23 Things Illinois is Known and Famous For

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Illinois is a state located in the Midwest region of the United States. From the awe-inspiring Chicago skyline to the stunning natural landscapes of Shawnee National Forest, there’s something for everyone in this great state. But what are some of the things that Illinois is known for that make it different?

What is Illinois Known For?

Illinois is a great place to travel, with so much to see and do. It is known for its abolition of slavery, its role in the Underground Railroad, and its contributions to the American automotive industry. Illinois is also home to the first McDonald’s, Route 66, and the world’s largest catsup bottle. Illinois also hosts many popular festivals and fairs throughout the year, such as the pumpkin festival in Morton.

If you are visiting this interesting state, here are some things that Illinois is known for that you should know about.

Famous Food In Illinois



Illinois produces more pumpkins than any other state in the US. In fact, about 90% of all the pumpkins grown in the US for processing come from Illinois. Each year, there is a pumpkin festival in Morton, Illinois. This town is known as the “Pumpkin Capital of the World”.

During the festival, you can enjoy a variety of pumpkin-themed foods, such as pumpkin pie and roasted pumpkin seeds. You can also participate in the “Great Pumpkin weigh-off”, where you can compete to see who can grow the heaviest pumpkin.

If you’re looking for a fun and festive autumn activity, be sure to check out the pumpkin festival in Morton, Illinois.

Horseshoe Sandwich

The horseshoe sandwich is a dish that is popular in the Midwest, and it originated in Springfield, Illinois. It is a sandwich that consists of two pieces of bread, with a hamburger patty in the middle, and then topped with french fries, cheese sauce, and grilled onions.

This sandwich is named after its shape, which resembles a horseshoe. The horseshoe sandwich is a hearty dish that is perfect to refuel your energy. If you’re ever in Springfield, be sure to try the horseshoe sandwich. It is certainly one of the famous Illionis foods to indulge in.



While hot dogs and corn dogs are popular food items found all over the US, they actually originated in Illinois. The first hot dog stand was opened in Chicago in 1893, and some claim the first corn dog was served at the state fair in the 1940s.

These two food items have become synonymous with Illinois, and you can find them at most events and festivals throughout the state. If you’re looking for a quick and easy snack, be sure to try a hot dog or corn dog from one of the many stands found in Illinois.


Deep Dish Pizza

Chicago is known for its deep-dish pizza. This type of pizza has a thick crust that is filled with cheese and toppings, and then covered with a layer of tomato sauce. The deep crust is the reason why it is called “deep dish” pizza. This also meant that it makes a pretty filling meal.

If you’re looking for a delicious and hearty pizza, then you need to try deep dish pizza. This is one of the food Chicago is known for and a staple that you won’t want to miss. Good news is that you can easily hunt down the best ones on some of the Chicago food tours.

History, Culture, And Traditions

With its history and ties to pop culture, there is much to discover in the state of Illinois. Here are some historical events, identities, and culture that Illinois is known for.


The Land of Presidents

The state of Illinois is known as the “Land of Presidents” because it is the birthplace or home of eight US presidents. These presidents include Abraham Lincoln, Ulysses S. Grant, Ronald Reagan, and Barack Obama.

This nickname is a testament to the important role that Illinois has played in American history. If you’re interested in learning more about the presidents who were born in Illinois, be sure to visit their birthplaces, which are all located throughout the state.

From Abraham Lincoln’s home in Springfield to Ronald Reagan’s boyhood home in Dixon, there are plenty of opportunities to explore the history and legacy of these American leaders.

First State to Abolish Slavery

Illinois is known for being the first state to abolish slavery. In 1818, the Illinois Constitution prohibited slavery and slaveholding. This was before Illinois became a state in 1819.

In credit to that, Illinois was an important stop on the Underground Railroad for escaped slaves from the South. Chicago was a big hub for anti-slavery movements and McCormick House is said to be part of the Underground Railroad.


The First McDonald’s

In 1955, Ray Kroc opened the first McDonald’s in Des Plaines, Illinois as a Franchise of the speed service model. It was actually the ninth restaurant in what is now a global empire.

The original location was turned into a museum that operated until 2017. You used to be able to see artifacts from the early days of McDonald’s and learn about how it became a worldwide phenomenon.

This is one of the fun facts about Illinois that continues to be part of the state as McDonalds has their headquarters in Chicago.


Route 66 – The All-American Road Trip

Route 66 starts in Chicago. This “Mother Road” was one of the first transcontinental highways in the US. It originally stretched from Chicago to Los Angeles and is now a National Scenic Byway. You can follow Route 66 through Illinois for 432 miles on its way to Missouri.

Route 66 is the perfect road trip for anyone looking to experience the best of what America has to offer. From the bright lights of Chicago to the sunny skies of Los Angeles, this road trip is full of excitement and adventure.

Along the way, you’ll see some of the most iconic landmarks and attractions in the country, such as the Gemini Giant in Wilmington, and the world’s largest Catsup Bottle in Collinsville, making it an unforgettable experience.

Nuclear Power Generation

In 1947, the first experimental nuclear reactor (Chicago Pile-1) was built in Argonne National Laboratory. This started the development of what is now a major industry in the state. The state now has the highest nuclear-generating capacity in the US.

Illinois is the home of Exelon, the largest operator of nuclear power plants in the US. There are six plants with 11 reactors located in Illinois, which accounts for over 50% of the state’s electricity generation in 2020.


The Birthplace of Superman

Did you know that the town of Metropolis, Illinois is the official “Home of Superman”? This is because the town was used as a stand-in for the fictional city of Metropolis in the 1978 film Superman.

The town has since embraced its connection to the superhero and has even erected a statue of Superman. If you’re a fan of Superman, you can visit the statue, which is located on the banks of the Ohio River. You can also visit the Super Museum, which is full of Superman memorabilia.


Illinois is also known for its high levels of corruption. In fact, the state has been ranked as one of the most corrupt states in the US. This is due to the number of public officials who have been convicted of corruption-related crimes.

Despite its reputation, Illinois is a great place to visit. There is so much to see and do, and the state has a rich history and culture. If you’re planning a trip to Illinois, be sure to add these famous


The Land of Lincoln

Illinois is known for being the land of Lincoln, and Springfield is where you can find many sites related to the 16th president of the United States. The nickname references Lincoln’s early political career in the state.

Lincoln lived in Springfield for about 25 years, and it was here that he met Mary Todd, got married, and raised his family. The Lincoln Home National Historic Site is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Springfield. You can take a tour of Lincoln’s home, which has been preserved to look as it did when he lived there.


Land of Trains

Illinois is home to more railroads than any other state. It’s no surprise then that the “Land of Lincoln” is also known as the “Land of Trains.” Amtrak has eight lines that pass through Illinois, making it easy to get around the state by train.

In addition to Amtrak, there are also several freight railroads that operate in Illinois. These include BNSF, Canadian National, CSX, and Union Pacific.

If you’re a fan of trains, there are plenty of places to see them in action in Illinois. The Amtrak Lincoln Service runs daily between Chicago and St. Louis, making stops in Springfield, Joliet, and Carbondale. The Illinois Railway Museum in Union is the largest railway museum in the state. Here you can see over 450 pieces of rolling stock, including steam locomotives, vintage trolleys, and more.


The Original Ferris Wheel

The world’s first Ferris wheel was at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago. It was designed by George Washington Gale Ferris, Jr. and was 250 feet (76 meters) tall with 36 cars that each held 60 people. It was so popular that other cities wanted their own Ferris wheels. There’s now a replica of the original Ferris wheel at Navy Pier in Chicago.

Cities And Travel Destinations


Chicago – The Windy City

Chicago is known as the “Windy City” partly for the windstorms in the area. The city is located in the Midwest, which is known for its cold winters and strong winds. However, another lesser-known Chicago fact is that the nickname also stems from implications that the politicians are boastful (full of hot air).

Chicago is also home to some of the tallest buildings in the world, which act as wind tunnels, making the wind even stronger. Nonetheless, Chicago is the most popular tourist destination in Illinois, and maybe even in the Midwest region.

From its world-renowned museums and architecture to its vibrant food scene, there is plenty of attractions and landmarks in Chicago to check out.

Metropolis – The Superman City

Metropolis, Illinois is known as the “Superman City” because it is the hometown of Superman in the DC Comics universe. In 1972, the city officially adopted the nickname after a campaign by local businesses to promote tourism.

Today, you can find a statue of Superman in downtown Metropolis, and the city even hosts an annual Superman Celebration each summer.

If you’re a fan of Superman, or just looking for a unique experience, be sure to check out Metropolis, Illinois.

Springfield – The Birthplace of Route 66

Springfield, Illinois is known as the “Birthplace of Route 66.” The iconic highway began in Springfield in 1926, and it was here that the first section of the road was officially opened.

Today, you can find a stretch of old Route 66 that runs through downtown Springfield, and there is even a Route 66 Museum. Springfield is also home to many sites related to Abrahan Lincoln, making it a popular destination for history buffs.

If you’re a fan of road trips or American history, Springfield is definitely worth a visit.

Famous People From Illinois

Ernest Hemingway 

Ernest Hemingway was a Nobel Prize-winning author who was born in Oak Park, Illinois. He is known for his novels “The Sun Also Rises” and “For Whom the Bell Tolls”. Hemingway was also a journalist and war correspondent.

He spent a lot of time in Europe, and many of his stories are set there. However, he also wrote about his experiences in Illinois, such as in his short story “The Killers”, which is set in a small town in Illinois.

Hemingway is one of the most famous authors in the world, and this makes Illinois a special place for literature lovers.

Ronald Reagan

Ronald Reagan was the 40th President of the United States, and he was born in Tampico, Illinois. Reagan is a Republican icon, and he is known for his economic policies, which were nicknamed “Reaganomics”.

He is also known for his role in ending the Cold War. After leaving office, Reagan retired to his ranch in California, but he always maintained a strong connection to his home state of Illinois.

If you’re interested in politics or American history, Ronald Reagan is definitely a figure worth learning about.

Walt Disney

Walt Disney was one of the most famous cartoonists and film directors in history. He was born in Chicago, Illinois, and he is responsible for creating some of the most iconic characters in pop culture, such as Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, and Goofy.

Disney is also the founder of Disneyland and Walt Disney World, two of the most popular tourist destinations in the world.

If you’re a fan of cartoons, movies, or theme parks, then you have Walt Disney to thank, and his connection to Illinois makes the state even more special.

Architecture And Landmarks

The state is home to some of the most famous landmarks in the United States, as well as a variety of interesting museums and historic sites. These are just a few of the landmarks that Illinois is known for.


The Sears Tower

The tallest building in the Western Hemisphere, the Willis Tower (formerly Sears Tower) is a must-see when visiting Chicago. Standing 1,451 feet tall, the 110-story skyscraper offers breathtaking views of the city from its observation deck on the 103rd floor.

If you’re feeling brave, you can step out onto The Ledge, a series of glass boxes that extend four feet from the building, providing a heart-stopping experience 1,353 feet above the ground.

The Willis Tower is an iconic Chicago landmark and a must-visit for anyone visiting the city.


Buckingham Fountain

Located in Chicago’s Grant Park, Buckingham Fountain is one of the largest fountains in the world. The fountain was built in 1927 and is a beautiful sight to behold, especially when it’s lit up at night.

During the summer months, the fountain shoots water 150 feet into the air, and is a popular spot for cooling off on a hot day. The fountain is also a popular gathering spot for events and concerts, making it a vibrant and exciting place to be.

Starved Rock State Park

Starved Rock State Park is one of the most popular state parks in Illinois. Located in the north-central part of the state, the park is home to 18 canyons and 13 miles of hiking trails.

The sandstone cliffs and canyons are a beautiful sight to see, and the hiking trails offer a challenge for both beginner and experienced hikers.

In the winter, the park is a popular spot for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing.

Starved Rock State Park is a great place to enjoy the outdoors, whether you’re hiking in the summer or cross-country skiing in the winter.

Many More Things Illinois Is Known And Famous For

And these are just a sampling of what Illinois is known for! From its rich history to its delicious food, there’s plenty to see and do in the Land of Lincoln. Whether you are visiting Illinois for the first time or you are a long-term visitor, there is always something new to discover. If you’re looking for a fun and educational vacation, Illinois is the place to go.



Book Your Flight

I usually use a combination of 2-3 of the following search engines to find cheap flights: Skyscanner, Momondo, Google Flights

Find Your Accommodation

Booking.com is my usual platform for finding accommodation options as they have one of the largest selections. Hostelworld is great for booking hostels. For more private or long term accommodation, Airbnb is my go-to platform.

Travel Insurance

Travel insurance is important for to protect yourself against unforeseen circumstances. I usually look at a few insurance companies depending on my travel needs.
  • SafetyWings for Travel Health Insurance
  • IMG Global for added Insurance when doing activities outside of usual coverage
Packing for your trip? Check out the packing list for ideas on what to bring

For more travel resources, check out my resources page for best platforms and companies to use when you travel.

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Welcome To NomadsUnveiled
This is Rax. For over a decade, I have traveled to over 60 countries - from a budget backpacker to a business traveler, expat and then a digital nomad. You can find insights and perspectives from myself and other world travelers that will inspire your journey of discovery.


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