After a pandemic slump, quality of life is again on the rise in many of the world's cities. In fact, overall liveability has reached a 15-year high, according to the Economist Intelligence Unit's annual Global Liveability Index, which rates 173 cities on factors including stability, healthcare, culture & environment, education and infrastructure.
The rise comes largely due to healthcare and education gains across Asia, the Middle East and Africa – even as stability scores have dropped overall in the face of civil unrest amid rising cost-of-living concerns worldwide and continued conflict in cities like Kiev. The end of pandemic restrictions across the world has also improved culture and environment scores as events and attractions have come roaring back.
While an index can put data around what makes a place liveable, it's the people who experience it day in and day out who can speak best to what it's actually like to live there. We spoke to residents in a few of the top 10 ranked cities to find out the reasons they choose to call it home.
The Austrian capital is no stranger to the number one spot in the liveability index, only losing the accolade briefly in 2021 when pandemic closures impacted its museums and restaurants. With perfect scores in stability, healthcare, education and infrastructure, Vienna is more than the sum of its parts, according to residents.
"You basically have a full life circle in one place," explained Manuela Filippou, manager of two Michelin-star restaurant Konstantin Filippou and adjoining natural wine bar (both of which she runs with her eponymous chef husband). With its preserved history, reliable public transportation system, affordable childcare and easy access to cafes, theatres and even wineries within the city limits, Vienna can feel like an eternal staycation spot, she said.
"Sometimes, when we work too much and don't get to go anywhere in a long time, we don't even notice it because we can satisfy our hunger for all of the above within the borders of the city," Filippou added.
For resident Richard Voss, sales & marketing manager at hotel Das Tigra, the city's liveability is only enhanced by the rich cultural history and activities available here. "Vienna has a variety of impressive historical buildings, including Schönbrunn Palace, the Hofburg and Vienna City Hall," he said. "The city is also known for its musical tradition, with famous composers such as Mozart, Beethoven and Strauss having lived and worked here." He says residents can easily tap into the these same cultural traditions through the city's numerous museums, theatres and opera houses.
He also recommends delving into Vienna's culinary history, sampling traditional dishes like wiener schnitzel and sachertorte, and visiting the various markets, such as the Naschmarkt, to enjoy fresh food and local specialities.
Both Melbourne and Sydney regained their rankings (third and fourth respectively) in the top 10 after dropping in the index during the coronavirus pandemic that stressed the Australian healthcare system and resulted in long lockdowns. Melbourne in particular scored the country's highest culture and environment score — traits that residents rave about.
"Melbourne has such an incredible food scene, cultural arts, events and attractions, as well as playing host to all the major international sports and events like the Australian Formula 1 Grand Prix and the Australian Open," said Jane Morrell, disability advocate and founder and CEO at Carer Solutions. She also says the city is easy to navigate, with easy jump-on, jump-off trams that run throughout the CBD and suburbs. It's also just a short drive to get to world-famous beaches and wine country.
For blogger Kimmie Conner, originally from California, the city took some warming up to when compared to its counterparts. "Places like Sydney are beautiful right away, with stunning views, coasts and iconic buildings. But Melbourne isn't a city of landmarks, it's a city of culture; and discovering that takes a bit more digging," said Conner, who writes at Adventures & Sunsets and now chooses to live in the city over any other. "To discover the pulse of Melbourne, you have to stumble across a tiny coffee shop down a colourful laneway and be served some of the best coffee of your life. You have to try the tasting menus at specialty restaurants around the city and discover hidden cocktail bars – often hidden behind secret doors or wardrobes."
Conner finds people to be more initially welcoming here than in Sydney, while Morrel also cites the positive attitude of residents as a factor that increases liveability. "Melburnians are just so approachable and friendly," said Morrell. "There is nothing and no one that this brilliant city does not cater for."
Three Canadian cities (including Calgary and Toronto) cracked the top 10 this year, but Vancouver ranked the highest (at spot five) for its superior culture and environment scores – traits that residents point to right away in their love for their city.
"Vancouver provides easy access to the forest, sea and sky," said Tony Ho, a resident and small business owner. "Our transit system allows you to go from beautiful English Bay to the top of the city on Grouse Mountain all in the same day and by bus, bike, train and boat." He also loves the city's diverse cuisine – a reflection of Vancouver's multicultural makeup – where you can find everything from Ethiopian injera to Tibentan momos. "The breadth of food cultures and the people who share them is always growing."
As a parent of a young child, he also appreciates the numerous parks and beaches – all less than 20 minutes from the city centre. "It's something I want my kid to have access to for the rest of his life," said Ho.
Business owners from other countries are also drawn here for the supportive immigration policies. "As an entrepreneur and immigrant from Croatia, I was looking for a city that fostered business growth but was also vibrant and accepting," said Joe Tolzmann, CEO of mobile platform RocketPlan. "For starting a business, what Vancouver does so well is the people. There's someone you can reach or services to turn to every step along the way of your entrepreneurial journey. The business community here is extremely supportive and inclusive."
Beyond business, the scenery always offers a welcome repose. "When I needed a break, there was the ocean on one side and the mountains across the street," Tolzmann added.
Ranked 10th in the index, and the only Asian country to crack the top 10, Osaka scored a perfect 100 across its stability, healthcare and education scores. As cost of living continues to put a squeeze on many household incomes across the world, Osaka's affordability is also a huge plus for residents.
"Rent in Osaka isn't expensive comparing to other metropolises in Japan and in the world," said resident Shirley Zhang, who is originally from Vancouver. "My rent is about [the equivalent of] C$700 [£410] each month with water, internet and maintenance fee included. Although the apartment is small, it's new and clean. If you were to rent a place like mine in Vancouver, it will cost no less than C$1200 [£705]."
Dining out at restaurants for less is also a highlight for locals. "Unlike where I am from in the UK, where dining out can significantly dent the wallet, Osaka provides quality restaurant meals at surprisingly budget-friendly prices," said resident James Hills. "You can afford to eat cooked, tasty meals at restaurants on a daily basis."
The city also feels safer than other similar big cities. "I feel very safe walking home by myself even in the middle of the night," said Zhang. She says she never worries about her bag or purse getting stolen, even when they're left unsupervised.
Residents are quick to take advantage of the reliable public transportation network. "The city and surrounding area has an extensive train network," said Jonathan Lucas, marketing specialist at the Osaka Tourism Bureau. "It's quick and easy to get out of the city for a day and explore other great locations like Kyoto, Nara and Kobe."
Auckland, New Zealand
Tied at number 10 with Osaka, Auckland climbed more than 25 spots from last year, due in large part to its delayed reopening from the pandemic, where restrictions and mandates weren't fully lifted until September 2022. Alongside its perfect education score, the city also had the highest culture and environment score among the top 10 cities, a data point that residents echoed in their experiences here.
"A beautiful secluded beach is probably within a 20-minute car drive for most living in Auckland, if not closer," said resident Megan Lawrence, who blogs at My Moments and Memories. "We have a stunning aquatic playground on our doorstep, with many ways to enjoy it. Likewise, the city is fringed by beautiful native bush, where it's easy to escape and not feel like you're in a city at all."
As the largest city in New Zealand, residents also benefit from world-class events, including the 2023 FIFA Women's World Cup. "We get all the best concerts, shows and sporting events right on our doorstep," said resident Greg Marett from guided travel company AAT Kings. "Next week, I am going to see Egypt In The Time of the Pharaohs at the Auckland Museum."
He also emphasises the beauty of the city's stunning harbour, with the moored yachts and sailboats giving it the nickname "The City of Sails", and recommends first-timers visit the Auckland Maritime Museum to learn about the city's maritime history and New Zealand's history of competing in the Americas Cup.
As a relatively young and culturally diverse country, New Zealand embraces and adapts to food cuisines from across the world, so both restaurants and supermarkets have many choices on offer, says Lawrence . But what really makes it liveable is the friendliness of the people. "Most Kiwis are kind, willing to help and always have a cheery hello when you cross paths on a walk," she said. "I love how open with a smile and a hello people are here."