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Serene City Index

Serene City Index

Saarrah Mussa
Written by  Saarrah Mussa
10 min read
Updated: 20 Sep 2023

With millions of travellers each year opting to explore cities instead of beaches, MoneySuperMarket Travel Insurance has launched the Serene Cities Index to reveal the most, and least relaxing destinations to visit, to get the most out of your valuable downtime.

Whether it’s a romantic weekend, a cultural excursion, or a detox from the office, city breaks are one of the most popular types of holidays.

Whether strolling down ancient alleys, exploring modern art galleries, savouring local delicacies, or immersing in lively markets, city breaks can provide the perfect opportunity to uncover hidden gems, take in new cultures and have a much-needed break from daily life.

But where are the most relaxing cities to visit?

With millions of travellers each year opting to explore cities instead of beaches, MoneySuperMarket Travel Insurance has launched the Serene Cities Index to reveal the most, and least relaxing destinations to visit, to get the most out of your valuable downtime.

The MoneySuperMarket Serene Cities Index

The MoneySuperMarket travel experts looked at 75 of the most popular city break destinations across the world to find the most de-stressing cities to relax and unwind.

We compared each city across nine factors: average air quality, artificial light pollution levels, noise pollution, traffic congestion, sunshine hours, overall tidiness, country happiness, green space and the friendliness of locals, before assigning each city an overall Serenity Index Score.

So, whether you’re looking for a short city break to help you relax from work, an urban escapade without the bustle, or are travelling with someone with a sensitive disposition to crowds or noise, the MoneySuperMarket Serene Cities Score could help you plot your next travel adventure.

The Most Relaxing City Breaks

top 5 relaxing cities in the world ranked

Reykjavik, Iceland

Serenity Index Score: 85.5 / 100

When it comes to a relaxing city break, Reykjavik in Iceland topped the list thanks to its high air quality, abundance of green space, low pollution levels, happy population and low traffic.

Full of rich cultural heritage, the modestly sized city is home to a range of attractions, including stunning sights across the nearby Golden Circle, whale watching, and the ability to experience the Northern Lights.

Scoring an impressive 85.5 out of a possible 100, the capital city performed strongly in every ranking factor in our index. However, its perks don’t come cheap, especially for those looking to sample Iceland’s nightlife where alcohol prices are some of the highest in Europe.

Tallinn, Estonia

Serenity Index Score: 82.3 / 100

Something of a hidden gem, Tallinn, Estonia's capital, intertwines its UNESCO-listed Old Town's medieval charm with Estonia’s modern, tech-driven society, giving visitors the best of both worlds overlooking the Baltic Sea.

Placing second on our list, Tallinn is a clean, quiet city which offers a vibrant cultural scene, efficient infrastructure, and thriving nightlife. Compared to Reykjavik, Tallinn is a more budget-friendly destination which provides stunning views and easy access to nature for those looking to relax and unwind on a city break.

Bergen, Norway

Serenity Index Score: 80.8 / 100

Boasting some of the cleanest air and lowest light pollution levels of any city on our list, Bergen is one of three Scandinavian countries to make the top five on our list of most serene city breaks.

Nestled between mountains and fjords, the city offers incredible vistas of both the sea and landscapes and is also home to UNESCO World Heritage site, Bryggen Hanseatic Wharf.

Like most of its Scandi neighbours, Norway is a relatively expensive country to visit, so it’s worth considering the amount of travel money you will need or getting a travel card with fee-free foreign spending. However, one thing would-be visitors to this serene city should bring is an umbrella, as Bergen is known as the “City of Rain”, boasting some of the highest rainfall in Europe.

Rounding out the top 10 of the most relaxing city breaks were Vienna, Stockholm, Vilnius, Ljubljana, Munich, Zurich and Dubrovnik.

Overall, our study found European cities to be more relaxing than their American, Asian and Oceania counterparts, with Scandinavian and adjacent countries dominating the top 25 most serene cities.

Top 25 cities for relaxing city breaks

The most bustling cities for a city break

At the other end of the scale and maybe unsurprisingly, New York City placed bottom on our list of serene cities, scoring just 47 out of 100 in our index.

Home to a plethora of attractions, nightlife, food, iconic cultural hotspots, and rich American history, the ‘city that never sleeps’ is one of the most visited cities in the world, with millions of tourists flocking there every year.

While it is undisputedly a ‘must visit’ location, between the crowds, high traffic levels and bustle of the boroughs, it’s certainly not the most relaxing, serene destination for those looking to unwind.

Other cities which placed low on our serenity index included major tourist destinations, Istanbul, Los Angeles, Marseille, Philadelphia, Brussels, Venice, Milan, Naples, and Paris which may be better suited for people looking for buzz and bustle on their trip.

Bottom 5 Serene cities ranked

At the other end of the scale and maybe unsurprisingly, New York City placed bottom on our list of serene cities, scoring just 47 out of 100 in our index.

Home to a plethora of attractions, nightlife, food, iconic cultural hotspots, and rich American history, the ‘city that never sleeps’ is one of the most visited cities in the world, with millions of tourists flocking there every year.

While it is undisputedly a ‘must visit’ location, between the crowds, high traffic levels and bustle of the boroughs, it’s certainly not the most relaxing, serene destination for those looking to unwind.

Other cities which placed low on our serenity index included major tourist destinations, Istanbul, Los Angeles, Marseille, Philadelphia, Brussels, Venice, Milan, Naples, and Paris which may be better suited for people looking for buzz and bustle on their trip.

The complete MoneySuperMarket Serene Cities Index:

Protecting yourself and finding more ways to save on holiday

Angela Dove travel insurance expert at MoneySuperMarket.com said:

“Whether you’re looking for a relaxing city break to unwind, or a more adventurous trip, it’s important to ensure you have the right cover for your needs.

From cover for lost or stolen baggage to protecting you from expensive foreign medical bills, comprehensive travel insurance can cost as little as £1.60 a day1 and could save you thousands of pounds should the worst happen.

If you’re planning a European city break, remember the GHIC (formerly EHIC) is not a substitute for a travel insurance policy and does not guarantee free emergency healthcare. However, using your GHIC card could waive your medical excess fee on some travel insurance policies.

Alongside travel insurance, if you plan on using your debit or credit card abroad, it’s worth being aware of any foreign transaction fees or overseas cash withdrawal fees and limits your card may have.”

1Based on an individual aged 30 taking single trip cover for 3 days to France. Cover starts on 23rd June 2023 and ends on 27th June 2023. Equivalent to £1.60 per day

If you plan on spending overseas, MoneySuperMarket could help you find more ways to save by comparing a wide range of travel cards with no foreign fees or even cashback on spending.

Methodology

This index assigns a score based on a combination of several ranked factors; these are:

  • Air Quality: Air Quality Index Figure (AQI), based on PM 2.5 for each corresponding city, using an average of monitoring stations

  • Light Pollution: Artificial Brightness figure (μcd/m2) for the city, based on central co-ordinates of the city

  • Traffic Congestion: Average excess hours lost in congestion/traffic per year across 2022

  • Noise Pollution, Green Space & Tidiness: score out of 100, based on Numbeo respondent's perception of the city

  • Happiness – Total score from the World Happiness Report

  • Friendliness - Expat Insider 2023 Survey Report - "Local Friendliness"

Where possible, data has been taken from a singular source or government body. Where data has been unavailable from one source alternative data sources have been found, or an average has been given.

1Based on quotes from £4.80 for an individual aged 30 taking single trip cover for 3 days to France. Equivalent to £1.60 per day. Cover starts on 23rd June 2023 and ends on 27th June 2023.