Is Chicago safe to visit in 2024?
Yes, Chicago is safe to visit. Despite its reputation, the city’s crime rate is lower than the national average when accounting for population. While certain neighborhoods have higher crime rates, basic precautions can help ensure a safe and enjoyable visit.
The city of Chicago is a must-see destination for those traveling to the United States or for Americans looking to learn more about their own country. It receives about 55 million visitors each year — and sometimes more.
Visitors to Chicago have plenty to see in this city, which is rich in culture. Chicago has some of the best museums and artworks in the United States, from the Field Museum and the Art Institute to the famous Cloud Gate, nicknamed the Bean.
They can also explore the urban landscape by following the Riverwalk, eat their way through the city’s diverse immigrant neighborhoods, and catch a show at night — Chicago is one of the centers in the United States of music, theater, and comedy.
While there’s certainly much to see, the city tends to have a bad reputation among the some American people, especially those that closely follow the news. So, is Chicago safe to visit? Here’s our take.
Is Chicago Safe to Visit?
Yes. Chicago is actually very safe to visit! When you account for population, Chicago’s crime rate is actually lower than the national average.
Outside of a few neighborhoods whose high crime rates skew statistics for the whole city, you are unlikely to encounter danger in Chicago as long as you take basic precautions to protect yourself.
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Even official tourist attractions, such as the Chicago Skydeck, tend to include a page advising visitors that downtown Chicago is safe to visit. While minor incidents such as theft can happen, they are easily prevented.
The city’s popular perception is quite different. Many respondents throughout America perceive Chicago as a fairly dangerous city. According to a poll conducted by Gallup, the city was picked as the 2nd most dangerous city in the country.
However, this perception is largely based on stereotypes, not reality (the majority of respondents had never even visited Chicago). The New York Times published an analysis to figure out why people perceive Chicago as more dangerous than it actually is.
Often, this perception is driven by politics, as the liberal city of Chicago is often targeted by conservative politicians nationwide, and the negativity bias that press coverage of crime nationwide tends to have.
That said, it is true that Chicago, just like any big city, experiences crime. Common crimes that happen in the city include:
- Gang-related violence
However, these types of problems occur in any big city in the United States. The crime rate in Chicago is actually lower than the national average when adjusted as a rate per 100,000 people, according to U.S. News & World Report.
Even more important than preparing for crime is preparing for Chicago’s wild weather. One nickname that the city certainly deserves is “The Windy City.” Winters are long and bitterly cold, especially thanks to the sharp wind that blows in from Lake Michigan.
Make sure that if you are visiting during winter (which lasts into late fall and early spring), you prepare accordingly.
The University of Chicago has tips on its website for surviving winter, which are intended for out-of-town students but which are also useful for tourists. These tips include:
- Wearing warm layers, including thermal underwear.
- Investing in waterproof shoes due to Chicago’s frequent snow.
- Moisturizing skin, as Chicago’s winter air is fairly dry.
- Keeping wind chill in mind — going outside will likely feel colder than it says on the thermometer due to the wind blowing in from the lake.
Crime in Chicago
Crime is one of the primary concerns for people visiting Chicago. The city’s dangerous reputation is founded on its high crime rate. The Chicago Police Department offers a breakdown of crime statistics in the city.
According to the police, the most common crime in 2023 was motor vehicle theft, which makes up about 38% of total crimes committed. The next most common crime is regular theft, which makes up about 27% of total crimes committed.
That means that over half of crimes committed in Chicago are non-violent property crimes. In terms of violent crime, the most common violent crime in 2023 was robbery, which made up 14% of total crimes committed, followed by assault, which made up 8% of total crimes committed.
Homicides only make up 0.8% of total crimes committed in Chicago. Most violent incidents that occur are gang-related. Chicago has a large problem with gang violence, which the city government and locals are still trying hard to fight.
However, gangs are concentrated in impoverished, neglected neighborhoods and rarely venture into the downtown area or target tourists. The good news is that violent crime in the city is decreasing.
Both homicides and shooting incidents have decreased considerably over the past few years. Crime overall is trending downward despite a post-pandemic increase in 2022 and 2023.
Crime did increase in 2023 compared to 2022, but most of the increase was driven by a jump in motor vehicle thefts, which more than doubled in 2023, not by an increase in violent crime.
Comparing Chicago to other big cities nationwide puts it even more in perspective. The violent crime rate is lower than that of many other Midwestern cities, including St. Louis, Milwaukee, and Cleveland.
What this means for you as a tourist is that you don’t have to worry about being the victim of a crime in Chicago, especially not the victim of a violent crime, as statistically, you actually are quite safe!
Of course, statistics are no protection on the streets, so make sure that you use common sense while exploring the city. With a few basic precautions, you should return home safe and sound.
For all the headline-grabbing attention about violent crime in Chicago, the crime you are actually more likely to experience is theft. Theft is common in big cities around the world, where thieves can use crowds as cover for their illegal activities. Chicago is no different.
Tourists tend to be victimized by thieves for a few reasons. One is that tourists tend to have fewer street smarts than locals, especially those who come from cities that are smaller than Chicago and may not be used to the crowds and foot traffic.
Another is that people tend to be distracted by sightseeing and are careless with their valuables. Basic precautions can help you prevent being the victim of a theft while sightseeing.
Here are some quick tips:
- Wear your bag in a secure way while going through the city. Wear backpacks on your front in crowded areas or avoid them altogether. Instead of a large designer purse, invest in a secure cross-body bag.
- Don’t use your phone excessively in public. Not only does it provide a target for thieves, but it also signals that you may be lost and distracted.
- Brush off people coming up to you, such as those asking for charity donations or offering “free” CDs. They are often scammers or working in tandem with thieves.
- Always put your valuables in a safe place, such as an inner backpack pocket, zipped bag, or front pants pocket.
Motor Vehicle Theft
In 2023, motor vehicle theft was the largest category of crime committed in Chicago. It was also the fastest-growing crime, doubling compared to 2022.
According to police, the theft increase is part of a nationwide crime wave targeting certain makes, namely Hyundai and Kia vehicles, after a manufacturing defect made them easier to steal. This is not a problem unique to Chicago but one that has been bothering many cities around the country.
The best way to prevent your car from being stolen is to not bring your car to Chicago in the first place. If you can, fly or take the train into the city.
The city has great public transportation, and most attractions are concentrated in its compact downtown, making it easy to explore on foot. Plus, not bringing a car saves you the hassle of navigating traffic and parking.
If you have to bring your car, be careful about where you park, as most thefts occur when cars are left unattended for longer periods. Most hotels offer secure parking garages or lots where you can park your car with more peace of mind.
Ask your accommodation about parking options before you book it. Make sure that you don’t leave any possessions unattended in your car.
Most auto thefts in Chicago are smash-and-grabs taken too far. Thieves will smash windows to take your things, even small things such as small amounts of cash, then take the whole car while they’re at it.
Avoiding Bad Areas
Crime in Chicago is highly concentrated in certain areas. One of the best things you can do to stay safe is to avoid parts of the city with a higher crime rate. Dangerous neighborhoods tend to be in Chicago’s West Side and South Side, while downtown and the North Side are fairly safe.
Some neighborhoods to avoid include:
- Garfield Park
- Washington Park
- North Lawndale
- South Shore
- South Chicago
Ask locals for advice if you want to explore areas outside of normal tourist centers.
Frequently Asked Questions
Here are some common questions people may want answered before visiting Chicago:
Is it safe to walk in Chicago at night?
Downtown Chicago is fairly safe to walk at night, especially major streets that have a lot of other people around. However, you may want to stay away from deserted side streets and certain neighborhoods with a less-than-stellar safety reputation.
Is Chicago a good place to visit?
Chicago is absolutely a good place to visit. The city is a center for culture in the United States and has a thriving nightlife, shopping, arts, and music scene.
Is Chicago expensive as a tourist?
You will have to save up for visiting Chicago because it is a fairly expensive city. The cost of food and accommodations alone are fairly high. You can try to save money on your trip in some ways, such as taking public transportation instead of taxis.
Is the Chicago Blue Line safe?
The Chicago Blue Line is one of the city’s major public transportation lines. During the day, it’s fairly safe and well-policed, but at night, you should avoid taking any of Chicago’s public transportation lines alone.
How can we avoid danger in Chicago?
Just staying alert and not getting careless with your valuables goes a long way toward avoiding danger in Chicago. You also want to be careful about which parts of the city you visit.
So, Should You Travel to Chicago?
Chicago is not as dangerous as many people think. While there is crime in the city, you can avoid most dangerous incidents with basic precautions.
So, with so much to see and do and a relatively safe environment, what are you waiting for — book our trip today and experience for yourself all that Chicago has to offer. Happy travels!