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Vienna: The Epitome of Livability – Discover What Makes it the World’s Most Liveable City

Vienna: The Epitome of Livability – Discover What Makes it the World’s Most Liveable City

When I moved to Vienna in my mid-teens, my overwhelming impression was that it is a city for old people. The baroque architecture, reliable and affordable public transportation, conservative fashion (with the occasional dirndl), endless classical concerts on offer, plethora of parks – all conspired to feel a bit like a genteel oasis of optimised, if not quite edgy, living. 

When my school friends and I went out on the town, we sipped sensible white wine spritzers, rather than necking beers as our London counterparts might have done (in fact, OECD and World Health Organization figures both show higher per capita alcohol consumption in Austria than in the United Kingdom – there’s just less bingeing and fewer public displays of drunkenness). In our mid-teens, we wore ballgowns and went to actual balls, where normal young people, of all sorts of backgrounds and interests, would perform a variety of dance steps to a good level, and seemed to enjoy doing so. We lazed about parks by day or night, for they were reasonably safe at any time. Picture Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy pulling their all-nighter in Before Sunrise, and you’ll get the picture.

The state health system would hand out prescriptions for trips to a sanatorium – basically a spa – for weeks at a time for a really wide range of ailments. Like I said, it was the ideal place for old people.

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Live your ‘Before Sunrise’ fantasy in Vienna’s historic cityscape CREDIT: Wien Tourismus

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

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Western European cities tend to dominate the annual ranking of 173 cities, which the group evaluates on the basis of stability, healthcare, education and – of most interest to tourists – culture and infrastructure. Vienna pipped Copenhagen and Zürich to the top spot thanks to perfect scores in four of the five categories (a lack of major sporting events contributed meant it registered a mere 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 in the city. “Vienna invests a huge amount in being green and clean,” she says. “The infrastructure works. When I land at Vienna Airport after flying from London, I think: How clean, what high standards!” 

The gap between the richest and poorest is noticeably smaller in Vienna than in London, she says, though she notes that the middle class is shrinking, and everything is getting more expensive. 

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

Having spent time living in New York, London, and smaller French and Swiss cities, she says that one thing that stands out in Vienna is the quality and affordability of housing. “When I worked at a London law firm, I went to see another lawyer – a relatively wealthy man – who had a flat for himself and his daughter in Zone 3 or 4. Every time a bus passed outside, the radiators and windows shook. That’s unimaginable in Vienna – everyone gets proper housing and the prices are moderate. Also, people in London put up with totally unreasonable neighbours.” 

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

Gogl-Hassanin speaks to me as she walks towards Stephansdom, the cathedral at the heart of the old town, distinctive for its patterned roof. “I enjoy working in the city centre,” she says, as she passes a trio of horse-drawn carriages, noting the absence of litter or wayward characters, “it’s… nice.” It’s hard to imagine many New Yorkers, Beijingers or Londoners saying the same.

Salam Hassanin, Irena’s husband and founder of TOP Concierge, a hospitality and travel company, sees plenty of opportunity in Vienna for tourists and residents alike. He was raised in Luxor, Egypt, and notes that the health, education and cultural opportunities that the couple’s seven-year-old daughter has in Vienna are different to what 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 here have equal opportunities to men. 

“Starting a hospitality business in Austria is somewhat easier than in Egypt, and the authorities are more reliable, but much more is expected by the customers in terms of quality and availability.” Hassanin says that social benefits in Austria are very generous, which protects society’s most vulnerable, but also opens doors to abuse and can disincentivise full-time work. 

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‘I have never seen such a clean and well-organised city,’ writes Sherwood CREDIT: Westend61

Ultimately, he says, his favourite 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-organised city,” he concludes. That order and consistent delivery is precisely what this sort of quality of life index measures. 

Perhaps most remarkable for visitors, however, in an age of creeping uniformity in global capitals, Vienna has a very distinctive vibe. Spend any amount of time in the city and Klimt, Strauss, Elisabeth (the eccentric empress), and the superiority of Austrian wines will no doubt come up. From food and shopping to theatre and hotels, there is a particular character to this city, a way of channelling the Austrian ideal of Gemütlichkeit, or a convivial, warm atmosphere. You can find it in one of the heurigen, or taverns, overlooking the vineyards on the edge of the city, where you might tuck into some young wine and cured meats 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 myriad concerts put on especially for children in the city’s main halls. Vienna is happy to go its own way, to blend quality with practicality, pleasure with efficiency. Long may it continue.

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1 COMMENT

  1. Wow, amazing blog layout! How long have you been blogging for?

    you make blogging look easy. The overall look of your site is great, as well as the content!

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