Edinburgh is the world's 15th happiest city: This is why I agree

Old Town Edinburgh and Edinburgh Castle Pic: Wasin PummarinOld Town Edinburgh and Edinburgh Castle Pic: Wasin Pummarin
Old Town Edinburgh and Edinburgh Castle Pic: Wasin Pummarin
The Institute for Quality of Life has announced its annual Happy City Index 2024. This evaluates the world’s cities, and ranks them according to their criteria of citizens, governance, environment, economy and mobility.

The 250 cities that made the list are ranked into Gold, Silver and Bronze categories.

The Scottish capital, which was the meat in a Vienna and Reykjavik sandwich, ranked in the Gold category at number 15, with only one other UK city, Bristol, in the top tier, though poor old Glasgow was number 134, and shunted into the Bronze category.

No sign of Aberdeen or Dundee. Maybe next year, guys.

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Their other Gold scoring cities are definitely going to be added to my future mini break list. Well, the few with direct flights from Scotland at least.

That rules out a jaunt to Aarhus in Denmark, which is number one, and is sure to give you a Madness earworm (“Aarhus, in the middle of our street”), Zurich in Switzerland is number two, and is closely tailed by the classics that are Berlin, Gothenburg and Amsterdam.

It’s a geography fail, as I had never heard of Espoo in Finland (number 29 in the Gold category), but apparently it’s to the west of the capital, Helsinki. Same for Jönköping (number 34 on the Gold list), which is on the shores of Lake Vättern in Sweden.

London has also made it to the Gold category, but is down at 33 of a total of 37 top notch cities.

I totally understand why Edinburgh would score so highly, though happiness is a difficult thing to quantify. As Scottish poet Ivor Cutler sang; “I’m happy, I’m happy, and I’ll punch the man who says I’m not”.

It’s a fleeting emotion, and sometimes it’s hard to find joy in any city, what with the traffic, jostling and gammy-legged pigeons.

Since finding out the news, I have been squinting at my fellow citizens’ expressions. There were a few scowls, but, yes, many of them looked pretty content with their lot.

They were in a hurry though, so it’s hard to tell. After all, it’s an unspoken rule that in an urban area, you must always be moving from A to B.

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You can never really stop, to absorb and enjoy your environment. Instead, you are supposed to be in shark mode - just keep swimming.

Sometimes I feel at my most tightly wound as I try to cross Princes Street, with trams, buses, cars and electric bikes coming from every direction. (One day, in the future, when flying skateboards and hovercrafts are widely available and Deliveroo has commandeered them, we’ll also have to look up before we cross).

I’d say happiness is more of a natural sensation when you’re in the countryside.

Though, as far as cities go, mine is as good as it gets. There are spots that will always guarantee me a sudden wave of endorphins. It’s like discovering a geocache of delight.

These include walking down the bottom half of the Royal Mile, as the tourists thin out.

Then there are the unexpected views from the top deck of a bus as it moves up Waterloo Place to Regent Terrace.

I get the same feeling of bonhomie on Broughton Street and when exiting at the back of Modern One, where the Henry Moore sculpture is, or if I’m strolling past the vintage-shop-heavy section of St Stephen Street in Stockbridge.

Of course, being near any favourite food outlet gives me the whole Pavlov’s dog reaction, which can be mistaken for happiness.

I suppose these moments are why I never move away.

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The city tries to shake me off, with its inflated prices for everything, from property to a cup of coffee, but I refuse to budge. I guess it is attracting a wealthier resident these days, which may also account for increased levels of happiness among its population.

For me, the main appeal of Edinburgh is feeling as if you’re in the centre of it all, and not only when the Festival is on.

Never a week goes by without an exciting restaurant, shop or bar opening, a good gig or a launch. If I lived anywhere else, I’d definitely get the FOMO.

Then there’s the green space. We are spoiled. I love Calton Hill, Arthur’s Seat, The Meadows, the Water of Leith, Dunbar Close Gardens, Inverleith Park, the Union Canal path, and, if they count, all the Victorian graveyards, especially Dean Cemetery.

At the last count, Edinburgh had 38 parks and greenspaces, which makes it the highest for any Scottish local authority. I live near two parks, and there’s been no plan yet to, as Joni Mitchell sang, pave paradise and put up a parking lot.

In my neck of the woods, I’ve spotted a kingfisher, foxes and what I thought was an otter, but turned out to be an old trainer.

Then there’s the getting around, which was the mobility section of the Happy City Index criteria.

Edinburgh is so tiny, compared to other cities. It’s perfectly fun-sized.

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Yes, fellow passengers can be annoying, but our home has great public transport. I’m always flying around my beloved city, admiring it from the top deck of the bus, usually while humming Ivor Cutler’s merry tune.


1 Aarhus, Denmark

2 Zurich, Switzerland

3 Berlin, Germany

4 Gothenburg, Sweden

5 Amsterdam, Netherlands

6 Helsinki, Finland

7 Bristol, United Kingdom

8 Copenhagen, Denmark

9 Geneva, Switzerland

10 Munich, Germany

11 Stockholm, Sweden

12 Rotterdam, Netherlands

13 Oulu, Finland

14 Vienna, Austria

15 Edinburgh, United Kingdom

16 Reykjavik, Iceland

17 Aalborg, Denmark

18 Minneapolis (Minnesota), United States

19 Basel, Switzerland

20 Alesund, Norway

21 Brisbane, Australia

22 Bruges, Belgium

23 Luxembourg, Luxembourg

24 Bordeaux, France

25 Cork, Ireland

26 Cologne, Germany

27 Eskilstuna, Sweden

28 Utrecht, Netherlands

29 Innsbruck, Austria

30 Espoo, Finland

31 Osaka, Japan

32 Christchurch, New Zealand

33 London, United Kingdom

34 Singapore, Singapore

35 Jonkoping, Sweden

36 Seoul, South Korea

37 Ottawa, Canada



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