Each year, a number of publications including The Economist, EIU, and Mercer announce “The World’s Most Liveable Cities,” inspiring a flurry of social media sharing and a few inevitable raised eyebrows. One of our favourite lists is the annual Monocle Top 25, partly because it also takes into account just how much fun a city is. After all, as globetrotters, our question is:
“Okay, it’s great to live in, but would I want to visit?”
The answer in most cases is a resounding yes. So here’s where to go, what to do, and why you should visit Monocle’s top 10 most liveable cities for 2019!
Oh, and… if you care to look them up, the remaining 15 aren’t so bad either.
10. Lisbon, Portugal
Lisbon’s star has been rising for the past decade with no sign of slowing down, and we can’t recommend it highly enough. The most affordable city on this list, Lisbon’s every hilly laneway reminds you of just how influential this unassuming hidden capital has been. Most of the big, flashy attractions are in neighbouring Belem (Jeronimos Monastery), and day-trippable Sintra (Pena Palace). But give yourself at least two days in Lisbon itself. Explore the medieval neighbourhood of Alfama, the photogenic downtown Baixa district, the ruins of Camo Convent, museums that range from top notch art collections to Portugal’s treasured tiles, and relax at one of the city’s many miradouros, preferably with a picnic of egg tarts from a local bakery.
Best day trip: Let your jaw drop at the palaces of Sintra, with lunch in nearby Cascais.
9. Berlin, Germany
Berlin remains a hotbed of creativity and good living thanks to its decentralized urban plan and abundant opportunities for renewal. It’s worth returning several times, but a good first-time itinerary includes the Reichstag with its iconic dome, a photo op at the Brandenburg Gate, at least half a day exploring the treasures of Museum Island, and at least one night out in one of the city’s famous neighbourhoods such as Kreuzberg or Prenzlauer Berg. It’s somewhat ironic that one of Berlin’s biggest attractions is no longer there, but you can see remains of the infamous wall and read daring tales of escape at the Berlin Wall Memorial, then fill in the details of life in the GDR at the nearby Kultur Brauerei. Most of all however, on your trip to Germany you’ll just want time to explore the neighbourhoods in Europe’s capital of cool.
Best day trip: Visit Versailles’ impressive German counterpart, Sanssouci Palace at Potsdam.
8. Madrid, Spain
Not to be outdone by its German or Portuguese counterparts, Madrid has been luring creative expats and steadily rising up the rankings for some years now. It’s not quite as touristy as Barcelona – which many will happily receive as a positive – but it’s a more balanced portrait of broader Spanish identity. Take in the essential Madrid trio in the form of the Royal Palace, Prado Museum, and Retiro Park. Then expand your exploration to eye-opening museums such as the Reina Sofia, Thyssen-Bornemisza, or the National Museum of Archaeology. Graze your way through at least one lunch at San Miguel Market, save a night for hitting Madrid’s tapas bars, and give yourself an extra day to rest if you want to explore the famed Madrid nightlife, including arguably the world’s largest LGBTQ scene.
Best day trip: Toledo is easy to reach, but consider staying overnight in Spain’s delightful old capital.
7. Hamburg, Germany
Arguably the cultural epicentre of today’s Germany, steadily rising Hamburg passes Berlin for the first time on Monocle’s list in 2019. Life in Germany’s second city still focuses around the vast Hamburg Port, where we recommend taking a boat tour to understand what makes Hamburg tick. But this is also a city in love with the arts, as evidenced by the awe-inspiring – if controversial – Elbphilharmonie. Visual art is celebrated at the Kunsthalle and Deichtorhallen, or you can shrink things down to size at the very family friendly Miniatur Wunderland, where famous global and local sights are painstakingly recreated as models. A rowdier night for the big kids awaits in the St Pauli district, where The Beatles first cut their musical teeth.
Best day trip: Lubeck, Hamburg’s picturesque neighbour is filled with German national treasures.
6. Helsinki, Finland
Finland’s unassuming capital is a lively centre of creativity and design, watched over by the stately domes of Helsinki Cathedral. Bringing together Scandinavian and Russian influences to emerge with a flavour all its own, Helsinki makes a unique city break by itself, a fantastic add-on to a Scandinavia tour, or an ideal jumping off point for exploring the Baltics. Get your Finnish history 101 at Seurasaari Island, the city’s impressive outdoor museum, and expand your mind at Kiasma and Tennispalats, Helsinki’s contemporary creative hubs. Two human-made rock wonders also define the city in the form of the Temppeliaukio Church and Suomenlinna, a former Swedish fort spread across an epic seven islands. Recover from it all by partaking in Finland’s favourite tradition, the sauna!
Best overnight trip: Tallinn, Estonia is just two hours away by ferry, and deserves an overnight stay.
5. Vienna, Austria
A regular on many “most liveable” lists, Central Europe’s grand dame isn’t shy about its assets, many of which come in the form of the jaw-dropping Habsburg palaces, including Schonbrunn, Belvedere, and Hofburg, the Imperial Palace. For a healthy shot of high culture and history, explore the eye-opening halls of the MuseumsQuartier. After that, ease off the sightseeing and relax into all that makes Vienna so… well, liveable. Austria’s capital accomplishes the difficult feat of being awe-inspiring and cozy at the same time, particularly when you settle into its coffee houses. Try to take in at least one performance while you’re in town. Vienna is as in love with music as ever, and choices go well beyond its world-renowned state opera and philharmonic.
4. Copenhagen, Denmark
A city where cutting edge innovation and laid back counterculture thrive in the shadow of gorgeous palaces and a Viking past, there are many layers to Copenhagen that often inspire repeat visits. A canal tour gets you oriented while pointing out some of the most noteworthy landmarks and giving you an insight into Copenhagen’s relationship with its waterways. It’s also worth visiting all three major palaces, Christiansborg, now the seat of the Danish parliament, Rosenborg, the “fairy-tale” creation of Christian IV, and Amalienborg, the Queen’s winter residence. Dive into the National Museum of Denmark to immerse yourself in legends of Vikings, and brace yourself for high-speed thrills at Tivoli Gardens, the world’s oldest operating amusement park. If time allows, hop the train north to Louisiana, a gorgeous indoor-outdoor modern art space, or even Kronborg, the setting of Shakespeare’s Hamlet.
3. Munich, Germany
The home of Oktoberfest, BMW Welt, and the famous Glockenspiel, Munich is arguably Germany’s most enchanting big city, and in 2019 is considered its most liveable too. Of course, Munich is more a Bavarian city than a ‘German’ one, wearing its prosperity and history on its sleeve. Visit the Munich Residenz and Nymphenburg Palace for a taste of Bavaria’s imperial past, and spend some time soaking up the atmosphere on Marienplatz. The Deutsches Museum is a tech-head’s dream come true, while film buffs (and any 80s kid who grew up with The Neverending Story) will find their thrills at Bavaria Filmstadt, a working studio and related theme park. You may also want to get outdoors at Munich’s impressive Olympic Park or the nature-reserve style Munich Zoo.
Best day trip: Immerse yourself in Bavarian imperial splendour at Neuchwanstein Castle.
2. Tokyo, Japan
Tokyo stands out for many more reasons than being the lone non-European city on the list. Japan’s hard working megalopolis also loves to play, with endlessly varied entertainment available long into the night, particularly in the Shibuya and Shinjuku neighbourhoods. By day, enjoy Japanese spiritual serenity at Senso-ji, the city’s oldest temple, and Meiji-Jingu shrine. Follow Tokyo’s fashionable youth to buried shopping treasures in trendy Harajuku or the geek heaven that is Akihabara. Relax next door to royalty at the Imperial Palace Garden, or rise early for your pre-booked lottery spot (good luck!) for the tuna auction at Toyosu Fish Market. It replaced nearby Tsujiki Market in October 2018, but its predecessor is still a great destination for culinary souvenirs. More than anything however, explore the sensory overload that is Tokyo, from its reverence for the past, to its nonstop nightlife.
Best day trip: The UNESCO World Heritage listed mountain city of Nikko is one of Japan’s loveliest.
1. Zurich, Switzerland
Zurich. Wait, Zurich? Okay, hear us out. Sure, Monocle’s #1 city for 2019 probably isn’t Switzerland’s most essential destination for tourists, and nobody’s lying about how expensive it is. But since a Switzerland vacation will probably take you through Zurich anyway, it’s worth taking at least a day in the country’s largest city. Take your crash course in Swiss history at the National Museum, followed by your art fix at the Kunsthaus, Switzerland’s most impressive art museum, then check out the coolest new creations in the innovative IndustrieQuarter. On a budget? Take in all the history, culture, and science your impoverished heart could desire for free at the University of Zurich Museums. Seeking out Zurich’s best views such as Lindenhof Hill and its street art will easily fill out the rest of your day for free.
Best day trip: The Appenzell region is all about three of Switzerland’s biggest draws – mountains, chocolate, and cheese.