April 22, 2024

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The 10 Best European Cities to Visit or Live In

The 10 Best European Cities to Visit or Live In

In these days of digital nomadism and working remotely, a list of Europe’s best cities has even greater value—and this annual ranking by Resonance, a consultancy group in real estate, tourism, and economic development that AFAR has partnered with for several years, has the most thorough, holistic approach around.

Rather than just rely on data around, say, a place’s livability or how easy it is to bike there, Resonance uses a combination of core statistics (like GDP and homicide rates) and qualitative evaluations by both locals and visitors (from online channels like Instagram and TripAdvisor) to paint a more comprehensive picture of Europe’s best city. “It’s not just best city to live, it’s not just best city to work, or best city to visit,” said Chris Fair, president and CEO of Resonance Consultancy. “It’s taking a cross section of all those factors.”

This year’s list of Europe’s 100 best cities (we’ll excerpt the top 10 below) considers places with a population of 500,000 or more, crisscrossing from Norway to Türkiye, with several stops in Germany, Switzerland, Spain, and the United Kingdom. Looking for some “spin the globe” inspiration for where to go next? You’ll find it here, from Aachen to Bratislava to Zurich.

How the best city rankings work

“Many of the factors that people told us were important in choosing a city to live or do business or visit were related to the experiential quality of the city—things like culture, restaurants, nightlife, shopping, and sports,” Fair said. “There are no core statistics for those kinds of factors. What really distinguishes our rankings is that we are mining user-generated data in channels like TripAdvisor and Yelp to measure those experiential factors.”

Those areas they ranked cities on were grouped into six core categories, including Place, People, Programming, Product, Prosperity, and Promotion.

Place: This includes weather (the average number of sunny days), safety (homicide rate), as well as sights and landmarks (specifically the number of which were recommended by locals and visitors) and outdoors (or the number of parks and outdoor activities recommended by locals and visitors).

People: The People category considers educational attainment (percentage of population with a bachelor’s degree or higher) and percent of citizens participating in the labor force.

Programming: This is what most guidebooks would call “things to do” and includes experiences offered in the areas of culture (specifically performing arts), nightlife, dining, and shopping recommended by both locals and visitors.

Product: The Product category, on the other hand, includes each city’s infrastructure and institutions. This is where attractions and museums are considered, as well as other areas like airport connectivity (or the number of direct destinations served by the city’s airports), university ranking (specifically the ranking of the top local school), and the size of the local convention center.

Prosperity: This category includes the number of Global 500 corporate headquarters located within each city, the GDP per capita, the income equality index, and the unemployment rate. While most travelers wouldn’t necessarily factor these things into choosing a destination, Resonance believes greater “prosperity” draws more people to live in these cities, which eventually drives more economic growth and development. That means better dining options, cultural institutions, and airports in the long run.

Promotion: In addition to relying on user-generated data from locals and visitors to vet dining and shopping recommendations, this list also looked at how popular each city was online. The Promotion category—or how a city’s story is shared through online channels—is based specifically on the number of Facebook check-ins, Google searches, TripAdvisor reviews, and Instagram hashtags shared online about each city, as well as the popularity of each city in Google Trends over the last 12 months.

Here’s how Europe’s best cities ranked in the 2023 report, released April 19, 2023:

Big Ben and River Thames

Photo by S. Borisov/Shuterstock

1. London, England

Highlighted rankings: Programming (1), People (1)

Despite a year when England’s longest-reigning monarch passed away . . . despite three prime ministers in mere months . . . “Despite much-warranted hand-wringing about the flight of talent and capital due to the pall of Brexit, London is hanging in just fine,” says Resonance, “relying on a dipping currency to attract investment and, of course, previously priced-out tourists. And new residents. New wealthy residents who can now afford to check off a big item on the multimillionaire bucket list: property in the best city on the planet.” (London also topped the world’s best list for 2023.)

AFAR note: Whether you’re outdoorsy, hungry, or bringing a family in tow, there’s a distinct London neighborhood to investigate—and it will likely look different from your last visit. There’s a veritable hotel boom happening: The opening of the Raffles London at the OWO is the biggest news, though we also have our eyes on the new Mandarin Oriental in Mayfair, St. Regis London, Peninsula London, Park Hyatt London River Thames, and 1 Hotel.

Plan your next trip with AFAR’s Guide to London.

River boat on Seine near Eiffel Tower

2. Paris, France

Highlighted rankings: Prosperity (1), Place (2)

“No matter how they arrive, what Paris visitors new and returning find is a city that has codified pedestrianism and alfresco living,” says Resonance, noting Mayor Hidalgo’s legislation of a citywide speed limit of 30 km/h and “obsessive addition of bike paths.”

According to Resonance, “While the city has been wracked by unemployment and economic calamity since 2020 (Paris, while much improved from 2021, still ranks #27 in our Poverty Rate subcategory that tracks residents living under the national poverty line), the walkable city ambition has aligned with the need for natural therapy and outdoor social distancing.

“Nowhere is the transformation more dramatic than along the River Seine in the heart of Paris’s tourist district, near Notre Dame Cathedral and city hall itself. With the reduced car traffic, this is now Paris’s town square (in a city with dozens of historic spots worthy of the honor).”

AFAR note: As Paris gears up for the 2024 Olympics, it’s only getting better. Improved rail access, infrastructure, a commitment to pedestrianism, and a handful of new hotels in the past year alone add to a city we love for its world-class art, shopping, and global cuisine.

Plan your next trip with AFAR’s Guide to Paris.

Street scene from shop window in Amsterdam

3. Amsterdam, Netherlands

Highlighted rankings: Product (3), Promotion (10)

Amsterdam is a “tiny but mighty dynamo to keep an eye on, led by visionary mayor Femke Halsema (literally: she’s also a filmmaker), the first non-interim female mayor in the city’s history,” says Resonance. “Her administration’s practical stewardship of a place (and citizens) often abandoned to the tourist euro is co-authoring a future of accountability by everyone who calls the magnetic Dutch capital home.”

AFAR note: With nonstop flights available from most U.S. cities, Amsterdam’s easy accessibility—and beautiful canals and world-class museums—make it a popular stop for any Euro trip. In addition to its top-notch cultural offerings, Amsterdam is also on the forefront of sustainable tourism. In 2018, one hospitality company started to repurpose Amsterdam’s out-of-use bridge houses into charming stand-alone hotel rooms, and by 2030, all gas and diesel cars will be banned from the city.

Plan your next trip with AFAR’s Guide to Amsterdam.

View of city's rooftops from a Gaudi building

Photo by Luis Pina/Shutterstock

4. Barcelona, Spain

Highlighted rankings: Product (2), Promotion (5)

“Barcelona is an almost ideal European city, one with near-perfect weather year round, miles and miles of beaches, iconic parks, Gaudí’s iconic architectural landmarks, and colorful neighborhoods that march to their own beat—artistic, sophisticated, bohemian,” says Resonance. It’s also becoming something of a tech hub, “attracting €1.6 billion in startup investment in 2022, according to Catalonia Startup Hub. Access is facilitated by Spain’s official launch of a digital nomad visa in February, requiring that applicants pull in a minimum annual income of $33,000. Additionally, the city’s Workation program supports digital nomads looking to work remotely from Barcelona.”

AFAR note: Mayor Colau has also delivered on her promise to reach 125 miles of bike lanes, with another 20 to be completed by 2023. As part of the mayor’s “superblock” initiative, parking and roads have been replaced with playgrounds and public seating.

Plan your next trip with AFAR’s Guide to Barcelona.

aerial view of clock towers and city of Zurich, Switzerland

5. Zürich, Switzerland

Highlighted rankings: People (3), Prosperity (2)

“Switzerland’s financial center and largest metropolis is a magnet for foreigners who, along with multilingual Swiss nationals, enjoy one of the world’s highest standards of living—the city ranks second on the continent in our Disposable Household Income subcategory (trailing only fellow Swiss city Bern), and no. 3 for Fortune Global 500 headquarters (trailing only Paris and London),” says Resonance. “Given the city’s emergence post-pandemic, it’s no wonder unemployment has plummeted to under 3 percent, meaning the city is today the second most prosperous on the continent based on our data.”

AFAR note: Switzerland has made sustainability a top priority across the country—going so far as to call its efforts “Swisstainable.” There are more than a few ways to have a low-impact trip here, starting in Zürich.

Plan your next trip with AFAR’s Guide to Zurich.

Madrid neighborhood empty cobblestone street

6. Madrid, Spain

Highlighted rankings: Programming (4), Promotion (4)

“Madrid, sometimes overlooked for Barcelona’s beaches and parties, is confidently telling its story these days,” says Resonance. “Perhaps the biggest news is Madrid’s beautiful measures to combat climate change and pollution, by way of a 76-kilometre urban forest network with nearly half a million new trees . . . this ‘green wall’ is projected to help absorb 175,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide per year.”

AFAR note: On both our radar and Resonance’s are some 20-plus new hotels and nearly 100 restaurants that have opened, or will open, in an already culture-rich city bouncing back from the pandemic in a big way. And a conscientious way, reports Resonance: “Many of the high-end hotels are committed to reuse—from the Madrid Edition by Marriott International, housed in the old Monte de Piedad de Madrid building, to the stunning Metrópolis building’s new life as a boutique hotel, spa, private club and home of multiple restaurants.”

Plan your next trip with AFAR’s Guide to Madrid.

Colorful five-story buildings along street

7. Berlin, Germany

Highlighted rankings: Programming (8), Promotion (7)

No surprise here: Berlin ranked in the top five for Culture, Museums, and Nightlife, attracting visitors and residents alike with its “raw, unabashed urbanity and self-expression,” says Resonance. New this year: “Two major museums have moved into the new Humboldt Forum in the heart of the city: the Ethnological Museum and the Museum of Asian Art. A dozen other museums are set to open, with collections ranging from the world of the samurai to video games.”

AFAR note: On May 25, 2023, the European Sleeper night train will launch its inaugural service between Berlin and Brussels via Amsterdam. Operated by a Belgian Dutch railway company founded in 2021, the European Sleeper is a midtier private train line with lie-flat beds in cabins that can be booked privately. It gets you from Berlin to Brussels in under 12 hours.

Plan your next trip with AFAR’s Guide to Berlin.


8. Rome, Italy

Highlighted rankings: Programming (3), Promotion (3)

“Few cities serve up the ability to walk Western history like Roma,” says Resonance, and “declarations of love for the city have multiplied with social media channels, of course, and Rome trails only London and Paris in our important Promotion category, including no. 2 for TripAdvisor Reviews and no. 5 for both Facebook Check-ins and Google Trends.

“Two big upcoming hotel openings will also bring the heat later this year. The first Six Senses property to open in Italy (in a UNESCO-listed palazzo minutes from the Trevi and Pantheon) and the Bulgari Roma, from the Italian jewelry brand, comes home in late 2023, with Chef Niko Romito—of three-Michelin-starred Reale—running its dining room in an Abruzzo monastery from the 1500s.”

AFAR note: Veteran luxury hotel group Four Seasons will be moving into a 15th-century palazzo a stone’s throw from Vatican City—a rare hotel that close to the Holy See. Expect it to be a major opening in 2025.

Plan your next trip with AFAR’s Guide to Rome.


9. Basel, Switzerland

Highlighted rankings: People (5), Prosperity (4)

The livability of Switzerland’s third-largest city is a “sight to behold,” says Resonance. “Locals certainly savor their city’s special blend, and, given Basel’s #5 ranking for our overall People category (including 3 for Foreign-Born Residents, and #8 for both Educational Attainment and Labour Force Participation), they’re spreading the word to fellow high-performers.”

Meanwhile, “June’s Art Basel will be one for the ages. After the cancellation of its 2020 50th anniversary, the event’s months-long delay in 2021 and then the long-awaited return to a regular (albeit conservative) schedule last year, anticipation is at a fever pitch.”

AFAR note: AMAWaterways has a new Rhine river cruise itinerary that we’re excited about. The seven-night “Captivating Rhine Cruise” sails between Amsterdam and Basel, with stops in Germany (Cologne, Rüdesheim, Ludwigshafen, and Breisach) and France (Strasbourg)—it’s a paradise for wine lovers.

Bridges seen from overhead crossing river in Geneva

10. Geneva, Switzerland

Highlighted rankings: People (7), Prosperity (6)

“A globally vital city in a snow globe? Geneva comes close,” says Resonance. “With just over 600,000 residents yet home to the European seat of the United Nations, the international headquarters of the Red Cross and more than 200 international organizations, the city does well by doing good, ranking no. 5 in Europe for educated citizenry, no. 24 in our Foreign-Born Residents subcategory and no. 4 for the disposable income they bring home.”

AFAR note: Set on the waterfront of Lake Geneva, the weeks-long Montreux Jazz Festival (June 30–July 15) is always a great occasion to visit. This summer’s lineup includes headliner Bob Dylan, as well as Sam Smith, Lil Nas X, Iggy Pop, Mavis Staples, Janelle Monáe, Nile Rodgers & Chic, and Mark Ronson.

To see the full list of Europe’s 100 best cities, visit worldsbestcities.com. Read on for the best cities in the U.S.