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Is Chicago Safe? | Travel Tips & Safety Concerns

Is Chicago Safe? | Travel Tips & Safety Concerns

Thinking of visiting Chicago? You’re not alone. The Windy City is among the most popular U.S. travel destinations. Millions of people visit yearly to enjoy things like deep-dish pizza, basketball, and picturesque views of Lake Michigan.

Tourists also flock to the city’s famous jazz clubs in droves, and its annual St. Patrick’s day celebrations are another reason to visit Chicago. But you’ve probably heard scary crime statistics about the city that have made you wonder if Chicago is safe.

But, either way, the vast majority of tourists have a hassle-free experience in the city, and you can too. Spoiler alert: a little common sense goes a long way. Here’s what you need to know for a safe and fun trip to Chicago. 

Is Chicago Safe to Visit in 2022?

Chicago skyline over the green river next to Trump International for a piece titled Is Chicago Safe

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Tourists have nothing to fear when considering a trip to Chicago; the city is cool, exciting, and very safe to visit. As is true in most places, if you keep your wits about you, you should be fine. Pickpocketing is usually the most serious crime that visitors experience.

Tourists spend most of their time in the Loop, Chicago’s famous central district, and so do pickpockets. It’s not unusual to have a bag or a phone snatched on the street if you’re not vigilant.

You might also run into thieves on public transit, where they prey on distracted visitors. But even if you venture outside of these tourist areas, you should be okay.

Despite relatively high drug and gang-related violence, most crime occurs in certain neighborhoods — and the vast majority of it has nothing to do with tourists. The best way to keep yourself safe is to stay out of bad neighborhoods (which we’ll talk about below). 

Common Crimes in Chicago

Pickpocket pulling the wallet from a backpack in Chicago for a post on Is Chicago Safe

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Locals will tell you that Chicago is essentially two cities in one. One is perfectly safe, and the other not so much. Those bad parts of town see a lot of violence, and 2021 was an especially violent year.

Chicago recorded 836 homicides, the most since 1994. In general, the city’s murder rate is 4.7 times the national average and 3.4 times the state average.

And when it comes to violent crime, Chicago sees 2.4 times the national average and 2.3 times the state average. However, crimes like robbery, aggravated assault, rape, and homicide have decreased over the years.  

Now before you let these stats dissuade you from visiting, know that the vast majority of violent crime occurs in a select few neighborhoods. As a tourist, you would never need to go to these areas, and all the important touristy districts are very safe. 

As we talked about above, what is more likely to happen to you is property crime. There’s a 1 in 39 chance that you’ll have something stolen from you in Chicago.

Luckily, it’s fairly easy to protect yourself against this type of crime. Here are some tips:

  • Don’t walk alone
  • Keep an eye on your belongings
  • Hold purses and bags in front of you
  • Don’t trust strangers offering you goods or services

Avoiding Bad Neighborhoods

Abandoned home on Chicago's South Side for a piece titled Is Chicago Safe

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Like most major cities, Chicago has some neighborhoods you should avoid. Here is a non-exhaustive list of some to stay away from:

  • Washington Park. Washington Park is located on the south side of Chicago, near the Dan Ryan expressway. It has a violent crime rate of 420 reported crimes per 100,000 people
  • East Garfield Park. If you have to cut through East Garfield Park, remember that the crime rate in this area is almost three hundred times higher than the national average. 
  • West Garfield Park. West Garfield Park takes the prize as Chicago’s most dangerous neighborhood. Violent crime and property crime are more than 400 times the national average.  
  • West Englewood. West Englewood is full of abandoned buildings, which people use to conduct illicit activity. Even residents of this neighborhood, when polled, responded that they typically feel very unsafe.  
  • North Lawndale. This West Side neighborhood has an incredibly high crime rate, and it’s especially unsafe for anyone on foot at night.

It’s helpful to understand that Chicago is divided by the Chico River and the canal. It has four areas:

  • Downtown/Central, home to the city center and business district, including the Loop, Near North Side, and Near South Side
  • North Side, including the skyscrapers, historic districts, and luxury districts
  • West Side, which is where you’ll find many of the above-mentioned neighborhoods
  • South Side, located directly south of downtown and representing the largest total area in Chicago

Chicago Safety for Solo Travelers

Dark street below the elevated train in Chicago for a piece on is the city safe

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Considering a solo trip to Chicago? The Windy City is an excellent destination for lone travelers. Here are some safety considerations for anyone planning to travel by themselves.

  • Research neighborhoods and accommodation ahead of time. Chicago has no shortage of hotels and other accommodations, but remember that the city is large. Picking a budget-friendly option in the wrong area can completely change your trip for the worst. 
  • Consider joining a tour. Solo travel doesn’t have to be lonely. A tour or some other group activity can help you connect with others while providing the safety net inherent in group settings. 
  • Limit alcohol intake. Chicago’s known for its lively nightlife, and there’s no reason to skip a drink at one of its many jazz and blues bars. However, maintain control and don’t get too intoxicated. You might put yourself in a dangerous situation or make bad decisions while under the influence.
  • Have different ways to access money. There’s nothing more inconvenient than losing your credit card or discovering you don’t have access to your bank accounts. Be sure to stash some emergency cash separate from your wallet, and have at least two different bank accounts with separate bank cards. Keep a bank card stored in your bag, as you never know when you’ll lose your wallet. 
  • Tell people your travel plans. It may be tempting to disconnect, but at least one other person should have a rough idea of your itinerary. Keeping your loved ones in the loop is a basic safety safeguard. 

Chicago Safety for Women Travelers

Unfortunately, some parts of the world remain less safe for women. The good news? There’s no reason for solo female travelers to avoid Chicago. On the contrary–the city’s an excellent destination if you’re on your own.  

Still, women face different risks than men when traveling solo. All the tips above in the solo traveler section apply to women, but you should also keep these female-specific considerations in mind:

  • Listen to your gut. If a person or a situation is making you uncomfortable, don’t hesitate to remove yourself. It’s better to risk upsetting someone than put yourself in harm’s way. 
  • Be discreet. Think twice before telling a stranger personal information. While sharing little details may seem harmless, think twice before revealing things like the name of your accommodation, travel plans, and the like. 
  • Know how you’re getting home after dark. Just because you’re traveling by yourself doesn’t mean you have to skip a night on the town. But you should have a plan for how to get home. Will you take a taxi? Uber? If you’re walking, is the neighborhood safe? Local women discourage taking public transit at night, which they say becomes too deserted. Know all these details in advance.  
  • Be aware at all times. As a solo female traveler, it’s critical to always be aware of what’s going on in your surroundings. Avoid things like texting and walking, and never leave your phone sitting on a table. 
  • Dress to fit in. Try to keep your outfits neutral. It’s best to avoid unwanted attention from the wrong wardrobe choice. Nothing makes you more of a target than dressing incorrectly for the occasion.

Things to Consider

Here are some other safety tips to consider before you go:

  • Don’t carry large amounts of cash or valuables. Flashy jewelry and thick wads of cash are a no-no.  
  • Appear confident. When you look lost or confused, you become an easier target. Always look like you know where you’re going and what you’re doing, even if you don’t. 
  • Don’t walk down narrow alleys at night. This tip is a no-brainer–stay on well-lit streets for maximum safety. 
  • Avoid wearing headphones. It’s easier to be aware of your surroundings without them, so you may want to skip the headphones. 

Frequently Asked Questions

For a post on Is Chicago Safe, a police car on the Inner Loop

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How dangerous is Chicago?

If we compare Chicago to other cities, its violent crime rate is 49.9 (on a scale of 1 to 100, low to high crime) compared to the U.S. average of 22.7 Violent crime in particular seems to be experiencing a surge, as the city saw higher crime rates in 2021 than ever before. 

But these numbers don’t paint an accurate picture of what life in the city is really like. Violent crime rarely affects tourists or most residents. It’s a result of things like drug trafficking and gang activity, which are easy to avoid. 

Is Chicago safer than New York?

Although Chicago has just one-third the population of New York, the Big Apple is a safer city. Chicago’s violent crime statistics are much higher than New York’s. For example, its shooting rate is five times higher than that of New York, and its homicide rate is four times higher as well. 

Again, despite these numbers, Chicago is a safe city for tourists. These violent crimes have to do with local gangs and organized crime, and they don’t spill out into touristy areas. 

Is it safe to walk around Chicago?

As long as you stay in the good parts of the city, it’s generally very safe to walk around Chicago. However, you’ll want to be a bit more vigilant at night. Staying in groups and avoiding dark areas is the best way to avoid unsavory situations. 

Is Chicago a nice place to live?

While Chicago certainly has its downsides (frigid winters come to mind), it also has plenty to love. There are lots of things and foods to experience in this diverse, global city, and public transit is top-notch and affordable. It’s highly walkable and excellent for biking–Chicago’s got more than 248 miles of protected and regular bike lanes to explore. 

While the wind chill in winter is intense, summertime in Chicago more than makes up for it. Plus, Chicagoans don’t shy away from any activity, regardless of the weather. And if you’re a sports fan, there is no shortage of teams and sports to support–both professional and college. 

Is Chicago an expensive city?

Considering a move to Chicago? Cost of living is a critical part of that decision, and Chicago is a relatively expensive city. Prices are comparable to those in cities like Boston, San Diego, and Seattle, which rank high on most expensive lists. 

However, Chicago could be an attractive, less-expensive option for anyone looking to resettle from San Francisco or New York. These two cities are some of the priciest in the United States, and many people relocate to Chicago when they want something more affordable. 

So, Is Chicago Safe to Visit?

So, is Chicago safe?  We can say without a doubt that the areas that interest tourists are perfectly safe. And as is true when traveling anywhere, use your best judgment and stay out of the dangerous neighborhoods mentioned above.

A little bit of common sense is all you need to have a fantastic, safe time on your next trip to Chicago. As with any big city, know where not to go, use some common sense, and stay vigilant, and you’ll have a great trip.