World's most liveable cities 2019: Vienna narrowly beats Melbourne, Sydney

Vienna has been declared the number one city in the annual Global Liveability Index for the second year in a row, narrowly beating Melbourne.

The Economist Intelligence Unit's 2019 ranking examined five categories – stability; healthcare; culture and environment; education; and infrastructure – in 140 destinations.

After displacing Melbourne from the top spot in 2018, ending a record run of seven consecutive years, the Austrian capital once again prevailed this year. But only just. The two cities continue to be separated by 0.7 percentage points, with Vienna scoring 99.1 out of 100 and Melbourne 98.4.

Two other Australian cities feature in the top 10: Sydney (in third, just 0.2 points behind Melbourne and climbing two spots) and Adelaide (tenth), while only one other European city, Copenhagen in Denmark (ninth), scores among the best. The other top-ranked cities are split between Japan (Osaka in fourth and Tokyo in joint seventh) and Canada (Calgary in fifth, and Vancouver and Toronto in sixth and joint seventh, respectively).

London languished in 48th, holding the same spot as last year, with overstretched infrastructure and high crime rates to blame. Paris is the most high-profile city to fall in the rankings, dropping 6 places to 25th, but remains well ahead of Singapore (40th) and New York (58th).

Propping up the table was Damascus with a score of 30.7 – the same as last year. Others in the bottom five include Lagos in Nigeria, Dhaka in Bangladesh, Tripoli in Libya and Karachi in Pakistan.

Overall though, scores generally rose for the third consecutive year, reflecting, the report states, "a slight diminishing of the perceived threat of terrorism, after a period of acute concern. Some of these improvements have been considerable but from a very low base (such as Tripoli in Libya and Jakarta in Indonesia), while others have seen smaller improvements to already acceptable scores (such as Seattle and Houston in the US, and Seoul in South Korea)."

The biggest improvers over the last five years, in terms of overall score, are as follows: Abidjan in Côte d'Ivoire, Hanoi in Vietnam, Kiev in Ukraine and Belgrade in Serbia; all having seen increases of 5 percentage points or more.

In less encouraging news, this year was the first that climate change has had a significant impact on liveability scores. The report states: "A slew of cities in emerging markets that are among the most exposed to the effects of climate change have seen their scores downgraded. These include New Delhi in India, which suffers from appalling air quality, Cairo in Egypt (where air quality is also a major issue) and Dhaka in Bangladesh.

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"The incidence of extreme weather events, such as flooding and heatwaves, is rising around the world, and cities in emerging markets are often the most directly affected and the least resilient. That said, we see climate change as a global phenomenon, which threatens the liveability of cities at the very top of the index too. Only a co-ordinated global effort to limit the rising temperature of the planet will succeed in maintaining current levels of liveability across the world."

While this was the second year that that Vienna topped The Economist Intelligence Unit's survey, a rival ranking –Mercer's Quality of Living Index 2019 – has put the Austrian city at number one for ten consecutive years.

Earlier this week, The Economist also released the results of its Safe Cities Index 2019, naming Tokyo the safest city in the world, followed by Singapore and Osaka. London this year placed 14th, up from 20th last year.

See: World's safest cities named as Sydney overtakes Melbourne in rankings

The world's top 10 most liveable cities for 2019

  1. Vienna (Austria) - 99.1 (=)
  2. Melbourne (Australia) - 98.4 (=)
  3. Sydney (Australia) - 98.1 (+2)
  4. Osaka (Japan) - 97.7 (-1)
  5. Calgary (Canada) - 97.5 (-1)
  6. Vancouver (Canada) - 97.3 (=)
  7. Toronto (Canada) - 97.2 (=)
  8. Tokyo (Japan) - 97.2 (=)
  9. Copenhagen (Denmark) - 96.8 (=)
  10. Adelaide (Australia) - 96.6 (=)

The world's least liveable cities

  1. Damascus (Syria) - 30.7
  2. Lagos (Nigeria) - 38.5 
  3. Dhaka (Bangladesh) - 39.2 
  4. Tripoli (Libya) - 40.4
  5. Karachi (Pakistan) - 40.9
  6. Port Moresby (PNG) - 41
  7. Harare (Zimbabwe) - 42.6
  8. Douala (Cameroon) - 44
  9. Algiers (Algeria) - 44.1
  10. Caracas (Venezuela) - 46.9

What makes Vienna so special?

There is something very special about Vienna – and not just as a place to live. It is hugely underrated as a tourist destination.

Sure, you will see plenty of coach tours thronging to the Spanish Riding School, and excited tourists bumping along the cobbled streets of the old town in open horse-drawn carriages. But head for the main museum – the Kunsthistorisches, that fabulously grand neo-Renaissance palace of art and culture just off the Ringstrasse – and you will be able to walk in without queuing. This despite the fact that it has one of the greatest collections of old masters in Europe – easily rivalling the Prado, the National Gallery, the Hermitage and the Louvre. Highlights from what was once the Habsburgs' royal collection include three of the Seasons paintings by Bruegel, and seminal work by Rubens, Titian, Velasquez, Vermeer, Durer, Raphael – it's a long long list and a great one. Yet it gets just 850,000 visitors a year – that's one tenth of the number which floods into the Louvre.

Perhaps you prefer something more modern? Head round the corner to the Leopold Museum for radical 20th-century works by Egon Schiele. Or up to the Belvedere Palace for a spectacular collection of Klimts. And if you enjoy palaces, the two great Habsburg Imperial residences, the Hofburg (home to the Spanish Riding School) and the Schonbrunn are extraordinarily extravagant architectural testaments to power, wealth and influence of the family which, for centuries, reigned absolute over vast swathes of central Europe.

If your eyes are glazing over, Vienna isn't just about art and history. This is a city which wears its culture lightly, a city with its own vineyards, and more to the point, where cafe society was invented. Nowhere has the art of relaxing over coffee or hot chocolate been elevated to such heights, or accompanied by such good cake and quite so much whipped cream.

Suitably refreshed you will no doubt be up for some musical culture. Here too Vienna is a non-pareil. The city of Mozart, Haydn and Beethoven does not rest on its musical laurels – the great tradition still thrives, and it is still home to one of the world's greatest orchestras – the Vienna Philharmonic – the State Opera, lively chamber music scene; (and, I'm told, a growing reputation for rock festivals).

But my final salute is more prosaic – it goes to Vienna's public transport system. Not the metro which serves the suburbs, but the red-and-white trams which circumnavigate the Ringstrasse. You can walk across the old town in half an hour. But to appreciate the monumental grandeur of one of Europe's most remarkable avenues, you need to take the tram. Sit back and enjoy the view as you trundle past the coffee shops, and parks, the Steinway showroom, the grand hotels, the Hofburg palace and, most impressively of all, a succession of some of the most imposing architecture of the 19th century, from the splendid Burg theatre to the neoclassical parliament, and of course, the great neo-Renaissance domes of the Kunsthistorisches museum.

That tram ride sums it all up. The great achievement of Vienna is that way that it manages to keep its grandeur on a human scale. It has the charm, scale and good looks of an English cathedral city, and yet the history and traditions and sophistication of one of Europe's great historic capitals. - Nick Trend

The Telegraph, London

See also: Forget liveable: Here are the 10 most loveable cities in the world

See also: The freedoms Europeans have that 'uncivilised' Australians don't

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