd Wright Architecture: Frank Lloyd Wright's architecture abounds through the Immediate Suburbs but particularly in River Forest and Oak Park.
- The Loop: Chicago's Loop contains a mixture of stylized modern skyscrapers and historic buildings.
Chicago is home to a number of major and minor sports teams. A few select local teams and their stadium or arena locations:
- Chicago Bears (National Football League - based at Soldier Field, Chicago)
- Chicago Blackhawks (National Hockey League - based at the United Center, Chicago)
- Chicago Bulls (National Basketball League - based at the United Center, Chicago)
- Chicago Cubs (Major League Baseball - based at Wrigley Field, Chicago)
- Chicago Fire (Major League Soccer - playing in Soldier Field])
- Chicago White Sox (Major League Baseball - based at U.S. Cellular Field, Chicago)
- Chicago Red Stars (National Women's Soccer League - play at the SeatGeek Stadium in Bridgeview)
Parks and zoos
Chicagoland has a number of spectacular and award-winning parks. Some major parks throughout the area which draw crowds include the following:
- Millennium Park - the famous Millennium Park is in the Chicago Loop.
- Lincoln Park Zoo - a free zoo open near the lake shore in the Lincoln Park Neighborhood of Chicago.
- Brookfield Zoo - a world-renowned zoo located in suburban Brookfield in the Immediate Suburbs.
- Morton Arboretum - a world famous arboretum located in suburban Lisle in the Western Suburbs.
- Six Flags Great America - this flagship of the Six Flags parks is located in Gurnee in the Far North Suburbs.
- Illinois State Beach Park - a large natural area on Lake Michigan in the Far North Suburb of Zion.
Gambling and casinos
- Harrah's Joliet
- Grand Victoria
- The Rivers
Like any metropolitan area, Chicagoland offers nearly every type of cuisine at different price ranges. Chicagoland favorites include Italian beef (a beef sandwich served with beef broth and peppers), Chicago deep dish pizza, and Polish sausage. Chicago-style hot dogs (mustard, sliced tomatoes, with relish and pepperoncini peppers) are common throughout the Chicagoland area. Local favorite restaurant chains for Chicago-staples include Lou Malnati's (deep dish and thin crust pizza) and Portillo's (Italian beef, Polish sausage and Chicago-style hot dogs).
Due to the pandemic, restaurants have invested in dining igloos and tents. Deliveries are available through Grub-Hub, other services, and sometimes from the restaurant itself.
Reviews and recommendations
Residents from across the area will often swear by their local restaurants as the best. There are reviews, as most people know on Yelp, but also in the Chicago Tribune (Phil Vettel retired in early 2021), Chicago Reader (Mike Sula), Chicago Magazine, Happy Cow (vegetarian and vegan), and Check, Please! Some international rankings come from Zagat (surveys) and Michelin Guide (25 starred locations as of 2020). Hotel concierges are good resources and can sometimes get you reservations. City of Chicago, village Civic Centers, and trade groups may also be good sources of information.
Ethnic, special, festive, and fine dining cuisines
Ethnic (or vestiges of ethnic) neighborhoods provide opportunities to sample more authentic cuisines and their regional variations: Irish, German, Italian, Indian (or Pakistani), Greek, Eastern European (Polish, Ukrainian, Serbian, Bosnian, Armenian, Czech, Hungarian), Mexican (or Puerto Rican), Jamaican (or Caribbean), South American (Peruvian), Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Thai, Middle Eastern (Persian, Israeli, Lebanese), African (Ethiopian, Eritrean, Nigerian / Igboo), among others. A few spots have French, southern cooking, or soul food.
Vegan spots can be found on Happy Cow's website. The Chicago Diner is one of the oldest. Many diner restaurants offer the Beyond or Impossible burger.
Navy Pier is a festive location for dining, a smaller venue is built around Wrigley Field (Cubs ballpark), there is also the French Market at Ogilvie Train Station, and food emporiums west of and in downtown and at Logan Square. The River Walk is outdoors along the Chicago River downtown.
Fine dining can be had at choice locations, not just downtown. There are 25 Michelin-rated restaurants (c.2020). Some fine dining spots are good for their ambience, at the top of the Hancock skyscraper, 40th floor of the Chicago Stock Exchange (Everest), Trump Tower, at the Art Institute, and buildings overlooking Millennial Park or Michigan Avenue's Gold Coast. A few are at the top hotels in Chicagoland. Glenview has a restaurant row.
Events with food
Food trucks are scarce but do exist. A few old-style food carts come out at certain days (hot dogs, tamales, frozen treats). Pop-up restaurants are scheduled or occur regularly.
Also try local foods at the many ethnic food festivals. City or village-sponsored are the biggest. Farmers' markets may vary their meal offerings weekly. Church events often welcome all. Holiday events (Independence Day, festive Christmas season are the most common, but also Pride Fest, Bastille Day, Octoberfest and Diwali Festival). There is a pumpkin festival in Highwood, a north shore suburb, but for harvest festivals search "Harvest Festivals You Don't Want to Miss" to find details (Harvest Pow Wow at Naper Settlement in Naperville). Smaller street festivals focused on local shops and artisans may also have food.
Fortunes may vary, so food pantries are scattered around the city, and food give-away programs have their spots.
Chicagoland has beer (craft breweries abound), wine (one winery in Roselle), spirits (craft distilleries), mixed drinks, and coffee to compete with any other first-class city in the world.
Craft beer breweries
Goose Island Brewery started as an independent brewery on Chicago's only island at the Chicago River. It is now owned by Anheuser-Busch and still brews and distributes local favorites 312 and Green Line beers. Craft breweries: Great Lakes (in Lake Bluff), Half Acre (in Chicago) and Two Brothers (in Warrenville) are among the biggest and their beers are easily found. Many breweries have added kitchens to serve quality foods, with limited hours and days.
Drinking rules and permits
Drinking alcohol in the parks or streets of Chicago is not allowed. Millennium Park's Pritzker Pavilion events are among the rare exceptions. "Picnic permits" might provide an option to add alcohol to your event. At the forest preserves in Cook County, outside of Chicago, drink is allowed if away from roads and designated non-drinking areas. Restaurants, sports stadiums, and entertainment venues may have liquor permits (ether bring your own, beer and wine, or additional spirits permits), which allow for the serving of alcohol.
Coffee, tea, smoothies and the water
Chicagoland's love of coffee is extensive. Excellent coffee can be found in the city and throughout the region. Coffee roasters sell at their own shops and may distribute their coffee widely. Starbucks, Metropolis (local), Peets, Caribou are among the chains in Chicagoland. There are spots that import coffee from Europe or Jamaica. Tea shops specializing in teas may also be found.
Smoothie and juice bars are at chains and certain vegan or ethnic restaurants. Drinking fountains are often found at the parks and beaches. Treated water from Lake Michigan is considered quite acceptable and many villages in Chicagoland contract with lakefront towns to get Lake Michigan water as opposed to well water. The Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago website may be checked for water safety information.
Chicagoland, as a whole, is generally safe. However, depending on what a visitor is doing and when they are visiting, unique situations can be present. Below is a brief summary:
The police emergency number is 911. If used from a cell phone, it will contact the town or village you are in. If near the border of a town, the town's police can transfer you to the town you need. CWB Chicago reports crime in the city. The Chicago Police Department (CPD) can be contacted via local area (there are 3) or central non-emergency numbers. Other towns have their own police and will have non-emergency numbers. Chicago will put you through to non-emergency or emergency services using 311 (phone or app), and the CPD maintains a website map online of crime statistics.
As of 2021, the lake has been high for a few years causing a few beaches to be closed to swimmers (sometimes due to the erosion protections added by the US Army Corps of Engineers). The beaches are a gem but Lake Michigan can be dangerous due to its temperature and occasional rip tides. Lifeguards are posted during summer months (Memorial Day to Labor Day) and swimming is allowed within designated areas. Chicago beaches are in need of lifesaving equipment (lifesaver rings and ropes) as well as a need for better signs. There are docks one can walk upon, but at times of high waves or ice they become slippery. Once in cold water, a person will have a hard time breathing or swimming. Be safe. Coast Guard service is limited. Life vests are recommended if on any water.
Due to the pandemic, Chicago beaches have been closed for all of 2020. A reopen date is yet to be announced for 2021. In the suburbs, beaches opened to season pass holders only, with restrictions.
While winter weather tends to be more mild in Chicagoland than other parts of the Midwest, the region is by no means immune to blizzards and heavy snow. When travelling during snowy or icy weather, there are some things travelers should know:
- Public transit (especially trains) will most likely operate throughout any winter weather event. If you can, use the Metra or the CTA lines to get around.
- If you are travelling by car, know that almost all jurisdictions use a three-tier system for plowing (meaning that major routes get first attention with local roads tending to be done last). For those reasons, travelers should try to stick to major routes and roads (such as the tollways and freeways).
- Since ownership of roads varies considerably throughout the region, those traveling on roads should note that the status of one road (whether good or bad) has no bearing on the status of any other road.
- Given the location of Chicagoland, "lake effect snow" is a common occurrence. Visitors should take lake effect snow seriously, especially as it can dramatically impact travel conditions.
Though it has received national attention for crime, most of Chicagoland is safe for travelers who use good judgment. That said, occasional crime in areas previously considered safe such as on Michigan Ave, or in the Loop (central downtown), or on Rush Street (near north) has been on the rise.
- The Chicago Tribune ("The Trib") is the Chicago area's biggest daily, and publishes a suburban edition.
- The Chicago Sun-Times The other major Chicago paper, long-time rivals with the Tribune.
- The Daily Herald is a large daily newspaper aimed primarily at the suburbs.
- The Northwest Herald.
Chicagoland is adjacent to Northern and Central Illinois, to Southeast Wisconsin, and to Northwestern Indiana. Parts of Wisconsin and Indiana are sometimes included in the definition of Chicagoland.