St. Louis receives approximately 25 million visitors every year. A surprising statistic given St. Louis has a crime rate double that of the national average. What draws people to the Gateway to the West?
The draw is likely a combination of St. Louis’s rich history as a quintessential American frontier town and the city’s vast cultural resources.
St. Louis has a vibrant blues music scene, the famous Gateway Arch, and several significant historical sites that trace America’s development: a development tainted by the shameful history of slavery and segregation.
Unfortunately, the echoes of slavery and segregation continue to resonate in St. Louis today and are partially responsible for the Gateway City’s shocking crime statistics. Nowhere is the extent of America’s inequality problem or its effects more readily on display than in St. Louis.
Is St. Louis Safe to Visit in 2023?
St. Louis is relatively safe to visit, despite its terrible crime statistics. Violent crime in St. Louis is concentrated in a few northern suburbs that experience little tourism. Crimes in St. Louis’s relatively safe southern neighborhoods are usually property crimes, predominantly theft.
A long history of political, economic, and social inequality has left St. Louis with an acute gang problem that has terrorized the city for decades, while limited economic opportunities and social mobility in St. Louis’s northern neighborhoods have contributed to rising property crime rates.
Tourists visiting St. Louis can experience the best and worst America offers in a single vacation. Visiting St. Louis is a unique, culturally enriching experience best enjoyed with a nuanced understanding of the city’s crime rates and safety concerns.
Generally, the city of St. Louis gets more dangerous the further north and east you go. Although crime boundaries are fluid, crime rates increase dramatically as soon as you cross River Des Peres Boulevard.
The southern portion of St. Louis below River Des Peres Boulevard is safe, with comparable crime rates to other large metropolitan areas like Washington, DC.
Low crime rates in southern St. Louis are attributable to a strong police presence and urban planning designed to protect the tourism industry. Still, despite the city’s best efforts, pockets of crime do exist in the major tourist neighborhoods of St. Louis, particularly downtown.
Tourists should generally be on the lookout when visiting St. Louis, as there are pockets of crime sprinkled throughout the city.
Crime in St. Louis
According to data collected from over 18,000 local law enforcement agencies, St. Louis is one of the US’s least safe cities. The most common crimes in St. Louis are property crimes such as burglary, theft, and car theft.
Of the three property crimes, theft is the most common. St. Louis residents have a 1 in 17 chance of becoming a victim of a property crime.
The chance of a tourist in St. Louis becoming a victim of a property crime are lower than the chances of a resident becoming the victim of a property crime. Even so, property crime probability is remarkably high in St. Louis.
Frighteningly, the second most common crimes are violent, with assault being the most common. In St. Louis, there are approximately 14 assaults per 100,000 people, more than five times the US average.
Fortunately for tourists, these violent crimes are concentrated in neighborhoods like Peabody-Darst-Webbe, Old North Saint Louis, and Wells-Goodfellow, impoverished areas besieged by gang activity.
The St. Louis Convention & Visitors Commission (SLCVC), the official organization responsible for managing St. Louis’s tourism industry, states visitors can drastically reduce their likelihood of becoming a victim of a crime by following a few safety measures.
The SLCVC recommends visitors secure their personal belongings on their person and keep their valuables out of the line of sight of others. To limit the risk of vehicle theft, the SLCVC also recommends visitors park in a designated city parking structure.
The SLCVC recommends limiting travel during evening hours and organizing transportation to and from destinations in advance to avoid violent crimes. As in most metropolitan centers, limit solo travel at night and stick to well-lit streets when nighttime travel is unavoidable.
Crime in Southern St. Louis
Although most of St. Louis’s crime occurs in the city’s northern half, pockets of crime also exist in the city’s southern half. Notable pockets of crime exist in neighborhoods tourists are likely to visit, such as Tower Grove South and downtown.
Downtown St. Louis is one of a limited number of areas that experiences moderate crime rates and which tourists are likely to visit. During the day, tourists are unlikely to be victimized if they remain vigilant and avoid interactions with strangers.
At night, downtown St. Louis becomes more dangerous. The St. Louis police department and city council have addressed this problem by launching a new public safety initiative where visitors and residents can call or text 314-280-4817 to receive officer escort to their destination.
For more information about this program, visitors can visit the St. Louis Downtown Community Improvement District’s website.
Other common-sense safety tips provided by the St. Louis Metro Police Department (SLMPD) include:
- Trust your intuition
- Stay vigilant
- Map safe routes through the areas you plan to visit ahead of time
- Avoid strangers
- Travel in groups
- Limit the number of personal belongings you carry, including items like jewelry, bags, and other personal valuables.
- Avoid alleys, gangways, and poorly lit areas
- Don’t wear clothes or footwear that limit your mobility
Avoiding Bad Neighborhoods
St. Louis has many bad neighborhoods that visitors can easily avoid with a bit of preparation. Some of the worst neighborhoods in St. Louis include Peabody-Darst-Webbe, Old North Saint Louis, Wells-Goodfellow, Tower Grove South, Dutchtown, and downtown.
Peabody-Darst-Webbe is a small, central St. Louis neighborhood with notoriously high crime rates. Peabody-Darst-Webbe sits between S. Tucker Blvd. to the east.
Chouteau Ave. is to the north, Dolman Street is to the west, and the I-55/I-44 interchange is to the south. To limit your exposure to crime, travel by car through this neighborhood and travel with a purpose; don’t stop and stare.
Old North Saint Louis
Old North Saint Louis is another small St. Louis neighborhood with astronomical crime rates. Like Peabody-Darst-Webbe, there are no tourist attractions in Old North Saint Louis.
Cass Ave. is the boundary between downtown St. Louis and Old North Saint Louis. If you hit Cass Avenue, turn around and walk back the way you came.
Wells-Goodfellow is a small suburban pocket between the University of Missouri-St Louis and the Contemporary Art Museum of St. Louis. Visitors can easily avoid Wells-Goodfellow by using the I-70 to cross town.
Tower Grove South
Tower Grove South is hard to avoid if you want to visit St. Louis’s premier garden. The neighborhood is located south of the Missouri Botanical Garden and Tucker Grove Park, two popular tourist destinations.
Tower Grove South is an example of a St. Louis neighborhood where visitors should exercise caution.
The western portion of the neighborhood is safest and gets increasingly dangerous as you move east towards downtown St. Louis. Travel in a group if you visit Tower Grove South; avoid the area at night.
Dutchtown is notorious for gang activity. Dutchtown is located southeast of Tower Grove South and should be avoided at all costs. The boundaries of the neighborhood don’t follow a regular geometric pattern, so it’s best to familiarize yourself with the area using a map.
Like any downtown metropolitan area, downtown St. Louis experiences more crime than other parts of the city. Unlike other bad neighborhoods in St. Louis, downtown does have attractions tourists will want to visit.
A strong police presence in downtown provides visitors with some peace of mind but does not preclude the probability of crime.
Visitors should not visit downtown St. Louis alone or at night if possible. If you feel unsafe in downtown St. Louis, you can request a police escort by calling or texting 314-280-4817.
Understanding St. Louis Crime Rates
Violent crime rates in St. Louis are some of the highest in America. There are approximately 20 violent crimes per 1,000 residents, which means that people living in St. Louis have a 1 in 50 chance of becoming a victim of violent crime.
The statistic is shocking enough to turn most tourists off St. Louis, but the numbers miss the whole picture. Criminologists and scholars note that US crime rates use a per capita metric that negatively skews St. Louis’s crime statistics.
In St. Louis, the majority of crime occurs in small neighborhoods with populations of less than 5,000 people.
Since crime rates are recorded on a per capita basis, frequent crime in small neighborhoods translates to inflated crime rates. These inflated crime rates diminish St. Louis’s overall safety rating but truly reflect hyperlocal crime unlikely to affect tourists.
Aside from crimes, St. Louis is also at risk for earthquakes. St. Louis lies in the New Madrid Seismic Zone (NMSZ), a seismically active series of faultlines that cut through the city.
The NMSZ is the most active seismic zone in the eastern US, with daily seismic activity. Luckily, these small seismic events don’t affect life in St. Louis. Large earthquakes, such as those recorded during the 19th century that diverted the flow of the Mississippi river, are infrequent.
In addition to homicides, robberies, and earthquakes, St. Louis also has above-average rates of rape and assault compared to the rest of the US.
The Bigger Picture
There is a lot of crime in St. Louis, but it isn’t directed at tourists. Tourists visiting St. Louis must understand that the city suffers from urban poverty and gang violence, two phenomenon intrinsic to US metropolitan areas.
St. Louis’s crime rates are the result of segregation, poor urban planning, and limited economic and social mobility opportunities.
Crimes in St. Louis are not directed at tourists but rather at other individuals trapped in the cycle of poverty and crime that characterizes many poor urban areas across the US. Of course, tourists should still exercise caution when visiting St. Louis.
Stick to the southern portion of the city and plan transportation to and from destinations in advance and you’ll greatly improve your safety.
Things to Consider
With its shocking crime statistics and its long list of bad neighborhoods, visitors may wonder why they would risk visiting St. Louis. The truth is the city is safe if you abide by the safety guidelines laid out by St. Louis’s various safety agencies.
- Visit the Gateway Arch
- Go to a Cardinal’s game
- Visit one of the city’s many museums
- Visit the Missouri Botanical Garden
- Go to a blues show
- Wander through the city
- Visit the city during the summer or winter months
- Ignore your intuition
- Travel alone or at night
- Flaunt your valuables, wealth, or the fact that you’re visiting
Frequently Asked Questions
Below are some frequently asked questions about visiting St. Louis.
Where should I avoid in St. Louis?
You should avoid northeastern St. Louis. Northeastern St. Louis experiences a disproportionately high amount of crime compared to the rest of the city, and other areas in St. Louis that tourists should visit with caution are downtown and Tower Grove South.
Is it safe to walk around downtown St. Louis?
It’s safe to walk around downtown St. Louis during the day. At night, visitors should exercise caution when traveling downtown. Visitors out for a night on the town should arrange transportation to and from their destination ahead of time.
Additionally, visitors should limit their consumption of alcohol, stick to well-lit streets, always be aware of their surroundings, and have a route of escape should they encounter a dangerous situation.
Why is St. Louis so Dangerous?
St. Louis consistently ranks amongst America’s most dangerous cities because of the way crime metrics are recorded. Crime rates are recorded per capita. St. Louis has many small neighborhoods that experience higher than average crime because of a history of segregation and inequality.
This is not to say that St. Louis is not dangerous; it is, but the data available about crime in St. Louis does not consider the geographic, social, and political reasons crime exists in the city.
What’s the worst part of St. Louis?
The neighborhoods north of Delmar Boulevard are collectively the worst part of St. Louis in terms of crime.
Is St. Louis worth visiting?
Yes, St. Louis is worth visiting. St. Louis has a vibrant, diverse community with a rich culture that captures the history and charm of the American midwest.
So, Is Saint Louis Safe to Visit?
St. Louis is a vibrant metropolitan area in Missouri known for its music, culture, and, unfortunately, crime. St. Louis experiences above-average rates of property crime and violence that cause the city to rank among the most dangerous in America.
However, St. Louis crime is concentrated in the impoverished suburbs of the northern metropolitan area.
The overall risk for tourists visiting St. Louis is medium. Tourists can reduce their risk by following the guidance of St. Louis’s Police Department and Tourism Bureau.