Best Places to Live in Germany – Berlin and Beyond
Last updated: 17 April 2020 / by Jack Harper
From the rolling hills of Bavaria to the great plains of the North, Germany is a country that is filled with diverse beauty and cultural allure. It is hardly surprising that Germany is the second most popular destination for migration in the world. Few places can contend with its offerings of opportunity and quality of life.
But where, exactly, is the best place to move?
There are many answers, and ultimately, it is down to personal preference. Wherever you decide to call home, you will be part of a national frontier that strives for growth, honors tradition and protects its citizens.
In this article, we will discuss whether you are better off in a village or city, followed by a list of the top German cities for expats.
City or village?
Moving to a village will present you with a more authentic German experience. Most villages consist of tight-knit communities in which everyone knows everyone, especially the smaller ones.
Moving there as a foreigner, you are likely to receive a lot of attention, with everyone quickly knowing who you are. This might seem daunting to some, but it presents an opportunity to become part of a warm, inclusive community.
In such villages, you get out what you put in. Getting involved in communal activities and talking to the locals will earn you a favored reputation. It might not happen overnight, but it should not take long for a foreigner to feel as if they are among friends.
Other aspects of village life make them an appealing option for many. Cleaner air, star-filled skies, slower tempo, and the closer proximity to nature are just some of the reasons why someone would choose a village over a city.
The cons of village life are few, but significant enough to keep people in the cities. Job and career opportunities are far scarcer, meaning you may have to get a job in the city and commute. There will be fewer choices for eating out and things to do in general. Combined with the slower pace of village life, this could cause an onset of boredom for those who enjoy being close to the action.
German cities enjoy a reputation of vibrancy and prosperity. With vast infrastructures of public services, the quality of life potentials of German city life is difficult to dispute.
To help ease your transition into German life, you can join large communities of like-minded ex-pats. If you have not yet grasped the German language, then it can be very useful to have people with whom you can comfortably communicate, at least for your first few weeks when you are settling in.
English-speaking services are also readily available, and you could even land yourself an English-speaking job. With public transport that is cheap, accessible, and efficient, German cities are well-equipped for easy navigation, both geographically and socially. Some cities, such as Berlin, have excellent cycling infrastructures, meaning you can opt for the healthy lifestyle of the bicycle commute.
Besides that, German cities offer a life of convenience and choice, with plenty to do on your doorstep. However, city rentals can get quite pricey if you want to be extra close to the action. The hustle, bustle, and noise can be a continued source of discomfort for many, and it can sometimes feel hard to find a moment’s rest.
Germany’s capital is a hot-spot for expats, with an increasing appeal to younger crowds. Modern street art intertwines with the buildings of Berlin’s storied history, creating a trendy, culturally potent environment in which to live.
Approximately one-third of the city consists of forest, rivers, lakes, and parks, meaning you are never too far away from the blessings of nature.
There is a real buzz about Berlin, and though it may be one of the pricier places to live, the abundance of jobs and international infrastructure deem it an excellent choice for many.
Hamburg is the second biggest city in Germany, offering a tremendous amount of living space per person compared to the other major cities of the world.
With stunning natural surroundings and a crisscrossing of rivers and canals, Hamburg invites you to explore and enjoy the quality of life that it works so hard to cultivate.
English is widely understood in Hamburg, and there is a strong presence of expats. Renting can be quite expensive, but if you are looking to buy, then you may find Hamburg to be cheaper than many areas of Germany.
Another popular choice among expats, Munich offers an exceptional quality of life and reliable infrastructure. Its stunning architecture and refined cultural ways are central to its appeal. Still, there is more to Munich than simple sophistication.
Munich is the home of Oktoberfest, a world-famous beer celebration that draws crowds from across the globe as the streets erupt in unbridled joy and celebration. It is an experience like no other and testament to the unique brilliance of life in Munich.
It does all come at a cost, however, with Munich being one of the most expensive cities in Europe.
Though less well known than the likes of Berlin, Düsselforf is a city that grows in expat popularity with each passing year.
It ranks highly on quality of life and infrastructure, offering plenty of career opportunities with a significant presence of multinational companies.
Düsselforf also has a strong cultural appeal. Museums, markets, and an abundance of restaurants invite you to explore an immersive city with a variety of experiences.
A strong expat presence can be found in Düsselforf, and most service workers will speak at least basic English. Unfortunately, the cost of living here is one of the highest in Germany.
Frankfurt (Frankfurt am Main)
Frankfurt is Germany’s financial capital and is thus a haven for those seeking work in the financial sector.
Many workers, however, choose to live outside the city and commute due to the lack of availability and expense of central city living.
That said, renting or buying outside of the central areas is comparatively cheaper. Frankfurt offers an extensive variety of excellent food and drink, contributing to an outstanding social scene.
Located in the valley known as the ‘Stuttgart Cauldron’, the hills and parks of Stuttgart promote a naturally inspired lifestyle. Within the vibrant greenery lies a manufacturing paradise of fast cars and progressive automation.
In addition to the famous car museums of Mercedes-Benz and Porsche, Stuttgart is home to a multitude of shops, markets, theatres, and cafes. It has a packed cultural calendar, which is sure to appeal to all tastes.
Stuttgart’s industrial status attracts many foreigners looking for work, and the city is widely accommodating to English speakers. Living in Stuttgart is generally quite affordable.
Nuremberg offers a quieter, more relaxed experience, with a smaller population than most major cities.
Its gothic churches and medieval castles paint a picture of Bavarian history, while modern amenities uphold the flow of city life. Nuremberg is perfect for those who enjoy city living without the usual hustle and bustle.
If you ever need a fix of big-city buzz, then Munich is only an hour away on the train. Living in Nuremberg will prove to be far cheaper than the likes of Munich, as evidenced by the large number of expats who enjoy this alternative city life.
The birthplace of Albert Einstein and home to the largest cathedral in the world, Ulm is a haven for students and young professionals alike. It is a University town, the beating heart of which is a young, hip cultural scene.
With ample job opportunities, cheap living costs, and plenty of things to do, many will find Ulm to be the perfect place to kick-start a prosperous career.
Ulm is as small as it is picturesque, set alongside the Danube River, and brimming with color. The city is entirely walkable, with lots to see at every turn.
A quarter of Jena’s population is made up of students – with two universities and an excellent nightlife scene, it is regarded as a place of technical innovation and youthful buzz. It is also a city of beauty, set alongside the Saale River and surrounded by limestone cliffs.
There are plenty of international students in Jena, though not many people speak English here overall. The city is easily walkable, but it also has an excellent public transportation system. The cost of living here is far cheaper than in the big cities.
Heidelberg is a small city with a vibrant expat scene. Surrounded by mountains, you do not have to travel far from Heidelberg to be immersed in natural beauty.
The city itself is flat, making for easy biking and pleasant walking.
Heidelberg University is one of the oldest and most prestigious universities in Europe, and the city is thus regarded as a college town. It contains all the modern trimmings of student life, including clubs and bars, while maintaining historic charm with its buildings and castle ruins.
Living here is relatively cheap, and locals tend to be moderately familiar with English.
Nicknamed ‘Hypezig’, Leipzig is fast becoming one of Europe’s new hipster spots.
It is an up and coming city with a laid-back atmosphere and an exciting art scene. The streets are clean, crime is low, and pollution is scarce.
With low costs of living, reliable transportation options and increasing opportunities, it is easy to see why more and more expats are flocking to Leipzig.
Cologne is the center of Germany’s media and creative scene. For those looking to break into various creative industries, Cologne is undoubtedly a hub of opportunity. The Rhine River splits the city in two, with each side housing unique characteristics.
On the left side of the river are the city center, cathedral, university, and party quarter – rents are generally higher here.
The right side of the river features an internationally diverse scene of alternative bars, cafes and restaurants. Cologne is widely regarded as an underrated city, which is becoming increasingly popular among expats.
A city that suffered greatly from the ravages of WW2, Dresden has rebuilt both its architecture and economy to a place of high strength.
It is home to many progressive industries, with a significant presence of professionals embarking on successful careers.
The war did not entirely erase its history, and Dresden has a lot to offer in terms of cultural engagement. It is not overly expensive and provides superior levels of education.
Bremen is a small city that is an excellent base for skilled laborers. With a sense of industrious vigor mixed with a natural charm, Bremen rewards its hard-working citizens with a high quality of life for themselves and their families.
Bremen also boasts a prevalent beer-brewing scene, with job opportunities for those interested in joining this thriving industry. There is lots to see and do in Bremen, and living costs are, overall, very reasonable.
Once known for its booming steel and coal industries, Dortmund has now modernized into the realms of biomedical technology and robotics.
For those looking to break into industries of the future, Dortmund might be the ideal place.
Dortmund also offers an intense cultural experience with its rich and varied history. Its home to an excellent schooling system that has extensive international support, making Dortmund a superb choice for families.
So much choice! If it is the village life you seek, then you are sure to find the warmth of community and authentic German charm.
The cities of Germany, however, offer a diverse range of opportunities and excitement. Unique from one another in their beauty and industrial strengths, you are sure to find one that is the perfect fit for you.