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Some cities around the world are intrinsically tied to their harbours, coastlines and bays, their geographic location shaping the way they develop and how their residents interact with the urban landscape and with each other.

Taken from “world’s best” lists in publications such as Travel + Leisure and organisations like Project for Public Spaces, these five cities combine fantastic waterfronts with generously-sized parks, top-notch restaurants and cultural musts, making them truly wonderful places to live, work and visit.

Stockholm, Sweden
Only one third of the Swedish capital is actually city: the rest is water and parkland spread across 14 islands in Lake Mälaren and the Baltic Sea. Much of the waterfront is easily accessible, from paths and pedestrian areas to the ferries that crisscross the archipelago. Since so much of Stockholm is on the water, almost every neighbourhood is close to the coastline. One of the most sought-after districts is hip Södermalm just south of Gamla stan, the medieval Old Town. Within Södermalm, SoFo (South of Folkungagatan) is known for its trendy shops, cafes and nightlife, and the area around Mariatorget is full of houses with lake views. Also very desirable is calm Kungsholmen, located across Riddarfjärdern bay from Gamla stan, and exclusive Östermalm to the northeast.

The majority of residents own property, and most rentals are sublets as the municipal rental queue is decades long. Although the market is up, the International Monetary Fund recently warned that Sweden is in a housing bubble and warned against low-amortisation mortgages (payments that do not cover the amount of interest due). A townhouse in a popular neighbourhood can cost anywhere from 21.5 million Swedish krona to 43 million SEK, and a less grand single-family house in a popular neighbourhood costs anywhere from 4.3 million SEK to 8.6 million SEK. Most of the available properties are condos and flats, and a typical two-bedroom flat costs around 4.3 million SEK. A three-bed in the city centre around the Old Town rents for around 15,500 SEK a month.

  • Totally Stockholm: city magazine and guide to events, movies, restaurants, nightlife, arts and culture

Hamburg, Germany
In addition to its large working port, this city on the Elbe River has more canals than Venice or Amsterdam and the most bridges of any city around the globe, more than 2,000 of them. Water is all around, as are green spaces and parks – in fact, Hamburg was named European Green Capital in 2011. Areas near the water are very popular with home buyers, including the riverside districts of Blankenese and Othmarschen, located west of the city centre in the borough of Altona. Parallel to the river is Elbchaussee, the grand boulevard that runs west from the neighbourhood of Altona-Atlstadt out to Blankenese and is very desirable for its beautiful architecture and views. Around Binnenalster (Inner Alster) and Aussenalster (Outer Alster) – the two urban lakes – the area of Harvestehude is popular, as are Winterhude and Uhlenhorst for their central location.

Many families look to live in peaceful Alsterdorf in the northeast because of its green spaces and good transport links to the city centre. One of the largest urban developments in Europe, HafenCity, was built right on the harbour, similar to London’s Docklands, and is popular for its location and modern infrastructure. According to the Engel & Völkers 2013 market report, a desirable waterfront house in these areas can cost as much as 15 million euros, while a 90sqm flat sells from 4,500 euros per square metre. Rentals in popular areas – such as a four-room flat in Harvestehude – can reach 25 euros per square metre, while rents in less popular locations cost around 13 to 17 euros per square metre.

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