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Wet recreation paradise Bergen at the top of Monocle’s first list of the world’s best small cities

The Norwegian city is known as Europe’s rainiest. However, it has a lot to offer.


Since launch, Monocle has run a highly regarded ranking of major global cities, but this is the first time that it has focused on smaller hubs, with populations of up to 200,000. And the reasons why they did it are several:

· Technology has freed a generation to run their businesses and lives from second- and third-tier cities.

· People are increasingly seeking the quality of life available in compact cities.

· Many people feel priced out of capitals.

· Small cities have invested in culture, architecture and education to become key centres for manufacturing, technology and learning.

The ranking was compiled by Monocle’s correspondents, editors and researchers analysing elements such as the quality of public transport, rail and air connections, lively metabolism and progressive local government, among other metrics.

— We kept noticing that our readers were moving to the likes of Porto and Boulder and creating busy, better lives for themselves. This survey shows why people are voting with their feet and ambitions, says Monocle Editor, Andrew Tuck.

— Having established a strong franchise with the annual Monocle quality-of-life ranking, we felt that it was time to measure liveability in smaller-scale cities that were hard to put in the same league as cities like Tokyo or Vancouver, says Tyler Brûlé, Editor-in-Chief.

The number-one spot is taken by Lausanne, followed by Boulder, U.S., and Bergen, Norway. The latter is described as following:

”Folks from here will argue that even the capital Oslo can’t offer the friluftsliv (outdoor life) Bergen provides. The city is surrounded by picturesque mountains and is a gateway to the fjords of Norway’s western coast. Recreation options, besides hiking, include summer dives into seawater pools, winter train journeys and ski resorts in Voss and Geilo. The wet weather can be tiresome but it has proven useful in creating a buzzy hospitality and dining scene that’s enlivening the city’s once-tame nightlife. Let’s hope retailers will follow suit, as current shopping options are lacking. Bergen’s creative industries, however, are thriving, nurtured by talent from well-respected universities and growing amid handsome studio spaces, often housed in remarkably revived industrial buildings.

Best for: Culture lovers. Bergenfest is a world-leading summer music festival, while Kode and the recently renovated Natural History Museum don’t disappoint on the cultural venue front. What it needs: A good coffee shop for early birds. Cycle-friendly? Yes. Bikes are a popular means of commuting and the city is cycle-friendly.”

Other Nordic cities in the top 25 include Iceland’s capital Reykjavik (11) and Denmark’s fourth city Aalborg (20).

Photography by Felix Odell for our Bergen story When it rains creativity pours, read it here!