Author: Tina Aridas, Valentina Pasquali
Project Coordinator: Denise Bedell

The "best cities to live" are those that offer the best quality of life. European cities have dominated this ranking in the past and continue to do so in the 2011 Mercer Consulting Quality of Living Survey, occupying eight of the first ten spots. Vienna remains in first place for the third year in a row. Auckland, New Zealand (2) and Vancouver, Canada (5) are the only non-European cities in the latest top ten. Baghdad, Iraq, retains the last place (221,) coming after Khartoum, Sudan (217), Port-au-Prince, Haiti (218), N'Djamena, Chad (219) and Bangui, Central African Republic (220.)

In 2011, Mercer also released a separate ranking for cities that provide the highest level of personal safety, with Luxembourg, Bern (Switzerland) and Helsinki (Finland) leading the chart.

The Best Cities in the World to Live

The larger the circle and the higher the value the better the city.

The Safest Cities to Live

The larger the circle and the higher the value the better the city.

Data is from Mercer Consulting’s 2011 Quality of Living Survey and Personal Safety Ranking, with data collected between September and November 2011.

Mercer Quality of Living Survey 2011

Click on the column heading to sort the table.

Mercer Personal Safety Ranking 2011*

Click on the column heading to sort the table.

*Mercer’s Personal Safety Ranking 2011 is based on measures of internal stability, crime levels, law enforcement effectiveness and host country international relations.

Defining the term "quality of life" is not an easy task. In fact, what constitutes a good quality of life has occupied philosophers since Plato and Aristotle, and countless definitions have been proposed .

Nevertheless, it seems possible to find some elements on which most scholars agree. First of all, as "quality of life" is used to evaluate the overall well being of individuals and societies, it should not be confused with the concept of "standard of living" or income per capita. Although most studies on the quality of life indeed do take into account indicators of economic success such as income per capita, wealth and employment, they also go beyond those measures to include the environment, physical and mental health, education, leisure time, infrastructure and safety. Also often included are concepts such as freedom, human rights, human flourishing, social belonging and happiness.

One of the most widely known studies of quality of living that compares the "livability" of cities around the world is released each year by Mercer. The composite index ranks 221 cities worldwide on a point-scoring index, ranked against New York as the base city with an index score of 100.

Mercer's Senior Researcher Slagin Parakatil talks about the 2011 Quality of Living Survey results and city rankings


Overall Mercer evaluates local living conditions in 420 cities, according to 39 factors, grouped in 10 categories:


• Political and social environment (political stability, crime, law enforcement, etc.)
• Economic environment (currency exchange regulations, banking services)
• Socio-cultural environment (censorship, limitations on personal freedom, etc.)
• Health and sanitation (medical services and supplies, infectious diseases, sewage, waste disposal, air pollution, etc.)
• Schools and education (availability and standards of international schools)
• Public services and transportation (electricity, water, public transport, traffic congestion, etc.)
• Recreation (restaurants, theaters, cinemas, sports and leisure, etc.)
• Consumer goods (availability of food/daily consumption items, cars, etc.)
• Housing (housing, household appliances, furniture, maintenance services, etc.)
• Natural environment (climate, record of natural disasters)


Mercer's goal in conducting the survey is to help governments and multi-national companies compensate employees fairly when moving them internationally.


Europe dominates the most recent survey with over half the cities amongst the top 25. Vienna holds on to the top spot for the third year in a row, followed by Zurich, Switzerland, and Auckland, New Zealand. Alongside Vancouver, Canada (5,) Auckland is one of only two non-European cities to make the top ten. The other European cities that lead the ranking are Munich, Germany (4,) Düsseldorf, Germany (5, tied with Vancouver,) Frankfurt, Germany (7,) Geneva, Switzerland (8,) and Copenhagen (Denmark) and Bern (Switzerland) sharing ninth place. The lowest-ranking European city is Tbilisi, Georgia (214.)

The top cities in North America are all in Canada . Besides Vancouver (5,) we find Ottawa (14), Toronto (15) and Montreal (22). In the United States, Honolulu (29) and San Francisco (30) offer the best quality of life.

Pointe-à-Pitre, Guadeloupe (63) is the highest ranking city in Central and South America . San Juan, Puerto Rico (72,) and Montevideo, Uruguay (77,) follow. Port-au-Prince, Haiti (218,) comes last in this region.

In the Asia-Pacific region, Auckland, New Zealand, tops the ranking , followed by Sydney, Australia (11,) Wellington, New Zealand (13,) Melbourne, Australia (18,) and Perth, Australia (21.) The highest-ranking cities in Asia are Singapore (25) and Tokyo (46.) Dushanbe, Tajikistan (208,) has the lowest ranking.

In the Middle East and Africa, Dubai, UAE (74,) ranks highest, followed by Abu Dhabi, UAE (78,) Port Louis, Mauritius (82,) and Cape Town, South Africa (88.) African cities pack the bottom of the global ranking, occupying 18 spots out of the last 25. Bangui, Central African Republic is 220th, followed by N'Djamena, Chad (219,) Khartoum, Sudan (217,) and Brazzaville, Congo (214). Baghdad, Iraq (221,) retains the bottom spot both regionally and globally.

This year's special Personal Safety ranking shows similar but not identical results. Europe places seven cities in the top ten , with Luxembourg in first place, and three others tied in second place, Bern, Switzerland, Helsinki, Finland, and Zurich, Switzerland. Vienna is fifth and Geneva and Stockholm share the sixth place. Like in the Quality of Living survey, Baghdad, Iraq (221,) is also dead last for personal safety, followed by N'Djamena, Chad (220,) Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire (219,) Bangui, Central African Republic (218,) and Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo (217). This survey is based on data about internal stability, crime levels, law enforcement effectiveness and the international relations entertained by the host country.

For a further discussion of the concept of quality of life, click here to read the abstract from the 2009 Report of the Commission on the Measurement of Economic Performance and Social Progress, chaired by Nobel Prize-winning economists Professor Joseph E. Stiglitz and Professor Amartya Sen, and by Professor Jean-Paul Fitoussi.