Narrowing down your options to find the best place to live in Illinois? The state is unique with most of its population living in Chicago or surrounding suburbs. Still, you’ll find everything from safe family-friendly suburbs and small cities surrounded by nature and recreation to exciting urban areas. Here’s a look at the largest cities in Illinois with information and key demographics from US Census data. We’ll cover the Illinois population by city with an overview of the 10 main cities in Illinois.
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Before exploring cities in Illinois by population, it helps to understand the state’s population and demographics overall.
Most of the population of Illinois is in the northeast. Illinois has only one large city and several micro-urban areas. The rest of the state is made up of sparsely populated regions.
75% of the population of Illinois lives in the Chicago metro area! Of the top 10 biggest cities in Illinois, 6 are in Chicagoland. After Chicago, home to over 2.6 million people, no other city in Illinois has more than 200,000 people.
In the 2010s, no other state lost as many people as Illinois with a declining rural population that wasn’t offset by growth in its urban areas. The state lost 243,000 people in the 2010s, or almost 2% of its total population. Alexander County, Illinois in the southern tip was America’s fastest shrinking county, losing 20% of its population between 2010 and 2020 alone.
- Population: 12.67 million
- Median Age: 38.6
- Median Household Income: $69,187
- Median Home Price: $323,000
- Area: 57,915 square miles
- Population Density: 232 people per square mile
#1. Chicago, IL
Chicago isn’t just the largest city in Illinois; it’s where most of the state’s residents live. Chicago is located on Lake Michigan and it’s America’s third largest city with a metro population of 9.6 million. Known for its architecture, world-class museums, amazing cuisine, and beaches, Chicago is surprisingly affordable for a major city!
Our guide to living in Chicago covers everything you want to know about Chicago from its top attractions to the cost of living.
- Chicago Population: 2.69 million
- Chicago Median Age: 35.2
- Chicago Median Household Income: $61,800
- Chicago Median Home Price: $363,000
- Chicago Area: 227.4 square miles
- Chicago Population Density: 11,848 people per square mile
- Chicago Map
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#2. Aurora, IL
Aurora is located in the Fox River Valley area of Chicagoland, or Greater Chicago, about 41 miles west of Chicago. It’s the largest of all cities in Illinois by Chicago. Aurora was recently ranked the Best City for Living the American Dream thanks to its job opportunities, economic mobility, and diversity.
Aurora is known for its historic downtown, annual events, live theater, and music. It’s home to Hollywood Casino Aurora, RiverEdge Park, the award-winning Paramount Theater, and Chicago Premium Outlets, one of the Midwest’s largest outdoor shopping destinations.
Aurora is the 14th most diverse city in America and second in Illinois only to Chicago! Of the main cities in Illinois, only Elgin comes close at #39.
Fun fact: Both Wayne’s World movies were set in Aurora, Illinois!
- Aurora Population: 198,800
- Aurora Median Age: 35.3
- Aurora Median Household Income: $73,000
- Aurora Median Home Price: $270,000
- Aurora Area: 45 square miles
- Aurora Population Density: 4,418 people per square mile
- Aurora Map
#3. Naperville, IL
Naperville isn’t just one of the main cities in Illinois, it’s the most affluent! Naperville was recently ranked the richest city in the Midwest and the 19th most affluent city in America. This Chicago suburb has also been named one of the top 10 Best Places to Live in the U.S. and one of America’s safest cities!
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That’s just the beginning of the accolades Naperville receives. The city is known for its award-winning public library system, excellent schools, fun downtown, and Riverwalk Park. The city’s crown jewel, the Riverwalk boasts brick paths, event spaces, sculptures, fountains, and outdoor activities like paddle boats, horseshoes, an ice rink, and a playground. Residents also enjoy Centennial Beach, a public riverside swimming area with beach volleyball and slides.
Is Naperville in your future? Here’s our complete guide to living in Naperville and why it’s a hit for families and retirees.
- Naperville Population: 149,600
- Naperville Median Age: 40.5
- Naperville Median Household Income: $140,000
- Naperville Median Home Price: $560,000
- Naperville Area: 38.8 square miles
- Naperville Population Density: 3,856 people per square mile
- Naperville Map
#4. Joliet, IL
Just 30 miles west of Chicago in Will County is Joliet, the third-largest suburb of Chicago. It’s also one of the most important cities in Illinois for its industrial and entertainment sectors. The city was once known as Prison City thanks to the notorious Old Joliet Prison, now closed but open for tours. Today, Joliet’s best known for its landmarks like the Rialto Square Theatre, one of the most beautiful theaters in the world, and Hollywood Casino & Hotel Joliet.
- Joliet Population: 148,800
- Joliet Median Age: 35.4
- Joliet Median Household Income: $71,300
- Joliet Median Home Price: $250,500
- Joliet Area: 64.2 square miles
- Joliet Population Density: 2,320 people per square mile
- Joliet Map
#5. Rockford, IL
Rockford is one of the largest cities in Illinois and the biggest city outside metro Chicago. Located in the far north of Illinois on the Rock River about 90 minutes from Madison and Milwaukee, WI, Rockford has slowly overcome the impact of deindustrialization throughout the Rust Belt with an economy now centered on healthcare, aerospace, transportation, and automotive industries as well as tourism thanks to its outdoor recreation.
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Rockford is nicknamed the City of Gardens, but it also boasts tons of sports and outdoor attractions. Anderson Japanese Gardens is one of the two best Japanese gardens in the West while the Nicholas Conservatory & Gardens at Sinnissippi Gardens is a tropical delight. For recreation, you’ll enjoy sports at the UW Health Sports Factory, a riverfront indoor sports center, and two Mercyhealth Sportscore complexes. There’s even Six Flags Hurricane Harbor Rockford for summer fun! For live music, check out the BMO Harris Bank Center and the Coronado Performing Arts Center for major touring acts and performing arts.
Rockford is one of the fastest-shrinking cities in Illinois and the U.S.
- Rockford Population: 147,000
- Rockford Median Age: 37.2
- Rockford Median Household Income: $44,300
- Rockford Median Home Price: $129,000
- Rockford Area: 64.4 square miles
- Rockford Population Density: 2,284 people per square mile
- Rockford Map
#6. Springfield, IL
Springfield is the capital of Illinois and it doesn’t crack the top five cities in Illinois by population! However, it’s the largest city in central Illinois and the second largest in the state outside Chicago behind Rockford.
Abraham Lincoln lived in Springfield for 24 years before moving into the White House as president. Many of Springfield’s top attractions are connected to Lincoln’s time working as a lawyer and politician in the city. It was also from Springfield that the Donner Party began their ill-fated journey to California. Today, Springfield is the most affordable city in Illinois and boasts top-rated parks and recreation centers like Washington Park with a rose garden, botanical garden, and trails.
- Springfield Population: 114,200
- Springfield Median Age: 40.1
- Springfield Median Household Income: $54,500
- Springfield Median Home Price: $138,000
- Springfield Area: 60.9 square miles
- Springfield Population Density: 1,873 people per square miles
- Springfield Map
#7. Elgin, IL
When exploring the Illinois population by city, Elgin only ranks 7th, but this Chicago suburb deserves your attention. For the past 20 years, Elgin has been the focus of revitalization and new developments with upscale lofts, condos, townhouses, and galleries popping up every year.
Elgin is a diverse city. About 5.5% of the population is Asian, most of whom are Laotian Americans. Nearly 44% of the population is Hispanic with Mexican Americans alone accounting for 38% of the city’s population.
Be sure you check our complete guide to living in Elgin to find out if it’s the right city for you!
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- Elgin Population: 110,900
- Elgin Median Age: 34.9
- Elgin Median Household Income: $70,200
- Elgin Median Home Price: $265,000
- Elgin Area: 37.5 square miles
- Elgin Population Density: 2,957 people per square mile
- Elgin Map
#8. Peoria, IL
Peoria is one of the main cities in central Illinois. It’s the largest city on the Illinois River and the second biggest in central Illinois behind Springfield which is 74 miles south.
Peoria has an economy focused on manufacturing as well as shipping and trading for the region’s agricultural industry. First settled by Europeans in 1680, Peoria was the headquarters for Caterpillar Inc. for 110 years until they moved in 2018. Today, Peoria is known for its natural beauty, outdoor recreation, and cultural attractions like the Peoria Symphony Orchestra, one of the nation’s oldest, and the Peoria Riverfront Museum. Its award-winning park district, the largest and oldest in Illinois, oversees 9,000 acres of parks like Glen Oak Park, a 19th century park with a botanical garden, children’s museum, and the Peoria Zoo.
Considering Peoria, IL? Check out our guide to living in Peoria, IL for prospective residents!
- Peoria Population: 110,000
- Peoria Median Age: 36.5
- Peoria Median Household Income: $53,400
- Peoria Median Home Price: $120,000
- Peoria Area: 48 square miles
- Peoria Population Density: 2,290 people per square mile
- Peoria Map
#9. Champaign, IL
Champaign may not rank high when you list the populations of Illinois cities with its population of less than 100,000 residents. However, it’s the third largest city in central Illinois and the 4th largest in the state outside the Chicago metro area! Champaign also has the youngest median age of all the largest cities in Illinois and it’s one of the most affordable places to live in the state.
Don’t overlook Champaign due to its size; this small city has a lot going on! Champaign is best known for the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign campus as well as Parkland College which has an annual enrollment of 18,000. It’s also home to offices for many Fortune 500 companies with many tech startup companies that has made it the hub of the Illinois Silicon Prairie. Champaign’s Research Park, backed by the university, is the backbone of the city’s software and tech industry.
Top cultural attractions in Champaign, IL include the Krannert Art Museum, the Orpheum Children’s Science Museum, and Hassel Park.
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- Champaign Population: 88,900
- Champaign Median Age: 27.2
- Champaign Median Household Income: $47,400
- Champaign Median Home Price: $176,000
- Champaign Area: 22.8 square miles
- Champaign Population Density: 3,894 people per square mile
- Champaign Map
#10. Waukegan, IL
Located midway between the Milwaukee airport and downtown Chicago, Waukegan is a satellite city of Chicago and a working-class suburb. It’s also one of the largest cities in Illinois by Chicago about 46 miles north of downtown.
Waukegan is located on Lake Michigan with a lakefront area undergoing revitalization. Residents enjoy the Waukegan Municipal Beach and North Beach Park for kiteboarding, sailing, and swimming. Bowen Park is the city’s crown jewel with an old growth forest, the Jack Benny Center for Performing Arts, a skateboard park, a playground, a history museum, and a greenhouse.
- Waukegan Population: 86,300
- Waukegan Median Age: 32.8
- Waukegan Median Household Income: $54,000
- Waukegan Median Home Price: $195,000
- Waukegan Area: 24.3 square miles
- Waukegan Population Density: 3,556 people per square mile
- Waukegan Map
Largest Cities in Illinois Map
FAQ for Largest Illinois Cities
How many cities are there in Illinois?
Illinois has 1,299 incorporated municipalities, about 500 of which are cities. Only one city has more than 200,000 people, and only 8 cities have more than 100,000 people.
What is the most populous city in Illinois?
Chicago is the largest city in Chicago with 2.69 million people. The metro area, or Chicagoland, has a population of 9.46 million.
How many people live in Illinois?
The population of Illinois is 12.67 million. 75% of the population lives in the Chicago metro area.
Which of the Largest Cities in Illinois Is Right for You?
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