Living in Chicago, one of the largest cities in the country, means you pretty much have everything—art, culture, sports and world-class dining.
Situated on Lake Michigan, Chicago, is known for amazing architecture, a diverse population, stunning museums and great opportunities for higher education.
“I love Chicago because whether you’re into museums and history, or nightlife and great food, there's always something to do,” said Amber Malone, a professional organizer. “The diversity of the neighborhoods allows for amazing ethnic foods and summertime street fairs and festivals."
Read on for everything you need to know about living in the Windy City.
Who Lives in Chicago?
With a population of 2.7 million people, you can find just about every demographic accounted for in Chicago. Business opportunities attract both young professionals and those at the height of their careers; schools like Loyola University and the University of Chicago (as well as Northwestern University in nearby Evanston) make the city appealing for students; and families love the neighborhood feel and never-ending activities for all ages.
While the city caters to all kinds, it’s particularly popular with Millennials, regularly ranking high on the list of top picks for the demographic. In fact, according to one report, 41% of Chicago Millennials own their own home. With ample social and business opportunities, as well as realistic ways to put down financial and family roots, it’s no wonder Chicago is so attractive to the Millennial set.
What Should I Know About Chicago?
Like other major cities, traffic in Chicago can get bad. Like, really bad. With drivers spending 145 hours per year in traffic, one report ranked Chicago as having the second worst congestion in the country. It may surprise you to know that Boston had the worst.
Luckily, whether you commute to work or just need to get around town, you likely won’t have a problem relying on public transportation. Chicago Transit Authority’s system of buses and “L” trains actually ranks 6th on the list of best transportation systems in the U.S., with about a 90% approval rating from residents. If you’ve ever wondered how Chicago’s downtown got its nickname the Loop, it’s because the various color-coded L train lines converge from the city limits to loop around its lakefront center.
Printing, manufacturing, finance and food processing are the most significant industries in Chicago that drive the workforce. Of course, as a major metropolitan area, job seekers with goals that range from the arts to politics are all attracted to this Midwestern job market.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the job market in Chicago is actually growing. As of December 2021, the unemployment rate in Chicago was 4.3, slightly higher than the national average.
With a range of both public and private schools, local parents have plenty of choices when it comes to educating their kids. As with most city school districts, there is a range in quality and test scores depending on the neighborhood. The graduation rate for Chicago public high schools is 79.9%.
When it comes to higher education, Chicago definitely stands out. The city is home to more than a handful of universities and colleges, including Loyola University, the University of Chicago and DePaul University. The prestigious Northwestern University just a short drive away rounds out the ample opportunities for higher learning available. If you’re a Chicago student planning on living at home during college, make sure to check out some tips for staying organized on our blog.
Once known as the home of Al Capone, Chicago has come a long way since the days of Prohibition (you can still step back in time with a gangster tour, though). The city is a generally safe place to visit or live, but as with many larger cities, the crime rate is higher than the national average.
One major downside to living in Chicago? The brutal winters. While Chicago may be called “The Windy City,” it’s the cold and snow that the city is really known for. Prepare for frigid temperatures, slick and slushy streets, and snowy weather for many months of the year.
Of course, there’s plenty to do when the sun does come back out, including beach days. Chicago has more than two dozen free beaches and 26 miles of lakefront. To maximize your living space all year round, don’t forget to check out our guide to storing those bulky winter clothes.
How Expensive is Chicago?
Let’s face it, living in a city will always be more expensive than small town or suburban options, and Chicago is no exception, with a cost of living 23% higher than the national average. However, if city life is on your list of musts, Chicago is actually an affordable option when compared to other metropolises such as New York City (129% higher) or Los Angeles (43% higher).
The city is fairly evenly split between renters and buyers, with average rent for a 750 square foot apartment ringing up at $2,091. Meanwhile, the typical home in Chicago as of 2022 is a relatively affordable $309,268.
With (relatively) affordable housing, as well as a plethora of free cultural events, outdoor fun, and access to diverse and inexpensive food, Chicago is a great option for those looking for all the perks of city living without breaking the bank.
Where Should I Live in Chicago?
A city that attracts so many demographics needs an eclectic range of neighborhoods, and in that sense, Chicago does not disappoint.
Former New Yorker Sarah Parisi, a professional organizer and productivity consultant who now runs her company The Clutter Curator out of Chicago, praises Chicago’s neighborhood vibes and how each “pocket” of the city can feel like its own world.
“If you’re big on nightlife, River North is a great spot to live where you're right outside the Loop and you’re downtown near everything,” she recommends. “If you have a family or are looking for big, beautiful homes near the water, Lake View and the Gold Coast are great areas. Logan Square also has a real neighborhood feel, and is a great spot to find larger space at a good price point.”
BridgeportThis Southwest Side neighborhood has a great mix of historic homes, making it an ideal option for both renters and buyers looking for something with a little charm. It’s also attractive to White Sox baseball fans for its proximity to Guaranteed Rate Field.
With affordable prices and lots of green space, this Puerto Rican enclave is a great place for families.
New parents and anyone looking for a bit more space than you can get closer to the city center flock to the Beverly neighborhood, with plentiful schools, high home-ownership rates, and even some outdoor space.
Young professionals love River North, with its bustling bar scene, high-end shopping and artistic energy. With so many cultural options, it’s no surprise that it is one of the more expensive areas in the city.
Tree-lined streets, quaint restaurants and a robust arts scene—what’s not to love about Logan Square? With historic homes and generous square footage, this diverse neighborhood is a great option for families and younger residents alike.
UptownIf you want lakefront views and plenty of nightlife options, the many condos and apartment buildings in this neighborhood make Uptown a young renter’s paradise.
While it’s technically just outside the city limits, Oak Park has some major bona-fides that deserve a mention. The suburb is truly a hidden gem, with one of the highest number of Frank Lloyd Wright designed buildings in the world. The birthplace of Ernest Hemingway also boasts the Brookfield Zoo and the Wonder Works Children’s Museum, making it a perfect choice for families.
What is there to do in Chicago?
No matter what your idea of fun is, living in Chicago means you’ll always have something to do.
Keep in mind that city living means you’ll want to be smart about what you keep on hand. Amber Malone of Amber’s Organizing, who has been organizing homes in Chicago since 2004, recommends thinking seasonally when it comes to stowing your hobbies so your storage space doesn’t become a “graveyard.”
Thankfully, Malone says that “because there is never a lack of things to do in the city, you don’t need to store as many things or accumulate as much clutter in your home to keep yourself entertained.”
For architecture buffs, Chicago is a great place to explore stunning art deco designs as well as the country’s first skyscrapers. For the best views, locals know that the most inspiring way to see the city’s iconic skyline is via a river cruise. Art fans can get their fix at the Art Institute of Chicago, the Field Museum and the Museum of Contemporary Art.When the weather is nice (or If you don’t mind braving the snow), Millennium Park is always a hit. There’s also the Lakefront Trail, the 606 elevated walkway, Humboldt and Grant parks, and the beaches along Lake Michigan.
If you’ve got cash burning a hole in your wallet, think beyond the Magnificent Mile (which is still the gold standard for high-end designers). The neighborhoods of Pilsen, Andersonville and Lincoln Park all offer unique, local and vintage shopping experiences.
For those with kids in tow, check out Maggie Daley Park, Navy Pier, the Lincoln Park Zoo, or a little outside the city you can enjoy the Chicago Botanic Garden and the Kohl Children’s Museum.
When it comes to sports, Chicago has a lot to cheer about. Home to the legendary Wrigley Field on the North Side where the Cubs play, the other half of Chicago baseball fans root for the rival White Sox on the South Side. For basketball lovers, it’s all about the Chicago Bulls, while hockey fans are devoted to the Blackhawks and football fans support the Bears. If you’re one of these fans who can’t get enough memorabilia, make sure to check out our guide to the perfect
If all that activity is making you hungry, you won’t stay that way for long. From street food to Michelin-starred fine dining, there’s truly something for every palate. Of course, when all else fails, there’s always Chicago’s famous deep dish pizza to keep you feeling (more than) satisfied.