To celebrate our Expat City Ranking 2021 getting published today, we have asked some of the InterNations team members what they most appreciate about the city they’re currently living in. Find out what expats and locals, long-term residents and new arrivals love about cities from Cape Town to Vilnius.
Berlin: Szandra, Junior Community Engagement Specialist
I moved to Berlin about five years ago. I’m originally from Budapest, and after spending my student years in a smallish Dutch university town, I wanted to live in a major city again. Since I already had friends in Berlin and knew some German from school, Berlin was the ideal choice.
I really love it here. To me, Berlin represents freedom. The city has this artsy, subcultural side. There’s lots of activism and discussions focusing on social justice issues — such as human rights and LGBTQ+ topics — going on. These conversations are intertwined with the big arts scene.
I have a degree in what’s called creative technologies — a mixture of technology and design — and I’m really interested in contemporary art, especially painting. I would describe myself as a creative person, and I’ve always gravitated towards creative, artistic people. I’m very lucky to have a friend who is a painter, and I also found this great collective of emerging artists not long after moving here.
Another thing I love about the city is the food. There are so many amazing places for “foodies” in Berlin, with all kinds of different cuisines. As an expat, one of the first things I wanted to do after coming here was to find a great German restaurant. My personal favorite serves only German-style dumplings. It’s all they do, but it’s absolutely perfect.
And as a proud dog owner, I appreciate that it’s so much easier to socialize in Berlin while just taking your dog along. If you want to go out in Budapest, you always have to check first if you can bring your dog to a café or restaurant. But it’s usually not an issue here.
Cape Town: Malte, InterNations Founder & Co-CEO
Life in Cape Town definitely has a lot of benefits. What I really love about the city is its climate and its great location. While it never gets too cold, not even during the South African winter, it’s currently springtime in the Southern Hemisphere. It’s warm and sunny outside, and the Jacaranda trees in our neighborhood are in bloom.
Cape Town lies right between the seacoast and several mountains, so you get the best of both worlds, so to speak. I’ve already climbed the Lion’s Head to enjoy the amazing view from up there. At the same time, you’re never far from the beach. You can spot seals lying on the shore or even visit a penguin colony nearby.
Living so close to nature and such fascinating wildlife is definitely great for my kids. And the city isn’t far from South Africa’s famous wine-growing region, which is full of vineyards with family-friendly restaurants. They usually have a big playground, so the parents can attend a wine tasting and relax a bit while the children are playing.
The people in Cape Town are also very easygoing, friendly, and welcoming. They seem really warm and open without coming across as insincere. Of course, “How are you doing?” is still a standard greeting. But they do make it feel like more than just a polite phrase. After not even three months in Cape Town, I’ve already met quite a few other German expats. They all mentioned the benefits of having a more relaxed, laid-back life with a sense of freedom and adventure, and I have to agree.
Istanbul: Oguz, Freelance Software Engineer
After starting my professional career in Munich and living there as an expat for three years, I moved back to Turkey to be closer to my friends and family during the COVID-19 pandemic. I’m not living in Istanbul permanently yet, though I’ve started planning my move after experimenting with life in different Turkish cities, including Istanbul.
When I was a university student in Izmir, I also launched my own start-up. I was part of an accelerator program in Istanbul, spending one half of the week in Istanbul for business meetings and the other half in Izmir for my studies. In the end, I became a software engineer rather than an entrepreneur, but I still have lots of contacts and friends in Istanbul, for example, in the local tech industry.
I also love Istanbul in general because it bridges two continents, Europe and Asia. It not only connects their lands, but also their people, their cultures, the East and West. Also, it’s so full of history. Wherever you turn, you’ll find something of historical importance. The Ottoman Empire, the Byzantine Empire, the Roman Empire, they’ve all been there. For this reason, it’s obviously a popular tourist destination, so there’s tons of places to visit.
But I simply enjoy taking a walk along the Bosporus, with a refreshing breeze from the sea, as well as feeding the seagulls with simit, a kind of Turkish sesame bagel, while crossing over from one continent to another on the ferry. Oh, and the stray cats too. There are so many cats running wild in the streets of Istanbul, and none of them ever goes hungry. Random people take care of them all the time — it just makes me happy to see them be so kind to stray animals.
Madrid: Christoph, Senior Community Engagement Specialist
Spain has always been my passion. Even my father tried to relocate here back in the 1960s, long before I was born, but he had to return to Germany after a few months. Still, we spent a lot of family vacations exploring the country together.
So, when I had the opportunity to move to Madrid in 2005, I didn’t hesitate. When I arrived here, I basically got what I had expected: lots of sunshine, plenty of fiestas, tapas galore, and sadly no beach. But I soon discovered that there was so much more to Madrid than the stereotypes you tend to notice as a tourist.
Most casual visitors aren’t really familiar with the mountains surrounding the Spanish capital. The Sierra de Guadarrama is up to 2,400 meters high, and it takes you less than an hour to get there if you take a bus from the city center. The lakes and forests are simply beautiful, the air is clean and fresh, and you can go for a hike all year round.
One of my favorite routes has the wonderful German-Spanish name “Camino Schmidt”. I think it’s one of the oldest hiking paths in these mountains. You’ll sometimes walk through the shady forest for miles before encountering anyone else, which offers a nice escape from the hectic pace of city life.
And if I can’t make it to the mountains, I’ll just go to one of the large parks outside the city center instead. From the Parque Forestal de Valebebas, which is Madrid’s biggest public park, you have the most amazing views of the sierra and its snow-covered peaks. Walking our family dog there in the morning is the perfect way to start my day.
Munich: Danielle, Senior Community Support Specialist
As a student, I joined the Erasmus exchange program and spent some time abroad in Munich. I came here in summer — I think you get very different impressions of the city, depending on when you arrive. We had such great weather, and it was simply perfect. I had the best time, just hanging out with my friends in the Englischer Garten and enjoying the sunshine. After that, I desperately wanted to come back. Luckily, I found an internship at InterNations, which then turned into a full-time job.
Now that I’ve been living here for five years, one of the main things I appreciate about Munich is the quality of life, especially the ease of getting around. If you live in the city, you hardly need a car. In my old neighborhood, there were at least three supermarkets within walking distance. Since I grew up in a rural part of England, I rather like being spoilt for choice that way.
I also own a dog, and I think Munich is a very dog-friendly place. I used to live near Theresienwiese, which is the official ground of the Oktoberfest. But for most of the year, there’s just this huge, empty space, where everyone tends to gather. There are people walking their dogs, like me, while others are skateboarding or doing gymnastics. In summer, you can just bring a blanket, have a picnic, and watch what’s going on. Especially during the pandemic, it’s nice to have an open space which is always busy without being crowded.
Now I’m preparing to leave Munich behind. My partner has moved to Zurich, and I’m trying to join him there, though Brexit has made this rather difficult. But if his dream job hadn’t fallen right into his lap, we would never have considered leaving Munich.
Vilnius: Justinas, Senior Software Engineer
I was born and raised in Vilnius, and I’ve been living here all my life. Over the years, I received a few job offers that would have required me to move, but none was tempting enough. While I obviously wouldn’t want to be separated from my family and friends, I also really enjoy living here.
Vilnius is a major city, but not a huge metropolis, so you can easily get from one end to the other. It has also been getting more and more pedestrian friendly. It’s a relatively green city, too. There are several parks I particularly like, such as Vingis Park and the Bernadine Garden.
The garden used to belong to a local monastery. It’s been cleaned up and redeveloped several times, the last time in 2013. Not only does it have lots of pretty fountains, but it’s also close to the Vilna River, with some really beautiful scenery. I regularly go there with my family whenever we need a break from city life.
Vilnius also seems to be modernizing and getting makeovers all the time. The Station District has been going through a major revival, for example. Time Out even called it “one of the coolest neighborhoods in the world”, full of murals and street art.
There’s lots of modern artworks throughout Vilnius in general … graffiti, sculptures, you name it. Some are very popular, others less so. There’s this one controversial installation on the riverfront. It looks just like a big rusty pipe, and visitors often think it belongs to an industrial plant. I don’t even remember what it symbolizes, I just know that many people hate it. I prefer the street art myself. The modern graffiti are a striking contrast to our Old Town, and I like that Vilnius always stays up to date.
Image credit: InterNations / iStockphoto / Pexels / Pixabay