Illinois is the 6th most populous state but only the 25th biggest in terms of its surface area, making it one of the most densely populated states of America. Illinois, also known as the Prairie State due to its vast prairies, is located in the Midwest region of the United States and includes a lot of diversity in both its economy and landscapes.

The state has a total estimated population of around 12.8 million people, while covering an area of 57,914 square miles in total. The state capital of Illinois is Springfield, but the state's biggest and best-known city is Chicago, which is also the third largest city in all of America. Here are some key details and facts about all of the biggest cities in the state of Illinois. CDC information for travelers. Hours/availability may have changed.


1.Chicago

Chicago
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Situated in Cook County in the northeastern part of Illinois, Chicago is the state's biggest and most famous city. Chicago is third most populous city in the entire United States, home to an estimated population of 2.7 million people, with over 9.5 million living in the surrounding metropolitan area. Chicago is a major commercial, cultural, industrial, and transportation hub for both Illinois and the United States as a whole.

The city was founded in the late 18th century and was named due to a native Algonquian word 'Shikaakwa' referring to the wild onions that grew in the area. Chicago developed rapidly over the years and is now classed as one of the most important cities on the planet. The city is known for its distinctive skyline and strong cultural side, attracting tens of millions of tourists each year.

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2.Aurora

Aurora
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The city of Aurora is the second biggest city in the state of Illinois but is much smaller in terms of both land area and population than Chicago. Aurora has an estimated population of 201,000 people and is located in DuPage County and Kage County in the northeastern part of the state, not far from Chicago itself.

The city is actually classed as part of the Chicago metropolitan area, also known as Chicagoland. Aurora covers an area of 45.77 square miles and was founded in 1834. It has the nickname 'City of Lights' due to the fact that it was one of the first cities in all of America to install an electric street light system. Aurora is well-known for its unique historic architecture and has thrived over the years due to its close ties with Chicago.

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3.Rockford

Rockford
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Located in Winnebago County in the northern central part of Illinois, Rockford is the state's third biggest city. Rockford is also the biggest city in Illinois not to be included in the Chicago metropolitan area. Rockford has an estimated population of 147,000 people, with over 344,000 living in the surrounding metropolitan area.

Rockford was founded as Midway in 1834, but received its current name a few years later, in 1837. The city's name came from the presence of a ford across the Rock River which ran through town. The city was constructed on a good location for transport and development and thrived over the years due to industries like furniture production.

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4.Joliet

Joliet
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Joliet is situated in both Will County and Kendall County in the northeastern part of Illinois. Like Aurora, this large Illinois city is located inside the Chicago metropolitan area and has close connections with the state's biggest city. The estimated population of Joliet is 147,000, so there is a chance that it may technically be larger than Rockford, but a new census will need to take place before this can be confirmed.

The city of Joliet was settled in 1833 and grew over the years, now covering an area of 65.09 square miles. The city was named after Louis Jolliet, a French-Canadian explorer who, along with his father Jacques Marquette, mapped out the Mississippi River.

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5.Naperville

Naperville
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Located in DuPage County and Will County in the northeastern part of Illinois, Naperville is the fifth biggest city in the state. Naperville has an estimated population of 147,000, which means that, just like Joliet and Rockford, it may technically be the third or fourth biggest city in Illinois based on population, but this cannot be confirmed without an official count.

The city covers an area of 39.24 square miles and was named after Joseph Naper, a pioneer, soldier, and politician who founded the city in 1831. Naperville is classed as one of the richest cities in the Midwest, as well as having some of the lowest crime statistics, hence being regarded as a great place for families and the elderly to live.

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5 of the Largest Cities in Illinois


  • Chicago, Photo: f11photo/stock.adobe.com
  • Aurora, Photo: jonbilous/stock.adobe.com
  • Rockford, Photo: Henryk Sadura/stock.adobe.com
  • Joliet, Photo: Henryk Sadura/stock.adobe.com
  • Naperville, Photo: Jim Vallee/stock.adobe.com
  • Cover Photo: Courtesy of renaschild - Fotolia.com

Attraction Spotlight: Garfield Park Conservatory

The Garfield Park Conservatory in Chicago is one the most stunning and largest conservatories in the United States. The conservatory is often noted as "landscape art under glass." The two acres inside house thousands of different species of plants displayed among eight rooms. Visitors will discover tropical temperatures and lush flora as they make their way through the conservatory, away from the bustling city of Chicago. Guests of the conservatory during the summer should also take the time to view the stunning twelve acres of outdoor gardens.

The Palm House at the Garfield Park Conservatory is the building's largest room at ninety feet wide and sixty-five feet high. The room is designed to be an ideal tropical environment, with over seventy palms and other plants from tropical habitats in other parts of the world. The conservatory also houses four themed botanical habitats: sugar, sunlight, air, and water. These themed environments help guests discover how plants capture sunlight in every leaf and use it to change small amounts of water and air into sugar.

Jens Jensen, the designer of the Garfield Park Conservatory in 1906, wished to provide guests of the Conservatory with a look at what the state of Illinois may have looked like millions of years ago. An indoor lagoon, rocky outcroppings, and lush ferns invoke a prehistoric swampy landscape of Chicago.

The Aroid House at the Conservatory features several plants familiar to indoor gardeners, as many aroid plants are used as houseplants. An array of aroids can be seen on display in a typical landscape setting. One of the impressive features of the Aroid House is its "Persian Pool" that contains sixteen yellow lily pads created specifically for the Aroid House by Chihuly, the famous glass artist.

The Garfield Park Conservatory's Desert House is home to one the most diverse collections of succulents and cacti in the region. Part of the popularity of these plants is their ability to survive in dry, harsh conditions, their unique and interesting forms, and their short-lived but brilliant flowers. The size of the displayed plants range from tiny stone plants to huge century plants.

The Elizabeth Morse Genius Children's Garden offers a comfortable and fun indoor setting for students and families. A meandering, massive vine featuring larger-than-life roots, flowers, and leaves offers a chance for kids to have fun while learning more about plants. Twelve acres of outdoor gardens can also be explored at the Conservatory, including the Sensory Garden, Monet Garden, Play and Grow Garden, Demonstration Garden, and City Garden.

People are connected to plants throughout every moment of the day, whether through the air or food. The Garfield Park Conservatory strives to explore, examine, and experiment with this relationship with plants. With its ever-evolving collection, the Conservatory continues to grow exotic plans right in Chicago's backyard. Its Show House changes displays throughout the year, while new hybrids are created and new plant specimens acquired. The Conservatory aims to sustain an urban oasis through outdoor gardens and plants in glasshouses.

300 North Central Park Avenue, Chicago, Illinois, Phone: 312-746-5100

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Attraction Spotlight: Shedd Aquarium

The Shedd Aquarium (formally known as the John G. Shedd Aquarium) is an indoor aquarium that has been serving the community of Chicago for more than 80 years. Surrounded by the Museum Campus Chicago, the Aquarium was the first inland aquarium with a permanent saltwater fish collection in the world and is currently home to over 32,000 animals made up of 1500 species of fish, marine mammals, amphibians, snakes, birds, and insects.

The Shedd Aquarium prides itself on being like no other aquarium in the world by combining the characteristics of the best of early 20th-century aquariums such as beautiful architecture and a diverse, global animal collection with state-of-the-art technology animal care.

The Shedd Aquarium features several permanent exhibits, including Amazon Rising, Caribbean Reef, Waters of the World, Wild Reef, Stingray Touch, and the Abbott Oceanarium.

Amazon Rising is an amazing 8,600-square-foot walk-through recreation of a flooded forest of the Amazon River and the surrounding jungle and features over 250 species of animals, including piranhas, anacondas, freshwater stingrays, spiders, and caimans.

Built in 1971, the Caribbean Reef exhibit features a 90,000-US-gallon circular tank that visitors can fully encircle and views the creatures within, including sharks, fish, and turtles.

One of the oldest galleries in the aquarium, Waters of the World includes exhibits that focus on the oceans, rivers, lakes and islands of the world and the species that inhabit them, such as snapping turtles, otters, starfish, iguana, and seahorses.

Wild Reef is a permanent exhibit that reflects a Philippine coral reef. The drawcard of this fascinating exhibition is the 400,000-US-gallon shark tank with 12-foot high curved windows that allows visitors a diver's eye view of the living coral, myriad species of fish, eels, rays and sharks that inhabit in the tank.

The Stingray Touch offers visitors the opportunity to touch yellow spotted rays and cow nose rays in an interactive outdoor exhibit, while the Abbott Oceanarium is a new addition to the aquarium and features a wealth of marine mammals, including dolphins, sea otters, belugas, penguins, and California sea lions.

Other exhibits and displays in the Aquarium include a 4D Theater which presents 3D films with interactive seats, high-tech audio and interactive elements like bubbles and scents.

The Shedd Aquarium is home to the Daniel P. Haerther Center for Conservation and Research and provides on-site research at the aquarium covering a range of topics such as animal behavior, animal training, nutrition and health, reproduction and genetics. The aquarium partners with conservation efforts in Southeast Asia and the Caribbean and is now recognized as the lead authority on the endangered Bahamian Rock Iguana. The Shedd Aquarium is also involved with research on beluga whales.

Education

The Shedd Aquarium offers a range of learning programs, training seminars, hands-on science experiences and graduate programs for scholars and students of all ages. Youth programs include Park Voyager Programs, Great Lakes Action Days, Spring Break Camp, Summer Road Trip, Scouts and Shedd Stewards. Teen Programs include Teen Learning Lab, Teen Work Study, High School Lake Ecology, HIGH School Marine Biology Program, Scouts, Shedd Stewards, Great Lakes Action Days, and Club Shedd. Continuing Education Programs include Assistantships, Professional Animal Training Seminar and Associated Colleges of the Chicago (ACCA). Family education programs include Travel with Shedd, Extraordinary Experiences, and Great Lakes Action Days.

The Shedd Aquarium is located at 1200 South Lake Shore Drive in Chicago and is open to the public daily from 9:00 am to 6:00 pm. The Shedd Aquarium has three dining options that serve family fare at several locations, including the Soundings Café, and the Bubble Net, all of which serve a wholesome menu of fresh cuisine in a casual setting.

Designed by a renowned architectural firm, the Shedd Aquarium is also notable for its beautiful architecture and design, which is built in the Beaux Arts style of Greek architecture to reflect the surrounding structures of the Museum Campus. Classic design elements include Doric columns, a dome-topped staircase and aquatic motifs of dolphins, tortoise shells, octopuses, and waves.

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1200 S Lake Shore Dr, Chicago, Illinois 60605, Phone: 312-939-2438

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Attraction Spotlight: Wabash Arts Corridor

Public, open air art can be so important in changing the face and vibe of typical city locations. Cities can be wonderful places in which to live, but they’re often dominated by dull grey buildings and a lack of color and vibrancy all around. Public art installations help to change all of this.

Chicago is an excellent example. It’s a stunning city, with the beauty of the Lake Michigan shoreline and inner city public art locations like Millennium Park adding so much to the Windy City's overall aesthetic appeal, and another terrific open air art spot in Chicago can be found in the Wabash Arts Corridor.

What Is the Wabash Arts Corridor?

The Wabash Arts Corridor is a section of Chicago's South Loop business district that has gone from being dominated by tall grey walls to being filled with color and life, thanks to the creativity and imagination of the city's urban artists and students.

Described as a 'living urban canvas', the Wabash Arts Corridor is one of the most diverse and expansive public art programs in the whole of the US; a section of the city filled with colorful, varied, large-scale murals.

- The Story - The story of the Wabash Arts Corridor begins back in 2013 when Columbia College Chicago decided to launch the project in order to get its students involved in something that could truly change the layout of the city, making use of urban spaces to turn the South Loop area into something so much more beautiful and inspiring. The WAC started off small but has grown and grown over the years, now reaching a point where it encompasses eight educational institutions, 19 galleries, 14 performance spaces, five hotels, and over 40 restaurants around the South Loop, bringing the whole community together and connecting businesses and artists as one.

- Where Is the Wabash Arts Corridor? - As the name indicates, the main stretch of the Wabash Arts Corridor can be found along Wabash Avenue from Van Buren down to Roosevelt, but the corridor has also expanded onto neighboring Michigan Ave and State St, as well as the small streets that connect them. Murals can be found dotted all around this area of the city on the sides of skyscrapers, hotels, businesses, and more.

Tours of the Wabash Arts Corridor

Many people choose to simply roam around the WAC by themselves, following a map to guide themselves around, but one of the best ways to experience the WAC and ensure you don't miss out on a single thing is to take a walking tour.

- Dates and Times - Official walking tours of the Wabash Arts Corridor are offered throughout the summer and into fall. The tours last for around 90 minutes on average and run at set times each week, with some tours leaving in the morning and others setting off in the early evening, offering different lighting and views onto the murals and installations.

- Admission - Children under 5 can take the Wabash Arts Corridor tours for free, but all other tour-goers will need to pay their admission. There's a standard price for adults and a discounted rate for seniors and students. All of the money raised from ticket sales goes back into programming and projects around the corridor, so you’re helping to support the WAC just by taking a tour of it.

- Important Information - All tickets for the WAC tours need to be purchased online via ShopColumbia. These are small group tours, with a maximum limit of 15 people, and the tours start off at 623 S Wabash, ending at 13 St an d Michigan Ave. The tour involves a walk of about a mile in total, but is fully family friendly and moves at a leisurely pace. Those wishing to take a large group tour can get in touch with the WAC team at info@wabashartscorridor.org to arrange it.

- The Experience - These 90 minute Chicago walking tours will take you all around the Wabash Arts Corridor, with professional trained, friendly, volunteer tour guides leading the way and guiding you around. The guides will tell you the full history of the WAC, introducing the various murals along the way, telling you more about the artists behind them. You'll learn how Columbia College Chicago started off the WAC project, working together with the City of Chicago, students, local businesses, and the whole community to create one of the most impressive public art projects anywhere in the world.

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