London, Paris and Naberezhnyye Chelny: Analyzing results from my European cities quiz

Ian Fisher ― March 9, 2021 ― history

In October 2019, I published a geography quiz that challenges players to name as many cities, towns and villages in Europe as they can. In the year and a half since, the game has been played more than 100,000 times and yielded a large body of data about the relative fame and obscurity of European cities and the general public's knowledge of European geography. This post presents key findings from the analysis of this data.

The median player named 124 European cities, while the top 10% of players each named at least 364 cities. The city named by the most players was London, followed closely by Paris. For its size, Vaduz, Liechtenstein was the most surprisingly well-known city in Europe, Spárti, Greece (better known in English as Sparta) was the most surprisingly well-known city that is not a capital, and Tromsø, Norway was the most surprisingly well-known city that is not a capital and that has at least 50,000 inhabitants. Volzhskiy, Russia, a suburb of Volgograd of more than 300,000 people, was the most surprisingly obscure city. Valletta, Malta was the most forgotten national capital and Malta was the most forgotten country. Players from Serbia and Spain named the highest number of cities on average, while players from India, New Zealand and the United States named the lowest number.

Sasha Trubetskoy assisted with the statistical analysis.


The analysis was based on a dataset of 105,756 plays of my Europe cities quiz between October 2019 and February 2021. The dataset comprised every saved play of the quiz in that period, except for plays where fewer than 10 cities were named, or where the "Every country" option was used (allowing players to receive credit for multiple cities with a single guess). Unsaved plays were not included in the analysis as they are stored locally on each player's computer and I do not have access to them.

The IP address of the player was recorded for 41,203 plays (39%), and 41,164 of these were successfully geolocated using the GeoLite2 database.

The "popularity" of a city is the percentage of the total plays in which that city was named. The "expected popularity" of each city was calculated as a function of its population using a piecewise linear regression of the quiz results.

The code for the analysis can be viewed on GitHub.

Disclaimers: Most of this analysis tacitly assumes that every player named as many cities in Europe as they knew, but this assumption is sometimes wrong: some players don't name as many cities as they can, and some players name cities they don't know (whether by guessing randomly or by consulting external resources). IP geolocation can be inaccurate, and just because a player's IP address is in a country doesn't mean that the player is from that country. The population figures come largely from the GeoNames database and may differ from official figures, sometimes substantially.

Basic stats

The median player named 124 cities. 75% of players named at least 66 cities, and 25% of players named 219 cities or more. Table 1 lists every tenth percentile.

percentile score
90 364
80 252
70 195
60 154
50 (median) 124
40 100
30 77
20 55
10 34

Table 1: Scores by percentile, 10th to 90th

Table 2 shows that players in the 99th percentile named 947 cities or more.

percentile score
99 947
98 717
97 607
96 542
95 500
94 461
93 430
92 404
91 384

Table 2: Scores by percentile, 91st to 99th

The median player finished 26 minutes and 36 seconds after they started, while the longest play lasted 192 days from the time it was started to the time it was saved.1

What are the best-known cities in Europe?

The twenty best-known cities, by the percentage of players that named them, are shown in Table 3.

rank city percentage
1 London, United Kingdom 91.7%
2 Paris, France 90.9%
3 Berlin, Germany 89.2%
4 Madrid, Spain 88.4%
5 Rome, Italy 87.3%
6 Moscow, Russia 85.5%
7 Barcelona, Spain 83.4%
8 Dublin, Ireland 82.4%
9 Zagreb, Croatia 82.0%
10 Oslo, Norway 81.3%
11 Athens, Greece 80.8%
12 Lisbon, Portugal 80.8%
13 Amsterdam, Netherlands 80.0%
14 Warsaw, Poland 78.4%
15 Stockholm, Sweden 77.7%
16 Vienna, Austria 77.7%
17 Munich, Germany 77.0%
18 Milan, Italy 75.1%
19 Copenhagen, Denmark 74.5%
20 Helsinki, Finland 74.4%

Table 3: Best-known cities

London narrowly edges out Paris for the top spot, followed by a few other high-profile European capitals. The only non-capitals to make the top twenty are Barcelona, Munich and Milan, which, probably not coincidentally, are all home to internationally renowned soccer teams. The results for Zagreb, and possibly London, are somewhat inflated because they are the suggested cities in the search bar.

Table 4 lists the best-known city for each letter of the alphabet.

letter city percentage
A Athens, Greece 80.8%
B Berlin, Germany 89.2%
C Copenhagen, Denmark 74.5%
D Dublin, Ireland 82.4%
E Edinburgh, United Kingdom 63.5%
F Frankfurt am Main, Germany 62.0%
G Glasgow, United Kingdom 60.8%
H Helsinki, Finland 74.4%
I Istanbul, Turkey 59.9%
J Jena, Germany 9.6%
K Kyiv, Ukraine 74.0%
L London, United Kingdom 91.7%
M Madrid, Spain 88.4%
N Naples, Italy 64.0%
O Oslo, Norway 81.3%
P Paris, France 90.9%
Q Quimper, France 4.8%
R Rome, Italy 87.3%
S Stockholm, Sweden 77.7%
T Tallinn, Estonia 56.0%
U Utrecht, Netherlands 23.1%
V Vienna, Austria 77.7%
W Warsaw, Poland 78.4%
X Xánthi, Greece 1.7%
Y York, United Kingdom 35.4%
Z Zagreb, Croatia 82.0%

Table 4: Best-known cities by letter of the alphabet

Fifteen of these cities are not the largest of their letter by population:

Of the fifteen larger cities, nearly half (Chisinau, Dnipro, Nizhniy Novgorod, Odessa, Ufa, Yaroslavl, and Zaporizhia) are Eastern European cities that are relatively obscure despite their size. Five others (Amsterdam, Hamburg, Moscow, Saint Petersburg, and Turin) are near misses. Essen, a large German city in the Ruhr area, loses out to Edinburgh, well known as the capital of Scotland. Finally, Jerez de la Frontera, Spain and Queluz, Portugal undoubtedly fall behind simply because no European city beginning with a 'J' or 'Q' is particularly large, so population is less important than other factors.

What European cities are surprisingly well-known or surprisingly obscure?

By dividing a city's actual popularity by its expected popularity (see the "Methodology" section for the definition of expected popularity), we can identify cities that are "surprisingly well-known" for their population. Table 5 lists the top ten European cities by this metric.

rank city population popularity expected popularity
1 Vaduz, Liechtenstein 5,197 29.2% 0.0%
2 Valletta, Malta 6,794 21.5% 0.0%
3 Andorra la Vella, Andorra 20,430 47.7% 0.1%
4 Spárti, Greece 16,239 24.9% 0.1%
5 Kotor, Montenegro 5,345 5.3% 0.0%
6 Saint-Tropez, France 5,939 5.6% 0.0%
7 Monaco, Monaco 32,965 57.7% 0.3%
8 Wales, United Kingdom 5,956 5.2% 0.0%
9 Bled, Slovenia 5,181 3.6% 0.0%
10 Urbino, Italy 5,858 4.1% 0.0%

Table 5: Surprisingly well-known cities

Most of the surprisingly well-known cities fall into three categories: capitals (Vaduz, Valletta, Andorra la Vella, and Monaco), places of historical significance (Spárti [Sparta] and Urbino), and tourist destinations (Kotor, Saint-Tropez, and Bled, as well as Monaco). Wales makes the list either because people guessed it thinking of the country, or because it is well known for sharing the country's name.

All of the cities in Table 5 are exceedingly small. Excluding cities with fewer than 50,000 inhabitants gives us Table 6.

rank city population popularity expected popularity
1 Luxembourg, Luxembourg 76,684 58.0% 1.1%
2 Tromsø, Norway 52,436 17.4% 0.6%
3 Ajaccio, France 54,364 18.0% 0.6%
4 Reykjavík, Iceland 118,918 62.9% 2.2%
5 Calais, France 74,433 28.5% 1.0%
6 Pisa, Italy 77,007 30.1% 1.1%
7 Bern, Switzerland 121,631 60.5% 2.3%
8 Dunkerque, France 71,287 22.3% 1.0%
9 Cannes, France 70,011 21.4% 0.9%
10 Ródos, Greece 56,128 13.9% 0.6%

Table 6: Surprisingly well-known cities with 50,000 or more inhabitants

Three capitals (Luxembourg, Reykjavik, and Bern) make the list, as do several places of historical significance (Calais, Dunkerque [Dunkirk], and Ródos [Rhodes]) and tourist destinations (Pisa and Cannes). Tromsø is known for being one of the northernmost cities in the world.

From surprisingly well-known cities we now turn to the "surprisingly obscure" cities—those with the lowest ratio of actual to expected popularity—in Table 7. To limit the list to cities that were expected to have some degree of popularity, cities with an expected popularity of less than 10% have been included.

rank city population popularity expected popularity
1 Volzhskiy, Russia 323,293 0.3% 10.7%
2 Makiyivka, Ukraine 376,610 0.6% 12.8%
3 Naberezhnyye Chelny, Russia 509,870 1.2% 18.3%
4 Khmelnytskyi, Ukraine 398,346 1.2% 13.7%
5 Cheboksary, Russia 446,781 1.6% 15.7%
6 Izhevsk, Russia 631,038 2.9% 23.5%
7 Cherepovets, Russia 315,738 1.4% 10.4%
8 Lipetsk, Russia 515,655 2.7% 18.5%
9 Ulyanovsk, Russia 640,680 3.5% 23.9%
10 Kryvyi Rih, Ukraine 652,380 3.6% 24.4%

Table 7: Surprisingly obscure cities with at least 10% expected popularity

Volzhskiy, a large suburb of Volgograd, Russia, tops the list, and every other city in the top ten is also either in Russia or Ukraine. Some bias towards cities whose names are hard to spell is evident, Naberezhnyye Chelny and Khmelnytskyi being particularly difficult in this respect. Ulyanovsk is a surprise inclusion on the list in light of its historical significance as the birthplace of Vladimir Lenin, for whom it was named (Ulyanov being his family name).

Table 8 has the most forgotten national capitals, and Table 9 has the most forgotten countries, by the percentage of players who named at least one city in that country.

rank city percentage
1 Valletta, Malta 21.5%
2 Podgorica, Montenegro 28.6%
3 Vaduz, Liechtenstein 29.2%
4 Pristina, Kosovo 29.4%
5 Nicosia, Cyprus 32.6%
6 Chisinau, Moldova 33.6%
7 Skopje, North Macedonia 40.1%
8 Ljubljana, Slovenia 40.2%
9 San Marino, San Marino 41.1%
10 Vatican City, Vatican City 43.8%

Table 8: Most forgotten capitals

rank country percentage
1 Malta 22.8%
2 Liechtenstein 29.3%
3 Montenegro 31.0%
4 Moldova 34.7%
5 Cyprus 35.9%
6 Kosovo 38.0%
7 North Macedonia 40.9%
8 San Marino 41.3%
9 Vatican City 43.8%
10 Albania 45.6%

Table 9: Most forgotten countries

The two lists correspond closely: all but Albania and Slovenia appear on both. There are eleven nations between the two lists: four microstates (Liechtenstein, Malta, San Marino, Vatican City) and seven smaller nations in Eastern and Southeastern Europe (Albania, Cyprus, Kosovo, Moldova, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Slovenia). The scores for Malta and Liechtenstein are lower than for other microstates, presumably because, unlike Andorra, Monaco, San Marino, and Vatican City, they do not share a name with their capital city, so even players who remembered that they exist may not have been able to name a city in them.

What country is the best at geography?

Using IP geolocation, about half of the total plays of the quiz could be traced to a specific country, and from this data the best countries at European geography can be ranked. Table 10 presents the list. The Balkans are overrepresented, with Serbia taking first place, Croatia tying for fifth and Bosnia and Herzegovina tying for seventh. Spain, France, Hungary, Poland, Italy, Russia and Czechia also make the top ten.

rank country median score total plays
1 Serbia 140 359
2 Spain 134 1,141
3 France 124 2,053
4 Hungary 122 535
5 Poland 120 1,882
5 Croatia 120 445
7 Italy 117 1,200
7 Bosnia and Herzegovina 117 104
9 Russia 116 315
10 Czechia 112 528

Table 10: Best countries by number of cities named

Outside of the top ten, Germany comes in at 15th place with a median score of 107 over 4,377 plays, the Netherlands are in 16th with a median score of 106 over 2,547 plays, Sweden is 17th with a median score of 103 over 1,369 plays, the United Kingdom is 19th with a median score of 100 over 3,802 plays.

Table 11 shows the ten worst countries, again excluding countries with fewer than 100 plays.

rank country median score total plays
1 New Zealand 62 141
1 India 62 112
3 United States 70 6,751
4 Mexico 75 239
4 North Macedonia 75 1,181
6 Hong Kong 76 145
7 Canada 79 1,222
8 Denmark 81 514
9 Greece 84 241
9 Ireland 84 454

Table 11: Worst countries by number of cities named

The United States avoids the bottom of the list thanks to New Zealand and India, although both of those nations have far fewer plays. North Macedonia is in last place among European nations. I speculate that the quiz was posted to some North Macedonian forum or website, attracting a large number of casual players and thus accounting for both the unusually high number of plays for North Macedonia and the low median score.

Of all the European countries with at least 100 plays of the quiz, players from every country but one do best at their own country.2 The one exception is Ireland, whose players name slightly more cities in the United Kingdom on average than in Ireland. The UK makes a strong showing among the former colonies of the British Empire: it is the top country for players from Australia, Canada, Hong Kong, India, New Zealand, and the United States. Among other non-European nationalities, players from Mexico do best at Spain, those from Brazil do best at Italy, and those from Turkey do best at Germany. ∎

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  1. Due to changes to the database schema, at various points in time the quiz did not record both the start and end times, so the duration of play is only known for 61,054 plays (57.7%).

  2. Excluding Turkey, since only a handful of Turkish cities are in the European cities quiz.