There’s a reason people who live in Chicago call it sweet home Chicago.
There’s never been a better time for moving to Chicago, the city with beautiful Lake Michigan, blues music, some of the best architecture in the world and an amazing selection of food, drinks and entertainment.
Whether you love improv, world-class museums, food from every part of the world, live music or the outdoors, there’s truly something here for everyone in Chicago. Chefs love to get creative and show off their talents daily at their own restaurants or annual events like Chicago Gourmet, the Chicago Park District owns 8,800 acres of green space where residents of every neighborhood and visitors alike can enjoy and not a month goes by that the city doesn’t host a free festival or event, whether it’s a music festival, movie screening or parade.
Chicago is a friendly city so it won’t be long before you’re getting invited to backyard barbecues or meeting up with friends on Saturday mornings for brunch or a run along the lakefront trail. You’ll also quickly learn some of its idiosyncrasies, like never putting ketchup on your hotdogs, why we call our front room the frunchroom and why some people hate or love dibs.
If you’re ready to see if you want to add yourself to this city of almost three million residents, read on. You’ll find there’s a lot to love about this Midwestern city.
Photo courtesy of Choose Chicago / Credit: Adam Alexander Photography
Poet Carl Sandburg called Chicago the “city of big shoulders,” and former Mayor Richard J. Daley said it’s the “city that works.”
It’s been called the Second City, the Windy City, Chitown and more, but however people choose to reference it, it’s a city known for being brash and kind, bustling and calm, modern and historic. It’s all here in Chicago.
Entrepreneurs helped make this city what it is in the 1800s when they headed this way for opportunities. Within days of the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, which had reduced much of the city to ashes, the city was determined to rebuild bigger and better than ever. The first skyscraper was built in Chicago, musicians came and gave us their version of the blues and immigrants from all over the world brought their culture and foods to Chicago’s neighborhoods.
Since that Great Chicago Fire, the city has grown. Here are a few numbers to give you a bigger picture of how much Chicago has changed since it became a city in 1837 with a population of 4,000:
- Population: 2,693,976
- Population density (people per square mile): 11,841.8
- Median income: $57,238
- Average studio rent: $1,791
- Average one-bedroom rent: $2,332
- Average two-bedroom rent: $3,134
- Cost of living index: 123.8
Popular neighborhoods in Chicago
Did you know that Chicago is built on a grid and is comprised of 77 city-designated community areas (there are even more “neighborhoods” within these areas)? It’s possible to get around the city a number of ways, too: public transportation via the Chicago Transit Authority (known by locals as the CTA) includes buses, the subway and the elevated trains. You can hop on a Divvy, our local bike-sharing system, or take Metra.
Knowing how to get around helps when it comes to the cost of living. Each neighborhood in Chicago has its own personality and appeal, whether you’re single, have a family or want to live in a community where you can lay down some roots.
- Logan Square: Logan Square is home to a diverse population, and the area is definitely noticing an uptick in rent thanks to gentrification. Affordable two- and three-story apartment buildings can be found alongside single-family homes where families have lived for years. Recently, larger and newer apartment complexes have been sprouting up along busy Milwaukee Avenue, which is also known as “hipster highway” for its bike lane that takes cyclists from a bit farther north all the way to River West, where Milwaukee Avenue ends. A killer weekly farmers market along Logan Boulevard brings the community together.
- Lakeview: From stroller-friendly Southport (Avenue) to LGBTQ-friendly Northalsted (formerly known as Boystown) to rowdy Wrigleyville, Lakeview covers a large swath of land on Chicago’s north side. This is one area where you really want to check out the neighborhoods to match your personality. While it’s not always safe to generalize about any one community, don’t expect it to be quiet and calm when the Chicago Cubs are playing if you live in Wrigleyville, and expect a lot of babies on laps if you’re heading to brunch on Southport.
- Edgewater: For those who still want a lot of the city’s amenities, such as close proximity to Lake Michigan, an active nightlife scene and great dining, but more affordable offerings, Edgewater is having a moment. What was once considered a bit “too north” for some who preferred faster and easier access to the Loop or Lakeview are finding they have everything they need in Edgewater. As its name implies, it’s on the edge of the water — in this case, Lake Michigan. It’s also home to fun antique shops and a great variety of Eastern European and African cuisine.
- West Loop: West Loop, once an industrial area, now attracts young professionals thanks to its proximity to the Loop and business district and great dining options along Randolph Street and because more businesses are opening up to cater to these young professionals who are starting families, there are more strollers than ever along the walkable streets.
- Hyde Park: The South Side neighborhood is home to the University of Chicago campus, which includes a world-renowned hospital and university that often touts its academics who’ve been awarded a Nobel Prize. Its tree-lined streets include gorgeous mansions, wood-framed homes and apartment buildings. While some areas are more transient than others within Hyde Park because of the college population, it’s a community rich in heritage and culture. Thousands come to enjoy everything from the Hyde Park Jazz Festival to Frank Lloyd Wright’s famed Robie House, among other cultural delights.
The pros of moving to Chicago
Photo courtesy of Choose Chicago / Credit: City of Chicago
Chicago can be surprisingly affordable given all of the amenities it provides as a city. It’s also easy to get around. It has two major airports: O’Hare International Airport and Midway Airport. Since our city was built on a grid after the Great Chicago Fire, you can usually get your bearings once you know a street’s address (and, roughly, how long it might take to get from Point A to Point B).
It’s also a city that really loves its entertainment and food. You can catch a Broadway theater production in The Loop, hear live music at dozens of venues or go for an uninterrupted half-marathon-long run along the Lakefront trail (it’s 18 miles long). Want more reasons why you should move to Chicago? Here are a few.
It’s easy to navigate
When the city was rebuilt after the Great Chicago Fire, it aligned its streets on a grid.
The intersection of Madison and State streets is the starting point (meaning it’s 0 North and South, East and West). Also, each mile is about eight blocks, so Chicago Avenue, which is eight blocks north of Madison Street, is a mile away. This isn’t always the case (for example, one mile south of Madison is Roosevelt Road, but it’s 12 blocks away). However, it’s a decent baseline to figure your bearings when someone says, “Let’s meet at Chicago Avenue and State Street,” you know you’re 800 north and 0 east/west.
It’s also possible to get around sans car in most parts of the city. In addition to the CTA’s train and buses, the city has more than 200 miles of on-street protected, buffered and shared bike lanes — and that doesn’t include off-street paths such as the 18.5-mile Lakefront Trail. If you don’t want to ride your own bike, an annual subscription to Divvy, the city’s bike-share system, is an affordable option (you can also rent by the day or a single trip).
Entertainment is high on our list
You’ll never get bored or have nothing to do in this city. Meet up with friends at a rooftop bar, learn how to make your own leather shoes or hear live music at a free fest at Grant Park. Some events cost money, but a lot of things are free (or offered free throughout the year).
Museums often list their free museum days on their websites or through Choose Chicago, but if you want to visit one outside those dates, our Chicago Public Library offers a Kids Museum pass that allows up to four family members to gain access for free (one has to be younger than 18).
Most people know Chicago for its deep dish pizza, and while there’s a fair amount of deep dish to be found in these parts, it’s not the only type of food we love. We have access to Michelin-starred, world-class fine dining, Italian beef and everything in between.
Different neighborhoods are known for their exceptional cuisine, too. Head to Chinatown for Chinese, Greektown for Greek, Little Italy for Italian, Asia on Argyle for Vietnamese and Pilsen for Mexican. There are a number of vegan and vegetarian restaurants throughout the city in addition to the restaurants that offer a range of vegetarian and vegan food, too.
The cons of moving to Chicago
Photo courtesy of Choose Chicago / Credit: City of Chicago
To be sure, there are a lot of different ways to get around Chicago, and our public transportation is pretty solid. And while we do have great food and outstanding entertainment, we’d be remiss if we didn’t share the downsides.
Traffic is bad
Chicago’s ranked the second-worst traffic city in the country, behind only Boston. This isn’t really news to those of us who live here, we try to try and avoid sitting in traffic as much as possible. Instead of getting in the car and sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic during rush hour, we might opt to travel during non-rush hour times. We’ll use public transportation or ride our bike.
Where you live also affects how long you’ll waste sitting in traffic. Chicagoans, on average, waste 73 hours annually thanks to traffic congestion. To minimize this pain, if you work in the Loop and live in or near the Loop, it’s possible to walk to your place of business. If there’s construction along a main road, use an alternate route, even if it’s longer distance-wise since it might be shorter time-wise.
It can get really cold
There’s a reason Chicagoans celebrate our summers — it’s because our winters are painfully cold. Even the snow- and cold-loving among us know it’s unwise to trek out when the weather forecasts dangerously low temperatures. We know when to turn on our pipe heaters so our water pipes don’t burst and why it’s important to invest in super warm full-length coats, warm and lined boots and four-wheel drive cars with good-quality tires that can handle the snow and ice.
Chicago is not for the faint of heart, and our blizzards are intense. Preparation is key, and if you find yourself not quite prepared the first winter, trust us, you will be by the second one.
Owning a car can be expensive
With so many ways to get around the city, it’s easy to not need a car in Chicago. But still, for many of us, a car is a necessity. It can also be expensive in a city like Chicago and one of those things you think about when you think of the cost of living in Chicago.
In addition to the regular maintenance a car requires, you’ll want to stay on top of things like rotating tires (thanks potholes), maintaining rust spots (thanks salt trucks to help melt our slippery ice on the roads) and making sure your breaks are in tip-top shape (thanks traffic).
In addition to renewing your license plates annually, you also need to pay for a city sticker, and if your street is zoned and you want to park on it, you’ll need to buy a zone parking sticker. Which gets us to parking woes. Depending on where you choose to live, parking can be a real headache. The more dense and popular the neighborhood, the harder it will be to find off-street parking.
Then there are dibs, where people stake their freshly-shoveled parking spot with either a lawn chair or some piece of junk to save their spot. Let’s just say this practice is super controversial, and people have gotten into fights over whether or not dibs should be allowed. But, I digress…
It’s not unusual for those who live in or near the South Loop to not take their car anywhere when a Chicago Bears game or concert is playing at Soldier Field. Same for those who live in Wrigleyville — if there’s a Chicago Cubs game, traffic can be impacted for miles. Those of us who live in or nearby neighborhoods where major events are planned, whether it’s a parade, game or concert, know to plan ahead if we need to get in and out using a car.
How to get started on your move to Chicago
Are you definitely interested in moving to Chicago? While Chicago is a city of neighborhoods, it’s also a large and welcoming city, so no matter which neighborhood you choose, it won’t be long before you call Chicago home.
To help with your move as you pack your apartment, head to our Moving Center to get free quotes and more information about planning out your move.
Rent prices are based on a rolling weighted average from Apartment Guide and Rent.com’s multifamily rental property inventory of one-bedroom apartments. Data was pulled in November 2020 and goes back for one year. We use a weighted average formula that more accurately represents price availability for each individual unit type and reduces the influence of seasonality on rent prices in specific markets.
Population and income numbers are from the U.S. Census Bureau.
Cost of living data comes from the Council for Community and Economic Research.
The rent information included in this article is used for illustrative purposes only. The data contained herein do not constitute financial advice or a pricing guarantee for any apartment.