Are you thinking about living in Chicago? You’re in good hands.
With a population of 2.7 million, there’s no denying that living in Chicago has its benefits, but does it live up to the hype?
I have been living in Chicago for the past 8+ years and was asked to share my experience. So today I’ll be sharing the good, the bad and the ugly of daily life in Chicago based on my own experience.
As you read this list, keep in mind that this is my personal list of the pros and cons of living in Chicago. Not everyone will feel the same way.
In any case, I hope you find it helpful. Let’s get to it!
Note: This post is part of the Local Living Series, wherein locals share honest insights of living in a specific city through comprehensive pros and cons lists. If you’d like to reach out to the author directly with questions, please do so in the comments below and our team will ensure it gets to the right person.
First, the pros of living in Chicago
#1. The people
First and foremost, allow me to start with my favorite thing about living in Chicago — the people. I don’t know what it is, but I swear the people that live in Chicago are some of the kindest I’ve met.
I feel that Chicagoans are genuinely friendly and down-to-earth in a way that is not common in large cities.
When I first moved to Chicago, I was constantly lost (surprise, surprise) and can’t recall a single situation where I wasn’t approached by someone helpful and willing to offer assistance.
I’ve lost count of the number of helpful interactions I’ve experienced personally while living in Chicago!
Heads up! If you’re a millennial, you’ll find a lot of like-minded folks to befriend while living in Chicago because Chicago is considered one of the best cities in the country for millennials to live.
#2. The cost of living
Like most major cities, the cost of living in Chicago is higher than the national average. But when compared to other large cities, it’s easily the most affordable option.
I mean, Chicago seldom makes an appearance on lists ranking the most expensive cities in the country for a reason! You can actually enjoy living here because it’s not cost-prohibitive.
For example, there’s a lot of comparison between Chicago and NYC (both skyscraper cities), but the difference in cost of living couldn’t be more different.
According to CNN’s cost of living calculator, a $100,000 salary in Chicago is equal to $199,000 in New York City (that’s double!).
Housing alone is 238% more expensive in NYC than Chicago yet you’ll have access to all of the same amenities while living in Chicago.
I played around with the calculator for a while and the theme is the same, Chicago is much more affordable than other large US cities.
I’m guessing the harsh winters (we’ll cover those shortly) have something to do with the reasonable cost of living in Chicago. Regardless of the reason, you won’t find me complaining, that’s for sure.
#3. Cultural activities
One of my favorite things about living in Chicago is having access to a plethora of cultural activities every day of the week. In fact, Chicago ranks as one of the best cultural cities in America.
You’ll have access to world-class museums like the Field Museum of Natural History (which rivals the one in NYC) and the Art Institute of Chicago.
If you’re in the mood to catch a great performance you can have your pick from three epic theaters: Chicago Theater, Goodman Theater and Steppenwolf Theater (which is currently undergoing a $54M expansion).
Oh, and lest I forget, Chicago is known for having one of the best music scenes in the country.
Lollapalooza is a must for music fans, the Chicago Blues Festival is a clear crowd favorite, and the plethora of jazz festivals are bound to keep you entertained every season of the year, especially summer.
#4. The food scene
If you plan on moving to Chicago, one thing is certain — you’ll never go hungry.
When most folks think of foodie cities, I don’t think Chicago comes to mind, which is a pity considering the city currently ranks as the third best foodie city in the country. You read that right.
I can tell you from firsthand experience that it lives up the hype. You’ll have access to SO many interesting restaurants and cuisines while living in Chicago, I barely know where to start.
The diverse food scene is impressive, especially in terms of ethnic restaurants. Oh, and I would be remiss to overlook the famous Chicago deep-dish pizzas and loaded hotdogs perfected in this city.
Anyway you slice it, you will be exposed to an awesome food scene while living in Chicago.
#5. Chicago is a diverse city
Chicago is considered one of the most racially diverse large cities in America. Approximately 52% of the population identifies as white, and 29% identifies as black.
I love living in a diverse city because I’m exposed to customs and cultures I didn’t grow up around. I’ve found it fairly easy to befriend both native Chicagoans and recent transplants.
My friends circle has grown from being fairly homogeneous to more diverse and interesting — a huge perk of living in Chicago, if you ask me.
#6. The airport is top-notch
As an avid traveler, having access to a good airport was a major factor in my decision to move to Chicago.
And it seems like I’m not alone in this regard. Considering the amount of business being conducted in the city, a ton of folks fly into and out of Chicago on a daily basis so having an effective airport is non-negotiable.
There’s a handful of airports that serve Chicago, but the biggest one takes the cake — O’Hare International Airport.
Offering more than 220 nonstop flights, the O’Hare International Airport is the third busiest in the country — serving 83 million passengers in 2018 alone!
The effectiveness of Chicago’s airport is a huge perk of living in Chicago, especially if you fly often.
#7. Public transportation
It’s hard to find an American city that feels livable without a car, but Chicago is a rare exception. In fact, Chicago’s public transportation system is considered the 6th best in the country.
As you know, most folks loves to hate on public transportation, but nearly 91% of Chicago residents approve of the public transpiration offered, myself included.
Thanks to the CTA (Chicago Transit Authority), you’ll always be able to get where you need to without much fuss or delay.
When I first moved to Chicago I brought my car because my job was located downtown but I lived in the suburbs. Within one year of this arrangement, I decided to move downtown and ditch the car altogether because parking became too much of a hassle and I was satisfied with the CTA.
Also worth mention, the metro system is very effective at connecting the suburbs to the downtown core. So if you’re moving to a suburb of Chicago, I suggest testing out the public transportation for a year before deciding whether you want to keep your car.
Based on personal experience, living in Chicago without a car is a breeze.
#8. Housing costs
Considering the size of Chicago, housing is surprisingly affordable by big city standards. As of 2021, the median cost of a home in Chicago clocks in at $340,000.
Let me tell you, as someone that hails from New York, this price seems surreal.
But wait, it gets better. Chicago has the 4th highest concentration of Fortune 500 companies in the US (36 companies total). By and large, these jobs pay higher salaries, the average salary in Chicago is $72,000.
Between the reasonable home prices and decent annual salary, it’s actually possible to consider owning a home in Chicago — an achievement most city dwellers can’t even afford to dream about.
#9. The sports culture
Ready to hear the understatement of the century? If you’re a major sports fan, you’re going to LOVE living in Chicago.
Home to five sports teams (Chicago Bulls, Chicago White Sox, Chicago Cubs, Chicago Bears, Chicago Blackhawks) and 27 championships, living in Chicago is a great option for those that like to brag about winning sports teams!
#10. The city’s architecture is world class
Yet another unexpected perk of living in Chicago is the constant exposure to world-class architecture. I’ll be the first to admit I know nothing about architecture, but I can still appreciate an aesthetically beautiful building.
Thankfully there’s plenty to admire in Chicago.
The Great Chicago Fire of 1871 gave birth to a revolutionary idea that officially kicked off the modern high rises we see today — buildings constructed of steel rather than wood, imagine!
These buildings make up Chicago’s epic skyline, considered one of the best in the country.
Tip: One of the best ways to enjoy Chicago’s magnificent skyline is by boat, an experience I can’t recommend enough.
Cons of moving to Chicago
#1. Winters in Chicago are brutal
Let’s address the elephant in the room, shall we?
Winters in Chicago are brutal and I guarantee that you will hate living in Chicago as soon as the temperatures dip below zero, the snow sets in and Lake Michigan freezes over.
The perk of winter in Chicago? I swear it’s the sole reason housing prices are reasonable since most folks can’t commit to living in Chicago during winter. So I guess it’s not all bad?
I will also add that winter gets easier to manage after you live through one or two. You learn ways to cope, be it with expensive jackets or impromptu weekend trips to palm trees and paradise.
One thing I can’t recommend enough for folks moving to Chicago it to pick up one of these bad boys. My therapist recommended it ages ago to stave off depression during winter and I can’t imagine living in Chicago (especially during winter) without it.
#2. The traffic is a nightmare
Make no mistake, traffic becomes a part of your daily routine when living in Chicago.
In fact, Chicago’s infamous traffic is rated the third worst in the country, with drivers spending an average of 138 hours per year sitting in traffic.
You can expect trips to take 2-3 times longer during rush hour, which really starts to chip away at your quality of life, believe me (hence the reason I ditched my car and moved downtown).
What’s more, even though Chicago has great public transportation, some folks can’t imagine getting rid of their car. If you find yourself in this camp, allocate a lot of time to traffic.
#3. Limited access to nature
Before the hate mail gets stamped, recall that I’m sharing my personal list of the cons of living in Chicago. Chicago doesn’t offer much by way of outdoor recreation.
There, I said it.
I mean sure, we’re located on Lake Michigan, which is a treat, but lounging on the beach gets old after a time. Not to mention you can only do that a small portion of the year before the cold sets in.
Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy Lake Michigan, North Avenue and Oak beaches as much as the next guy, but I need more variety.
There’s a handful of hiking options but they all require a drive and rarely live up to the effort required. In my opinion, limited access to nature is one of the biggest cons of living in Chicago.
I will admit though, Millennium Park is one of the best urban parks I’ve ever come across.
#4. High crime rate
Chicago’s crime rate is a contentious topic. Half the residents will tell you it’s not as bad as the media portrays and the other half will tell you it’s still way too high for comfort.
So let’s focus on facts and statistics instead. But fair warning — these stats are grizzly.
In 2018, there were 561 recorded homicides in Chicago, nearly double the number of New York City, which has triple the population.
This doesn’t imply that the entire city is unsafe, rather there are certain pockets to avoid. You’ll need to do extensive research before moving to Chicago because crime is a factor.
Worth noting, I’ve been living in Chicago for 8+ years and haven’t had any scary encounters but I’m also hyper-vigilant and seldom hang downtown past midnight, especially solo.
#5. The flat landscape
I grew up around mountains and forests and I didn’t realize how much I’d miss a varied landscape until moving to Chicago.
If you’re a nature nut, you’ll need to drive quite a distance (2+ days) to get into mountainous territory. For me, the flat landscape gets dull over time and I find myself clawing at the wall several times a year in desperate search of some varied terrain and serious nature.
Moving to Chicago (Post Summary)
In sum, these are the honest pros and cons of living in Chicago, Illinois.
- The people are kind
- The cost of living
- Cultural activities
- The food scene
- Chicago is diverse
- The airport
- Public transportation
- Housing costs
- The sports culture
- Chicago’s architecture
- The winters are harsh
- The traffic is a nightmare
- Limited access to nature
- High crime rate
- The landscape is flat
And there you have it my friends – a quick roundup of the pros and cons of living in Chicago. Don’t hesitate to reach out with questions or helpful comments for other readers.
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What are the downsides of living in Chicago? ›
Q: What are the negatives about living in Chicago? A: Chicago has a higher-than-average crime rate, it can be expensive to live in certain neighborhoods, and the weather can get very cold.Is Chicago worth moving to? ›
One of the top largest urban areas in the world, the Chicago metropolitan area is an excellent place to live and is considered one of the best places to live in Illinois.Why would anyone live in Chicago? ›
The third-largest city in the U.S., Chicago, is the ideal city for people who want to live in a world-class city with Midwest values. The Windy City offers more than its fair share of culture, Michelin-starred restaurants, world-class business districts, and neighborhoods that are its true character.What is the quality of life like in Chicago? ›
Chicago scored 54.51 out of 100 possible points, earning top 10 rankings in quality of life (seventh) and safety (eighth). Overall, Seattle earned the top spot in WalletHub's study. The city ranked first in education and health, as well as economy. The city also was sixth in quality of life.Is New York or Chicago better? ›
The crime rate, healthcare, employment opportunities, cost of Housing and real estate, the weather, and traffic data all contribute to the index for an area. By these indices, Chicago gives a better quality of living. Numbeo developed the index, and Chicago scored 148.37, while New York scored 134.30.Is Chicago a stressful city? ›
Many Americans know all about dealing with stress, but Chicago residents are all too familiar with that feeling, according to a new study. That study, released by Zippia, revealed that Chicago is the eighth-most stressed out city in the United States.Why you should move out of Chicago? ›
The five main reasons people leave Chicago are taxes, high crime rate, lack of jobs, crazy weather & traffic congestion, and housing prices.Are people moving or leaving Chicago? ›
Driving the news: A new report from the National Association of Realtors shows Chicago and other major metro areas such as New York and San Francisco saw more people leaving than moving in.Is Chicago dying as a city? ›
1,019 Illinois communities of all sizes shared in the loss of 114,000 residents in 2021, new census data shows. Chicago lost 40% of the total. Illinois' population loss hit nearly 80% of its cities in 2021, but 40% of the state's 114,000-person loss came out of the city of Chicago, new Census data shows.What is the best suburb of Chicago? ›
- Buffalo Grove.
- Oak Park.
Why does Chicago have so few homeless? ›
This large influx of people struggled to find low-cost shelter, so the majority of them lived in temporary housing or on the streets. By the 1950s, Chicago's need for itinerant workers decreased and the city experienced postwar prosperity. Therefore, the number of homeless people diminished substantially.How safe is downtown Chicago? ›
Downtown Chicago, the Loop and Millennium Park areas, is very safe for tourists. It is a well-populated, well-lit, and heavily policed area of Chicago. Visitors should feel quite safe in this neighborhood, especially during the day and evening.Do you need a car to live in Chicago? ›
Fortunately for residents, many of Chicago's neighborhoods have all the amenities of small towns. You can walk or bike to get groceries, pick up dinner or run errands. Plus, with more people working from home, many people have reduced their car usage substantially or gotten rid of their vehicles altogether.What month is best to move to Chicago? ›
From November through February, you'll have far less competition for Chicago living spaces and moving resources. Moving companies are less in demand during the colder months, so you'll have a better chance of moving on the exact date you want.What is middle class in Chicago? ›
In Chicago, where the cost of living is substantially higher than the national average, incomes of $52,000 to $156,000 are classified as being in the middle class, according to a CNBC analysis.Is Chicago more colder than New York? ›
On average, Chicago gets about a foot more snow each winter than New York. While the coldest average monthly temperature in New York bottoms out at 27 degrees, Chicago's average lows in winter months are 18 degrees or colder. Chicagoans make up for those rough winters by embracing the outdoors the rest of the year.Do people feel safe in Chicago? ›
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.Is Chicago a happy city? ›
Two Of The Happiest Cities Is In Illinois
Aurora ranked as the 19th happiest city overall while also ranking high in Emotional & Physical Well-Being and Community & Environment. Chicago was named the 74th happiest city.
1. Alexandria, Virginia. Next door to the nation's capital, Alexandria wears the crown as the most relaxing place to visit in the United States.Why are so many people leaving Illinois? ›
The same was true in 2021. Of the Illinoisans who hired United Van Lines, 64% were leaving the state. About 30% cited a job change as the reason, another 30% citing general lifestyle change and 25% for retirement. Nearly 141,500 people left Illinois for other states between the last two censuses.
What do you need to live comfortably in Chicago? ›
To live comfortably in Chicago--factoring in housing costs, transportation, utilities, and groceries--you'll need to make around $94,917 as a renter or $84,765 as a homeowner.How can we avoid the dangers of Chicago? ›
- Be alert. Be aware of your surroundings and others around you. ...
- Plan ahead. Plan your route. ...
- Trust your instincts. Be alert to your surroundings. ...
- Hide valuables. ...
- Don't fight to keep items. ...
- If you witness a crime.
- Although 85% of Chicago homebuyers searched to stay within the Chicago metropolitan area, many are still looking to leave the city. ...
- For Chicago residents, the number one destination locals are considering moving to is Milwaukee, WI.
|Female persons, percent|| 51.2%|
|Race and Hispanic Origin|
|White alone, percent|| 45.3%|
|Black or African American alone, percent(a)|| 29.2%|
Some of the biggest cities in the U.S. see most millennials moving out. America's largest city—New York City—ranks as the top city where millennials are leaving.Which side of Chicago is the nicest? ›
What is the nicest area to live in Chicago? The Loop, River North, Gold Coast, and Streeterville are safe and vibrant areas with easy access to downtown. If you're looking for something further from the center of town, check out West Ridge, North Park, and Forest Glen.What is the safest part of Chicago? ›
- Edison Park. Edison Park is a familiar sight on any list of safest neighborhoods in Chicago, as the crime rate here is 77% lower than the city's overall rate. ...
- Forest Glen. ...
- Norwood Park. ...
- Lincoln Park.
by . Old Town and River North are considered two of the prettiest neighborhoods to live in but for vastly different reasons. Let's see how these two gorgeous downtown Chicago communities compare.What is the black population of Chicago? › Are there a lot of Mexicans in Chicago? ›
There is a very large Mexican American community in the Chicago metropolitan area. Illinois, and Chicago's Mexican American community is the largest outside of the Western United States.
Is crime getting worse in Chicago? ›
The year-over-year change in crime was even greater last year. Between 2021 and 2022, overall crime in Chicago increased by 41%, after overall crime had decreased each year in 2019 and 2020 and slightly increased in 2021.What is the safest suburb of Chicago IL? ›
Two Illinois cities were named among the safest in the U.S. in a new report, including one Chicago suburb, which was dubbed the safest city in the country. The ranking of the 15 safest cities in America was published by finance site MoneyGeek last month, naming Naperville as the top-ranked city in the country.What is the safest city near Chicago? ›
Located in Southwest Chicago, Mount Greenwood ranks 66% safer than other communities in Chicago. The neighborhood is family-friendly, and residents feel safe walking the streets.What is the cheapest Chicago suburb to live in? ›
- Midlothian, IL – Small-Town Living in One of the Cheapest Chicago Suburbs.
- Elk Grove Village, IL – One of the Most Affordable Chicago Suburbs with a Short Commute & Great Amenities.
- Thornton, IL – One of the Cheapest Chicago Suburbs to Buy a House.
- Tinley Park, IL – One of the Fastest Growing Suburbs of Chicago.
They often use their limited funds for the warmth of CTA trains and sleep near heating vents. It's pure survival mode. And, when there is not enough room in shelters and warming centers, the homeless turn to emergency rooms at hospitals where they can get care and a warm meal.Is homelessness illegal in Chicago? ›
 For now the displacement and disruption of those affected by homelessness continues to be legal in Chicago, but organizations continue to fight the legality of the practices.Is Chicago or NYC safer? ›
New York is safer than Chicago, and the crime rates differ by a large margin. The crime rates in US cities are measured on a scale of 1 to 100, with 100 being the most insecure and 1 being the most secure. Property crime in New York is rated at 24.9, and a violent crime rating of 28.2.Is Chicago Riverwalk safe? ›
Chicago Riverwalk Security can be easily found with their yellow shirts and jackets patrolling the entire stretch of the Riverwalk between Lake Shore Drive and Lake Street. The Chicago Police Officers also patrol the Chicago Riverwalk and can be frequently observed throughout the path on foot or bike.Is the South Loop in Chicago safe? ›
The area, right off of Michigan, is very safe. South loop can get you basically anywhere in the city pretty fast. It itself does not have many bars or restaurants, but it is very easy to get to school on the 2 bus.How do I meet people to date in Chicago? ›
- SPORTS LEAGUES. CHICAGO SPORTS & SOCIAL CLUB. ...
- TRAINING GROUPS. NIKE. ...
- COOKING CLASSES. THE CHOPPING BLOCK. ...
- FOOD & DRINK. WHOLE FOODS MARKET. ...
- COMMUNITY EVENTS. MEETUP.COM. ...
- NETWORKING EVENTS. YOUNG PROFESSIONALS NETWORK. ...
- VOLUNTEER. PAWS.
Can you party in Chicago? ›
The best nightclubs in Chicago are exciting places to spend a memorable evening out in the “Windy City”. From the legendary blues era to the modern-day house and techno craze, Chicago is always on the party map. Trendsetting clubs continue to pop up across the city, and mainstays haven't missed a beat for decades.Is moving to Chicago a good idea? ›
A: Yes! There are plenty of job opportunities and the housing costs are less than many coastal cities. You also have access to all kinds of cultural activities, the food scene is thriving, and there's always something to do.Is it OK to move to Chicago? ›
With a population of 2.71 million, Chicago is the most populated city in Illinois and the third most populous city in the country. One of the top largest urban areas in the world, the Chicago metropolitan area is an excellent place to live and is considered one of the best places to live in Illinois.Is driving in Chicago difficult? ›
It is relatively difficult to drive in Chicago, particularly with the heavy traffic of rush hour and after sporting events. Also, there are pedestrians, cyclists, and many streets where you can only drive in one direction – particularly in The Loop. It gets easier as you drive away from downtown Chicago.What are the biggest problems in Chicago? ›
Gun violence, racial disparities in health, and racism and discrimination were Chicago adults' top social concerns for youth in the city. Gun violence was the number one social concern for the third straight year.Does Chicago have a housing problem? ›
Chicago's housing crisis has been a systemic issue for decades but has been exacerbated by the unprecedented impact of COVID-19. As a result, low-income households have been spending more than half of their income on rent, leaving many renters to sacrifice other necessities to afford their housing.Why are people leaving Chicago? ›
Nearly half of Illinoisans have thought about moving away, citing high taxes as their No. 1 reason. Population decline also contributes to the lower economic prospects of the state, as working-age families leave and fewer residents are left to shoulder increasing tax burdens.What is Chicago most known for? ›
Beyond its iconic food, music, and architecture, Chicago is also known for its rich history and vibrant culture. From blues to jazz to hip hop, there is something for everyone in the Windy City's thriving music scene.Does Chicago have bad air quality? ›
Chicago PM2. 5 pollution ranks worst in the state of Illinois for particle pollution and 79th nationally out of 1517 metropolitan areas in the United States. This ranking places Chicago air quality in a slightly worse position than Los Angeles air quality (12.7 μg/m3), a city well known for its pollution challenges.What salary do you need to live comfortably in Chicago? ›
As of Mar 5, 2023, the average annual pay for the Comfortable jobs category in Chicago is $57,251 a year. Just in case you need a simple salary calculator, that works out to be approximately $27.52 an hour. This is the equivalent of $1,100/week or $4,770/month.
What is a good income to live in Chicago? ›
What salary is needed to live in Chicago? According to ZipRecruiter, the average full-time salary in Chicago is $46,144 per year; the 90th percentile of earners in the city earn $68,371.Is rent in Chicago high? ›
Rent is still getting pricier in Chicago, but renters are faring better here than in much of the U.S. Driving the news: In the fourth quarter of 2022, the average asking rent in Chicago was $1,830, up 8.2% from a year earlier, per economic research firm Moody's Analytics.How bad is homelessness in Chicago? ›
The 2021 PIT Count estimated a total of 4,447 people experiencing homelessness.Is Chicago tenant friendly? ›
The City of Chicago governs rental agreements between landlords and tenants with a set of rules known as the Residential Landlord and Tenant Ordinance (RLTO or CRLTO). The ordinance sets out the rights and responsibilities of both parties and is known to be very tenant-friendly.What is the nicest suburb in Chicago? ›
- Buffalo Grove.
- Oak Park.