15 Best Places to Live in Illinois

Written by Darren Griffiths
Updated on
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Illinois is as diverse a state as its cities and people. Located in the heartland of America, the Land of Lincoln may have cultivated a reputation as one of the worst run states, but it still remains a great choice for anyone looking to put down roots, and we’ll tell you why.

Illinois was once regarded as an economic juggernaut, but poor governance has seen its stock fall significantly. Regardless, the Midwest state still boasts a strong economy and is indeed the fifth-largest state economy by GDP.

Unemployment rate is one of the major causes of the high migration rates out of the state in recent years, but Illinois continues to prove its economic resilience.

When you throw in rising home values, one of the best school systems in the country, and a long list of prestigious employers who include 34 of the 500 Fortune 500 companies, this blend results in a generally gratifying quality of life.

Illinois is also home to dozens of cities with revitalized downtowns, excellent entertainment venues and endless outdoor recreation opportunities.

The state’s universities, including Northwestern University and the University of Illinois-Champaign Urbana, are considered some of the best when it comes to R&D, ranking favourably on the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education.

With many options on ideal places to live, it can be difficult to decide where to pitch camp in the Prairie State.

Worry not, though, for we have done the hard work for you and compiled a list of the 15 best places to live in Illinois, taking into account the aforementioned factors, in addition to crime rate, cost of living and weather.

1. Springfield

Springfield, IllinoisSource: RRuntsch / shutterstock
Springfield, Illinois

To many, Springfield is the capital of Illinois. To others, it is where Abraham Lincoln spent the better part of two decades.

But the city of over one hundred and seventeen thousand residents also happens to be a great place to live for anyone looking for affordable cost of living in the state. Homes here go for below the national average, with rent averaging under $1,000, both of which are considerably below the national average.

Public schools may not be the best in the state, but they are good, with the city also playing host to three universities. The fact that this is the state’s capital means you will find great diversity, with many residents working in state government jobs.

When you a include a thriving nightlife and plenty to do, whether historic (Lincoln’s presidential museum, home and tomb are located here) or cultural (this is where you’ll find the famous Hoogland Center for the Arts and Springfield Theatre Centre), Springfield makes a good case as a great spot to live in the state.

Children are also well catered for, especially with the Knight’s Action Park and Caribbean Adventure, one of the largest amusement parks in central Illinois, around.

Entertainment & Activities

Some of the best things to do in Springfield are:

  • Henson Robinson Zoo
  • Washington Park
  • The Springfield Park District
  • Lake Springfield
  • Knight’s Action Park
  • Scovill Zoo

2. Naperville

Naperville, IllinoisSource: Steve Cukrov / shutterstock

With a population of over one hundred and forty-five thousand residents, Naperville is considered one of the wealthiest cities not just in Illinois, but the entire Midwest. At above the national average, homes are steep, but so is the median home value, slightly double the national average.

Suffice to say Naperville is best suited for those who fancy more upscale quality of life, with a paycheck to match.

If you can swing it, the high cost of living is well worth it. This is one of the safest cities in America, with 130 parks and sports complexes located here – not to mention multiple shopping districts.

The residents are mostly college educated (72% of adults), but with eight college campuses serving such a small population, that is to be expected. As well, the majority of residents own their own homes.

The area itself is located along the Illinois Technology and Research Corridor where multiple high-tech companies are based: AT&T Bell Laboratories, Calamos, Ineos, BP, Western Electric, Nicor Gas and more.

Entertainment & Activities

Some of the best things to do in Naperville are:

  • Naperville Settlement
  • Hollywood Palms Cinema
  • Knoch Knolls Nature Center
  • The Morton Arboretum
  • BrightSide Theatre
  • Naperville Riverwalk Parking
  • Greene Valley

3. Buffalo Grove

Buffalo Grove, IllinoisSource: ckdisco / Flickr
Buffalo Grove

When it comes to the best places to live in Illinois, it doesn’t get any better than Buffalo Grove.

You will find the small suburb of over forty-one thousand residents in Lake County, and the area has consistently featured on the Best Places to Live in the entire United States, with everyone from CNN, to US News & World Report, to Niche.com waxing lyrical about it.

Crime rate is extremely low and the public education system is one of the best in the country.

In a state that has been accused of having a fairly high unemployment rate, Buffalo Grove, small as it is, is one of the places that help keep the state average high.

But you will have to fork out for it. Rents average over $1,000 per month, with median home value just over the $300,000 mark.

Entertainment & Activities

Some of the best things to do in Buffalo Grove are:

  • Par-King Skill Golf
  • Willow Stream Park
  • Kohl Children’s Museum
  • K1 Speed
  • Regal Lincolnshire
  • Twin Rinks Ice Pavilion
  • WhirlyBall Vernon Hills

4. Wheaton

Wheaton, IllinoisSource: Henryk Sadura / shutterstock

When searching for the best places to live in Illinois, there is a 4/5 chance you will come across the name Wheaton.

And that is because the suburb of over fifty-three thousand residents has everything going for it. It has some of the best-ranked public schools in America and the lowest unemployment rates.

You will find an incredible 52 parks in Wheaton sprawled across 829 acres of space.

The only category it ranks low in is the cost of living. Your average home will fetch above the national average, with rent averaging over $1,000 per month. But whom are we kidding, with most of the locals raking upwards of six figures, that’s pretty much…small potatoes.

Entertainment & Activities

Some of the best things to do in Wheaton are:

  • Cantigny Park
  • Cosley Zoo
  • Little Popcorn Store
  • Studio Movie Grill
  • The Morton Arboretum
  • Billy Graham Museum
  • Blackwell Forest Preserve
  • Lincoln Marsh
  • Herrick Lake
  • Wheaton Public Library

5. Glenview

The Glen, Glenview, IllinoisSource: pics721 / shutterstock
The Glen, Glenview, Illinois

Glenview is another area which often gets the plaudits for best places to live in Illinois.


The community of over forty-six thousand residents aces it when it comes to matters education, with its high school graduation rate being one of the best in the state.

The unemployment rate in this Cook County suburb is also one of the lowest in Illinois.

Families moving here can revel in the knowledge that Glenview also happens to have some of the most parks per capita. The unique Park Center is also located here, and there is also a multi-purpose community center which boasts everything from a pool, to a preschool, arts programs, fitness centre and more.

Expectedly, the cost of living is on the higher end of the spectrum. Median home value stands above the national average and the rent for a single-family home is hovering around $2,000 per month.

That makes it one of the most expensive places in Illinois, but it’s a bill many families, whose fat annual paycheck stands at six figures, are happy to foot.

Entertainment & Activities

Some of the best things to do in Glenview are:

  • Kohl Children’s Museum
  • Funtopia Glenview
  • The Grove Nature Preserve
  • Historic Wagner Farm
  • Gallery Park
  • Flick Park
  • Oil Lamp Theater
  • Meier’s Tavern
  • Glenview History Center
  • The Glen Club
  • Lincoln Park Zoo

6. Park Ridge

Park Ridge, IllinoisSource: Teemu008 / Flickr
Park Ridge

Some ardent fans of Harrison Ford will probably recognise Park Ridge as the birthplace of Han Solo (well, the real person). The name will also ring bells for anyone privy to the childhood of one Hillary Clinton.

It is said the place you call home can say a lot about you, and if that statement were true, it is easy to deduce a little about Park Ridge.

The Rodhams, for instance, moved here when Hillary was three, and the motivation for that was the search for a neighbourhood that promised good security, great schools and general desirability for a growing family.

That is exactly what you get in this Cook County suburb which boasts a population of over thirty-seven thousand residents.

But it is an affluent neighborhourhood where rent prices swing over $1,000 per month, and the average single-family property is way more than double the national average.

Entertainment & Activities

Some of the best things to do in Park Ridge are:

  • Pickwick Theatre
  • Wildwood Nature Center
  • Prospect Park
  • The Art Institute of Chicago
  • Centennial Park
  • Park Ridge Farmers Market
  • Cloud Gate Sculpture
  • The Grove
  • Park Ridge Country Club

7. Oak Park

Oak Park, IllinoisSource: Thomas Barrat / shutterstock
Oak Park

Oak Park is undoubtedly one of the most desirable places to live in Illinois.

This is another entry from Cook County, and it keeps up with the theme of good security, excellent schools, ample amenities and high cost of living characteristic of the county.

If you work in the third largest city in America or love playing there but prefer taking up residence just outside of it, few neighbourhoods make better sense than Oak Park.

The suburb of over fifty-two thousand residents ranks third overall when it comes to low crime rate, and juxtaposing this against Chicago makes this place practically a safe haven.

Its unemployment rate is one of the best in the state, also ranking favorably in terms of parks and childcare options per capita.

As far as education goes, Oak Park is rated A+ on Niche.com, another area that shows its obsession with rank #3 where it scores third in the list of high schools with the highest graduation rate, trying with Buffalo Grove with 95%, and a near-perfect score on GreatSchools.

Entertainment & Activities

Some of the best things to do in Oak Park are:

  • Frank Lloyd Wright Home & Studio
  • Oak Park Conservatory
  • Wonder Work’s Children’s Museum
  • Oak Park Public Library
  • Downtown Oak Park
  • Oak Park River Forest Museum
  • Oak Park Festival Theatre

8. Elmhurst

Elmhurst, IllinoisSource: davidwilson1949 / Flickr

Whether by design or coincidence, most places whose names have a “creek”, “ville” or “grove” tend to be generally great neighbourhoods, mostly for the well-to-do. It is the same case with “hurst”, and Illinois’ suburb of Elmhurst only serves to reinforce this notion.

Elmhurst is a community in DuPage County whose over forty-five thousand residents bring home an average of six figures per household.

When you dig through GreatSchools.org, a school ranking resource of no mean repute, you will rarely come across places that score a 10 out of 10. For the few you come across, though, you can bet Elmhurst will be one of them.

Perhaps some of the kids emerging from these schools contribute to the high employment rate.

Elmhurst also boasts the highest number of parks per capita in Illinois, ranking No. 1, thus ensuring it’s not all work without play for the young Jacks of Elmhurst.

Entertainment & Activities

Some of the best things to do in Elmhurst are:

  • Classic Cinemas York Theatre
  • Wilder Park
  • Elmhurst Art Museum
  • Elmhurst History Museum
  • Sky Zone Trampoline Park
  • Berens Park
  • The Club Shot & Beer
  • Wilder Park Conservatory
  • Safari Land

9. Schaumburg

Schaumburg, IllinoisSource: greglaskiewicz / Wikimedia

The township of Schaumburg makes an entry on our list of best places to live in Illinois for obvious reasons.

The public education system is nothing short of excellent, scoring a solid A+ on ranking website Niche.com, with GreatSchools also giving it a generous 9/10.

Unemployment rate is one of the lowest in the Midwestern state, and crime is almost unheard of, with only a single case of burglary reported in a suburb of over one hundred and thirty-two thousand residents.

Schaumburg has the fifth most childcare listings and eighth most parks per capita, and when you consider cost of living is lower compared to other places in this list. It is not hard to figure out why this area warrants a mention.

Entertainment & Activities

Some of the best things to do in Schaumburg are:

  • Woodfield Mall
  • Wintrust Field
  • Busse Woods
  • Atcher Island
  • Santa’s Village Amusement & Waterpark
  • Rainbow Falls Waterpark
  • Medieval Times
  • AMC Streets of Woodfield 20
  • The Water Works Indoor Water Park

10. Downers Grove

Downers Grove, IllinoisSource: davidwilson1949 / Flickr
Downers Grove

Downers Grove is a community of over fifty thousand residents located in DuPage County, and the only downer you get from living here perhaps has to do with the high cost of living (112 vs. a national average of 100).

Homes, one of the biggest indicators of cost of living, go for above the national average.

Otherwise, it’s a great place for anyone looking to settle in Illinois, whether as a single or a family. The area is known for its friendliness – it was named one of the friendliest towns in America by Forbes– and the sense of community is almost palpable.

It offers opportunity aplenty, be it academic, extracurricular or social, and has a low unemployment.

New parents will be happy to hear Downers Grove has some of the most babysitters and daycares per capita.

Entertainment & Activities

Some of the best things to do in Downers Grove are:

  • The Morton Arboretum
  • Classic Cinemas
  • Patriots Park
  • McCollum Park
  • Waterfall Glen Forest Preserve
  • Yorktown Center Shopping Mall
  • Cosley Zoo

11. Plainfield

Plainfield, IllinoisSource: Dougtone / Flickr

Speaking of families, if you are searching for a place in Illinois that is ideal for families, Plainfield is one of the options you should consider.

Reason is because over half of the households in this suburb of over forty-one thousand residents have children.

Cost of living is lower compared to other towns on this list (single-family homes go for over the national average), yet the residents earn significantly higher, with median household income averaging six figures. Talk about getting bang for buck.

The high school graduation rate in the area is one of the best, and Plainfield also has the second highest number of childcare listings per capita, meaning you won’t have trouble finding a good sitter at all.

Despite its family-oriented nature, the culturally-divergent Plainfield also shines in the nightlife category. So, whenever you need to take a breather from your parental duties, you can always bank on the town to deliver.

Entertainment & Activities

Some of the best things to do in Plainfield are:

  • Plainfield Lanes
  • Axe Factor Throwing
  • Sable Creek Winery
  • Lockport Street Gallery
  • Phillips Park Zoo
  • Naperbrook Golf Course


12. Clarendon Hills

Clarendon Hills, IllinoisSource: davidwilson1949 / Flickr
Clarendon Hills

This is another name you will frequently find in many best places lists revolving around Illinois, and that’s just because Clarendon Hills has it all.

The public school system is one of the best in the nation, the area ranks exceptionally well when it comes to crime & safety (eighth safest in Illinois) and generally, the suburb of over eight thousand residents is as ideal for families as you are likely to find.

It mostly comprises upper middle class folk whose household income averages six figures.

Such a small population means you are likely to get acquainted with quite a number, but if a town where everyone knows everyone doesn’t sound like your kind of spot, Clarendon Hills might not work you because this is an area with a strong sense of community.

The one obvious downside about it is affordability, with cost of living considerably higher compared to the rest of the country.

An average home sells for half a million dollars, and it is not uncommon to find some properties going for $1.5 million, although these are mostly 4-5-bedroomed homes.

Entertainment & Activities

Some of the best things to do in Clarendon Hills are:

  • Go Ape Zipline and Adventure Park
  • Tivoli Bowl
  • Veterans Memorial Park
  • Seven Bridges Ice Arena
  • Burns Field Park
  • Sky High Sports Niles
  • Audubon Skate Park

13. Northbrook

Northbrook, IllinoisSource: pics721 / shutterstock

Northbrook is a quaint village on the North Shore of Chicago famed for its idyllic natural scenery, and the town itself is speckled with beautiful old buildings.

It has one of the highest rated public schools in the state with a graduation rate that above average compared to the rest of Illinois.

In fact, it is here you will find one of the main shooting spots for the teen classic, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. That is at the prestigious Glenbrook North High School where director John Hughes himself attended.

Unemployment rate in Northbrook is one of the lowest in the Land of Lincoln. Homes are valued over half a million and the going price for rent is way above the national average.

The high cost of living is offset by a high income averaging six figures per household.

Entertainment & Activities

Some of the best things to do in Northbrook are:

  • Northbrook Court
  • Chicago Botanic Garden
  • Nickel City Video Arcade
  • River Trail Nature Center
  • Village Green Park
  • Skokie Lagoons
  • Meadowhill Aquatic Center

14. Arlington Heights

Arlington HeightsSource: Teemu008 / Flickr
Muller House in Arlington Heights

Arlington Heights is a great place to call home.

The town of over seventy-six residents may put off many homebuyers with its above average median home value, but those who seek to put down roots here are not your ordinary homebuyer.

With a median household income of almost six figures, these residents earn more than others in the state, so chances are they can afford it.

As with all other locations on this list, Arlington Heights boasts a solid public school system that ranks quite favourably.

Crime rate is a little high compared to other areas on this list (as opposed to the state), but residents appreciate the general livability of the area – kids can ride bikes on the streets, there are plenty of recreation options available (magnificent parks, sports teams, dance studios, a lake to walk around and more), plus plenty of jobs for teens and other perks.

Entertainment & Activities

Some of the best things to do in Arlington Heights are:

  • River Trail Nature Center
  • River Trails Park District
  • Wheeling Park District
  • Rainbow Falls Waterpark
  • The Glen Club
  • Lake Park
  • Valentino Vineyards & Winery

15. Mount Prospect

Mount ProspectSource: Roadgeek Adam / Flickr
Mount Prospect

Rounding off our list of best places to live in Illinois is Mount Prospect, a Chicago suburb of over fifty-four thousand residents.

The area is famous for its public library, the Randhurst Village, as well as being the home of Jennifer Morrison (the actress?).

What may be lost to many, however, is that Mount Prospect is one of the safest places in Illinois (49% safer actually) and the residents seem to be quite a happy lot. Then again, who wouldn’t if they were making more than the rest of the state, right?

Public schools are outstanding, the area has great diversity reflective of the larger Chicago area, and the nightlife is buzzing.

As well, there are plenty of other ways to enjoy oneself, including a number of festivals (Fridays on the Green, the Irish Festival and the annual Memorial Day Parade, for example); family bike rides; farmers markets and more.

All these things combine to make Mount Prospect an appealing proposition for anyone with a home-buying budget of over $200,000.

Entertainment & Activities

Some of the best things to do in Mount Prospect are:

  • AMC
  • Ball Factory Mount Prospect
  • Meadows Park
  • Mountain View Adventure Center
  • Big Surf Wave Pool
  • Burning Bush Trails Park
  • Mount Prospect Public Library


15 Best Places to Live in Illinois:

  • Springfield
  • Naperville
  • Buffalo Grove
  • Wheaton
  • Glenview
  • Park Ridge
  • Oak Park
  • Elmhurst
  • Schaumburg
  • Downers Grove
  • Plainfield
  • Clarendon Hills
  • Northbrook
  • Arlington Heights
  • Mount Prospect