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The World’s Most Expensive Cities

Buzz Poole
02/21/2012 - 00:00

I’m not at all surprised by the findings of The Economist Intelligence Unit, ranking Zurich, Switzerland, as the world’s most expensive city to live in. A couple of years ago, my wife and I spent several weeks in Granada, Spain. Reluctant to return home when in fact it was time to head home, we took the long way, stealing away a few days in Madrid and then heading to Besançon, France, to visit friends. After a few days touring the walled city, catching up with our friends (whom we’d met in Argentina years earlier) and eating amazing food (including an outrageous truck-stop lunch, replete with fresh snails, head cheese, steak cooked to order, an entire cheese buffet and wine and beer off taps) we really did have to go home. We’d booked our return flight knowing that we were going to visit our friends in France and the best deal we found was out of Zurich. So after a quick tour through Bordeaux, our friends dropped us off at a train station where we waited for the next train to Switzerland.

 

Thinking that in a major European city it would be easy to find a reasonably priced hotel room, we stalled on booking one until right before we left Spain. Big mistake. We’re not huge spenders, but we’re also not misers. We were floored by the cost of Zurich hotels. The room we finally chose was in a corporate park – all new buildings, very few people and nothing very special. There was nothing awful about the hotel other than the room rate. For what we paid, anywhere else in the world we could have been living the high life. That night, we also ate the most expensive dinner of mediocre Thai food. When we got back to the room we actually asked Google: Why is Zurich so expensive?

The Swiss franc is the primary reason; it is a currency that has continued to strengthen in these years of dicey economic stability. It is also true to say that we only had time, and inclination, to see a very small part of the city. But even the next day, as we looked for a cheap breakfast in a train station, we could not get over the strength of the franc as we converted the cost of coffee and croissants to euros and dollars.

The Economist explains that, “[t]he index measures the cost of an expatriate lifestyle in over 130 cities using a weighted average of the prices of 160 products and services,” so these numbers don’t correlate to cost of living standards for locals. But it’s fun to compare your own travel spending experiences with these rankings.

Which cities have drained your wallet?

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