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If you're looking at liveable cities as inspiration for your holiday, you'll miss out on many great tourist destinations. According to Mercer's 2018 Quality of Living Survey, Havana ranks a dismal 192, Moscow only 167 and Beijing 119, yet all three provide ample visitor pleasures.
Meanwhile high-ranked cities such as Kobe, Seattle or Stuttgart may be easy places in which to live, but offer only passing interest to tourists.In truth, many of the world's most liveable cities are a little dull. The world isn't rushing to visit Canberra, Montreal or Helsinki. In fact, none of the world's 10 most visited cities (such as Bangkok, Paris or New York) appear in Mercer's top 20. Clearly, considerations that create enjoyable holiday destinations differ from those that make cities fine places in which to reside.
This should be no surprise, since liveability lists aren't concerned with tourists or even local residents but rather expats. Mercer, for example, is a British-based professional services firm whose lists supply multinationals with human resources information about where to locate their businesses.
"The success of foreign assignments is influenced by issues such as ease of travel and communication, sanitation standards, personal safety, and access to public services," says Slagin Parakatil, who oversees Mercer's research. "Multinational companies need accurate and timely information to help calculate fair and consistent expatriate compensation."
In short, Mercer considers whether cities are attractive to business and investment, and have good schools, hospitals and housing. Such factors seldom impact tourists and, if cities have sufficient wow factor, visitors will overlook other liveability criteria such as drinkable water, an agreeable climate and political repression.
Still, Mercer's Quality of Living Survey has its uses for travellers, since it also looks at natural and cultural environments and recreation. It ranks public transport and infrastructure particularly highly, a consideration shared by the World Economic Forum in reports on tourism and travel competitiveness. This includes hotel, rental-car and even ATM availability, all of which make a destination friendly to expats and visitors alike.We've take the world's most liveable cities and ranked them for their visitor-friendliness and tourism attractions. Here are our conclusions.
THEY SAY A reliable financial centre noted for high living standards and tolerance, also rating for public transport, especially for cyclists and pedestrians.
WE SAY Amsterdam is compact, easily navigated, raffish, fun and crammed with art and history. As a bonus, the Dutch are tidy, honest and speak English.
STRENGTHS Canals lined by merchant houses showcase Amsterdam's 17th-century Golden Age, while hip Jordaan and multi-ethnic De Pijp districts add contemporary layers.
WEAKNESSES Overcrowding, scruffiness, long queues at attractions such as Anne Frank's House (annefrank.org), and too many roistering British visitors.
MUST DO The Rijksmuseum (rijksmuseum.nl) has a superb collection of Dutch Masters among much else. Nearby Van Gogh Museum (vangoghmuseum.nl) is equally impressive.
GETTING AROUND Experience Amsterdam like the locals by renting a bike and pedalling its superb network of cycle lanes.
ESSENTIALS Go April-May or September-October. Stay in residential Museumplein just off the city centre. See iamsterdam.com
See also: The top 10 queue-free highlights of Amsterdam
THEY SAY Mercer's top city gets accolades for well-organised public transport, high levels of security and a wide variety of cultural and recreational facilities.
WE SAY The city has history, culture and music galore and some of the world's most beautiful architecture, yet is also relaxed, intimate and charming.
STRENGTHS A city designed for strolling thanks to eye-catching buildings, parks, coffeehouses and eclectic districts such as the bohemian Fourth and fashion-boutique Seventh.
WEAKNESSES Buttoned up and rather self-consciously worthy, Vienna is more for serious-minded visitors than those looking for unthinking hedonism.
MUST DO Hofburg palace (hofburg-wien.at), nearby MuseumsQuartier (mqw.at), Schonbrunn Palace (schoenbrunn.at) and the State Opera (wiener-staatsoper) provide a cultural hit list.
GETTING AROUND Walking gets you to most sights, with the U-Bahn (subway) or tram convenient extras.
ESSENTIALS Go April-May or September-October. Stay on or within the Ringstrasse for chief sights. See wien.info
See also: Why Australians are flocking to the world's most liveable city
THEY SAY North America's most liveable city ranks highly on nearly every standard, pulling ahead of chillier Canadian cities thanks to warmer winter weather.
WE SAY Vancouver is scenic and makes no great demands on visitors thanks to high safety standards, easy navigability and a great range of restaurants and hotels.
STRENGTHS A harbour setting with many beautiful parks and gardens, a multicultural population, sophisticated arts scene and an outdoorsy and friendly attitude.
WEAKNESSES Lots of rain, a rather sprawling layout and an unattractive city centre when away from the waterfront.
MUST DO Stanley Park features 400 hectares of forest and the terrific Vancouver Aquarium (vanaqua.org). Victorian-era Gastown (gastown.org) and fast-changing Chinatown (vancouver-chinatown.com) are lively dining districts.
GETTING AROUND Vancouver has Canada's best public transport system. Foreshores are made for walking and cycling.
ESSENTIALS Go June-September. Stay in the West End near downtown and shorelines. See tourismvancouver.com
See also: Six of the best places to stay in British Columbia
THEY SAY A well-developed, stable economy, high-tech environment and easy access are important, but Copenhagen stands out for its sustainable, environmental vision.
WE SAY This city is a clever blend of gingerbread cuteness and up-to-the-minute design and dining scenes. Visitors will enjoy its big-city assets while appreciating its small-town charm.
STRENGTHS Lovely architecture (both old and contemporary), considerable Nordic style in shops and restaurants, and a youthful energy.
WEAKNESSES Chilly weather, high prices and pockets of scruffiness. The bemusing Little Mermaid is wildly overhyped.
MUST DO The Botanical Garden (botanik.snm.ku.dk) leads you to lovely Renaissance Rosenborg Castle (kongernessamling.dk). Nearby Amalienborg (kongernessamling.dk) is the royal residence. Relax at Nyhavn bars and Tivoli Gardens amusement park (tivoli.dk).
GETTING AROUND This is one of the world's most bicycle friendly cities, with 400 kilometres of cycle lanes.
ESSENTIALS Go May-August. Stay in Indre near the historical centre and waterfront. See visitcopenhagen.com
See also: The best of Copenhagen – three-minute guide
Oktoberfest in Munich. Photo: AP
THEY SAY Impressive for its recent efforts to attract businesses, and big ticks for cultural facilities and infrastructure.
WE SAY Munich is a leading centre of fashion, arts and high-tech industry, yet offers a cosy, almost rustic charm, lively university-student vibe and humming nightlife.
STRENGTHS A delightful old town, park-like English Garden and of course great beerhalls and the Oktoberfest, one of the world's largest knees-ups.
WEAKNESSES Utterly dead on a Sunday, and relatively expensive by the standards of other German cities.
MUST DO The treasure-crammed Residenz (residenz-muenchen.de), baroque Nymphenburg Palace (schloss-nymphenburg.de) and the art-crammed Alte Pinakothek (pinakothek.de) are royal legacies. For the contemporary, head to BMW Museum (bmw-museum.com) or Deutsches Museum (deutsches-museum.de) for technology.
GETTING AROUND The old town is car free, so walk. Elsewhere, take the U-Bahn (underground) or S-Bahn (light rail).
ESSENTIALS Go April-June. Stay in the Altstadt (old town). See muenchen.de
See also: There's more to Munich than Oktoberfest
THEY SAY This international financial centre is also a cultural hub with excellent public transport and leisure options, ranking highly on environmental and safety criteria.
WE SAY Clean, safe and well-connected by rail, organised Zurich is very easy to visit and a great base for exploration.
STRENGTHS An attractive setting on the Limmat River and Lake Zurich, a well-preserved old town, plus Switzerland's best nightlife and more quirk than you might anticipate.
WEAKNESSES Expect staidness and modesty, with steep prices and no big-name sights.
MUST DO Surrealist paintings at Kunsthaus Zurich (kunsthaus.ch) and Heidi-Weber Museum (centerlecorbusier.com), devoted to modernist pioneer Le Corbusier, show Zurich's alternative side. Check our inner-city Zurich West for hip eateries and boutiques.
GETTING AROUND Easily navigated on foot or by tram. Rent bicycles at the station to pedal further afield.
ESSENTIALS Go June-September. Stay in Enge for lakeshore promenades and entertainment options. See zuerich.com
See also: The best of Zurich – three-minute guide
THEY SAY An exceptional quality of living and high scores in most categories, including press freedom, corruption levels and security.
WE SAY Though small, Ottawa is bilingual, multicultural and surprisingly cosmopolitan, with top dining and appealing charm.
STRENGTHS An attractive riverside city, Ottawa is studded with the monuments of empire and the cultural symbols of a modest, modern capital.
WEAKNESSES Staid and far from cutting-edge, Ottawa has the same lack of excitement as other bureaucratic, compromise capitals.
MUST DO Parliament Hill (visit.parl.ca) is the centre of political life. The Canadian Museum of History (historymuseum.ca) is outstanding for its First Nations and Canadian history. The Canadian Aviation Museum (ingeniumcanada.org) is one of the world's best for aircraft exhibits.
GETTING AROUND Modest in size, almost flat and park studded, Ottawa is the ultimate walker's city.
ESSENTIALS Go May-October. Stay in Centretown for the main attractions. See ottawatourism.ca
See also: Why Ottawa is a city that loves winter
THEY SAY Well-geared towards commerce, with great airline connections, trade-show experience and top visitor infrastructure. Marks too for education, security and health.
WE SAY This attractive, safe, lively city flies under the radar yet has a great cultural scene, impressive dining and nightlife, and buzzing neighbourhoods.
STRENGTHS An old town embedded in a tidy urban landscape of skyscrapers, with a riverside setting, pleasant parks and, as you'd expect of a wealthy city, great shopping.
WEAKNESSES Pockets of this business-oriented city are dull, and deserted in the evening. Chief attractions such as Goethe House (goethehaus-frankfurt.de) won't thrill everyone.
MUST DO Museumufer or "museum bank" cultural hub has excellent museums, including Liebieghaus (liebieghaus.de) for sculpture and Stadel Museum (staedelmuseum.de) for painting.
GETTING AROUND Walking gets you most places, supplemented by the U-Bahn (subway) and trams.
ESSENTIALS Go April-September. Stay in Innenstadt for transport links and abundant hotel options. See frankfurt-tourismus.de
THEY SAY A great reputation for business and diplomacy, and making up for high living costs with education levels, public safety, transport and its environmental record.
WE SAY Geneva's mountain-gazing, lake-side setting is wonderful, with promenades made for lovely walks. Sights are pleasing but a bit provincial, lacking much wow factor.
STRENGTHS Beautiful parks and lakeshore promenades, great public transport, cleanliness and order, and abundant world-class hotels.
WEAKNESSES Geneva shuts down in the evenings, leaving party-goers and night owls unrequited. It's also one of the world's priciest cities.
MUST DO The porcelain and glass of Musee Ariana (ville-ge.ch/ariana/), superb Far Eastern art at Baur Collections (fondation-baur.ch) and Patek Philippe Museum (patekmuseum.com) for stunning timepieces.
GETTING AROUND Walk the small, mostly pedestrian old town. Otherwise, use the extensive tram, bus and lake-steamer network.
ESSENTIALS Go June-September. Stay on the Right Bank for lake views and convenience. See geneve.com
See also: Unwind in Geneva's coolest suburb
AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND
THEY SAY Top-notch for its stable social and political environment and medical and health services, as well as for air and water quality.
WE SAY New Zealand's only true city is lively and cosmopolitan, with fine museums and attractions and an impressive restaurant scene.
STRENGTHS A magnificent harbour setting, plus beaches and volcanic landscapes beyond the city, create a destination suited to outdoor pursuits.
WEAKNESSES Away from the water, Auckland veers towards the drab. The sprawling city can be traffic choked.
MUST DO Wander Auckland Domain (aucklandcouncil.govt.nz) and into the excellent Auckland War Memorial Museum (aucklandmuseum.com). Auckland Art Gallery (aucklandartgallery.com) has wonderful NZ landscape paintings and portraits. Seaside suburb Devonport (visitdevonport.co.nz) is worth the ferry ride.
GETTING AROUND Efficient buses and ferries link city and suburbs. Taxis can be hailed on the street.
ESSENTIALS Go in May or September. Stay in Viaduct Harbour for restaurants and nightlife. See aucklandnz.com
See also: 20 highlights of Auckland
WORLD'S TOP 20 MOST LIVEABLE CITIES ACCORDING TO MERCER (MERCER.COM)
THE BEST OF THE REST
Do the remaining liveable cities from Mercer's top 20 hold their own as tourist destinations? Here's what we think.
This city won't be high on your must-see agenda for Germany. Yet elegant, wealthy Dusseldorf has a lively old town surrounded by office towers and occasional avant-garde buildings, and boasts Germany's top shopping, especially along Konigsallee and Schadowstrasse and in alternative districts Carlstadt and Flingern. See duesseldorf-tourismus.de
Don't allocate days, but linger a while. Basel has a lovely old town on the Rhine, several excellent art museums, a first-class zoo and some of Europe's best contemporary architecture. It boasts a sophisticated blend of French and German influences, lively cafe culture and good restaurants. See basel.com
Sydney has world-class beauty, so focus on harbour walks, ferry rides and beaches and you'll be satisfied. Thumbs up too for festivals and eclectic dining and nightlife in inner-city suburbs. Thumbs down for incessant infrastructure disruptions, an unattractive downtown and (by world standards) just-OK museums and shopping. See sydney.com
The German capital is a must visit not for traditional tourist sights (though it does have Charlottenburg palace, Checkpoint Charlie and world-class museums) but for its contemporary vibe. Enjoy incredible nightlife, fine-dining and buzzing arts scenes, great shopping and hip districts such as Barn and Prenzlauerberg. See visitberlin.de
The compact Swiss capital is easy to explore and has a World-Heritage old town with alpine views. That said, Bern feels provincial and there are no particular sights, unless the Swiss parliament gets your heart racing. A pleasant city to pass through as you head to the Alps. See bern.com
WELLINGTON, NEW ZEALAND
It won't blow your socks off, but Wellington has a lovely setting, showcased by taking the cable car. There are a few genteel sights, and Te Papa Museum is outstanding. You'll be agreeably surprised by Wellington's liveliness and sometimes avant-garde flair, but a day might suffice. See wellingtonnz.com
Does Melbourne match up to Paris or New York? No, and for most overseas visitors, Australian landscapes are the chief lure. Still, elegant, multicultural, artsy, sporty, caffeine-buzzing, slightly European-feel Melbourne is surely our most agreeable city, and one Aussies will want to linger in. See visitvictoria.com
Toronto doesn't hold its own against big urban hitters either, and has no major sights. But Canada's biggest city suits a certain kind of visitor thanks to eclectic shopping, good museums, an innovative music scene and a diverse, multi-ethnic population that has created an excellent food culture. See seetorontonow.com
LUXEMBOURG CITY, LUXEMBOURG
Most people visit Luxembourg just to tick off another country. It may be eminently liveable, but the city has no special appeal on a continent crammed with finer old towns. Shuffle around if you wish, view the ramparts, have a coffee, stifle your yawn and move on. See visitluxembourg.com
Consider Hamburg if you're a repeat visitor to Germany. The city has impressive modern architecture and is famed for raucous nightlife. Great waterfronts and green spaces, a recreated old town, top zoo, good shopping and one of Germany's best art museums, the Kunsthalle, are attractions. See hamburg-tourism.de
DOWN BUT NOT OUT
Despite their faults and lowly ranking on Mercer's liveable list, you have ample reason to visit these five fabulous cities.
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL
Rio is 118th on Mercer's list, but the city is stunning, whether you're atop Sugarloaf Mountain, gazing from Christ the Redeemer or strolling the promenades of Copacabana and Ipanema. The city centre blends colonial history with modern dynamism. Carnival in February is a great spectacle. Take precautions with personal safety, however. See visitbrasil.com
Istanbul is only 134th on Mercer's list, yet boasts an astounding history and cultural layers from Greek, Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman times. Apart from palaces, stunning mosques and museums, it has great bazaars and friendly people. Political tensions and terrorist attacks are, though, a periodic concern for visitors. See goturkeytourism.com
Although air pollution, water quality and lack of political freedoms put Xian at number 145, this was China's ancient capital. The highlight is the Terracotta Army, but you'll also find an atmospheric, walled old town, great street food and a laidback vibe. Xian is also interesting for Muslim influences on architecture and cuisine. See cnto.org
ST PETERSBURG, RUSSIA
Ignore the lowly 173th Mercer ranking. From the tourist perspective, St Petersburg is a fabulous repository of Russian culture. It has a half-dozen glorious palaces, world-class Hermitage art museum and lovely ensemble of baroque buildings. Only its horrendous traffic is a deterrent, so stay in the city centre and use the metro. See visitrussia.org.uk
Though a dismal 178th on Mercer's list and maddening for its touts and traffic, Cairo provides two of ancient Egypt's most fantastic sights: the suburban Pyramids and the Egyptian Museum's mummies, gorgeous statuary and Tutankhamen funerary masks. As a bonus, you'll find a citadel, 14th-century souk and outstanding mosques. See egypt.travel
See also: The Door to Hell and 28 more of the freakiest places on Earth
See also: Forget liveable – here are the world's 10 most loveable cities