Some cities are great for relaxation and others are amazing for business, but it’s a special kind of city that can balance the demands of a successful economy and provide a high quality of life to its citizens. We have ranked the world’s best cities according to a variety of factors including economy, unemployment, cost of living, quality of life, entertainment and culture. And while all of the cities below are worthy of being considered the world’s best city, for the purposes of this list, there can only be one!
10. Barcelona: Cultural Center
Especially great for artists, writers, filmmakers and anarchists.
Barcelona is well known for its art museums, raucous nightlife, stunning beaches and unique architecture. It’s considered by many to be among the most beautiful cities in the world and there is no denying its charm. Situated on the northeastern coast of Spain, Barcelona is the capital and largest city of the Catalonia autonomous community. Its cultural identity is distinct from Spain and its predominant language is Catalan and not Spanish.
Economically Barcelona is certainly not the world’s best place to live. While cost of living is low, wages are low as well and the city’s current unemployment rate exceeds 15%. (The Spanish national average is 23%.) Where Barcelona does exceed is in its quality of life. Barcelona offers a living experience that almost no other city can. Right in the city there are beautiful beaches, rolling hills and some of the best examples of Medieval architecture on the continent. People don’t just live in apartments in Barcelona, they live in architectural masterpieces.
Common complaints of those living in Barcelona include the literal hordes of tourists that choke the city in the summer and the petty crime, like pickpocketing, that accompanies such a large tourism industry. There’s also a downside to living in Spain which is expected to implement severe austerity measures for the foreseeable future. However, many of these factors are mitigated with something as simple as a refreshing dip in the Mediterranean Sea or a plate of tapas and glass of cava.
9. Montreal: Cultural Center
Especially great for students, Francophiles and art lovers.
Canada routinely places near the top of surveys ranking the world’s most livable countries, and Montreal is one of its most exciting cities. Though the majority of its residents are bilingual, because it is in French-speaking Quebec, Montreal feels like a little piece of Europe in North America. That said, Montreal is one of the most multicultural cities in the world and more than 20% of the city speaks a language other than French or English at home.
While most of the attention in Canada goes to Vancouver, which is an amazing city, Montreal has some redeeming qualities of its own. For one, the price of real estate is much cheaper in Quebec than in British Columbia and the cost of living in Montreal is a fraction of the cost of Vancouver. Montreal may not have the natural surroundings that Vancouver does, but it makes up for this with its vibrant nightlife and entertainment options.
Montreal’s defining attributes are its cultural institutions. The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts is a world-class museum and Opéra de Montréal is a well-regarded opera company. Every winter in Montreal there is the Nuit Blanche Arts Festival, during which, for one night, more than 200 indoor and outdoor arts related events are put on throughout the city. Museums and art galleries stay open all night and open their doors to the public for free, while performance art pieces and theater companies do the same.
When it comes to higher education, Montreal has some of the world’s best universities and the highest concentration of students in North America. Large universities in the city include the University of Montreal, the University of Quebec at Montreal and the English speaking schools of McGill and Concordia.
Newcomers can look for flights to Montreal on Air Canada, but they should make sure to improve their French conversation skills beforehand. Because while it is possible to find work in the Anglophone business community, the majority of jobs in Quebec and Montreal do request that applicants be bilingual.
8. Curitiba: Surprise Global South Entrant
Especially great for those looking for some Latin flavor with their quality of life!
Even though most of the world’s population lives in developing countries, all but one city on this list is from a developed country. While generally developing nations are unable to offer the same quality of life to their citizens as developed nations, this should not be indiscriminately applied. Many developing nations have at least one or two world-class cities that are worthy of comparison with the world’s top cities.
One such city is Curitiba, the capital of the Brazilian state of Paraná. Curitiba is a mid-sized city, with almost 2 million residents and it is located in the temperate southern region of Brazil. Curitiba is a far cry from the noisy, polluted and dangerous cities of Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. For one, the city consistently ranks as the most livable city in Brazil and in 2010 the city received the prestigious Globe Sustainable City Award, in recognition of its environmental sustainability initiatives. It’s a safe and clean city, with plentiful parks and a walkable city center.
The city’s economy is a mix of the industrial and services sector. It’s a fast-growing technology hub and many of Brazil’s tech companies have set up offices in the city. The city has a longstanding reputation as a green city and it only welcomes non-polluting industries. The city government seems to have a strong sense of respect for its people and its Municipal Housing Fund provides welfare and housing to the city’s low-income families.
Whatever Curitiba is doing, it’s working. Residents of the city have a per-capita income about two thirds higher than the Brazilian national average. Unemployment is low and the city even hires unemployed people to beautify its neighborhoods. Curitiba is a prime example of why it’s important to remember that every developing country isn’t the same, nor is every developing city.
7. Frankfurt: Economic Powerhouse
Especially great for business professionals seeking a high quality of life.
Frankfurt is the economic center of Germany, the financial capital of continental Europe and the location of the European Central Bank. Finance is the largest industry in the city, but service sectors as a whole are widely represented. The unemployment rate is less than 6%, on par with Germany’s national unemployment rate and much lower than that of most neighboring European countries. Germany has a strong social services program and Frankfurt, like most of Germany, is blessed with cheap rents and ample living space. Frankfurt is one of the most affordable major cities in Europe, which makes it a great place to build a savings.
While Frankfurt is mostly known for its business side, that’s not to say the city is without its recreation. Though certainly not the artistic capital that Berlin is, Frankfurt does have a few nice museums and a well-preserved old town. Its location on the River Main provides excellent recreation opportunities and in the summer the riverbank is a popular place for sunbathing and relaxation. In fact, most visitors to Frankfurt are surprised at just how relaxed the city’s pace is. It doesn’t have the hustle and bustle of New York or London, it’s just your everyday charming European city that happens to make bank.
6. New York City: Cultural Center and Economic Powerhouse
Especially great for artists, bankers, bohemians, billionaires or students.
New York’s faults are well publicized. It’s noisy, crowded, expensive, cramped, cold, and mice and cockroaches are the city’s uninvited roommates. But that’s just part of the story, a necessary hazing to make sure that anyone living in New York has what it takes. Because to quote Frank Sinatra: “if you can make it here, you can make it anywhere.”
With 8 million people, New York is the largest city in the United States and the self-proclaimed capital of the world. And while that may be a blusterous statement (like New York itself), there’s no denying that New York is the capital of Western culture. The best part of living in New York is the access to its many cultural institutions. Think Broadway, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the MOMA, ballet, the Metropolitan Opera House and countless more.
Because of these cultural institutions, New York attracts ambitious immigrants and young people from around the world. New York has always been one of the world’s most multicultural and diverse cities and modern times are no exception. Today New York is home to more Chinese people than any city outside of Asia, over 2 million African Americans, the largest Jewish community outside of Israel, and a significant number of Latinos.
But far from being just a cultural center, New York is also the world’s financial capital. After all, it is the home of Wall Street and the world’s largest stock exchange. More than 30% of the city’s economy is derived from the financial industry, with the other contributing industries including real estate, tourism, food processing and health care. The city’s unemployment rate of 9% is only slightly above the national unemployment rate.