Is Chicago Safe? What Travelers Need To Know

0
Chicago River Skyline

Although Chicago has become synonymous with being one of America’s most dangerous cities, and the news makes it sound rife with violent crime, that couldn’t be further from the truth. Most lists of dangerous cities or cities with high crime ratios don’t even include Chicago! If you’ve always wanted to visit the Windy City but are concerned about safety, I assure you that you’ll be a-okay.

Anytime you visit a major metropolitan area, you should be aware of your surroundings regardless of what statistics will tell you. Many people mean more opportunities for pickpockets or more bad guys lurking.

Few US cities could say they’re relatively free from crime. Anywhere you go, you’ll need to ensure you’re watching what’s happening around you, especially when using any public transport system.

Here’s the thing, I love Chicago. This city is my home and rarely in my years living here have I felt unsafe. It’s also pivotal to remember that crime statistics (especially in a city like Chicago, which originated the term “redlining” to segregate neighborhoods) are mired in racism.

That said, here are a few pointers to make your time in my favorite city as safe as possible.

Aerial view of Chicago and the skyline
JaySi / Shutterstock

Is It Safe To Visit Chicago?

Chicago is the third largest city in the country and one of the most visited cities in the United States. In the Midwest, Chicago is considered a cultural hub, where people from all backgrounds and cultures come together.

My home neighborhood Rogers Park, for example, is the city’s most diverse neighborhood. Over 60 languages are spoken in our neighborhood and we are very neighbor-centered, always looking out for one another.

While Chicago has had its share of crimes big and small (think back to the days of Al Capone, prohibition, and the mob), the overall violent crime rate of the city has decreased over the last few years. Murder and gun violence rates are declining, as are violent crimes in general.

You might be surprised that Chicago’s overall crime rates are well below the national average, as the other reported crimes have lowered in number, too.

Gang-related incidents, from drug dealing to burglaries or robberies, are also on the decline. Some so-called more dangerous neighborhoods include South Shore, North Lawndale, and West Garfield Park.

These dramatic declines in reported violent crimes have encouraged a lot of tourists to come and enjoy what the city has to offer. Just stroll around Navy Pier and Millennium Park to see a throng of tourists taking selfies and enjoy the panoramic views. Chicago is one of the greatest cities in the world, so why not come out and visit this gem on the shores of Lake Michigan?

How Safe Is Chicago Public Transit?

Chicago El stop downtown Chicago
Tupungato / Shutterstock

Although it can feel time-consuming if you aren’t used to traveling around a city, hopping aboard the El, our elevated train, is the easiest way to get around the city. While the trains won’t always be crowded, you must use your street smarts when aboard. If you’re not paying attention, it’s easy to have something stolen on the train.

Personally, I don’t like riding the train alone past 9 or 10 pm. I’ll do it, but I don’t encourage women, LGBTQIA+ folks, or other marginalized folks to ride the train solo late at night either. Like in any other city, late nights usually bring out the bad side of people.

Is Violent Crime An Issue?

Violent crime has decreased in Illinois in general over the last few decades. Any big city is going to suffer from crime and, unfortunately, that includes violent crimes. Violent crime is defined as a crime using threat or use of force, meaning that petty theft or pickpocketing are not considered violent crimes.

Violent crime rates in general for reported crimes have decreased in Chicago for the last few years. While not all Chicago neighborhoods are treated equally in relation to safety – note the over-policing of neighborhoods like West Garfield Park and North Lawndale – you can find pockets of danger in any big city.

If you want to bring pepper spray when you visit Chicago, just in case, it is legal to carry it here. Be aware that you may not be able to order it ahead of time if it is illegal in your state.

Will Tourists Feel Safe In Chicago?

Yeah, it’s just about as safe as anywhere else, so stop dilly-dallying! Pay a visit and take a stroll around this spellbinding city. You can enjoy the sights and fall in love with the view.

Not only is Chicago’s crime rate well below the national average, but the good news is also that Chicago has been experiencing a steady decline in crime. It’s also in the Midwest region which is known for its population of good-hearted people.

If you need help while you’re out and about, even in the crowded streets of the city center, people will help you. I’ve been that person to help, we do exist.

Do I need travel insurance?

Anytime you invest a lot of time and money in planning a trip, travel insurance is a good idea. An organization like VisitorsCoverage can ensure that your precious investments aren’t wasted even if something goes awry.

From covering canceled flights, reimbursing personal theft, or just having peace of mind on your vacation, VisitorsCoverage has you covered. You don’t want to get stranded at O’Hare waiting on a several-hour delayed flight because of a freak snowstorm. In the Midwest, the weather is unpredictable.

See Related: Best Travel Insurance for Digital Nomads

Is the Magnificent Mile in Downtown Chicago safe?

Chicago River on the Mag Mile at nighttime
Suzanne Tucker / Shutterstock

Honestly, the biggest issue you’re likely to encounter along the Magnificent Mile, or Mag Mile, are scammers. From people fundraising for a fake basketball team or fake Buddhist monks trying to make you take a friendship bracelet and then pay them for it, downtown is rife with scammers.

I have never personally had a scammer interaction turn ugly, though they can be pretty intimidating. Have you ever been to a high-stakes timeshare sales meeting? Sometimes it feels like that. Keep in mind that these interactions can sometimes be fronts for property crimes as a partner of theirs can sneak up and steal your bag or wallet.

The more populated streets in the Mag Mile shopping district sometimes make it impossible to avoid these folks. Walking tours are also obvious targets for pickpockets because you’re distracted. So while you’re wandering around sampling Chicago pizza options, don’t forget to watch yourself.

Is Chicago Safe For Solo Travelers?

Solo female travelers, rejoice! There are far more dangerous cities in the world that are more of a hazard for us than Chicago. Especially with its decline in violent crime, this city is a great place to visit. Chicago’s violent crime rate is actually below the national average given the city’s population.

The property crime rate is more relevant to tourists, as it’s statistically higher in likelihood than violent crime. Be especially aware if you’re in a heavily trafficked area like Union Station or you’re doing something like a food tour when you might be distracted.

If you want some backup to feel a little safer venturing Chicago neighborhoods, there are some things you can pack. I highly suggest any solo female adventurers invest in a personal safety alarm that can be taken anywhere around the world. Plus, you won’t have to worry about whether it’s legal like pepper spray.

Is Chicago Safe For Queer Travelers?

A drag performer in the Chicago Pride parade
Dominique Robinson / Shutterstock.com

As a queer person, this is something I think about often whenever I travel. Luckily Chicago is one of the places where I can feel comfortable in my own skin. Chicago Pride, for example, is a huge event here every year.

That is unsurprising since Chicago was home to the country’s first gayborhood (gay neighborhood). Formerly known as Boystown, the neighborhood of Northalsted became America’s first official gay neighborhood. It remains a bastion for the queer community both here and far beyond.

Of course, I can’t speak for every person in Chicago, nor would I want to, but you should feel comfortable in most places in the city. Chicago is a very liberal place and you can also base your patronage on whether a business has a Progress Pride flag posted at the front.

Most Dangerous Neighborhoods in Chicago

Chicago-style rowhouses at sunset
Suzanne Tucker / Shutterstock

Chicago is made up of 77 different neighborhoods. Chicago neighborhoods, like the city itself, showcase a variety of cultures and lifestyles. From the old money of the Gold Coast to the greenery of East Garfield Park there is something for everyone.

We’re a city of nearly three million people, so every community within the city proper has its own history, vibe, and experience. Some neighborhoods in Chicago are plagued by this notion that they’re the most dangerous neighborhoods, which again, is largely because of deep-seated racism.

Income disparities and lack of resources fuel an area’s crime rate regardless of where in the country you are. The same is true for Chicago’s so-called most dangerous neighborhoods. There have been times I’ve felt safer in South Shore, which has a higher crime rate, than I did in Lincoln Park and vice versa. Our city is more than blanket neighborhood crime rate data.

See Related: Best Marriott Hotels & Resorts in the US

What are the most dangerous neighborhoods in Chicago?

Neighborhoods in Chicago with a higher violent crime rate are generally considered the most dangerous neighborhoods in the city. Knowing which neighborhoods meet this statistical label shouldn’t deter you from visiting them all together, just be aware.

Keep in mind, too, that the entire city of Chicago is below the national average crime rate for its population. That said, many of Chicago’s neighborhoods have higher populations than many parts of the country.

The two Garfield Park neighborhoods, for example, West Garfield Park and East Garfield Park, have populations of 17,700 and over 20,600, respectively. Each is considered a dangerous neighborhood but the majority of the crime in either is property crime. The crime rate for violent crimes in either neighborhood is about the average crime rate for the city.

The following neighborhoods are generally considered to be the most dangerous in Chicago:

  • Austin
  • East Garfield Park
  • Englewood
  • Grand Crossing
  • North Lawndale
  • Riverdale
  • South Shore
  • Washington Park
  • West Englewood
  • West Garfield Park

Downtown Chicago Safety

Aerial view of boats on the Chicago River downtown
TierneyMJ / Shutterstock

Downtown Chicago is a bustling area full of skyscrapers, businesses, and tourists. While it may be safe during the day, some areas can be unsafe at night. Being aware of your surroundings and taking precautions when traveling around downtown Chicago after dark is essential. After all, all cities can be dangerous cities.

There are neighborhoods in Chicago within the downtown area that are lively at night such as River North, the Mag Mile, and Michigan Avenue but crime can happen even in dense crowds — especially in dense crowds. So be aware of your surroundings and don’t flash your valuables.

If you are downtown and need to take a bus or train home after dark, there are some safe places to wait for public transportation. The CTA website has a list of safe havens which are well-lit, have security cameras, and are staffed.

See Related: Best Places to Visit in the US

Hyde Park Chicago Safety

University of Chicago campus in Hyde Park
Blanscape / Shutterstock

Home of the University of Chicago, Museum Campus, and former home to President Barack Obama, Hyde Park is one of the safest Chicago neighborhoods. This neighborhood is stunning both day and night. It’s highly walkable with so much to do.

Although there are a lot of university students around, there isn’t a lot of nightlife in this part of the city. There also aren’t a lot of hotels here, though it’s easy to get back downtown where the majority of the area hotels are.

Even so, Sophy Hyde Park is down here, which is a lovely boutique hotel that honors the neighborhood’s artistic legacy. If you want to better understand this neighborhood’s vibes, the Sophy is the best place to stay.

See Related: Best Boutique Hotels in Chicago for a Unique Experience

Other Considerations

Neighborhoods in Chicago each have their own considerations for property crime, violent crime, and motor vehicle theft. There are always exceptions to this rule, but these are some basic guidelines for considering safety in Chicago.

Regarding property crime, the North Side of Chicago is the safest area, according to crime stats. The West Side and the South Side then follow the North.

Violent crime is a bit more complicated. The North Side has the lowest violent crime rate, followed by the West Side.

The South Side has a higher rate of violent crime. But in Chicago, neighborhoods are seeing a decrease in their violent crime rate, which is why the city is becoming safer.

The rates for motor vehicle theft are similar to those for property crime, with the North Side being the safest. The North Side of Chicago is generally the safest area, followed by the West Side and then the South Side.

Some people might feel safe in any area of Chicago, while others might only feel safe in certain neighborhoods. It’s important to remember that crime can happen anywhere, so it’s always important to be aware of your surroundings and take precautions when necessary.

Which Sides Of Chicago Are The Safest?

You’ll often hear locals refer to Chicago’s sides – North, South, and West Side. Chicago doesn’t have an East Side — we have a lake. However, East Side is on the far south end of Chicago…

These regions are a good way to think about the city from a safety standpoint.

North Side of Chicago

The North Side is known for being wealthier and more affluent. This side of the city is also home to many different tourist attractions, including the Lincoln Park Zoo. It is also considered to be one of the safest areas in Chicago.

Many of downtown’s biggest attractions, like Millennium Park and the Art Institute of Chicago, are also located here. Plus it’s home to the Cubs with a rivalry with the South Side White Sox. Some neighborhoods on the North Side include Lincoln Park, Old Town, Rogers Park, and Uptown.

South Side of Chicago

Osaka Japanese Garden or The Pheonix Garden on the South Side in Chicago
KevinKlimaPhoto / Shutterstock

The South Side of Chicago is known for being more working class and larger than the North and West sides of the city. Here is where the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893 happened and many artists thrived (and continue to thrive).

During The Great Migration at the top of the 1900s, many Black families came to the South Side from Southern states. Some South Side neighborhoods include Bronzeville, Back of the Yards, and Englewood.

There can be gang violence on the South Side and Chicago’s crime stats will tell you that’s where most of it is which is just not true. I can tell you from personal experience that there is the potential for violence everywhere in a populous city.

West Side of Chicago

Historically, the West Side is where many immigrants moved to upon coming to the city. It has gone through a lot of changes throughout the city’s history. Still, the West Side is home to three of Chicago’s biggest parks: Garfield Park, Humboldt Park, and Douglas Park.

This side of the neighborhood is home to communities like Humboldt Park, East Garfield Park, West Garfield Park, and Ukrainian Village. You can find the Garfield Park Conservancy, the Chicago French Market, and the United Center where the Bulls play.

Like the South, some of Chicago’s supposedly most dangerous neighborhoods can also be found on the West Side. But you can easily be as safe in the Garfield Park neighborhoods as you are in Lincoln Park; you have to be aware.

Safety Tips for Visiting Chicago

Cloud Gate in Chicago, Illinois

When visiting Chicago, tourists need to be aware of the city’s safety recommendations. Although Chicago is a large metropolis with a lot of activity, certain areas are more hazardous than others.

You may consider avoiding an area with a higher property crime or violent crime rate. While areas of Chicago can be considered dangerous, it is far from being among the most dangerous cities.

Some general tips for staying safe in Chicago include (and apply to every major city):

  • Staying aware of your surroundings at all times
  • Avoiding confrontations with strangers
  • Not walking alone in unfamiliar areas, especially in the middle of the night
  • Not riding public transportation alone late at night
  • Keeping your personal belongings close by
  • Keep emergency cash and an emergency credit card in your hotel room
  • Being more aware of so-called dangerous neighborhoods
  • Get travel insurance from VisitorsCoverage ahead of time

The best way to stay safe in Chicago is to be aware of your surroundings and take precautions to protect yourself. If you witness a crime, don’t hesitate to contact the police. Also, be careful around Lake Michigan and the Chicago River if you’ve been drinking. Falling into either is equally dangerous.

What Do Crime Rates Really Mean?

A row of Chicago homes in springtime
EQRoy / Shutterstock

People who have lived in Chicago would describe that city as a city of two faces. One aspect of the city is represented by its vibrant metropolis with famous parks and museums for tourists to discover. The other half, however, is the one that is greatly affected by poverty.

What a crime rate actually tells us is how in need an area is. The most dangerous cities are afflicted by a crime rate because of that poverty. Chicago is not unique in its struggle between wealth and economic disparity.

So these two faces of the city are not something to be surprised about. While they may be extremes in nature, they are akin to the faces of most large American cities and they are the fabric that has been woven to give Chicago its unique culture and fascinating history.

It is also not a coincidence that any Chicago neighborhood designated as “the most dangerous neighborhood” is heavily populated by Black or Brown Chicagoans. Chicago has a history of over-policing south Chicago and west side neighborhoods. It is really important as a visitor to our magnificent city that you recognize the ways in which it is still failing its residents.

Some Fun Things to See and Do in Chicago

Chicago is an incredible city full of culture and art to experience. From world-class museums to sprawling green hideaways, our Windy City is one-of-a-kind.

Despite being one of the country’s largest cities, Chicago manages to hang on to its Midwestern hospitality. We might walk faster than out-of-towners and be a little brusk at times, but Chicagoans are generally kind-natured people.

More than anything I want to reverse the notion that ours is a dangerous city. Chicago has had its name dragged through the mud while the national average dictates that we are anything but the most dangerous city. What you’re in greater danger of here is never wanting to leave.

Art Institute of Chicago

Art Institute of Chicago

Address: 111 S Michigan Ave, Chicago, IL 60603

The Art Institute of Chicago is a world-class art museum, one of the greatest in the world. Its diverse collection took years to build and it includes spectacular paintings, sculptures, textiles, decorative arts, and architectural drawings. It even houses the most Impressionist artworks outside of France.

You are unlikely to see this whole museum in just one day. I highly recommend taking two days to fully appreciate everything on offer without wearing yourself out. The Palmer House hotel is only a short walk away.

See Related: Best Museums in the US to Visit

Millennium Park

Cloud Gate sculpture reflecting Chicago skyline and park, overcast atmosphere, sRGB colors.
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

Address: 201 E Randolph St, Chicago, IL 60602

Millenium Park features the tourist showstopper Cloud Gate a.k.a. The Bean. It is an 11-ton sculpture made from a mirror-like stainless steel surface whose design is inspired by the form of liquid mercury.

Apart from the beautiful sculptures including the Crown Fountain, one of the popular things to do in Millennium Park is to watch performances in their outdoor venue. During the summer there are concerts, screenings and so many free events here.

Or visit Maggie Daley Park, which is a 20-acre public park near Millennium Park. The park, which is managed by the Chicago Park District, was initially built on land donated by the Daley family in memory of their late mother Maggie Daley. It is full of activities for the whole family from climbing walls to ropes courses.

The Taste of Chicago is an annual food festival held in Chicago. It is the world’s largest food festival, taking place for five days in nearby Grant Park. The event is free to the public and features over 200 vendors representing various cuisines from around the world.

Navy Pier

An aerial view of Navy Pier
f11photo / Shutterstock

Address: 600 E Grand Ave Chicago, IL 60611

Established in 1916, The Navy Pier is one of the oldest landmarks in Chicago. This shipping facility also doubles as an amusement area which is basically a 50-acre nirvana with gardens, attractions, parks, concert venues, and a wide variety of the best restaurants in Chicago. Views from the massive Centennial Wheel, Navy Pier’s Ferris wheel, are unbelievable.

It has also been the home to the Chicago Shakespeare Theatre and the Chicago Children’s Museum. As a huge theater nerd, I cannot recommend Chicago Shakes enough. They even host major shows that go on to Broadway, like the US premiere of the hit musical SIX.

Museum of Science and Industry

The interior of the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago
Hendrickson Photography / Shutterstock

Address: 5700 S Dusable Lake Shore Dr, Chicago, IL 60637

Of all the museums in the city, this one proves to be among the most impressive. Devoted to applications of natural laws in industrial and technological advancements, the museum is also known to be the first to incorporate the concept of offering hands-on exhibitions, making visitors’ experiences more interactive.

It is one of the world’s foremost science museums, but it is also one of the remaining artifacts from the 1893 Columbian Exhibition. The striking building was built for the fair’s art displays which is why it looks so ethereal from the outside.

See Related: Best Unusual Museums in the US

Is Visiting Chicago a Good Choice for Tourists?

People walking in downtown Chicago
Page Light Studios / Shutterstock

Chicago is relatively safe for tourists to visit and is an amazing city with so much to offer. Some of the best museums in the country, award-winning restaurants, and gorgeous views await you here. Not to mention that the city is also very accessible, walkable, and has a great public transportation system.

Chicago is a great place to visit any time of year. Especially if you love cold weather because winter chills tend to stick around. Also seeing the city blanketed in snow is one of the best parts of the holiday season, believe me.

However, just like anywhere you travel, it is still important to be aware of your surroundings and take precautions to stay safe. Don’t forget to shore up your vacation with some travel insurance. Even something as minor as bad weather can really derail an adventure.

With all of that said, go ahead and enjoy everything that Chicago has to offer. Sign up for our free travel newsletter to get the latest travel tips and guides delivered right to your inbox.

FAQ

Is Chicago safe to travel alone?

It’s a lovely place with a city average crime rate lower than the national one. It is even safe enough for solo travelers.

This Midwestern treasure is far from its notorious dangerous city label and has several iconic buildings, attractions, and top-of-their-class museums. When someone asks about American cities, Al Capone’s city will undoubtedly be compared to New York or San Francisco.

What can I do to stay safe in Chicago?

Some tips for staying safe in Chicago include being aware of your surroundings at all times, especially since property crime tends to be more frequent than violent crime. You can avoid so-called dangerous neighborhoods or just stay vigilant of your surroundings. Also, try not to take public transit by yourself late at night.

Which part of downtown Chicago is safe?

Downtown Chicago is safe, but certain areas are safer than others. For example, the Loop is a very safe area, as is River North. These areas are well-lit and have a lot of people around, so they’re less likely to be targeted by criminals interested in more than pickpocketing or property crime, or theft.

Is Chicago the deadliest city in America?

Far from it. It isn’t even listed in this recent data on the most dangerous or violent cities in the country. Property crime is more prevalent in the city than violent crime, though you still need to watch out for yourself.

Other Safety Guides

Relevant Resources

Amanda Finn
WRITTEN BY

Amanda Finn

Amanda (she/they) is a Chicago-based queer travel, arts, and lifestyle writer who is passionate about exploring the world. Their work has been featured in Newcity Stage, The Chicago Reader, Huffington Post, and Yahoo, as well as the November 2022 book, "Chicago Like a Local" and other travel journals available on Amazon. Amanda's favorite destinations include Costa Rica, Prague, Dublin, Hong Kong, and every Disney park they've visited.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *