Living in: Great waterfront cities

From Stockholm to San Francisco, these five cities are intrinsically tied to their harbours, coastlines and bays.

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.

Nice, France
Nice is a key player in the allure of the Cote d’Azur; the French Riviera jewel has been the playground of the rich and the privileged for more than a century. Along the seafront, the long curve of the Promenade des Anglais follows the beach, connecting the airport and the harbour, and is the perfect spot for people watching with views of the Mediterranean and the Old Town’s Belle Époque structures. In the summer, the super yachts moor nearby, adding to the glamour. “Be it a middle manager from Dusseldorf or a Russian oligarch, they all basically crave the sun in a safe environment, where you can access glitzy Cannes and Monaco or the olive groves and inland villages,” said Alex Balkin, a broker at Savills French Riviera. “Today, the high end of the market is dominated mainly by buyers from Eastern Europe.”

Nice’s most popular areas to live are the Promenade des Anglais, the Quai des Etats-Unis (the boulevard fronting the Old Town), and the Boulevard Franck Pilatte to the east, due to their Mediterranean views and 19th-century architecture. Housing styles range from Belle Époque apartments to modern residences with swimming pools and downtown seafront houses. A mint-condition two-bedroom apartment in these sought-after locations costs between 400,000 and 800,000 euros. A similar property rents for between 1,500 and 2,500 euros a month.

  • The Riveria Times: English-language news, features and events from the French and Italian Riviera

Sydney, Australia
Sydney is synonymous with its harbour, home to such iconic structures as the Opera House, the Harbour Bridge as well as Bondi and Manly Beaches. In fact, it is the proximity to beaches that draws so many people from around Australia and the world, who move to the city for its easygoing lifestyle, sophisticated culture,  world-class restaurants, and of course, stunning views. “Certainly anything on the harbourfront with a view of the Sydney Harbour Bridge or Opera House is seen, not only locally, but globally as being extremely desirable,” said Shayne Harris, head of residential at Savills Australia. “It is the reason why such high prices can be achieved for these properties when they do become available.”

Blessed with riverfront, harbour-front or oceanfront settings, some of the city’s most popular areas include Vaucluse, north of Bondi Beach; leafy, upscale Double Bay and exclusive Point Piper, two adjacent areas on the south side of the harbour; and Hunters Hill, one of the city’s oldest residential areas, west of the harbour. These homes tend to be some of the most expensive in Sydney. There are no houses directly on the harbour in the CBD, but there are many apartment buildings with stellar views and equally stellar prices. “A two bedroom apartment in Macquarie Street that was not waterfront, but overlooked Circular Quay sold earlier this year for 3,050,000 Australian dollars,” said Harris. The 2013 median house price in Vaucluse is A$3.9 million, while in Hunters Hill it is around A$1.1 million. In Point Piper, where there are huge estates, the median price is $19.8 million. The rent for a two-bedroom flat in Vaucluse is A$2,290 a month or up to A$3,200 a month if it has a view of the water. The average monthly rent in Point Piper it is A$3,000, and A$1,800 in Hunters Hill.

  • The Beast: magazine covering Sydney’s beaches and eastern suburbs

San Francisco
The City on the Bay sits on a peninsula with the Pacific Ocean on one side and San Francisco Bay on the other. The Golden Gate Bridge soars across the mouth of the bay, connecting the city to Marin County, while the Bay Bridge connects to Oakland in the east. From the sea lions sunning themselves on the pilings at Fisherman’s Wharf to swimmers and strollers taking advantages of the many parks and promenades, life in this city is centred on the water. The many hills have astonishing views of the blue bay, skyline, and on some days, the fog rolling in. “Home buyers in San Francisco are willing to pay top dollar to have a glimpse of stunning vistas in neighbourhoods perched high atop the city,” said Betty Taisch, the San Francisco Association of Realtors president elect.

The Marina District, close to the Presidio and Fisherman’s Wharf, has access to waterfront activities such as swimming and sailing and the Aquatic Park Historic District, as do nearby Russian Hill and Presidio Heights . Many properties in these neighbourhoods have classic Victorian architecture, with views of the bay and the Golden Gate Bridge. The median price for a single-family home in the Marina is $4.15 million, while the median price for a condo is around $1.16 million. A rental apartment in the Marina starts at around $4,500 a month. In Russian Hill, the median price for a house is $2.5 million and rents start around $3,000 a month. To the east, the new and up-and-coming neighbourhoods of Mission Bay and South Beach are vibrant and walkable. A condo in Mission Bay starts around $1.5 million and rents start $3,500. In the west of the city, Outer Sunset and Outer Richmond have great access to Ocean Beach, a wide sandy expanse on the Pacific Ocean. The average house price is $856,000 and rents start around $2,800.

  • Live SOMA: news and goings-on around the South of Market neighbourhood