How Big Is Chicago? Compare Its Size in Miles, Acres, Kilometers, and Population

Written by Samantha Stanich
Updated: July 21, 2023
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Chicago - Illinois, Beach, North Avenue Beach, Building Exterior, Lake

Chicago’s nickname is

The Windy City.

©iStock.com/tupungato

As the third largest city in the United States by population, Chicago is comprised of 77 community areas such as Lincoln Park, Uptown, and The Loop. It was once home to the tallest building in the world, the Willis Tower (originally the Sears Tower). It’s known for the fun-loving Wrigleyville and deep-dish pizza, but it is also a bustling center for business, arts, and diehard sports fans. In a city so iconic that Ferris took a day off to explore it, one must wonder how big Chicago actually is.

If Chicago’s size ever crossed your mind, you are not alone. This Midwest city is known for its summers on Lake Michigan and dying its river green for Saint Patrick’s Day, and many want to know how the city supports its growing population. To understand Chicago’s size, we need to look closer at the size of the land on which Chicago sits.

Below, we will take a closer look at the Windy City, and how much land mass it supports. We will also cover different measurements and compare the Chicago to other large cities across the globe. Make sure you delve deep into this article because life moves pretty fast, and if you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it!

How Big Is Chicago At a Glance

Square MilesAcresKilometers SquaredLand AreaWater Area
Chicago234.53 (city)148,300607.44227.73 sq mi (589.82 km2)6.80 sq mi (17.62 km2)

The city is home to an estimated 2.7 million residents, and though that doesn’t compare to New York City’s almost 8.468 million people, there isn’t that much land mass in the city to support the population. When you look at the numbers, the city isn’t that big. It sits on the scenic Lake Michigan and the Chicago River Runs through, taking up prime real estate. 

So how do all the people call Chicago home? The city itself is only 234.54 square miles in land mass. This doesn’t leave that much room for buildings which is where tall skyscrapers come into the picture. This way the city can still house many people without covering too much land.

And even though the city of Chicago’ is set’s boundaries are set, many who live in the suburbs state they live in “Chicago,” or just a little outside. Lake Michigan forms the city’s eastern boundary, and the Chicago River divides it into three geographic sections: the North Side, the South Side, and the West Side. These sections surround the city’s compact downtown area – the Loop.

Why Is Chicago Called the Windy City?

Everyone knows Chicago as the Windy City even though it isn’t the windiest city in the United States! However, it isn’t any windier than any other city. In 1876, The Cincinnati Enquirer used the term about a tornado that blew through the city. They capitalized on the natural disaster’s double meaning to highlight Chicago’s politicians who were also “full of wind.” The nickname stuck and the rest is history!

How Many Acres is Chicago?

Chicago Skylines building along green dyeing river of Chicago River on St. Patrick's day festival in Chicago Downtown IL USA

The city houses eight major league sports teams, including two MLB teams.

©vichie81/Shutterstock.com

Let’s look at Chicago’s size in acres. This is one of the most standard ways to measure land mass, especially when it comes to comparing cities. Chicago is approximately 148,300 acres in total. One acre is around the size of a football field, and the city loves its football. Out of those acres, Chicagoans have over 580 parks and 8,300 acres of green spaces at their disposal. There’s no shortage of outdoor recreation in the city with 19 miles of lakefront bicycle paths along Lake Michigan, and a 40-acre bike path for BMX and trail riding. Chicago has the second-highest percentage of commuters riding their bikes to work.

How Big is Chicago’s Saint Patrick’s Day Parade?

It seems everyone in the city turns out for the Irish holiday, as it has the largest St. Patrick’s Day Parade in the United States. The parade attracts almost a whopping two million spectators and participants. It is also one of the longest-running St. Patrick’s Day parades in the country. The city’s Irish taverns started filling up pints of beer in 1843, and the parade became an official city event in the 1950s! And the Chicago River first shined brilliant shades of emerald green in 1962.


How Many Square Miles is Chicago?

The most common way to refer to distance measurements is in miles or kilometers. Chi-town is approximately 234.53 square miles. If we converted that to kilometers, the city is around 607.44 square kilometers.

Chicago Comparisons to Other Cities

As stated above, Chicago is the third largest city in the United States by population, just behind New York and Los Angeles. Fun fact, it is about the same size as San Francisco if you include the bay. Chicago became a big city because of its unique position. It sits directly between the Great Lakes and the Great Plains. So it became a major hub for both regions.

Let’s see how it compares to other major cities across the world!

How Big Is Chicago Compared to London?

Westminster Bridge at sunset, London, UK

Greater London is nearly four times bigger than the Windy City.

©ESB Professional/Shutterstock.com

However, Greater London, which includes the City of London and 32 London boroughs, is what most would compare to Chicago. This area is 607 square miles and is home to 9.648 million people. The city of Chicago is 234.53 square miles and is home to 2.7 million people. Greater London has more than three times Chicago’s population and covers about three to four times the land area as well.

However, the City of London is a measly 1.12 square miles and is home to around 8,000 residents, 513,000 daily commuters, and 10 million annual visitors. London’s boundaries stretch from Temple to the Tower of London on the River Thames, including Chancery Lane and Liverpool Street. The city of Chicago sprawls a bit more than 1.12 square miles, and the city saw almost 50 million visitors in 2022.

How Big Is Chicago Compared to New York?

New York City panorama skyline at sunrise. Manhattan office buildings / skysrcapers at the morning. New York City panoramatic shot.

In New York City real estate holdings are measured in square feet owned.

©IM_photo/Shutterstock.com

New York City has a much higher population of 8.8 million compared to Chicago’s 2.7 million. And NYC is the largest city in the U.S. by population. However, NYC is approximately 302.6 square miles, so not that much greater than 234.53 square miles. The East Coast city is about one-third larger than the Midwest city.

For another comparison, New York state is 54,556 square miles, while Illinois is 57,915 square miles. Though the states are close to the same size, their two largest cities are vastly different. So, New York City takes the crown when it comes to size, but the real question is what is better a New York slice or deep-dish pizza?

How Big is Chicago Compared to Los Angeles?

L.A.

Los Angeles’ land total is about double that of Chicago’s.

©iStock.com/Sean Pavone

Though the land area of Los Angeles is 502.7 square miles, the city’s population is only about one million more than Chicago’s 2.7 million. There are around 3.85 million currently living in the city of Los Angeles. Also, California is 163,696 square miles, and Illinois is 57,915 square miles. As you can see, California dwarfs the Midwest state, almost tripling the total land mass. Due to LA having more land mass, it overtook Chicago in the 1980s as the second-largest city by population in the United States.

The City of Angels is more than twice the size of the Windy City, but its population density is significantly smaller.

Comparison of Cities By Square Miles

Though Chicago is the third-largest city in the United States, that is by population. The largest cities in the U.S. by square miles are all in Alaska. They are:

  • Sitka: 2,870.3 square miles
  • Juneau 2,701.9 square miles
  • Wrangell 2,542.5 square miles
  • Anchorage 1,704.7 square miles

This makes sense since Alaska is the biggest state in the U.S. at 665,400 square miles. You can fit Illinois into Alaska 11 times! One-fifth the size of the Lower 48, Alaska is bigger than Texas, California, and Montana combined.

The largest city by square miles in the continental United States is Jacksonville, Florida. It has a total area of 874 square miles, making it the fifth-largest city in the nation.

Conclusion

A polar vortex over Lake Michigan and the Chicago skyline

Chicago is the birthplace of modern architecture.

©Jake Hukee/Shutterstock.com

There are over a million reasons to visit Chicago, especially in the summertime! And even though it is the third-largest bustling city in the U.S., its large green spaces, miles of trails, and Great Lake, make it feel spacious! Travel to the Midwest city to try award-winning food, see iconic attractions, and visit vibrant neighborhoods! You won’t regret a trip to the Windy City!

The photo featured at the top of this post is © Rudy Balasko/Shutterstock.com


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