There are a lot of things that make a city a great place to visit: great attractions, good food and beautiful architecture are a must. But then, there are the more practical things, like how much it will cost for a restaurant meal and whether you can walk the streets in safety — getting mugged isn’t going to add to your trip. Happily, a website called Numbeo keeps a running tab on these things, to answer questions like, “what’s the most expensive city on earth?”
I’ve presented Numbeo’s findings in years past, but the world keeps changing, so it’s good to take stock each year when it releases its report for the new year. That happened this week, so let’s take a fresh look at where the most expensive — and dangerous — cities are.
Of course, all these world rankings depend on the factors you use to do your figuring. In this case, Numbeo uses crowdsourced information, submitted by its 4 million users in 6,893 cities around the world. For the “most expensive city” list, New York City is the standard – a number over 100 is more expensive than New York, a number below 100 is less expensive. Here’s a look at the results.
Most expensive cities
When I first reported the most expensive city on earth, I was surprised to find it was Hamilton, Bermuda. But nothing’s changed: here it is again in 2018. According to locals, the high prices are because it’s an island that’s been overdeveloped, jacking up the prices on just about everything. If you want a cheap island vacation, go to Havana.
After Hamilton, the “most expensive city” list is dominated by Switzerland, which claims the next five spots. Most expensive is Zurich, where the price of a restaurant meal is 50 percent higher than in New York – which isn’t cheap to start with. Then there’s Geneva, Basel, Bern and Lausanne. And having been in Basel last year, I can testify: it’s expensive. Reykjavik, Iceland and Stavanger, Norway, two other notoriously expensive spots, are close behind the Swiss cities.
As for North America, New York itself comes in at number 14, with San Francisco close behind – it’s a notoriously expensive place to find a hotel room. Anchorage, Alaska is high on the list, too, as is Honolulu, Hawaii.
After that, Rockville, Maryland, Bloomington, Indiana, and Washington, D.C. rank 25th to 27th. Boston comes in at number 51, and Miami, Florida, is number 59 — those designer sunglasses and convertibles don’t come cheap. But Los Angeles only ranks as the 89th most expensive city. New Orleans comes in at 157 — which strains credibility, if you’ve tried to get a room or a meal there.
How about Canada? Surprisingly, St. John’s, Newfoundland, and Halifax, Nova Scotia are rated as most expensive, at number 91 and 94. But even then, a restaurant meal in those cities will cost you less than 80 percent of the New York price. Vancouver and Victoria are at 169 and 170, with Toronto, Canada’s money centre, down at number 175. Looks like the relatively weak Canadian dollar, compared with other world currencies, makes Canada something of a travel bargain.
Looking at the other end of the scale, India is still king when it comes to the cheapest places to visit and live. An amazing nine of the 15 cities at the bottom of the list are in India, with a place called Thiruvananthapuram claiming the top (or bottom) spot. There, a restaurant meal will cost you just 12 percent of one in New York. I guess no one goes there because they can’t pronounce the name.
Curiously, Alexandria, Egypt, comes in as the third-cheapest spot, and Ukraine claims three of the bottom 15 places. That could be because of the ongoing hostilities in the country, but you would have thought they’d cause shortages and drive up prices.
Crime and safety
Numbeo also does rankings of world cities according to how safe or dangerous they are. It uses two measurements, one for the crime index — based on whether crime is getting worse, whether respondents are afraid to walk outside at night, etc. — and one on safety (not sure how that one is measured).
At the top spot for the most dangerous city is San Pedro Sula, the notorious city in Honduras that boasts the highest murder rate in the world outside a war zone (though that’s nothing to boast about). I travelled through there once, on my way to the Mayan ruins of Copan (left); I never left the bus terminal. Caracas, Venezuela and Port Moresby, Papua-New Guinea, two other notorious spots, are close behind.
Durban and Johannesburg, South Africa, rank as the fifth and sixth most dangerous places on earth. South Africa’s crime rate has long been a problem, and it seems little has changed. And Brazil, another country with a decades-old crime problem, takes six of the top 15 spots on the danger list, with Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo at numbers 12 and 15. A friend of mine who lived in Salvador, Brazil told me he was robbed at knifepoint twice in his first year there.
Other than South Africa, the Americas dominate the top 30, with Kingston, Jamaica (19), Lima, Peru (25), and Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic (29) making the list. Surprisingly, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, a city I’ve always found to be peaceful — if a bit noisy — comes in at number 26. Is this a symptom of the new age of terrorism?
Detroit has made strides toward shedding its reputation as a failed city in recent years, but it’s still the top U.S. city on the danger list. It comes in at number 17, right behind Windhoek, Namibia. However, with a crime score of 71, it’s still well behind San Pedro Sula’s 85. Baltimore is at number 20, three places back, followed by New Orleans – which may help to put this list into perspective. While NOLA’s crime rate may be high, it’s still safe to walk the streets of the tourist district. I did so around this time last year and had a great time.
Surprisingly, Albuquerque, New Mexico ranks as the 27th most dangerous city in the world, followed by St. Louis, at number 30. Oakland and Chicago, two other cities with reputations as crime centres, are close behind. And Atlanta, Georgia, just makes it into the top 40.
As for Canada, we really don’t make the big time where crime is concerned. The most dangerous city on the list is Surrey, British Columbia, at number 47, with a crime index of 63. From there, it’s a long way down to Regina, Saskatchewan, and Brampton, Ontario, just behind Las Vegas at numbers 80 and 81. Winnipeg is a couple of spots lower, at 84. But the next major cities, Vancouver and Toronto, don’t come in until numbers 239 and 242, respectively. So rest easy, Canucks.
The safest cities
According to Numbeo, the safest city in the world is Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, with a crime index of just 13, compared with San Pedro Sula’s 85. I guess the people there have so much money they can’t be bothered sticking you up. Doha, Qatar, Basel, Singapore and – surprise – Quebec City round out the top five. So the Quebec capital is safe, along with being totally charmante.
The United States doesn’t make the list until number 38. If you were wondering what the safest U.S. city, it’s Salt Lake City, Utah. After that, it’s down to Boise, Idaho, at number 65, and Boston, at 67, right behind Victoria, B.C. – I guess that New England puritanism still holds some sway.
Canada, meanwhile, has achieved a worldwide reputation for being nice, and I guess we live up to it – at least to some extent. After Quebec City, Ottawa and Waterloo, Ontario, rank as the 28th and 29th safest cities on earth.
Quality of Life
But what if you’re dreaming of living or retiring in another country? The cost of living is important, of course, but there are a few other factors that come into play: things like house prices, safety, health care, pollution and climate. The Quality of Life Index combines these to come up with an overall score for a city’s livability. These days, Numbeo is giving greater weight to climate – not a bad idea, considering some of the extreme weather we’ve been having, and will likely continue to have.
If you were dreaming about retiring in St. Tropez or Shangri-la, never mind: the most livable places on earth, according to Numbeo, are Down Under. Canberra, Australia comes in at number 1, with a nice climate, low pollution, reasonable costs and good health care. Wellington, New Zealand, takes second, in a virtual tie with Raleigh, South Carolina and Eindhoven, Netherlands. Wellington has the least pollution, but falls a bit short on purchasing power, likely due to the kiwi dollar.
After that, Zurich appears near the top of the list again, despite its high costs; a good safety rating and short commutes help boost its ranking. Right behind is Ottawa — even though its climate is the worst among the top cities, it ranks high in all the other categories. Luxembourg, Munich, Edinburgh and Copenhagen (right) all make it into the top 20, too. I guess that proves you don’t need warm weather to be considered a great place to live – but that’s a matter of opinion.
While it suffers in some of the other categories, the United States fares well when it comes to quality of life – after all, it’s one of the world’s richest countries. After Raleigh, the city of San Diego, California comes in eighth, with a score of 197, compared with 221 for Canberra. Then comes San Antonio, Texas, at number 11, and Austin, Texas, at number 15.
Columbus, Ohio catches 17th place, with Portland, Oregon, Seattle, Washington and Sacramento, California occupying the 23rd to 25th spots. But the major cities don’t do so well: Chicago is back in 86th place, just in front of Miami, and New York only ranks 109th – must be the cost of an apartment in Manhattan.
Canada, meanwhile, has a second city in the top 10: Victoria, B.C., which benefits from its mild year-round climate. Oddly, it doesn’t fare too well in the safety category – too many broken hips, I guess. After that, Calgary, Alberta comes in 31st, just behind Melbourne, Australia: apparently residents don’t mind those minus-30 winter nights.
Halifax and Vancouver come in 54th and 56th, respectively, with Montreal in 61st place. Toronto, meanwhile, ranks 68th, just in front of Baltimore – wait a minute, wasn’t that the place with the high crime index? Apparently a nicer climate and less pollution make up for a lot of sins.
The worst places to live
Turning the Quality of Life table on its, head, it’s interesting to see which places Numbeo’s members don’t want to live. Topping the list is Caracas, Venezuela, which somehow manages a score of 0. That’s a bit harsh, but if you combine unaffordable housing, a low safety rating and almost no purchasing power, you don’t get anything good.
Others in the top 10 include Nairobi, Kenya; Beijing, China; Rio de Janeiro[ Manila, Philippines; Cairo, Egypt; and São Paulo. What sinks most of them? A sky-high pollution index. Having visited Beijing a few years ago, I can attest to that; the cloud of smog that hangs over the city is infamous. Also on the “don’t live there” list are Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, Moscow, Russia, and Mexico City.
However, that doesn’t mean these cities are unlivable. I enjoyed my stay in Mexico City last year, and while some areas need work, there are other areas I’d be happy to spend a lot of time in. The moral is: while these lists are interesting to look at, and may teach us a thing or two, it’s best not to take them too literally. Whoever said numbers don’t lie was stretching the truth himself.
Note: the Numbeo rankings change continuously, so the current lists may not match the ones I’ve quoted exactly. This post is based on the list as of Jan. 15, 2018.