Europe's happiest residents live in the cities of Copenhagen (Denmark) and Stockholm (Sweden) according to the European Commission's latest study, "Report on Quality of Life in European Cities 2020", which analyses residents' perceptions of different aspects of their personal lives; such as satisfaction with their neighbourhood, security, access to housing and employment, healthcare or transport. The two Nordic cities appear first among the 83 cities assessed, with around 98% of their residents being very satisfied with their life there. But there is also one Portuguese city that stands out in this ranking. Braga makes the list of the 10 "happiest" cities, alongside Zurich, Gdańsk, and Oslo, with about 97% of residents saying they are very satisfied with life in their cities, awarding Braga the tite of Portugal's happiest city and one of the best places to live in Portugal.
The most (and least) satisfied cities
Nine out of ten people living in European cities are happy to live there, but there are, as always, some exceptions. The inhabitants of Ankara, Rome, Naples, Belgrade, Palermo, Athens and Istanbul are in the top 10 of cities where citizens say they are not satisfied with the quality of life. The study also reveals several discrepancies between cities belonging to the same country. The biggest differences within a country are observed in Italy, Turkey and Greece.
In Italy, the percentages of residents satisfied with the city where they live range from 93% in Bologna to 64% in Palermo, a difference of 29 percentage points. In Turkey, only 66% of people living in Istanbul are satisfied, compared with 91% of people living in Antalya. The two Greek cities in the study score, for example, below the general average, with the lowest percentage found in Athens (64%), and the highest in Heraklion, where 82% of residents are satisfied.
The top 10 European cities where residents are most satisfied with their life:
Smaller cities are happier cities
In general, according to the study, non-capital cities (91%) score higher than capital cities (87%). "While capital cities may offer more employment opportunities and amenities, they are also seen as providers of lower quality public services and less accessible housing opportunities," the report says.
"In more developed countries, happiness or subjective well-being are often greater in smaller cities than in larger ones. This study shows that satisfaction with a city decreases with its size. About 90% of people living in a city with less than 1 million inhabitants are satisfied to live in that city. This figure drops to 87% in cities with a population between 1 and 5 million," the report adds.
The ability to reconcile work with personal and family commitments is important for people's well-being and the difficulty in finding this balance may explain the lower satisfaction found in residents of working age (88%) compared to those between 15 and 24 years old (91%) or those over 55 years old (90%).
Cost of housing remains a problem
"Across the EU, in 2018, 4% of the population suffered from severe housing deprivation and 10% of the population lived in households burdened by housing costs. The recent blockages due to the COVID-19 pandemic highlight the impact that quality of housing has on physical and mental health", the report stresses. Finding affordable housing in most capitals remains difficult, according to the European Commission study.
People living in cities in the south of the EU and the Western Balkans are more likely to say that it is easy to find good housing at a reasonable price than those living in cities in the west and north of the EU and EFTA countries - the European Free Trade Association. "In virtually all cities in the south of the EU and the Western Balkans, at least 50% of residents are positive about the availability, quality and cost of housing, compared to less than 35% in other regions".
Positive views on housing are also significantly higher in non-capital cities (44%) than in capitals (31%). "The degree of variability within the country is very high and mainly due to the low score in the capitals", the study states. The five countries with the highest difference in percentage points between the best and worst performing cities are Finland, Denmark, UK, Germany and Portugal - with 47 percentage points difference between Lisbon and Braga.
Residents in Northern Europe feel safer
Safety is one of the greatest engines of well-being and happiness. People who feel safe tend to be more satisfied with their life. "Trust can help create stronger social bonds that facilitate cooperation and happiness. Individuals who have experienced crime or fear crime tend to engage less in outdoor activities and report higher levels of distress and lower levels of well-being," the report says, citing several authors to justify this idea.
In terms of security, southern European cities lag behind compared to Nordic cities: four of the ten best performing cities are in the north of the EU, while three of the six Italian cities covered by the study (Palermo, Naples and Rome) appear in the last ten places. In the Western and Eastern EU cities, the proportion of residents who feel safe is 75% and 72% respectively.
Portugal is however an exception and is known to be one of the the safest countries in Europe and in the world, after taking third place in the Global Peace Index in 2020. Braga is well above the European average, with 85% of residents stating that they feel safe.
In some countries, the feeling of security differs substantially between cities. In France, for example, the proportion of residents reporting feeling safe when walking at night varies from 46% in Marseille to 82% in Bordeaux. Significant differences between cities in the same country are also recorded in Greece, Bulgaria, Italy, Belgium and Turkey. In Heraklion, 72% of residents feel safe compared to 38% in Athens. Similarly, in two cities in Turkey, the figures are 50% in Istanbul and 81% in Antalya.
Immigrants and the LGBTI community: which cities are the most inclusive?
This year's edition also brought news at the level of inclusion studies, namely on the best places for immigrants and the LGBTI community. According to the study, three out of four residents (75%) said their city was a good place for people from other countries to live. In the EU, western cities perform best (81%) and eastern cities score lowest, with only two out of three residents agreeing that their city is a good place for immigrants to live (65").
In all Spanish and Portuguese cities, at least 87% of residents, perceive their city as a good place to live, well above the southern EU average (77%). In Braga, 95% consider that the city is a good place for immigrants from other countries to live, while the country also scores highly as a good place for the LGTBI community.
The report from the European Commission concludes that although the situation is improving, there is still work to be done - especially in those places where less than 50% of the population considers their city a good place for minorities to live.
Braga reigns surpeme in Portugal
With all of this in mind, Braga is continuing to up its game and add to the other awards that it has won recently, such as being amongst the best places in the world to retire to. As one of Portugal's best cities to live in, the capital city of Northern Portugal’s Minho region is well and truly steeped in history and architectural gems, and is perfect for those who are looking to start a new life in Portugal, or even for your next holiday.