The Best Time to Visit Chicago

By Tim Zimmer

The ultimate guide to the Windy City

The Best Time to Visit Chicago

Home of Millennium Park, the Navy Pier, the Field Museum and deep dish pizza, the Windy City keeps visitors busy, entertained and well-fed. Knowing when to visit Chicago, however, is key and can make or break your trip.

The best time to visit

The best time to visit Chicago is when the weather is warm and the city is active. Typically, this means going in the spring (April through May) or when the leaves start to fall (September through October). During these times, average temperatures run between 59 and 75 degrees, hotel rates are reasonable and crowds are lighter. On the flip side, summer and winter months see average temperatures as high as 84 degrees in July and as low as 30 degrees in January. Crowds can be dense in the summer or nonexistent in the winter. Just be prepared for frigid conditions if visiting during winter.

Staying ahead of the weather

Weather can change rapidly in Chicago. During spring, weather can be unpredictable, so it's best to bring a light jacket and umbrella. In the fall, room rates are more reasonable and weather more predictable. While summer is the most popular time to visit, you'll encounter higher hotel rates, humid weather and rainy days. Chicago winters bring notoriously bad conditions, so be sure to pack outerwear for bundling up. Hotel rates are cheapest at this time, but some top attractions and events are on hold.

Getting around the city

Since Chicago is the one of the most populated cities in the U.S., it's also one of the most traffic-congested. In 2015, for example, Chicagoans spent an average of 60 hours in traffic. A lack of parking options and unpredictable weather makes matters worse for drivers. Chicago has plenty of alternative modes of transportation, though, including the "L" Train, buses, Metra commuter rails, water taxis, and local bike shares. The "L" is one of the more common modes of transportation within the city and connects to O'Hare International Airport.

Beating the crowds

Chicago is most active in the summer when local events and activities are in full bloom. Expect hordes of tourists visiting attractions such as the Shedd Aquarium, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Magnificent Mile, Navy Pier, and Lincoln Park Zoo. Long lines at attractions and dense crowds at events are common. Crowds are thinner and lines shorter in the spring and fall when tourist and festival season has passed or has yet to arrive.

Know before you go

Chicago's weather frequently does a quick change, and you'll need to do the same to be comfortable in the city. Pack a mix of clothes if visiting in the summer or winter and a light jacket and pants if visiting in the spring or fall. Most of Chicago's top attractions can be accessed by the "L" or by car, but be prepared for heavy traffic. Plan your trip well in advance to find the best hotel rates and take advantage of the numerous restaurants and attractions this great Midwestern city has to offer.