In Vienna, coffee house culture is an institution. At “Kaffeehauses” across this former imperial city, habitués can spend the whole day sitting on Thonet-style bentwood bistro chairs reading newspapers, listening to music, or chatting with friends—all while sipping coffee “mit schlag” and dining on Sachertorte or apple strudel. This has become such an integral part of local custom that in October, the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) named Viennese coffee house culture (which it dates back to the late 17th century) part of Austria’s intangible cultural heritage. The city also has 1,680 acres of urban vineyards and more than 180 wine taverns that help uphold “wine tavern culture,” according to the Austrian National Tourist Office.
Austrians are serious about enjoying life. While the country’s average workweek is about 33.6 hours, half-days on Fridays are common, according to the European Working Conditions Observatory. The average Austrian spends 4.25 hours per weekday on leisure activities, reveal data from Statistics Austria.
While relaxing over coffee or wine is among Vienna’s most traditional pastimes, the Austrian capital offers much more. Vienna is one of the world’s safest cities and counts excellent availability and variety of international schools, as well as quality housing, among its many other advantages, according to Mercer’s latest quality-of-life survey, published on Nov. 29. Based on 39 factors, Vienna ranks as No. 1 in the world for quality of life.
“If you look at all 39 factors, there are very few where [Vienna] did not score highly,” says Steve Nurney, leader of Mercer’s U.S. Global Mobility Center of Excellence.
Factors Evolve, But Vienna Rules
Mercer, a New York-based human resources consultancy that is a subsidiary of Marsh & McLennan (MMC), ranked 221 cities worldwide, based on political and social factors, economic factors, socio-cultural factors, health and sanitation, schools and education, public services, transportation, recreation, availability of consumer goods, housing, and natural environment. Of these, the political and social environment was weighted most heavily, followed by medical and health, and then public services and transportation.
Vienna has placed No. 1 in Mercer’s survey for three consecutive years, although Nurney notes that—due to subtle changes in methodology from year to year—the annual rankings cannot be compared directly. This year, Zurich came in second, Auckland placed third, and Munich ranked fourth. Düsseldorf and Vancouver tied for fifth place. Baghdad ranked lowest, preceded by N’Djamena, Chad, and Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire.
Among the 10 best cities, eight were in Europe, dominated by three Swiss cities (Zurich, Geneva, and Bern) and three German cities (Munich, Düsseldorf, and Frankfurt). “European cities in general continue to have high standards of living because they enjoy advanced and modern city infrastructures combined with high-class medical, recreational, and leisure facilities,” Slagin Parakatil, senior researcher at Mercer, stated in a press release. “But economic turmoil, high levels of unemployment, and lack of confidence in political institutions make their future positions hard to predict.”
New York, the base location to which other cities were compared, ranked No. 47, underperforming Vienna in such areas as crime, cost of health care, and consistency of quality health care, according to Mercer spokeswoman Miriam Siscovick. It was the sixth-best U.S. city, after Honolulu (No. 29 overall), San Francisco (No. 30), Boston (No. 36), and Chicago and Washington, which tied for No. 43.
“A Thriving Business Hub”
A 2011 report by the City of Vienna describes it as “a thriving business hub known for its high economic stability and social cohesion.” The municipality is very international and is the headquarters location of OPEC and home to the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights. Major companies in Vienna include energy company OMV (OMV:AV), transport services company ÖBB-Holding, and Telekom Austria (TKA:AV), which has more than 22 million customers.
The city has a robust public transit system. Vienna Lines, operator of public tram, bus, and underground train service, served a record 839 million passengers in 2010. In addition, there are 1,174 kilometers (730 miles) of bicycle paths and lanes in Vienna, which spans about 160 square miles.
For culture and recreation, Vienna also has more than 100 museums, a diverse restaurant scene, and 2,000 parks, according to tourism site wien.info. Green space accounts for more than half the metropolitan area.
Even the world’s great cities have been affected by poor economic conditions: Vienna’s regional unemployment rate rose to 8.9 percent in October, from 8.4 percent a year earlier, as indicated by data from Austria’s Public Employment Service. The jobless rate in the Auckland region was 7.5 percent in September, reported the New Zealand Department of Labour. The unemployment rate in base city New York was 8.8 percent in October, estimates the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Says Parakatil: “Countries such Austria, Germany, and Switzerland still fare particularly well in both the quality of living and personal safety rankings, yet they are not immune from decreases in living standards if this uncertainty persists.”
Click here to see the 20 cities with the world’s best quality of life.