The best cities on earth: where do Vienna and Istanbul come, and why?

Robert Pimm
Robert Pimm

The best cities on earth are hard to judge.  Different surveys can produce radically different results.  Here are some reasons why.

“Comparisons are odious”

People often ask me: ‘What is the best city you have lived in?  Is it London?  Berlin?  Moscow? Istanbul?  Kyiv?  Or Vienna?’

I usually answer with Oscar Wilde: ‘Comparisons are odious.’

Schladming, Austria

Vienna has much to recommend it, including lovely countryside nearby

The best cities on earth: Vienna?

When I heard that that Vienna had this year taken first place in the annual Economist Intelligence Unit’s global liveability index I was reminded of Oscar Wilde.  It was the first time a European city has ever won.  Vienna certainly is a magnificent place to live.  There are some of the world’s best cafes – see my famous cafe reviews – and has awesome local countryside.  It has great outdoor pools, and – my favourite – outdoor cinemas, comparable with Berlin’s.  I am very happy here.

The best cities on earth: Istanbul?

When I was deciding in 2011 whether to try and move to Istanbul, I was influenced by a report in the Financial Times.  The FT made fun of rankings such as that of the EIU.  It also mocked the Mercer quality of living survey, where Vienna has consistently come top for years.  The FT said that not all of the cities which tended to do well in such surveys were actually cities where people want to live.  Osaka, Calgary, Toronto or Zurich were all fine cities but not on everyone’s bucket lists.  Cities where people did actually want to live, such as New York or London (48th on this year’s EIU survey) tended to do poorly because the surveys gave great weight to security, stability and convenience – eg healthcare and education – rather than, say, rock music, excitement, job opportunities and chances of meeting your future partner.

An alternative way of finding the best city on earth

The FT therefore polled its readers.  They voted Istanbul, straddling Europe and Asia in the top left corner of Turkey the best city on earth.

The Haghia Sophie in Istanbul, Turkey

Back in 2011, FT readers voted Istanbul the world’s best city

Yes, Istanbul is amazing

I lived in Istanbul from 2012 to 2016, and can confirm that it is no-holds-barred wonderful.  It sprawls spectacularly over hills on each side of the beautiful Bosphorus.  It has thousands of years of history, and has archaeological remains that put all other cities on earth to shame.  Before travelling there, I read a history of Turkey and was bemused to be half way through before we reached the year zero.  The food is great; the weather delightful; and the people terrific.

On the other hand, Istanbul is a city of over sixteen million people and does not necessarily score highly on the measures which Mercer and the EIU treasure most.

I, for my part, have certainly enjoyed hugely living in all of the cities listed in the first paragraph.  Other cities I like include Salzburg, where I spent a month in August 2016.  But which city do you think is the best on earth?  Answers in the comments section below, please.

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2 Responses

  1. Leider kann ich die beiden Städte nicht realistisch vergleichen, denn in Istanbul war ich nur als Besucherin und fasziniert von ihrer Geschichte, der Lebensart, von den aufgeschlossenen Menschen. Aber als Wienerin, die jetzt endgültig in Wien lebt, ist für mich die lebenswerteste Stadt der Welt. Vor allem weil es eine kleine Großstadt ist, in der man nicht unbedingt ein Auto braucht, es Gechäfte gibt in denen man perönlich beraten wird und die so etwas wie Kommunikatrionszentren sind – vor allem die Buchhandlungen. Und es eine Stadt ist, die einmal das Zenrum eines Großen Reiches war, vor hundert Jahren Brennpunkt von Kunst und Wissenschaftwar, was bis heute ausstrahlt. Die heutige politische und gesellschaftliche Entwicklung macht mich als östereichische Patriotin allerdings zornig..

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