The 7 Best Places to Retire in Illinois

Danny Newman
Danny Newman is a nationally syndicated freelance writer with a focus on travel. MSN feed and Associated Press bylines. Danny is a digital nomad from the UK who’s been traveling full-time since 2018.

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Why do people choose Illinois to retire? Let’s discover the best places to retire in Illinois and learn what makes the Prairie State stand out.

Did you know that 16.6% of Illinois’s population is aged 65 or above? That’s up there with the most popular retirement destinations in the country! And it makes sense too.

With its lack of tax on retirement income, competitive cost of living, strong economy, and access to vibrant cities and unspoiled farming locations alike, the Prairie State has a lot going for it – especially if you’re entering your golden years.

As you’d expect, though, some Illinois locations offer a better quality of life than others. If you’re going to find somewhere to suit your personal tastes, interests, needs, and budget, then it’s important to know your options. In a bid to help, we’ve put together a list of the best places to retire in Illinois.

Read on to learn all about them.

1. Chicago

Chicago’s officially the third largest city in America, with a population of over 2.7 million residents. For context, the total population of Illinois is around 12.7 million, which means over 20% of people in the Land of Lincoln live in the Windy City!

If you love the hustle and bustle of major metropoles, then you’re sure to feel right at home. Retire to Chicago and you’ll have all the usual big city amenities at your fingertips – food, sports, culture…it’s never far away. The housing prices are close to the national average as well, making the city feel quite affordable compared to places like New York and LA.

Active retirees will also be pleased to hear about the many parks and public beaches. Not only that, but with 2 top-rated hospitals in the city (Rush University Medical Center and Northwestern Memorial Hospital) your medical needs would be well taken care of in Chicago too.

2. Palos Hills

Let’s say you love the idea of living in central Chicago, but want somewhere that offers more peace and quiet in your golden years.

In this scenario, the small city of Palos Hills could be an ideal alternative. Located in Cook County, it’s actually a suburb of the Windy City. With a population of around 17,000 people, though, it offers retirees a much more peaceful existence while remaining close to major amenities and attractions.

Another advantage of moving to Palos Hills is its low crime rate. Retire here and you’d be living in the 4th safest municipality in Illinois. Rates of both violent and property crime fall far below the state average.

3. Galena

Galena always ranks highly on lists of the best places to retire in Illinois. This beautiful city is located in the northwest of the state and has a prime location near the Mississippi River. Small, picturesque, and wonderfully historic, it’s as popular with tourists as it is with retirees.

A vibrant and charming place, Galena balances ample aesthetic appeal with plenty of fun and quirky things to see/do. Trust us, there’s something for everyone – regardless of your age or interests. You can go snowshoeing in winter, watch the Great Galena Balloon Race in summer, and hike and bike until your heart’s content in the surrounding area. Galena’s lively downtown is full of boutique stores, art galleries, bars, and eateries to explore as well.

The cherries on top? It also boasts a low crime rate, affordable housing, and access to good healthcare at the Galena-Stauss Hospital & Healthcare Center.

4. Champaign-Urbana

Home to the University of Illinois, the twin cities of Champaign and Urbana (often referred to as Champaign-Urbana, or vice versa) are diverse and bustling college towns with a growing population. For those among you who love cultural pursuits and want an active retirement, this is a first-rate place to be.

Among the many activities on offer, there are myriad bars, clubs, restaurants, cafes, art, and cultural museums, and outdoor spaces (don’t miss Crystal Lake Park!). You’ll also have Urbana’s Market at the Square to explore on Saturday mornings and an amazing planetarium to visit at Parkland College in the northwest of Champaign.

As for the financial and medical side of retirement, retirees will benefit from the low cost of living and the 2 hospitals in Champaign. The main downsides to life here are a) a crime rate that’s slightly higher than average and b) the distance to bigger cities. Located in a rural part of Illinois, people who prefer true metropoles may want to stay closer to Chicago or St. Louis.

Chris Chen, Certified Financial Planner (CFP) with Insight Financial Strategists, elaborates on the area:

“Top of mind is the Urbana-Champaign area. Home to the flagship campus of the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign is a vibrant city with many cultural offerings and the bustling feel of a college town. It could be particularly attractive for active retirees.”

5. Elgin

Venture 35 miles northwest of Chicago, and you’ll arrive at Elgin. Situated on the banks of the Fox River, it’s the 7th largest city in the state, with a population of almost 115,000 residents. In other words, Elgin offers an attractive middle-ground between the madness of the Chicago metropolis and the relative quiet of rural Illinois!

It’s also diverse, safe, full of history, and fiercely independent. Indeed, while Elgin’s only a stone’s throw from downtown Chicago, it’s managed to distinguish itself as a unique and attractive city. You’ll be in your element if you love art, architecture, history, theatre, music, and festivals.

Elgin also has 2 leading hospitals, a huge public park, an award-winning library, and all sorts of outdoor opportunities (e.g., walking trails along the Fox River). Overall, it more than deserves its spot on this list of the best places to retire in Illinois.

6. Galesburg

What do George Washington and the inventor of the Ferris wheel (aka Gale Ferris) have in common? You guessed it: they were both born in the city of Galesburg! Located in Knox County, just northwest of Peoria in west central Illinois, this small town of around 30,000 people is another attractive retirement destination.

The history of Galesburg revolves firmly around the railroads – a heritage that’s evident in everything from the Railroad Hall of Fame to the scattered remnants of industrial architecture. Nowadays, the city has a strong community feel and boasts a top-notch downtown area. There are independent shops, celebrated local dining options, a lively music scene, public parks, and the Orpheum Theatre, to name just a few of the many things to do.

While the current crime rate isn’t ideal, a major incentive to retire to Galesburg is the cost of living. With a median home price in Knox County of just $95,000, it’d be a very affordable place to spend your golden years. There’s also the 133-bed Galesburg Cottage Hospital to handle your medical needs.

7. Kankakee and Naperville

People searching for a quieter retirement with easy access to a big city should take a look at Kankakee too. It’s only an hour’s drive south of Chicago but feels a whole world away in terms of atmosphere. A small place, Kankakee has just over 25,000 residents who enjoy its quaint and charming vibe.

Anyone who retires here can enjoy Kankakee’s many historical landmarks, museums, theatres, and scenic outdoor spaces (e.g., the Kankakee Valley Park District), plus the drinking and dining options available downtown. Of course, if you ever felt the need for extra excitement, you’re never far from Chicago!

For another top destination in the near orbit of Chicago, David Berns of Truadvice Wealth Management recommends Naperville:

“Retirees who want to stay close to family and enjoy the seasons should consider the state of Illinois. One top city to consider is Naperville, which has excellent healthcare and a downtown area filled with top restaurants. You are also about an hour away from the vibrant city of Chicago, should you get the itch to catch a game or show.”

Combine those perks and a cost of living that’s much lower than the national average, and there are plenty of incentives to retire to Kankakee or Naperville.

Remember the Best Places to Retire in Illinois

The United States is full of great retirement destinations. However, there aren’t very many that are as popular with over 65s as Illinois!

That’s why we prepared this article about the best places to retire in Illinois to help you begin thinking about the cities and towns which may be right for you. If you’re considering the Prairie State for your golden years, then we hope the insights in this article have helped.

Of course, making the transition from earning a paycheck to living off your savings and resources like Social Security can be a major adjustment impacting your budget and quality of life. Hiring a financial advisor can help you navigate the journey so you can enjoy decades in retirement in Illinois with less money stress.

You’ll find financial advisors featured on Wealthtender based in Illinois and others who can meet with you online no matter where you live today or tomorrow. Be sure to ask the right questions and understand the costs of hiring a financial advisor before deciding on the right financial advisor for you.

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