Melbourne's stunning cityscape at sunset

There’s nothing quite as humbling as having a stranger inform you that, despite your parents’ best intentions and your expensive education, you’re essentially residing in a Third World city with poor infrastructure, an unstable government, a subpar education system, and dreadful coffee. However, it’s intriguing that many of these rankings often favor places with bone-chilling weather and sky-high tax rates.

Last year, Monocle magazine crowned Copenhagen as its top choice. But when you consider that Copenhagen gets just over two months of sunshine a year, boasts a maximum tax rate of 56 percent, and ranks as more expensive than 91 percent of other Western European cities, it might not be your dream destination after all.

Vienna, nominated by CNN and The Economist last year, also loses its luster when you think about the challenge of learning German at this stage in life. So, if I were to ever leave Singapore, my current top pick for the most livable city (assuming you don’t have to pay rent, buy an apartment, purchase a car, or raise children), Melbourne, Australia, would be high on my list.

After spending an enchanting month there recently, I’ve fallen head over heels for Melbourne’s numerous charms, all meticulously designed to enhance the quality of life for both locals and tourists. Sometimes, it’s the little details that make all the difference. Take, for instance, the public bicycle pumps with various wheel gauges, a thoughtful touch that makes traversing the city a breeze, especially with its well-maintained network of safe bike lanes. Filtered water stations in malls add convenience, as do clear road signs and informative plaques on historical buildings.

However, it’s the grander gestures that leave the most lasting impressions. Free public trams within the city center are a godsend for students, low-income earners, and tourists. The roads are impeccably maintained, the drivers unfailingly polite, and, unlike the cacophony of honking horns in cities like New York and New Delhi, Melbourne is refreshingly tranquil.

The city boasts a collection of world-class museums and galleries, including the National Gallery of Victoria, ACMI, Old Melbourne Gaol, Melbourne Museum, and the Hellenic Museum, all with gift shops that rival the best in the world. Melbourne is also blessed with an unusual number of stunning public gardens, totaling 480 hectares, including the magnificent Royal Botanic Gardens, adorned with ancient trees and lush flora.

Despite its towering skyscrapers, Melbourne has diligently preserved its historic buildings, striking a unique balance between modernity and heritage. These aren’t mere showpieces; they’re vibrant, well-utilized spaces. The front garden and historic reading rooms of the State Library are perennially crowded with students.

What’s most delightful, in a world increasingly dominated by digital platforms, is Melbourne’s thriving independent bookstore scene. A nod to The Paperback, Reading, Paperback, Books for Cooks, and Hill of Content. Meanwhile, the Queen Victoria and South Melbourne Markets, along with a plethora of restaurants and pastry shops, are internationally acclaimed. Personal highlights include unforgettable meals at Brunetti, Gimlet, King and Godfree, Miss Chu, Monarch Cakes, Embla, and Thai Town. Melbourne’s seemingly obsessive coffee culture, bordering on parody, makes for excellent Instagram material.

Of course, Melbourne is not without its imperfections. It’s an expensive city, with an average restaurant meal costing around A$50 (S$45) per person, not to mention a 10 to 15 percent surcharge on weekends and public holidays. This is largely due to fair wages for waitstaff; the national minimum wage is A$21 per hour, and senior cooks can earn double that. Taxes are high, with a 34 percent tax rate on salaries over A$180,000, plus an additional 45 percent on every dollar above that threshold. Even a postage stamp for a slightly oversized postcard to Paris costs A$14, roughly equivalent to a movie ticket. Strangely, a tram ride within Melbourne costs A$4, though it’s capped at A$8, and the train journey to Ballarat, 90 minutes away, is priced the same.

In truth, it’s unlikely that everyone will agree on which city holds the title of the “most livable.” One person’s Melbourne may be another’s Auckland. Nevertheless, these rankings serve a purpose. They entertain readers, engage internet trolls, and keep tourism boards on their toes. After all, without these debates, my job might be in jeopardy.


In conclusion, Melbourne, Australia, stands out as one of the most livable cities globally, offering a blend of modernity and heritage, a thriving cultural scene, and an enviable quality of life. While it’s not without its challenges, such as the high cost of living, Melbourne’s unique charm and numerous amenities make it a top choice for residents and tourists alike.

By Vijay M

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