Chicago is a great place to visit at any time of the year. However, the city has rules of its own and can be an unpredictable place for the uninitiated. Visitors should keep a few things in mind, such as weather, culture, and crime. This guide provides a basic framework for making the most of Mud City.
Don't: Underestimate The Weather In Chicago
Chicago is not called the Windy City for no reason. The weather is brutal and unforgiving. Because of this, it's important to plan accordingly. Every season of the year is affected by Chicago's proximity to Lake Michigan. The lake is responsible for unpredictable rainfall, vicious winds, and extreme temperatures.
It could rain at any point in the year, so it's a good idea to keep an umbrella and pair of boots handy. In order to avoid slipping on wet and icy pavements, wear waterproof boots with solid grip strength. This is especially true in the fall, as August is the rainiest month of the year. To add insult to injury, in the fall and winter, rains are often accompanied by sub-zero temperatures, arctic wind chills, hail, and several inches of snow.
Do not skimp on appropriate clothing. Stay protected with a thermal base layer, and be sure to wear heavy-duty socks and gloves as well, as toes and fingers can turn blue real fast in Chicago's winter months. This goes for ears too, so head protection is vital.
In sub-zero weather, freezing air, rain, and snow can seep through materials such as cotton and wool, rendering them ineffective. Ideally, wear a suitable outer layer with protected draft points. A windbreaker with a hoodie should do the job.
Do: Culture And Cuisine
Despite the dangers, there are many ways to take advantage of bipolar weather. Partake in the traditions of the city that take place indoors. Perhaps as a result of hostile conditions, Chicago is bound together by a strong web of cultural roots. It is one of the few cities in America where ethnic neighborhoods still exist based on settlement patterns. This means that there's a diversity of authentic cuisine to enjoy. Get a Pierogi from Polish Downtown, which is home to the highest concentration of Polish speakers outside of Poland. That's not something any other city in the world can boast.
Similarly, there are Greek, German, Chinese, and Italian neighborhoods that have still maintained their ethnic identities. However, old-school ethnic neighborhoods are quickly disappearing all over America, so enjoy and support them while they last.
Apart from diversity, there is a lot of cultures that are specific to Chicago as a whole. Chicagoans are proud people with friendly traits, but they won't go out of their way to be liked. They take their sports very seriously, so don't go into a bar proclaiming allegiance to the Packers or Cardinals. To really fit in, say something nice about the Cubs or Bulls.
In terms of Chicago cuisine, the hot dog and deep-dish pizza stand out. Never ask for ketchup on your hot dog. This is a widely known rule that locals expect visitors to respect. The usual consequence for requesting ketchup is a flat-out refusal or dirty look.
Do: Safety In Chicago
Anyone who watches the news might be discouraged to visit the city. It's true, of course, that gang violence and overall crime are a huge problem. In 2021, the rate of homicides skyrocketed. However, this should not be taken out of context. With a little knowledge and caution, the city can be safe and worry-free.
Crime is concentrated in particular neighborhoods. Such neighborhoods can be identified and avoided with relative ease. Though it's not a universal rule, in Chicago, crime and poverty go hand-in-hand, so looking for markers of economic depression can go a long way in identifying dangerous areas.
Generally, if ground floor windows and doors are protected by iron bars and grills, the area is probably prone to crime and should be avoided. Similarly, empty lots, cars without wheels, and broken windows are signs of potential danger. Get off the streets of shady neighborhoods after dark.
Don't: Explore Certain Neighborhoods
The South Side of Chicago is one of the most infamous neighborhoods in the country. Its reputation is well deserved, but what many visitors don't understand is that it's not all bad. To navigate the area safely, look for and avoid the telltale signs of danger mentioned above. Visitors who end up in the South Side will notice that it is rich with historical and cultural significance. Civil rights were fought for and won in this neighborhood and the legacy of these battles is immortalized in the local music, architecture, and art.
Additionally, many of the ethnic neighborhoods mentioned earlier are on the South Side. Until recently, the neighborhood hosted the largest St. Patrick's Day parade outside of Ireland. Unfortunately, due to economic distress, this cultural distinction is no longer prominent.
Chicago is a great place to visit. Like all great places, there are real dangers to balance out the virtues. Visitors can ensure that the Windy City doesn't overwhelm them by getting street smart, planning ahead, and staying respectful.