If you’re looking for Europe’s happiest residents, don’t head for the temperate shores of the Mediterranean. The most content Europeans are found in the far north.
A triennial European Union survey [PDF] on quality of life in European cities asked more than 40,000 citizens from across the EU's 28 member states how satisfied they were to live in their city. The answers create a snapshot of Europe’s happiest places. And while Americans may dream of idyllic life in Tuscany or Paris, more people are glad to be on the snowy streets of Oslo and Zurich.
A full 99 percent of residents in those two cities report a high level of satisfaction with their hometowns. Cities in Switzerland and Scandinavia often lead polls of world happiness (though some critics argue they might be skewed), but some of the survey's findings are more surprising.
Lithuania, for instance, rarely makes the news, but satisfaction in its capital, Vilnius (seen above), is at 98 percent—along with Aalborg, Denmark. Also picking up a 98 percent satisfaction rate: Belfast, Northern Ireland, which still has a reputation for being unsafe despite glowing reviews from travel writers in recent years.
The percentage of respondents who agree that they are satisfied is in green; the percentage that disagree, in red.
Residents in each city seemed to have different paths to happiness. People in Zurich reported being particularly happy with the city’s public transportation, cultural facilities, and health care services, as well as the state of its urban infrastructure. The city had some of Europe’s highest satisfaction rates in those subcategories.
On the other hand, Belfast citizens report optimism at their job-finding prospects, while people in Aalborg feel very safe in their city and are more likely to trust their fellow citizens. Residents of Vilnius showed a major increase in how much they trusted other people in their city, up 14 points in the last three years.
Here are the cities where people feel most safe:
Here’s where people are most satisfied with their financial situation:
Overall, people in Istanbul, Athens, Palermo, and Naples were the least satisfied with general life in their cities.
It’s probably not surprising that people in these regions aren’t so happy. In late spring 2015, when the survey was taken, Istanbul was dealing with major political protests and a city-wide lockdown. Istanbul saw the greatest decrease in satisfaction with its health care between the last EU survey (in 2012) and this year's survey.
Italy and Greece are also experiencing nation-wide strife. Both countries are the current poster children for European economic trouble, and Greece, along with Turkey, is at the forefront of Europe’s refugee crisis. None of these factors makes for a particularly happy populace.
All images from the Standard Eurobarometer 83 [PDF]