Illinois is a state in the Midwest of the United States of America.
Illinois is a mostly flat plains state, with the majority being farmland except for the river valleys and the south, which are hilly and forested. Traditionally, Illinois is subdivided into three culturally distinct regions: Northern, Central and Southern Illinois. Northern Illinois is considered anything north of I-80 and includes the majority of Chicagoland as well as the Quad Cities and Rockford. Central Illinois includes all areas between I-80 and I-70 including Peoria, Springfield and Urbana-Champaign with Southern Illinois occupying all areas south of I-70 including Carbondale. Chicagoland and Metro-East (suburban St. Louis area) may be considered regions within regions and tend to be culturally different than the rest of their area.
Northern Illinois is by far the most diverse area of the state and has some of the largest population centers including Chicago, Aurora, Rockford, Naperville and Elgin. The area benefits from a unique mixture of factors including its location next to Lake Michigan; the concentration of highways, rail and airports in the Chicagoland area and the numerous tourism opportunities in areas such as the Chain O Lakes and Galena Driftless Zone.
Central Illinois is the seat of state government and home to the State's flagship university - the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Small urban areas dot the entire area including Urbana-Champaign, Peoria, Bloomington-Normal, Springfield, Quincy and Decatur. Outside of these cities, the area is largely rural and depends on agriculture as its primary economic engine. Central Illinois has played a unique role in US history as being the home of Nauvoo, an original Church of Latter Day Saints settlement. It also encompasses the region of Illinois informally named Forgotonia which had briefly captured national attention when residents began a mock campaign to either succeed from Illinois or the US due to lack of attention in the early 1970s.
Southern Illinois includes the cities of Carbondale, Marion, Mount Vernon and portions of Metro-East. It is noticeably different from the rest of Illinois in that it shares more in common culturally with neighboring Kentucky and Missouri than with the rest of the state and may be informally considered part of the Upland South. The region has been called "Little Egypt," a nickname that may be an inside joke referring to the town of Cairo, which sits at the confluence of Mississippi and Ohio rivers.
English is the dominant language in the state of Illinois. Spanish is widely spoken in the Chicago Metropolitan area by its large Hispanic population, though not well understood outside of Chicagoland. Polish and Chinese are the third and fourth most spoken languages within the state, but only within Chicago and its suburbs.
Illinois is accessed through interstates 39, 90, & 94 through Wisconsin, 74 and 80 through Iowa, 55, 57, 64, 70, and 72 through Missouri, 24 through Kentucky, and 64, 70, 74, 80, 90, and 94 through Indiana
Amtrak serves many different areas of Illinois. All routes start and end in Chicago. You can get into Chicago from virtually all directions, east coast and west coast, north and south. There are numerous daily trains to and from Milwaukee and it is reasonably fast and reliable. There is daily service (the Empire Builder) to/from from Seattle/Portland, Oregon by way of Milwaukee. You can also get in from Washington DC, New York, and Boston on various daily trains. There are many local trains that serve downstate and southern Illinois that also serve long distance locations. Those routes are as follows:
The UP line from Chicago-St. Louis serves Summit, Joliet, Dwight, Pontiac, Bloomington-Normal, Lincoln, Springfield, Carlinville, Alton, and finally St. Louis. There are 4 trains each day, each way. One of those trains that serves this route is the Texas Eagle, and it will bring you into Illinois from San Antonio, Dallas, Arkansas, and Missouri.
The BNSF route from Chicago-Galesburg-Quincy. Only local service serves the Quincy portion of the line. The other service is provided by 2 daily long distance trains coming from either Los Angeles (the Southwest Chief) or San Francisco via Salt Lake City and Denver (the California Zephyr).
The CN route from Chicago-Carbondale has 3 trains each way daily. One long distance train is provided each way daily and will take you to/from New Orleans via Jackson, Mississippi and Memphis.
There is also a daily train to and from Indianapolis with continuing service on certain days of the week to/from Washington D.C. There is regular daily service to/from Washington D.C. via Toledo, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, and Philadelphia.
Chicago has two major airports, O'Hare and Midway. Midway is smaller and closer to the downtown. There are many other airports with regional service in the state, including in Springfield, Rockford, Peoria, Bloomington-Normal, and in St. Louis, across the river from Illinois.
Car travel is best for the majority of the state, easily accessed by interstates. Numerous highways closer to Chicago are tollways, but the rest of the highways are free. EZ-Pass users from the eastern U.S. can use their transponders on the Illinois Tollway at all toll booths. The price for EZ-Pass and I-Pass Users is half the cash price listed on the sign at the toll booth. Below are the major routes:
Train travel is another way to get around Illinois. Metra train lines serves Chicago and the surrounding suburbs and Amtrak serves significant portions of the rest of the state. While Metra trains usually run on time, Amtrak trains are more prone to running late. Check with Amtrak before making the trip.
Greyhound buses, Megabus discount buses and it's sister bus company, Coach USA, serves many Illinois locales. Chicago and the nearby suburbs are served by the PACE bus system and many large Illinois cities have bus systems of their own.
In the Loop, Chicago's commercial district with bustling elevated train tracks and great architecture:
In the Near North:
In the Near South, including the Museum Campus:
In Hyde Park:
Chicago has many specialties, the most famous of which would have to be its hot dogs and its deep dish pizza. Central Illinois is known for its Horseshoe Sandwich, an open-faced sandwich of toast, hamburger, french fries, and cheese sauce, with regional variations.
The rural water downstate, excluding municipal water but including untreated spring water has a "sulphur" taste and odor to it. It is safe to drink, but the odor and taste can be hard to swallow.
The two cities of major concern in regards to criminal activity are Chicago and East St. Louis.
Over the years Chicago has seen a drop in its violent crime rate, but this does not mean violent crime is not alive and well within its limits. There is significant gang activity within the city and its outskirts, which should not be a surprise seeing as it is the third most populous city in the country. Stay vigilant and use common sense; these two practices will most often aid you in avoiding bad situations. If you find yourself in a bad part of the city, chances are you will be able to tell from its appearance. It is not advised to travel into certain districts and neighborhoods after dark; do your research to find out which areas are most unsavory for the out of town traveler.
East St. Louis is one of the country's most notorious cities for violent crime. The city has little of tourist interest aside from the casino riverboat. If you are able to avoid it, then it is best to do so.
The geographical position and characteristic of the state's western regions make them prone to having a high occurrence of tornadoes throughout the spring and summer seasons. Most of these tornadoes are small scale and short lived, however, this does not mean larger scale tornadoes are totally uncommon. In March of 2006, the city of Springfield was struck by two EF-2 tornadoes and experienced significant damage from this event.
If you plan to visit these regions of the state, keep yourself informed of the current weather conditions and update yourself regularly because the conditions can change in an instant. If you find yourself in a dangerous weather situation, seek shelter immediately.
Refer to the Tornado safety page for more information regarding this matter.