My husband is looking for a new job, and is meeting with a head hunter who specialises in Europe. He has asked me which places would be deal breakers for me. I haven't travelled in mainland Europe that much, so don't really know, but I'd like somewhere to live where I can walk / cycle / use public transport, where there are parks and communal spaces, decent QoL and climate etc. Our kids are 7, 5 and 1. I can speak French badly, but the language thing doesn't bother me that much, fairly sure I can learn!
I wouldn't like to rule any city out, but I would certainly rule in Brussels, Gent and Antwerp in Belgium, Amsterdam or any other big city in the Netherlands. I would rule in also Paris, except that it's not quite as child friendly as Brussels and loads more expensive QoL in those areas favoured by expats, but compared to the quality of life in the UK for children, it's loads better. I only know Brussels very well, we chose it over Paris and no regrets, so much for children to do and cheap too, you could easily live without a car here. We live within walking distance of school, sports centre, metro stop, cinema, supermarket. Only the climate sucks, just like south-east England, oh and also the cost of going out to eat, for a large family, it can be really expensive. Oh and having just returned from a weekend in Barcelona, absolutely superb place, cheap public transport, cheap to eat, beach on your doorstep, children welcomed everywhere, just too hot for me there.
Personally I would avoid Geneva. I think it is over priced, dull, ugly, conformist, traffic jams everywhere, just crap. Unless it is critical for work, there are so many better places to live.
Various friends who have ended up in Helsinki working for Nokia hate the place.
In terms of lifestyle, European urban fabulousness, you simply can not beat the cycling, friendly, easy-going city of Amsterdam. I would probably perform lewd acts to get to live in Amsterdam, come to think of it, that might work....
DH has spent some time in Zurich and Munich, and said he would move us there in a shot if he had the opportunity.