Following a period of decline during the pandemic, the quality of life in many of the world’s cities is once again showing positive signs of improvement. In fact, the annual Global Liveability Index by the Economist Intelligence Unit, which assesses 173 cities based on various factors such as stability, healthcare, culture & environment, education, and infrastructure, has reported the highest overall live ability score in 15 years.
This improvement can be largely attributed to significant advancements in healthcare and education in regions like Asia, the Middle East, and Africa, despite a general decrease in stability ratings due to civil unrest and rising living costs worldwide. Ongoing conflicts in cities like Kiev have also contributed to this decrease in stability.
Additionally, the relaxation of pandemic-related restrictions globally has led to higher culture and environment scores, with events and attractions making a strong comeback.
While the index provides valuable data on what contributes to a city’s live ability, the true essence of living in a place is best described by the people who reside there day in and day out. To gain insights into why individuals choose to call these cities home, we spoke with residents in several of the top 10 ranked cities.
1. Vienna, Austria
The Austrian capital has a strong history of claiming the top position in the liveability index, with a brief interruption in 2021 when pandemic-related closures affected its museums and restaurants. Vienna stands out with perfect scores in stability, healthcare, education, and infrastructure, and according to its residents, it offers more than the sum of its exceptional parts.
Manuela Filippou, the manager of two Michelin-star restaurant Konstantin Filippou and the adjacent natural wine bar (both operated alongside her chef husband), described Vienna as a place where you can experience a complete and fulfilling life.
She highlights the city’s well-preserved history, dependable public transportation system, affordable childcare options, and easy access to cafes, theaters, and even wineries within the city’s boundaries. Vienna, she remarked, often feels like an eternal vacation destination, with residents able to satisfy their cravings for all of these amenities without leaving the city.
Richard Voss, a resident and the sales & marketing manager at Das Tigra hotel, believes that Vienna’s liveability is further enriched by its profound cultural heritage and the abundance of activities it offers. He highlighted Vienna’s impressive historical landmarks, including Schönbrunn Palace, the Hofburg, and Vienna City Hall.
Additionally, he mentioned the city’s renowned musical tradition, with iconic composers like Mozart, Beethoven, and Strauss having lived and worked in Vienna. Voss pointed out that residents can readily immerse themselves in these cultural traditions through the city’s numerous museums, theaters, and opera houses.
He also recommended exploring Vienna’s culinary heritage, savoring traditional dishes such as wiener schnitzel and sachertorte, and visiting various markets like the Naschmarkt to indulge in fresh food and local specialties.
2. Copenhagen, Denmark
Copenhagen, Danish København, capital and largest city of Denmark. It is located on the islands of Zealand (Sjælland) and Amager, at the southern end of The Sound (Øresund).
A small village existed on the site of the present city by the early 10th century. In 1167 Bishop Absalon of Roskilde built a castle on an islet off the coast and fortified the town with ramparts and a moat. In 1445 Copenhagen was made the capital of Denmark and the residence of the royal family. In the civil and religious conflicts of the Protestant Reformation, the town was often sacked.
The heart of the city is the Rådhuspladsen (“Town Hall Square”). From the square, an old crooked shopping street leads northeast to the former centre of the city, Kongens Nytorv (“King’s New Square”), laid out in the 17th century.
Buildings there include the Thott Palace (now the French Embassy) and the Charlottenborg Palace (now the Royal Academy of Fine Arts), both of the 17th century, and the Royal Theatre, built in 1874.
Additional popular sites are the Tivoli amusement park and the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek, with a fine collection of traditional and modern art. Located at Langelinie Pier is the Little Mermaid statue (1913), which is based on a story by Hans Christian Andersen. A Danish national symbol, it is one of the city’s most popular tourist attractions.
The old quarter of Christianshavn is on the harbour to the south. It contains the 17th-century Church of Our Saviour. The western quarter contains the Frederiksberg Park, with its palace and a zoological garden.
3. Melbourne, Australia
Both Melbourne and Sydney have reclaimed their positions in the top 10 rankings, with Melbourne ranking third and Sydney fourth, after experiencing a drop in the index during the coronavirus pandemic, which placed significant stress on the Australian healthcare system and resulted in extended lockdowns. Melbourne, in particular, achieved the highest culture and environment score in the country, an aspect that residents passionately praise.
Jane Morrell, a disability advocate and the founder and CEO of Carer Solutions, expressed her admiration for Melbourne, emphasizing its remarkable food scene, cultural arts, events, and attractions. She also highlighted the city’s role as a host for major international sports events such as the Australian Formula 1 Grand Prix and the Australian Open.
Morrell added that Melbourne is known for its ease of navigation, thanks to convenient trams that allow for easy hopping on and off throughout the central business district and its suburbs. Furthermore, she pointed out that the city is just a short drive away from world-renowned beaches and wine country.
4. Sydney, Australia
Sydney, city, capital of the state of New South Wales, Australia. Located on Australia’s southeastern coast, Sydney is the country’s largest city and, with its magnificent harbour and strategic position, is one of the most important ports in the South Pacific.
In the early 19th century, when it was still a small convict settlement and the first settlers had barely penetrated the interior, it had already established trade with the Pacific Islands, India, China, South Africa, and the Americas.
Sydney was founded by the British, and the largest proportion of its citizens is still of British stock, if that term is extended to include persons of Irish descent.
In the period after World War II, however, Australia took in large numbers of immigrants from other European countries and from Asia, including people of Lebanese, Arabic, Chinese, Turkish, and Vietnamese origins. New Zealand also provides a large number of immigrants.
The first sight of Sydney, whether from the sea or the air, is always spectacular. Built on low hills surrounding a huge harbour with innumerable bays and inlets, the city is dominated by the bulk of the Sydney Harbour Bridge.
One of the longest steel-arch bridges in the world, and the Opera House, with its glittering white shell-shaped roofs that seem to echo the sails of the many yachts in the adjacent harbour. The intricate confusion of water and buildings makes a striking impression either by day or by night.
Greater Sydney is spread over a vast area that stretches from the Blue Mountains in the west to the Pacific Ocean in the east and from the southern shore of Lake Macquarie in the north to south of Botany Bay.
5. Vancouver, Canada
This year, three Canadian cities, including Calgary and Toronto, made it into the top 10 rankings. Vancouver, however, claimed the highest position, landing at number five, primarily due to its exceptional culture and environment scores, a fact that residents are quick to cite when expressing their affection for the city.
Tony Ho, a resident and small business owner, lauded Vancouver for its seamless connection to nature, encompassing the forest, sea, and sky. He remarked, “Our transit system allows you to journey from the picturesque English Bay to the summit of Grouse Mountain, all within the same day, using buses, bikes, trains, and boats.”
He also celebrated the city’s diverse culinary scene, reflecting Vancouver’s multicultural diversity, where one can savor a wide range of cuisines, from Ethiopian injera to Tibetan momos. Ho marveled at the ever-expanding tapestry of food cultures and the people who share them.
As a parent raising a young child, he valued the abundance of parks and beaches, all within a 20-minute radius of the city center. “It’s something I want my child to have access to throughout his life,” Ho expressed.
For immigrant business owners, Vancouver’s supportive immigration policies are a major draw. Joe Tolzmann, CEO of RocketPlan and an immigrant from Croatia, explained, “As an entrepreneur, I was seeking a city that fosters business growth while also being vibrant and accepting.”
He noted that Vancouver excels in supporting business endeavors by providing access to individuals and services at every stage of an entrepreneurial journey. The business community in the city is known for its exceptional supportiveness and inclusivity.
Beyond the business aspect, Vancouver’s natural scenery offers a welcoming escape. Tolzmann added, “Whenever I needed a break, I could easily find solace by the ocean on one side and majestic mountains just across the street.”
6. Zürich, Switzerland
Zürich, largest city of Switzerland and capital of the canton of Zürich. Located in an Alpine setting at the northwestern end of Lake Zürich, this financial, cultural, and industrial centre stretches out between two forested chains of hills, about 40 miles (60 km) from the northern foothills of the Alps. Two rivers, the Limmat and Sihl, run through the city.
The first inhabitants of the region were the prehistoric peoples whose hut dwellings rose from pile foundations driven into the shores of the lake. The Celtic Helvetii founded a community on the right bank of the Limmat River; when the Romans conquered this area about 58 BCE, they made the settlement, which they called Turicum, a customs post. Under Roman rule, Zürich grew into a small army stronghold with an adjacent vicus, or Roman village.
Zürich is at the core of a constantly expanding metropolitan area that encompasses parts of central, northern, and eastern Switzerland. It is the industrial, financial, and cultural centre of the country and one of the most cosmopolitan and dynamic Swiss cities.
Throughout the city centre, green space extends to the shores of Lake Zürich, which are lined by attractive public parks, and up to the slopes of Zürichberg.
Zürich’s city centre and most of the city’s architectural features extend along both shores of the Limmat River, which runs from the north side of Lake Zürich through the city centre and out to the west. Zürich’s lively and well-preserved Altstadt (Old Town), part of the city centre, boasts an architectural legacy including the Romanesque Grossmünster.
7. Calgary, Canada
Nestled near the Rocky Mountains in the western province of Alberta, Calgary outperformed the other two Canadian cities in the index, primarily due to its flawless stability rating, which measures civil unrest and government corruption.
Residents often characterize Calgary as a place that combines the warmth of a small-town atmosphere with the amenities of a major city, all while maintaining a lower cost of living compared to similar Canadian cities.
According to Lora Pope, a resident and travel blogger, “Despite its status as one of Canada’s largest cities, Calgary exudes a distinct charm rooted in its friendly locals, a strong sense of community, and vibrant neighborhood-centric farmers’ markets.
However, it also shines in terms of trendy dining establishments, cultural festivals, and a vibrant nightlife scene.” Moreover, Calgary is celebrated for its diversity, ranking as the third-most diverse city in Canada, boasting over 240 ethnic origins and 165 languages.
The city is further distinguished by its thriving oil and gas industry, a robust white-collar business community, and an affordable cost of living. Jessie P Cayabo, a communications professional who relocated to Calgary from Edmonton three years ago, noted, “Calgarians are financially well-off and enjoy spending their earnings.”
This translates into a bustling downtown and surrounding areas during the summer months, while hockey season sees the corporate attire replaced by Calgary Flames jerseys. The annual Calgary Stampede, commencing on the first Friday of July, transforms the city into a 10-day party and rodeo, where everyone dons western attire, and the festival welcomes visitors from around the globe.
8. Geneva, Switzerland
Geneva, French Genève, German Genf, Italian Ginevra, city, capital of Genève canton, in the far southwestern corner of Switzerland that juts into France.
One of Europe’s most cosmopolitan cities, Geneva has served as a model for republican government and owes its preeminence to the triumph of human, rather than geographic, factors. It developed its unique character from the 16th century, when, as the centre of the Calvinist Reformation, it became the “Protestant Rome.”
The canton of Genève has a total area of 109 square miles (282 square kilometres), of which seven square miles constitute the city proper. Territorial isolation has been a basic feature of this region, which did not establish its definitive frontiers until 1815.
Cut off politically and culturally after the Reformation from its natural geographic surroundings in Roman Catholic France and Savoy, Geneva was forced to establish an attenuated but powerful network of intellectual and economic relationships with the rest of Europe and with nations overseas.
International agencies such as the Red Cross and the World Health Organization are found on the old patrician properties north of the Rhône. In this section, too, is the Palais des Nations, now the European home of the United Nations.
At the lake’s edge the Jet d’Eau reputedly the world’s tallest fountain, with a jet of water rising 476 feet (145 metres) provides a familiar symbol of the city.
The Natural History Museum, the Geneva Museum of Art and History, the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Museum, and the Ariana Museum), the Grand Théâtre (the city’s opera house), and the proceedings of international meetings held there.
The music conservatory and international performance competitions attract large numbers of musicians, and the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande is renowned worldwide.
9. Toronto, Canada
Toronto, Canada’s largest city, skillfully merges the allure of a bustling metropolis with an abundance of green spaces, boasting over 1,500 parks. With a flawless stability rating in the index, Toronto offers residents a reassuring sense of security, whether they’re strolling, using public transit, or cycling.
A standout feature of Toronto’s urban planning is the PATH, an underground pedestrian network that significantly eases life, particularly during harsh Canadian winters. Resident Hoang Anh Le, known for her blog “Luxury under Budget,” extolled the convenience of the PATH system, allowing for easy access to offices, the airport train, dining, shopping, and medical appointments, all without the need for a heavy winter coat.
Kyra Marskell, another resident, praised the integrated transit options, acknowledging the Toronto Transit Commission’s (TTC) imperfections but emphasizing the value of various transit choices arriving within minutes. She also highlighted the prevalence of rental bikes citywide, providing an eco-friendly commuting alternative.
Toronto’s true strength lies in its remarkable diversity, with over 51% of its population originating from outside Canada. Marcus Räder, CEO and co-founder at software firm Hostaway, highlighted Toronto’s unique status as a Western city where the non-white minority constitutes the majority.
This cultural mosaic fosters a climate that celebrates multiculturalism instead of enforcing assimilation. The result is a city rich in cultural festivals, dining options catering to every budget, and a genuine eagerness to exchange new ideas and ways of life.
Entrepreneurial fervor permeates Toronto, from corporate giants like Uber, Google, and Facebook to a burgeoning startup scene that has propelled the city to become North America’s third-largest tech hub, trailing only New York City and Silicon Valley.
This burgeoning tech ecosystem, combined with Toronto’s diverse population, offers a unique opportunity for exposure to individuals from diverse cultural backgrounds.
10. Auckland, New Zealand
Claiming the 10th position in the index, Auckland made an impressive leap of more than 25 positions compared to the previous year. This remarkable climb can be largely attributed to the delayed reopening from the pandemic, as restrictions and mandates remained in place until September 2022.
In addition to achieving a perfect education score, Auckland also boasted the highest culture and environment score among the top 10 cities, a fact that resonated with the experiences of its residents.
Megan Lawrence, a resident who blogs at My Moments and Memories, described Auckland as a place where a beautiful, secluded beach is easily reachable, typically within a 20-minute car ride, if not even closer. She emphasized the city’s stunning aquatic playground, offering numerous ways to enjoy it.
Furthermore, Auckland is enveloped by breathtaking native forests, providing a seamless escape that makes you forget you’re in a city at all.
Being the largest city in New Zealand, Auckland offers residents the privilege of enjoying world-class events, including the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup.
Greg Marett, a resident representing the guided travel company AAT Kings, expressed, “We have access to the finest concerts, shows, and sporting events right at our doorstep. Next week, I’m attending the exhibition ‘Egypt In The Time of the Pharaohs’ at the Auckland Museum.”
The Global Liveability Index reflects a notable upswing in the quality of life across various cities, driven by improvements in healthcare and education. However, stability concerns persist due to civil unrest and rising living costs. Residents in top-ranked cities emphasize unique attributes, from Vienna’s historical charm to Vancouver’s natural beauty and multiculturalism.