The Prairie State
Illinois is located in the Midwest, a region occupying the north-central portion of the United States. Illinois’ weather is known for its cold winters and hot summers statewide. Chicago is the largest city in the state and the third most populous city in the United States. It is known as “The Windy City.” Hot dogs, or "red hots," and deep-dish pizza are the most famous cuisine specialties of Chicago. Illinois is a mostly flat plains state, with the majority of its land being farmlands. Some of the most visited sites in Illinois include Wrigley Field (baseball stadium in Chicago), Starved Rock State Park, the Black Hawk historic site (home to Native Americans of the Sauk nation), Chicago Field Museum, the Magnificent Mile (Michigan Ave.) and the Sears Tower. To travel around the state, you will need to rent a car, book a bus or train ticket. For more information visit enjoyillinois.com. Also see our custom Google map of our favorites sites in Chicago!
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The Navy Pier in Chicago. Photo by David Bjorgen.
Add some local history to your cultural exchange experience by visiting a nearby historical site or tourist attraction when living and working in the U.S.
Sites & Attractions in Illinois
The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library Museum tells the story of President Lincoln’s life and the history of the American Civil War through dioramas, photographs, artifacts, theater shows and exhibits about important events in Lincoln’s past.
Black Hawk State Historic Site was once home to 19th-century settlers, prehistoric Indians and the Sauk Nation. Today visitors can see a museum with many Native American artifacts and exhibits, a model of an Indian settlement, and also enjoy the park and activities like hiking, walking, picnicking and cross-country skiing.
Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site in Collinsville in southern Illinois is the largest prehistoric Indian settlement and archaeological site north of Mexico. Cultural learning participants can see a 100-foot high “Monks Mound," the largest earthwork in North America. A museum, theater, trails and tours are also available at the site.
Lincoln Tomb and War Memorial State Historic Site honors Abraham Lincoln, the 16th president of the United States, in his hometown of Springfield, IL. Lincoln, his wife Mary Todd Lincoln, and three of their four sons are buried at the site, which is marked by a 117-foot tomb. Special events and tours are held at the site, which also honors veterans and those killed in the Korean War, Vietnam War and World War II.
Chicago Sites & Attractions
The Chicago History Museum focuses on the history of Chicago and the United States through exhibits, events, tours and educational programs.
Chicago’s Clarke House Museum is the oldest house in the city. Visitors will learn what life was like in Chicago before the Civil War. Tours are available from Wednesday to Sunday.
The Field Museum is a natural history museum on the Museum Campus of Chicago. The museum has 24 million specimens and objects including dinosaur fossils, African elephants, Native American artifacts and Egyptian mummies.
Shedd Aquarium is home to many animals, including dolphins, seals, sharks, sea lions, beluga whales and sea otters. Belugas and dolphins are part of the aquarium’s Aquatic Show and visitors can also see many exhibits about the animals and their natural habitats.
The Skydeck at Willis Tower (formerly Sears Tower) gives visitors a view all the way to Wisconsin on one side and Inidiana on the other. on the 103rd floor of Willis Tower, views of the city are spectacular.
Michigan Avenue, better knwn as The Magnificient Mile, is home to hundreds of stores, parks and restaurants in downtown Chicago. Walk the entire stretch of the avenue to see great views of the Chicago River and at the northern end, Oak Street Beach.
Tour Companies in Illinois
- Amish Country Tours
- Illinois Hauntings Ghost Tours
- Kayak Morris
- Springfield Walking Tours
- Starved Rock Adventures
Chicago Tour Companies
- Absolute Segway Tours
- Bobby’s Bike Hike
- Chicago Architecture Foundation Tours
- Chicago Detours
- Chicago Music Tours
- Chicago Pizza Tours
- Tastebud Tours
- Enjoy Illinois
- Choose Chicago
- Chicago J1 guide from Go4Less - Accommmodation, transportation and job resources
The United States offers a wide variety of cultural learning opportunities through the arts. Dance, music, theater, opera, art museums and festivals are just some of the options available to international visitors who wish to experience the U.S. and its culture.
Illinois Arts & Cultural Attractions
- Elmhurst Art Museum, Elmhurst
- Krannert Art Museum, Champaign
- Nathan Manilow Sculpture Park, University Park
- Northern Illinois University Art Museum, DeKalb
- Paramount Theatre, Aurora
- Rockford Art Museum, Rockford
- Southern Illinois University Museum, Carbondale
- Coronado Performing Arts Center, Rockford
- The Little Theatre on the Square, Sullivan
- Peoria Ballet, Peoria
- Rialto Square Theatre, Joliet
- Rockford Dance Company, Rockford
- Shryock Auditorium, Southern Illinois University, Carbondale
- Springfield Ballet Company, Springfield
Chicago Arts and Cultural Attractions
- Art Institute of Chicago
- Cloud Gate – An outdoor sculpture also known as “The Bean”
- Loyola University Museum of Art – LUMA is free to visit on Tuesdays
- Mary & Leigh Block Museum of Art
- Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago
- Museum of Contemporary Photography
- National Museum of Mexican Art
- Smart Museum of Art
- AXIS Dance
- Broadway in Chicago
- Chicago Shakespeare Theater
- Court Theatre
- Harris Theater for Music and Dance
- Hubbard Street Dance Company
- Joffrey Ballet
- Porchlight Music Theatre
- The Second City Improv Theatre
See a full list of over 200 theaters in Chicago.
- Chicago Cultural Center
- Chicago Opera Theater
- Chicago Symphony Orchestra
- Green Mill Jazz Club
- House of Blues
- Lyric Opera
- Old Town School of Folk Music
Many Americans are passionate about sports – and not just baseball and football! Get a glimpse into this part of American culture by watching or participating in a favorite U.S. sport or recreational activity in your local area.
Chicago is home to many professional sports teams, including two professional Major League Baseball teams.
- Chicago Bears (football)
- Chicago Blackhawks (hockey)
- Chicago Bulls (basketball)
- Chicago Cubs (baseball)
- Chicago Fire (soccer)
- Chicago White Sox (baseball)
International visitors may also want to consider checking these sports ticketing websites (or the team website above) when purchasing tickets to a sporting event:
- Ticketexchangebyticketmaster.com to buy or sell tickets from season ticket holders and fans.
- StubHub.com for tickets and last-minute deals.
Minor league and semi-professional sports allow international visitors to see favorite American sports - and often at a much lower price!
- Chicago Wolves (hockey)
- Gateway Grizzlies (baseball)
- Kane County Cougars (baseball)
- Peoria Chiefs (baseball)
- Peoria Rivermen (hockey)
- Rockford IceHogs (hockey)
- Springfield Jr. Blues (hockey)
Many colleges and universities have their own athletics programs which include both men and women's teams in sports like basketball, baseball, football and soccer.
- Bradley Braves, Bradley University
- Fighting Illini, University of Illinois
- NIU Huskies, Northern Illinois University
- Northwestern Wildcats, Northwestern University
- Redbirds, Illinois State University
- SIU Salukis, Southern Illinois University
Mississippi Palisades State Park. Photo by Cincool.
The United States is home to a variety of landscapes and climates to suit all types of outdoor activities. The courageous traveler can find extreme sports and outdoor adventure tours, while others may want to keep both feet on the ground in a national park or forest. Whatever your interests, take advantage of the many outdoor activities available during your time in the United States.
Outdoor Activities in Illinois
The Illinois Department of Natural Resources lists campgrounds and cabins found throughout the state, including some that are open throughout the year. Reservations are required at some campgrounds.
Mississippi Palisades State Park in Savanna, IL has a 15-mile trail system for hiking and rock climbing. Camping, hunting, fishing and boating are also popular outdoor activities at the park.
Starved Rock State Park is a popular area for bald eagle sightings, hiking, hunting, ice climbing and camping among the park’s 18 canyons and sandstone bluffs.
Outdoor Activities in Chicago
Millennium Park is located in the Loop section of Chicago and has many attractions and activities for cultural exchange participants in Illinois. Highlights of the park include the Jay Pritzker Pavilion, an outdoor bandshell that hosts live music and dance performances, the Cloud Gate outdoor sculpture, the Faces fountain and art instillation, Crown Fountain, Wrigley Square and the McCormick Tribune Ice Rink.
Lincoln Park is the largest park in Chicago and boasts the biggest lakefront area in the city. The Lincoln Park Zoo, Lincoln Park Conservatory, Chicago History Museum and many outdoor activities are available in the park, including archery, basketball, baseball, fishing, soccer, skating and volleyball.
Outdoor activities like fishing, swimming, biking, running, volleyball can be found at some of Chicago’s 33 beaches along Lake Michigan.
Biking trails are available throughout Chicago, such as the 18-mile Lakefront Trail. Visitors can head to the McDonald’s Cycle Center in Millennium Park to rent bikes and segways, repair a bike, or take a bike tour. Members can also use lockers and showers at the cycle center.
One of the best ways to experience cultural exchange is through food and cooking. Visitors will enjoy exploring the regional specialties and local cuisine during their time in the United States.
Illinois cuisine is influenced by immigrant and cultural groups that once settled in the region, including German, Swedish, Norwegian and Irish populations, while Chicago saw a large influx of Polish and Italian immigrants. Chicago specialties now include foods like deep-dish pizza, Chicago-style hot dogs, Eli’s Cheesecake and a Maxwell Street Polish sandwich.
Today, newer immigrant groups from places as diverse as Mexico, Greece, China, Vietnam, Jamaica, Ethiopia, Japan, Columbia and the Middle East are also influencing the food of Chicago and Illinois.
Search for local markets and farmers’ markets in Illinois on the Department of Agriculture website.
- Aledo Rhubarb Festival, Aledo, June
- Ribfest Chicago, June
- Taste of Chicago, July
- Sweetcorn Festival, Chatham, July
- Veggie Fest, Naperville, August.
- The Chicago Fine Chocolate Show, October
Chicago Jazz Festival at Petrillo Music Shell in Grant Park. Photo by mojosmom.
For a unique and local perspective on American cultural, be sure to check out festivals and events near your cultural exchange program location. These events are a fun and interesting way to interact with locals and to learn more about American culture by experiencing it firsthand.
Downtown Alive! Music Festival Series is a summer event in Aurora, IL. Live concerts from major bands and local musicians are held on Friday and Saturday nights from June to August.
The Illinois State Fair in Springfield is an annual festival held each August. The fair features live music, food, rides, attractions, arts and crafts, and agricultural events.
The Illinois Blues Festival is an August event in Peoria, IL with live music and workshops.
Fox Valley Folk Music & Storytelling Festival in Geneva has concerts, workshops, dance and music classes, folk art and food over two days in September
Winter WonderFest is an annual holiday festival located at Navy Pier in Chicago. This festival is a great display of many American Christmas traditions, such as craft-making and a visit from Santa.
Maifest is a German festival in Chicago that celebrates the arrival of spring with music, dancing, food and entertainment in late May/early June.
Grant Park Music Festival in Chicago is a free classical music series that runs from June to August in Millennium Park. Outdoor concerts are open to the public for free, making it the only event of its kind in the United States.
Midsommafest is a June event in Andersonville that focuses on Scandinavian culture with live music, food, traditional dancing and more.
Serbfest Chicago is a celebration of Serbian cuisine and culture held in Chicago each July.
The Chicago International Film Festival is a two-week event in October that screens documentaries, full-length films and short films from over 50 countries.
Employers may be able to assist with housing during your time in the United States, but this is not always possible for all participants. When looking for housing during your cultural exchange program, consider the cost of the accommodation, the distance to your work place and the amount of time you will be in the United States.
It's also important to avoid fraudulent housing. It is highly recommended that you secure short-term housing upon arrival (e.g. in a hostel) and conduct your housing search once you are in the U.S. Never give your financial information to a stranger over the Internet. Browse the Housing Information guides for InterExchange participants below for more tips and advice.
General Housing Information
- Housing information for Work and Travel USA participants
- Housing information for Career Training USA interns and trainees
Illinois Housing Resources
Some examples of housing and accommodation resources for Illinois and Chicago participants include:
- Craigslist – Illinois
- Craigslist – Chicago
- American Homestay Agency
- Hostelling International
- ApartmentList - Chicago
Public transportation options can be hit or miss, depending on your location in the United States. Buses are a common transportation option for short and long-term travel in the U.S., while some areas will also have trains, subways and other options.
Visit the American Public Transportation Association website for a complete list of public transportation options in your local community.
Megabus travels from Chicago and Champaign, IL to locations throughout the U.S.
Amtrak travels to many locations in Illinois, including cities like Carbondale, Quincy, Springfield and Chicago.
Public Transit Systems
Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) operates buses and trains in the Chicago region.
Rockford Mass Transit District (RMTD) operates buses in Rockford and Loves Park.
Springfield Mass Transit District (SMTD) buses operate in the Illinois state capital and surrounding areas, including transportation to the annual Illinois State Fair and historical sites in the city.
For public transit systems in other communities in Illinois, visit the American Public Transportation Association website.
Participants in Illinois can use the following resources in case of an emergency or extreme weather event in their area:
Emergency Management Agencies
- Illinois Emergency Management Agency
- Chicago Office of Emergency Management
- Twitter updates from IEMA and Ready Illinois @ReadyIllinois
- Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) www.fema.gov and www.ready.gov
- Chicago and Illinois FEMA updates on Twitter @femaregion5
- National Weather Service
- Weather – Chicago and Northeastern Illinois
- Weather – Central and Eastern Illinois
- Weather – Southern Illinois
Volunteers raise food and money for Hunger Action Month. Photo via USDA.
Interact with others and expand your skill set by volunteering in your local community. Volunteer organizations are often looking for short-term volunteers or for individuals to help with a single event, making it a great option for InterExchange participants who wish to add to their cultural exchange experience during their time in the United States.
Chicago Cares connects volunteers with organizations in need of help. Search by keyword, interest or location to find the right volunteer opportunity in the Chicago area.
Habitat for Humanity has many local affiliates throughout Illinois in need of volunteers. Individuals and groups can help build low-cost housing and volunteers do not need any special skills to help out!
Volunteer at the North Illinois Food Bank to help feed thousands of residents in Geneva, Park City or Loves Park. Volunteers can sign up for a one-time opportunity or ongoing project.
In the Chicago area, volunteer with the Greater Chicago Food Depository or one of its agencies. Both individuals and groups are eligible to participate.
Volunteer at the Chicago International Film Festival for a behind-the-scenes look of the event. Opportunities are available for participants with various schedules and interests.