What makes Vienna the most livable city in the world

When I moved to Vienna in my mid-teens, my overwhelming impression was that it is a city for old people. The baroque architecture, the reliable and affordable public transport, the conservative fashion (with the occasional dirndl), the endless supply of classical concerts, the abundance of parks – all this made it feel a bit like a chic oasis of optimized , if not quite tense life.

When my school friends and I went into town, we drank sensible white wine spritzers, rather than drinking beer, as our counterparts in London would have done (in fact, figures from the OECD and the World Health Organization both show higher alcohol consumption per capita in Austria than in the UK – there is simply less binge eating and fewer public displays of drunkenness). In our mid-teens we wore ball gowns and went to real balls, where normal young people, from all backgrounds and interests, performed a variety of dance moves at a good level, and we seemed to enjoy it. We lounged in parks day and night, because they were always pretty safe. Imagine Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy moving in for the night Before sunriseand you get the photo.

The state health system would spend weeks handing out prescriptions for trips to a sanitarium — essentially a spa — for a very wide range of ailments. Like I said, it was the ideal place for old people.


Live your ‘Before Sunrise’ fantasy in the historic cityscape of Vienna – Wien Tourismus

While Hawke, Delpy and I may have aged a bit over the decades, the City of Music shows no signs of slowing down. This week, Austria’s capital retained its crown as the world’s most liveable city for the third year in a row in the Economist Intelligence Unit’s 2024 Global Liveability Index.

Western European cities typically dominate the annual ranking of 173 cities, which the group rates based on stability, healthcare, education and – of utmost importance for tourists – culture and infrastructure. Vienna put Copenhagen and Zurich first thanks to perfect scores in four out of five categories (due to a lack of major sporting events it only managed a 93.5 out of 100 in the culture and environment category), while Geneva finished sixth. Australia and Canada each provided two cities in the top 10.

Irena Gogl-Hassanin, a lawyer who was born and raised in Vienna and now lives there with her husband and their seven-year-old daughter, sees plenty to love about the city. “Vienna invests a lot in being green and clean,” she says. “The infrastructure works. When I land at Vienna Airport after a flight from London, I think: How clean, how high the standards are!”

According to her, the gap between the richest and the poorest people in Vienna is noticeably smaller than in London, although she notes that the middle class is shrinking and everything is becoming more expensive.


On average, Vienna is three times cheaper than London or Paris – Moment RF

Having lived in New York, London and smaller French and Swiss cities, she says one thing that stands out about Vienna is the quality and affordability of housing. “When I was working at a London law firm, I went to another lawyer – a relatively wealthy man – who had a flat for himself and his daughter in Zone 3 or 4. Every time a bus drove out, the radiators and windows would shake. That’s unthinkable in Vienna: everyone gets good housing and prices are moderate. Plus, people in London are totally tolerant of unreasonable neighbours.”

According to a 2023 Deloitte study, renters in London, Paris or Dublin pay on average around three times more than their Viennese counterparts. Stricter and more strictly enforced housing regulations in Vienna protect citizens. “Still, people complain here – Austrians like to complain,” she says.

Gogl-Hassanin speaks to me as she heads toward St. Stephen’s Cathedral, the cathedral at the heart of the Old Town, distinguished by its patterned roof. “I like working in the city center,” she says, passing a trio of horse-drawn carriages and noting the absence of litter or quirky characters, “it’s… nice.” It’s hard to imagine many New Yorkers, Beijingers, or Londoners saying the same thing.

Salam Hassanin, Irena’s husband and founder of TOP Concierge, a hospitality and travel company, sees plenty of opportunities in Vienna for tourists and residents alike. He grew up in Luxor, Egypt, and notes that the health care, education and cultural opportunities the couple’s seven-year-old daughter has in Vienna are different than those he had as a child.

“Yasmina and her classmates are all familiar with Mozart and Strauss; they play outside in parks after school and can walk safely to and from their activities. Women have equal opportunities here as men.

“Starting a catering business in Austria is a little easier than in Egypt, and the authorities are more reliable, but customers expect much more in terms of quality and availability.” Hassanin says social services in Austria are very generous, which protects the most vulnerable in society, but also opens the door to abuse and can discourage full-time work.


“I have never seen such a clean and well-organized city,” writes Sherwood – Westend61

Ultimately, he says, his favorite thing about Vienna is the cityscape, the historic, well-maintained buildings, parks, recreational areas – and the cleanliness. “I have never seen such a clean and well-organized city,” he concludes. That order and consistent delivery is exactly what this kind of quality of life index measures.

Perhaps most striking to visitors, but in an age of creeping uniformity in world capitals, Vienna has a very distinctive feel. Spend any time in the city and Klimt, Strauss, Elisabeth (the eccentric empress) and the superiority of Austrian wines are sure to come up. From food and shopping to theatre and hotels, this city has a certain character, a way of channeling the Austrian ideal of Gemütlichkeit, or a cosy, warm atmosphere. You’ll find it in one of the heurigenor taverns, overlooking the vineyards on the edge of the city, where you can enjoy some young wine, cold cuts or cheeses. But you can just as easily find the soul of the city in the annual Pride parade, which takes over the Ringstrasse, or in one of the numerous concerts organized especially for children in the city’s large halls. Vienna likes to go its own way and combine quality with functionality, fun with efficiency. Long may it continue.

More findings from the Global Liveability Index 2024

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