Are you seeking a city environment that’s safe and secure?
Here are the top 20 safest cities in the world, from Europe’s most secure capitals to Asia’s lowest risk urban hubs – perfect for safety-minded emigrants.
And several of these picks might surprise you (they certainly surprised me!)
Read on to discover the safest cities in the world.
What’s the No 1 Safest City in the World?
Copenhagen is currently the safest city in the world, according to latest data from the Economist Intelligence Unit Safe Cities Index 2021.
How are the Safest Cities in the World Measured?
To write this article, I’m drawing on data from the Economist Intelligence Unit’s Safe Cities Index. This report analyzes key factors about safety in 60 global cities, including:
- Digital Security
- Health Security
- Infrastructure Security
- Personal Security
- Environmental Security
For this article, we’re focusing on the overall safety score, which the Economist’s research team calculates using aggregated scores from these five areas.
The most recent edition of the Safe Cities index came out in 2021.
They normally release a new one every two years, so I’ll update this article once the 2023 edition comes out.
But for now, let’s see which cities take the prize for safety and security – and what exactly makes them so safe.
I’ll also share personal experiences from my own travels to some of the cities featured here, plus highlight some hidden gems beyond what’s featured in the report.
Top 20 Safest Cities in the World 2023
#1. Copenhagen, Denmark
Copenhagen tops the list as the world’s safest city thanks to its low crime rates, high levels of trust, and strong community bonds.
As Denmark’s capital, Copenhagen benefits from the country’s social welfare policies and egalitarian culture.
Strong civic institutions like schools and social services nurture a sense of cohesion across the different neighborhoods.
What’s more, Denmark’s limited income inequality prevents the type of social exclusion that breeds crime in many other cities.
On the streets, most Copenhageners follow the unwritten rules of the Jante Law – modesty and looking out for others.
This creates an environment where residents feel comfortable walking alone late into the night.
While pickpocketing and non-violent crimes do exist, citizens can rely on Copenhagen’s responsible police force to maintain safety.
Surveillance cameras placed judiciously also help to deter opportunistic crimes.
The city also prioritizes people over cars in urban planning, with pedestrian zones and bike lanes keeping violent traffic accidents low.
Copenhagen sets an example for other cities that cultivating trust and community can make urban areas safer for all.
#2. Toronto, Canada
Canada’s largest city takes second place in this roundup, thanks to factors such as proactive policing, multicultural bonds, and social stability.
Toronto police use data-driven approaches to deploy officers where needed, while community initiatives that help to build trust between city residents and law enforcement officers.
With half its population foreign-born, Toronto celebrates diversity and inclusion.
The city actively fosters connections between cultures through events and public spaces.
This social cohesion provides a sense of belonging that helps to discourage marginalized groups from turning to crime.
While its size leads to some crime typical of major metro areas, Toronto’s stable economy and robust social services prevent more serious lawlessness.
Generous welfare programs mean fewer citizens fall into desperate poverty that breeds violence.
And Canada’s strong gun control laws largely keep violent weapons off the streets.
Toronto’s blend of compassionate policing, multiculturalism, and socioeconomic stability allow residents to feel at ease in this huge metropolis – setting a high bar for safety among the world’s mega-cities.
#3. Singapore, Singapore
With its ultra-low levels of violent crime, Singapore comes third on the list of safest cities in the world.
Singapore may be well-known for its tough penalties. But safety in this tiny city-state largely stems from a cultural mindset that values order and discipline.
Citizens monitor their neighborhoods and gently correct others who are engaging in antisocial behavior.
Community-led initiatives such as neighborhood watch groups also contribute to this culture of monitoring.
What’s more, advanced surveillance systems act as extra eyes on the ground. High police visibility deters crime, and community policing builds public trust in law enforcement.
Some may consider Singapore’s monitoring intrusive and penalties harsh.
Notably, Singapore takes a hardline stance on drugs – trafficking carries mandatory death sentences.
Even chewing gum is banned, partly to prevent petty vandalism.
But for citizens willing to trade some freedoms for security, Singapore’s blend of communal vigilance, technology and policing delivers a high level of safety.
#4. Sydney, Australia
Despite being Australia’s largest metropolis, Sydney feels like an easy-going beach town.
It also ranks among the world’s safest cities, especially regarding violent crime and women’s security.
For newcomers, Sydney’s oceanside walks feel secure even at night, thanks to street lighting, emergency phones and roving police patrols.
Alcohol-fueled fights do occur in nightlife districts, but Sydney’s drinking culture overall doesn’t breed widespread disorder in most parts of the city.
The problems are concentrated in a few nightlife hotspots, rather than being pervasive throughout the urban area.
For the most part, Sydney’s streets remain orderly even late at night.
The city’s female residents report feeling comfortable in bars and riding public transit solo.
Sydney isn’t without issues – lockout laws closing late nightspots receive blame for increased violence in surrounding areas.
But visitors staying aware of rowdier zones will enjoy the harbor city feeling far safer than in many other global metropolises.
#5. Tokyo, Japan
With its neon-lit streets and 24/7 bustle, Tokyo may appear chaotic at first glance.
But Japan’s capital also has one of the world’s lowest crime rates, with violent offenses almost unheard of.
Tight-knit community bonds contribute to Tokyo’s high levels of safety.
Neighbors typically look out for each other and they don’t hesitate to gently enforce social norms where needed.
This works well because Japanese culture emphasizes collective responsibility and frowns upon individual misconduct that could disrupt group harmony.
While petty crimes like bicycle theft do occur, violent confrontations remain extremely rare in Tokyo.
Women in particular report feeling comfortable walking alone in Tokyo’s streets late at night.
Surveillance cameras provide an extra layer of security in train stations and other public areas.
Despite the high safety of its capital, Japan’s conformist culture has a darker side.
Social outliers and minorities still face a level of discrimination and exclusion that may get in the way of them feeling fully safe in public.
But for those willing to adhere to its social codes, Tokyo provides a tranquil urban retreat with uniquely low risks compared to other huge cities.
#6. Amsterdam, The Netherlands
With its well-known reputation for vice, Amsterdam may not seem the safest city.
But in fact, it ranks number six in the Safe Cities Index 2021.
Behind the red-light district is an urban oasis with low crime rates, including those for violent offenses.
Amsterdam’s strong social welfare policies prevent much of the exclusion and desperation that typically lead to crime.
Generous housing and health services ensure vulnerable populations remain integrated.
As a general rule, police officers interact respectfully with all groups, which has the effect of defusing tensions.
The city’s egalitarian culture also promotes safety. Tolerance for alternative lifestyles means that fewer groups face marginalization or abuse.
And the famous Dutch cycling culture creates an alert public presence on the streets.
Despite all this, a range of petty crimes like pickpocketing and bike theft do persist, especially around busy tourist centers.
Caution is still required regarding vehicle traffic along canals (especially if you’re an inexperienced cyclist).
In Amsterdam, residents and visitors alike can find open-mindedness and safety, free from much of the violence that’s common elsewhere.
#7. Wellington, New Zealand
Perched on the southern tip of New Zealand’s north island, Wellington has a good standard of safety and security for a small city.
Violent crime rates there remain well below similar urban metropolises, even with the city’s nightlife and alcohol culture.
With no fully segregated neighborhoods, Wellingtonians of different backgrounds can mingle freely. This social integration helps to reduce the marginalization that breeds criminality.
Wellington’s geographic isolation limits firearms and drug smuggling, keeping violent weapons from the streets.
The police maintain high engagement with minority groups to promote trust in law enforcement.
Despite these measures, the Wellington city center faces issues with drunken disorder and vandalism on weekend nights.
Petty crimes like theft may target tourists unfamiliar with the locale.
Overall though, Wellingtonians can enjoy the city’s festive atmosphere with relatively little concern for personal safety. A Kiwi attitude of friendliness and community creates a uniquely secure environment.
#8. Hong Kong, China
I spent a lot of time in Hong Kong, years ago. I remember feeling generally safe day and night (even when visiting ‘dodgy’ places like the notorious Chungking Mansions).
In fact, Hong Kong was once known as Asia’s safest metropolis.
But I haven’t been back for a while. And judging from what I’m reading online, it looks like things have changed.
Hong Kong’s stability has become more precarious in recent years amid growing mainland Chinese political influence.
As the city’s governance aligns more with Beijing, tensions simmer between Hong Kong residents and pro-China elites and police.
Nonetheless, low levels of everyday street crime persist due to cultural norms, strict policing, and ongoing safety initiatives.
Violent assaults remain rare, burglaries low, and carrying lethal weapons brings harsh penalties. Surveillance cameras blanket key areas to deter offenses.
But critics argue that intensifying police crackdowns on dissent undermine citizens’ safety. Excessive force and arbitrary arrests of protestors have spurred outrage.
With pro-democracy spaces shrinking, those who challenge China’s grip on Hong Kong increasingly face persecution, surveillance and violence, especially from police and triad gangs.
#9. Melbourne, Australia
Melbourne maintains relatively low crime rates for a fast-growing metropolis.
Assaults, robberies and other offenses remain below levels in comparable cities, but have ticked upward recently.
Strong civic engagement contributes to safety. Melbourne residents participate in community programs and see checking on neighbors as part of daily life.
Police focus on community-oriented policing to build public trust.
Late nights see increased fights and disorder as alcohol fuels violence among young men.
Yet most Melbourne residents feel secure walking the city streets at night. Extensive lighting, emergency phones and rideshare services all help to boost confidence.
On the negative side, some women in Melbourne report facing verbal abuse and street harassment, especially at night.
There are also concerns about racial profiling of minorities by police, which risk damaging community relations.
While it’s not without problems, Melbourne provides increased urban safety through civic participation, policing strategies and infrastructure.
The safety situation in Melbourne could be improved further by addressing the city’s binge drinking culture.
#10. Stockholm, Sweden
With its expansive public spaces and low crime rates, Stockholm offers exceptional urban safety.
Sweden’s capital benefits from generous social welfare policies that reduce poverty and integrate immigrants into communities.
Public areas like parks and plazas feel welcoming 24/7 thanks to thoughtful urban design and lighting.
Yet shootings have surged in recent years as organized gang and drug activity grows.
Critics argue that introducing more police patrols in vulnerable areas could help tackle this issue.
There have also been accusations of racial profiling, with officers targeting African and Middle Eastern minorities.
Sweden’s far-right party has exploited rising crime, complicating efforts to balance safety with civil liberties. Tensions simmer over immigration and inequality.
Despite this, Stockholm still offers unparalleled security among European capitals. Personally, I’m surprised that it only reaches 10th place on the Safe Cities Index.
#11. Barcelona, Spain
Barcelona now ranks among Europe’s more secure cities, coming in 11th place overall on the Safe Cities Index.
Violent crime in Barcelona has fallen dramatically since the 1980s. Terrorist incidents are infrequent but do occur, such as the 2017 attacks which killed 16 people.
Petty crimes like pickpocketing still frequently target unaware tourists, especially around Las Ramblas and other highly touristic areas.
Women report feeling relatively safe at night compared to other European cities, thanks to lighting, emergency phones and pedestrian traffic. But sexual harassment remains an issue in some nightlife areas.
Barcelona’s greatest threat may be exclusion, with rising housing costs displacing working-class residents.
Overall, through smarter policing and stronger community, Barcelona has transformed itself from a crime hub to a city where residents and walk freely.
#12. New York City, United States
Once synonymous with crime and danger, New York City now ranks among the safest cities in the world – a remarkable turnaround that few expected decades ago.
Violent crime has plunged since its peak in the 1970s and 80s. Today’s New York daily life has little of the sense of menace portrayed in gritty films from that era.
I lived in Lower Manhattan for around five months in the fall and winter of 2015, in an apartment on Fifth Avenue and Washington Square North.
During those months, I never felt particularly unsafe while going about my daily business. I walked home through Washington Square Park many nights and never felt threatened. Even the few dodgy characters around seemed harmless.
Overall, I’d compare safety in New York City to that of London.
Yes, incidents can happen if you’re unlucky. But generally, the CCTV is good, places are well-lit, and there’s a tangible police presence.
What’s more, New York City has some of the strictest gun control laws in the country.
This has curbed much of the previous firearms violence, although some weapons still flow in from other states.
Non-violent offenses like theft persist, often targeting tourists unfamiliar with the surroundings.
But violent confrontations have become increasingly rare, a situation helped by the weakening of large gangs.
Women report feeling comfortable walking alone at night in most areas, thanks to extensive street lighting and active nightlife – although catcalling and groping by intoxicated men can be an issue in some areas.
#13. Frankfurt, Germany
Frankfurt today ranks among Germany’s most secure major cities, coming in 13th place among the safest cities in the world.
Though non-violent crimes like pickpocketing still affect Frankfurt’s tourists, violent offenses have become increasingly rare.
In the 1970s and 80s, Frankfurt suffered high rates of drug trafficking and racial violence.
Today violent extremism remains a concern, but attacks are infrequent. Strict German gun laws make firearms difficult to access illegally.
Racially motivated assaults still occur, typically targeting immigrant groups. Ensuring lasting safety requires continuing to integrate Frankfurt’s diverse populations.
Women report feeling comfortable walking alone at night in Frankfurt, due to extensive security cameras and active nightlife.
Well-lit pedestrian zones create safe havens from any potential street harassment.
Thanks to sustained effort Frankfurt has transformed into an urban oasis relatively free of serious crime, making the city more attractive for newcomers.
#14. Washington D.C., United States
As the U.S. capital, Washington D.C. faces unique security challenges.
Yet it ranks among America’s safer major cities.
Low-risk neighborhoods like Georgetown provide urban oases for residents.
Violent crime has dropped substantially since the crack epidemic of the 1980s and 90s, although gun violence persists in low-income areas as firearms flow in from weaker neighboring state laws.
Racial minorities still report frequent police harassment, and terrorist threats loom over high-profile federal sites.
The National Mall area feels quite secure for visitors thanks to robust policing.
But for newcomers, it’s wise to be cautious around poorly lit metro stops at night.
Bucking past trends, homicide rose in 2020 primarily affecting the Black community. Ongoing gentrification in Washington D.C. also threatens to displace and marginalize at-risk citizens.
#15. London, United Kingdom
As one of the world’s most diverse global cities, London contends with heightened security risks.
Yet at the same time, it manages to be one of the world’s safer capitals.
Violent crime in London has declined overall since the early 2000s, but challenges remain – including terror threats.
Deadly terror attacks over the past decade have targeted public spaces like London Bridge. Ongoing vigilance and social integration are needed to prevent radicalization.
UK gun laws limit access to firearms, but knife crime is prevalent in certain boroughs.
Keep in mind that safety varies widely across London’s boroughs. Poverty brews crime in marginalized zones, while gentrification displaces some communities.
Pickpocketing affects tourists in crowded parts of London, although most central areas in London feel secure thanks to widespread CCTV networks and robust policing.
I lived in London for almost two years and rarely felt unsafe.
But I vividly remember the time when my phone was snatched from my hands by thieves on a motorbike, while I was walking between the central locations of Old Street and Angel.
What’s more, Brexit has created new uncertainties, as London relies heavily on EU citizens for public services.
Limiting immigration could impact policing and the labor market in ways that exacerbate crime and inequality.
If I wanted maximum safety in the UK, London wouldn’t be my top pick.
Instead, I’d choose a smaller city, such as Bath, York, or Cambridge.
#16. San Francisco, United States
San Francisco contends with rising property crime and social issues, yet maintains relatively low violent crime rates compared to other major U.S. cities.
In recent decades, the city has grappled with increases in homelessness, open drug use, and vehicle break-ins affecting tourists.
Gun violence remains rare thanks to California’s strict firearm laws. Homicide levels fluctuate but are concentrated in a few distressed neighborhoods, largely sparing most residential districts.
Racial disparities in policing persist but are improving gradually.
Women report feeling fairly safe walking alone at night in areas like Lower Nob Hill and Pacific Heights. However, some transit stations and the Tenderloin district are riskier after dark.
As an expat destination, San Francisco offers progressive legal protections in areas like LGBTQ safety. But the cost of living poses challenges, potentially fueling a property crime wave.
For newcomers, common street smarts like avoiding leaving valuables in cars are a must.
Personally I’m surprised that the Safe Cities Index places San Francisco above the cities of Zurich and Osaka – as both Switzerland and Japan are countries famous for their safety.
#17. Osaka, Japan
Osaka, Japan’s third-largest city, ranked 17th on the Safe Cities Index 2021.
Street crime in Osaka is low, especially when compared to other cities of its size.
Petty crimes like pickpocketing aren’t common, but can sometimes occur in crowded areas and tourist spots.
Tourists are occasionally targeted for scams or overcharging, particularly in nightlife districts.
These incidents are generally non-violent and you can usually avoid them with vigilance and common sense.
Osaka is generally considered safe for women, with sexual harassment levels relatively low compared to other global cities.
But it’s worth noting that “women-only” cars are available on many trains during the evening hours, indicating that concerns about harassment do exist.
Japan has some of the strictest gun laws in the world.
Ownership of firearms is highly restricted, and gun-related crimes are extremely rare. This contributes to Osaka’s overall safety profile.
Organized crime groups, known as Yakuza, do operate in Osaka, but their activities aren’t generally aimed at ordinary citizens or tourists.
The Yakuza are more involved in business and political spheres, and violent confrontations are usually limited to disputes between rival factions.
Over the last decade, Osaka hasn’t experienced any significant terrorism incidents.
Japan as a whole has been largely insulated from the global rise in terrorism, partly due to its stringent immigration controls and surveillance measures.
Racial violence is uncommon in Osaka, although discrimination or microaggressions towards non-Japanese individuals can occur.
It’s essential to be aware of this, especially if you’re considering moving to Osaka as an expat.
#18. Los Angeles, United States
Los Angeles, the second-largest city in the United States, ranks 18th on the Safe Cities Index 2021.
Despite its glamorous reputation, the city has a complex safety landscape that varies by neighborhood and social factors.
Women in Los Angeles generally report feeling safe, especially in well-lit and populated areas. But certain neighborhoods and public transit routes can be less secure, particularly at night.
California’s strict gun laws contribute to lower rates of gun violence in Los Angeles compared to other U.S. cities.
However, gun-related incidents still occur and tend to be concentrated in specific areas.
Tourists may encounter scams or overcharging, especially in popular tourist areas.
Street crime, such as petty theft and pickpocketing, is more prevalent in tourist-heavy and low-income areas.
Violent crime does exist but it’s not widespread across the city.
Los Angeles faces a significant homelessness crisis, particularly in areas like Skid Row. While this hasn’t led to a surge in violent crime, it does contribute to property crimes and social issues.
Los Angeles offers a mixed bag when it comes to safety. While it ranks relatively high on the Safe Cities Index, localized issues like homelessness and street crime do require attention.
For both tourists and potential expats, awareness and vigilance are key to navigating the city’s complex safety landscape.
#19. Zurich, Switzerland
Zurich, Switzerland’s largest city, consistently ranks high on various global safety indexes, reflecting its well-deserved reputation for being a secure and orderly city.
Street crime is uncommon, although petty crimes like pickpocketing can occur in crowded tourist spots. Violent crime is exceedingly rare, making Zurich one of the safest cities in terms of personal safety.
Tourists are rarely targeted for scams or overcharging. Most visitors find Zurich to be very tourist-friendly, both in terms of safety and hospitality.
Women in Zurich generally feel safe walking alone, even at night, thanks to well-lit streets and a strong police presence. Public transport is also considered safe, with minimal reports of harassment.
Switzerland has liberal gun laws compared to other European countries, but gun-related crimes are rare in Zurich. The Swiss culture of responsible gun ownership plays a key role in this.
Zurich has been largely free from terrorism incidents in recent years, partly due to Switzerland’s neutral stance in international conflicts and effective intelligence operations.
Gang activity is virtually non-existent in Zurich, and organized crime is not a significant concern for the general public.
Homelessness is relatively low, and social welfare programs are robust, minimizing the impact on public safety.
Instances of racial violence are rare but not unheard of. Zurich is a multicultural city, but like any urban area, it is not entirely free from discrimination or racial tensions.
Zurich has maintained its high safety standards over the years, thanks to effective policing and social welfare systems. The city continues to invest in public safety measures, including surveillance and community outreach programs.
#20. Chicago, United States
Chicago, ranking 20th on the Safe Cities Index 2021, is full of nuances when it comes to safety.
Petty crimes like pickpocketing are more common in tourist areas and economically disadvantaged neighborhoods.
Tourists should be cautious of scams or inflated prices, particularly in high-traffic areas. These issues are usually non-violent and can be sidestepped with due diligence.
Violent crime such as rape or murder is largely confined to certain districts, such as Englewoods or Back of the Yards. Tourists and potential expats should avoid such neighborhoods.
Many areas in Chicago are considered safe for women, especially during daylight hours. But caution is recommended in certain districts and late at night.
Despite Illinois’ stringent gun control measures, Chicago grapples with a persistent issue of gun violence, particularly in specific areas.
Gang-related activities are usually localized in certain communities. These groups rarely target tourists or the general populace but they do contribute to crime statistics.
Chicago’s safety levels have seen ebbs and flows over the decades. While there have been successful community engagement and policing efforts, issues like gun violence and social inequality remain stubborn challenges.
Chicago’s position on the Safe Cities Index indicates a relative degree of safety, but localized problems like gun violence and social disparities persist.
Personal reflections on the safest cities in the world
I’ve traveled to over 50 countries and loads of cities.
Reflecting on this list, some of the Economist’s choices surprised me.
First, I’d be extremely careful in any US city that doesn’t have the absolute strictest of gun laws.
Gun ownership is legal both in Chicago and Los Angeles. New York is more strict, enforcing a permit system for owning guns.
For that reason alone, I’d feel safer in any European city than in most places in the US.
On the other hand, the only places I’ve ever experienced street crime are in London and Brussels (the latter makes it into the top 30 safest cities in the world). I was robbed in London and attempted robbed in Brussels.
What’s more, I’ve travelled a lot in Asia, and I’ve always felt extremely safe in large cities such as Beijing, Seoul, Hong Kong, and Shanghai.
Street harassment feels almost non-existent there, most areas are clean and well lit, and most sections of the local population aren’t typically aggressive towards tourists or foreigners.
I’m also surprised to see US cities such as Chicago and Los Angeles outranking cities such as Lisbon.
I’ve lived in the Portuguese capital for three years, and it’s one of the absolute safest cities I’ve ever been in. I walk around everywhere at night without any fear whatsoever. So do my friends, both male and female.
So the real lesson here is that all indexes are flawed. While their data offers a useful indicator, they can never encapsulate every possible aspect of a place. Safety is a subjective thing, often dependent on the luck of the draw.
Quantitative metrics such as the Safe Cities Index provide certain insights. But they can’t capture the nuanced experiences of different groups. Ultimately, safety remains subjective.
European cities like Copenhagen, Amsterdam and Barcelona set positive examples by fostering inclusive communities. But challenges – such as racial profiling, extremism, and wealth gaps – persist even in the world’s top-ranked safe havens.
In Asia, Singapore’s authoritarian monitoring ensures public order but limits dissent. Hong Kong shows us that law enforcement itself can threaten public safety when wielded by repressive regimes.
In the U.S., New York and San Francisco grapple with inequality and homelessness while maintaining relatively low levels of violent crime, despite the country’s notoriously liberal stance on guns.
For potential expats seeking a secure new home, or tourists seeking welcoming destinations, I hope these insights provide a starting point for choosing your next stop.