15 Secretly Amazing Places to Retire in Illinois

Written by Shreya Agrawal
Updated: November 2, 2023
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Retirement is a time for new beginnings. Thus, choosing the right place to spend your golden years is crucial. While popular retirement destinations often steal the spotlight, Illinois offers a host of hidden gems that are incredible to retire in. From charming small towns to vibrant communities with rich cultural scenes, Illinois has something for every retiree. In this article, we’ll explore the top 15 amazing places to retire in Illinois, shedding light on what makes each of them worth considering.

Overview of 15 Secretly Amazing Places to Retire In Illinois

1. Galena

Historical Galena Town view at Autumn in Illinois of USA

Galena is also known as “the town that time forgot.” However, Galena is mostly restored and it serves as a hotspot for tourism which is what drives today’s economy.

©Nejdet Duzen/Shutterstock.com

Galena’s allure lies in its historic charm. This small town is actually a treasure trove of 19th-century architecture and retains a timeless appeal. Its picturesque setting along the Galena River, surrounded by rolling hills, also adds to its scenic beauty.

What to Do: Stroll down Main Street and explore boutique shops, art galleries, and cozy eateries. Visit the Ulysses S. Grant Home State Historic Site to learn about the former president’s life. Those who like spending time in nature can enjoy hiking, golfing, and boating in the nearby Galena Territory.

2. Champaign-Urbana

Main Qua of University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Main Qua of University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign surrounded by historic buildings

©eyfoto/iStock via Getty Images

Champaign-Urbana offers retirees a dynamic blend of cultural vibrancy and educational opportunities. The presence of the University of Illinois also lifts up the community with a youthful energy. The cost of living is also reasonable, and the healthcare facilities are top-notch.

What to Do: Immerse yourself in the arts at the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts, which hosts a wide range of cultural events. Explore the Urbana Sweetcorn Festival, an annual celebration of food and music. Lifelong learners can engage with educational programs and events at the university.

3. Alton

Aerial view of Melvin Price locks and dam, Mississippi River, Alton, Illinois, USA

Aerial view of Melvin Price locks and dam, Mississippi River, Alton, Illinois. This was the first dam built to replace one of the original nine-foot channel navigation project dams. It’s notable for its colossal size that creates a 40.6-mile-long 31,000-acre pool!

©Kent Raney/Shutterstock.com

Alton, perched on the banks of the Mississippi River, has a tranquil and historic retirement setting. Its well-preserved architecture and riverfront charm create a unique ambiance. The cost of living is also affordable, like other places on this list, and healthcare services are readily available.

What to Do: Drive along the Great River Road, which has stunning river views and access to parks and historic sites. Explore the Lewis and Clark State Historic Site, where you can learn about the famous expedition. Enjoy leisurely riverboat cruises for a scenic experience.

4. Carbondale

Ferne Clyffe Falls Illinois

The majestic Ferne Clyffe Falls in Carbondale, Illinois offers a spectacular view of water cascading down rocks and boulders


Carbondale, situated in southern Illinois, is a college town with a friendly community and natural beauty. The Shawnee National Forest is nearby, providing ample opportunities for those who like exploring the outdoors. The cost of living is very reasonable, and the town also offers a relaxed pace of life.

What to Do: Hike the numerous trails in Shawnee National Forest to discover waterfalls, canyons, and lush forests. Explore local wineries and savor the flavors of the region. Engage with the vibrant cultural scene, including performances and events hosted by Southern Illinois University.

5. Naperville

Peaceful prairie landscape with tall grasses, wildflowers and woodland growth at McDowell Grover Forest Preserve in Naperville, Illinois

Peaceful prairie landscape with tall grasses, wildflowers and woodland growth at McDowell Grover Forest Preserve in Naperville, Illinois


Naperville, a suburb of Chicago, has a suburban lifestyle with easy access to the city’s culture and entertainment. The city prioritizes green spaces, parks, and trails, making it ideal for active retirees. Schools are excellent, and the crime rate is low as well.

What to Do: Stroll along the picturesque Naperville Riverwalk, which features gardens, fountains, and public art. You can also explore the Naper Settlement museum, which showcases local history. Attend local theater productions and dine at the city’s diverse restaurants.

6. Bloomington-Normal

David Davis Historic Mansion in Blomington, Illinois

David Davis Historic Mansion in Blomington, Illinois

©Henryk Sadura/iStock via Getty Images

Bloomington-Normal, also known as “Blo-No,” boasts a welcoming atmosphere and diverse amenities. Home to Illinois State University, it has several educational opportunities and a strong sense of community. Its central location in Illinois also makes it convenient for travel.

What to Do: You can visit the McLean County Museum of History to delve into local heritage. You can also explore Constitution Trail, a network of scenic trails for walking, running, and biking. You can also attend performances and events at the Bloomington Center for the Performing Arts.

7. Geneva

Fox River, Illinois

Beautiful sighting spot on Fox River, IL

©Jeronimo Podesta/iStock via Getty Images

Geneva, nestled along the Fox River, has the classic Midwestern charm. The town is known for its historic homes, boutique shops, and vibrant arts scene. Its proximity to the Chicago suburbs also ensures constant access to urban amenities.

What to Do: Wander through Third Street, where you’ll find unique shops and excellent dining options. Also, explore the Fabyan Forest Preserve, which features Japanese gardens and historic architecture. Also, enjoy scenic riverboat tours for a leisurely day out.

8. Effingham

Cross in Effingham

198′ Cross in Effingham, Illinois, USA, North America.

©benkrut/iStock via Getty Images

Effingham is a small town with a big heart. Its friendly community, central location in Illinois, and low cost of living make it an attractive retirement destination. Healthcare services are readily accessible.

What to Do: Visit the iconic Cross at the Crossroads, a towering symbol of faith and community. Also, explore the Effingham Performance Center, which hosts a variety of entertainment events. Also, take day trips to nearby attractions and parks.

9. Peoria

Church in Peoria, IL. Peoria, Illinois, USA.

Outside a church in Peoria, Illinois, which is one of the places in Illinois with a lot of beauty.

©Henryk Sadura/Shutterstock.com

Peoria offers a blend of urban amenities and natural beauty. Nestled along the Illinois River, the city boasts a rich cultural scene, parks, and an affordable cost of living.

What to Do: Stroll along the Peoria Riverfront and enjoy scenic views of the river. Also, explore the Peoria Riverfront Museum, which offers engaging exhibits and educational programs. You can also attend events at the Peoria Civic Center, which hosts concerts, sports, and conventions.

10. Quincy

A historical town located along the Mississippi River, Quincy is one of the most beautiful towns in Illinois.

©Clay Venvertloh/Shutterstock.com

Quincy, situated along the Mississippi River, is a town steeped in history and has a strong sense of community. Its beautifully preserved Victorian architecture adds to its charm, and the cost of living is reasonable.

What to Do: You can take historic home tours to admire the town’s architectural gems. You can explore Quincy Bay, a serene spot for outdoor enthusiasts. You can also visit the John Wood Mansion State Historic Site to learn about local history.

11. Springfield

abraham lincoln historic site

The Lincoln Home National Historic Site in Springfield, Illinois.

©Zack Frank/Shutterstock.com

Springfield, as the capital of Illinois, offers retirees a unique blend of history, culture, and affordability. It’s known as the home of Abraham Lincoln and is rich in political heritage. The cost of living in Springfield is relatively low compared to larger cities.

What to Do: You must explore the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum to learn about the life and times of the 16th President. Also visit the Old State Capitol, where Lincoln delivered his famous “House Divided” speech. Finish with enjoying outdoor activities at Lake Springfield, including fishing and boating.

12. Rockford

Bridge in Rockford

Bridge in Rockford, Illinois, USA.

©Henryk Sadura/iStock via Getty Images

Known as the “Forest City,” Rockford has a wonderful blend of natural beauty and cultural attractions. The city is also surrounded by lush greenery and offers a cost of living below the national average, making it an affordable retirement destination.

What to Do: Spend time in Anderson Japanese Gardens, a serene oasis with meticulously landscaped ponds and paths. Also explore the Rockford Art Museum to appreciate contemporary and regional art, as well as the Rock Cut State Park, which offers hiking, picnicking, and boating.

13. Evanston

North Shore - Evanston

North Shore Channel – Evanston

©Peter Klatt/iStock via Getty Images

Evanston is located along the shores of Lake Michigan. It combines suburban living with easy access to the cultural offerings of Chicago. The city also values sustainability, boasts excellent healthcare facilities, and has a vibrant arts scene.

What to Do: Take leisurely walks along Lake Michigan’s beaches and enjoy scenic lakefront views. Make sure to visit the Mary and Leigh Block Museum of Art, which features a diverse range of art exhibitions. Also explore the charming downtown area, known for its restaurants, boutiques, and cultural events.

14. Galesburg

Old stone church.

Old stone church in downtown Galesburg.

©EJ_Rodriquez/iStock via Getty Images

Galesburg, in western Illinois, makes for a peaceful and friendly small-town atmosphere for retirees. It’s known for its well-preserved historic architecture and is an affordable place to retire. The community also exudes warmth and a strong sense of history.

What to Do: Make sure to visit the Carl Sandburg State Historic Site, the former home of the Pulitzer Prize-winning poet and biographer. Also explore Lake Storey Park, which offers outdoor activities like fishing and hiking. You can also go to local theater productions and community events.

15. Danville

Horseshoe Lake State Park Illinois

The town of Danville has several parks and natural areas to get some peace and tranquility.

©Danita Delimont/Shutterstock.com

Danville, located in eastern Illinois, is our final hidden gem with a strong sense of community. The town has a low cost of living, making it an attractive option for retirees. Numerous parks and recreational facilities also provide ample opportunities for outdoor activities.

What to Do: Explore Kennekuk County Park, a vast natural area with woodlands, lakes, and hiking trails. You can visit the Vermilion County War Museum to learn about the region’s military history. Make sure to savor the local dining scene, which offers a variety of culinary delights.

In conclusion, Illinois has a wide array of amazing retirement destinations, each with its unique charm and offerings. Whether you prefer the historic charm of Galena, the cultural vibrancy of Champaign-Urbana, or the scenic beauty of Alton, there’s a perfect place in Illinois for you to enjoy your retired years.

Summary of 15 Secretly Amazing Places to Retire in Illinois

1GalenaNorth-west Illinois
2Champaign-UrbanaCentral Illinois
3AltonBanks of the Mississippi River
4CarbondaleSouthern Illinois
5NapervilleSuburb of Chicago
6Bloomington-NormalCentral Illinois
7GenevaAlong the Fox River
8EffinghamCentral Illinois
9PeoriaAlong the Illinois River
10QuincyAlong the Mississippi River
11SpringfieldLower Illinois River Basin
12RockfordNorthern Illinois
13EvanstonAlong Lake Michigan
14GalesburgWestern Illinois
15DanvilleEastern Illinois

The photo featured at the top of this post is © Jeronimo Podesta/iStock via Getty Images

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About the Author

Shreya is a climate scientist. She also studies paleontology and evolutionary biology. She enjoys reading all kinds of literature and listening to rock music in her free time.

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