Leaving your wallet or laptop unguarded in a cafe may not be recommended for most, but residents in the world’s safest cities could likely do it without a second thought.
For many, feeling safe can be key to feeling at home. So to understand what it might be like to live in a super safe place, we sought out residents living in some of the most stable and secure cities in the world, as ranked by The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU). The list considered factors such as personal safety, infrastructure stability, health stability and digital security technology. Locals weighed in on the best neighbourhoods to live in, what exactly makes them feel at ease – and why safe doesn’t have to equal boring.
Along with Tokyo (named the world’s safest city), Osaka embodies the general peace of mind that can be felt throughout the country. “Japan in general is an incredibly safe country to live in,” said Daniel Lee, founder of the local English language Kansai Scene magazine, who moved from the United Kingdom 17 years ago. “So much so that locals are accustomed to leaving their personal belongings unattended on tables in coffee shops while they go and order. It’s unthinkable anywhere else.”
Osaka is known for being business-focussed, which means that people work and commute late into the night. “Even at the latest hours, businessmen are on the train, and the main terminals are populated as much at night as by day,” said Yoshie Yamamoto, who moved from Kyoto 25 years ago and runs the oldest Noh theatre in the city. “There is absolutely no problem for a lady to be travelling alone late at night on the subways.”
The work-oriented culture can also lead to friendly conversation. “Osaka is a city of salesmen, and the locals love to talk,” Lee said. “You can enter any small watering hole and be treated like a long lost friend. You may not understand a word of what they say to you, but the good vibes will win you over.”
For a chance to mingle with the locals, Yamamoto recommends living in a downtown area such as Ikuno Ward or Abeno Ward, where Nagaya (traditional long houses) are still common. “These places are relatively cheap as they have been inhabited by the same locals [for years],” she said. “If you are able to make friends with your neighbours, you will experience the true Osaka character filled with affection, warmth and friendship.”
Those looking for a more nature-focused lifestyle can head to the “bed towns” surrounding the city, such as Minoh and Kita-Senri, which have easy train access to downtown Osaka, as well as the nearby cities of Kobe and Kyoto.
With fewer than one million residents, Amsterdam is still relatively small compared to other cities on the EIU’s list, giving it a leg up when it comes to providing a safe residential environment. The capital city also has a laidback vibe that puts people at ease.
“I feel incredibly safe,” said Toni Hinterstoisser, general manager at the Andaz Amsterdam Prinsengracht, who moved from New York City three years ago. “The people’s free spirit makes them more relaxed about everyday things. Nobody gets agitated easily.” This is true even of the police, who Hinterstoisser says are very present and polite, but also straight to the point.
While all of Amsterdam’s neighbourhoods are considered safe, districts in the south such as De Pijp and Oud-Zuid are more upscale. To the east and north, neighbourhoods like Noord are considered to be up-and-coming. Hinterstoisser lives in Oud West (Old West), which he likes for being only 2km west of the city centre and near Vondelpark, the city’s largest park.
One word of caution: no matter where you choose to live, don’t expect a level house. “As Amsterdam is mostly built on water, the houses are not completely straight,” warned Hinterstoisser. “If you put a tennis ball on one end of my living room, it will roll all by itself quite swiftly to the other side.”
Despite being Australia’s largest city, Sydney’s neighbourhood-oriented culture keeps residents feeling safe. “Our community looks after each other,” said Richard Graham, a Sydney native and owner of local tour company My Detour. “If someone looks suspicious, we tell our neighbours, and word soon gets around who to watch out for.”
The city recently adopted a plan to spend $15 million a year improving footpaths and pedestrian crossings to encourage walking, and Victoria Moxey, originally from Buenos Aires and founder of local visitor guide Urban Walkabout, believes this is helping to keep life safe.
“The streets are always filled with urban types sitting at coffee shops with friends, walking dogs or just exploring the city,” she said. “Sydney is a city where the more you walk the streets, the more you feel part of a community.”
To make the most of this walking culture, expats often choose to live in Potts Point, 3km east of the city centre, where Art Deco apartment buildings and plentiful cafes give the neighbourhood a New York City vibe. Another favoured option is Surry Hills, 3km southeast of the centre, which has the best coffee spots and restaurants in town, drawing hipsters, design lovers and foodies.
For a true Australian beach lifestyle, residential-oriented Waverley or surfer-friendly Bronte are about 8km southeast of the city, while Rose Bay is an upscale harbourside option just 7km to the east.
This Southeast Asian city-state takes law enforcement seriously, resulting in a very secure environment. Rinita Vanjre Ravi, originally from Bangalore, and co-founder of dine-with-locals site BonAppetour, sees how much difference a well-funded police department can make. “In Singapore, the police force is well paid, which enables them to be concerned about the welfare of their people,” she said.
It also ensure laws are enforced. Vanjre Ravi finds that Singapore locals are really honest. “You can leave your bag at the table at any restaurant and go to the cashier to order food with the peace of mind that your bag will still be there,” she said. “Residents know that there is a high chance of being caught and punished.”
A stable political environment and a no-tolerance policy for religious or racist jokes also contributes to a harmonic city vibe.
Still, living in such a populous area comes with its own set of challenges. Managing the daily commute is key when finding a place to live in Singapore, and locals advise living as close to work as possible. Vanjre Ravi recommends Tiong Bahru as a central hipster neighbourhood with specialty shops and trendy restaurants, though those in a higher income bracket can look at the Duxton Hill apartments near Outram Park, 2km west of downtown, notable for its restored colonial buildings and international cuisine.
Being located so far north comes with its advantages, like never-ending summer days. Stockholm’s natural light in summer, paired with a well-lit city centre in darker times of the year, contributes to a feeling of safe public spaces. “Having two small boys, safety is increasingly important to me, and Stockholm is simply brilliant for children,” said Kat T, originally from London, who writes the blog An English Mamma in Stockholm. “There are playgrounds in parks away from the traffic and many leafy, green areas right in the centre of town.”
Though it doesn’t have the non-stop buzz of London, Kat finds that Stockholm’s slower pace can sometimes be a blessing. Despite its small size, the city also feels “dynamic and sophisticated”, she said. “Swedes are early adopters of things new, especially technology, and are frequently trendsetters.”
Most people live in apartments close to the Central Business District, but those looking for better value should head 2km west to Kungsholmen, while a funkier vibe (evidenced in vintage shops and avant-garde galleries) can be found in Södermalm 3km to the south. The waterfront areas have also been recently redeveloped, with Hammarby Sjöstad being among the most popular for its walkable boulevards and eco-conscious design.