Best European City to live in your 20s vs 30s

Having spent most of my twenties living in two of Europe’s capitals (London and Madrid) I now find myself at 30 re-evaluating what I look for in a city.
In my 20s I was more focused on meeting new people, surrounding myself with exciting opportunities, discovering new places to eat, cultural activities, social events. I enjoyed the vibrant night-life and buzz of a big city.
Trafalgar Square, London. Photo by @elegantglowphotography
In London I felt like I was right in the middle of what was happening globally. I loved how cosmopolitan it was, how people instead of identifying themselves primarily by their nationality, where first and foremost – Londoners. I loved being able to eat the cuisine of any country in one city. I was lucky enough to live in London for the 2012 Olympic games. I could spend my weekends in some of the best museums in the world (Natural History Museum), had work drinks in some of the most iconic buildings in ‘the City’ and partied with some amazing people in some awesome places to incredible music (Guanabara).
La Latina, Madrid. Photo by @pattolmo
Madrid was a completely new adventure – learning a new language and a new culture. Madrid has a very different vibe to London; more laid-back, more friendly, more homely in a way. But it is still a capital city. I wanted to completely immerse myself in la vida española. It changed me as a person more than I could have ever imagined. YOLO was my philosophy for those first few years in Madrid. I found myself living much more in the present – easier when it’s glorious sunshine and people prioritise social time. I discovered new food, places, people. I met some amazing friends who will be in my life forever and then I also met the man I plan to spend the rest of my life with.
So what’s changed? I still want culture, opportunities, somewhere which feels connected to the rest of the world. Having lived in Madrid and learned a new way of life, I would also like somewhere where people aren’t overly competitive, where there is a healthier ‘work-life’ balance, and where the sunny weather creates an outdoor culture. But I can do without hours on the underground / metro, the crazy nights out, the overly busy streets. I’d like to feel closer to nature.
Málaga, Spain.
So what’s the answer? I know that I still need to live in a city but perhaps not a capital city. Having just spent a few days in Malaga it seems to offer many of the things I’m looking for but I still haven’t decided. I feel very different to how I felt when decided to move to Madrid. There is more riding on this decision. It’s not just about me this time, it’s about us. Not just where we’ll both be happy but also where we can imagine bringing up our own family but also feeling connected to our parents, siblings, relatives, friends. There will be some important conversations happening in the next few months and ultimately a decision but even then it doesn’t have to be final. We are so lucky to live in a time where people can move around, change their minds, try things out. I’m excited about our next step, wherever that may be.
There are so many lists of top European cities but I’m creating my own from my own experiences and tastes. As you’ll see, I tend to be drawn to the Mediterranean. Here are the places I would have liked to live in my 20s and could imagine myself living in my 30s.


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