Chicago, often referred to as the “Windy City,” needs no introduction as one of the most famous cities in the USA.
Known for its vibrant jazz scene, towering skyscrapers like the Willis Tower, deep-dish pizza, and historical naughty boys like Al Capone, it’s a city rich in culture and history.
After finally getting to the USA after having my ESTA visa rejected the question I was asked by concerned loved ones was; “Is Chicago safe for tourists?”
It’s a valid and pressing concern for many first-time visitors. There’s a certain thrill in exploring somewhere that seems a little rough around the edges, yet it’s crucial to navigate it with a clear understanding of safety.
In this blog post, we’ll dive into the most frequently asked questions about safety in Chicago. As someone who loves the excitement of travel and doesn’t shy away from adventure too easily, I also understand the importance of coming back home in one piece.
So, let’s unravel the mysteries of Chicago’s safety, keeping an adventurous yet pragmatic perspective at the forefront of this question.
Is Chicago Safe?
The question of safety in Chicago often brings to mind headlines and crime statistics that can paint a daunting picture considering it is often cited as one of the most dangerous cities in the USA.
However, it’s essential to delve deeper and understand the context behind these numbers. Like any major city, Chicago experiences its share of crime, but these incidents are not evenly spread across the city.
A closer look at the city’s crime statistics reveals that violent crimes are often geographically isolated, occurring more frequently in certain areas that are usually far removed from tourist hotspots.
The heart of Chicago, where tourists are most likely to explore (where I will be highlighting today) typically reports lower levels of violent crime.
This is partly due to increased security measures and the constant presence of both local law enforcement and private security in these areas. The city’s most popular sites are not only culturally enriching but are also among the safer places for a traveller to be.
Understanding this geographic isolation of crime is crucial for any tourist. It highlights the importance of staying informed about which areas to visit and which to avoid, especially for those travelling alone or with family.
As a traveller who’s seen and also lived in numerous cities around the world with scary reputations, I find that Chicago, much like any other major urban area, requires a level of street smarts and awareness and has no time for naivety or idealism.
Safe Neighborhoods To Stay in As a Tourist in Chicago
- Edison Park: Known as the safest neighbourhood in Chicago, Edison Park has a crime rate significantly lower than the city average. It offers a family-friendly and relaxed lifestyle.
- Lincoln Park: This area is perfect for those who love a mix of urban excitement and natural beauty. It’s known for its free zoo (not a fan), beautiful skyline views, and an easy commute to downtown Chicago.
- Norwood Park: Famous for its suburban feel and green spaces, Norwood Park is a haven for those seeking a peaceful retreat with a reasonable commute to the city.
- Forest Glen: Boasting a very low crime rate, Forest Glen is one of the oldest and safest neighbourhoods on the North side, known for its family-friendly atmosphere.
- Mount Greenwood: This neighbourhood has a crime rate 66% lower than the city average, making it a top choice for families.
- Westmont: Located northwest of Downtown Chicago, Westmont offers a small-town vibe with an excellent safety record.
- Lake View: Adjacent to Wrigley Field, Lake View is a desirable place with a crime rate 40% lower than the average, a high police presence, and beautiful views of Lake Michigan.
- Rogers Park: Situated on the shores of Lake Michigan, this diverse neighbourhood is known for its beautiful beaches and unique architecture.
- West Lawn: In the Southwestern section of the city, West Lawn is a melting pot of cultures with a diverse population and a crime rate 22% lower than the Chicago average.
- Streeterville: Located in the centre of Chicago, near many of the city’s top attractions like Navy Pier and Michigan Avenue, Streeterville is a safe and accessible area.
These neighbourhoods offer a variety of activities, from urban exploration to peaceful suburban life, all while ensuring the safety and comfort of tourists.
Is it Safe To Travel in Chicago Alone?
Is it safe to travel alone in Chicago? Are you more likely to be a walking target if you are riding solo? Not really, if you have your street smarts about you and are willing to plan ahead then you are not more than likely to be the victim of a crime in Chicago.
Jussie Smollet may tell you otherwise, but we know that kid’s mad as a box of frogs.
As for women travelling solo in Chicago; many of my female friends felt safer travelling in Chicago solo versus living in Mexico City as a woman where they have female-only tram carriages to combat loser gropy men!
That being said, extra precautions will help you to stay safe in Chicago:
- Stay Informed About Neighborhoods: Familiarise yourself with Chicago’s neighbourhoods and their safety profiles. Avoid areas known for higher crime rates, especially after dark.
- Use Safety Apps: Apps like TripWhistle Global SOS, RedZone Map, and My Safetipin can be invaluable for emergency services, safe route planning, and area safety assessments. Additionally, a Chicago-specific app like the “Chicago Travel Guide and Offline City Map” can provide local insights and maps.
- Travel Smart on Public Transit: When using the CTA (Chicago Transit Authority), stay alert, especially at night. Avoid empty train cars and use well-lit and busy stations. Apps like Transit Stop: CTA Tracker can provide real-time updates on public transportation schedules and delays.
- Stay Connected: Use apps like Life 360 or bSafe to share your location with trusted contacts. Let someone know your itinerary, especially if you plan to explore off the beaten path.
- Online Safety with a VPN: If you’re using public Wi-Fi, a VPN like Express or NordVPN is essential to protect your personal information.
- Weather Awareness with Accuweather: Chicago’s weather can be unpredictable an often unspoken factor about staying safe in Chicago. Stay updated with apps like Accuweather, especially during winter for severe cold and in summer for heat advisories.
- Emergency Preparedness with First Aid by Red Cross: Familiarise yourself with basic first aid and local emergency numbers. The First Aid app by the Red Cross can be a quick reference in case of medical emergencies.
- Attend Organised Events: For solo travellers looking to socialise safely, consider joining organised tours or Meetup groups, which can be found through apps like Meetup or the Chicago-specific Choose Chicago app.
- Personal Belongings and Awareness: Always keep an eye on your belongings, particularly in crowded places like The Magnificent Mile or Navy Pier. Avoid displaying expensive gadgets or jewellery openly.
By blending these general and Chicago-specific safety tips, you can enjoy your solo adventure in the Windy City with confidence and peace of mind, these apps and tips are helpful, and they should complement your judgment and awareness.
Is Chicago Safe For Families?
When travelling with little ones in places of concern, safety considerations become even more paramount. Here are some key points to consider:
Chicago, a city renowned for its vibrant cultural scene, and deep-dish pizza (that has gotten me through many hangovers), also raises questions about safety for families planning to visit.
- Choosing the Right Neighborhood: Opt for family-friendly neighbourhoods for your stay listed above. Areas like Lincoln Park, Streeterville, and Lake View are not only popular for their attractions but also for their safer environments. These neighbourhoods boast lower crime rates and are closer to family-oriented activities.
- Accommodation Safety: Ensure your accommodation has good security measures. Many hotels in Chicago are geared towards families and offer additional safety features like 24-hour reception and security, childproofing options, and family emergency plans.
- Public Transportation: The Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) offers comprehensive public transport across the city. While generally safe, it’s wise to travel during busier times and avoid less crowded or poorly lit stations, especially at night.
- Kid-Friendly Attractions: Chicago is home to many child-friendly attractions. Places like the Field Museum, Shedd Aquarium, Millennium Park, and Navy Pier offer engaging experiences for children and are situated in safer areas of the city. Always keep an eye on your children in these busy places.
- Safety in Parks and Public Spaces: Chicago’s parks, like Lincoln Park and the Lakefront Trail, are great for families. However, always supervise your children and stay in well-populated areas, especially if visiting parks in the evening.
- Emergency Preparedness: Familiarise yourself with the location of the nearest hospital or urgent care centre. In case of a medical emergency, knowing where to go can save crucial time.
With the right precautions and planning, families can enjoy all that this dynamic city has to offer safely and enjoyably and crimes against families travelling in Chicago do not seem to be a common occurrence.
Public Transportation Safety in Chicago
Navigating public transportation in Chicago can be a convenient and efficient way for tourists to explore the city. Here are some key considerations and tips to ensure a safe and smooth experience:
- Understanding the Systems: Chicago’s public transportation includes buses, trains (both the ‘L’ system and the Subway), and the Metra. Buses cover virtually every part of the city and are a good option for destinations not near a train station. The Subway is particularly useful for exploring downtown and connecting major landmarks and attractions.
- Purchasing Tickets or Passes: There are several options for tickets and passes:
- Single Ride Tickets: Ideal for a few trips, available at vending machines in stations bus stops, and retail locations.
- Unlimited Ride Passes: Cost-effective for frequent use, available as 1-day, 3-day, and 7-day passes.
- Ventra Card: A reusable card loaded for pay-per-ride or unlimited rides, usable on all trains and buses.
- Navigating Routes and Schedules: The CTA website and Google Maps are great resources for planning routes and checking schedules. They offer detailed information on routes, schedules, and service updates. It’s important to check for any service disruptions and allow extra time for your journeys.
- Safety Tips:
- Stay aware of your surroundings, especially in crowded or unfamiliar areas.
- Avoid displaying valuables like jewellery or electronics openly.
- When on a bus or train, sitting near the driver or conductor can be safer.
- During peak hours (6 am – 8 am and 4 pm – 6 pm), public transportation can be crowded, so planning your travel outside these times can be more comfortable.
- Alternative Transportation Options in Chicago:
- Ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft are widely available and can be more convenient than public transportation, especially if travelling with luggage or in a group.
By understanding and utilising these various aspects of Chicago’s public transportation system, tourists can navigate the city with greater ease and safety but a healthy dose of paranoia is needed, in my personal (and controversial opinion).
Places in Chicago a Tourist REALLY Should Avoid
I cringe hard at the “there is a good and bad everywhere” trope. Some places have more dangerous places than others and Chicago is no different in this respect.
For tourists visiting Chicago, it’s important to be aware of certain neighbourhoods that are considered less safe due to higher crime rates.
Based on various sources, here are some areas that you might want to avoid, especially if you’re unfamiliar with the city:
- Washington Park: This area has a crime rate nearly 300% higher than the national average, with incidents of robbery, assault, and homicide being more common.
- Chatham: Known for both violent and property crimes, Chatham’s assault rate is significantly higher than the national average.
- Englewood and West Englewood: These neighbourhoods have a high rate of violent crimes, including robberies and assaults.
- West Garfield Park and East Garfield Park: These areas have high violent crime rates, and in West Garfield Park, there’s a notably high chance of becoming a victim of violent crime.
- South Shore: While it has cultural attractions and history, South Shore is known for higher crime rates, including assault.
- Grand Crossing: This area has a high overall crime rate, with both property and violent crimes being concerns.
- Riverdale: Known for its natural beauty but also higher crime rates, especially at night.
- North Lawndale: This neighbourhood has a history of economic challenges and high crime rates.
- Auburn Gresham: Despite its community efforts, Auburn Gresham is known for its higher crime rates.
- Fuller Park: One of Chicago’s smallest areas, Fuller Park struggles with high crime rates and economic challenges.
- Burnside and Pullman: Both neighbourhoods have high crime rates, with a mix of violent and property crimes.
- South Chicago: This area has a diverse population but is also known for higher crime rates.
It’s important to remember that crime can happen in any city and any neighbourhood but these are statistically the ones you may want to either avoid or take extra precaution in – completely up to you.
I don’t always do as I’m told either, but it’s best to be realistic about these numbers.
8 Popular Scams To Avoid in Chicago
Travelling to popular destinations like Chicago can be an exciting experience, but staying alert to common tourist scams is important. Here’s a summarised guide on how to avoid some typical scams in Chicago:
- Camera Drop Scam: Sometimes, a local might ask you to take their photo, and after handing you their camera, they might deliberately drop it and blame you for the damage. To avoid this, it’s best to be cautious about taking photos of strangers.
- Taxi Overcharging: Ah, a worldwide classic. In Chicago, ensure that taxi drivers use the meter. Before getting into a taxi, have an idea of the route and estimated fare by checking apps like Google Maps or Waze.
- ATM Assistance Scam: Be wary of strangers offering “help” at ATMs, as they might be trying to skim your card details or observe your PIN. Always cover the keypad when entering your PIN and avoid assistance from strangers.
- Bar Scam: Be cautious if strangers at a bar seem overly friendly and suggest going to another venue. This could lead to an overpriced bill that they’ll expect you to pay, often under intimidating circumstances.
- Bird Poo Scam: A common street scam involves someone splattering a substance on you, resembling bird crap, and then offering to help clean it off, only to pickpocket you in the process. Politely refuse help and be aware of your belongings.
- The (Over) Friendly Local Guide: Beware of overly friendly locals who offer to show you around or take you to hidden gems. These impromptu guides may lead you to expensive shops or restaurants where they get a kickback.
- Guessing Game Scam: Street games where you’re asked to guess under which box a ball is placed can be a setup. While you’re distracted, pickpockets in the crowd might target your valuables. It’s best to avoid such games and crowds, as enticing as they can be to your surging dopamine levels.
- Shoe Shine Scam: A guy suddenly drops down to your feet and attempts to shine your shoes without consent. Now he wants to be paid for inconveniencing you. I have seen them follow tourists with agreeable personalities and pester them into submission out of fear.
Remember, the key to avoiding scams is to stay aware and trust your instincts. If something feels off, it’s better to walk away.
11 Safety Tips When Travelling in Chicago
Exploring Chicago can be a fantastic experience if you follow key safety tips. Here are 11 detailed tips for navigating the city safely:
- Be Cautious on the L Train at Night: The L train is a key part of Chicago’s public transport system, but it’s important to exercise caution when using it at night. Stations and trains are less crowded, and visibility is lower, which can increase safety risks. If possible, travel in groups and avoid isolated areas of the train or platform.
- Safety Around Lake Michigan: Lake Michigan’s waterfront is one of Chicago’s highlights, offering stunning views and recreational activities. However, it’s important to be aware of water safety, especially if swimming or boating. In less crowded areas, personal safety can also be a concern, so it’s advisable to stay in areas where there are more people, especially during the evening or on less busy days.
- Mindful Walking: While walking around Chicago, it’s important to stay alert to your surroundings. This includes watching for traffic signals, being mindful of bicycles and cars, and avoiding distractions like texting or wearing headphones too loudly. This is particularly important in busy areas like the Loop, where pedestrian traffic can be heavy.
- Don’t Be Afraid to Say No: In a bustling city like Chicago, you might encounter street vendors, homeless people, or others asking for money or selling items. Remember, it’s okay to firmly, yet politely, refuse offers or requests that make you uncomfortable. Maintaining your personal boundaries is important for your safety.
- Keep Valuables Out of Sight: Petty theft can happen, particularly in crowded tourist areas. Keep your valuables, such as wallets, phones, and cameras, secure and out of sight. Consider using theft-proof bags or keeping important items in inner jacket pockets.
- Stay in Well-Lit Areas at Night: When exploring Chicago at night, stay in areas that are well-lit and have more people around. Dark alleys or quiet streets increase the risk of unsafe encounters. Areas like River North and Streeterville are known for their nightlife and are generally well-lit and populated.
- Research Neighborhoods: Familiarise yourself with the neighbourhoods you plan to visit. Some areas of Chicago, particularly on the South and West Sides, can be less safe for tourists. Keep your itinerary focused on areas known for being tourist-friendly, and always be aware of your surroundings.
- Use Trusted Transportation Services: I know I have well-beaten this dead horse today. In Chicago, it’s safest to use well-known taxi companies or rideshare apps like Uber or Lyft. When using rideshare services, always check the car make, model, and license plate, as well as the driver’s name before getting in.
- Locate Your Embassy: It’s always a good idea to be prepared for emergencies. We all know the USA’s emergency number is 911, the next thing to know is to have the address and contact information for your country’s consulate or embassy on hand. In the unfortunate event of a serious incident, it’s important to know where to seek legal assistance. For issues related to wrongful death, a Chicago wrongful death attorney can provide the necessary guidance and support. It’s an important aspect to be aware of, especially if you’re responsible for managing legal or financial affairs back home during your travels. Knowing how to sign a power of attorney is crucial in ensuring that your actions are legally binding and reflect the authority granted to you.
- Stay Informed: Keep up with local news and weather forecasts during your visit. Chicago’s weather can be unpredictable, and extreme weather conditions can impact your travel plans and outdoor activities. Apps like AccuWeather can provide up-to-date information.
- Prepare for Chicago Winters: Chicago gets bloody cold in winter! In the minuses, wrap up warm if visiting Chicago during this time. Staying safe in Chicago isn’t just about people; the weather can get you too if you’re not prepared or unlucky.
Is Chicago a Safe Place To Visit?
I feel like I have been through the nuance of safety in Chicago with a fine-tooth comb and as annoying as these types of “how long is a piece of string” metaphorical answers can be, Chicago is no exception to the rule when it comes to discussing safety while visiting large cities that you don’t know
Is Chicago a safe place to visit for tourists? The Windy City gets the nod of approval from me, albeit my spectrum for what safe is has changed quite a bit since travelling to all corners of the world.
Stay safe and enjoy those delicious deep-pan pizzas.