In case you didn’t know this already, I lived in San Francisco for 5+ years before quitting my 9-5 job and traveling for 14 months solo. I grew up in a smaller town in Idaho, but upon moving to SF, I became a city girl VERY quickly. I always knew I wanted to live in a big city and San Francisco was the perfect place for me to spend the majority of my 20’s.
Since leaving SF, I’ve been traveling to many different cities in the world and I’m always obsessed with entering a new one for the first time. I always ask myself the same question upon getting there, “Could I live here?”. There are a lot of cities that I could most definitely NOT live in, but there are a handful that really call my name. A lot of these amazing cities are located in Europe (duh!) and after spending 5 months traveling around, I found my absolute favorite and most livable cities in Europe!
I’ve compiled this list based on ease of getting around, cool neighborhood vibes, quality of living, ease of communication (aka people who speak English), great food spots and cafes, great nightlife and a potentially strong expat scene.
I’ve finally decided on my top 5 cities in Europe that I could 100% most definitely live in (in order).
The Most Livable Cities in Europe: A City Girl’s Guide
1. Berlin, Germany
Some of you may be surprised that Berlin is on the list, but for those of you have been to the city to see it with your own eyes, you’re probably cheering! I certainly did NOT know what to expect before going to Berlin. For some reason I thought everything would be grey and it would have some sort of sad post WWII blues, but I was WRONG! People had told me it was a great city, but I just couldn’t get this image I had of it out of my mind. Afterall, when I learned about Berlin in school it was surrounded by negativity and I just figured it would be a historical place I would just visit once in my life.
After visiting for the first time in winter I fell in love.
It didn’t matter that my fingers and toes were falling off because it was so cold or that it got dark at 4:30pm, it was an intoxicating city that I didn’t want to leave. So, I stayed 10 days and soaked up the city as much as I could. Berlin is extremely international and most people in the city speak English, similar to London and Manchester, England. The food options are endless (kebabs for the WIN), the historical sites and museums are done so extremely well that you could spend hours inside each one like I did, the Christmas markets (again I was there in the winter) were amazing and the nightlife is like none you’ve ever experienced before.
The city offers cute cafes, hipster neighborhoods, and an intense, buzzing culture. Plus, Berlin is very accessible to many places across Europe if you’re trying to travel around the continent. I would move here in an instant and never ever get bored. Ship me off to Berlin and I’m a happy camper.
WHERE I STAYED IN BERLIN:
Circus Hostel – This hostel was great and in one of the coolest neighborhoods in Berlin close to great restaurants, coffee shops, and shopping. It’s also right next to the Rosenthaler Platz station which made accessing the rest of the sites in Berlin very easy. I definitely recommend it.
2. Lisbon, Portugal
Little did I know I’d leave my heart in Lisbon and fall completely in love. Lisbon was also never really on my list of places to see during my adventures. I just ended up here an am so glad I did. Upon arriving into Lisbon by way of a bus from the Algarve coast, I couldn’t believe my eyes. Was this a mini-San Francisco? Why yes, yes it was. Complete with cable cars, a bay view, steep hills and a replica of the Golden Gate Bridge, it all reminded me of the city I love most (San Francisco).
Lisbon is seriously a hidden gem (maybe not so hidden anymore) and a perfect place for an expat to pick up and live. Everyone speaks English, the food is wonderful, the nightlife is on point, the different neighborhoods each have their own quirks and charms. Plus you’ll get great quad and bum muscles from walking up and down the hills all day. They also have easy public transportation options, from trams to buses and underground subway systems. Oh, and it’s one of the sunniest cities in Europe! Who doesn’t love that?!
WHERE I STAYED IN LISBON:
Oasis Backpacker’s Mansion Lisboa – I thought I would like this hostel because I had stayed at Oasis hostels in Spain and loved them, but I actually hated this hostel. Not sure if it was my room that was in the attic or what the deal was I didn’t like the vibes at all. So, when I came back to Lisbon the 2nd time I made sure to swap hostels and loved the Traveller’s House so much!
Traveller’s House – I LOVED this hostel. They had a theme night every night to take you out to enjoy the culture of Lisbon and it was super clean and easy to meet people. I liked the location of the Oasis Backpacker’s a bit more because it’s in the Barrio Alto neighborhood, but this one was i thick of the downtown area and you don’t have to climb any hills to get there.
3. Amsterdam, Netherlands
Of course Amsterdam is on the list. I mean, who doesn’t want to live in this forward thinking capital? From coffee shops, to biking around the city, to historical museums to the plethora of amazing parks, Amsterdam is a dream. As long as you can handle the wind and weather you’re in for a treat. Dutch people speak perfect English and Amsterdam has so much going on it’s a paradise for someone looking for an adventure. Plus, the rest of the Netherlands is worth exploring as well. I’m still trying to figure out a way to move here, so if you have any tips (I’d marry a Dutch guy if I could) on how to move here, please let me know! 🙂
WHERE I STAYED IN AMSTERDAM:
Flying Pig Uptown – I was in Amsterdam in the spring and so this hostel was perfect because it was right next to Vondelpark. I also loved the ease of meeting people at their downstairs bar, the free breakfast, and the smoking (weed) room.
4. Budapest, Hungary
The only Eastern European city that takes the cake for ease of living, in my opinion, is Budapest. This city is one of my favorites in the whole wide world and is booming with a unique culture and nightlife. Budapest has a HUGE expat scene and is a city you could spend a lifetime in and not see it all. From the Jewish quarter, to the two cities, Buda and Pest, to the thermal baths and the ruin bars, nothing even compares to the awesomeness of this city. I extended my stay and am glad I did and can’t wait to visit again. Yes, your liver might hurt after living there for a while, but it’s a city you fall in love with immediately after visiting and it will 100% steal your heart.
WHERE I STAYED IN BUDAPEST:
Carpe Noctem Vitae – If you’re looking for a crazy and wild time in Budapest then this is your spot. Carpe Noctem is a party hostel, but luckily everyone leaves around 8pm every night to go to the parties. They organize all kinds of events like a river party cruise, SPArty (a night party at the hot baths) and karaoke night. It was a blast, but after staying there for 4 nights I had to swap to an Airbnb.
Budapest Airbnb – This was my studio in Budapest that I loved! The area wasn’t the best in terms of getting around, but I had a great time in my own studio for a few days to unwind and relax. Use my code to get $40 off your first Airbnb!
5. A Tie! Madrid, Spain and Barcelona, Spain
Madrid or Barcelona? How can you ever choose? Either one is a good pick, but here are the reasons I had to give them a tie on this list.
Madrid is an expat paradise of food, nightlife, and ease of living. It’s a REALLY cheap city compared to the rest of Spain and it’s neighbor city, Barcelona. If you want a less touristy, more local vibe then pick Madrid. The food is incredible and there is still a large expat and TEFL community. If you don’t know any Spanish, this might be the best city to immerse yourself in since not as many people freely speak English as they do in Barcelona. Madrid wins the cake for the best spot to live and learn Spanish or use as a base to travel the rest of Spain.
WHERE I STAYED IN MADRID:
The Hat Madrid – This hostel was in an amazing location and was super clean and nice. They also have a sweet upstairs patio with drinks and food every night which is great for a nightcap. It’s not super easy to meet people at this hostel, but it was still fun!
Barcelona is located in the Catalonia region of Spain and you can tell it’s roots are different than the rest of Spain. Barcelona’s incredible Gaudi architecture, beachy vibe and lively night scene attract tons and tons of tourists each year. The tourists aren’t too bad if you know where to hang out and the beach life in Barcelona is hard to beat. If you’re looking for a more international city vibe, a place that’s a little more expensive because everyone loves it so much, a place with great food, nightlife, and historical sites, then Barcelona is for you!
WHERE I STAYED IN BARCELONA:
Be Sound Hostel – I definitely don’t recommend staying here. I stayed here and then immediately swapped over to an Airbnb with my girlfriends.
Airbnb’s in Barcelona – Get $40 off your first Airbnb stay with my code!
Spain is known for offering the best quality of life to its citizens. It is the second country in the world and first in Europe in life expectancy, according to the OECD. Thanks to Spain’s safety, the Mediterranean climate, and positive health indicators, it comes as no surprise! I see it as just another reason to move to this lively country.
I’m such a big fan of the cities listed above that I could honestly live in any of them. Would any of you ever live in one of the above? I’d love to hear your serious opinions because I know everyone’s got their own views of everywhere they go. I’d also love to hear if I missed any awesome cities that are great for living in Europe. I haven’t been everywhere, but it’s on my list! 😉
If you are looking to move to your favorite liveable city, check out ECA International. A software that displays benefits for international workers moving around the world on a short-term, long-term, or permanent basis. It is important to research everything in advance from the quality of life, to clean air, to the crime rate. From Spain to UK Cities, they offer up information for every part of the world.
I could definitely see myself living in all of these cities – especially Berlin. I need to figure out how to make that happen soon… I recently went to Wroclaw in Poland too and was surprised at how easily I could live there too!
OMG Poland is soooo high on my list! I also LOVED Berlin!!!