Road-Testing the World’s Most Liveable Cities for 2016 (as Travel Destinations!)

Landmarks & Icons

Couple in Stortorget Big Square in Gamla Stan, Stockholm, Sweden

They’re great to live in, but would you want to visit?

The phrase “most liveable city” pops up in headlines several times a year as numerous agencies including The Economist, EIU, and Mercer all announce their favourites. While totally subjective, the winners are usually compact, well-organized, very walkable, and offer plenty of culture and a low crime rate – so they’re usually pretty great holiday spots too! This is especially true if you’re using Monocle’s annual list, which takes into account how much fun the city is (no accident that Monocle also publishes travel books). With that in mind, here’s our take on visiting Monocle’s top ten for 2016.

10. Stockholm, Sweden

Spread across numerous islands in perhaps the world’s most beautiful urban archipelago, Stockholm is a must on any Scandinavia tour, rolling every good Swedish cliché into one package. Sustainable, innovative, progressive, practical, highly accessible, and packed with interesting museums and galleries, Stockholm ticks all the boxes of a great city getaway, making it worth the admittedly high cost. Just don’t forget to recharge with a fika break – a sit-down coffee and pastry – a couple of times a day.

Old Town, Stockholm, Sweden
Cafes and restaurants in Old Town, Stockholm

9. Kyoto, Japan

The old emperors would be proud to know Japan’s ancient capital is still known to be one of the world’s most liveable cities centuries later. Since Kyoto is a staple on many Japan tours, it’s easy to enjoy the seamlessly integrated transit, the surprising treats of Kyoto’s culinary scene, not to mention its sheer beauty as you zip between famous temples such as Kinkaku-ji (the Golden Pavilion), and shrines such as Fushimi Inari, known for its endless parade of red torii gates.

Golden Pavilion Kinkakuji Temple in Kyoto, Japan
Golden Pavilion Kinkakuji Temple in Kyoto

8. Sydney, Australia

Sydney tends to get heaped on for coming second to Melbourne on these lists, but the locals are too busy enjoying year-round great weather and one of the world’s most spectacular harbour locations to care. Nowhere can match Sydney for its combination of urban cool and natural beauty. Best of all, while Sydney can be an expensive city to live in, it’s a surprisingly affordable highlight on any Australia vacation, with relatively low room rates, and many of the best attractions being free.

Sydney Opera House at Night, Sydney, Australia
Sydney Opera House at night

7. Fukuoka, Japan

Located on the island of Kyushu just two hours northeast of Nagasaki, Fukuoka is known to the Japanese as a great city for foodies, and for the popular beaches right outside the city. Just be ready for some stares if you visit. Compared to Tokyo, Kyoto, or Osaka, you’ll see very few fellow gaijin. Even if few Japan tours come by, it’s a worthwhile stop if you’re anywhere in the country’s southwest, if only to see the Japanese ‘good life’ at its most local and authentic.

Traditional Poled Boats Parked at Deck in Yanagawa, Fukuoka, Japan
Traditional poled boats docked in Yanagawa, Fukuoka

6. Melbourne, Australia

Ah, there it is! We knew The Economist’s favourite (for the past six years and counting) couldn’t be far away, and while it’s been pipped out of the top 5 this year, Melbourne secures its healthy #6 position with Australia’s best food and cultural scenes. The attractions (and beaches) aren’t as iconic or attractive as Sydney’s, but the galleries and museums are larger, the nightlife more vibrant, and the day trips just as spectacular, making it a bona fide Australia vacation highlight.

Melbourne Skyline from Southbank, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
Melbourne skyline from the Southbank

5. Munich, Germany

German speaking Europe does remarkably well on Monocle’s list. Munich, for its part, is much more a Bavarian city than a German one (yes, there’s a difference). While the city is far more than beer halls and bratwurst, it’s more than willing to indulge your appetite for both. Friendly locals, picture-perfect architecture, excellent public transit, superb day trips, and one of the world’s most efficient large airports make this Germany vacation favourite an out and out winner.

Illuminated Neuhauser Street and Karlsplatz Gate in the Evening, Munich, Germany
Neuhauser Street and Karlsplatz Gate in the evening, Munich

4. Copenhagen, Denmark

Comparisons to Stockholm are reductive, but Copenhagen does share that city’s appetite for good, sustainable living, adding its own unique delights such as Tivoli Gardens. Yes, you’re going to spend a lot of money in this Scandinavia tour stop, and you’re going to enjoy it. Eminently walkable, with a superb rail system connecting it to the surrounding sights (including Malmo in Sweden), Copenhagen deserves its “wonderful” reputation among visitors, and we wouldn’t blame anyone for wanting to stay.

Boats Docked in Nyhavn Canal, Copenhagen, Denmark
Boats docked in Nyhavn Canal, Copenhagen

3. Vienna, Austria

Another Economist regular, Monocle likes Vienna too, and so do we. The European river cruises that pass through reveal only a fraction of the city’s story. Vienna’s relaxed coffee house culture and friendly attitudes make it a great spot to catch your breath for a few days amid splendid architecture. Of course, the palaces, opera house, and local history will keep you busy if you’d prefer. You can even spend the day exploring another European capital, Bratislava in Slovakia, just an hour’s train ride away.

Aerial View of Vienna, Austria
Aerial View of Vienna

2. Berlin, Germany

No surprise to anyone who’s been! Many “most liveable” lists (and Germany tours) bypass Berlin, but travellers aren’t making that mistake anymore. In fact, many are choosing to stay. The city has been luring young people in droves for over a decade, giving it an energetic, yet very relaxed, spontaneous, and bohemian vibe. The central area of Mitte is packed with historic attractions and museums, but it’s the surrounding neighbourhoods that capture the real allure of decentralized, highly liveable Berlin.

Berliner Dom Cathedral, a famous landmark on the Museum Island in Mitte, Berlin, Germany
Berliner Dom Cathedral, a famous landmark on Museum Island, along the River Spree, Berlin

1. Tokyo, Japan

Frenetic, impossibly huge, and often contradictory, Tokyo deserves top spot for keeping it all together while still giving its workaholic citizens ample opportunity to play. Tokyo nightlife is endless, from upscale clubs, to cozy local pubs and bars, to late night shopping every night, to kitschy cabarets, to options too numerous and quirky to list here. But it’s an impressive city at all hours, with perhaps the world’s most efficient public transit system, a peerless culinary scene, incomparable shopping and cultural experiences to suit all budgets, plus plenty of green space for when you need to get away from it all. It’s also one of, if not the safest big city on earth. Many Japan tours devote just a few days to Tokyo, before venturing out to see the sights of “classical” Japan. The truth is, you could spend years in the capital and not see it all (but a few days is still a good start).

Tokyo City Skyline at Sunset, Japan
Tokyo city skyline at sunset