When people talk about moving to Germany, many might assume they’re moving to Berlin – but is it the best city in Germany? While the capital has a lot going on and many jobs for English speakers, it’s definitely not the only place to settle down. Whether you’re looking for a family-friendly town or a quiet spot surrounded by nature, Germany has got you covered. Here are our picks for the best German cities to live in.
Berlin is still tops for people looking to move to Germany. It has the allure of a vibrant arts and culture scene, as well as incredible nightlife. In terms of jobs, it’s the center of Germany’s startup community, and bigger tech companies have also chosen the Hauptstadt for main office locations including Zalando, SoundCloud, GetYourGuide, N26, Omio, A&O Hotels and Hostels and more. Living in a big city does come without some challenges. Finding an apartment can be a massive undertaking, and staff at the Ausländeramt are stretched thin. For families, there are many international school options, but you may be competing for places. If you’re coming to the country without much in the way of German language skills, Berlin is one of the best places to live in Germany.
Coming in at number six on Mercer’s Quality of Living City Ranking for 2019 is Düsseldorf, a charming and wealthy city in the center of the Rhineland and Ruhr region. The area has long been known for mining and manufacturing, and it continues to be the home of many big German manufacturing brands today including Kiepe Electric, Intersnack, Henkel, Loesche and Vereinigte Stahlwerke as well as some successful tech startups. It’s also close to the cities of Essen, Cologne, Wuppertal, and Duisburg, all manufacturing centers as well. Düsseldorf also has the largest Japanese community in Germany and is known for its new architecture and fashion industry. With many shops, restaurants and festivals celebrated throughout the year you will never get bored. It’s not too big either, so it’s definitely one of the top cities to live in Germany.
This hip Eastern city rivals Berlin for cool art, lakes and culture events, affordable rents and nightlife. Startups and tech companies are choosing Leipzig as well, with employers like Spread Group, Nextbike and Food.de. The number of large parks near the city center and canals make this a very leafy and pleasant place to live. In case you are moving with family there is only one international school in Leipzig and a few private bilingual options, but the pressure on Kita spaces is less than in Berlin.
For an entirely different feel, the nearly coastal city of Hamburg has always been focused on trade. Canals and bridges dominate the second-largest city in Germany. There are many educational opportunities from international and bilingual schools to over 15 different universities. In terms of employers, lots of retailers are based in Hamburg, including About You, Edeka, Tchibo and Thalia. There’s always something going on with their world-famous concert hall the Elbphilharmonie to the nightlife in St Pauli and Altona. If you’re not interested in Berlin, this is probably the next best city to live in for expats.
The smallest city on the list, this picturesque university town in south Germany is home to a very international population. The renowned Heidelberg University brings staff and students from across the world, and the nearby offices of BASF, SAP, ABB and HeidelbergCement means there are lots of English speakers around. There are several international and bilingual school options, which is unusual for a town this size. With a beautiful riverside location and a giant romantic castle ruin, it’s no wonder Heidelberg is a tourist favorite. Finding an apartment can be challenging however, as you’re competing with an ever-changing student population.
Munich is regularly featured on best cities to live in lists, but it’s also the most expensive city in Germany to live in. Rents are over 18% higher than Berlin, and living expenses are 10% more than the Hauptstadt. However, you are in the center of Bavarian exuberance, and there’s lots to do, from attending Oktoberfest as a local to visiting the many museums and parks the city has to offer. There are several international school options and many universities as well. Local employers include Siemens, Allianz, BMW, Flixbus, Sixt, Westwing, Recup and TeleClinic.
Frankfurt is very banking focused, with both the European Central Bank and the Deutsche Bundesbank located here. The city also hosts major events like the Frankfurt Book Fair, the Frankfurt Motor Show and Ambiente Frankfurt. Frankfurt Airport is one of the busiest airports in the world, making the city a good choice if traveling often is important to you. There are many international schools to choose from, and some excellent parks are sprinkled across the city. If you’re really into going out, Frankfurt may not be the best choice, it doesn’t have the club scene that Berlin, Leipzig or Hamburg have.
This city should be at the top of the best small cities to live in Germany list because it is a gem. With vineyards on the doorstep and the Rhine right there, many residents hang out on the riverside with a glass of something local in hand. There is the world-class University of Mainz, an international school for younger children, and the city itself is very easy to navigate. There are lots of English speakers around due to the US military base in nearby Wiesbaden. The city takes its connection to Gutenberg very seriously, and you will find everything from schools to cafes named after him.
There’s lots of consider when picking the best German city for you
It’s a good idea to be honest about what’s important to you when it comes to quality of life. Are there many school options for your kids or nightlife? Do you want to be close to nature or do you prefer an ultra-urban existence? The good news is there are so many great places to live in Germany. It’s easy to get around the country to do some exploring once you settle down too.
Erin McGann is a Canadian freelance writer focusing on travel, living abroad, parenting, history, and culture. After nearly a decade living in the UK, Erin settled in Heidelberg, Germany with her husband and son. Dragging her family to every castle and open-air museum is a favorite activity, along with sewing, cooking, and weaving. You can check out her travel blog, and follow her obsession with half-timbered houses on her Instagram account.