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Best Neighbourhoods For Something Completely Different

Trying to shake off the shackles of business as usual? Fed up with making do with more of the same? Want to live somewhere where the climate, atmosphere, culture or economics matches your personality exactly? Maybe this year is the year to move to your own personal paradise.

Whether you’re a green, a bike geek, a loner, a hipster or a heat seeker here are our top five alternative destinations for relocation in 2014.

The greenest: Reykjavik, Iceland

While most of the world is still struggling to come to grips with the reality of climate change and resource depletion some cities are stealing a march on becoming sustainable. With a population of just 115,000 Reykjavik isn’t the largest of them but has gone the furthest. 100% of the city’s energy is now generated by renewables and, because it costs so much to ship petrol to Iceland, the city is also making efforts to get all vehicles running on hydrogen.

But is moving to Iceland a realistic option for those fed up of failed attempts to get their own neighbourhood to go green? Apparently so. Citizens of the European Economic Area (the EU plus Liechtenstein and Norway) are entitled to permanent residence status in Iceland after a stay of six months. Unemployment is a very low 4.6%, it’s one of the most egalitarian countries in the world and most Icelanders speak fluent English.

It isn’t as cold as you might imagine either: average winter low temperatures are about the same as in New York though an average of just 20 hours of sunshine in January might be enough to put some off.

The hippest: Portland, Oregon

The international centre of hipsterdom, like the earth’s magnetic field, is in constant flux. At various times it’s been located in Hoxton, Williamsburg and Silver Lake. Right now though the spiritual home of hipsters all over the world is the unlikely city, population 600,000, located right across the US-Canadian border from Vancouver.

Why unlikely? Well, it’s not a major world city, where hipsters normally like to congregate so they can check in at the latest coolest place. And it’s not a major media hub, so you’ll be less likely to find work in an advertising agency or doing freelance user-experience design.

But before you get the mistaken impression that Portland isn’t hip at all consider the large number of organic food stores, a music scene that’s been described by the New York Times as one of the most exciting in America, a fiercely defended sense of free speech and the promotion to religion status of both artisanal coffee and craft beer. It’s also our highest ranked city for quality of life in the United States.

The remotest: Barrow, Alaska

If you’re really looking to get away from it all this is for you. While it may not be the remotest habitable spot on earth (try Tristan da Cunha in the South Atlantic) it is the most remote city.

The northernmost city in the US, Barrow has a population of just over 4,000 who make their living from providing services to the oil industry, arts and crafts and by supplementing the expensive imported food with locally caught fish, seal, caribou and even whale meat.

There’s a price to pay for the peace and quiet though. As well as contending against temperatures which can drop as low as -47 °C the Alaskan city also experiences complete darkness for around two months of the year: the sun sets in November and it doesn’t rise again until some time in January. This made it the perfect setting for the vampire movie 30 Days of Night. (You’d be well advised to take quite a few DVDs with you when moving to Barrow, but probably not that one.)

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The hottest: Bangkok, Thailand

The world’s hottest city according to the World Meteorological Organisation, clocking up an impressive annual average air temperature of 28 °C, Bangkok is the place to move if the cold is your biggest nemesis. While it experiences rainy and dry seasons (its part of the South Asian monsoon system) average temperatures never drop below 20 °C, so your bones will stay pleasantly warm all year round.

As a place to live Bangkok also looks pretty attractive. Despite the political turmoil of recent years it remains a major tourist destination and a major economic centre in the South Asia area. As such there are plenty of employment opportunities for appropriately qualified expats in commercial banks and financial institutions. The cost of living is much lower than in Western cities, crime is mostly restricted to petty theft and 99.5% of the population have healthcare coverage.

However, the city is currently in a state of emergency due to clashes between supporters of opposing political parties. As such it’s probably best to delay any decision until after the elections in February.

The most bicycle-friendly: Amsterdam, Netherlands

Topping the 2013 Copenhagenize Index, Amsterdam is a haven for bike lovers. Unlike other major European cities there’s a mainstream cycling culture, a widespread 30km/h speed limit, excellent facilities and infrastructure support and no demonisation of cyclists in the press (you won’t find any Jeremy Clarkson style figures here). And it’s completely devoid of thigh-killing hills.

Amsterdam is also a major financial centre in Europe where English speaking is almost ubiquitous so employment opportunities for escapees of London’s woeful cycle lanes are plentiful. It’s a city steeped in history and culture too: there’s a wealth of museums and galleries among the picturesque squares and canals.

The only drawback to Amsterdam is the difficulty of finding rented accommodation: demand far outsrips supply. Though the House Value Rating System, which awards each residence points for location, size, facilities and standard on a scale up to 142, does make it easy to judge relative value for money. And it’s still much cheaper than London or Paris.