Illinois is located in the heart of the United States and offers a wide variety of destinations from urban Chicago to rural southern Illinois. With 11 airports and an extensive train system, getting around the state is easy!
Language: English is the primary language in this state, and most signs and announcements will be in English as well. There are large immigrant groups in Chicago where whole neighborhoods are in that language. Spanish is currently one of the most common used languages besides English.
Money: The US Dollar is used everywhere in Illinois. ATMs and banks are common in cities and towns where you can withdrawal money. Credit cards are taken at most locations, but some small stores and food eateries may not so check first.
Climate: The temperature in Illinois ranges from below freezing in the winter to hot and humid sunny days in the summer. Check websites like weather.com for averages during the time of the year you are traveling. Still, always be prepared for anything as the state is affected by cold fronts from the north and warm fronts from the south! January and February generally get incredibly cold and it isn’t recommended to come during that time. Even going from museum to museum can get difficult during these months! Fall and spring generally are comfortable but can change drastically day to day. Summer months can get extremely warm, so be careful when outside or without air conditioning! Be aware of the temperature and weather conditions, and be safe!
Transportation to and through Illinois: There are many options when flying into Illinois, most notably are O’Hare International Airport and Midway which are located right on the outskirts of Chicago. They are both connected to the Chicago Transit Authority, or public transportation system, and the city can be easily accessed. From Chicago is an intricate train system, Metra and Amtrak, which can bring you all over the state and other parts of the country. In the suburbs of Chicago there is a system of PACE buses. There are other airports in Illinois, most notably in the capital, Springfield. Saint Louis, Missouri is at the border of Illinois and the lower part of the state can be accessed by that airport as well. Taxis are common and expensive in Chicago. Most suburbs have taxi companies that must be called.
Where to stay: Most travelers will stay in hotels, motels, and bed and breakfasts. There are only a few hostels in Chicago. Illinois also holds a large amount of people offering their couches on couchsurfing.org
Internet: There are internet cafes in Chicago, but they are not on every corner. It would be useful to know where some are before entering the city. Most hotels offer wi-fi if you bring a laptop.
Places to Go!
Chicago's downtown has a lot of great educational and tourist destinations. The Art Institute, Navy Pier, Shedd Aquariam, Adler Planetarium, Millennium Park, Willis Tower and the Hancock. There are a lot of passes that if you go to multiple museums, you get a discount. The shopping centers are on Michigan Avenue and Water Tower Place. Other places of interest are the Lincoln Park Zoo (free!), the Museum of Science and Industry, the Chicago History Museum, DuSable Museum of African American History, and the Brookfield Zoo.
Sitting right next to Chicago is Lake Michigan, and running through it is the Chicago River. Take a boat tour! There are great tours that drive through the channels or along the coastline of Chicago and explain the history. I would recommend SeaDogs which meets at Navy Pier. You can also walk along all of the Lake Front or rent a bike! Also look for kayaking trips on the Chicago river to get a great and relaxing view of the city.
Sports play a big part in Chicago culture. Baseball fever hits Chicago hard with two major league teams in one city, the Chicago White Sox based on the southside and the Chicago Cubs on the northside. Both stadiums give very different experience from the deep rooted traditions in Wrigley Field that hosts the cubs and the flashy fireworks and music at the Sox games. Chicago fans are passionate about their favorite baseball team! Both stadiums are easily accessible by public transportation and tickets are fairly affordable. Oh and… Go Cubs! Chicago also holds Soldier Field where the Chicago Bears play American football. Tickets are extremely expensive, but the games are fun and people from out of the country are new to this sport! Chicago also hosts the Chicago Bulls basketball team, the Blackhawks hockey team, and the Chicago fire soccer (the rest of the world’s football), and the Chicago Force women’s American football team.
When in Chicago, go to the many ethnic neighborhoods! I recommend Greek Town, China Town, Korea Town, and up on Devon Avenue there is a South Asian community. The food is great! Also check out Chicago style Pizza and Chicago style hotdogs. Chicago's Boys Town (gay community) is also worth visiting, always an interesting time! My personal favorite place to visit is the Irish-American Heritage Center, check for their summer festival!
There are always a lot of free things to do in Chicago!
Free Museum Days: http://www.dennisobrien.net/chicago/museums.html.
Neighborhood Festivals: http://www.explorechicago.org/city/en/supp...ghborhood.html/
Festivals Downtown: http://chicago.metromix.com/events/article.../339943/content
Look around Chicago’s tourism sites, there is always something going on!
Before booking a hotel, make sure you read some reviews. Some of the cheap spots might have other uses too… Also check out the neighborhood you are staying in or looking to visit. http://chicago.everyblock.com/crime/
Getting around Chicago has never been easier now that the public transportation system is on google maps! Type in your start and end addresses, choose public transportation, and voila directions! Train fares are $2.25, $0.25 per transfer, and bus trips are $2.00. If you are planning on taking the bus or train more than twice in a day, it is worthwhile to get a full day pass. There are also passes available for multiple days, or even a month. The transit system is generally safe, just take normal safety precautions.
If you want to drive in Chicago, parking is hard to find and expensive. The farther from downtown you go the easier it is to find parking, but parking meters seem to be popping up everywhere! Taxis are very costly, but safe. Estimate the fare here: http://www.taxifarefinder.com/ Knowing the closest intersection to your destination will help the driver as they often don’t know the city as well as they should!
After four years of living in the city I haven’t had a dull moment yet, so come expecting a lot to do!
Suburbs of Chicago
Arlington Race Track is a fun place to spend the day watching horse races. This has its own Metra train stop on the Northwest line from Chicago, easily accessible!
Woodfield Mall is a large mall with lots of great shopping choices! Most easily accessed by car.
Six Flags Great America is a large theme park with a lot to keep you entertained! There are roller coasters, shows, and games. Come in October for Fright Fest! There is a neighboring waterpark. Each is perfect for a day trip. Accessible from Chicago by public transportation but accessed best by car.
The Morton Arboretum holds beautiful trees from many countries, and there are many miles of fantastic trails. Town accessible by public transportation. Come in fall to see the leaves change color!
Springfield is the Capital of Illinois. It has a lot of rich history including a lot dedicated to President Abraham Lincoln. My personal favorite is the tour of his home! If you are there at the right time of year you can catch the State Fair!
Also explore Amish communities within the state. These are groups of people who live a lifestyle of simple living, simple dress, and without modern convenience. They are usually part of the Mennonite Christian faith. http://www.amishcenter.com/
North, West, and South Regions
Starved Rock State Park is an absolutely beautiful park, and a must visit if you can get there! There are many lodging options available, or you can camp within the park. Search around for other campsites that have a cheaper fee!
There are a lot of great camping options in Southern Illinois, so look there and find many fantastic places to explore! Also stop to see the beautiful prairielands that Illinois is working hard to restore.
Roadside America: Check roadside America for any interesting stops on your drive to a destination in or through Illinois. Always makes for interesting stops! http://www.roadsideamerica.com/map/il. The famous route 66 starts in Illinois, a perfect route to travel for road trips!