Everybody has different ideas when it comes to uprooting and looking for a new, ideal lifestyle. Some are looking to slow down while others are looking to shake things up a bit. But what we can generally agree on is that an urban settlement must have a pulse and shimmer with possibilities. Moving abroad we want to experience a new culture, do things a bit differently and immerse ourselves in a new landscape. Monocle’s list of the world’s most ‘Livable Cities’ considers crime levels, quality of medical care, eco-friendly efforts as well as cultural offerings and therefore offers a balance of practicalities and entertainment.
Based in a city you are ideally situated to explore neighborhoods, the surrounding countryside or venture even further afield. Cities are a central hub for train travel to other parts of the country, even neighboring countries. You will also be in close proximity to the airports should you wish to explore the continent. Ideally, you should find temporary accommodation, like a hostel and do your research before committing yourself to a long-term stay.
We take a look at three of the world’s most livable cities as identified by Monocle.
This year Munich has ranked number 1 in Monocle’s ‘Livable Cities’ survey. While many tend to stereotype the Germans as orderly and efficient, here you will find a fine-tuned, laid-back and friendly attitude. With the exception of cafes, bars and museums, much of the city pleasantly shuts down on Sundays but they might have adopted their casual attitude from the nearby Italian lifestyle. Munich is in fact referred to by some as Italy’s northernmost city particularly with its decorative Baroque architectural features.
Nowadays technology and the digital age play as much a part in crafting the city’s identity as their traditional bratwurst and beer labeling. For those keen to explore beyond the city, the dramatic landscape of the Alps, fairytale castles set upon lakes all offer skiing, swimming and boating opportunities. Further afield you have the rest of Europe at your fingertips with neighboring Paris, Netherlands and Austria by train and the much coveted Munich airport offering short or long haul destinations.
Munich is a wonderful city for cycling. With over 125 miles of bikes paths running around town, alongside the Isar river and through parks, it’s not surprising that the share of bike traffic is expected to reach 17% in 2015. And like most forward-thinking cities, their ‘Call a Bike’ scheme is ideal for short journeys and keeping people mobile.
Everybody loves returning to Munich. But it is not necessarily the city that is the big draw. The airport is the reason so many have decided to stay in Munich and make it their base either to travel on business or to explore the rest of Europe for leisure. Signage is clear and security checks are efficient, it operates 55 intercontinental flights and the Lufthansa airline has even installed a beer garden. As the fastest growing airport, it has doubled in size in the past decade and plans to build a Transrapid monorail will cut journey times to the city centre from 40 to 10 minutes.
If you want to explore, tying yourself down to permanent accommodation might not be ideal. Staying at a hostel in Munich is a cheap and flexible solution which allows you to come and go as you please.
A short train ride from the Alps, Munich is perfect for skiers and those with an interest in winter sports. In fact, Munich hopes to host the 2018 Winter Olympic Games. The road links to Bavaria’s resorts might be easy to follow but can become congested at weekends. Most opt for the train to Garmisch which takes about an hour and thirty minutes. Passengers alight and change onto the Zugspitzbahn for a further 75-minute climb to the peak. From Munich, you can be ploughing through fresh powdery snow 2,600m up in the Zugspitze glacier by 8:30am. This is ideal as a daytrip or as a nice weekend break away should you decide to stay a few nights. The Bavarian resorts manage to keep their old-world charm that is often lost in the larger European resorts. Food, drink and accommodation are often cheaper too.
If you make it back to Munich you can relieve the muscle burn in one of the city’s beautiful public bath houses. Müller’sches Volksbad is a favorite and displays stunning examples of art nouveau architecture from the 1800s. Relax in the ornate pool area or in one of the many saunas.
This is the land of picturesque natural lakes and fairytale castles, including Neuschwanstein Castle, the one featured in the film Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. The scenery epitomizes many reasons to visit Germany with striking mountain peaks, charming medieval towns and lakes which freeze over in winter. There are some direct trains to Füssen from Munich then you can continue your journey to the castle by bus. The journey takes about 2 hours and you could also consider joining a bus tour which cuts out the transfers.
The Fünfseenland, or Five Lakes County can easily be reached by train in 30-40 minutes and Ammersee and Stamberger are particularly popular for swimming in the temperate waters, boating and biking. Amersee is the more rustic of the two as a turn-of-the century spa town with an array of cultural happenings and quaint buildings to explore.
Münter House was the summer residence of Gabriele Münter and Wassily Kandinsky and sits between Munich and the Bavarian Alps. Visitors can gain insight into the lifestyle of the Blaue Reiter group where artists, collectors and critics gathered.
Learn to Love
Beer and easy-living city life.
Art and Culture
Munich is home to Germany’s most successful soccer team. FC Bayern Munich plays in the 70,000-seater Allianz Arena and tickets are easy to come by unlike most premiership matches in Europe. The city also houses one of the world’s largest technology and science museums, the Deutsches Museum. A dedicated nano and bio-technology wing was recently added next door to the magnificent aviation room where you can observe Messerschmitt and Fieseler flying bombs.
Luckily for English-speaking visitors, there is plenty of entertainment that harks back to the Weimar-era. The cabaret often transcends language and song, dance, acrobatics and physical comedy can be enjoyed by all.
Starkbierzeit in March is a mini Oktoberfest and translates as Strong Beer Time, which celebrates doppelbocks – the most lethal of ales. It’s a good alternative if you don’t fancy the heaving crowds at Oktoberfest. Stone-lifting competitions run alongside the drinking but with alcohol content at a minimum of 7.5%, it sounds dangerous!
Oktoberfest is the largest beer festival worldwide receives some six million visitors every year. The event takes place between September and October for sixteen days when tents are erected and house produce from breweries all over Germany. A new concept of ‘quiet Oktoberfest’ was developed and tents for mature folk and families stick to playing traditional music until 6pm before the Schlager, or pop music kicks in. Rock and brass bands play in the tents and plenty of Bavaria’s hearty food such as Hendl (chicken), Schweinbrated (roast pork), Steckerlfisch (grilled fish on a stick) and Sauerkraut (red cabbage) is served.
Did you know…
Recently 70,000 of its citizens were allowed to watch a European Cup match on the big screen at the Allianz Arena stadium for free.
Munich has the lowest unemployment and crime rate in Germany.
Munich is 400m inland but surfing is hugely popular on the Eisbach, a tributary running through English Garden which generates a wave under the Prinzregentenstrasse bridge.
As a heaving metropolis, many might think Tokyo a million miles from easy-living ideals. But it is precisely this ‘culture shock’ experience that will really open your eyes to new ways of thinking, behaving and appreciating quiet thought and space to oneself. It comes as something of a surprise that a heaving population, living in such close proximity still operates as one of the most polite, attentive and dignified societies in the world.
There really is nowhere like Tokyo. Even though the skyline is constantly under redevelopment, huge plans are being implemented to increase the amount of green space in the city. An extra 400 hectares will be installed by 2013 and 200,000 roadside trees will be planted. 15,000 electric or hybrid cars will occupy the roads and Japan is giving serious thought to further developing its eco-friendly measures. It is perhaps the most exciting time to be in the city.
Public transport in Tokyo is the most reliable in the world and its subway is one of the most extensive. You are never far from a station and there is very little need to use the buses. Fares are cheap and many stations have lockers and English signage. Rush hour can be unbearable stressful so aim to travel at quieter times between 10am-4pm. They even operate women-only carriages (marked in pink) at rush hour and on weekend nights.
Travelling domestically by plane from Haneda airport is as viable an option as taking the bullet train but trickier for English-speaking visitors. However the international airport at Narita is superb.
If city hopping from Tokyo appeals to you – try and buy a Japan Railways (JR) Rail pass before leaving home, it works out cheaper.
The language will be your biggest initial barrier. Remember, it’s a completely different alphabet too! Base yourself at a Tokyo hostel or guesthouse and the knowledge of the staff will be invaluable when it comes to finding your bearings in this city.
Tokyo is all about establishing a balance; embracing the latest gadgetry, gleaming architecture, fast in and out fads but all the while taking time-out to glimpses at Tokyo’s cultural and spiritual core. Amongst the skyscrapers there are temples, you can buy a fortune, bathe in a sentō (a 24hr public spa) and in the beautiful gardens, imagine life as it may have been in the early Edo-period depicted in wood-block prints of the ‘floating world’.
Many undertake an adventurous walk along the Nakasendo highway which stretches for 310 miles. It was built in the eighth century to connect Tokyo and Kyoto and snakes through the stunning Kiso mountain range and lush green valleys. You can stop off at any of the 69 traditional towns such as Magome and Tsumago and keep things at leisurely pace or you can join a tour and cover 20km a day with overnight stays en route.
Further afield and a 10-hour ferry journey from Tokyo’s Takeshiba Pier is Skikine-Jima, one of the seven islands of Izu. In cooler months when the sea is still warming up for summer, try bathing in the wonderful Junata Onsen, a group of volcanic stone pools with beautiful views of the ocean.
Ultimately Tokyo is a fun and spiritual city. You don’t have to shop, but you have to marvel at the sheer outlandish architectural creations. The Prada store appears to be an illuminated diamond that fell from the sky and Dior is dripping in effervescent tendrils along Tokyo’s answer to 5th Avenue in Omotesando. It’s also fun to watch the eccentric youth hang around in their fashion conscious groups, particularly in the Harajuku area. The whole city is a playground of ideas.
Many forget that Tokyo and not just Scotland, is something of a whiskey drinker’s paradise. Small bars offer top-quality whiskeys including imported Scotch, bourbons as well as domestic distilleries. Sitting in one of the tiny dark basements sipping whisky – you’re called an otaku (or whiskey geek) Shot Bar Zoetrope in Shinjuku helps the homesick American combining whisky and silent American movie screenings. Take a trip to The Helmsdale in Minato-ku and you’ll learn more about Scotland from the Japanese owner than on a trip to Scotland itself.
The Akihabara district amazes both the biggest and least likely gadget geek. You can examine and play with everything; cameras, phones, games, hi-fi systems. And you’d be surprised how quickly the kid in you takes over!
Learn to Love
Tea ceremonies, hospitality, whiskey, gadgets and how Tokyo does just about everything better.
Art and Culture
Tokyo’s major galleries including the National Museum of Modern Art and the Mori Art Museum shine along with other worldwide institutions. But there are plenty of smaller galleries to discover, many of which were previously drab flats with small bedrooms, bathrooms complete with old plumbing and public bath houses. Even a toilet is crammed with imagery.
Tokyo dwarfs Paris in its number of Michelin starred restaurants boasting more than double.
No stay in Tokyo is complete without letting your hair down in a karaoke booth. Even the conservatism of the suited businessmen falls by the wayside during a passionate 80s ballad. Typically you rent a kitsch soundproof room with a group of friends or colleagues and browse through an extensive song list; there is something for everyone. It’s mad and you’re stomach will be aching from laughter.
Everybody eagerly awaits the first sakura (cherry) trees as they start to bloom. There are regular forecasts for hanami (blossom viewing) and the beauty is celebrated across the country with viewing parties in parks across the city day and night.
Kōyō is the autumn foliage-viewing season which begins in mid-October or early November. This event is much less crowded than hanami and the season lasts for longer.
Did you know…
Platform attendants wearing white gloves gently push people into the subway trains at rush hour.
Tokyo is one of the safest cities in the world. Police are highly vigilant but drunken behaviour of business men is considered acceptable in recognition of their stressful careers.
This city has the raw and quirky edge but keeps things at a leisurely pace in contrast to other cities which can’t quite get off the treadmill. The presence of trams and cyclists give the place an old-world charm and young and old turn out for Melbourne’s extensive list of cultural events. Melbourne, after all, has its finger on the pulse when it comes to celebrating sport, film, music, art and theatre especially around festival time.
Melbourne’s flat landscape makes it ideal for cycling and the trams are very popular. To appreciate Australia’s vast landscape, train travel offers the most authentic experience. From Melbourne, journeys vary from 11 hours to Adelaide, 10 hours to Canberra and 11 hours to Sydney. The city is well serviced by major international airlines and you can even reach Tasmania on a 12-hour overnight ferry ride.
Coffee is like air to Melburnians and cafe culture is an integral part to daily life. Pellegrini’s is a good place to get your daily dosage of caffeine.
If you still rather fancy moving to Europe, Spring Street in Melbourne is the next best thing. You will find picturesque, wide tree-lined avenues and chic cafes for those aspiring to the Parisian way of life. The European serves some of the creamiest coffee in town and delicious Eggs Benedict drowned in a delicate Hollandaise. Pop in for Afternoon Tea – the lemon tart is divine – or the Supper Club upstairs is the place to enjoy a cigar and whiskey.
The Great Ocean Road is one of the most epic drives in the world. You can walk, cycle, take the bus or hire a car and drive. The route which can be competed in just over a day but is best enjoyed as an extended weekend trip, stopping off at a number of destinations along the way. You can watch surfers ride magnificent waves, hug a few koalas, navigate your way past a few kangaroos during a round of golf and explore the lush blue-gum forest with ferns and waterfalls in the Lorne State Park. Perhaps the most dramatic stretch of this coastal road is approaching the Twelve Apostles, the limestone formations rising up out of the ocean. Shipwreck Cove offers some fantastic diving opportunities too.
St Kilda is Melbourne’s sunny seaside suburb and just a 20 minute tram ride from the centre. Here you can find nice stretches of beach for sunbathing, swimming and cycling along. It’s a quirky place for galleries, bars and cake shops but you will also find pleasant gardens, promenades and Melbourne’s answer to Coney Island at Lunar Park which is the oldest amusement park in the world. If you spend some time in a hostel Melbourne will open some doors for you. Get to know the local staff and share travel experiences with guests then you can make an educated decision about long-term accommodation.
Learn to Love
Coffee and cycling
Art and Culture
Sydney may be the big sister, but Melbourne has the edge when it comes to art and culture. It holds more than 300 events each year varying from rock concerts, art exhibitions, opera and symphony performances.
The architecture does not dominate the skyline but instead blends together historic buildings constructed during the gold rush era and 21st century technological lines.
You’ll find many of Melbourne’s main attractions alongside the Yarra River. Despite the city’s seaside location, it did in fact originally grow from the banks of the Yarra. On the picturesque riverside walk you pass the Royal Botanical Gardens, Aquarium, Olympic Park and Arts Centre.
St Kilda Film Festival in May celebrates Australian film. As one of the finest examples of Art Deco architecture in the country, a screening in the spectacular Palais Theatre is a must.
FORMULA 1™ Australian Grand Prix takes place every March around a circuit in Albert Park. It is one of Melbourne’s many sporting events and attracts around 300,000 fans.
Did you know…
You will find the world’s largest stained- glass ceiling at the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne. It is 51m long by 15m wide.
Melbourne is one of the best wired cities globally. It is the eighth largest telecommunications market in the world with broadband infrastructure located within 100m of every office building in the central business district.
About the author: Madeleine Wilson lives in London and works as a travel writer for HostelBookers specialising in budget travel solutions around the world. HostelBookers is an online booking service offering great youth hostels and cheap hotels across 3500 destinations worldwide.
Munich Skyline courtesy of RC Designer http://www.flickr.com/photos/rcdesigner/4245603410/
The 12 Apostles courtesy of TomaB