Whether you’re thinking of relocating for business or pleasure, or simply wondering how the rest of the world live, it’s always fascinating to compare one’s living conditions with those of others. Global statistics on wealth, poverty and productivity can deliver stark contrasts, with standards of living varying so much around the world it can be hard to get an overview of the “norm.”
What’s it like at the top end of the scale? For those living in the most well-off areas, life may be great but the struggle to lay claim to and maintain your spot may be difficult in a competitive and highly sought-after environment. Every year, UN Habitat helpfully presents a run-down of all the major cities in the world, ranking them from most to least prosperous according to a City Prosperity Index. The CPI typically assesses up to 5 factors, including productivity, quality of life, infrastructure development and environmental sustainability. An added dimension of equity and social inclusion is sometimes included for a better overview of the quality of life of the population as a whole.
Unsurprisingly, those at the top of the list are often the go-to locations for high-powered business people or those seeking to emigrate and make a new life for themselves in a major city. That’s not to say that these cities are without their problems: A high cost of living can leave the average worker constantly under pressure to make ends meet, while those less fortunate in the city remain out of the loop and off the property ladder.
The top ten most prosperous cities in the world, as per the latest UN Habitat report, all have features which make their living standards and economy stand out on the world stage. We’ve compiled profiles on each of these cities, while comparing prices of everyday goods to give a sense of expenditure in the city. A look at the high points of day-to-day life in these successful cities will perhaps allow for some virtual tourism, too. The cities are ranked by their City Prosperity Index (on a scale of 0-1) which analyses the 4 dimensions listed above.
10. Tokyo: CPI 0.925
The capital of Japan, Tokyo is home to an enormous 13.23 million people. As the financial centre of the country, many of Japan’s global corporations such as Sony, Toshiba and Hitachi are based in the capital city. Japan, despite her financial ups and downs, is bolstered by her successful multinational corporations with extend to technology, gaming and of course car manufacturing. And for international business, Tokyo is the gateway to Japan’s other key cities like Osaka and Yokohama. With all this trade and an emphasis on international business, life in Tokyo is by no means cheap. Indeed, the Economist has named the city the most expensive place to live in the world. In 2012 a cup of take away coffee in the capital would cost you an incredible $8.29, while real estate in the city is more expensive than either New York or Hong Kong. An imported beer in a bar will also come in just shy of $10. If you can handle the cost, there are plenty of positives to Tokyo: Aside from a healthy tech sector, healthcare is of a high standard and accessible to most, while public transportation provides excellent links within the city. As long as you’re not claustrophobic, that is, because the Tokyo metro is notoriously crowded.
9. Paris: CPI 0.927
The romantic hotspot of the world, Paris, the City of Lights. glitters in many peoples’ imagination as one of the world’s beacons of beauty and culture. Indeed the city is in many ways the epicentre of the fashion world, not to mention the city’s bountiful public and private art collections as well as the historical architectural splendour of the city itself. But, before you get carried away on this Amélie-inspired vision of the city, there are some drawbacks to keep in mind: First and foremost, Paris is expensive. No surprise, really, given Paris’ level of prosperity and its popularity as a tourist destination; few things are cheap in this city. Rent is steep with apartments hard to come by in the first place. If you are lucky enough to come across something within your budget, then don’t expect a glamourous life – most of the buildings in central Paris are very old. Rooms are small and problems with mice and poor heating are common. If you happen to be minted, however, then the luxurious side of Paris is there for the taking. Take a stroll over to the Right Bank and into glamorous department stores, spend a night at the ballet and take in the history and culture of the city through her many museums. Even if you aren’t so well off, take comfort in the fact that at least the coffee and the metro transport are cheap!
8. Oslo: CPI 0.929
Oslo is the capital of oil-rich Norway and as such the city has seen massive changes in recent years. Before Norway stuck gold with her oil reserves in the late 1950s, the country was little more than a cold outpost of northern Europe. Previously invaded by the Danes and the Swedes, Norway’s tastes were simple and life was inexpensive, But that changed when they realised that they had literally been sitting on their liquid assets – so to speak – and the country was transformed.
Norway is not a member state of the European Union, keeping the profits from the oil business on lockdown. The result of this is that the standard and indeed the cost of living is high in the capital city of Oslo. A take-away coffee, though not quite as expensive as in Tokyo, will still set you back around $6, while a beer is going to come in at a shocking $14.10. Transport is also particularly expensive. On the upside however, real estate is cheaper than in many cities featured on our list, and an average income will get you a pretty nice pad. On top of this, Oslo is surrounded by some beautiful scenery and parklands, with cross-country skiing, hill walking and fishing all popular pastimes in the region.
7. Dublin: CPI 0.929
Most people know Dublin as a holiday hotspot in which to absorb the legendary Irish culture. But outside of the tourist traps, the city has plenty going for it prosperity-wise. Despite being badly hit by the financial crisis and requiring an EU-IMF bailout, Ireland has bounced back, retaining its welcoming presence and high standard of living. Wages in the city remained strong in comparison to many other EU cities even throughout the crisis and while rent is considered pricey, the boom era of the noughties means that there are plenty of lush apartments up for grabs.
More recently, too, the city has seen a surge in two rather different sectors: technology and hospitality. The latter may seem obvious, with Ireland’s famous Guinness and farming industry leading to a high standard of food, drink and entertainment, but technology is a bit more of a wild card. Low corporate tax rates and shrewd development incentives from the Irish government mean that many tech companies, including Google, Facebook, LinkedIn and Yahoo, all choose to locate their EU headquarters in the city. The startup scene is also big business, with the city now laying claim to the title of “number one tech start up city in Europe.” Modest to a fault, the Irish.
6. Helsinki: CPI 0.933
Finland’s capital Helsinki is often overlooked when it some to Nordic and Scandinavian prestige, but the city shouldn’t be underestimated. The gateway between northern Europe and Russia, Finland has a rich heritage and a strongly artistic culture, all of which plays out in its capital city. With 1.3 million inhabitants, the city is relatively small when compared to others which make the list, but good things can come in small packages.
Education is free in Finland, making the capital city the ideal spot to which to look if you fancy an adventurous dip into academics. Finland itself has over 180,000 lakes for you to swim, sail and stroll by. Helsinki is set on the southern coast of the country and has some glorious food markets, bars and restaurants where you can sample the local cuisine. Reindeer kebab anyone? If that’s not really your thing the city is easily accessible on bike or by foot and you can try out the world-famous traditional Finnish saunas. And while the sauna may be more of an upmarket addition to recreational life in many countries, in Helsinki it’s something everyone can afford.
5. Stockholm: CPI 0.934
Seen by many as Helsinki’s cooler neighbour, Stockholm and indeed Scandinavia have been enjoying something of a hipster moment of late, with their gritty television series, attractive celebrities and ever-practical home furnishings a staple of modern life.
Stockholm is set on a series of islands, each one with a unique and distinctive feel: If history is your buzz, check out the old town, or Gamla Stan, where you can view the royal palace and cathedral. The city is accessible for cyclists and the transport system is good too. While Stockholm is undoubtedly expensive, some statistics around prices in the country may surprise: Rent is actually cheaper in Stockholm than in its neighbouring Helsinki, while the cost of living, while higher overall in Sweden than in Finland, still comes in well below that of fellow Scandinavian nation, Norway. Alcohol, groceries and eating out are all cheaper than in nearby Oslo, and much of this can be attributed to the fact that Sweden, unlike Norway, is a member of the EU. So why not grab yourself an uber-cool wintery sweater and take a trip to the home of Abba, Ikea and H&M.
4. London: CPI 0.934
London, for many, ranks as one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the world, and for centuries now it has been a key city for scientific, political and cultural advances. Today the city maintains its strong affiliations with the arts and culture, while simultaneously relying on its imposing banking sector in east of the city.
The royal touch to the city does much to enhance London’s image as a glamorous, cash-rich hotspot, with property prices soaring to become well out of reach of many regular citizens. Recently London was reported as the sixth most expensive city in the world with petrol, rent and cinema prices now exceeding those of New York. Indeed, finding yourself a bargain in London can be pretty tricky . The average cost of a coffee comes in at $4.78, though, so you can get a caffeine buzz relatively cheaply. The high prices don’t seem to be deterring anyone from aiming for the top of the food chain in the city: Immigration in the UK is up and London continues to be the city that even many other Britons migrate to in the hopes of finding their fortune.
3. Toronto: CPI 0.934
Toronto is an interesting contender on our list, as it’s one of only two cities to make our list that isn’t the capital of a country. Canada’s capital is Ottawa but Toronto is sometimes seen as the Anglophone epicentre of the country.
Only a short ride from the US border, Toronto has a bustling university life, and thanks to the nation’s booming economy the city has been on the up in recent years. The telling benchmark cost of coffee in the city is just over $4USD while a monthly transportation bill will set you back $115. Not cheap by any means, but compared to some of the competitors on this list, those prices are certainly reasonable. And besides, if you become a regular at Tim Horton’s you can get yourself a good deal on coffee!
2. New York: CPI 0.934
The benchmark around which much big-city discussion is set, New York has just missed out on the number one spot. The city, like Toronto, is not the capital of the United States but in many ways it surpasses DC in terms of the economic and career opportunities in the city. The centre of publishing, banking, theatre and the creative industry, New York has consistently attracted tourists and expats alike, eager to sample the American dream. The city has the highest cost of living of anywhere in the United States and the divide between rich and poor is stark. Gossip Girl, and before it Friends, may have given the world a view into the lives of twenty-somethings in the city, but it’s only the lucky few who live like Blair Waldorf, or even Chandler Bing! Of course, if you are rich in New York, then the world is at your feet. If not, you’ll cringe at the rates of rent for basic apartments compared to other parts of the US: Today the average cost of a two-bedroom apartment in Manhattan is close to $1 million. And that kind of cash won’t even necessarily guarantee you a doorman or a Carrie Bradshaw-style brownstone.
1. Vienna: CPI 0.936
Austria’s capital Vienna is sometimes overlooked with it comes to prosperity and grandeur, with European hotspots like London, Paris and the exclusive Swiss cities of Geneva and Zurich generally ranked highly in Europe. But in fact, Vienna has long been a hub of wealth and culture: The city’s history boasts locals like Mozart and to this day it retains its old world allure with a number of world-exclusive black tie, private balls still held in Vienna.
The Viennese have greater purchasing power than most cities in Europe and to give a sense of the wealth in the city; Vienna houses the world’s largest emerald, the Emerald Unguentarium at a whopping 2,860 carets. The city has excellent transport links and there’s plenty to do if city culture isn’t your thing. Austria boasts some of the best ski slopes in the world, which double as scenic Alpine hill walks in the summer. And if that’s not enough, prices for coffee – almost more of an institution in Vienna than it is in New York – consistently remain low. And of course, there are those incredible Viennese pastries…