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North America > United States > Chicago

See: Why rent a car in Chicago ? | Why not? | Ratings | Summary | Comments

(All of these pages will look a lot nicer when they are tidied up later in the spring)

Your key questions for any destination:

Do I need a car in Chicago ?

Strictly speaking, there are very few travel destinations anywhere in the world where it's absolutely essential to rent a car in order to see the main points of interest.

That's why we give you loads of ratings scales from 1 to 10, rather than just yes or no answers!

  • The need question is generally answered by looking at public transport (transit) options. Is it good enough for visitors who are happy to consider using it?
  • How many public transport routes are there, and are they mainly rail or road (bus) based?
  • Is public transport fast, frequent, safe, reliable and cheap?
  • Does public transport actually take you to the places you'll probably want to see?

Is it worth hiring a car in Chicago ?

This question is usually more about value for money. For this, we look at Chicago car hire options, and consider how rental costs compare with using transit.

How far are you likely to drive anyway, and how much might you expect to spend on fuel, road tolls, parking and any other charges. We compare Chicago with other destinations locally and around the world.

This is obviously much more of an issue if you are planning a longer road trip than it is on a small island.

Should I rent a car in Chicago ? 

This is basically a merging of the two questions. Everything else might be about giving certain facts about the costs of car rental or using public transport in Chicago , but answering this question is very much a matter of opinion.

Please note that is currently being revised and updated in preparation for the Summer 2022 (northern hemisphere) tourist season. 

We do not intent to include detailed covid information, nor do we intend to suggest hiring a car, just because public transport might still have a mask requirement. Our advice will be based on the same criteria we've always used, ie whether or not you can get a better travel experience, or at least a better value one, by choosing not to hire a car.

Quick Ratings

Price band

Chicago is in car rental price band: 5/10 (1 = cheapest car rental location)

General comment - based on price alone, is it worth renting a car in Chicago ? 

Sometimes. Economy rental prices are average by global standards.


Can you expect big swings in car rental prices in Chicago between the peak and the off peak season?

5/10 (0 = stable prices)

Driving score: 7/10

Non car score:5/10

Balance: 6

(0 = car hire not advised / 10 = rental car essential)

General comment -


Why? Visiting Chicago using a hire car

Why do you need a car in Chicago ?

Should you rent a car in Chicago?

  • Great Lakes — To get around the city of Chicago itself, there really is no reason to get a hire car, unless you want to behave like Ferris Bueller. To enjoy scenic areas around the Great Lakes or inland, then as with anywhere, a hire car will give you much more flexibility.
  • Base — Chicago is arguably still America’s main transportation hub — although Atlanta airport has taken the singular title of world’s busiest airport from Chicago O Hare, Chicago also has a secondary airport at Midway and sits at the centre of the Amtrak passenger rail network. So there’s a much wider choice of flights to Chicago from Europe in particular, and also from Asia. This naturally makes Chicago a good place to pick up a hire car and use as a base or a starting point for a road trip into other states.
  • Route 66 — Chicago is the start of the famous Route 66 which traverses some of the United States’ most dramatic scenery as it heads through the Rockies and Canyon lands into California. Note that if you are looking at picking up a hire car in Chicago and dropping it off somewhere else, it is worth checking each hire company’s policy on one-way rentals first as these can vary dramatically from one car hire provider to the next, and sometimes you can be stung with additional fees at the car hire desk if you do not double check the small print beforehand.

Why not? Visiting Chicago without a car

Why don't you need a car in Chicago ?

  • Architecture – The Windy city has so much to offer aficionados of architecture, crime capers and pizza, and it also offers plenty of easy options are getting around courtesy of the CTA transit system.
  • El – When it comes to elevated trains (Els), Chicago really is the pioneer. Whereas New York’s elevated subway lines and steamy heating ducts might have featured as a backdrop in more films, they are generally only used in the less glamorous suburbs. In Chicago, the “loop” travels around the downtown district giving stunning views of some of the city’s most famous skyscrapers.
  • Cycling city – Chicago has invested millions of dollars in new cycle lanes, making it one of the most bike friendly cities in the USA. There are now nearly 600 Divvy bike share stations across the city.
  • The 606 – this new walking and cycling trail runs east-west for 2.7 miles in the northwest of the city. Divvy bike hire is available near each of the five entrances.

Ratings: How does Chicago compare?

Is it worth hiring a car in Chicago ? TBC

This is based on a rough consideration of the costs of renting a car in Chicago , and how this compares with the costs of using public transport. The answer to this varies hugely from one destination to the next, based on a wide range of factors. It's based on renting a car at the airport (TBC), and driving for an average of 2-3 hours on open roads on most days.

How does this compare if:

You are travelling:

Solo / As couple / small family / larger family / senior couple etc

Does car rental make sense on different budgets?



Do you need to hire a car in Chicago ? TBC

This is based strictly on whether or no we think it's possible to visit Chicago (and the surrounding area) without using a car. Of the three key questions, this one is the most likely to be a "no".

Should you rent a car in Chicago ? TBC

This is a balance of all factors. Remember this is an answer to the question for people who are already asking it. That's why the answer might still be a "yes", even when public transport is good. 

See global comparisons

Hiring | Driving | Parking

Trains | Buses | Local travel


Car hire basics:


Public transportation basics:


Regular bus services: YES

Coach (inter-city): YES

Tram: NO

Metro: NO

Commuter Rail:

High Speed Rail:

Rail type (end stub / through / junction / hub):


As you start ....

Does Chicago airport have a direct rail link?

(Yes - within terminal / adjacent / short walk) (Yes - bus transfer / other) No






Has our advice for Chicago car rental changed over time, or has it been pretty constant?

2017 - 3

2019 - 6

2021 - 6

Average score - 5



Should you rent a car in Chicago? Verdict: no


Do you or don't you need a car in Chicago ?

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