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8 European hotspots expats want to call home

Housing is near the top of every expat’s to-do list when relocating abroad. Whether for a month, a year, or a lifetime, we all need to put a roof over our heads -- and hopefully for a price we can afford and through a process that is as painless as possible.

8 European hotspots expats want to call home
Photo: archideaphoto/Depositphotos

After all, choosing to build a life in a new country and city is complicated enough!

Knowing that savvy expats do a lot of their house hunting online, we turned to Nestpick, a furnished apartment aggregator that covers 30 cities across Europe, for insights on where in Europe expats are finding furnished rental apartments online.

What better indicator of expat housing hotspots in Europe than the users of one of the continent’s most popular online apartment comparison services?

Nestpick scans thousands of apartments from various partner websites, giving expat users a ‘one-stop-shop’ featuring the best selection of furnished apartments and rooms. Plus, all the listings are in English, and securing a contract only takes a few clicks. 

So which cities in Europe are teaming with expat apartment-hunters? Have a look at the list below — some of the finalists may surprise you.

Berlin

Photo: Marek Heise Fotografie/Wikimedia Commons

Artists, musicians, writers, and all sorts of creative types have been flocking to Berlin in recent years. And it’s easy to see why. Firstly, it’s affordable. Rent and general living costs are relatively cheap compared to other capitals in western Europe.

But more than that, it’s a city brimming with culture and history. Ever since the wall came down, Berlin has been in a constant state of evolution, and now boasts a vibrant art scene and plenty of trendy restaurants and bars — and the Berlin startup scene is also booming. Expats also rave about the city’s numerous parks, forests and beaches – which offer a welcome contrast to Berlin’s more bohemian neighbourhoods. The German capital attracts new residents from all over the world, giving the city a distinctly international feel with an ever-growing expat community.

Rotterdam

Photo: Der Schmitzi/Wikimedia Commons

Rotterdam may not be the first city that comes to mind when you think of the Netherlands. Indeed, the lively port town suffers from ‘younger sibling syndrome’ in the shadow of the more well-known Amsterdam. But make no mistake, Rotterdam is just as cool (it’s even home to a neighbourhood named ‘Cool’).

Heavily bombed during World War II, Rotterdam now boasts plenty of beautiful modern architecture; and sculptures by the likes of Picasso and Rodin decorate the city. In terms of food, the cuisine on offer – local and international – is exquisite.

Milan

Photo: anpalcacios/Flickr

Considered by many to be the fashion capital of the world, Milan is also the birthplace of the classic negroni cocktail, and home to the spectacular Duomo cathedral. And as Italy's financial capital, Milan attracts expats with high-flying careers looking to add and Italian twist — as well as those simply looking for an excuse to live in one of Europe’s most glamorous cities.  

While the cost of living may be high, salaries usually manage to keep pace. And what’s more, Milan is also a bustling student town, home to some of Italy’s larger universities. So whether you prefer the swank city centre or the more artsy Navigli neighbourhood, Milan has something that appeals to expats of all stripes (especially those boasting the iconic stripes of the town’s two main football clubs, AC Milan and Inter Milan).

Lyon

Photo: reginaspics/Pixabay

France’s second city certainly has a lot going for it. While it often gets overlooked, expats who give it a chance are very glad they did. The cost of living, firstly, is a mere fraction of that in Paris. And with nearly 100 Michelin starred chefs in the region, there’s no shortage of fantastic food to sample.

Lyon is also home to both modern and ancient architecture – including the Historic Site of Lyon, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, which features Vieux Lyon, the city’s oldest district and the Roman ruins at Fourvière

Expats also enjoy Lyon’s closeness to the wine producing region of Beaujolais, as well as its proximity to the Alps. When you add it all up, Lyon really has the best of everything France has to offer: great food, amazing history, and access to nature.

Barcelona

Photo: Andrew E. Larsen/Flickr

As Spain’s second-largest city and the capital of the Catalonia region, Barcelona has something for everyone — whether you’re a beach bum, football fanatic, or budding entrepreneur.

Expats can’t help but be drawn to the buzz of Barcelona and its heady mix of sun, tapas, and impressive architecture from Gothic to Gaudi. It’s no wonder Barcelona often tops expat happiness surveys.

The city also boasts a bike rental scheme, making getting around the city a breeze. Barcelona is also gaining a reputation as a startup hub, making it a popular destination for expat creatives and techies.

Paris

Photo: Moyan Brenn/Wikimedia Commons

We’ve all heard that Paris is truly is one of a kind. Few, if any cities, offer such an intoxicating combination of history, beauty, and energy. No wonder it’s popular with expats from all over the world. Its pace of life may be slower than that of New York or London – but who can say no to leisurely lunches and the splendours of the city’s cafe culture?

Sure, flat rentals in Paris may be a bit pricier than other European capitals, but with so many expats, students, and tourists flocking to the City of Lights, you have to be ready to pay a little more (although you'll still probably pay less than you would in London or Amsterdam).

Besides, there's also something inherently romantic about a life in Paris: the small cobbled back streets, the grand architecture have long attracted…artists, writers, and intellectuals.  The city’s charm, coupled with a range of employment opportunities and connections that make it easy to explore the rest of Europe make Paris one of the continent’s top expat hotspots.

Dublin

Photo: LenDog64/Flickr

The Irish capital offers expats a plethora of cosy pubs, castles — not to mention employment options at big name tech firms like Google, Twitter, Facebook, and Amazon. It doesn’t take long to embrace the city’s pub culture and soon adopt the philosophy of ‘everything can be fixed by a pint’.

Founded by the Vikings (also expats!) in 988 A.D., Dublin is now home to about 1.8 million residents — about 40 percent of Ireland’s population — and has seen a steady inflow of expats in recent years, making it a surprisingly international city.

As a result, rental apartments are in high demand, meaning prices may be higher than you’d expect — especially in more upmarket areas near the city centre.

Rome

Photo: DomyD/Pixabay

Rome wasn’t built in a day, but expats will find themselves hooked on the city’s energy in a fraction of that time. The ancient historical capital of Italy is truly enchanting and never ceases to awe. Of course, Rome is also a bustling, modern European capital with all of the cultural and career opportunities that come with it. The beautiful Mediterranean climate makes dining al fresco in any of Rome’s famed piazzas a delight. And the ruin-filled city can make every day feel like an adventure.

The “Eternal City” boasts a range of neighbourhoods, all with distinct flavours – from the hipster haven of Trastevere to the more upscale Prati. And while Rome’s brisk tourist trade can make some things pricier than you’d expect, housing prices are generally cheaper than in other major cities – something that makes expats rejoice. Va bene!

Click here to find your own furnished apartment with Nestpick

This article was produced by The Local’s Client Studio and sponsored by Nestpick.

HOUSING

‘Housing is a human right’: Rent activists step up pressure ahead of German elections

Housing campaigners from across Germany have banded together ahead of the September elections to demand an immediate rent freeze and affordable housing for all.

'Housing is a human right': Rent activists step up pressure ahead of German elections
People protesting for Deutsche Wohnen & Co. enteignen at a demo in Berlin on August 21st. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Christoph Soede

In a demonstration taking place in the German capital on September 11th, 2021, numerous campaign groups will take to the streets, among them the Berlin-based Expropriate Deutsche Wohnen & Co. campaign, the national Rent Freeze campaign and the Mannheim-based Action Alliance Against Desperation and Rent Madness. 

They are demanding a national rent freeze for the next six years to halt rising rents, along with a focus on building more affordable homes and the transfer of property from private landlords into state hands.

“With this rents demonstration, we’re protesting against the massive, persistent pressure that renters are facing in the whole of Germany,” campaigners said in a statement announcing the upcoming protest.

“Whether it’s Frankfurt, Dresden, Munich, Leipzig, Berlin, Hamburg or Cologne, rents are incessantly rising or have already reached unreasonable levels – und not just in the big cities.

“In many places, the availability of affordable living space has sunk dramatically for those entering a new housing contract. Homelessness is rising further and with it, the number of people who live on the streets without any shelter at all.” 

Sharp rise in rents

Of all the cities in Germany, Berlin has by far the fastest rising rents: a recent study by housing portal Immowelt found that asking rents in the capital have soared by more than 40 percent over the past five years alone.

READ ALSO: COMPARE: The cities in Germany with the fastest-rising rents

However, the same study also found that middle-sized German cities like Heidelberg and Kaiserslautern were experiencing significant rent hikes over the same period, while the country’s priciest cities like Munich and Stuttgart continued to see rents go up – though not quite as steeply as in previous years.


Not just Berlin: Medium-sized cities such as Heidelberg have seen steep rises in rents over the past half a decade. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Uwe Anspach

As Germany prepares to head to the polls on September 26th in both the federal and a number of state elections, the campaign is aiming to step up pressure on the next government to embark on a “radical change of course” in the country’s housing policy. 

READ ALSO: Election 2021: How do Germany’s political parties want to tackle rising rents?

In Berlin, people with German citizenship will also be given a vote in a referendum on whether the state government should buy out thousands of flats owned by for-profit landlords with 3,000 or more properties – including Vonovia and Deutsche Wohnen – in order to better control rents and living standards.

“On September 26th, Berliners have a unique, historical chance to stand up against the selling off of our cities,” Rouzbeh Tehari, spokesman for the Expropriate Deutsche Wohnen & Co. campaign, told The Local.

“The referendum to nationalise large property firms offers the opportunity to remove hundreds of thousands of apartments from capitalist speculation and manage them as social housing.”

READ ALSO: Berlin to vote on radical bid to combat housing crisis

Even if the referendum passes, however, the campaign expects to face a fierce battle with the newly elected Berlin Senate to see the policy put into law. 

“We won’t stop after the vote,” Tehari explained. “We know we’re facing strong opposition and it will be difficult to get it implemented.” 


A ‘yes’ poster for the referendum being put up in Berlin. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Christophe Gateau

Either way, the success of the campaign – which managed to collect well over the 170,000 petition signatures needed to call a referendum – will have sent a strong message to the venture capitalists that speculating on Berlin housing is a “high risk” strategy, he said.  

A national rent cap?

The national Rent Freeze campaign, one of the key activist groups involved in Saturday’s demo, is calling for a new six-year rental cap – but says it must be done on a national level.

Earlier this year, attempts to impose a six-year rent freeze in Munich and Berlin were both rejected by Germany’s Constitutional Court on the basis that such as move couldn’t be done on a state or regional level.

In the case of Berlin, the rent cap had been in place since 2018, but was removed after the court found the law to be unconstitutional.

A tweet from the ‘Prevent Forced Evictions’ campaign ahead of the demo on Saturday reads: “According to a new study, a national rent cap is possible. The only thing missing is the political will.” 

At the time, renters were dealt a double blow as the court ruled that landlords also had the right to reclaim back-dated rent for the entire duration of the cap – leading some tenants to be presented with bills amounting to thousands of euros. 

READ ALSO: 

But the national Rent Freeze campaign, which started in Bavaria, has now amassed support from around 140 other organisations and activist groups, and is gaining momentum ahead of the elections.

“Many tenants are desperate,” said Matthias Weinzierl of the Rent Freeze campaign. “They’re legitimately afraid of losing their homes because rents continue to rise and Covid-19 hasn’t changed a thing. 

“That’s why we’re calling for a national six-year rent freeze now, which must be brought in directly after the new government has been elected. Such a rent freeze would be an acute help for tenants – and it’s also urgently needed.” 

‘Existential threat’

The date of the demo is the national Day of the Homeless, and was selected to highlight what campaigners see as the real threat of the housing crisis.

“In many places, high rents are becoming a genuine poverty risk and loss of housing is becoming an existential threat,” said Ulrich Schneider, CEO of the Parity Welfare Association, which is also supporting the demo.


People sleeping rough in Berlin in February 2021. Campaigners believe the housing crisis and homelessness are closely linked. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Kay Nietfeld

“It’s completely unreasonable to force single parents, people with disabilities or those in need of care, for example, to give up their homes and lose their entire social environment.” 

The protest on Saturday has also received support from the National Working Group for Help for the Homeless (BAGWH), who have linked unaffordable rents to a rise in the number of employed people losing their homes. 

In one recent study, BAGWH found that 15 percent of people classified as ‘homeless’ are currently employed – suggesting that rents in Germany are now outstripping wages, especially for lower earners.

Commenting on the findings, Werena Rosenke, CEO of BAGWH, said that the figures were “proof of the precarious living conditions in which many people find themselves in this country and the trends that are emerging in our society”. 

Any new government elected after September 26th must face this issue head on, she added. 

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