If you’re planning a trip to the Windy City, then you may be asking yourself, “Is Chicago safe for travel?” There are many reasons to visit the cultural hub of the Midwest region, but with Covid-19 and Chicago’s crime statistics, there are some things to know about safety in Chicago before you go.
Never fear, I’m a Chicago local of five years who can tell you what to expect. In this article, we’ll go over the top safety tips to help you have a great trip, including an overview of where to stay in Chicago.
Let’s dive in!
Table of Contents
- Is Chicago Safe?
- Safety by Neighborhood in Chicago
- Things to Know About Safety in Chicago
- 11 Safety Tips for Chicago
- Tip #1 – Plan out your routes beforehand
- Tip #2 – Be alert at all times
- Tip #3 – Avoid carrying cash and valuables
- Tip #4 – Avoid going out at night
- Tip #5 – Be mindful of your assets
- Tip #6 – Carry self-defense tools
- Tip #7 – Make sure to appear confident
- Tip #8 – Don’t fight with criminals
- Tip #9 – Know the drug and alcohol laws
- Tip #10 – Have more than one way of accessing money
- Tip #11 – Stay out of crimes that you witness
- FAQs About Safety in Chicago
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Is Chicago Safe?
Chicago is generally safe for travel. Even though Chicago is known for its relatively high average crime rate, this crime is mostly concentrated in certain neighborhoods. Typically, the south and west sides of the city are the most dangerous. Violent crime in Chicago generally doesn’t target people visiting Chicago and is more likely to be drug and gang-related.
Although Chicago is traditionally known for gang violence, you can absolutely have a safe visit if you avoid the areas that are most responsible for the high crime rate.
Chicago weather during certain months of the year will likely pose more of a safety risk than crime. If you come in the winter, then you need to make sure to prepare yourself for the bitter cold and icy driving conditions.
In addition to the physical risk, Chicago winter weather can cause flights and other events to be canceled or can incur damage to your vehicle. Travel insurance from an agency like World Nomads can be extremely helpful in this situation.
Safety by Neighborhood in Chicago
Safe Neighborhoods to Stay in Chicago
Here is a quick summary of several safe neighborhoods in Chicago. You can also check out our full guide to the top neighborhoods in Chicago for more detailed info.
- Edison Park – Edison Park, a very welcoming community, is located in northwest Chicago. It’s seen as the city’s safest neighborhood, with violent crime and property crime rates of 197 and 720 per 100,000, respectively. Crime rates are 77% lower than the city’s average, but the cost of living is relatively high.
- Forest Glen – Forest Glen is a suburban area in northwest Chicago that attracts several young families and retirees. Crime rates are 71% lower than the Chicago average crime rate, with 189 violent and 966 property crimes per 100,000 people. There are many family-owned establishments and some great things to do.
- Norwood Park – Norwood Park, home to many recreational activities and a community pool, is great for retirees and families, with a cost of living that’s about average. There is a 14-acre space where you can enjoy the outdoors. This area sees 209 violent and 891 property crime instances per 100,000 people.
- Mount Greenwood – Mount Greenwood has many great amenities, as well as a lot of support from local law enforcement professionals. The crime rate is 61% below the average for the city of Chicago. The violent crime rate here is 192, and the property crime rate is 1,037 per 100,000 people.
- O’Hare – Located on the Far North Side of Chicago, this neighborhood is home to the well-known O’Hare International Airport and is known in Chicago as a transportation hub. It’s a relatively safe area, with a violent crime rate of 285 and a property crime rate of 944 per 100,000 people.
- Clearing – Home to the southern part of Midway International Airport in the southwest part of Chicago, Clearing is a safe area, home to great community parks and good school districts. This neighborhood has a violent crime rate of 278 and a property crime rate of 1,115 per 100,000 people.
- Lakeview – Located next to Lake Michigan on the North Side of Chicago, Lakeview is one of the city’s safest neighborhoods. There are many dining, shopping, and nightlife options for things to do in Lakeview. With 395 violent and 1,981 property crime instances per 100,000, the crime rate is 40% lower than the city average.
- Lincoln Park – Still on the North Side but south of Lakeview, Lincoln Park is a great neighborhood for young professionals. It’s fairly upscale and affluent, attracting many tourists. With 340 violent and 2,662 property crime instances per 100,000, this neighborhood has a crime rate that’s 24% lower than Chicago’s average.
- Rogers Park – Rogers Park is on the Far North Side of Chicago, with a lot of wonderful architecture. It is a great place for members of the LGBTQ+ community and families. The crime rate is 23% below Chicago’s average, with 666 violent and 2,378 property crime instances per 100,000 people.
- River North – River North, located just north of The Loop, is home to tons of art galleries, in addition to bars, restaurants, entertainment venues, and dance clubs. This vibrant neighborhood is great for tourists, with violent and property crime rates of 419 and 2,515 per 100,000 people, respectively.
- Logan Square – Logan Square is a great neighborhood for tourists, and one of the safest in the city. It is full of young professionals, musicians, artists, and some of the best things to do in Chicago. There’s a violent crime rate of 516 and a property crime rate of 2,229 per 100,000 people.
- The Loop – The city center and central business district sees 1,680 violent crimes and 12,292 property crimes per 100,000 people. It’s safe for tourists during the day, although they should watch for petty crime. Close to Union Station, it’s home to The Art Institute of Chicago and Millennium Park.
📚 Related Reading: Trying to figure out the best place to stay in the Windy City? Feel free to bookmark our guide on where to stay in Chicago!
Dangerous Neighborhoods to Avoid in Chicago
- West Garfield Park – Located just outside of South Chicago, West Garfield Park is the most dangerous neighborhood in Chicago, with 3,371 violent crimes and 8,974 property crime instances per 100,000 people – 257% more than the city average, and 409% more than the national average.
- Washington Park – Part of Chicago’s South Side, close to Dan Ryan Expressway, there are 3,084 violent crime instances and 6,222 property crime instances in Washington Park per 100,000 people.
- East Garfield Park – Although the crime rate here has decreased by 3% in the past year, it is still 295% higher than the national average. The crime rates are 2,886 (violent) and 6,696 (property) per 100,000 people. Be extremely careful if you ever have to pass through East Garfield Park.
- Englewood – Another South Side neighborhood, the crime rate in Englewood is 264% higher and the violent crime rate is nine times higher than the national average. There are 2,837 violent crimes and 5,984 property crime instances per 100,000 people.
- North Lawndale – Particularly unsafe for pedestrians at night, North Lawndale has an overall crime rate of 311% above, and a violent crime rate of 689% above, the national average. Crime rates are 2,816 (violent) and 7,153 (property) per 100,000 people in this West Side neighborhood.
- Grand Crossing – Another South Chicago neighborhood, surveys show that police response in Grand Crossing is low, and people walking at night must exercise caution. There are 2,679 violent crimes and 5,519 property crimes per 100,000 people.
- West Englewood – West Englewood is known for many abandoned buildings that tend to be crime scenes. Poll results have shown that residents of this neighborhood generally feel very unsafe, with 2,599 violent crime instances and 6,377 property crime instances per 100,000 people.
- Riverdale – Riverdale, in southeast Chicago, has the neighborhood with the smallest population and the most poverty. There are 2,450 violent crimes and 4,462 property crimes per 100,000 people in this neighborhood.
- South Shore – South Shore is safer than only 13% of Illinois cities, with a crime rate 194% higher than the national average. Although local government/police response is quick, it’s important to be careful, particularly at night. South Shore has 2,301 violent crimes and 4,816 property crimes per 100,000 people.
- Chatham – The crime rate in Chatham is 83% higher than in other Chicago neighborhoods. It’s decreased by 14% in the last few years, although half of the residents feel that it’s unsafe to go out alone at night. There are 1,965 violent crimes and 5,218 property crimes per 100,000 people.
- South Chicago – As the name indicates, this neighborhood is located on Chicago’s South Side. There are 1,900 violent crimes and 4,251 property crimes per 100,000. Overall crime rates are 162% above, and violent crime rates are 390% above, the national average.
- Humboldt Park – With crime stats of 1,559 (violent) and 4,346 (property) per 100,000 people, Humboldt Park, located on the west side, is one of the less safe neighborhoods in Chicago. Since the start of the pandemic, homicides have become more frequent, and there’s triple the previous amount of carjackings.
📚 Related Reading: 20 Best Museums in Chicago [A Local’s Favorites]
Things to Know About Safety in Chicago
COVID-19 Safety in Chicago
Even though the mask mandate has been lifted, the Chicago Department of Public Health still strongly recommends wearing masks in public indoor spaces, including on public transportation. Individual businesses and institutions are free to create and enforce their own requirements pertaining to masking and vaccinations.
If you’re visiting Chicago, then it’s a good idea to look into the requirements put forth by your anticipated destinations. For example, if you want to see the Chicago basketball team play at United Center, be aware that masks and vaccinations are optional, yet recommended.
The overall COVID-19 risk level in Chicago is considered to be medium. As of May 2022, 69% of Chicagoans have been fully vaccinated, with 77.2% having received at least one dose.
Case numbers, hospitalizations, and deaths change frequently. Consult the below graphic from Covid Act Now, which automatically updates, for the latest covid-19 safety situation in Chicago.
Crime in Chicago
Chicago’s violent crime rate is 164% above the US average. The murder rate is four times above the national average, with other violent crimes being more prevalent than in the average other city.
In this way, Chicago is one of the most dangerous cities in the USA, although most crime is heavily concentrated in the most dangerous neighborhoods.
According to crime data, the majority of crime in this populous city is property crime, with these rates exceeding the national average by 52%. There is a 1 in 39 chance of becoming a victim of this type of crime, as opposed to 1 in 103 for violent crime.
The most commonly reported crimes in this category involve motor vehicle theft, and the second most common involve theft, with 566 cases per 100,000 people.
Common Scams in Chicago
Similar to any other big city, there are many scams to watch out for in Chicago. Most crime in the Windy City involves pickpocketing. Be vigilant about your belongings and keep your valuables in your front pockets, as this makes them harder to steal.
Occasionally, on public transport and in other public settings, there will be people offering to let you play games to win money. These are generally scams, and you should not engage.
There are also fake taxis, the drivers of which will charge exorbitant prices, often targeting tourists at the airport. There are also people selling bogus items and collecting money for fake charities. Some people will offer to help with your luggage and then run off with it.
Generally, the best way to avoid becoming a victim of these scams is to avoid interactions with strangers and not trust them if they offer you goods or services. Find reputable companies and stick with them.
Hazardous Weather and Natural Disasters in Chicago
Generally, Chicago is not prone to many natural disasters. In fact, Illinois is third on the list of states least likely to experience a natural disaster in the US, meaning little risk of hurricanes, droughts, earthquakes, or tsunamis.
However, you may have to worry about extreme temperatures, especially in the winter. Chicago winters can be bitterly cold, often going into negative temperatures.
The lowest temperature in recent years was -22 °F, on January 30, 2019. When it’s that cold, you need to have every extremity covered (you MUST wear gloves outside!), or else you risk frostbite. According to a University of Illinois Chicago study, 94% of temperature-related deaths in Chicago are due to cold temperatures.
If you’re visiting Chicago in the winter, then plan on doing mostly indoor activities and bringing plenty of appropriate clothing to stay warm.
📚 Related Reading: If you’re trying to decide when to come, then read our guide on the best time to visit Chicago!
Drug and Gang-Related Violence in Chicago
Chicago is traditionally known as a dangerous city because of the drug wars and gang-related violence. Violent crime associated with drug distribution by street gangs is a primary public safety concern among Chicago law enforcement officials.
Most violence related to drugs is a result of competition for distribution locations among dealers – typically street gangs. This violence is often followed by retaliation, leading to an endless cycle of crime.
From 2019 to 2020, violent crime went up all over the country. In Chicago, murders went up by more than 50%, largely due to Chicago’s illicit drug trade and gangs fighting over turf.
The majority of these incidents take place in the south and west sides of Chicago, areas that are known for a strong gang presence. Unfortunately, many innocent people get caught in the crossfire.
Safety on Public Transportation
The public transport system in Chicago is far more ubiquitous than in many other cities. It is extensive and services the entire city, including suburbs on the outskirts. Even if you rent a car, you may need public transit at some point. You can check out my guide to how to get around Chicago for practical tips on how to use the network.
Generally, the safety rules on a CTA/Metra/Pace bus or train are similar to general safety rules in Chicago. Stay aware and alert – don’t fall asleep on the train or listen to music with the volume turned up so high that you have no awareness of your surroundings.
Keep wallets and other valuables in your front pockets, to make them less accessible to pickpockets. Keep personal belongings concealed in general, and make sure to physically hold onto any bags rather than simply letting them sit on the seat next to you.
Avoid riding public transportation at night if possible. This is when most reported crimes take place.
👉 Read Next: 5 Days in Chicago (The Perfect Itinerary Planner)
Carjackings in Chicago
Motor vehicle theft is Chicago’s most common property-related crime, and carjackings are increasing in frequency as well. Carjacking involves the theft of a vehicle, but with violence or the threat of it.
Prevailing theories put forth by city leaders have pushed the narrative that the rise in carjackings was due to young people who wanted to go joyriding or needed a vehicle for other crimes. However, a study done by the University of Chicago Justice Project indicates that this is likely not the case.
The study showed that less than 20% of carjacked vehicles are recovered in Chicago every year. The conclusion was that most carjackings are done by adults who are trying to sell the cars or their parts on the black market.
The COVID-19 pandemic created a situation of dire economic need, particularly in disadvantaged neighborhoods of Chicago, which is thought to be responsible for the surge in carjackings.
👉 Pro Tip: If you’re worried about this happening to your own car or a rental, then check out this guide to driving in Chicago for visitors, and opt for travel insurance with an agency such as World Nomads.
Safety for Solo Travelers in Chicago
If you’re planning on traveling in Chicago alone, then you can have a great trip if you plan appropriately. Research different neighborhoods and hotels to see which would work best for you. Also, plan on joining tours and other group activities, so you can see what the city has to safely offer while surrounded by others.
If you decide to enjoy Chicago’s amazing nightlife, then don’t party too hard. You want to have your wits about you so that you can stay vigilant and not make yourself a target.
Make sure to stay in touch with your friends and family, so that they know where you are.
👉 Solo traveling? Then planning your stay around one of these great Chicago festivals is an awesome way to stay safe and meet new people.
Female Travelers in Chicago
Chicago can be a great vacation destination for solo travelers, but what about solo female travelers? Women can absolutely enjoy everything this city has to offer on their own. However, just like in any other city, there’s naturally more of a risk for women who are by themselves than men.
Just like anyone else, women should always be aware of their surroundings. Also, try not to dress in a way that stands out too much – you don’t want to draw unnecessary, unwanted attention. If you’re going clubbing or drinking, do research on the venue before going. Plan out your transportation and route home if you’ll be returning after dark.
Don’t be afraid to remove yourself from uncomfortable situations, and don’t tell strangers unnecessary information, such as where you’re staying or where you plan to go while you’re in Chicago.
Drinking Water Safely
According to the Chicago Department of Water Management and the Environmental Protection Agency, the water in Chicago is safe to drink. There can be seasonal variations in the flavor of the water, but it is rarely harmful.
However, in some older piping systems, lead levels exceed 5 parts per billion, which is the maximum amount allowed in bottled water by the FDA. Tests have also found manufacturing residues and pesticides in some Chicago water systems.
📚 Related Reading: 17 Day Trips from Chicago (By a Local!)
11 Safety Tips for Chicago
Tip #1 – Plan out your routes beforehand
Like any major city, Chicago makes it very easy for people to get lost when they don’t know the area. Make sure to plan out your routes before you leave, and travel on busy, well-lit streets rather than vacant ones. Becoming a victim is much less likely with several witnesses.
Tip #2 – Be alert at all times
As long as you stay in safe neighborhoods, it is fairly unlikely that you will become a victim. However, it’s important that you are vigilant about your surroundings, especially at night. Don’t wear headphones, text, or talk on your phone while walking, and avoid any unnecessary contact with strangers.
Tip #3 – Avoid carrying cash and valuables
Try to carry only the very minimum amount of money and valuables when you are out and about, as pickpocketing and robbery are quite common crimes in Chicago. Also, make sure that you conceal cash and valuables, as you are more likely to be a target if they are visible.
Tip #4 – Avoid going out at night
Most areas, even the more dangerous neighborhoods, are going to be fairly safe in the daytime. Try to avoid going out at night, especially alone. If you have to go out at night, be vigilant – areas of downtown Chicago, for example, tend to become more vacant and crime-laden at night.
Tip #5 – Be mindful of your assets
If you bring valuables with you, make sure that you are vigilant and keep an eye on them at all times. Possessions are much more likely to be stolen when a thief sees that you are not paying attention to them. Do not leave your luggage unattended anywhere.
👉 Read Next: 20 Things to Know Before Visiting Chicago
Tip #6 – Carry self-defense tools
Especially if you’re going to be walking around at night, it is a good idea to carry a body alarm or whistle, taser, and/or pepper spray. Of course, you hope not to have to use them, but it will be good to have them handy if you are accosted.
Tip #7 – Make sure to appear confident
If you walk around looking like a lost tourist, scammers and other criminals will see you as vulnerable, making you a more likely target. Even if you are confused about your location or route, make sure that you at least appear to know where you are and where you’re going.
Tip #8 – Don’t fight with criminals
If someone is robbing you, you might be tempted to fight for your belongings. However, as important as these belongings are, they’re not as important as your life. If you’re being held at gun point, you will substantially decrease your chances of becoming a victim of violent crime by cooperating.
Tip #9 – Know the drug and alcohol laws
Before you visit Chicago, be aware of laws regarding drugs and alcohol. Marijuana is legal, but other drugs aren’t. Avoid getting involved with other drugs – much of the crime in this city is drug-related. You also can’t walk around with open alcohol, except in certain places, such as Millennium Park.
Tip #10 – Have more than one way of accessing money
It’s a good idea to carry emergency cash and an emergency credit card with you. Don’t carry all of your cash or cards in one place. If your wallet gets stolen, you’ll at least be grateful that not all of your cash or cards were in it at the time.
Tip #11 – Stay out of crimes that you witness
If you happen to witness a crime, even if you may want to help, it’s safer to mind your own business and not become directly involved. Walk away inconspicuously if you can, and call the police. Give them as much information as you can, and allow them to handle it.
📚 Related Reading: 14 Best Chicago Beaches (A Local’s Ultimate Guide)
FAQs About Safety in Chicago
Is it safe to go downtown Chicago?
Overall, downtown Chicago is safe, especially during the day. Because it has some of the more populated streets in Chicago, some crime is inevitable (mostly pickpocketing). Essentially, exercise street smarts – be mindful of your surroundings and belongings, only bringing the bare minimum.
What areas of Chicago should I avoid?
The five most dangerous neighborhoods in Chicago, in terms of the violent crime rate, are West Garfield Park, Washington Park, East Garfield Park, Englewood, and North Lawndale. As a general rule of thumb, the further south and west you go, the more unsafe areas there are in Chicago.
Is Chicago safe at night?
Most parts of Chicago are relatively safe at night. However, it is not recommended that you go to any of the more dangerous neighborhoods in Chicago at night, especially if you are alone. If you must go to these places, do so in the daytime and with other people.
Is Chicago safe right now?
Right now, Chicago is a safe place to visit. The high murder rate and rates of other crimes have dropped in recent years, somewhat because of the increased number of tourists visiting the city. Essentially, if you avoid the parts of Chicago that are known for high crime rates, it is safe to visit.
Is Chicago safe to travel alone?
As long as you stay in safer neighborhoods and try to keep yourself safe, Chicago is safe to travel alone. Solo travelers can safely explore the city by joining tours, such as a food tour or the many walking tours – so you can see the city solo, surrounded by people.
I hope you found my guide to safety in Chicago helpful. As the third-largest city in the US, it’s inevitably going to be the location of its share of crime, but that doesn’t mean it can’t make for a great vacation. While you’re here, check out this Chicago packing list – it’s super helpful in packing for the different seasons.
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