The 10 Best Cities In The World

The Economist produces a research report on the top 10 most livable cities in the world. How many have you been to? How do your favorites fare?

What Are The World’s Most Livable Cities?

This year’s top 10 most livable cities are ranked as:

  • Vienna

  • Copenhagen

  • Zurich + Calgary

  • Vancouver

  • Geneva

  • Frankfurt

  • Toronto

  • Amsterdam

  • Osaka and Melbourne

Can this list make any sense at all?

Vienna is incredible, but I wouldn’t want to live there though I’ve been attached to it since Richard Linklater’s 1995 classic Before Sunrise where young American Ethan Hawke is traveling Europe and meets Frenchwoman Julie Delpy on a train. They disembark together in Vienna and spend the night talking, walking the city, and falling in love.

At the end of the film they don’t exchange numbers. Instead they plan to meet up again in Europe in six months, and the film ends leaving viewers wondering whether they actually do (a question that’s answered 9 years later in the outstanding Before Sunset).

But Zurich is the third most-livable city in the world? Maybe if you’re a commodities trader. It’s among the most expensive, to be sure.

I’ll suggest that Toronto is one of the most underrated cities in the world even though it is cold and that Vancouver is excellent as well. I’d prefer both over Calgary.

Amsterdam is way too crowded in the summer to make this list, and they can’t even staff their airport.

I wouldn’t myself choose any German city for world’s top 10, but if forced to do so can’t imagine picking Frankfurt. Surely it’s among the less-interesting German cities.

Melbourne belongs here. Tokyo and Sydney seem missing. (Melbourne is a great food city, but if you care about food how can you not include Tokyo?). I understand the role of the pandemic, and pandemic response, but the list is certainly underweight Asia Pacific generally.


What Does It Mean To Be A Livable City?

There is no U.S. city on the Economist list and that doesn’t make sense to me. It leads me to work through ‘what exactly is it to be livable’ and I went through the exercise myself after I considered where to move after 18 years in the D.C. area. I thought about South Florida (I don’t love the food). I considered Nevada (but didn’t want to live in Las Vegas, and the idea of Nevada not Las Vegas…). I settled on Austin, Texas.

People complain about (3) things in Austin.

  • High real estate prices because it’s expensive for Texas. Zoning and cumbersome processes within the city limits make it expensive to build, and people want to live there. But it’s not expensive compared to the Northeast or to Northern and Southern California.

  • Traffic There are certainly streets that are busy at peak times, but nothing again compared to the Northeast. I moved here and thought the traffic was downright civilized compared to the 495 Beltway at the 270 Spur around 5 p.m. on a Thursday.

  • Heat in the summer but we don’t have super cold winters, and Austin is in Central Texas. It’s not humid compared to Houston or for that matter D.C. which is built on a swamp. I’ll take 100 in Austin over 90 in D.C. any day.

No place is perfect, but I chose to move to Austin because I found it the most livable. There are more days of sunshine and plenty of parks and outdoor activities. When I first moved here there weren’t a lot of ‘great’ restaurants outside of barbecue but everything was above average. And there was culture, too, in the form of music (for which it’s known) and experimental theater. I viewed it as being like San Francisco dropped in the middle of Texas with a compact downtime and all of the administrative benefits of not being in California.

When I moved here it seemed like ‘everyone was moving to Austin’ and Jon Stewart did his show from here for a week. He covered ‘the immigration problem’ and sent a reporter to the Austin border. One ‘man on the street interview’ subject remarked that Austin was nothing like it was when they moved here six days ago.

And yet it was still underrated. Now it is probably fairly rated, although problems are starting to show. High housing prices reveal political limits to housing construction that drive up costs, a City Council that meddles in the airport and slows development, and rhetoric that is anti-police yet offers some of the most egregious contracts to police in the nation (yet delivers poorly on service).

So what does it mean to be a livable city, really? Contra any group of experts I’d suggest that it varies by the individual and what they are looking for.

  • Food matters to many, but what kind of food matters will differ. Austin is a burgeoning food city but we’re poor in Southeast Asian cuisine.
  • Weather matters, but are you looking to avoid too cold (like me) or too hot?
  • Taxes matter if you have money, regulation matters if you’re in business or looking for a job. Texas is one of the more heavily-regulated states for occupational licensing.

Ironically for an energy-producing state, one of the top issues here is the electricity grid – which comes down to an increasing demand for energy that isn’t met by sufficient growth in supply (mostly a function of federal rules).

Perhaps It’s Better To Think In Terms Of Underrated And Overrated

For a long time New York and San Francisco were highly rated. Many people lived there, or wanted to. The benefit of being in close proximity to others for job, cultural, and dating opportunities mattered. And that was reflected in housing costs.

It’s probably the case that physical proximity matters less in tech than it used to, though I’d still rather be in Silicon Valley than most other places if trying to make a name for myself. And still better to be in the New York area for banking and finance.

New York City

Both are important places to consider when you’re young (just like you’d move to D.C. for policy) but not necessarily to raise a family. There’s no place other than New York that I’d want to be if I had $50 million or $100 million dollars! But for quality of life outside of your 20’s I regard it as overrated, and I certainly don’t want the winters.

Austin used to be underrated but enough people have discovered it and bid up prices. Boise is probably no longer underrated. Nashville might still be somewhat underrated.

There’s a natural tendency for a place to lose its character as it becomes well known for its character. Portland and Austin both proclaimed themselves as keeping their cities weird. Yet as people not steeped into the culture move in, and bid up housing prices, artists and creatives get bid out of downtowns and a place will almost inevitably become more homogenized. It’s worth getting in early to really experience a place, rather than having one’s experience with CBGB’s be as an OTG restaurant at Newark airport.

What’s the most livable city in the U.S.? It’s certainly not Boston or Chicago. Weather is great in Southern California but – having gone to school there – I’m not sure what else I’d grant it. Florida is one half of the Germany or Florida game.

I suspect that an exodus of some wealth and a reduction in office use will wind up making the city of New York more dysfunctional (city services and administration) but more interesting if office could get turned into housing, increasing supply and driving down rents. Imagine if it could become Berlin of 15 years ago. But for now it’s hard to imagine better U.S. cities than Austin, Boise and Nashville – unless your career requires proximity.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. I lived in Buenos Aires, Tel Aviv, 18 years in New York, and now 11 in Vancouver and I can tell you that to raise a family, Vancouver is by far the best
    great outdoors, massively subsidized activities at community centers, decent weather and great air connections
    The minus are first and foremost the shitty backstabing fake canadians, and the food scene, which besides the greatest asian food scene outside of asia, has absolutely nothing to offer
    I have been to ALL the 11 cities in the list and at this stage in my life I have to say that Vancouver will be number 1 in my list
    I would never live in toronto (lacks charm and character, not to mentio crappy weather) or Calgary which is boring and miserably cold

  2. Canada with 3 cities on the list. Oh Canada!

    Canada was always the best part of North America.

  3. Boise? It’s a mess of brown in an uber conservative state. What on earth is there that is making it “best”?

    Nashville? It’s okay, but when I visited there recently it was a mess of screaming people on alcohol fueled benders moving through the city. The relatives I have there all stay well away from that mess.

    Both cities are in highly highly conservative states where peoples’ rights are being stripped away. Texas and Austin, despite being Austin, face the same issues. I would never move to any of those places.

    The Economist explains pretty clearly how they determined their criteria -not sure why you didnt mention that.

    Everybody’s criteria will be different based on where they are in their lives and their financial stnading. but sorry. These suburban-focused sprawl focused cities in uber red states are places where, although cheaper, you pay for it in other ways. No thanks.

  4. Let me be the first to being race into the equation. What were the races compiling the list?

  5. The best city to live in is no city. Every study on human happiness indicates that people are happier in smaller places.

    As far as this study goes, listing Melbourne and not Sydney is just funny. I challenge anyone to spend a week in both those cities and say they prefer Melbourne. Every time I walk around Melbourne I feel sorry for the locals — like why don’t you just move to Sydney!

  6. Gary. Really nice change of pace article. Enjoyed it quite a bit and nice to hear your personal take. Ultimately where you live is highly personal and as stated when you move somewhere can make all of the difference in the world.

  7. So, not “The 10 Best Cities….”, but The 10 Most Liveable Cities. Click bait, got it.

  8. Nevada outside of Las Vegas is quite nice actually. I lived in Reno 2008-2013 (when it was WAY underrated, as opposed to just somewhat underrated as it is now). And if you were considering NV/TX/FL, the lack of a state income tax was clearly an important factor for you. I’m eager to move back.

  9. Zurich is not longer more expensive than many American cities. I was in Zurich for a few days in November and I kept remarking how everything was cheaper than Austin (where we both live). My partner and I had a nice Swiss dinner for less than CHF 100. No chance I’m getting dinner and drinks in Austin for under $100. I went to a Christmas market and a few bars. A round was usually around CHF 20. Considering there’s no need to tip and tax was included, a night out in Zurich was a lot cheaper than one in Austin.

    Unlike Austin, reasonable public transportation is available. The Park Hyatt cost less than what I typically see at JW/Proper/W.

  10. The list comes from the Economist. That says it all. This is the same publication that comes out every year and predicts what the world will be like in that year in the different parts of the world. Every year they are off by more than 70% with their predictions. Enough said

  11. One thing the 10 most “livable” cities had in common, they are all in countries that have relatively more socialism than the US and also tended to lockdown a lot more with higher covid restrictions as well for past couple years. I agree with Texas being quite nice (Except for summer weather)

    My list: 1: Major Florida Cities, 2: Major Texas Cities, 3: London, 4: Munich, 5: Singapore, 6: Denver, 7: New York, 8: Dubai, 9: Paris, 10: San Diego (Wildcard while like the city in general and climate, not a fan of the state’s politics)

  12. Rankings make sense when there exists a well-defined, univariate objective. If you give a bunch of investors a lump sum of $1M and a horizon of 10 years, you can rank them by their portfolio gains. Even then, past performance does not guarantee future success; insofar as you want to identify a “best” investor in hopes of repeating a strong performance, you would do well to consider additional factors, some of which are not so easily quantified, much less rank-ordered.

    Ranking of cities — very multifaceted entities — by livability — a subjective and multidimensional trait — is folly. It sure generates a lot of engagement, and this type of enterprise has propped up US News & World Report for the last couple of decades.

    @Gavin brings up (maybe inadvertently) a good point about race. A sense of belonging is very important wherever we live. A non-diverse city (a.k.a. an enclave) may have terrific weather and infrastructure and everything else but at the end of the day it will be inhospitable to people who do not identify with the predominant race. Conversely, a too-diverse city may make it hard for anybody to fit in.

  13. To add: there is no city perfect for everyone. New York City is often advertised as having something for everyone, but it is obviously not true for:

    — People who dislike crowds.
    — People who value having a lot of personal space, whether at home, or in public.
    — People who dislike seeing garbage bags out on the street, AC dripping on their heads, etc.
    — People who enjoy driving their own private car in orderly traffic, instead of standing shoulder to shoulder with strangers on a bus or train, or even sitting in the backseat of a vehicle for hire.
    — People who prefer a slower pace of life, who like to engage in small talk. It may surprise New Yorkers that these people exist, but I assure you they do.
    — People who hate a blunt style of communication. Again, it may surprise New Yorkers that these people exist, but I assure you they do.
    — People who have prefer natural amenities, like mountains and oceans, more than skyscrapers.
    — People who prefer a year-round temperate climate with no snow, minimal rainfall, etc.
    — People who are anti-Semitic. I am not one of them, but there are such people, and let’s face it, New York has very strong Jewish influences.
    — All kinds of other people for whom NYC would not be pleasant.

  14. @Jason – I speak for millions when I say THANK YOU for not moving to a Republican state. We don’t want or need people like you. BTW you are very selective about stripping away “rights”. Illinois and NY have some of the most restrictive gun control laws which are likely now history that SCOTUS has ruled on NY’s permit process vs the 2nd Amendment. Also, many Dem run states have high taxes, excess administrative costs and poorly run state businesses (Illinois is the poster child). You can’t have everything and I would much rather be in a Republican run state that values freedom, is business friendly and believes in not taxing their citizens to death. To each their own but your snarky comments are frankly offensive and small minded.

  15. The cities are set by whatever selection criteria was used, nothing more. There was a list the other day from CNBC on the 10 worst states to live – but hilariously, the top two were Arizona and Texas, the states where everyone is moving to. Clearly they chose criteria to make certain places look bad. Same thing can happen with “best” lists, you have to agree with the criteria, or it’s meaningless. It like colleges – Yale is always ranked near the top, but if you’re looking for engineering, it’s #38.

    With cities, a great deal depends on how much money you have, can earn, and how much it costs to live there. You want a big yard, safe neighborhood, good schools, short commute, and inexpensive housing, that’s probably not going to be any of those cities. But if someone wanted front me a few million, I’d live somewhere near Hampstead Heath, just to the north of Central London.

  16. @AC. Wrong. They are trying to take my freedoms away and tell me I’m less than you. Also I don’t think that children who are gunned down in Texas classrooms enjoy having their freedom to live taken away just because the second amendment has been perverted by extremists who see no problems in those deaths so long as guns are preserved. I’d rather pay a little bit more for my freedoms then live in a cheaper place where my rights as a citizen are debased.

  17. Gary, re: Southeast Asian food in Austin, have you been to Mai Thai? It’s not *great* like you could get on the west coast or NYC, but it’s good, and better than I expected for Austin.

  18. The research pretty consistently shows that people’s actual happiness isn’t affected by weather – they learn to deal with wherever they move. There’s a huge arbitrage opportunity if you’re willing to internalize that research and move to the cheap housing of Chicago or Minneapolis.

  19. @Jason

    You are happy with speech being criminalized, people being forced to bake cakes for things they don’t support, people forced to be vaccinated, government telling you what you can and can’t do with your own body, and every business detail being hyper regulated by the government. Freedom for you is not being able to speak freely, not being able to decide where you spend your money, and paying for illegals to have free housing, tuition, phones, and medical care while you work and struggle.

  20. This list is decent given the definition of livable being different than where I would like to visit as a tourist. I like Rome and Florence but I don’t judge them on livability.

    Very few are honest when it comes to race. When one group is 13% of the population and commits 60% of the violent crime, the population of this group in a city will determine if it is livable or dangerous. That crosses a lot of American cities off the list. Europe is highly regulated, speech is criminalized, taxes are high, the median household income is half of the U.S. in Western Europe and 1/4 of it in Eastern Europe but none of that really matters if you don’t have a certain group running wild like in NYC. There is peace and tranquility and a quality of life without this group. Schools may have a liberal agenda but your kids will be around normal people in classrooms. You may be a Christian and abhor the lack of morality amongst the public but you don’t have twerking consents in a NYC subway car in between stops.

    This means certain cities in Europe automatically are crossed off the decent list because of open borders and bad immigration policy. The U.S. has a situation where there are great parts of cities because money keeps the riff raff out, although, only the elite can afford it. The Cities still suck overall because of the above mentioned problems.

    I wouldn’t include Amsterdam on the livability list. It is full of tourists and foreign migrants. Driving a car is a problem because of how the city is shaped in a ring.

    Vienna is a beautiful and tranquil place. The subways are great. Austria is such a pleasure.

  21. I think you don’t understand the electric grid with the following

    Ironically for an energy-producing state, one of the top issues here is the electricity grid – which comes down to an increasing demand for energy that isn’t met by sufficient growth in supply (mostly a function of federal rules).

    The Texas electric grid is within the state borders without connection across state lines. Therefore, federal regulations do not apply. The lack of supply growth is solely the fault of Texas state government not “federal rules”.
    Btw, the only part of Texas that does not have supply issues and was not blacked out is the area around El Paso. The electric company there is connected across state lines to other companies and subject to “federal rules”. They never had a power outage like the state only grid did.

  22. @Jackson Watergate- this article is about criteria for livability and I think everybody agrees there are many criteria. Some of my criteria would include not living in a state where high level politicians at the state and federal level make pronouncements that they’d pursue legislation that would strip me if my rights. In a mean, nasty way m, I might add. That’s my criteria. Not sure why you make lots of assumptions about my beliefs or opinions when you know nothing about me. Those suppositions say more about you and your prejudices than about me and my beliefs.

  23. Moved to USA from Canada 22 years ago. Could move anywhere in USA for work. Researched every large US city. Wanted no cold weather. Moved to Atlanta and still love it every day. Great climate. Great airport. Great location. Great people. Reasonable cost of living.

  24. I can’t believe you’re not looking at the access to basic human rights when you’re trying to decide what goes into the most “livable” cities. Nowhere in Texas or Florida for that matter should rank in any “livable” cities list because you’re stripped from your rights as a human.

  25. @Jason Thank you.. While the state governments of Texas and others are busy competing to see which can be nastier to a goodly number of their citizens, (including in education, maternal mortality women’s bodily autonomy etc) , I won’t be admiring their ‘livable cities’.
    (And how many red states are supported by federal tax money from the economies of the blue states?)

  26. Mostly “white” post-Colonial and European cities. No Brown or Black cities. And who decides what’s “livable”? The Economist. Hmm…

  27. Gary, enjoyed your post but JohnnieD is right: Texas’ energy supply problems are not due to federal rules but rather to the state’s policy of running an independent grid for most of the state, and also devising an energy-only wholesale market rather than a capacity market that incentivizes generators to be available.

  28. Austin is one of America’s unique cities, but now overcrowded. DC is the really underrated city. Definitely livable, interesting, and with the nicest suburbs closest in. Geneva and Frankfurt? Nice, but not better places to live than DC. Vienna? Nice place to retire to.

  29. As an Anglo-European reading this article and these comments, it seems mad to me. I just don’t comprehend what is attractive about American cities at all. They are road-focused with very little public transport. Your healthcare costs are ridiculous. The whole ‘free speech’ debate is frankly scary. Seriously, someone here is equating the right to own a gun with individual rights such as bodily autonomy. The whole discussion here is frankly ridiculous from a European perspective and just reinforces my view that the last place I would actually want to live is a US city, particularly in a red state.

    What do European cities have? Well, usually a very good public transport and housing close to your work. Freedom to do whatever you want. Generally very reasonable or free healthcare for everyone. Freedom of speech for everyone. Low rise cities which tend to be compact and therefore are eminently walkable. Good and cheap transport connections to the continent and the globe. I don’t find taxes high in general – salaries are negotiated in many places based on net income rather than gross. Paid leave for up to 30 days or more per year. Sick leave is also paid. Parental leave for both mothers and fathers. The ability to be who you want to be – nobody cares about your religion, your sexuality. You are more than entitled to your own political views. The weather is generally very pleasant, and if it isn’t, it takes about 2-3hrs and less than $100 to travel somewhere for a weekend where it is.

    Do I fully agree with the list of liveable cites? No. But I definitely wouldn’t place any American city in my top 10 simply because everything there would be a huge downgrade for my quality of life compared to a European city which is certainly not in the top 30 or even 50 of this economist list.

  30. @ Amy Fisher

    Many of your disgustingly racist and very pathetic perceptions have been challenged with facts just a few posts ago on this very website.

    Of course you never rebuke such facts directly. You fall silent when challenged. You are too cowardly to respond. You have no cogent, articulate response. Such is the nature of abject ignorance and vile prejudice.

    @ Gary

    You claim to put come sort of moderation in play on this blog – but how can you let this trash (and the seminal offender @ Jackson Waterson) continue to pollute your blog? Seriously?!

    It demeans you. It demeans your readers. It undermines your utter work. It destroys your credibility.

    As I have previously stated – it is why (sadly) I can never and will never recommend this blog to the many people I help with FF matters.

  31. I think the problem with the discussion here is people are mixing up ‘nice to visit’ with livability.

    I lived in Sydney for 12 years. It’s not a very nice place to live. Sure, the harbor is beautiful, but how important is that when you’re stuck commuting in either miserable traffic or terrible public transport that doesn’t reach much of the city? The downtown of Sydney is pretty bad too – again, go away from the harbor and you’re surrounded by ugly buildings and very little beautiful spaces. Finally, ithe obsession with being landlords by Australians has made it completely unaffordable for anyone under 40.

    As for Austin – if you’ll forgive the rant, I loved visiting it, loved the bbq and nightlife but won’t be back until sanity prevails in the local politics. My son wouldn’t be alive if it wasn’t for abortion being widely available in the 18th week. No way I’m going to support a state that elects morons who don’t understand that if you want to have a child after 35, amniocentesis is highly recommended and also completely pointless if you can’t terminate the pregnancy if necessary. If my wife and I hadn’t been able to access abortion, we wouldn’t have taken the risk in having a child. Many couples will now make that same choice. Not just anyone over 35 either – who’d want to risk a pregnancy complication and your doctor having to wait until you’re going to die to terminate the pregnancy? The religious nutters call themselves pro-life, but would rather have more guns than more kids alive. Insanity.

  32. Sorry folks,

    Raising a family ? How about Senior citizens or you golden years, not every one is raising a family . I’ve traveled lol Ed the workd , nothing more conviente than NY it has everything in a three block radius. No driving involved . The insanity of commuting .yes it’s expensive and so are other cities that have nothing . You can keep the Mountain View’s or Sandy beaches . Leave me in NY the city that never sleeps and survives no matter what .

  33. Sounds like a lot of bitter Americans surprised that their crime infested cities didnt make the list….

  34. Ron White has a joke about Austin. He says he moved there in 1960 and people were saying that Austin was already too crowded and that he had just missed the glory days of the 1950s lol.

  35. I find it amusing some think your human rights are “striped” in Florida, all while Florida has more liberal abortion laws than most of Europe, even their new one, which is most likely where it’s going to stay. Guess the MSNBC propaganda works. And I say that as someone who kind of hates Florida, too swampy, full of former NYers.

    FWIW, I find most American cities as not livable, but their suburbs are. European cities are better in that regard, though there is a reason the continent is dying – their economic model is anti-children, no one can afford two.

  36. Guns: I find the various comments about gun control or lack of interesting. If you will look back to our founding fathers reason for the 2nd amendment was to protect us from the government. Now more than ever we need the 2nd amendment. Lastly, the killing of school children is Texas was a media circus for sure when any Saturday night or any day of the week, there’s more killed in south side Chicago or LA for that matter (Dem controlled cities oh by the way). Guns never killed anybody. Humans do that. Ever hear of anyone retiring to the north?

  37. Houston? Really?
    It has heat, humidity, roaches, pollution, traffic, roaches, no place to eat after 9 pm, and oh, did I mention roaches?
    Imagine what it was like growing up in the 60’s when there were only 3 TV channels. Guess what Houston still had back then? Yep, Roaches, heat, humidity, and more roaches.
    In fact, I’d discount any home in Memorial by 75% due to roaches.

  38. I’ve called her out before but the sheer stupidity and ignorance of Amy Fischer is degrading to this blog. Block her for fuck’s sake. What a shit stain she is. Slither away you racist piece of dog shit.

  39. @loungeabuser haven’t seen a roach in a decade. And I’ll take roaches any day over the deadly spiders getting into every nook and cranny in California. And I don’t know when you were here last, but there are hundreds of restaurants open after 9!

  40. They have the right to put a list, I guess. I keep wondering about the criteria.

    Zurich and Geneva, kidding me? Try finding a rental there!

    Calgary? What’s good there. Oh, I know! It’s better than Edmonton.

    Vancouver? I’d choose Seattle over it.

    If they really had to have a Canadian city, pick Montreal, at least it has the charm.

    Copenhagen? Did they see the real estate prices?

    Frankfurt? Is it a city? I thought it was a connection point 🙂

  41. These lists are a joke as they are very subjective. Also people such as Jason feel the need to degrade cities such as Boise based on political leanings. Believe it or not Jason many of the readers here are conservative and don’t agree with you’re narrow view points based on leftist values.

  42. Places where absolute wealth is greater and crime is not as much in the face of the wealthy ranking higher for living desirability? Why am I not shocked. But US cities not at the top?

    I spend a good chunk of time around Europe and yet I prefer DC to every European city at the top of the list.

    I find most of the cities at the top of The Economist’s list to be boring and excessively sterile. But I also see why so many people who live in them would find them highly livable and have fewer worries than say the average American living around DC, NYC or any other major job-rich city in the US.

  43. There’s an easy joke about the sort of blood-sucking creature that prefers the long widely reviled swamp of DC, but I think I’ll pass. Someone has to love the place.

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