NYC vs Chicago: Comparing the Two Iconic Cities

New York City, USA

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New York City and Chicago are two of the United States’ most iconic and bustling cities, each offering a unique experience for residents and tourists alike. As major hubs for culture, business, and entertainment, these cities have distinct characteristics that make them popular destinations for people from around the world. This article will compare and contrast various aspects of New York City and Chicago, providing insight into what sets each city apart from the other.

New York City is known for its high cost of living, with expenses such as utilities, transportation, and groceries being significantly more expensive than those in Chicago. Chicago, on the other hand, offers a more affordable lifestyle with lower utility costs and a generally lower cost of living. The vastly different costs in these cities can have a significant impact on the overall quality of life for their inhabitants.

When it comes to the urban landscape, both cities boast impressive skylines and iconic architecture. The dense New York City skyline features some of the world’s largest skyscrapers, while Chicago offers a more spread-out skyline with notable landmarks and a rich architectural history. The unique qualities of both cities make them attractive options for people looking to experience a diverse and thriving American metropolis.

History of NYC and Chicago


New York City, originally called New Amsterdam, was founded in 1624 by Dutch settlers, who established a trading post at the southern tip of Manhattan Island. In 1664, the English took control, renaming it New York.

Chicago, on the other hand, traces its origins back to the late 17th century, when French explorers, missionaries, and fur traders arrived in the area and interacted with the local Pottawatomie Native Americans.


As a major port and gateway for European immigrants, New York City experienced rapid growth throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. The city expanded through a series of consolidations, such as the incorporation of Brooklyn in 1898. Infrastructure projects, like the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge, and the introduction of the subway system contributed to the city’s expansion.

Chicago’s development was also shaped by its role as a transportation hub, connecting the East and West Coasts. The construction of the Illinois and Michigan Canal in the early 19th century, and later, the development of the railroad system, spurred the city’s growth. The Great Chicago Fire of 1871 had a significant impact on the city, leading to a major reconstruction and the establishment of a new building code, which gave rise to modern Chicago architecture.

Historic Events

New York City has been the site of numerous historic events, such as the opening of Ellis Island in 1892, which served as an entry point for millions of immigrants, and the construction of iconic landmarks like the Empire State Building in 1931 and the World Trade Center in 1973. The tragic attack on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, remains a significant event in the city’s history.

Chicago has had its share of historic moments as well, including the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, which led to the city’s rebuilding, and the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893, held to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’s arrival in the New World. This event showcases the progress and development of both cities, highlighting their rivalry and ambitions at the time.


City Layout

New York City, located at the southern tip of New York State, is made up of five boroughs: Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, The Bronx, and Staten Island. It has an estimated population of 8,336,817 people distributed over approximately 302.6 square miles (784 km²). With that, NYC is also the most densely populated major city in the United States. The city’s recognizable grid layout, particularly in Manhattan, makes navigation relatively easy.

Chicago, on the other hand, is the largest city in Illinois, situated on the shores of Lake Michigan. Despite being smaller in population, with around 2.7 million residents, Chicago’s land area is much larger than New York City’s, covering about 234 square miles (606 km²). The city follows a grid system as well, which also makes navigation easy for both locals and tourists. The Chicago River, which runs through the heart of the city, is a defining geographical feature.


New York City experiences a humid subtropical climate, characterized by four distinct seasons. The summers are warm to hot and humid, with average high temperatures in the 80s (27-32°C), while winters are cold, with temperature lows often dropping below freezing. The city receives moderate precipitation throughout the year, including rain, sleet, and snow in winter months.

Chicago, on the other hand, has a humid continental climate. This means that the city experiences colder, sometimes snowy winters and hot, humid summers. Winters in Chicago can be harsh, with temperatures regularly falling below freezing, and the city is notorious for its strong and chilling winds. Summers can be very hot, with temperatures often reaching the upper 90s (32-37°C). While both cities have relatively high precipitation throughout the year, Chicago tends to have slightly more severe weather patterns, including thunderstorms and occasional tornadoes.


Major Industries

New York and Chicago are two major cities with diverse economies. New York City is predominantly known for its dominance in finance, with Wall Street being the heart of the financial sector. It is also a hub for technology and media companies. Chicago, on the other hand, has a strong presence in trading, such as options and commodity markets, with the Chicago Mercantile Exchange (CME) Group headquartered here. This city also has significant manufacturing, transportation, and logistics industries.

Job Market

Comparing the job markets in these cities, we can observe the following key differences:

  • New York City experienced a growth of over 210,000 private-sector jobs in the final months of 2022, while Chicago experienced close to 100,000 job growth in the same period.
  • The average pay in New York City is 12% higher than in Chicago. However, this barely offsets the difference in the cost of living between the two cities.

In terms of unemployment rates:

  • New York City has an unemployment rate of 11.2%.
  • Chicago’s unemployment rate stands at 9.0%.

Regarding housing options and prices:

  • In Chicago, median rent for a 2-bedroom apartment is $2,754, while the median home price for a 3-bedroom, 2-bathroom property is $556,350.
  • In New York City (Manhattan), the median rent for a 2-bedroom apartment is $4,645, and the median home price for a 3-bedroom, 2-bathroom property is $2,388,421.

It is important to consider these economic factors when comparing New York City and Chicago, as they might directly impact one’s decision on which city is the best fit for their career and lifestyle.

Culture and Lifestyle

Food Scene

New York City and Chicago both offer diverse and delicious food scenes. In New York, one can experience a wide array of culinary options, from world-class fine dining to authentic international street food. The city’s iconic dishes include pizza, bagels, and hot dogs, while ethnic enclaves boast cuisine from the Caribbean, East Asia, the Middle East, and more.

Chicago, on the other hand, is famous for its deep-dish pizza and Chicago-style hot dogs. The city also features a strong culinary scene that includes top-notch Polish and Italian fare, along with diverse ethnic neighborhoods offering Southeast Asian, Mexican, and Ethiopian cuisine, among others.

Arts and Entertainment

Both New York City and Chicago are globally renowned for their arts and entertainment scenes. New York City boasts a plethora of world-famous museums like the Metropolitan Museum of Art and The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA). Additionally, NYC is home to Broadway, which offers an unmatched theater experience with an ever-changing roster of plays and musicals.

Chicago is no slouch when it comes to the arts, being home to the prestigious Art Institute of Chicago and the Museum of Contemporary Art. The city’s theater scene is also highly regarded, with the Goodman Theatre and Steppenwolf Theatre Company leading the way. Furthermore, Chicago is well-known for its vibrant live music scene, especially in genres like jazz and blues.


Sports enthusiasts will find much to enjoy in both cities. New York City is home to numerous professional sports teams across major leagues, such as the New York Yankees (baseball), New York Mets (baseball), New York Knicks (basketball), Brooklyn Nets (basketball), New York Giants (football), and New York Jets (football). The city also hosts many high-profile events like the US Open tennis tournament and the New York City Marathon.

Chicago, similarly, has a storied sports history with its own array of dedicated franchises, including the Chicago Cubs and White Sox (baseball), Chicago Bulls (basketball), Chicago Bears (football), and Chicago Blackhawks (hockey). The city’s sports culture is deeply passionate, with a particularly strong rivalry between the Cubs and White Sox.

Education and Institutions

New York City and Chicago, as two of the largest cities in the United States, possess different educational landscapes. New York spends 73.5% more per student than Chicago does, although the number of students in each classroom is significantly larger in Chicago. In terms of student-teacher ratio, New York has a 79.4% lower ratio than Chicago, which means fewer students in each classroom.

A comparison of public elementary schools shows that New York has a higher number of schools (951) compared to Chicago’s 461 schools. However, when considering private school enrollment, both cities have similar proportions of students attending private schools, with 17% in New York and 16% in Chicago.

When analyzing key areas of academic performance, including math proficiency and reading and language arts proficiency, New York City students have the upper hand. 48% of New York students demonstrate math proficiency and the same percentage also indicate reading and language arts proficiency. In comparison, Chicago presents lower numbers: 21% of Chicago students achieve math proficiency and 25% of students are proficient in reading and language arts.

Considering higher education institutions, both New York and Chicago are home to prestigious universities. New York University and the University of Chicago are among the top universities in the nation.

While both cities boast different educational environments and have varying levels of academic performance, they offer a multitude of public and private educational institutions. Parents, students, and educators can explore numerous opportunities within the diverse education landscape across New York City and Chicago.

Transportation Systems

New York City and Chicago both have well-established public transportation systems, despite their differences in size and infrastructure. The New York City Subway is the largest rapid transit system in the United States, serving a population of over 18 million in the metropolitan area. The Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) operates the Chicago “L” train system and buses, serving a city of nearly 9 million people.

In terms of sheer size and passenger volume, New York City’s public transportation system leads the nation. With its vast network of subway lines, buses, and commuter trains, it moves a large number of passengers across the city efficiently. However, the subway system’s century-old infrastructure has led to some challenges in recent years, including service disruptions and an increased need for repairs.

On the other hand, Chicago’s public transportation system has also faced its share of challenges with aging infrastructure. However, the city has taken a proactive approach in addressing these issues, leading to some noteworthy improvements. For instance, the average transit commute time in Chicago is just 43.6 minutes, only about 10 minutes more than the average car commute in the city.

Both New York and Chicago’s public transportation systems offer various modes of transportation, including buses and rail services. In New York, the subway system has more of a route-based concept, where lines can often shift along the existing infrastructure. Meanwhile, Chicago’s “L” train system follows a more conventional line-based structure.

In summary, while both New York City and Chicago have extensive public transportation systems, the two cities differ in the size, infrastructure, and approach to addressing challenges associated with aging systems. Both cities’ transit systems serve millions of passengers daily, providing efficient and accessible transportation options to their respective populations.

Cost of Living

Chicago and New York City (Manhattan) both offer unique experiences and opportunities, but the cost of living is a significant factor when comparing these two cities.

The cost of living in New York City (Manhattan) is much higher than in Chicago. To maintain a similar standard of living in Manhattan, a household would need an income that is 47.57% higher than in Chicago. This equates to a required increase of $63,519 to maintain the same lifestyle.

When looking at specific expenses, certain areas contribute significantly to the difference in cost of living. For example, transportation costs in Manhattan are approximately 4.19% higher than in Chicago. Median home costs are the largest factor in the cost of living difference between the two cities.

Despite the higher cost of living in Manhattan, it is important to consider that employers in New York City typically pay 11.4% more than those in Chicago. This may partially offset the increased expenses for individuals relocating from Chicago to New York City. Conversely, employers in Chicago pay around 10.2% less than those in New York, which should be taken into account when considering a move from Manhattan to Chicago.

In summary, while both cities have their unique qualities and opportunities, the cost of living is higher in Manhattan compared to Chicago. Factors such as housing, transportation, and salary differences need to be carefully considered when comparing the two cities.


Both New York City and Chicago have their respective pros and cons, making them attractive for different reasons and preferences. When comparing the two cities, some key differences stand out, but they both offer world-class culture, entertainment, and job opportunities.

New York City has a larger population and a more extensive transportation system, while Chicago generally boasts a lower cost of living and tends to be less crowded. New York City is known for its iconic skyline, vibrant art scene, and countless attractions, while Chicago is famed for its distinct architecture, beautiful lakefront, and diverse neighborhoods.

In terms of employment opportunities, both cities excel in various industries, such as finance, technology, and media. However, New York City has a stronger presence in these areas due to its size and status as a global financial center. Nonetheless, Chicago also provides a thriving job market in sectors like healthcare, manufacturing, and telecommunications.

Cultural amenities are abundant in both cities, with New York City being home to Broadway shows, numerous art galleries, and world-class museums, while Chicago features a thriving theater scene, excellent museums, and various music festivals.

Ultimately, choosing between these two remarkable cities depends on individual preferences and priorities. Some may prioritize a lower cost of living and a more manageable size of the city, in which case Chicago would be a better fit. Others may prefer the fast-paced energy, extensive cultural offerings, and endless opportunities that New York City has to offer. By considering these factors, one can make a well-informed decision about which city best suits their needs and lifestyle.